Questions regarding headphone amps for a complete noob
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ckunke002

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Hey guy's, I just joined here about 5 minutes ago and am looking some advice. I'm sorry first of all if this is some highly established community, because I admittedly don't know a THING about any of this yet.
 
I just bought a pair of Sennheiser 558 headphones, and am reading about how you don't get all the benefits with only the headphones alone. I then decided that I have no problem investing a little more money into my music hobby in what seems to be the solution, which is a headphone amp. I don't need to be very portable, but from what I've been reading most non-portable amps are far more expensive than portable ones, so that is a factor. Most of the time I'm listening to music with these headphones is with a cd player, ,iPod, or through my computer, if that is a factor in all of this. I also plan on buying a turntable in the near future and will use it for that as well.
 
Basically the reason I'm posting this is to get good information from you guys, and hopefully some recommendations. I don't have a ton of money, and I especially don't want to drop lots of money into something if I won't noticeably see gains from doing so. I also keep seeing this term DAC, which I have no clue what it means and keeps getting me more confused when trying to make a decision. Any information that will make all of this easier would be awesome.
 
I'm posting this in both "Portable" and "Non-Portable" forums because I don't really know which I want or need yet.
Also, I don't really want to spend more than around 100 dollars, if that is even necessary to get good sound.
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TwoEars

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The Senn 558 is a good pair of headphones and easy to drive, meaning they'll perform at their peak level from something like a computer sound card, Ipod etc etc.
 
Those $100 you speak of won't get you very far in head-fi-land I'm afraid so I'd suggest saving that money instead, maybe a live concert?
 
The bare minimum headphone amp I'd recommend is the musical fidelity V-Can, then the Burson HA-160 then... well... then it gets expensive.
 
Hope this gives you some direction.
 
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ckunke002

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Thanks for the information!
 
What specs about a particular set of headphones tell you how they perform on their own exactly? I never understand where people get that from. Like how do you know that these will sound good solo, and won't benefit much from an amp?
 
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customcoco

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Quote:
 
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Hey guy's, I just joined here about 5 minutes ago and am looking some advice. I'm sorry first of all if this is some highly established community, because I admittedly don't know a THING about any of this yet.
 
I just bought a pair of Sennheiser 558 headphones, and am reading about how you don't get all the benefits with only the headphones alone. I then decided that I have no problem investing a little more money into my music hobby in what seems to be the solution, which is a headphone amp. I don't need to be very portable, but from what I've been reading most non-portable amps are far more expensive than portable ones, so that is a factor. Most of the time I'm listening to music with these headphones is with a cd player, ,iPod, or through my computer, if that is a factor in all of this. I also plan on buying a turntable in the near future and will use it for that as well.
 
Basically the reason I'm posting this is to get good information from you guys, and hopefully some recommendations. I don't have a ton of money, and I especially don't want to drop lots of money into something if I won't noticeably see gains from doing so. I also keep seeing this term DAC, which I have no clue what it means and keeps getting me more confused when trying to make a decision. Any information that will make all of this easier would be awesome.
 
I'm posting this in both "Portable" and "Non-Portable" forums because I don't really know which I want or need yet.
Also, I don't really want to spend more than around 100 dollars, if that is even necessary to get good sound.
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as I completely agree with what twoears has said I wont add anything. 
but as for the  DAC it means Digital to Audio Converter
this thing takes the ones and zeros of digital music (mp3 for example) and convert it into electrical audio waves. 
it's what a soundard do. It takes the music stored on a hard drive (wich is digital) and "interpret" it to audio waves.
if, for example, you connect a ditgital output device to an analog one (without dac in between), you won't get any sound. 
hope that helps:wink:
 
 
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ckunke002

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Thanks for the reply! 
 
BUT, since the source going to the amp is a CD player/turntable/iPod/laptop out, the digital is already converted to music, and is simply waiting to be amplified and then sent to the headphones. What am I missing? Lol please respond!
 
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customcoco

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but it's not always the case.
there's something called a transport for example, it only extract the informations out of the cd, so you need a dac.
for the pc out, generally, the sound is not good. an outboard dac is better. they cand be fed via usb or firewire (even ethernet for a network) but they retail, usually, for more than your budget.
as for the turntable, it's an analog device so no ones and no zeros, so no dac. the signal is already "music"
 
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ckunke002

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So are you saying that you couldn't use an amp from a cd player to a set of headphones without a Dac?
 
Sorry, this concept is really confusing to me
 
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masterchoi

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Your cd player has it's own built in dac. Outboard dac is preferred if you are not satisfy with your cd player's performance.
 
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sridhar3

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Quote:
Thanks for the reply! 
 
BUT, since the source going to the amp is a CD player/turntable/iPod/laptop out, the digital is already converted to music, and is simply waiting to be amplified and then sent to the headphones. What am I missing? Lol please respond!
 
I know Customcoco already did this, but I'll try again, in a slightly different way.
 
First off, let's leave turntables out of this.  They're purely analog, as mentioned above.  

 
If you've got a CD, iPod or laptop, the music is stored in files.  That's to say, 1s and 0s.  Your goal is to convert this into electrical current.  To go from 1s to 0s to electrical current, you need a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter).
 
Anything that you can plug your headphones directly into, for example a portable CD player, has to have a DAC.  This is because the headphones can only see electricity, and not a digital signal.  So the headphone jack is analog.
 
Digital, on the other hand, is transmitted through USB, optical or coaxial.
 
An amplifier, in the most simplistic explanation, increases the amount of power required to move the transducer, which converts your electrical signal into sound.  Hence, an amplifier is working on electricity, and not on a digital signal.  Hence, if you're amplifying something, it's already been converted from digital to analog.
 
Whether the signal has already been amplified or not depends on if the device you're speaking of has an amplifier built in.  The most common consumer PMPs, like iPods and Zunes, don't have built-in amplifiers.  As such, they benefit from external amplification.
 
So your chain will look like this.  Source -> DAC -> Amp.
 
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ckunke002

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That was a great explanation, and I really appreciate you taking the time to write it, but it still doesn't make sense why I would need a DAC for a source that is leaving an iPod/CD player. It has already been converted over to audio (or electric signal), so why does a DAC jump into this mix?
 
You had my following perfectly until at the end when you said in the chain we send source (CD/iPod) to a DAC.
 
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thesurfingalien

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I assume you now plug your Sennheiser directly into you CD-player, computer or iPod.  Later on, you want to be able to use a turntable, and listen to your LP's on your headphone.  And you have heard / read that, in order to get the best performance, you need a headphone-amplifier.
 
Is that what you are saying?
 
First of all, I do not share the opinion that a headphone-amplifier will enhance the quality of the sound.  For me, the only reason to use a headphone-amplifier is that your headphone needs a more powerful amplifier to drive it (if it does not sound loud enough).  This could be the case for you as the 558 has a slightly higher impedance (50 Ohm), but that depends on how loud you play them.  Another reason could be that you simply have no headphone connection available.
 
Now the turntable you want to / going to buy...  If you do not already have a device (maybe a stereo- or surround-amplifier) that allows you to connect the turntable to, you need to get one.  That is unless you want to get a USB record-player.
 
The term DAC has been explained earlier.  And no, you do not need an extra DAC if you want to use an external headphone-amplifier with the devices you mentioned.
 
I would be useful for us if you had given us more information on how you connect things now (perhaps you already connect your CD-player, iPod and PC to an amplifier).  I think that is the reason why you get confusing answers. 
 
Anyway, I hope this helps.  If not, let us know.
 
 
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customcoco

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Quote:
so why does a DAC jump into this mix?


simply for better sound quality. most of the built-in dacs (except in the high-end) doesn't sound good. I think I know what you're missing, it's that on your cd player you have (probably) a digital out. 
this one needs to be converted, and an analog one, wich doesn't. simple,no? above I have talked about a cd "transport". this thing is not a cd PLAYER, it's just a transport, something that takes the signal out of the cd and then, send it to the dac. there's one in every player.
 
see your player as a restaurant (weird I know
). 
the chef (the transport), takes the ingredients (the signal), cook them and then give them to his assistant (the cable) who give it to the clients (the dac). 
source (transport) - cable - dac - amp. 
 
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masterchoi

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Chuke002, your ipod has pretty good dac built in. If you can achieve sufficient volume at less than 60% then you probably will be ok without amp.
Also highly recommend lossless format as your music source if played from ipod/laptop.
 
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ckunke002

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Quote:
I assume you now plug your Sennheiser directly into you CD-player, computer or iPod.  Later on, you want to be able to use a turntable, and listen to your LP's on your headphone.  And you have heard / read that, in order to get the best performance, you need a headphone-amplifier.
 
Is that what you are saying?
 
 

Yes. So my setup currently is that I simply listen to music stationary, almost never on the move besides when I'm running with my iPod (and when I'm running im not worried about nice gear and top of the line sound lol). So I listen to music out of some boom box that I randomly have, and plug the headphones into it(which works well for me since I have lots of CD's) or use my iPod, or listen to music out of my laptops headphone spot.
 
Basically, since I'm getting new headphones, I felt like I should research headphone amps which I don't really know anything about and see how I can get one into the mix. Coming into this question I was wondering how I can achieve that with CD/iPod/Turntable/laptop music playing, and I'm still quite confused on whether that's possible or not lol. But now that you guys know my exact setup I can possibly get some new feedback?
 
Thanks everyone!
 
(By the way, I cancelled my Sennheiser shipment after reading lots of reviews for lots of different headphones, and decided I'm going to get the Audio Technica M-50's. They seem to be a better match for me and my music preference and are still only like 35 OHMs)
 
 
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