should I buy a DAC/AMP or not?
Jan 6, 2013 at 6:15 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 22

zz2k9

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Hello all,
 
New guy here. Well after months of research and putting on/off, I decided to get proper help.
I bought a lovely pair of AKG k702 headphones last year. Im not an expert but i can definitely notice the difference in audio quality between formats, which is why I wanted hi-fi level sound in headphones. 
 
The problem: My sony HT-AS5 5.1 doesn't have a headphone out, and finding an s-air is impossible. So the current set up is 
macbook pro 15 > optical > old sony dvd 5.1 receiver = headphone out > akg. This clearly allowed me to increase the volume but am i really getting the best out of the aka? 
 
They've been run in for a good 1000 hours and it does sound a lot better than first day it arrived. Question is will i benefit with a dac/amp upgrade to justify spending more money. I'd like to spend around or less than £100, but wouldn't mind more if it is really really worth it. 
 
Sorry if this is a repetition for all of you, but I cant find an answer online, and I'm tired of going through hours and hours of my time finding the solution. 
 
Thanks
 
zz
 
Jan 6, 2013 at 8:12 PM Post #3 of 22

PurpleAngel

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Quote:
Hello all,
 
New guy here. Well after months of research and putting on/off, I decided to get proper help.
I bought a lovely pair of AKG k702 headphones last year. Im not an expert but i can definitely notice the difference in audio quality between formats, which is why I wanted hi-fi level sound in headphones. 
 
The problem: My sony HT-AS5 5.1 doesn't have a headphone out, and finding an s-air is impossible. So the current set up is 
macbook pro 15 > optical > old sony dvd 5.1 receiver = headphone out > akg. This clearly allowed me to increase the volume but am i really getting the best out of the aka? 
 
They've been run in for a good 1000 hours and it does sound a lot better than first day it arrived. Question is will i benefit with a dac/amp upgrade to justify spending more money. I'd like to spend around or less than £100, but wouldn't mind more if it is really really worth it. 
Sorry if this is a repetition for all of you, but I cant find an answer online, and I'm tired of going through hours and hours of my time finding the solution. 

How is the AKG connected to the Sony?
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 6:26 AM Post #4 of 22

zz2k9

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It's connected via toslink from MacBook to Sony to headphone out. I'm talking with a guy in eBay who makes cmoys. Should I go for that? Not keen on fiios and not sure if ill benefit from 300£+ equipment. If I really have to I can save up. For now I'm not too sure.
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 12:53 PM Post #5 of 22

PurpleAngel

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It's connected via toslink from MacBook to Sony to headphone out. I'm talking with a guy in eBay who makes cmoys. Should I go for that? Not keen on fiios and not sure if ill benefit from 300£+ equipment. If I really have to I can save up. For now I'm not too sure.

How can the headphones be connected to the Sony, which you say does not have a headphone output jack?
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 1:08 PM Post #6 of 22

p a t r i c k

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I think you should get a DAC/amp :)
 
Your AKG K702s will sound much better.
 
I love my AKG K702s and these are extremely transparent and neutral headphones.
 
Transparent and neutral headphones allow you to hear the music as was intended by the musicians, which is the whole idea of "Hi Fi".
 
To really get the best out of your K702s I recommend using a transparent and neutral DAC/amp.
 
Do not buy equipment that influences the sound to a great extent. Go for transparency.
 
I think that good solid state equipment is what you are after.
 
To be honest I don't know what is available for £100, others will advise.
 
Benefits will be had if you spend a bit more but that is up to you.
 
With only £100 you might find that eBay could turn up something rather good.
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 1:38 PM Post #7 of 22

zz2k9

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sorry to clarify the 5.1 doesnt have headphone out. im using a sony dvd player for the optical in to headphone out. Well I decided to get a cmoy from ebay to get me started on the listening experience. I've heard its good, but something better i can save up for with patience, for now cmoy seems fitting. anybody got a cmoy to share their experience?
 
thanks for the support
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 1:42 PM Post #8 of 22

lorriman

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I have an O2/ODAC which is pretty much reference grade kit, yet I have the darndest time telling it apart from the on-board sound card of my Dell D430. I'm playing through Etymotics which are as fast, detailed and accurate as it gets. I should be hearing a significant difference if there is one.

This is a 2007 mini laptop. It has output impedance of .5 (I measured it) which is astonishing. Bizarrely, they seem to have put a top spec audio set up in to a business laptop?!?! Interestingly, I used another of their business laptops, full sized, from just a little earlier, and it's audio was dire.

What about the Apple? It's audio may be excellent also. Apple don't cut too many corners. Measurements and reputation wise, the Sansa Clip+/ClipZip is basically Hifi (except for a little bit of noise with sensitive phones), so if you can afford one (they are very cheap) then try A/B-ing your apple with a clip+. If you can't hear a significant difference with a range of music then consider not bothering with a DAC. I read a lot of DAC reviews, and I'm not at all convinced that many 3rd party DACs are worth the money, even expensive ones. The one difficulty is that the Apple may have a sufficiently high output impedance that it undermines the phones. If you do need a DAC then the behringer-uca202 is hifi for not much money. But it requires an amp due to high output impedance (which, to explain, for electrical reasons can bloat bass, lose low bass and roll-off the treble) .

So you may just need an amp (which can also fix the output impedance issue). According to the designer of the O2, a rule of thumb is that you won't need an amp if it's loud enough. However, I would suggest that if you want to be safe then you need to give yourself a little headroom; if loud enough is max volume then the audio is likely to have compressed transients/dynamics and maybe rolled off bass. I've also noticed that at max volume, audio chipsets sometimes don't perform as well as at 75% (I can hear artifacts when playing a 60Hz tone through my O2) . There's also the possibility of a low-impedance headphone with high power requirements (not usually IEMs) straining the onboard amp and getting increasingly distorted. On a rockboxed Clip+ my phones needed +6db, which is within distortion territory (0db being the theoretical max volume, with negative values being quieter than max). So while the Clip+ could get loud enough, at what cost to audio quality?

If you aren't far off max volume or just at max volume then perhaps the humble but hifi FIIO E5 will be enough.
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 4:38 PM Post #9 of 22

zz2k9

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Quote:
I have an O2/ODAC which is pretty much reference grade kit, yet I have the darndest time telling it apart from the on-board sound card of my Dell D430. I'm playing through Etymotics which are as fast, detailed and accurate as it gets. I should be hearing a significant difference if there is one.
This is a 2007 mini laptop. It has output impedance of .5 (I measured it) which is astonishing. Bizarrely, they seem to have put a top spec audio set up in to a business laptop?!?! Interestingly, I used another of their business laptops, full sized, from just a little earlier, and it's audio was dire.
What about the Apple? It's audio may be excellent also. Apple don't cut too many corners. Measurements and reputation wise, the Sansa Clip+/ClipZip is basically Hifi (except for a little bit of noise with sensitive phones), so if you can afford one (they are very cheap) then try A/B-ing your apple with a clip+. If you can't hear a significant difference with a range of music then consider not bothering with a DAC. I read a lot of DAC reviews, and I'm not at all convinced that many 3rd party DACs are worth the money, even expensive ones. The one difficulty is that the Apple may have a sufficiently high output impedance that it undermines the phones. If you do need a DAC then the behringer-uca202 is hifi for not much money. But it requires an amp due to high output impedance (which, to explain, for electrical reasons can bloat bass, lose low bass and roll-off the treble) .
So you may just need an amp (which can also fix the output impedance issue). According to the designer of the O2, a rule of thumb is that you won't need an amp if it's loud enough. However, I would suggest that if you want to be safe then you need to give yourself a little headroom; if loud enough is max volume then the audio is likely to have compressed transients/dynamics and maybe rolled off bass. I've also noticed that at max volume, audio chipsets sometimes don't perform as well as at 75% (I can hear artifacts when playing a 60Hz tone through my O2) . There's also the possibility of a low-impedance headphone with high power requirements (not usually IEMs) straining the onboard amp and getting increasingly distorted. On a rockboxed Clip+ my phones needed +6db, which is within distortion territory (0db being the theoretical max volume, with negative values being quieter than max). So while the Clip+ could get loud enough, at what cost to audio quality?
If you aren't far off max volume or just at max volume then perhaps the humble but hifi FIIO E5 will be enough.

Thank you very much for taking the time to educate me :p That was really useful information and I will definitely keep it in mind. I think the sound card / DAC on the mac is pretty decent, but it lacks the output power to juice the akg. powering it to the sony dvd player solves the volume, but the music seems a little lacking in punch, whereas my Sony HT-AS5 makes music really enjoyable, as is its purpose. So for now I shall see how the little cmoy will improve things. I had my eye on the behringer but for now i dont have a lot of money to play around with. In a couple months ill be able to invest in something substantial. I also read here --- http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/wiki/index.php/OS_X_Audio_Playback_-_Setup_Guide ---   that setting the itunes volmue at 100% is better than reducing it, and setting the audio format to 41khz at 24bit is the best, but i should change it to bit-match to a 16bit format if i were to play it. If i raise the volume on the sony, as optical doesnt allow system volume, at high volumes the sound does tend to be a little harsh in itunes. What is your take on application volumes and output formats. 
There is a known issue with macs that audio momentarily clicks or stutters as collateral from cpu spikes. Apparantly it will be fixed in the next update. But could that be from setting itunes volume at 100% and/or system output format. I was going to go for the fiio e7 or its newer update, but some owners of k702s have said it is not as good as theyd expected. 
Also since i got the akg, i found the neutrality and analytical nature of it hard to get used to, but now i love it as other phones seem to be boomy or as they say have "muddy bass."
Thanks for the help, if i ask noob questions and people have seen them before, i apologise, but so far thanks to all of you. 
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 4:56 PM Post #10 of 22

spaark

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Thank you very much for taking the time to educate me :p That was really useful information and I will definitely keep it in mind. I think the sound card / DAC on the mac is pretty decent, but it lacks the output power to juice the akg. powering it to the sony dvd player solves the volume, but the music seems a little lacking in punch, whereas my Sony HT-AS5 makes music really enjoyable, as is its purpose. So for now I shall see how the little cmoy will improve things. I had my eye on the behringer but for now i dont have a lot of money to play around with. In a couple months ill be able to invest in something substantial. I also read here --- http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/wiki/index.php/OS_X_Audio_Playback_-_Setup_Guide ---   that setting the itunes volmue at 100% is better than reducing it, and setting the audio format to 41khz at 24bit is the best, but i should change it to bit-match to a 16bit format if i were to play it. If i raise the volume on the sony, as optical doesnt allow system volume, at high volumes the sound does tend to be a little harsh in itunes. What is your take on application volumes and output formats. 
There is a known issue with macs that audio momentarily clicks or stutters as collateral from cpu spikes. Apparantly it will be fixed in the next update. But could that be from setting itunes volume at 100% and/or system output format. I was going to go for the fiio e7 or its newer update, but some owners of k702s have said it is not as good as theyd expected. 
Also since i got the akg, i found the neutrality and analytical nature of it hard to get used to, but now i love it as other phones seem to be boomy or as they say have "muddy bass."
Thanks for the help, if i ask noob questions and people have seen them before, i apologise, but so far thanks to all of you. 

 
You're not actually using the DAC on your Macbook, since it's connected to the DVD player through TOSLINK (digital, so you're not converting to analogue).
 
Yes, you should set the computer volume to 100% or as high as possible, because otherwise you limit the dynamic range. On the other hand, if you set the output to 24 bits (it doesn't matter if your music is 16 bits), that gives you a lot of headroom, so you're more free to lower the volume. I don't think there's any point setting the output of your soundcard if you're not using its DAC, though.
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 5:03 PM Post #11 of 22

zz2k9

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Quote:
 
You're not actually using the DAC on your Macbook, since it's connected to the Sony HT-AS5 through TOSLINK (digital, so you're not converting to analogue).
 
Yes, you should set the computer volume to 100% or as high as possible, because otherwise you limit the dynamic range. On the other hand, if you set the output to 24 bits (it doesn't matter if your music is 16 bits), that gives you a lot of headroom, so you're more free to lower the volume. I don't think there's any point setting the output of your soundcard if you're not using its DAC, though.

ok i see. So when i plug it directly into the headphone out on the macbook, im using its dac. but when its connected to optical, the sony is doing the processing right? 
the HT-AS5 is different, to the DVD player , theyre two different units. I use the HT  just for 5.1 speakers, and the dvd player to attach the optical to the mac and run the headphones through it. 
how would you recommend to use the akg then? is the sony a better option or when i get the cmoy, attach it directly to the mac? i know i can do this route -- mac > optical > dvd player > headphone out > cmoy> akg. I prefer optical because i watch alot of tv in dolby digital audio formats, or dts. 
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 5:10 PM Post #12 of 22

spaark

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ok i see. So when i plug it directly into the headphone out on the macbook, im using its dac. but when its connected to optical, the sony is doing the processing right? 
the HT-AS5 is different, to the DVD player , theyre two different units. I use the HT  just for 5.1 speakers, and the dvd player to attach the optical to the mac and run the headphones through it. 
how would you recommend to use the akg then? is the sony a better option or when i get the cmoy, attach it directly to the mac? i know i can do this route -- mac > optical > dvd player > headphone out > cmoy> akg. I prefer optical because i watch alot of tv in dolby digital audio formats, or dts. 

Yeah, that's right.
 
Oops, my bad thinking the HT-AS5 was the DVD player. Edited my post.
 
If you need the DVD player to decode Dolby Digital and DTS (are you sure you need it?), then I guess you should use the DVD player. Whether connecting it directly is better depends on whether your soundcard's DAC is better than the DVD player's. You'll have to decide that for yourself.
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 5:20 PM Post #13 of 22

p a t r i c k

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What about the Apple?

 
After I put my post in I thought about this one. That the DAC in the Mac could be the one to use.
 
I have two Macs and I think the audio output is very good with them.
 
£100 could buy a nice budget headphone amplifier, simply plug it into the audio output of the Mac and put the volume up to maximum on the Mac.
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 5:23 PM Post #14 of 22

zz2k9

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After I put my post in I thought about this one. That the DAC in the Mac could be the one to use.
 
I have two Macs and I think the audio output is very good with them.
 
£100 could buy a nice budget headphone amplifier, simply plug it into the audio output of the Mac and put the volume up to maximum on the Mac.

I will do a comparison between the three when the cmoy arrives. but ill give it a shot for now and test it.
 
Jan 7, 2013 at 5:34 PM Post #15 of 22

zz2k9

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right, i havent done a direct comparison between the dvd player and mac sound cards since i got the akg, but i don't remember the mac being able to push the akg this loud. but anyway tested a bunch of songs and genres, and i can say that the mac isnt as harsh on the trebles or flat on the bass. Nothing substantial, but noticable. seems you are right the mac has a better dac. the loudness seems to be fine, which is odd because i remember them being quite quiet. anyway how will the cmoy improve things? what should i expect?
 
thanks for the time guys. 
 

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