Sound Quality test iHP-140 vs Revo + Audigy 2
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davvy

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Got my iHP-140 a few days ago. Overall, I am very happy with it. As others have documented in various threads, there is a bit of a learning curve with it, and some of the GUI is not perfect. But if you just want to play whole albums most of the time like I do, with the odd playlist thrown in, it is more than adequate. Within a couple of days I felt pretty comfortable using it. I am very happy with my purchase, the player does what I want very well, with lots of features and good quality.

Anyway, I thought I would post my impressions of the iHP's sound quality. Sound quality seems to be one of the most difficult areas to find information about, and one of the most subjective. So please take my comments with a grain of salt. Unfortunately I don't own any other DAPs (although I have a friend with a 3rd gen Ipod which I might do a comparison with later if I get the chance) so I did a comparison of my 2 soundcards vs the iHP.

Testing Procedure

The headphones I used were the Sony D66 Eggos and the Etymotic ER4ps. My testing procedure was as follows: I compared each soundcard to the iHP separately (a three-way comparison all at once is just too hard). The tracks that I used were: Mazzy Star - Fade Into You, The Eagles - Hotel California (off "Hell Freezes Over") and Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees. All tracks were EAC/LAME -alt preset extreme MP3s. I used Winamp v5.02 on my computer with no resampling or EQ and I used no EQ on the iHP. I attached short extension cables to each device (soundcard and iHP), then started the track simultaneously on both devices. I switched the headphones between the 2 sources repeatedly, first equalising the volume as closely as I could, then evaluating the sound quality.

Results

Firstly, the Revo vs the iHP. There was a clear difference between the 2 sources. My first impression was that the Revo sounded "brighter", by which I mean had more prominent treble, and by comparison the iHP sounded more "bassy". The difference was much more obvious with the ER4ps than with the Eggos. As I listened further, it became apparent that the Revo was subtly better in most respects: "brighter" treble, slightly clearer midrange and slightly less prominent but slightly more defined bass. Although note the repeated use of words like "subtly" and "slightly". These differences were not massive, and the iHP still sounds very good IMO. Also note that, with the Eggos the differences were so small that I would probably struggle to pick between the 2 sources in a blind test, whereas if I was using the ER4ps, I think I would be able to pick the difference within a few seconds.

Next, the Audigy 2 vs the iHP. This was interesting. I have ABed the A2 vs the Revo previously and found the Revo slightly, but clearly better. So I was thinking that maybe the A2 and the iHP would be pretty similar. But in fact they were more like incredibly similar. To be honest, I listened to the 3 tracks repeatedly, flipping between the 2 sources looking for a winner, but in the end I had to call it a tie. I actually wonder if maybe the iHP and the A2 might share the some of the same components, maybe they have the same DAC or something. Because the difference between them is minimal. At times I thought maybe the iHP had slightly recessed treble and more prominent bass compared to the A2, but then at other times I thought I was imagining it. I doubt I could tell between the A2 and the iHP in a blind test, with either set of headphones.

Conclusion

The Revo is clearly, but fairly subtly, the winner in terms of sound quality. The Audigy 2 and the iHP would place 2nd equal and to my ears the differences between them are minimal.

So I am very happy with the sound quality of the iHP. I know that the Audigy 2 doesn't get very good press around here, but keep in mind that it is a "home" source whereas the iHP is portable. I think that for the iHP to equal the A2, while being battery powered and small enough to carry around in your pocket, is pretty impressive. Hopefully in the future I will get the chance to compare my iHP with some other DAPs, but for the meantime, hope someone out there finds these observations useful. Keep in mind that I am fairly new to Head-fi, so take my comments with a grain of salt.
 
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formosa

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great review! thanks!
 
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