Thinking about upgrading for better sound, but where to start? (~$200)
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Azure

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I'm starting to enjoy the sound from my A500s now (After giving it a nice long burn-in and time to adjust to the sound) but I'd like to hear even better sound now. In a few months I should have around $200 to spare but I don't know where to start with all this upgrading business. I remember reading a little hierarchy for upgrading in someone's sig; I believe it went something like this:

1. Headphones
2. Source
3. Amp
4. Cables

So, logically, the best thing to do would be the get new headphones. But I've only heard 1 pair of "real" headphones and I can't find any place close by to demo any cans (Most meets are 3+ hours away). And since I can't use audiophile terms, I can't describe the sound I'm looking for. So, finding the perfect headphone for me would prove to be quite a task. And I believe that most $200 headphones require an amp just to sound decent. My final cans would be in the $200-$300 range, particularly something around the DT880s, HD600s, or SR225s; so, if I were to spend the money on cans, I might as well just get my final cans since they would only require a little bit more money. But I believe these all require an amp and have a large difference in sound quality with one. So, there doesn't seem to be any good pair of headphones to upgrade with the idea in mind that my final headphones will be $200-$300.

After headphones would be source. But I never really understood this one. If the player is the source, I use a Rio Karma; am I expected to buy another MP3 Player already? IIRC, the Karma is a pretty good portable mp3 player and shouldn't need to be upgraded. If the player isn't the source, then I'm guessing it's the music. The problem with my music is that you can't really find them on cds or albums (I listen to mainly Trance, Techno, J-Pop, Rap, and little rock here and there). However, there are 9 albums that I could buy that contain music that I listen to. But would I really notice a difference in quality if I ripped them in FLAC? Here are the albums and what I currently have them in (Each "style" is an album and costs $22-$34):

3rd Style: 128kbps MP3
4th-7th Style: 160kbps MP3
8th Style: 192kbps VBR MP3
9th-11th Style: 320kbps MP3

Anything wrong with the quality of the above? I could get most of them for around $200 and then rip them in FLAC, but I'm not sure if I'd notice a difference in sound quality. I mean, right now I hardly notice anything wrong with the songs in the above quality. I've probably only ran into 2-3 songs from the above soundtracks that could have sounded a bit better. That's 2-3 out of 450 songs that I'd get from buying the above soundtracks. Worth it?

The next upgrade is the one I was already thinking about doing, an amp. The only problem with this is that I'm using A500s and I read ~10 threads this morning that indicated that an amp would be useless with Ax00 cans and that I wouldn't notice a big enough difference in sound quality to warrant the cost of the amp and that the big differences that are found with other headphones won't come till you start spending $400+. I was originally thinking about getting a Z-Audio Lambda with Variable Bass Boost, but now I'm not so sure that it'd give me good results with the A500s. I DO watch DVDs and play games through my PS2, so whenever I want to use my headphones with those I have to use the headphone jack on my off-brand TV. So there would be room for the lambda here, but everything sounds find through the TV's headphone jack to me. So, I'm not sure if I'd notice a quality difference there by using the lambda instead. I wouldn't want to spend more than $250 shipped on am amp, so there isn't much that I could get that'd significantly improve the sound quality from the A500s (I believe that the people in those threads were saying that you'd have to start out with something a little better than a Gilmore Lite/SR-71).

Last would be cables, but since they ARE the last step, I don't think I should even consider them in my situation. Especially since I'm directly connecting my A500s to my Karma. So, the only room for cables would be a re-cable, and I remember reading that even a Cardas recable for the HD600/650 doesn't produce a significant sound quality difference (At least not worthy of the cost of the re-cable).

So, what should I do for upgrading? I'm not sure which way to turn in the diffferent aspects of upgrading, and I've been running in circles for a while now. I think I might have gotten myself into a trap by getting the A500s since they are supposed to be between dark and bright and don't need an amp. Because of this I don't have much room for improvement and I don't know what kind of sound quality I prefer (Dark or Bright).


-Azure, confused listener.
 
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chrisfromalbany

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Generally I wouldn’t ask a million questions on one thread only because people are less likely to reply.

Hmm.. Headphones… Well I would get one and try them out. Maybe get a set of grado 60s and see if you like the sound. If so continue on in the line.

Get a pair of DT 880 and use them without an amp. Seen it done before. Once you get an amp notice the difference. Good learning experience.

Get a pair of the HD 595 they are 149 at ecost and don’t need to have an amp. I dunno there are so many directions.

Not like you have to figure this all out as once. Part of the fun is going through different headphones, amps, cords.

As for the material you are listening to. I keep at mine at 320 AAC. Because works for the ipod. Any variable bit rate at 320 I think is find. I can’t tell a lossless file from a 320 file with the SA5000s. Maybe if I have a better system or better ears I would be able to. Anyways I generally go with 320. Lossless takes up to much space and with 320 if you grow into a better system you wont have limited material to listen to.

The cord, yea I would wait on that one.

And the source, yea that would be the Karma. Eventually may want a good SACD/DVD player as the source and not the Karma. SACD is high def. cd.


Well I think I may have anwered a few of your questions.
 
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Azure

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Well, to get the full benefit from an SACD Player, wouldn't I need SACDs? None of the songs I listen to are, or ever will be in, SACD format.


EDIT: Those SACD players are absurdly expensive. I don't want to be that kind of audiophile who spends that much money just on a cd player. So, SACD is out. So, what do you guys think I should do? Soundtracks, headphones (Remember that I can demo any cans), or amp (Keep in mind that many say that an amp is pointless with the A600s)? I must admit that I don't think there's any fun in going through different headphones, amps, cords. Do you guys find it fun to spend $100+ on something to see if you'd like the sound and then find out that it is only slightly better or is worse? Then you just have it lying there and you are down some money and time till you can muster up some more money to buy the next product to test.
 
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you can usually resell most cans and amps for a decent price here on the "for sale" section. You usually won't lose too much money and the money you lose is usually worth the experimentation with different components.
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Azure
Do you guys find it fun to spend $100+ on something to see if you'd like the sound and then find out that it is only slightly better or is worse? Then you just have it lying there and you are down some money and time till you can muster up some more money to buy the next product to test.


Headroom (and I think Todd does too) has a 30 gauranty return policy. http://www.headphone.com/support/ret...-day-guaranty/
Why don't you try them or place with simular policy?
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Azure
After headphones would be source. But I never really understood this one. If the player is the source, I use a Rio Karma; am I expected to buy another MP3 Player already? IIRC, the Karma is a pretty good portable mp3 player and shouldn't need to be upgraded. If the player isn't the source, then I'm guessing it's the music. The problem with my music is that you can't really find them on cds or albums (I listen to mainly Trance, Techno, J-Pop, Rap, and little rock here and there). However, there are 9 albums that I could buy that contain music that I listen to. But would I really notice a difference in quality if I ripped them in FLAC? Here are the albums and what I currently have them in (Each "style" is an album and costs $22-$34):

3rd Style: 128kbps MP3
4th-7th Style: 160kbps MP3
8th Style: 192kbps VBR MP3
9th-11th Style: 320kbps MP3

Anything wrong with the quality of the above? I could get most of them for around $200 and then rip them in FLAC, but I'm not sure if I'd notice a difference in sound quality. I mean, right now I hardly notice anything wrong with the songs in the above quality. I've probably only ran into 2-3 songs from the above soundtracks that could have sounded a bit better. That's 2-3 out of 450 songs that I'd get from buying the above soundtracks. Worth it?



All trance that I get is 192 kbps CBR and up. Oftentimes it's alt preset standard or alt preset extreme on LAME, which tbh, is good enough for me. You just have to know where to get it.
(and no, I won't link you to any sites since it's probably against the rules)
 
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Azure

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I probably listen to different trance/techno songs that aren't as mainstream. Thus, it'd be hard to find them in higher than 128kbps. I mean, I think most of it is fanboy stuff.
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Azure
I'm starting to enjoy the sound from my A500s now (After giving it a nice long burn-in and time to adjust to the sound) but I'd like to hear even better sound now. In a few months I should have around $200 to spare but I don't know where to start with all this upgrading business. I remember reading a little hierarchy for upgrading in someone's sig; I believe it went something like this:

1. Headphones
2. Source
3. Amp
4. Cables

So, logically, the best thing to do would be the get new headphones. But I've only heard 1 pair of "real" headphones and I can't find any place close by to demo any cans (Most meets are 3+ hours away). And since I can't use audiophile terms, I can't describe the sound I'm looking for. So, finding the perfect headphone for me would prove to be quite a task. And I believe that most $200 headphones require an amp just to sound decent. My final cans would be in the $200-$300 range, particularly something around the DT880s, HD600s, or SR225s; so, if I were to spend the money on cans, I might as well just get my final cans since they would only require a little bit more money. But I believe these all require an amp and have a large difference in sound quality with one. So, there doesn't seem to be any good pair of headphones to upgrade with the idea in mind that my final headphones will be $200-$300.

After headphones would be source. But I never really understood this one. If the player is the source, I use a Rio Karma; am I expected to buy another MP3 Player already? IIRC, the Karma is a pretty good portable mp3 player and shouldn't need to be upgraded. If the player isn't the source, then I'm guessing it's the music. The problem with my music is that you can't really find them on cds or albums (I listen to mainly Trance, Techno, J-Pop, Rap, and little rock here and there). However, there are 9 albums that I could buy that contain music that I listen to. But would I really notice a difference in quality if I ripped them in FLAC? Here are the albums and what I currently have them in (Each "style" is an album and costs $22-$34):

3rd Style: 128kbps MP3
4th-7th Style: 160kbps MP3
8th Style: 192kbps VBR MP3
9th-11th Style: 320kbps MP3

Anything wrong with the quality of the above? I could get most of them for around $200 and then rip them in FLAC, but I'm not sure if I'd notice a difference in sound quality. I mean, right now I hardly notice anything wrong with the songs in the above quality. I've probably only ran into 2-3 songs from the above soundtracks that could have sounded a bit better. That's 2-3 out of 450 songs that I'd get from buying the above soundtracks. Worth it?

The next upgrade is the one I was already thinking about doing, an amp. The only problem with this is that I'm using A500s and I read ~10 threads this morning that indicated that an amp would be useless with Ax00 cans and that I wouldn't notice a big enough difference in sound quality to warrant the cost of the amp and that the big differences that are found with other headphones won't come till you start spending $400+. I was originally thinking about getting a Z-Audio Lambda with Variable Bass Boost, but now I'm not so sure that it'd give me good results with the A500s. I DO watch DVDs and play games through my PS2, so whenever I want to use my headphones with those I have to use the headphone jack on my off-brand TV. So there would be room for the lambda here, but everything sounds find through the TV's headphone jack to me. So, I'm not sure if I'd notice a quality difference there by using the lambda instead. I wouldn't want to spend more than $250 shipped on am amp, so there isn't much that I could get that'd significantly improve the sound quality from the A500s (I believe that the people in those threads were saying that you'd have to start out with something a little better than a Gilmore Lite/SR-71).

Last would be cables, but since they ARE the last step, I don't think I should even consider them in my situation. Especially since I'm directly connecting my A500s to my Karma. So, the only room for cables would be a re-cable, and I remember reading that even a Cardas recable for the HD600/650 doesn't produce a significant sound quality difference (At least not worthy of the cost of the re-cable).

So, what should I do for upgrading? I'm not sure which way to turn in the diffferent aspects of upgrading, and I've been running in circles for a while now. I think I might have gotten myself into a trap by getting the A500s since they are supposed to be between dark and bright and don't need an amp. Because of this I don't have much room for improvement and I don't know what kind of sound quality I prefer (Dark or Bright).


-Azure, confused listener.



OK, here we go: Cans - Grado SR125; AKG 3XX (unsure of the two last #'s anymore) - only cans I've heard (both out of an iAudio X5 and the Grado's from my iPod) - low impedance headphones so amps aren't NECESSARY. IMHO, you can go higher, but for the Karma, you won't need anything more than the 125's; I love mine, personally. Takes almost any music genre I know of and makes it "3-d" i.e. live sounding and really intimate. Great spatial separation, beautiful responsiveness speed, and easily (as well as cheaply) modded to sound even better (via pads). One caveat, however. They are OPEN and I mean OPEN. These are best suited to quieter and isolated locations. They are so open that I can have full conversations w/o turning off my music (usually about 3/4 on the iPod).

As far as MP3 encoding, I have mostly Jazz, classical, rock and pop. Some trancy stuff as well. My choice? Lame MP3 3.96.1 alt standard (192 VBR) and sometimes extreme (224 VBR) - I can't differentiate b/w those encodings and lossless myself.

Hope this helps.

Oriel
 
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Azure

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"3-d"? Aren't Grados known for having no soundstage? And the A500s known for have an incredibly and artificially wide soundstage? I think that the sound separation would turn out to be a disappointment because my reference cans will be the A500s.

MP3 encoding doesn't matter since I don't even encode/rip my own songs (Would if I could). They aren't on cds so I usually find most of them by downloading them here and there (And I'm not really noticing any artifact problems). The only songs that I can buy cds for are those 9 soundtracks that I mentioned in my original post.
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Azure
I remember reading a little hierarchy for upgrading in someone's sig; I believe it went something like this:

1. Headphones
2. Source
3. Amp
4. Cables

After headphones would be source. But I never really understood this one. If the player is the source, I use a Rio Karma; am I expected to buy another MP3 Player already? IIRC, the Karma is a pretty good portable mp3 player and shouldn't need to be upgraded. If the player isn't the source, then I'm guessing it's the music.



The order listed is typically the order in which you get the most noticeable improvements/changes from and the best return on investment. A $6K tube amp attached to a poor source isn't being given much to work with. If you are set on your Karma for a source that is fine but there is definitely a point at which your source becomes the bottleneck and you won't see as noticeable improvements with further investments in the rest of your system.

I've got an iPod for a portable source and it sounds just fine with both sets of headphones and my TAH amp. However the iPod (and amp second) are certainly the bottlenecks in the system. Using the same headphones and amp with a Proceed PDSD (7 year old $4K DAC) and a decent JVC CD player as a transport produces a significant improvement (immediately audible without any need for A/B).

IMO worry about cables when you are happy with the rest of your system. To me cables represent more of a fine tuning of a system than a major adjustment and can be a significant investment if you need to keep buying them as your system changes.

EDIT: Personally I would go with either a small amp or another set of easy to drive headphones. The 595s, SR-60, MS1* are pretty easy to drive and would probably make a good choices (> SR-60 if you can audition them). I personally didn't like the 80s or the 125s and took a chance on the Woody 225s and love them.

* Haven't heard the MS-1, mention them by reputation only.

Ant
 
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Azure
"3-d"? Aren't Grados known for having no soundstage? And the A500s known for have an incredibly and artificially wide soundstage? I think that the sound separation would turn out to be a disappointment because my reference cans will be the A500s.

MP3 encoding doesn't matter since I don't even encode/rip my own songs (Would if I could). They aren't on cds so I usually find most of them by downloading them here and there (And I'm not really noticing any artifact problems). The only songs that I can buy cds for are those 9 soundtracks that I mentioned in my original post.



Actually, the 3-d sound is what Grados are known for... they have been analogized this way: whereas most great headphones put you 'in the audience', Grados are known to put you 'in the middle of the stage', hence the intimacy and soundstage. Truth be told, the SR-60's are considered one of the best deals out there. I know a lot of people say jump to the 225's thereafter, but I guess there's no accounting for taste.
 
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I have some MS-1s. They work fine without an amp, but flourish with an amp. I'd say there is a 60-70% difference between having an amp and not, but that's imo, so ymmv.

the other nice thing about having an amp is you can tailor the sound a bit with it, to suit your needs


btw, a source is what goes into your amplifier.. this means the recording and playback device, the thing that MAKES the sound from the recording is what most people refer to as the source.

with MP3s, I listen to 160-192kbps recordings. Iif I do A/B testing (that is listening to one after the other) with raw cd, I can tell the difference, but it's so insubstantial (last 0.05% kinda thing) to me that it doesn't bother me at all.

As for cables, I don't believe in fancy IC (interconnects), copper is copper, silver is silver.. imho there is no point spending money on this (others will beg to differ)

Hard to drive does not mean "sounds better" when differentiating headphones (thanks snufkin for teaching me that). It just means that they need an amplifier that can give them what they require.

What it comes down to is: you have to be happy with the music, from a music perspective, not a technical perspective. You're the listener, this gear is there to treat YOU. Not the other way around.
 
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Azure

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Thanks for the guide, but unfortunately I'm still not able to understand these terms. The descriptions still weren't clear as I don't know what the heck is being talked about.

Quote:

aggressive - Reproduced sound that is excessively forward and bright. A reproduction that sounds in your face. Opposite of laid-back or polite.


Okay...I know bright = treble.

Quote:

forward, forwardness - A quality of reproduction which seems to place sound sources closer than they were recorded. Usually the result of a humped midrange, plus a narrow horizontal dispersion pattern from the loudspeaker. See "Row-A sound." Compare "laid-back."


...what? What's this guy talking about? What is this supposed to sound like?

Quote:

row-A sound - Sound which is up-front, forward.


Right...



Anyways, I think I'll just forget about learning audiophile terms since I'm sure I'll never know what they really mean. Their textual definitions are just way too complex and things are made even more complex when you consider that they also have sonic definitions.
 
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try the second link.. it's much better.
 
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