Which component would you upgrade?
Jul 12, 2020 at 10:54 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 10

thk3421

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I'm interested in how you guys would recommend improving my setup. I would consider an upgrade budget of up to $1,500. Currently my headphone rig is:
Macbook Tidal & Spotify --> Peachtree DAC ITx (USB) --> Schiit Asgard 2 --> Sennheiser HD650s
Thanks for any and all recommendations and advice.
 
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Jul 13, 2020 at 12:29 AM Post #2 of 10

silent-circuit

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What are you looking for apart from 'better'?
 
Jul 13, 2020 at 8:58 AM Post #3 of 10

ProtegeManiac

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I'm interested in how you guys would recommend improving my setup. I would consider an upgrade budget of up to $1,500. Currently my headphone rig is:
Macbook Tidal & Spotify --> Peachtree DAC ITx (USB) --> Schiit Asgard 2 --> Sennheiser HD650s
Thanks for any and all recommendations and advice.

What improvements are you looking for exactly? That's important in any hobby. Just to illustrate a point:

1. I can recommend a car that can accelerate faster than what you have but you might not like how the weight transition under braking feels when you're turning into a corner, so I don't know whether you should get a bigger car with a bigger engine and a bigger luggage compartment or whether you should get a lightweight car that is nimbler and accelerates faster not just from a slightly more powerful engine but because you have wider tyres and a not much heavier (if not actually lighter) body.

2. I can recommend a knife made of harder steel but it's Japanese and you'll just complain about how you can't fast chop parsley with it because of the flat blade profile. Or I can recommend a whetstone that cuts faster and makes the edge smoother and shinier even before you use a polishing stone, but then it's too hard and smooth there's no feedback to your wrist on whether the knife is already slipping because your wrist movement changed the angle far enough you're now grinding the top of the bevel.

3. I can recommend a faster camera in terms of just sheer brute force of high megapixel count and very clean sensor at high ISO, but it's more focused on taking landscapes when you actually wanted something that will focus faster to chase your kid at a football game or take a photo of a cheetah taking down an antelope, which may necessitate a smaller body with a faster AF motor (or one that works really well with a lens that has a faster AF motor). Or you just wanted fast shutter speed and a fast sensor but want to keep it much smaller.
 
Jul 13, 2020 at 10:49 AM Post #4 of 10

thk3421

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One thing I'd like to improve is the ability to distinguish between Tidal Master tracks and Spotify. I've done a bunch of side-by-side listening to see if I can distinguish the lossless tracks from the compressed audio from Spotify, and the differences are essentially zero to me. Perhaps my DAC is configured incorrectly? Perhaps my overall level of gear cannot distinguish? Perhaps my ears are just not that discerning? People swear by the bit perfect lossless audio source from Tidal, so I figured I could try to tell, but I cannot. Would any changes in the components fix that? Or is it likely just a configuration issue and/or my own failing ears? Thanks for reading and helping me. Much appreciated!

Another thing I'm wondering: if any of the gear is significantly out-of-line with the others. For example, if the HD650s would be vastly improved by changing the amp? My understanding is that everything kinda works together, so I want to avoid any major imbalances. An analogy would be to avoid putting $40,000 tires onto a $3,000 car. If everything is roughly in-line, then that's good for me to know (perhaps no upgrades are meaningfully worthwhile at all?) I suppose I'd just like to solicit opinions from people who know more about this stuff than I do, and get their recommendations on whether and how the headphone rig could be improved. Thanks!
 
Jul 13, 2020 at 10:58 AM Post #5 of 10

smallcaps

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Upgrade the closest thing to your ears and then move down the chain. Headphones will always make the most significant impact on your listening experience.

From the current setup you have now, I would spend the money on a pair of planars to compliment your current headphones, or a good set of IEMs to introduce portable audio into your listening experience.
 
Jul 13, 2020 at 12:42 PM Post #6 of 10

silent-circuit

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I'd consider at least trying another DAC. The Peachtree was well reviewed on its release, but it's a 9 year old design now, and depending who you listen to (and how much you believe it matters) a lot has changed in that time.

Heck, for $1500 you could get a used Yggdrasil. I wouldn't go that crazy, but you might consider a Modius at $200, or a Topping D50S at $250. Could probably get the Topping cheaper used, even. Not saying they're definitely better than your current DAC, but you may enjoy the sound signature more. And if you don't? Return them, or sell them on via the forums at little cost.
 
Jul 13, 2020 at 12:59 PM Post #7 of 10

Chris Kaoss

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As @smallcaps said:
Getting another pair of headphones will make the most difference and will increase your listening enjoyment.

But to give some good advice on which to buy, we'll need some more information about your preferences. :wink:
 
Jul 13, 2020 at 1:10 PM Post #8 of 10

ProtegeManiac

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Thanks for the useful feedback. I suppose it's not obvious to me what is left to improve, since I haven't listened to any other headphone systems. I had assumed that my amp was the weakest link in the chain, so that was where I started but that assumption may be false. I guess that's why I'm posting in the Help and Recommendations section, because I don't know enough about all the different equipment to make an educated guess at how to improve the system. One thing I'd like to improve (and it may not be the amp at all), is the ability to distinguish between Tidal Master tracks and Spotify. I've done a bunch of side-by-side listening to see if I can distinguish the lossless tracks from the compressed audio from Spotify, and the differences are essentially zero to me. Perhaps my DAC is configured incorrectly?

Unless you hooked it up wrong and getting distortion and noise, not likely.


Perhaps my overall level of gear cannot distinguish?

I can tell Spotify from FLAC on most of my music with the HD600 and a decent amp.


Perhaps my ears are just not that discerning? People swear by the bit perfect lossless audio source from Tidal, so I figured I could try to tell, but I cannot.

This is the most likely reason.

For one all my friends prefer Grado and can't note imaging, at least on headphones. Some of them can on speakers but that's because I put them in front of Focal Stella Utopias in an acoustically dampened room.

And then there's what you listen to. Just because it's on Tidal doesn't mean it has a lot in there that will actually benefit from anything higher than regular lossless nor to be easily noticeable to most people compared to 320kbps VBR. An audiophile vocal album is less distinguishable to me in 320kbps VBR vs FLAC than metal, since the compression affects the lower and higher frequencies a lot more, and the former is mostly midrange frequencies. Metal would already have hollow-sounding kick drums that sound too vaguely in the rear long before you start affecting an audiophile vocal track, unless there's something really wrong like noise getting added.


Would any changes in the components fix that? Or is it likely just a configuration issue and/or my own failing ears? Thanks for reading and helping me. Much appreciated!

Since your own perception is still there it's difficult to guesstimate how well you will hear the difference.

Think of it like if we're debating between sticking with a Honda Accord or upgrading to an Audi and using only the butt dyno to claim the Audi slams you against your seat harder and conclude it's safer for overtaking...but then it turns out you don't overtake along narrow highways when you can see any oncoming traffic, making the additional torque on the engine pointless for how you use the vehicle (unless you need to pull a boat, then get a Chevy), so then when you finally take the Audi home you can't really feel it being any better.

Or heck, if you get audio gear with even lower distortion, sometimes you might hear the difference but hate it, because now you really hear the recording with less coloration. That's like upgrading from an Accord to an Audi RS4 and complain about the louder exhaust and stiffer suspension.



Another thing I'm wondering: if any of the gear is significantly out-of-line with the others. For example, if the HD650s would be vastly improved by changing the amp? My understanding is that everything kinda works together, so I want to avoid any major imbalances.

If one upstream component is severely failing at providing good, clean voltage or power, yes. Like if you have a DAC supplying only 1.2V and cranking up a bad amp just makes the amp add noise to the sound as it works harder; or if an amp starts clipping or even just distorting badly enough, or just adding noise because it's a bad amp.

In this particular case, that's not the problem. The Asgard just exacerbates the problem with imaging and the HD600 doesn't have a spacious enough image to begin with (what it does have is keep the distance between each instrument and the listener more proportional).

On one hand to someone that understands how imaging needs to be presented there could be a noticeable difference. On the other hand to anyone that doesn't then the overall tone and dynamic range - ie things aren't a problem on the Asgard - wouldn't make for any easily noticeable difference.

Still, even if I recommend a different headphone that addresses that and can work with the Asgard, that's not a guarantee you'll like the result. Some people think the K70x's imaging is extremely artificial...when they're basically judging by what headphones naturally sound like ie either small image or skewed proportions, if not both, so their sound is unnatural to traditional headphones but more natural vis a vis speakers. Except you can put a subwoofer farther behind the speakers so you can crank it up a little higher and exceed compensation for the added distance without pushing the perceived source of the bass notes forward (among other ways to getnatural sounding bass in a speaker system but you can't get chest kicking bass on headphones even if you used Beats).


An analogy would be to avoid putting $40,000 tires onto a $3,000 car.

I don't like thinking of it in terms of MSRP (and worse, used prices) because technology improves over time and prices change.

In 2005 if you wanted decent power and low distortion,low noise amps you'd have to blow $600 on a Meier driving a $399 Sennheiser. In 2020 you can get a MassDrop Sennheiser for $150 and drive it with a $100 Schiit Magni 3 Heresy.

Similarly if Audi sold those prototype tyres that don't need air but sold them for, say, $5,000, you might consider that convenience worthwhile even on a $3,000 used car, as opposed the usual assumption that the analogy is more like putting Yokohama AVS dB sized for the Aston Martin Vanquish (that you normally have to order) on a Civic, which even if you manage to fit the wheels on there, will not handle properly since the Vanquish has wider rear tyres (and even the front tyres are wider than the Civic's tyres) and even then outside of this problem with handling won't win you any races. Because the AVS dB is a touring tyre designed to dampen road noise without tearing to shreds at the autobahn or slipping all over the place in spirited driving.

If everything is roughly in-line, then that's good for me to know (perhaps no upgrades are meaningfully worthwhile at all?) I suppose I'd just like to solicit opinions from people who know more about this stuff than I do, and get their recommendations on whether and how the headphone rig could be improved. Thanks!

Or check if you music will even have enough information that will be affected by compression or whether it happens to a degree that you'd notice or care about.

I mean, I have mostly pop music on Spotify. Yes sometimes the sound is affected, but if the occasional bass machine notes are slightly less deep than lossless it doesn't matter as much as double pedal drums on metal sounding hollow on compressed tracks.
 
Jul 13, 2020 at 1:38 PM Post #9 of 10

HipHopScribe

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One thing I'd like to improve is the ability to distinguish between Tidal Master tracks and Spotify. I've done a bunch of side-by-side listening to see if I can distinguish the lossless tracks from the compressed audio from Spotify, and the differences are essentially zero to me. Perhaps my DAC is configured incorrectly? Perhaps my overall level of gear cannot distinguish? Perhaps my ears are just not that discerning? People swear by the bit perfect lossless audio source from Tidal, so I figured I could try to tell, but I cannot. Would any changes in the components fix that? Or is it likely just a configuration issue and/or my own failing ears? Thanks for reading and helping me. Much appreciated!

Another thing I'm wondering: if any of the gear is significantly out-of-line with the others. For example, if the HD650s would be vastly improved by changing the amp? My understanding is that everything kinda works together, so I want to avoid any major imbalances. An analogy would be to avoid putting $40,000 tires onto a $3,000 car. If everything is roughly in-line, then that's good for me to know (perhaps no upgrades are meaningfully worthwhile at all?) I suppose I'd just like to solicit opinions from people who know more about this stuff than I do, and get their recommendations on whether and how the headphone rig could be improved. Thanks!

Not being able to hear the difference between lossless and high quality lossy does not indicate any problem with your set-up. Mostly it just means the lossy compression Spotify uses is working correctly, it's supposed to be indistinguishable.

The dirty little audiophile secret you've stumbled upon here is the vast majority of people can't tell the difference between lossy (with the right codec at sufficient bitrates) and lossless with most music using most set-ups, even very expensive set-ups (don't get me started on the uselessness of hi-res consumer audio).

A lot of the people who think they can are incorrect. A minority of people can tell the difference, especially with certain music, but there's really no reason to try to be one of those people if you're not.

Assuming you listen to music for pleasure, shouldn't you be chasing enjoyment? Being able to hear minute differences in encoding methods isn't likely to make the music sound any more enjoyable.

If you're gonna upgrade anything, upgrade your headphones, that's where the real difference is gonna be made. DACs mostly sound the same once you get out of the bargain basement stuff. Amps flavor the sound a bit more, but not as much as headphones.
 
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Jul 13, 2020 at 6:37 PM Post #10 of 10

Deolum

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You should try if you can get a good streamer. In my opinion changing the laptop into a good streamer is always a big upgrade.
 

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