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-   -   What Can Portable Amps Accomplish? (http://www.anythingbutipod.com/forum/showthread.php?t=44202)

WalkGood 06-13-2009 05:59 PM

What Can Portable Amps Accomplish?
 
Some people are confused about what portable amps may or may not do, so I decided to post up a few thoughts. For starters, I am addressing the higher end portable amps and not the inexpensive cheap ones. Many of the cheap amps add unwanted hiss/hum, especially with overly sensitive IEMs or custom monitors with balanced armatures. Does that mean you have to spend a fortune on an amp, not necessarily? Just do your homework and don’t fall for the placebo effect as portable amps do not improve present poor sound quality. Keep in mind that many or most portable headphones do not necessarily need an amp (impedance of ≤ 60 ohms) and in my honest opinion a higher spend on headphones or iem's will deliver the most obvious improvement.

Some players may sacrifice the sound output (amp power) for size, battery life or other reasons, thus making portable amps a possible option. A few important things to keep in mind that affect the overall sound quality are the audio encoding* scheme that you use to encode your music, the quality of the original studio recording, the digital audio player and the headphones/IEMs you use. In my opinion the latter (headphones/IEMs) make the largest difference in improvement/performance. Either way, a good portable headphone amp should transform weaker players into more powerful portables that deliver a richer, fuller sound at lower listening levels. Even though I still believe; if your headphones/IEMs are bad or poor quality, you should first invest into a decent set of headphones, rather than spending money to amplify the bad headphones louder, thus "an amp is not a good fix for bad sound."

What can amp’s do:
  • Amplifies the signal for increased volume levels
  • Drives higher impedance headphones, amp can also help with low impedance iem’s that are too sensitive and produce hissing sound (possible impedance mismatching). A lower cost solution for this would be to use an impedance adapter, for example look here
  • "Possibly improve the stereo crosstalk (which might improve perceived soundstage/stereo separation) but you'd need a good amp for that, cheap ones like the FiiO E5 have enough crosstalk on their own," (thanks Martin)
  • Depending on which amp, it might add a new dimension or color the sound, I underline "might" as this is most likely placebo
  • Improves or increases the dynamic range from high to low, which can allow lower listening levels
  • Increases bass response, punch or thump, but this can also depend on the quality of phones to a high degree as well (see bad phones comment above). Also some amps may come with a bass boost option, which would deliver more bass but may introduce distortion
  • Bad or meager sounding headphones or DAP will not benefit or improve sound quality if you amp them
  • Placebo effect can be a factor, be careful and don't let yourself be fooled

*data rates of at least 192kbit/s (VBR) or higher and yes this may vary from listener to listener.

Marvin the Martian 06-13-2009 11:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365557)
  • Helps drive headphones, which in theory should help DAPís battery life

Many good points there WG. This one^^, however, can vary wildly with different set-ups. I'll lay out a "budget-fi" example. :)

The FiiO amps, E3 and E5, work differently from one another. The E3 is always at its max gain, so you can indeed lower your player's volume control, like your point above. However, it's reported to generate plentiful "hissssss" with low-impedance IEM's.

The E5, OTOH, with it's volume control, lets you combat the hiss condition by raising the source volume and lowering the amp volume, and this is the best way to use the E5 even with higher-impedance 'phones.

This assumes, of course, amping through the headphone-out, as opposed to a line-out cable, which I have no experience with personally. Battery life of a DAP using line-out vs. max or near-max volume through headphone out is something I'd be curious to hear about, from anyone with both types of set-ups.

This was a fine idea for a thread WalkGood, hopefully my little contribution here helps someone out. :)

Enigmatic 06-14-2009 06:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365557)
Two important things to keep in mind that affect the overall sound quality are the file format you use to encode your music and the headphones you use, both make a bigger difference in performance than most will admit.

MP3, Vorbis, WMA, and AAC files will be transparent at high-enough bit rates. Generally, for sound quality, transducers are much more important than electronics.
Quote:

Either way, a good portable headphone amp should transform weaker players into more powerful portables that deliver a richer, fuller sound quality.
One link that may help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-loudness_contour.
Quote:

What do ampís do:
  • Improved clarity at lower listening levels
  • Add a new dimension or color the sound
  • Increases bass response, punch or thump
  • Provide more calirity at lower volumes

Listeners should be very careful when evaluating sound quality only subjectively. To see why, please see my signature.

Detroit 06-14-2009 01:39 PM

Might as well add a bulleted list about DAC/Amp combos

Chop4life 06-14-2009 01:51 PM

how about a list on what amps dont do?

saratoga 06-14-2009 01:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365557)
Some players sacrifice the sound output for size, battery life or other reasons, thus making portable amps a good option. Two important things to keep in mind that affect the overall sound quality are the file format you use to encode your music and the headphones you use, both make a bigger difference in performance than most will admit. Either way, a good portable headphone amp should transform weaker players into more powerful portables that deliver a richer, fuller sound quality.

I don't really agree with this. Most players get little or no benefit from an amp using typical headphones no matter the format nor quality of the amp. Amps only make sense for very specific players paired with certain headphones. Probably 90% of the threads I see here involve people pair up players and headphones in ways that at best do nothing, or in a lot of cases probably sound worse then no amp at all.

An amp is something that goes with a very highend pair of headphones, or that addresses a very specific deficiency in a certain player when used with particular headphones. Pairing them up randomly with cheap headphones makes no sense at all to me. Most people would do better to spend the money on better headphones then an amp.

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365557)
Here are some of my thoughts, please post up yours and Iíll add or edit the list, give credit and if it comes out good, we can stick it.

See my post here:

http://anythingbutipod.com/forum/sho...6&postcount=76

Its basically just a summary of dftk's amp testing results, but still easier then digging through a pile of charts. Actually that thread has some good info in it, even if it got trolled to hell.

WalkGood 06-14-2009 02:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by saratoga (Post 365785)
I don't really agree with this. ... ... ...

Not really sure what you don’t agree with, the players that sacrifice sound statement, the proper encoding of tunes or the headphones you use statement o_O

But the statements I made above make perfect sense to me and I’m not talking about pairing with a $20.00 cheap amp. The two amps I own work fine and certainly add the demension I like to my phones ... Either way, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but if you get a chance to use a good amp you might think differently. Finally, I see you quoted me fine, but you did miss the most important point I made:
Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365557)
… … … Although I still believe that if your cans are crappy, you should first look to invest into a decent set of headphones, rather than spending money to amplify the crappy headphones louder. Plus a headphone amp can not reinsert what has already been removed.

BTW, I didn't stick this thread, only suggested it ...

saratoga 06-14-2009 03:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365790)
Not really sure what you donít agree with, the players that sacrifice sound statement, the proper encoding of tunes or the headphones you use statement o_O

I think I misread your encoding statement :)

Mostly I disagree with saying an amp should transform weaker players into more powerful portables. An amp is something you buy to fix a specific problem (typically that the impedance of a pair of headphones is too low or too high for a particular DAC), not something thats useful (or even desirable) in general.

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365790)
But the statements I made above make perfect sense to me and Iím not talking about pairing with a $20.00 cheap amp.

Yeah I realize that, but most people on these forums seem to be. Check out that HD-201 thread on the forums today. That guys getting awful advice from everyone. The thread should have begun and ended with "you have a 25 dollar pair of headphones that are pretty easy to drive, you don't have to care about things like amps".

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365790)
Either way, youíre entitled to your own opinion, but if you get a chance to use a good amp you might think differently.

I'd never let the way something sounded change what I recommend on these forums because I don't believe my opinions are generally useful or interesting enough to other people to be worth sharing. I mostly just work with facts and measurements like RMAA tests, which are the best way to look at amps and impedance anyway. And of course those are extra nice since inexperience or odd taste on my part doesn't change the result :)

Quote:

Originally Posted by WalkGood (Post 365790)
Finally, I see you quoted me fine, but you did miss the most important point I made:

BTW, I didn't stick this thread, only suggested it ...

Of course, you're absolutely right. I just don't like the idea of implying that an amp is a good fix for bad sound. Its usually not the best solution.

korn_thoughtless6 06-14-2009 03:41 PM

The only things I use my E5 for are to increase the bass (I love the fuze's sound, so I barely use it) and whenever I use headphones with my ds

Marvin the Martian 06-14-2009 03:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by saratoga (Post 365794)

Yeah I realize that, but most people on these forums seem to be. Check out that HD-201 thread on the forums today. That guys getting awful advice from everyone. The thread should have begun and ended with "you have a 25 dollar pair of headphones that are pretty easy to drive, you don't have to care about things like amps".

I understand what you're saying, and I did read the other post of yours that you linked to.

My one thing is .......those HD201's, the specs do suggest that they would be easy to drive....you're absolutely correct on that :). But in reality,they are not easy to drive.....the specs in their case are really misleading. It takes 50% of the max volume with a Clip to get a moderate listening level in a quiet room, with the EQ at Normal. With a favorite song, a lot of people would max the volume.

I have recently suggested to people not to get the 201's, for that very reason in this thread . But in the case of this guy already having them, in the thread you referenced above, at least he can get a more enjoyment out of them with the E5, instead of having a useless pair collecting dust.

Seems like it would be a little more welcoming to a newcomer to help them improve what they have a little first, than to just proclaim to them that there stuff sucks, and they need to replace it all. :)

Hindsight being what it is, I wouldn't have gotten the 201's if I'd known what I know now.....but sometimes, we have to learn things the hard way.

morfic 06-14-2009 04:26 PM

Quote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by WalkGood http://www.anythingbutipod.com/forum...s/viewpost.gif
Not really sure what you donít agree with, the players that sacrifice sound statement, the proper encoding of tunes or the headphones you use statement o_O

I think I misread your encoding statement :)

Mostly I disagree with saying an amp should transform weaker players into more powerful portables. An amp is something you buy to fix a specific problem (typically that the impedance of a pair of headphones is too low or too high for a particular DAC), not something thats useful (or even desirable) in general.
Considering most portable players are based on what the manufacturer saw as "best possible compromise" you already start out with a "problem" when you get your DAP.
You can live with the choices they made or let an amp help you "iron them out", for example have the DAP's battery last longer than if it had to drive the low impedance phones it came with or we bought.

Quote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by WalkGood http://www.anythingbutipod.com/forum...s/viewpost.gif
But the statements I made above make perfect sense to me and Iím not talking about pairing with a $20.00 cheap amp.

Yeah I realize that, but most people on these forums seem to be. Check out that HD-201 thread on the forums today. That guys getting awful advice from everyone. The thread should have begun and ended with "you have a 25 dollar pair of headphones that are pretty easy to drive, you don't have to care about things like amps".
The amp may come with bass boost or xfeed to alter how things sound for you. I bought some Super.Fi3 for example, then debated between amp and new phones, i picked up the phonaks and they were great, but after picking up a good amp i tried both on them, while i enjoyed them with either IEM, the Super.Fi3 benefit more from the amp due to their 13ohm, current loving design.
So amp before new phones can make sense...i think had i heard the S.Fi3 with amp first, i may neve rhave picked up the phonaks o_O.

Quote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by WalkGood http://www.anythingbutipod.com/forum...s/viewpost.gif
Either way, youíre entitled to your own opinion, but if you get a chance to use a good amp you might think differently.

I'd never let the way something sounded change what I recommend on these forums because I don't believe my opinions are generally useful or interesting enough to other people to be worth sharing. I mostly just work with facts and measurements like RMAA tests, which are the best way to look at amps and impedance anyway. And of course those are extra nice since inexperience or odd taste on my part doesn't change the result :)
I love graphs too, but in a subjective field like audio they do not tell the whole story, RMAA would show you higher distortion for a tube amp than a SS amp, would you then say a SS amp is better because of that?

Quote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by WalkGood http://www.anythingbutipod.com/forum...s/viewpost.gif
Finally, I see you quoted me fine, but you did miss the most important point I made:

BTW, I didn't stick this thread, only suggested it ...


Of course, you're absolutely right. I just don't like the idea of implying that an amp is a good fix for bad sound. Its usually not the best solution.
I got the suggestion a good amp on good phones and a good player can give you the "last 5%", not that i would dare call dfkt a liar, it's just that it too is way too general, it can be the last 5-15% to me at least un RMAA proven, subjectively enjoyed.
I got into it based on expecting the last 5% and got nice suprises of finding some things improve more.

Quote:

  • Make tunes louder or "amplify"
  • Improved clarity at lower listening levels
  • Add a new dimension or color the sound
  • Improves/increases the dynamic range from high to low
  • Increases bass response, punch or thump
  • Adds dynamics to the tunes
  • Provide more calirity at lower volumes
  • Drive higher impedance headphones
  • Helps drive headphones, which in theory should help DAPís battery life

1) Check
2) Check
3) Double check!
4) Check ("Oh wow, that was always there, i never noticed it before")
5) "Oh yeah" Check
6) See 4 (Remove?)
7) See 2 (Remove?)
8) HD600 on a D2 thanks to XM5 anyone? Check!
9) Check (Especially low impedance, current sucking phones)

Note: I like taking pictures, there is no "real/right" to WB/tone/contrast, there is only "What i like". Such is audio.

This thread should be more about what a amp could be to someone who is new to portable amps or headphone amps in general.

Oh yeah:

Quote:

Plus a headphone amp can not put back what is not all ready missing.
Fix that incorrect double negative there before i send your highschool english teacher after you, asking for your diploma back ;)
("Plus a headphone amp can not put back what is already missing." i think would refer to bad encoding/bad dac/player)
This is something that really needed addressing aside from the 2 seemingly repeating bullets.

saratoga 06-14-2009 05:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by morfic (Post 365811)
I love graphs too, but in a subjective field like audio they do not tell the whole story, RMAA would show you higher distortion for a tube amp than a SS amp, would you then say a SS amp is better because of that?

Yes absolutely. If I want effects I'll use a DSP. Then at least I can turn it off when I don't need it.

Quote:

Originally Posted by morfic (Post 365811)
I got the suggestion a good amp on good phones and a good player can give you the "last 5%",

Or it can take it away. If you pick the right example it could make things a lot better, do nothing at all, or make things worse.

Quote:

Originally Posted by morfic (Post 365811)
it's just that it too is way too general, it can be the last 5-15% to me at least un RMAA proven, subjectively enjoyed.

Maybe you shouldn't make fun of WalkGood's grammar just yet :)

Quote:

My one thing is .......those HD201's, the specs do suggest that they would be easy to drive....you're absolutely correct on that . But in reality,they are not easy to drive.....the specs in their case are really misleading. It takes 50% of the max volume with a Clip to get a moderate listening level in a quiet room, with the EQ at Normal. With a favorite song, a lot of people would max the volume.
That guy asked about improving quality though, not increasing the volume. I assume he probably had a player that went a little louder then the clip (which is a bit quieter then most at 0dB).

Now I admit I only listened to the HD201s on a PC so volume wasn't a problem for me. But still given that an E5 is almost as expensive, I'd recommend he buy new headphones in order to get better sound. A fiio is just going to give him 3dB of bass boost and some extra volume he probably doesn't really need.

morfic 06-14-2009 10:05 PM

Don't assume, and why do you keep riding the E5 when Walkgood already said he is not talking about $20 worth of amps?
Sorry you took offense to my lack of punctuation. It at least does not reverse the meaning of a sentence ;)

Marvin the Martian 06-14-2009 10:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by saratoga (Post 365840)
That guy asked about improving quality though, not increasing the volume. I assume he probably had a player that went a little louder then the clip (which is a bit quieter then most at 0dB).

Now I admit I only listened to the HD201s on a PC so volume wasn't a problem for me. But still given that an E5 is almost as expensive, I'd recommend he buy new headphones in order to get better sound. A fiio is just going to give him 3dB of bass boost and some extra volume he probably doesn't really need.

From his original post.....
Originally posted by OmegaChrono
Quote:

I'm looking to get an headphone amplifier for my Sennheiser HD 201 headphones. I don't really much about headphone amplifiers other than that they're supposed make them sound better. I also don't want to spend a great deal of money, (maybe around $50?). I'm mostly hoping to improve the bass to be at least comparable to the KOSS KSC75s which I use for running.
Look, I do agree with you that for his $50 budget he could most likely have found different headphones that sounded better than the 201's. I spent $69 (a little more, but worth it) and jumped into a whole new level of sound quality.

But really, all I did was answer his question for him, and for less money than he was willing to spend. So is that really bad advice? ;)

saratoga 06-14-2009 10:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by morfic (Post 365883)
Don't assume, and why do you keep riding the E5 when Walkgood already said he is not talking about $20 worth of amps?

Look again, I'm saying the E5 was a bad recommendation.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marvin the Martian (Post 365887)
Look, I do agree with you that for his $50 budget he could most likely have found different headphones that sounded better than the 201's. I spent $69 (a little more, but worth it) and jumped into a whole new level of sound quality.

But you didn't think this was worth mentioning at the time?

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marvin the Martian (Post 365887)
But really, all I did was answer his question for him, and for less money than he was willing to spend. So is that really bad advice? ;)

Yes it was pretty bad advice in that no one told him that what he wanted was silly, and instead everyone encouraged him to spend his money poorly.

Marvin the Martian 06-15-2009 12:03 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marvin the Martian (Post 365887)
From his original post.....
Originally posted by OmegaChrono
Look, I do agree with you that for his $50 budget he could most likely have found different headphones that sounded better than the 201's. I spent $69 (a little more, but worth it) and jumped into a whole new level of sound quality.

But really, all I did was answer his question for him, and for less money than he was willing to spend. So is that really bad advice? ;)

[quote=saratoga;365891]
Quote:

But you didn't think this was worth mentioning at the time?
They obviously already had the 201's. For the price of the E5, however, they could not have gotten something better than the 201. Therefore, the E5 is a cost-effective way for them to get better sound than what they currently have. I have spent many hours with that combo, and DAP-->E5-->201 is capable of better sound than DAP-->201. Also ,what would they have done with the 201's?
Quote:

Yes it was pretty bad advice in that no one told him that what he wanted was silly, and instead everyone encouraged him to spend his money poorly.
Silly in your opinion. I still say they'll be happier with the improvement, getting use out of what they already had, than being told to "chuck them in the Dumpster because they suck", and spend 3 times the cash to improve.

Down the road, if they want to upgrade, then great....I did. But I got months of enjoyment out of the E5+201 combo while I saved up money and read up on the various headphones out there, and now I have some that I find incredibly good. If I've enjoyed the journey, perhaps others will too.
Example:
Originally posted by me
Quote:

The key to minimizing any possible hiss with the E5 is having the source volume as high as possible without distortion, and the E5's volume being the volume controller. Some people try maxing the E5's volume and controlling volume level with their player, and that will maximize hiss.
somebody agreed.....
Quote:

Originally Posted by fnzeee http://www.anythingbutipod.com/forum...s/viewpost.gif
I got mine in 3 days, $24 shipped from Head-Direct...no hassles. Its a $22 amp....sooooo, I wasn't expecting much. Have to say the E5 is a nice well thought out package. At higher gain settings the unit does add a noticeable hiss, but doing as Marvin said above to dial it in has yielded great results. The sound is appreciably more crisp, full and slightly warmer in all ranges. The bass boost augments the low frequencies without muddying the sound. Midbass is defined and crisp, highs are clean and clear without adding shrillness. The E5 preserves source SQ without adding distortion, giving you more defined sound at lower volumes and additional power to drive higher-end cans. Worth every penny and more....just my opinion...
:)

Marvin the Martian 06-15-2009 12:08 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by saratoga (Post 365891)
Look again, I'm saying the E5 was a bad recommendation.

dfkt seems pleased enough with his, and he's far more knowledgeable than I am about these things. If you don't like it, that's fine. It's still a free Internet, I think. :)

morfic 06-15-2009 03:10 AM

Odd, i thought this thread had the intend to give some quick simple pointers about headphone amps for portable gear, what they can do, not what one particular suggestion for one particular amp/headphone combo is, that was the other thread, right, not this one, right?

Enigmatic 06-15-2009 04:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by morfic (Post 365938)
Odd, i thought this thread had the intend to give some quick simple pointers about headphone amps for portable gear, what they can do, not what one particular suggestion for one particular amp/headphone combo is, that was the other thread, right, not this one, right?

A headphone amplifier is a controversial subject. I do not think there is going to be a set of simple pointers that everyone is going to agree on easily. There should be two sets of pointersóone set for each side.

morfic 06-15-2009 09:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Enigmatic (Post 365950)
A headphone amplifier is a controversial subject. I do not think there is going to be a set of simple pointers that everyone is going to agree on easily. There should be two sets of pointersóone set for each side.

Sure some of the disclaimers he had in the text may be easier to digest if they are in a "what they don't do" bulleted list.


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