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  #1  
Old 09-21-2012, 02:09 PM
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Default Desktop amp for HD650

Hello. After lurking around Head-Fi for a while, I just got tired of all the cow feces going on there and decided to try and stay around here

I have the Sennheiser HD650 headphones. I do not plan on upgrading/changing them... ever. And because I plan on using them exclusively at the desk (my only audio source is computer), I am looking for a desktop amp and not a portable amp - meaning I would very much prefer AC power versus battery power among other implications.

I currently have a FiiO E10 (via 1/4" to 1/8" adpater included with headphone) and an NAD 3130 integrated speaker amp available to use. I haven't sat down and done detailed A/B testing or anything like that, but the general impression that I got was that the NAD sounds a little more laid-back and perhaps a little fuller, but possibly slightly muddy at the same time; the E10 sounds a little leaner and crisper, with the leaner part seeming more pronounced. The difference is pretty subtle and I'm not completely convinced that I could differentiate them in a blind test.

I've read that the E10 is at best barely sufficient to just get by for the HD650, and my understanding of speaker amps are that the headphone out is driven from the power amp with extremely high resistant resistors in place and therefore not really optimal for headphones (I think the headphone output impedance on the NAD is 220ohms, but not sure about that at all). With that in mind, if I have a budget of $250 (I would prefer to spend less), would I be able to get a headphone amp that will give substantial improvement?

One requirement is that I would need a line-out or pre-out option on the headphone amp. I'm currently using the E10 as a DAC and using the line-out to feed my NAD unit into the CD input. If the headphone amp has a line-out, I can feed that into the CD input instead; if it has a pre-out, the NAD has a input for bypassing the pre-amp stage and straight into the power amp that I can use.
Also, while I am kind of curious as to what tube amps sound like, a DSP for foobar2000 that's supposed to model the tube sound just made it sound... scratchy, and not much else. I realize that a DSP is not going to be the best representation of what a tube sound is, but I can't help but feel very skeptical. As a result, I think I would prefer a nice SS amp, especially when I factor in maintenance for tubes. I am still open to advice on this point, however.

Some amps that I've looked at:
Matrix M-stage (getting usb input option would replace FiiO E10)
Little Dot MKIII/MKIV
Woo Audio WA3
Maverick Audio TubeMagic D1
(this would replace my E10)

I'm completely open to the idea of used items (partly why some items I've listed go above the $250 price point). Also, I'm completely open to other suggestions.

Thanks for reading. I apologize for the long post...

Oh, and an unrelated question... is it normal that I'm find with the volume that I'm getting out the E10 on low-gain with the dial only turned to about 3 on the HD650? If the E10 is supposed to be barely enough... it seems odd that the volume that I'm getting is so high (though I realize that there's much more to properly driving headphones than volume).
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Old 09-21-2012, 07:31 PM
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I'm surprised the E10 is powerful enough also. Nevertheless, If you get another amp you probably won't hear more of a difference than the one you heard between the speaker amp and the E10. The HD 650's sound pretty funny under powered (i.e. no sound stage) and if there isn't much difference between the speaker amp and the E10, you are probably fine. The differences between amps in general just aren't as big as some people would have you believe.

My setup is HRT Music Streamer II -> Matrix M-stage -> HD 650.

If you do decide to try another amp anyway, the M-Stage certainly isn't bad. You might want to also consider the O2.
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Old 09-22-2012, 02:09 PM
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That was what I was guessing, that the differences between amps aren't actually that noticeable... I guess diminishing returns has an effect to a relatively large degree in the big perspective of things?
I would like to try the O2, but my understanding is that there is not a line/pre-out on any pre-built O2 builds (I've never worked with a soldering iron, so I'm not ready to tackle a DIY project :P), which was what ultimately kept me from being able to consider any Schiit amps or the Bottlehead Crack (among others).
I think I will just stick with what I have; I am quite satisfied with the sound that I am currently getting, after all. Thank you very much for your reply.
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Old 09-22-2012, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
That was what I was guessing, that the differences between amps aren't actually that noticeable ...
I agree other than IMO tube amps sound warmer but that can be achieved via VST plugins, so there's no need nowadays to go tube unless you like the beautiful glow of tubes

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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
I think I will just stick with what I have; I am quite satisfied with the sound that I am currently getting, after all. ...
Probably the best way to save is to stick with what you have as long as you are happy with the sound and it's impossible to hear a difference between competent amps IMHO. Currently I power my hd650s via WA6 and I use pico dac from laptop, nothing expensive but I like the way it sounds and I can hear it for hours without any fatigue. Partly because the headphones are so comfortable and they are very forgiving, besides the amp is no slouch either

Edit: here's an old pic of my rig, I've since gone to fb2k vs winamp and BBE VST at that time iirc
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  #5  
Old 09-22-2012, 06:33 PM
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Out of curiosity, I tried plugging in the HD650 directly to the headphone jack of the onboard sound card; Satellite_6, I definitely notice big time what you meant with the soundstage disappearing. I also feel like any texture in the sound flattens out to nothing from the onboard card.
Interestingly enough, I also tried running through a Sansa Clip (Rockbox), and it sounded surprisingly decent to me o.o The biggest difference was that it sounds very laid back, as if all the sounds get pushed far away. Adding a FiiO E6 to the mix brings some of the sound back up front where they should be, but sounds muddy (all compared to the sound from fb2k(WASAPI)/E10).

I suppose I'm rather surprised at the subtleties of the difference in each scenario though; in the end, none of them sound absolutely horrible, and I can still tell that I'm listening through an HD650. I think I can get a rough gauge in my mind of what kind of difference, say, an M-Stage would bring.

WalkGood, in regards to that pic, my oh my is that a big tube :0

And as far as that tube VST goes, is there a specific one you refer to that you've heard? And how would you say the fb2k is vs winamp/BBE? I would assume that BBE changes the sound signature quite a bit, which I personally try to avoid completely; I always just keep the EQ flat.
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Old 09-22-2012, 10:31 PM
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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
… WalkGood, in regards to that pic, my oh my is that a big tube :0 …
It’s the Sophia Princess rectifier tube, I still have the 5AR4 rectifier tube that came w/WA6. At one time I thought you could hear a difference but later realized it’s just placebo, but it sure looks killer in dim lighting.

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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
… as far as that tube VST goes, is there a specific one you refer to that you've heard?
I’ve tooled around with a few but nothing specific that I recommend, there’s thousands of them and you should test some out to see if any strikes your fancy. That said the convolver or foobar DSP “tube sound” are two if you're running fb2k and don’t go with a tube amp. Not sure what you know about them but you need a fb2k VST wrapper or VST 2.4 adapter in order to use VST plugins with fb2k, you can also read about the later here.

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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
And how would you say the fb2k is vs winamp/BBE?
They’re both great players, when I normally listen I don’t use any enhancements or EQ, I don’t think the hd650s need them and the WA6 with them has a nice warm sound sig and loads of power that I enjoy. That said, when tooling around for fun I like to test different effects, although it’s been a long time since I ran BBE other than on my cowon players which I immensely enjoy. That said, the BBE sonic maximizer is a pro tool that’s not cheap, one cool feature is the process button which allows you to compare between processed and unprocessed sound. Furthermore it allows you to regulate bass and treble frequencies while avoiding any clipping, which many other plugins do not.

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I would assume that BBE changes the sound signature quite a bit …
That depends on your use. You can use effects with the utmost subtlety and that way it doesn’t mess with the sound that much, the objective for me is to enhance for flaws in gear, not wild effects. For example when EQ’ing, I reduce certain bands only to enhance the ones that I don’t reduce, but I don’t EQ much unless I am trying to adjust a headphone that is lacking in certain ranges. So I use to compensate for gear flaws VS EQ'ing per song or specific artist, which in my book is a waste of time. Since I enjoy lows, mids & highs, I prefer a balanced sound signature from low’s to highs for my ears best ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪
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  #7  
Old 09-23-2012, 01:05 AM
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If the foobar tube DSP that you refer to is the one here, then it didn't really work for me at all... it did nothing but distort the sound for me. Understanding software modeling has its limits, I think I'll just wait out on experiencing tube sound until I get a chance to hear a proper real tube amp.

And I didn't realize that BBE could actually be used as a correction tool. My only real experience with it is from an old Aiwa CD player that happened to have BBE built in. It was just a 3-step toggle, and it mostly only had an effect of making the whole sound "clearer" or maybe aggressive in an almost unnatural way, though it was certainly pleasant sounding. I just didn't like that it went in means of completely changing the sound signature, and that was pretty much my sole experience with BBE.
I don't think I'll bother venturing in the whole VST thing (mostly out of laziness :P). If I ever feel the need to experiment with the sound, my NAD unit has basic bass and treble controls that work to a large extent, which I think I'll be satisfied with; though, I don't foresee a need for it with the HD650.
I feel as if I am straying quite far from the original topic at this point, however. And the answers that I have gotten have pretty much answered all my questions, so thank you very much for your help
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Old 09-23-2012, 05:59 AM
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If the foobar tube DSP that you refer to is the one here, then it didn't really work for me at all... it did nothing but distort the sound for me. …
My description of a tube amp sound is that the amp adds in or introduces harmonic distortion, more easily described as sounding “warm.” While not all plugins are good/great, there are some that have been proven to closely match a tube sound. While I played with some in the past I haven’t used one in ages so I can’t recommend a good one. Also since I currently use a tube amp I don’t have a need for a plugin now. The nice thing is that there’s thousands of VST plugins and just because you didn't like the first one you tried doesn't mean they're all bad. But as you said "sound effects" are not for everyone. Again IMO when adding any effect subtlety is best.

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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
… I didn't realize that BBE could actually be used as a correction tool. …
While I believe it is used as a correction tool in recording and broadcast studios, that isn’t how/why I’ve used BBE. I must have confused the response by using an example of subtlety with my EQ use description. BBE for me is to add tonal quality after I have adjusted EQ to compensate for poor headphones but like I said I don’t adjust EQ for the hd650s and I haven't been using BBE in a long while now either.

Edit: BTW I do use EQ often with some of my IEMs and el cheapo headphones
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  #9  
Old 09-23-2012, 02:58 PM
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Yes, I do remember briefly reading about the harmonic distortion involved in vacuum tubes and how that has an effect on supersonic frequency in music. It is quite intriguing, and I would definitely like to take a listen myself one day. But that day will be reserved for some time in the future.
Ah, yes, now I see what you were saying in your post; forgive me, I was reading that at around 2:30am, I got confused :P
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Old 09-23-2012, 03:08 PM
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Default HD650 Positioning

The best place to see and test a lot of this headphone gear (SS or tube amps, headphones, IEMs, etc.) for free is at headphone meets. Not sure how far you are from Nashville but I've read about meets there in the past. If you are interested your best bet would be to contact some of the head-fi members in the TN area via PM to find out if any meets are forthcoming.

Edit: Since we’ve already strayed off topic, thought I’d mention something that I find fun to do when I’m in the mood of experimenting. Not sure how the hd650 ellipsoid ear cup housings fit over your ears but with mine I have a lot of room to play. What I do is play with their positioning in relation to my ears, for example forward, riding high, riding low, more towards the back, etc., etc. This seems to deliver different flavors of sound stage and the way different frequencies are perceived by your ears. If you haven’t given this a try it’s certainly worth a little experimentation
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  #11  
Old 09-23-2012, 04:36 PM
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If the foobar tube DSP that you refer to is the one here, then it didn't really work for me at all... it did nothing but distort the sound for me.
So it worked just like a real tube amp

Problem with tube amps is that no one can agree what a good DSP should reproduce exactly. There were a lot of tube amp designs used in different places, and many of them produced a lot of distortion by modern standards. Even if your modeling is very good, people may still find the output unacceptable since they're used to more accurate transistor amps. Good tube amp DSPs seem to be more about tweaking in order to find something people find appealing than trying to accurately model any particular amp.
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Old 09-23-2012, 05:35 PM
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... Problem with tube amps is that no one can agree what a good DSP should reproduce exactly.
How true ...

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Originally Posted by saratoga View Post
There were a lot of tube amp designs used in different places, and many of them produced a lot of distortion by modern standards. Even if your modeling is very good, people may still find the output unacceptable since they're used to more accurate transistor amps. Good tube amp DSPs seem to be more about tweaking in order to find something people find appealing than trying to accurately model any particular amp.
I think you have a very valid point, the key word is "appealing" IMO. As you know what’s appealing to one might not be appealing to another person. While I’ve yet to hear a crappy sounding tube amp, I'm sure some exist, although I did find VST plugins that I didn't like at all. If the plugin allows for subtle adjustments its a little easier to get to an effect that one might enjoy. That said, with real tube amps I have heard some that don’t seem as warm or that produce very little noticeable distortion with a rather "appealing" sound quality.
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Old 09-23-2012, 05:59 PM
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You shouldn't be afraid of EQing IMO.
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Old 09-23-2012, 06:07 PM
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You shouldn't be afraid of EQing IMO.
While I like to EQ as I stated above, for me the hd650s don't really need it. That said, I can see how some peeps don't like to EQ but I still feel if done correctly a lot of short comings of flawed headphones can be tweaked to provide a better experience for the user.
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Old 09-24-2012, 04:39 AM
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How did you know that I live in Southeast U.S.? I don't think I've put anything about my location in my profile :0
But honestly, even Nashville (probably about 3 hour drive from where I am) is too far away for me. I don't really have the time for that kind of thing, unless it's maybe at most an hour away (which would even then be a stretch).
And unfortunately, my ear are enormous, so moving them around isn't really possible for me. The HD650 cups are borderline small for me :P

And I agree that there's nothing wrong with EQing as one sees fit. It is music for your own pleasure, after all. And actually, just yesterday, I had the volume very low, and I had to switch on the "Loudness comp" on my amp, which is basically just a V-shape EQ toggle to compensate for high/low-end losses resulting from low gain; in that kind of application, EQing has very practical applications, just as it is practical to compensate for flawed gear.
However, I personally prefer to keep the EQ flat and the sound in general just untouched.
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Old 09-24-2012, 07:43 AM
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How did you know that I live in Southeast U.S.? …
I took a peek at your IP so I could make an intelligent recommendation on how you can see and test loads of great gear for free. There’s plenty of stuff that I’ve had the pleasure to test out that I seriously doubt I will ever own but certainly worth the effort I made to get to different locations. At the very least I've learned something; I have validated my reasons to purchase the hd650s and have realized for me they hold a strong candle against headphones more than twice their price. I’ve yet to find any other headphone that I enjoy using as much.

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But honestly, even Nashville (probably about 3 hour drive from where I am) is too far …
I agree, I wouldn’t drive 3 hours on the possibility to check some gear out, but have driven ½ hour to one. There might be other cities closer to you, who knows some of those guys might even live in your home town but you’ll never know if you don’t check. On the other hand you may not be interested so just ignore my suggestion

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… unfortunately, my ear are enormous, so moving them around isn't really possible for me. The HD650 cups are borderline small for me …
Unfortunate but hopefully my suggestion will spawn other hd650 owners to try something different. Both dfkt and I laughed when we discussed this on irc a long time ago, each thinking we were the only to have tried

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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
… I agree that there's nothing wrong with EQing as one sees fit. It is music for your own pleasure, after all. …
I think Satellite_6 got that impression from an earlier post of yours, but I always say to each their own.

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Originally Posted by IamHere View Post
However, I personally prefer to keep the EQ flat and the sound in general just untouched.
As I stated before I like the same with the hd650s but that doesn’t keep me from trying out different scenarios when the experimentation bug hits …
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Old 09-24-2012, 12:46 PM
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Can someone explain to me how a headphone you prefer to EQ is flawed? My understanding has been that no headphone has a perfect frequency response to every ear. If I prefer to use EQ on any headphone, including the HD 650, I can't see how that's compensating for flawed gear.
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Old 09-24-2012, 01:53 PM
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Can someone explain to me how a headphone you prefer to EQ is flawed?
Flawed” is just a term I used, don't get hung up on this term ... what is flawed to me might not be flawed to you or visa versa. Here’s a perfect example, personally I do not like a V-shaped sound signature at all, like the M16 IEMs I reviewed. They had virtually no midrange at all, thus “flawed” to me (but maybe not you). Simple fix, I just lowered the bass & treble till I could hear the level of midrange that satisfies my taste and bingo I liked them much better. That said I’ve read that some people like a V-shaped sound signature, thus not "flawed" to them. Do you understand my use?

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My understanding has been that no headphone has a perfect frequency response to every ear.
Bingo, but again what is “flawed to me, … … …”

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Originally Posted by skip252 View Post
If I prefer to use EQ on any headphone, including the HD 650, I can't see how that's compensating for flawed gear.
It’s your prerogative to EQ or not depending on how you hear/interpret the sound from your headphones, that includes the hd650s if you wish, personally I don't need to with mine. That said, I'll EQ them once in a while just to experiment. I go by the motto "if you like it better EQ so be it" and "if you don't like it EQ’d," who am I or anyone else to tell you not to

Edit: BTW I’ve read that some people don’t even like the hd650s, so to them they may view them as “flawed.”
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Old 09-24-2012, 03:05 PM
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I was certain that's what you meant. I couldn't imagine you meaning that every headphone someone decides to EQ is inherently flawed. I just thought a bit of clarification might be helpful to someone who comes across this thread later.

I've seen enough of your posts to know when you say flawed the term applies to how it sounds to your ears. As you say, what's flawed or sounds great to me won't affect your experience at all. We both know each persons preference is what has to control the decision to use EQ or any other sound tweak. Ain't it great to have options?
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Old 09-24-2012, 03:09 PM
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Quote:
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I was certain that's what you meant. I couldn't imagine you meaning that every headphone someone decides to EQ is inherently flawed. I just thought a bit of clarification might be helpful to someone who comes across this thread later. ...
Thank you for thinking of it as I obviously forgot, great idea to mention that, as it is important to note IMHO.
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