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I can’t tell original from MP3. Is it my h/w? Can buying more help me?, [TOS #6: was “Please help this Pc audio ignoramus”]
rondo
post Jun 21 2012, 21:32
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Hello everyone,
I have a quite large mp3 collection (mostly high quality vbr) and some flac ape etc.
Worth mentioning: mostly classical.
Some years ago, per recommendation, I bought grado's entry level headphone sr60.
They sound OK.
But here is the deal...when listening to them on a laptop or pc, I couldn't even differentiate a lossless source from a low quality mp3.
I thought the problem was either with my untrained ears or with headphones that were not able to resolve subtleties...
But, now I believe it was neither, but lack of proper sound card or DAC.
I really want to understand the principle behind setting up a good quality pc audio system.
Can it be done with mp3 files...or will you guys tell me that lossy is crime against humanity.
All that I have read so far says wonderful things about grado's headphones. So I would like to keep them...but Just by adding a DAC with an integrated headphone amplifier, and keeping my mp3s, can I significantly improve my listening experience?
And if so,
What sort of DAC can you recommend to go along with mp3 and grado headphones?
Or..
Do you think, it's time to throw away mp3s and grado's 70 dollar headphones and start anew?
Many thanks in advance, and apologies for possibly repetitive nature of my questions. But there was no practical way to go through the thousands of pages here...


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rick.hughes
post Jun 21 2012, 21:42
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Here is a useful thread for you:
Bad ears or bad hardware? Please help
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mixminus1
post Jun 21 2012, 21:48
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The OP of this thread started that thread about 2.5 years ago.

@rondo: You're asking the exact same question, 2.5 years later? Why?


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rondo
post Jun 21 2012, 21:54
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Because still stuck in the same pit.
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rick.hughes
post Jun 21 2012, 21:59
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QUOTE (mixminus1 @ Jun 21 2012, 16:48) *
The OP of this thread started that thread about 2.5 years ago.

That's how I found it.
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EagleScout1998
post Jun 21 2012, 22:00
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What exactly do you mean by "low quality"? Audio quality is about how it *sounds* to the person listening, not about the number of kilobits per second.

Another thread that might be of some use:
ABX Just Destroyed My Ego
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db1989
post Jun 21 2012, 22:06
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QUOTE (rondo @ Jun 21 2012, 21:32) *
I bought grado's entry level headphone sr60.
They sound OK.
But here is the deal...when listening to them on a laptop or pc, I couldn't even differentiate a lossless source from a low quality mp3.
I thought the problem was either with my untrained ears or with headphones that were not able to resolve subtleties...
But, now I believe it was neither, but lack of proper sound card or DAC.

Why do you think that? What convinced you to rule out both of the other two factors, particularly your hearing and its susceptibility to the trickery performed by perceptual encoding?

QUOTE
Can it be done with mp3 files...or will you guys tell me that lossy is crime against humanity.

Please go and do some research about the origin of this site before you say anything else so silly about it.

Alternatively, if the past isn’t your thing (see below), you could just open almost any thread and see plenty of people using and recommending lossy formats, at lower bitrates every day.

QUOTE
Many thanks in advance, and apologies for possibly repetitive nature of my questions. But there was no practical way to go through the thousands of pages here...

Meet:
QUOTE (rick.hughes @ Jun 21 2012, 21:42) *
Here is a useful thread for you:
Bad ears or bad hardware? Please help
You already got many replies to the same question.

Just ignore the last reply in that thread, however, because it seems to be devoid of sense.

This post has been edited by db1989: Jun 21 2012, 22:09
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rondo
post Jun 21 2012, 22:11
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Ok...add forum ignoramus to audio ignoramus...
I could have revived that thread I guess..but didn't know how to search. All I had to do was to see my own posts...
Sorry everyone, but I hope we can go beyond that?
Can you tell me something as simple as this?
Will my system significantly improve by adding a headphone integrated amp DAC?

This post has been edited by rondo: Jun 21 2012, 22:11
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DVDdoug
post Jun 21 2012, 22:24
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I'm going to mostly repeat what was said in the older thread...

QUOTE
But here is the deal...when listening to them on a laptop or pc, I couldn't even differentiate a lossless source from a low quality mp3.
I thought the problem was either with my untrained ears or with headphones that were not able to resolve subtleties...
The MP3s probably are not as "low quality" as you think. And yes, perhaps your ears are untrained. There's nothing "wrong" with your setup...

Learning to hear/detect MP3 artifacts is NOT going to make you happier! I grew-up in the vinyl days and the defects drove me freekin' nuts! It was WORSE when I was familiar with a particular record and I knew exactly when that "tick" is coming... I'd sit there gritting my teeth waiting for the "tick" instead of just enjoying the music.

QUOTE
Do you think, it's time to throw away mp3s and grado's 70 dollar headphones and start anew?
If you are bored with the sound, you can get some new music (different songs, not CDs of the same songs that will sound identical to the MP3s), or get some new/different headphones for a "different" sound... Every headphone/speaker sounds different... Or, get some speakers. Or, play around with EQ, or add some reverb or something... Maybe get a home-theater system and play around with the Pro Logic Soundfield options (rear channel delay/reverb, etc.).

QUOTE
Will my system significantly improve by adding a headphone integrated amp DAC?
No. You can only get an improvement if there is an audible defect... You are not describing any defects. You are just getting bored with the sound and thinking, "There must be something better."

The most likely audible defect would be noise... If you can hear background noise during digital-silence, or when the music is quiet, you might benefit from better equipment. There is also a slight chance that (with a headphone load) you are getting frequency response variations from your soundcard.

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Jun 21 2012, 22:34
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rondo
post Jun 21 2012, 22:33
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Dvddoug, are you telling me an onboard 5 year old sound card vs a modern DAC will produce pretty much the same sound quality?
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rondo
post Jun 21 2012, 22:53
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I think I may have annoyed you by asking the questions that you probably get on regular basis...
In addition, I had another thread on the same topic (which I wasn't able to locate)
And I think this also added to your frustration.
Am I bored of the sound? Maybe...I need to think about it.
But I doubt it is simply being bored...
There must surely be something between 5000 dollar systems and cheapo motherboard integrated sound cards?
I guess i am trying to reach an optimum with the given...
A rather large mp3 collection and a pretty decent pair of headphones...and i made the mistake to ask if there was any additional component or revision to this system that would improve the sound quality? I don't think it is just boredom on my part...
But you maybe bored to hear the same things on and on...and on...
Which I can understand.
Thank you for your patience and your time.

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DVDdoug
post Jun 21 2012, 22:53
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QUOTE
Dvddoug, are you telling me an onboard 5 year old sound card vs a modern DAC will produce pretty much the same sound quality?
Well... I assume if there was a problem you would have said so... "There's no bass" or, "The left channel is louder than the right channel", or "The sound is distorted" or , "I'm hearing a buzz in the background".

Things have not changed that much in 5 years... When they started using transistors (instead of tubes) in the 1960s, it became fairly simple to make audio electronics better than human hearing. With integrated microelectronics it's even simpler and super-cheap to make very-good stuff.

High-end audio is expensive because it costs a lot to manufacture and distribute in small quantities, it's expensive to make good-looking equipment, and audiophiles won't buy it if the price is low.

Of course, the soundcard/soundchip is about the last thing that computer manufacturers worry about, and there are computers with poor quality sound.

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Jun 21 2012, 22:56
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Ron Jones
post Jun 21 2012, 22:58
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I actually disagree with Doug on this one: it's possible for a different DAC/headphone amplifier combination to yield an 'improvement', where any 'improvement' is mostly of a quantitative nature. That said, it's possible for that such a measurable difference may be audible. Without more information about the hardware in question, it's difficult to determine whether there may be an audible difference which you may subjectively perceive to be an improvement.

On this end of the scale, though, we'd probably be splitting hairs. Typical on-board audio solutions that existed five years ago tended not to be bad solutions and most would be classified as "adequate".
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rondo
post Jun 21 2012, 23:01
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Ok..Doug, thanks...i listen to large orchestral pieces...and when I have few instruments all is fine...but I get feeling of squeezed sound when all parties play together...other times I even forget that I have headphones...it can be very spacious and natural...but with large orchestra pieces it gets pretty bad...
No problem when I hear Bach sonatas and partitas...
Big problem when I hear to Mahler symphony....
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rondo
post Jun 21 2012, 23:10
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QUOTE (Ron Jones @ Jun 21 2012, 22:58) *
I actually disagree with Doug on this one: it's possible for a different DAC/headphone amplifier combination to yield an 'improvement', where any 'improvement' is mostly of a quantitative nature. That said, it's possible for that such a measurable difference may be audible. Without more information about the hardware in question, it's difficult to determine whether there may be an audible difference which you may subjectively perceive to be an improvement.

On this end of the scale, though, we'd probably be splitting hairs. Typical on-board audio solutions that existed five years ago tended not to be bad solutions and most would be classified as "adequate".

So Ron, you are telling me I will get more volume..but hardly anything more? Do I hear you correctly? My problem is not with volume...I want spacious sound...to feel that I am in a concert hall..I don't want the orchestra to play in my ear, if you know what I mean?
Thank you...
(maybe this thread is making more sense now? I hope so..thank you again)
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Kohlrabi
post Jun 21 2012, 23:11
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QUOTE (EagleScout1998 @ Jun 21 2012, 23:00) *
What exactly do you mean by "low quality"? Audio quality is about how it *sounds* to the person listening, not about the number of kilobits per second.

Oh, yeah?


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db1989
post Jun 21 2012, 23:14
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QUOTE (rondo @ Jun 21 2012, 22:53) *
There must surely be something between 5000 dollar systems and cheapo motherboard integrated sound cards?
Setting aside (at least till the next paragraph) the possibility of audible inferiority in very cheap and/or badly made hardware… You need to realise that a lot of con-artists rely upon this kind of reasoning: laypersons thinking that their wares simply must be amazing because they cost so much – as if market value actually has a direct relationship to quality/utility, and more so as if salespeople are bastions of honesty and integrity, especially when brands and/or absurd figures are involved in either case.

Back to the question of how far cheap or entry-level hardware can restrict quality or one’s perception thereof, I’ll leave details to the more technically minded, but I don’t foresee it having much of a significant effect. I remain sceptical that your, or (to be fair) any other hypothetical user’s, inability to perceive a difference between uncompressed and lossily compressed sources is due to limitations in hardware.

What about this latest “feeling of squeezed sound”? I thought the entire point of this thread was that you could not discern a difference? Have you verified this through double-blind testing and thus made it compliant with TOS #8? Or is this just a separate general impression that you perceive from your headphones, whether or not compression is involved?

QUOTE (rondo @ Jun 21 2012, 23:10) *
(maybe this thread is making more sense now? I hope so..thank you again)
Considering the above paragraph, not really! Either you’ve just diverged onto a different topic, or you’ve moved the goalposts to the other side of the field and possibly invoked an invalid subjective comparison in the process.

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DVDdoug
post Jun 21 2012, 23:30
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QUOTE
but I get feeling of squeezed sound when all parties play together...
It's hard to say what's giving you that feeling. Maybe it's something in the recording/production like dynamic compression... Maybe it's the performance. Maybe it's the fact that you are listening to headphones... It's REALLY HARD to get the sound of a concert hall at home with speakers or headphones.... The acoustics of the hall are a major part of live sound.

If we think about the 3 basic "specifications" or "characteristics" that affect sound quality, we are talking about noise, distortion, and frequency response. Of these, maybe frequency response is the problem.

Again, every headphone has different frequency response. You might go to a hi-fi store (or home theater store), take one of your CDs (or you MP3 player) and try-out some different headphones. Maybe bring your headphones with you so you can do an A/B test.

Once I was looking for "better sound"... I guess I was getting bored, but when I went to the store and listened, none of the headphones I listened to sounded as good (to me) as the Koss headphones I already had!

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DVDdoug
post Jun 21 2012, 23:40
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QUOTE
There must surely be something between 5000 dollar systems and cheapo motherboard integrated sound cards?
It depends on what we are taking about... Sure, a $5000 speaker system or these Wilson Audio speakers will sound MUCH BETTER than the computer speakers on my desktop.

It's cheap & easy to build a DAC that's better than human hearing. (It's also cheap & easy to build a lousy DAC.)

P.S.
Of course, if you have Wilson speakers you are not the kind of guy (or gal) who would plug-in a cheap soundcard...

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Ron Jones
post Jun 22 2012, 03:23
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QUOTE (rondo @ Jun 21 2012, 15:10) *
So Ron, you are telling me I will get more volume..but hardly anything more?

I wasn't speaking specifically about volume, though obviously that's one 'benefit' to a higher-power amplifier. It's possible (likely) that sonic characteristics will change in a measurable way and also possible (probably unlikely) that such sonic differences will be perceptually appreciable. That's about all I can say.

QUOTE (rondo @ Jun 21 2012, 15:10) *
I want spacious sound...to feel that I am in a concert hall..I don't want the orchestra to play in my ear

You could always try various stereo expansion effects and reverb. There's no getting around the fact that a headphone's transducers will vibrate next to your ears, though.
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skamp
post Jun 22 2012, 09:42
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QUOTE (rondo @ Jun 22 2012, 00:10) *
I want spacious sound...to feel that I am in a concert hall..I don't want the orchestra to play in my ear, if you know what I mean?


A DAC/amp won't help with that. Sounds more like you need to either try other headphones (some provide what they call a wider soundstage) or use quality speakers.

What a quality DAC/amp might help with is a more linear frequency response, lower distortion, lower output impedance and lower noise floor, but there's no telling whether it will actually make a difference to your ears.

To put things into perspective, my allegedly high quality laptop audio ("Audio by Bang & Olufsen ICEpower") measures pretty badly, while my €65 FiiO E7 and commonplace portable players such as my iPod Classic (as well as much cheaper alternatives such as the Sansa Clip+) measure much better, probably beyond the point of transparency to my ears (though I haven't verified that with an ABX test).

Of course, better gear will also help if your current setup is audibly lacking or broken in some aspects: my laptop isn't loud enough, and my E7 is having bad contact problems with both headphones jacks sad.gif

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stephan_g
post Jun 22 2012, 10:32
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QUOTE (skamp @ Jun 22 2012, 10:42) *
Of course, better gear will also help if your current setup is audibly lacking or broken in some aspects: my laptop isn't loud enough, and my E7 is having bad contact problems with both headphones jacks sad.gif

Real contact problems as in "I have to turn the plug several times to clean off oxidation" or rather intermittency (which would point to broken solder joints)?

Anyway, on-board audio may range from pitiful to perfectly fine (usually at least OK-ish these days), with the "perfectly fine" threshold depending on what you are driving with it. If you've got a run of the mill Realtek chip (e.g. ALC892, a modern but not top-flight part), expect ca. 75 ohms of output impedance on the headphone out. HD600s or DT880s won't be bothered, Triple.fi 10 Pros most definitely will. There are other potential issues, too. The Macbook Air 5G that NwAvGuy reviewed had a low-impedance output, but did not take well to even moderate capacitive loading - I don't want to be seeing oscillation at 10 nF when a 3 m headphone cable already has about 1 nF.

BTW, I'd be surprised if classical music gave even medium bitrate MP3 trouble. In my experience, its VBR bitrates normally tend to be rather below average, though it depends on the recording.
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skamp
post Jun 22 2012, 12:16
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QUOTE (stephan_g @ Jun 22 2012, 11:32) *
Real contact problems as in "I have to turn the plug several times to clean off oxidation" or rather intermittency (which would point to broken solder joints)?


As in, I have to wiggle the jack into the socket pretty much every time I pick up my headphones (which always remain plugged in when not in use), and sometimes while I'm using them. The problem developped over only 2-3 months of daily use, which is why I stopped recommending the E7.


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rondo
post Jun 22 2012, 14:07
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Ron Jones:

this is true...
you know, there is something inherently difficult about discussing these issues in forums.
all i can do in the end is try different hardware.
thanks

skamp:

very informative. thank you

This post has been edited by db1989: Jun 22 2012, 14:28
Reason for edit: please edit rather than posting again 2 min later; replacing unnecessary full quotes with names, and please do not bottom-quote when it is relevant
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Porcus
post Jun 22 2012, 15:22
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The following might sometimes be an issue:

Some headphones (particularly in-ears) are very sensitive. So much that you will have to stay down below 1 on your volume knob (assuming a scale to 10 ... or 11). And possibly so much that the background hiss is audible. With, say, 15 dB less sensitivity, the hiss would be way down and the volume knob could be operated in a reasonable manner.


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