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Headphone amps, external power supplies: what difference do they make?, was: "First post here, Hi."
1096bimu
post Dec 7 2012, 00:35
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Ever since I was told that it is possible to tell 320kbps CBR from loseless, I've had some interest in hi-fi, and that was a few years ago. Today, I use an ASUS Xonar Essance sound card and an AKG Q701 headphone. I am pretty confident that it sounds better than all the cheaper alternatives I've had before, and I am quite proud of my own ability to eliminate biases without blind testing (because of lack of equipment). However, 320kbps MP3 is still transparent to me. The absolute best I can do is tell 128kbps, and it is extremely difficult as I have to go through the samples multiple times to try and spot one or two obvious distortions, and tell from that. If I couldn't find any than they sound identical to me. I have read through many of the FAQs, compilation of test results and older posts so I know this isn't uncommon and isn't what I am worried about. I keep everything loseless even though I can't tell the difference because I don't have that many music, only a few gigs which isn't a problem for today's mobile devices (exported selected few from CD images).

The biggest problem is I keep running into this claim that headphone amps are supposed to make ginormous differences, especially with the AKG Q701. Some people say there is more difference with the K701 but aren't they identical except the colors? Of course nobody could show any blind test results and they are nothing more than testimonies. I am not a hard core audiophile I don't have any audiophile friends so it's not possible so it is not possible for me to try out stand alone amps. It just seems to me that many of these audiophiles believe in some kind of mystical superiority of external boxes. You gotta have an external DAC, and an external amp and you have to connect them together. I mean today they are just intergraded circuits why do they have to be external? The Xonar Essance says "Headphone amp card" and it does have an amplifier chip as well as those small ones that you can swap out and everything, so What's the difference?
In fact, I tried the Q701 on my cell phone, iPad, on-board intergraded audio, and even an iPod shuffle. They sound slightly worse I would say, the difference is quite subtle when compared to the Xonar. And I could not tell any difference between my phone, iPad and iPod shuffle.

I've also heard that you have to use an external power supply (it has a port that plugs into the computer power supply) for the Xonar to "bring out its full potential". Again, what's the difference? are computer power supplies not stabilized? I guess I also count as an overclocker so I know how voltages in the computer are set to two or three digits after the decimal, it is really sensitive stuff. I mean maybe the computer with its variable power requirement will destabilize the power source, but I don't listen to music while playing games or anything, I leave the computer idle for that. Also being a fairly high-end spec, the -12V power supply has a capacity of 650W (for 12V alone) , isn't that enough head room for small fluctuations?

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Klipspringer
post Jun 16 2013, 08:47
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Thanks Arnold for the thorough reply. I can't really draw any conclusions from my little A/B test beween headphone amps that wouldn't violate a TOS, so I'll leave it at that!

I currently have a really nice dynamic headphone setup and was sort of wondering if the electrostatic world would be oodles better. Considering the additional amp purchase it might not be worth it.

If the sound profile was totally different (I was hoping someone who had a Stax setup would chime in here), then it might be worth it, but if your knowledgeable pals say these two technologies are similar for the most part, then maybe I'll pass for now and wait until I can actually demo a system.

I would still like to understand from a scientific perspective why one electrostatic amp would sound different than another on a given electrostatic headphone. I don't really understan why a little (headphone) transducer should be any different than a big (speaker) one where, from my reading, it's been clearly demonstrated that speaker amps don't impart a marked sonic signature if they're operating nominally.

Why would the headphone transducer be different?
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jun 16 2013, 10:23
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QUOTE (Klipspringer @ Jun 16 2013, 03:47) *
Thanks Arnold for the thorough reply. I can't really draw any conclusions from my little A/B test beween headphone amps that wouldn't violate a TOS, so I'll leave it at that!

I currently have a really nice dynamic headphone setup and was sort of wondering if the electrostatic world would be oodles better. Considering the additional amp purchase it might not be worth it.

If the sound profile was totally different (I was hoping someone who had a Stax setup would chime in here), then it might be worth it, but if your knowledgeable pals say these two technologies are similar for the most part, then maybe I'll pass for now and wait until I can actually demo a system.


I had a chance to A/B a Stax versus a Sennheiser set of headphones at a high end audio show some years back. Not scientific, but I'm not also not claiming any dramatic difference. They both sounded nice, but the Sennies were a lot more practical. As I mentioned a local acoustics research lab catering to the Auto business (I live in Detroit) did both listening and technical tests and found that they were a little different but that neither had a strong advantage over the other.

QUOTE
I would still like to understand from a scientific perspective why one electrostatic amp would sound different than another on a given electrostatic headphone.


There's not a lot to understand. Making amps sound different is very easy. We built audio power amps from the late 19-teens to the early-mid 1960s before they were good enough to start sounding a lot the same.

These days you almost have to go out of your way to build a power amp that sounds different, but of course you can still do it and people do it for good reasons by putting a DSP inside the amp.

QUOTE
I don't really understand why a little (headphone) transducer should be any different than a big (speaker) one where, from my reading, it's been clearly demonstrated that speaker amps don't impart a marked sonic signature if they're operating nominally.


If you look at on-axis response curves for some of the better speakers, they have flatter response than many headphones.


QUOTE
Why would the headphone transducer be different?


Because it bypasses the head and the pinnae.
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Klipspringer
post Jun 16 2013, 18:54
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QUOTE
There's not a lot to understand. Making amps sound different is very easy. We built audio power amps from the late 19-teens to the early-mid 1960s before they were good enough to start sounding a lot the same.

These days you almost have to go out of your way to build a power amp that sounds different, but of course you can still do it and people do it for good reasons by putting a DSP inside the amp.

OK, I get this. Would it be fair to suggest then that some boutique manufacturers are deliberately (well intentioned I'm sure) tweaking components that result in EQ stuff inside the amp to distinguish the sound from another amp?

Is that the sort of general thing going on with claims over at head-fi that amp A sounds so much more better than amp B?

QUOTE
Because it bypasses the head and the pinnae.

OK Right. So here we're talking about the perception of sound rather than physical size of a transducer. Also, I just read that headphones are specifically tweaked to emphasize and de-emphasize certain frequencies so as to enhance the illusion of space.

Thanks again Arnold it's all making a lot more sense to me now.
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jun 17 2013, 12:32
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QUOTE (Klipspringer @ Jun 16 2013, 13:54) *
QUOTE
There's not a lot to understand. Making amps sound different is very easy. We built audio power amps from the late 19-teens to the early-mid 1960s before they were good enough to start sounding a lot the same.

These days you almost have to go out of your way to build a power amp that sounds different, but of course you can still do it and people do it for good reasons by putting a DSP inside the amp.

OK, I get this. Would it be fair to suggest then that some boutique manufacturers are deliberately (well intentioned I'm sure) tweaking components that result in EQ stuff inside the amp to distinguish the sound from another amp?


I'm not a mind reader, nor am I able to test every amp made. I suspect that most amps with eq inside are made that way to optimize their use with specific speakers.

One exception is power amps that are intentionally made with ridiculously high source impedances. But then the results still aren't exactly what you say - they simply exaggerate the differences among different speakers.


QUOTE
Is that the sort of general thing going on with claims over at head-fi that amp A sounds so much more better than amp B?


Again I don't know for sure, but I suspect that many of the perceived differences reported at audiophile sites have a very simple cause - really badly done listening tests.

How many people actually level match and do quick switching under the control of the listener? IME do those two things and many people will start noticing that things that used to sound very different suddenly start sounding remarkably the same. They may probably still hear subtle differences until they go down the blind test/statistical analysis road, but many "mind blowing" differences are likely to go away.

I'm of the opinion that many sonic differences are in some sense real. The sense in which they are real is that in terms of what the listener hears with his ears, there are real differences. However the real differences are not due to inherent differences in the equipment, they are are due to uncontrolled influences in the listening evaluation.

QUOTE
QUOTE
Because it bypasses the head and the pinnae.

OK Right. So here we're talking about the perception of sound rather than physical size of a transducer. Also, I just read that headphones are specifically tweaked to emphasize and de-emphasize certain frequencies so as to enhance the illusion of space.


The methodology and criteria for spectral shaping of the response of headphones probably varies. I suspect that like speakers, it is done based on a combination of measured response and the opinions of one or more golden ears, whether in-house or a consultant.

One of the interesting set of factoids out there is the response of Sennheiser RS 160, 170, 180 and 220 family of wireless headphones.

http://www.headphone.com/rightbetweenyourears/?p=1132

I suspect that all 4 have the same basic drivers, but that the electronics packages vary. We know for sure that the 160 has a fairly wimpy and brain dead electronics package compared to all the rest. As the price goes up, they fix the notch and crank in more bass. Both are just too easy to do if you can control the electronics package. The 220 may have a driver with more Xmax or not.

This post has been edited by Arnold B. Krueger: Jun 17 2013, 12:57
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Posts in this topic
- 1096bimu   Headphone amps, external power supplies: what difference do they make?   Dec 7 2012, 00:35
- - DVDdoug   QUOTE The biggest problem is I keep running into t...   Dec 7 2012, 03:05
|- - 1096bimu   QUOTE This could be a voltage issue. I don't r...   Dec 7 2012, 05:19
|- - Nessuno   QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Dec 7 2012, 03:05) But, ...   Dec 7 2012, 09:04
||- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (Nessuno @ Dec 7 2012, 03:04) QUOTE...   Dec 7 2012, 14:44
||- - bennetng   QUOTE (Nessuno @ Dec 7 2012, 16:04) QUOTE...   May 11 2013, 09:42
||- - Nessuno   QUOTE (bennetng @ May 11 2013, 10:42) QUO...   May 11 2013, 11:00
||- - bennetng   QUOTE (Nessuno @ May 11 2013, 18:00) In b...   May 11 2013, 13:51
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Dec 6 2012, 21:05) QUOTE...   Dec 7 2012, 14:40
|- - CSMR   QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Dec 6 2012, 18:05) If yo...   Dec 14 2012, 02:06
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (DVDdoug @ Dec 6 2012, 22:05) I don...   May 13 2013, 17:33
- - arward72   http://www.stereophile.com/computeraudio/a...ards/...   Dec 10 2012, 21:48
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (arward72 @ Dec 10 2012, 15:48) htt...   Dec 11 2012, 01:03
- - arward72   The external power connector for the ASUS Xonar is...   Dec 10 2012, 23:23
- - J.Philippe   Doesn't the Essence card already have a headph...   Dec 14 2012, 08:36
- - psgarcha92   Ok, so i was going through the forums, looking for...   May 11 2013, 04:56
- - saratoga   ^^^Amping a fuze to use with iems makes zero sense...   May 11 2013, 06:48
|- - psgarcha92   QUOTE (saratoga @ May 11 2013, 11:18) ^^^...   May 11 2013, 07:59
|- - Nessuno   QUOTE (psgarcha92 @ May 11 2013, 08:59) Q...   May 11 2013, 09:20
- - skamp   psgarcha92: this isn't head-fi, you have to ab...   May 11 2013, 08:34
|- - psgarcha92   QUOTE (skamp @ May 11 2013, 13:04) psgarc...   May 11 2013, 08:40
||- - skamp   QUOTE (psgarcha92 @ May 11 2013, 09:40) T...   May 11 2013, 10:28
||- - bennetng   QUOTE (skamp @ May 11 2013, 17:28) FWIW, ...   May 12 2013, 06:17
|- - db1989   QUOTE (skamp @ May 11 2013, 08:34) psgarc...   May 12 2013, 02:17
|- - skamp   QUOTE (db1989 @ May 12 2013, 03:17) Thank...   May 12 2013, 10:21
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (skamp @ May 12 2013, 05:21) QUOTE ...   May 12 2013, 14:31
- - psgarcha92   Skamp, How am i supposed to ABX Headphones? My Re...   May 11 2013, 19:52
|- - saratoga   QUOTE (psgarcha92 @ May 11 2013, 14:52) S...   May 11 2013, 20:51
- - psgarcha92   Respected Moderators, I am sorry that i did not r...   May 12 2013, 20:55
- - saratoga   ^^ unless something is really screwy with that amp...   May 12 2013, 22:36
- - saratoga   Any sound card will use a regulated voltage anyway...   May 13 2013, 22:41
- - Klipspringer   Hi Folks, This is my first post and I'm very ...   Jun 14 2013, 20:28
|- - saratoga   QUOTE (Klipspringer @ Jun 14 2013, 15:28)...   Jun 14 2013, 20:47
|- - Klipspringer   QUOTE (saratoga @ Jun 14 2013, 11:47) QUO...   Jun 15 2013, 00:57
|- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (Klipspringer @ Jun 14 2013, 19:57)...   Jun 15 2013, 14:42
- - Klipspringer   Thanks Arnold for the thorough reply. I can't ...   Jun 16 2013, 08:47
- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (Klipspringer @ Jun 16 2013, 03:47)...   Jun 16 2013, 10:23
- - Klipspringer   QUOTE There's not a lot to understand. Making ...   Jun 16 2013, 18:54
- - Arnold B. Krueger   QUOTE (Klipspringer @ Jun 16 2013, 13:54)...   Jun 17 2013, 12:32


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