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Xonar STX + HD800, a good idea? Why would HD800 need an expensive amp?, [TOS #6: moved from General Audio]
extrabigmehdi
post May 22 2012, 19:19
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hello,
I'm somehow fascinated by the availability of the hd800, at a local store, at a decent price (let's say a bit more than 1300$).
I'm quite intrigued by their "ring driver" thing, and off course if I could experience this "superior sound", before I get too much hearing loss from aging, that would be so great.
I wish to plug the hd800 directly to my soundcard xonar essence stx , which has an internal amp.
From what I 've understood the amplification on the xonar stx , is done using a kind of chip, op-amp, the LM4562, from texas instrument, that costs perhaps less than 5$,
and according to the texas instrument website , is able to take loads up to 600 ohms. The hd800 is rated 300 ohms.
Now , I 'd see often people at head-fi saying that the amp of xonar stx is not enough good, and I would need to invest in a separate amp from a least 250$,
and ideally in the 1000$ range.
There's also sennheiser that will release an amp, specifically tailored for hd600,hd650,hd800, the HDVD 800 , and that costs roughly 2000$ (the price hurts a bit, I didn't expect it would cost more than the hd800 itself).
Also asus released a separate dac/amp unit the essence one, with theoretically a more powerful built in amp than for the stx, but it's quite expensive (600$).
The fact is that I've seen a review testing the hd800 with the essence one (i.e the separate unit) , but not the essence stx (my soundcard).

So what do you think of getting the hd800, and plugging it directly on my xonar stx ? I already have a hd595 , a srh940, and hoping that I would experiment with the hd800 at least something "better", even if the setup is said to not be optimal. Otherwise I don't necessarily understand the rational behind a very expensive amp . Off course I could say the same for a very expensive headphone, but it has a "ring driver", so I'm willing to bet there's something different. thanks
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saratoga
post May 22 2012, 19:31
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Usually high impedance headphones are driven well enough by even bad sound cards. The main concern is if you would have enough volume, so I would plug the headphone in, and see if its too quiet. If it is, but an amp, if its not, you probably don't need one.
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extrabigmehdi
post May 22 2012, 20:06
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@saratoga
Thanks for the answer, but you'd see repeated over and over , across the net that amping, is not just about getting a higher volume.
It "would" affect the sounds too. For instance, some people experimented, that you can even listen to the hd800 from an mp3 player, but according to them, it doesn't do justice to the hd800.
Almost every "expert reviews" from audiophiles website talk of "synergy" between headphones & amps,
and usually suggest that unless you spend enough for the amp of the hd800, then it's better to buy a cheaper headphone, and keep the difference for a more expensive amp (for instance the hd650 + a 500$ amp). Why even sennheiser would release a 2000$ amp ? Sennheiser trying to make some fast money ?

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saratoga
post May 22 2012, 20:54
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QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 22 2012, 15:06) *
Thanks for the answer, but you'd see repeated over and over , across the net that amping, is not just about getting a higher volume.


Yes, but usually by people who are stupid. High impedance == low load == easy to drive. 600 ohms is practically a line out. If you have enough volume, you're fine.


QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 22 2012, 15:06) *
and usually suggest that unless you spend enough for the amp of the hd800, then it's better to buy a cheaper headphone, and keep the difference for a more expensive amp (for instance the hd650 + a 500$ amp). Why even sennheiser would release a 2000$ amp ? Sennheiser trying to make some fast money ?


Yes, they're primarily designed to separate fools and their money, and a lot of the reviewers you read are paid for their opinions. Spending over $200 on a headphone amp is just plain dumb. For an easy to drive load like those Sennheisers, even a $100 Fiio E7 is overkill:

http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/05/fiio-e7-usb-dac-amp.html

Low power electronics are cheap. Driving 10mW into a pair of headphones isn't hard. People who tell you otherwise are scammers.

This post has been edited by saratoga: May 22 2012, 20:54
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AndyH-ha
post May 22 2012, 20:54
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When some music provides especially high dynamic peaks, especially for very low frequencies, an audio traducers can require 100 times, perhaps 200 or more times, the average power being used to drive it. If the amplifier isn't capable of delivering that extra power, there will be some distortion and loss of audio output. In some cases there will be a clipped output.

Balanced against this is the fact that most music does not have such extreme peaks, that such peaks are usually few and far between in the music when they do exist, the fact that the amplifier usually only has to provide the extra power for a very short time, so many amplifiers can meet that brief requirement, and the fact that, in many cases, you may not be able to hear the failure anyway.

The high end audio market exist mainly as a means to an end for people who could not otherwise earn a living.
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DVDdoug
post May 22 2012, 21:42
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QUOTE
Thanks for the answer, but you'd see repeated over and over , across the net that amping, is not just about getting a higher volume.
There's also a whole lot of AUDIOPHILE NONSENSE on the Net. wink.gif There are essentially 3 characteristics or specs that affect sound quality: Frequency response, distortion, and noise.* If you read discriptions of the sound that use these terms, fine. If you read vague, non-scientific, non-engineering descriptions of sound quality... things that can't be measured scientifically, beware!!!!

If the soundcard/amp has too-high of an internal impedance, frequency response can be affected. The internal source impedance should be much lower than the load. With solid state electronics, it's easy to get a source impedance of a few ohms (if that's the designer's goal). But the specs can get tricky, because the manufacturer will usually specify the recomended load/headphone impedance, rather than the internal source impedance. At 600 Ohms, you are unlikely to run into impedance problems.

As far as noise & distortion, any added element in the analog audio chain can only make things worse. (Hopefully, not audibly worse.)

Some headphone amps have a cross-feed control to blend the left right channels. Some listeners prefer blended sound on some recordings.

Also if you have a noisy analog source, the amp can be used as an attenuator at low volumes to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. (Boost the volume at the source for a higher SNR, then reduce the signal & noise together with the headphone amp.)


With modern electronics, it's cheap and easy to build a headphone amp with flat frequency response, low noise, and low distortion. But, if you put a $5 chip in a nice aluminum box with a power supply and a few other components, and you manufacture, distribute, and sell in small quantities, the final product can easily sell for $150 or more. Put that same circuit into a computer or into a reciever, and it adds $5 or $10 to the cost.

Plus the higher the price, the more respect you get from the audiophile community. wink.gif A "normal" consumer is going to choose the more affordable product. But, the "audiophile" is going to choose the $2000 amp over the $1500 amp, or at least they are going to "lust" for the higher-priced amp. My marketing professor used to say, "When in doubt, raise the price." Personally, I'm not going to spend $2000 on an amp unless it puts-out 2000 Watts.



* There are a couple of other things that can affect sound quality, like time-related errors, compression artifacts, and acoustics, but these are not issues with headphones & headphone amps. Ethan Winer has an article about this, and he also has a video of an AES presentation where he talks about what's audible, and what's not.

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: May 22 2012, 21:46
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IgorC
post May 22 2012, 22:58
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QUOTE (DVDdoug @ May 22 2012, 17:42) *
QUOTE
Thanks for the answer, but you'd see repeated over and over , across the net that amping, is not just about getting a higher volume.
There's also a whole lot of AUDIOPHILE NONSENSE on the Net. wink.gif There are essentially 3 characteristics or specs that affect sound quality: Frequency response, distortion, and noise.* If you read discriptions of the sound that use these terms, fine. If you read vague, non-scientific, non-engineering descriptions of sound quality... things that can't be measured scientifically, beware!!!!

Well said.


Just technical information like specifications http://www.asus.com/Multimedia/Audio_Cards...#specifications and reviews with real measurements http://www.ixbt.com/multimedia/asus-stx.shtml
http://www.ixbt.com/multimedia/asus/stx/loop48.htm
Online translator might be not so great but still solution for those pages.

The output impedance of Xonar STX for headphones is 10-11 ohms so it will be suitbable for 300 ohms phones (HD800) http://www.stereophile.com/content/asus-xo...ds-measurements

This post has been edited by IgorC: May 22 2012, 23:05
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extrabigmehdi
post May 23 2012, 01:36
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QUOTE (DVDdoug @ May 22 2012, 20:42) *
There are essentially 3 characteristics or specs that affect sound quality: Frequency response, distortion, and noise.* If you read discriptions of the sound that use these terms, fine. If you read vague, non-scientific, non-engineering descriptions of sound quality... things that can't be measured scientifically, beware!!!!


That's a great starting point. I've been comparing few dac/amp sold line and I've ignored anything tube related . The three essential characteristics are not always mentioned, and it's sometimes confusing.

Example 1:
Woo Audio WDS-1, 1200$
Frequency response: 10Hz to 20kHz, +/-0.5dB
Distortion: <0.002%
S/N: 120dB

But I realize it's only a DAC. But the manufacturer is reassuring, you are actually saving money because:
"The WDS-1 incorporates a digital volume control which allows for direct connection to any power amplifier, negating the need for a preamplifier. ".
So no need to buy a preamplifier. Why would you need a preamplifier AND an amplifier at begin.

Example 2:
Corda classic : price 515 euros (without shipping).
Absolutely None of these three essential characteristics mentioned. But the manufacturer is reassuring, because at the homepage it says:
"Sure, you don't need a headphone amplifier to listen to your headphones. Just plug them in the headphone socket of your CD-player or integrated amplifier and you will be able to enjoy your music. Unfortunately though the headphone outputs on most of these devices are merely low priority afterthoughts and are made using the cheapest components. They sound accordingly."
And later explaining that the corda amp use high quality components.

Example 3:
This the latest portable dac/amp, from fiio, the E17 for roughly 150$.

SNR:
>=109dB(A weight)[AMP];
>=104dB(A weight)[DAC]
Distortion:
<0.001%(AMP);
<0.007%(DAC)
Frequency response:
10Hz~100KHz[AMP];
10Hz~20KHz[DAC]

Example 4:
Violectric HPA V200 Headphone Amp, for 1000$

Frequency Range (-0,5 dB) 5 Hz to 60 kHz
Dynamic Range (A-wtd) (same as SNR I guess ?) : 128 dB
Noise (A-wtd) -100 db
THD+N @ 10V / 100 Ohms (1W): -100 db
THD+N @ 4V / 32 Ohms (0,5W) : -103 dB


Well,let's focus on example 3 & 4. I assume that both amp the fiio E17, Violectric HPA V200 , would allow decent volume for the hd800.
From what I've understood both have outstanding characteristics , and I guess (correct me if I'm wrong) above what we are able to perceive . So it would makes no difference in sound quality if I would use either of these amp ? (i.e the 150$ fiio e17 , and the 1000$ Violectric HPA V200).

QUOTE
My marketing professor used to say, "When in doubt, raise the price."

This seems a nice advice for becoming rich.
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saratoga
post May 23 2012, 02:10
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QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 22 2012, 20:36) *
Well,let's focus on example 3 & 4. I assume that both amp the fiio E17, Violectric HPA V200 , would allow decent volume for the hd800.
From what I've understood both have outstanding characteristics , and I guess (correct me if I'm wrong) above what we are able to perceive .


What audio vendor in existence claims specs that aren't transparent? That doesn't mean every part has perfect output...

QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 22 2012, 20:36) *
So it would makes no difference in sound quality if I would use either of these amp ? [/b](i.e the 150$ fiio e17 , and the 1000$ Violectric HPA V200).


The conclusion I would draw from the things you've posted is that the HPA has 666% as much cost as the e17. Beyond that, who can say.

That said, independent testing of the E7 has shown it to be excellent, and the E17 is an upgraded E7. Meanwhile the HPA spec you linked claims that the output voltage drops by a disturbing large amount going from 100 to 32 ohms, which is pretty bad, so either they made up bad specs, or its really not very good. I think that the E17 is the safer option.
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Willakan
post May 23 2012, 12:34
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What you've read about the STX is wrong. The STX uses the TPA6120A2 specialised headphone amp chip, which performs exceptionally well into high impedance loads. If you were driving low-impedance headphones, I wouldn't recommend it, but it's a perfect match for the HD800s.

Ignore all the insane gibber about needing Ģ2000 amps. The STX will drive the HD800s transparently.
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extrabigmehdi
post May 23 2012, 14:50
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Thanks for your advices/explanations. I know this thread would upset lot of so called audiophile experts. A recent PM seems to indicate it, already.
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hlloyge
post May 23 2012, 22:08
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QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 23 2012, 15:50) *
Thanks for your advices/explanations. I know this thread would upset lot of so called audiophile experts. A recent PM seems to indicate it, already.


smile.gif smile.gif smile.gif
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Wombat
post May 24 2012, 01:49
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QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 23 2012, 15:50) *
Thanks for your advices/explanations. I know this thread would upset lot of so called audiophile experts. A recent PM seems to indicate it, already.

Unfortunately this PM underground is getting worse. I also already had some "Illuminati of Sound" that PMīd me here or elsewhere.
I hate it when they even post in public to only discuss over PM from now on when they realize they did the jerk. Of coarse it is the rest of the world that is stupid.
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post May 24 2012, 12:07
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QUOTE (Willakan @ May 23 2012, 07:34) *
What you've read about the STX is wrong. The STX uses the TPA6120A2 specialised headphone amp chip, which performs exceptionally well into high impedance loads. If you were driving low-impedance headphones, I wouldn't recommend it, but it's a perfect match for the HD800s.

Ignore all the insane gibber about needing Ģ2000 amps. The STX will drive the HD800s transparently.


Agreed.

I was just looking at the spec sheet for the TPA6120A2, and it is one heck of an impressive chip. Incredibly low distortion and noise. It can put out a peak current of 700 milliamps, and swing between +/- 15 volt rails. It is at least 2x the most that could reasonably expected from a headphone amp. It is hard to imagine headphones that it can't not only drive but potentially overdrive.

It can drive 4-8 ohm speakers to an honest 1-2 watts per channel with Halcro-like technical performance.

The raw part runs $3-8 from distributors and on eBay. It could probably be put into a headphone amp selling in the $50 range and sold for a reasonable profit. Needless to say such a product would be sonically transparent with a safety margin on the order of 10:1 or more. IOW, you could cascade 10 of these and fail to reliably detect it in an ABX test.

My biggest fear is that people are going to provide it with the full-boat +/- 15 volt supplies and some poor soul is going to make a mistake and fry his good headphones not to mention his ears. Run with +/- 5 volt supplies, it would be just about right. It could still damage ears, but it would be less prone to serious accidents.
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extrabigmehdi
post May 25 2012, 01:30
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Well , I tried the hd800 on the store , with an expensive amp (it's a 900$ harman kardon, I have no clue of the model).
I liked their sound, but I was hesitating to take them; the bass is a bit underwhelming for the price.
The seller, told me that there are better amps, but I didn't care.
At the end, they were the most pleasing headphone I've heard yet , that was enough to take them .
Also I admit , that all the hype surrounding the hd800 was a bit irritating , so finally I have them !
At home the hd800 sounded very similar to what I've experienced on the store, so the xonar stx must be good .

This post has been edited by extrabigmehdi: May 25 2012, 01:31
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extrabigmehdi
post May 30 2012, 04:24
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Audiophiles would make you cry. I told at head-fi that my Xonar STX is fine to run the HD800 and looked at the reactions . They made me realize , I have neither the experience of much more expensive gears, nor all the technical knowledge to defend that the Xonar STX is good. Jitter ? I didn't expect this to be a serious issue.

This post has been edited by extrabigmehdi: May 30 2012, 04:33
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saratoga
post May 30 2012, 04:36
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QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 29 2012, 23:24) *
Jitter ? I didn't expect this to be a serious issue.


Jitter with that card is a nonissue.

QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 29 2012, 23:24) *
So even if it sounds fine to me, you still feel like an idiot at the end.


Because clueless people don't agree with you? Who cares about imaginary problems if it sounds fine.
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extrabigmehdi
post May 30 2012, 06:26
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QUOTE (saratoga @ May 30 2012, 03:36) *
QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ May 29 2012, 23:24) *
So even if it sounds fine to me, you still feel like an idiot at the end.


Because clueless people don't agree with you? Who cares about imaginary problems if it sounds fine.


Well you quoted a part, I chose to remove meanwhile , but you are right.
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LithosZA
post May 30 2012, 08:19
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Yeah, bloody head-fi. When I first got my HD650 a few years back I thought they had too much fullness in the mids and treble rolloff which made it very boring. This was directly from my laptop's headphone out. I also had a Total Bithead to test them with and they sounded the same. Based on all the stuff I read on head-fi I decided to get a headphone amp for them....
What a waste of money. They sound exactly the same.

I came to the conclusion that the HD650 is not my cup of tea. It seems I like my sound flat. With recordings mastered well the HD280s sound soooooo good.
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Willakan
post May 30 2012, 09:05
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Jitter is indeed a nonissue with the STX, which actually has very low jitter. However, some very stupid people over at Head-Fi think that 300ps of jitter is audible, because they are stupid. They also think opamp rolling is a good idea, for the same reasons.

If you're getting post-purchase remorse, I'll happily rip apart every point in the thread if you link it (lots of spare time).
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skamp
post May 30 2012, 09:44
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Head-Fi will kill your enjoyment of your gear (however high-end), if you buy into what's said over there. It's also pretty clear that their never-ending quest for audio nirvana is not sane. I see no benefit in listening to them.


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