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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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arward72
post Dec 10 2012, 21:48
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http://www.stereophile.com/computeraudio/a...ards/index.html

and the follow up review by a different pair of ears -

http://www.stereophile.com/content/asus-xo...-september-2010


These reviews contain a staggering amount of easily digestable information and will answer most of your queires.


As for closed versus open backed headphones the simple answer is :

Closed headphones provide insulation from the surrounding areas ambient noise much like earplugs and cannot be heard by others even when those people are quite

close, this makes them ideal for djs live mixing at a club in noisey enviroments or say you live near a busy highway or the neighbors have dog that barks constantly.

The downside of Closed back headphones is that they sacrifice the sense of an open soundstage and can sometimes it seems as if the sound isn't coming from either side

of you head but from inside the middle of your skull.

They do however provide tighter low end bass than open backed headphones which is good for modern music but can suffer from slightly bright treble.

Open backed headphones provide no insulation from the surrounding areas ambient noise and thus can be heard quite clearly by others from a distance they do however

provide a much more open soundstage and are more suited to places such as the home or recording studios where fidelity is paramount for monitoring / mixing.

The downside of open backed headphones is they tend to lack the tight bass of closed headphones due to leakage through the ports but as a rule have neutral top end.

Midrange however seems to swing either way with either headphone design.

Be all this as it may, most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference in any aspect of sound quality reproduction other than the soundstage.



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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Dec 11 2012, 01:03
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QUOTE (arward72 @ Dec 10 2012, 15:48) *
http://www.stereophile.com/computeraudio/a...ards/index.html

and the follow up review by a different pair of ears -

http://www.stereophile.com/content/asus-xo...-september-2010


These reviews contain a staggering amount of easily digestable information and will answer most of your queires.


One little problem - it is all based on sighted evaluations which are perforce, false of it you want to be more generous - speculative.


QUOTE
As for closed versus open backed headphones the simple answer is :

Closed headphones provide insulation from the surrounding areas ambient noise much like earplugs and cannot be heard by others even when those people are quite
close, this makes them ideal for djs live mixing at a club in noisey enviroments or say you live near a busy highway or the neighbors have dog that barks constantly.


On balance we have to mention what open back headphones have difficulty providing, and that is low bass. Putting the ears and the headphone driver into a sealed compartment maximizes the transmission of sound at low frequencies that have poor directionality.

QUOTE
The downside of Closed back headphones is that they sacrifice the sense of an open soundstage and can sometimes it seems as if the sound isn't coming from either side
of you head but from inside the middle of your skull.


As stated this is an excluded middle argument. Real world headphones are neither perfectly isolating nor perfectly open to outside sounds. All headphones exist on some kind of sliding scale. While open space provides a certain level of sound transmission, it is not always that different from what is obtained from various kinds of real world enclosures.

QUOTE
They do however provide tighter low end bass than open backed headphones which is good for modern music but can suffer from slightly bright treble.


Bright treble is usually due to reflections within the earpiece and within the inner portions of the pinnae and ear canal. Whether the phones are open or closed need have a fixed bearing on this issue. In practice there seems to be no general trend in treble response based on whether the headphones are open or closed.

QUOTE
Open backed headphones provide no insulation from the surrounding areas ambient noise and thus can be heard quite clearly by others from a distance they do however


Closed back headphones may or may not provide effective isolation of outside sounds.

QUOTE
provide a much more open soundstage and are more suited to places such as the home or recording studios where fidelity is paramount for monitoring / mixing.


As a recordist with thousands of recordings under his belt, I would say not so much. One of the biggest problems if not the biggest problem with monitoring in general and by any means is leakage of the acoustic field from the performance being recorded into the headphones, and contamination of the electronic sound which is what people want to hear while they are monitoring.

Open ear headphones are pretty useless in the studio unless the required isolation is provided by other, usually architectural or structural means.

QUOTE
The downside of open backed headphones is they tend to lack the tight bass of closed headphones due to leakage through the ports but as a rule have neutral top end.


Not "the downside" but one of many.

QUOTE
Midrange however seems to swing either way with either headphone design.


As does the treble.

QUOTE
Be all this as it may, most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference in any aspect of sound quality reproduction other than the soundstage.


I guess that depends on which people and which headphones.
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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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