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Divisions in sound, where does the line end/blur?

post #1 of 17
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So I've been buying some sound gear in the past two months. So far I've got a pair of modded Sennheiser HD555s and HD380s, while using an Asus Xonar DG to drive them. Tried two refurbished Klipsch Promedia 2.1s but the left subwoofer ports blew on both units so I returned those, sticking to Altec Lansing ATP3s for now.

I was looking into getting a pair of the v900HDs from Sony and a FiiO E10 headphone amp/dac just because I wanted to see a supposed increase in sound quality. However, when I brought it up to my brother, he heavily disagreed on my buying anymore headphones and if anything to just get a new sound card if I really wanted to hear a difference, since headphones are so close to my ears anyways. My brother's a former musician and music buff, having done lots of recording jobs here and there, singing/equipment/guitars/etc. so I know he's got credibility somewhere but I wonder about his standards.

His main point was that as far as digital sound goes, everything's the same especially for headphones. He even made mention that the REALTEK drivers these days were good enough. Where do you guys think the line is drawn in terms of sound quality coming out of the 1s and 0s? I've been looking into these things and I've been quite impressed where my wallet can handle. I'm hoping that replies can help dissuade/persuade from/into purchasing the v900HDs + FiiO E10. But curiosity is getting the better of me on this topic since I know there are forums dedicated to audiophiles (head-fi being an example).

Much thanks to those who view (and reply!)
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post #2 of 17
Honestly, I'm using Realtek drivers and I think that with a pair of good headphones that the sound is every bit as good as on my tuner with the same headphones. (used a mini adapter to test it with my regular audio headphones) (These aren't PC headphones)

I've got an optical output from my Realtek onboard sound controller that pipes to my DTS tuner and when I watch movies on my PC through my tuner they sound so close to how they sound coming out of my DVD player that I can't notice the difference.

Of course, both are digital outputs, both are optical outputs, and both are going to the same relatively high-quality tuner and speaker system that I have and I'm not using any sort of testing components to measure THD or anything like that. This is purely "seat of the pants" estimation on my part.

I know that for PC speakers Klipsch made some really nice stuff that sounded wonderful. Dedicated PC headphones I'm not so sure of, since I've been trying to find good true 5.1 headphones with discrete speakers rather than this one speaker per ear digitally simulated 5.1 sound. Furthermore, my headset has to have a good mic. I had a bad experience with the quality of the components from Razer, so that eliminates half of my criteria right there. I ended up with only two models (from different brands) to choose from and went with the one with the better microphone.

When I want good sound, I pipe my audio out from my PC to my Tuner and home theatre surround speakers. When I want good gaming sound without blowing my neighbors away or when I want to use my microphone, I put on my 5.1 surround headset and compromise a bit on quality.
Edited by shad0wfax - 12/2/11 at 4:44am
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post #3 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaine View Post

His main point was that as far as digital sound goes, everything's the same especially for headphones.

Sound is analog, always. Sound itself cannot exist in a digital form. The source material can be digital obviously, CD, MP3, FLAC etc are all digital. The data from those sources is always converted into an analog signal, this task is carried out by a Digital to Analog Converter (aka DAC) and may be part of a Soundcard, AV Receiver or a stand alone unit. Once that signal has been converted into analog it can be then amplified and fed to the headphones/speakers which translate the electrical signal into the sound we hear. The quality of the final step in the audio chain (the headphones or speakers) is as important as any other, if you have a poor quality pair of headphones then you will get poor quality sound there are no two ways about it. When using a high quality pair of headphones you will be able to get a much higher quality of sound providing that each of the other links in the chain are high quality too (Source material, DAC, Amplifier). If any one of those is low quality then distortion in the form of errors or innaccuracy will be introduced into the signal and are not able to be regained later on in the chain. Put in more simple terms, a high quality pair of headphones does not guarantee high quality sound, if the amplifier is bad, the headphones will sound bad too, the same goes for the source material and DAC. There is a term used in audio; Garbage in, Garbage out -quality lost at any stage cannot not be regained.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaine View Post

So I've been buying some sound gear in the past two months. So far I've got a pair of modded Sennheiser HD555s and HD380s, while using an Asus Xonar DG to drive them. Tried two refurbished Klipsch Promedia 2.1s but the left subwoofer ports blew on both units so I returned those, sticking to Altec Lansing ATP3s for now.
I was looking into getting a pair of the v900HDs from Sony and a FiiO E10 headphone amp/dac just because I wanted to see a supposed increase in sound quality. However, when I brought it up to my brother, he heavily disagreed on my buying anymore headphones and if anything to just get a new sound card if I really wanted to hear a difference, since headphones are so close to my ears anyways. My brother's a former musician and music buff, having done lots of recording jobs here and there, singing/equipment/guitars/etc. so I know he's got credibility somewhere but I wonder about his standards.
His main point was that as far as digital sound goes, everything's the same especially for headphones. He even made mention that the REALTEK drivers these days were good enough. Where do you guys think the line is drawn in terms of sound quality coming out of the 1s and 0s? I've been looking into these things and I've been quite impressed where my wallet can handle. I'm hoping that replies can help dissuade/persuade from/into purchasing the v900HDs + FiiO E10. But curiosity is getting the better of me on this topic since I know there are forums dedicated to audiophiles (head-fi being an example).
Much thanks to those who view (and reply!)

I find it very surprising that your brother doesn't have a good ear for what sounds good/bad, I can only assume he's never been exposed to high quality equipment. If you are serious about enjoying high quality sound then you definitely need to be looking beyond onboard sound (REALTEK) and a pair of <$100 headphones.

The best way to figure out what is best for your own music tastes/preferences is to listen to as many different setups as you can, take a look on HeadFi and see if there are any meets in your area. At a meet there will be headphones and amps in all price ranges and it's a great opportunity to experience a wide range of audio gear.
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post #4 of 17
I have to admit, I can't say that a sound card changed my sound quality much. Mostly because I changed everything I had within a short period of time (speakers, headphones and sound card) so I couldn't do direct comparisons. It did however fix the annoying static the Realtek would give me on my left front speaker (flawed mobo) and it's LOUD. The amp means a lot. 100% volume on the Realtek became 30% with the Auzentech.

IMO, if you're coming from low-end headphones, a sound card isn't as important as new, quality headphones. The sound quality is so much better in good headphones compared to bad ones that they're a much more significant change than a sound card. That said, I wouldn't rule out the sound card as a good buy, they all have different sound signatures that suit different persons and they all have better features than the Realtek. In your case, I think it's about time you get a proper sound card if you're going to upgrade your headphones.
Edited by B!0HaZard - 12/2/11 at 5:39am
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post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tUDJ View Post

I find it very surprising that your brother doesn't have a good ear for what sounds good/bad, I can only assume he's never been exposed to high quality equipment. If you are serious about enjoying high quality sound then you definitely need to be looking beyond onboard sound (REALTEK) and a pair of <$100 headphones.
The best way to figure out what is best for your own music tastes/preferences is to listen to as many different setups as you can, take a look on HeadFi and see if there are any meets in your area. At a meet there will be headphones and amps in all price ranges and it's a great opportunity to experience a wide range of audio gear.

It'd also be pretty nice if I had any time to go to any of those meets haha. But I'll definitely attempt to check it out.

It's not so much that he doesn't have a good ear rather than that his ears are probably (or were probably) too good. He spent about five to ten years with recording, singing, etc with decent recording gear, a few years with high end. From what I know, it was all tube equipment. He played guitar, sang, etc; he sometimes got very picky about his equipment and did own a pair of HD650s for himself if I recall. But he lost a major amount of his equipment after a scuffle with an ex so that kind of killed the career for him. He's never really been able to experience the wide range of setups that computers are able to deliver in this day and age so I assume the whole digital-to-audio process is something he skipped, since I assume to him all the MP3 players and sound card/amp systems won't be anything near what he had experienced or so he assumes.
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post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by B!0HaZard View Post

IMO, if you're coming from low-end headphones, a sound card isn't as important as new, quality headphones. The sound quality is so much better in good headphones compared to bad ones that they're a much more significant change than a sound card. That said, I wouldn't rule out the sound card as a good buy, they all have different sound signatures that suit different persons and they all have better features than the Realtek. In your case, I think it's about time you get a proper sound card if you're going to upgrade your headphones.

I've already got a Xonar DG, but I figure if I wanted better music then I might as well get the new FiiO E10 DAC/amp. At least with the FiiO E10 I can take it with me to use on my laptop if I ever needed to. The reason I wanted to get the v900HD headphones so bad was because I have a preference for Rock music and I heard that those have pretty good mids, and I can get them discounted out of Sony anyways. I'll throw in that for some reason or another I'm a Sony Fanboy. biggrin.gif I'm really not sure if the Sony v900HDs are an upgrade to the Sennheiser HD380s but maybe they're close to one for my tastes.

So for your recommendation, should I just go for the FiiO E10 or do you think there's a better choice out there? I think I'm set for the gaming scene with my DG, it's not like I can hear where people're coming from in BF3 from all the abusive amounts of vehicle explosions haha biggrin.gif
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post #7 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaine View Post

So for your recommendation, should I just go for the FiiO E10 or do you think there's a better choice out there? I think I'm set for the gaming scene with my DG, it's not like I can hear where people're coming from in BF3 from all the abusive amounts of vehicle explosions haha biggrin.gif

I was merely sharing my observations after I made the switch, I don't know too much about high-end audio. I'd rather someone else helps you with this. But yeah, I didn't notice the Xonar. I guess that's a decent mid-level card, might be enough.
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post #8 of 17
TBH, CBA'd to read after Tudj's post.

Line blurs with a DAC after the 150-200 dollar price point.

Headphones go much higher. Really depends how much you're willing to pay with headphones.

Amplifiers are a bit different. DIY will give you the largest bang for your buck. You can assemble a nice amplifier for significantly cheaper than one already assembled for you. So if you build your own, the line will blur much earlier than preassembled amplifiers.

Those that can't tell the difference between on board audio and a proper DAC are deaf or have not heard a proper DAC with good headphones.
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post #9 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Simca View Post

Those that can't tell the difference between on board audio and a proper DAC are deaf or have not heard a proper DAC with good headphones.

I don't completely agree with that as hearing music is really a skill more than anything. I've been playing music for about 5 years now and no amount of computer hardware could give me what playing music gave me, as in it trained my ears. It helped me by hearing subtle sounds, be able to separate all the instruments, identifying the instruments and so on. I've gained so much from it that it erally buzzed me out for ages as I couldn't believe how it changed me and for the first time it felt like I was really listening to the music.

So in conclusion the line ends where you wanted it to end. If you can really hear the difference between some gear change then you'll most probably want to go higher and improve on that.

It's a curse tongue.gif
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post #10 of 17
Confirmation Bias biggrin.gif
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