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  »  New  Interested in reading more of your headphone experience..  Romy, these look like most of the only other possibilit...  Audio Discussions  Forum     11  72247  04-26-2007
06-28-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
scooter
Posts 161
Joined on 07-17-2008

Post #: 1
Post ID: 19570
Reply to: 19570
(Hopefully short) headphone journey
fiogf49gjkf0d
These days I am traveling frequently and relegated to listening to music via headphones and "portable" sources. I will briefly post my brief journey as a personal log. It might provide a starting point for those who might find themselves in the same situation.

GOALS

First and foremost, as this is a temporary situation, my principal goal is to listen to live broadcasts of Classical music from FM. Secondary goal is to listen to redbook files residing on my hard drive. I occasionally listen to online radio.

LIMITATIONS OF HEADPHONE SYSTEMS

Headphone systems have some obvious innate hurdles and I think headphone development is in its infancy as significant hurdles have not been addressed properly; some likely have not been identified. Recently a lot of people have put significant time/effort/money into the headphone experience and this has been a "hot" area of hardware "evolution." People sure are excited about the latest and greatest. My expectations are tempered, but I found an enjoyable solution within the limitations of the headphone world.

_____________________

PRELIMINARY RESEARCH

There are a few headphone internet sites that can be helpful to catalog what sources, DACs and headphones are available (features, benefits, obvious defects, etc.). I found head-fi.org to be a good primer and useful resource; some of the user observations are helpful and some are not, just like those at other internet sites or magazines.

I frequently visit Tokyo. There are lots of people and lots of consumer electronics stores. In Tokyo dozens of big electronics stores display several hundred models of headphones and lots of DACs, mobile players, etc. There are also a handful of headphone specialty shops with a massive variety of gear (e.g. over 100 different headphone models to try). The big electronics stores are usually quite noisy unfortunately but the smaller specialty shops are less noisy in my experience. This is a reasonable city to test out lots of headphone gear especially if you can bring along your own source/DAC/amplifier.

The ability to test a lot of different systems at one time is huge advantage of headphones over "hi-fi" and a weekend trip to Tokyo could end up saving you a lot of time and money vs. haphazard acquisition of gear over the internet based on reviews, blogs, internet posts, etc.

_____________________

HEADPHONES

In Tokyo I listened to dozens of headphones ranging in price from $20 to over $3,000, which covers the entire range of headphones being sold today.

From a pure sonics perspective I haven't been terribly impressed by the classical music headphone experience. Most just fell apart. Even my c1985 Bose alarm clock is more satisfying, but that is not an option whilst on the road. That said, some headphone systems were enjoyable with easier to reproduce jazz and popular music.

I found on-ear headphones hurt the ears after a short period of time; all of my noise canceling headphones became very painful after a few hours. Closed headphones provided deeper bass and some isolation but sounded closed in. In ear phones - no. Open headphones provided the most realistic experience but sound isolation was a weak point; I'm not convinced that sound isolation is an important factor if you are listening in a hotel, home or train, however. The increasingly popular planar phones were very heavy although if Jazz, easy listening is your thing. . .

I recently purchased the Sony MDR MA900 for $200. It is an "open" over the ear headphone with big drivers. They are very light and comfortable. I usually forget they are on and listen for hours and hours. Some internet people complain the Sony's look "flimsy;" I strongly disagree and find the industrial design and execution to be excellent. The lower frequency of headphones is limited and the bass of open headphones like the Sony is less than stellar. Overall for me they do classical as well as any headphone I tried. And I find them enjoyable to listen to for hours.

On Aguston Barrios Mangoré's "Cueca," from guitarist David Russell's The Music of Barrios (CD, Telarc CD-80373)...just kidding.

Sony inserted some silly circuitry to "improve" the listening experience on bad sources, which seems to mirror that of the MDR-F1. I think the idea was to make the listening experience relatively similar regardless of source; the electronics presumably impart some sonic penalty. I will remove that and note how things change. Also note this headphone is very low impedance so the output impedance of amplifier probably might need to be below roughly 2 ohms.

_____________________

FM SOURCE

I picked up the Sony SRF-86 which is a good portable FM source for $30, maybe the best among a small field. FM runs from 76-108MHz so it is a global source. The bass boost is terrible. The tuning dial is very crude but there is some electronics that lock in stations making the tuning process less frustrating.

The SRF uses the headphone cable as an antenna and has some dynamic noise reduction. Reception is quite good although I find the dynamic noise reduction algorithm irritating. As volume increases, the static become exponentially more irritating. The AM tuner is quite good although people say the older versions were better and all benefit from an alignment. I don't know if the FM stage can be aligned by a tech.

This guy Xin makes a reasonable case for changing some of the caps to return to the original engineering specs; I will try this also: http://www.fixup.net/tips/srfs83/srfs83.htm

_____________________

NEXT STEPS

Get a relatively portable DAC and headphone amplifier for laptop.
06-28-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
N-set
Gdansk, Poland
Posts 454
Joined on 01-07-2006

Post #: 2
Post ID: 19571
Reply to: 19570
Stax?
fiogf49gjkf0d
Scooter, being myself a Stax listener, have you tried
portable Staxes? Model 001 or something like that.
I've never heard them, but I'm wondering what they are worth
as an interesting attempt of portable electrostats.

Cheers,
N-set



Cheers,
Jarek
06-28-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
scooter
Posts 161
Joined on 07-17-2008

Post #: 3
Post ID: 19574
Reply to: 19571
Store experience with Stax
fiogf49gjkf0d
Hi N-set,

Interesting query on the small Stax. I don't want to go down the path of equipment reviewer but do want to answer your question and contribute where I can.

I have not tried the portable Stax model. Out of the gate, I could not reconcile the "electrostatic concept" with a tiny diaphragm and the small 252 amp.

I have tried the SR-009, SR-007, SR-507, and SR-407 many times over a total of some 5 hours with a variety of sources but always with some Stax branded amplifier. Every time I thought / suspected that the big Stax amps looked nice but were not up to the task. The sources were not especially good but I had the gut feeling that the Stax amplifiers were the limiting factor. The amplifiers were "loud" enough, but musical dynamics reminded me of driving a car in 5th gear in the city; stepping on the gas seemed to be an exercise in futility.

I found the SR-009 to be quite spectacular in many ways, although for some reason not entirely satisfying, with the jazz and light-listening demo CDs provided by the retailers. The SR-009s are certainly worth listening to as they are unique and detailed and clear. However, with my own classical CDs, the SR-009 just collapsed; disappointing but made the purchase decision easy.

It appears a significant number of Stax listeners have acquired (or put a deposit) on third-party "high-power" amplifiers that are more expensive than the Stax headphones. I have no experience with these third-party amplifiers. Although the amount of internet banter around amplifier upgrades for the SR-009 indicates some level of discontent with something, somewhere.

As a side note, I spent some time with the HifiMan and Audeze electrostatic headphones which seemed to all have the same challenge with classical music. Maybe electrostatics have problems reproducing "classical music" or electrostatics need different amplification solutions to reproduce "classical music" effectively.

I will revisit the Audeze LCD-2 and Stax SR-009 with different amplification as these seemed to have the most potential of the lot; the semi-annual Tokyo headphone fest might provide that opportunity. Given all the headphone stores in Tokyo, I don't see a reason to buy any "untested" gear.

And for now, the cheap Sony is a lot of fun.
06-28-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
N-set
Gdansk, Poland
Posts 454
Joined on 01-07-2006

Post #: 4
Post ID: 19576
Reply to: 19574
Stax amplification
fiogf49gjkf0d
Hi Scooter!

 scooter wrote:

I have tried the SR-009, SR-007, SR-507, and SR-407 many times over a total of some 5 hours with a variety of sources but always with some Stax branded amplifier. Every time I thought / suspected that the big Stax amps looked nice but were not up to the task. The sources were not especially good but I had the gut feeling that the Stax amplifiers were the limiting factor. The amplifiers were "loud" enough, but musical dynamics reminded me of driving a car in 5th gear in the city; stepping on the gas seemed to be an exercise in futility.


Although my Stax experience is limited to ownership of O2MkI (the main workhorse), Sigma, and Lambda Pro amped with SRM717 (driving Omegas)
and another SRM-T1 for the rest, I wholeheartedly agree with the above assesment, at least when it comes to the amps I own (I did briefly listen to 006t with my Omegas and didnt notice any improvement...anything actually). IMHO, my Stax amps (and 006t) are not up to the task,
lacking mainly in the dynamical department (they are anemic to put it simplistically). That's why I started the Staxquiades project to see what can be gained here (if anything at all...).


 scooter wrote:
I found the SR-009 to be quite spectacular in many ways, although for some reason not entirely satisfying, with the jazz and light-listening demo CDs provided by the retailers. The SR-009s are certainly worth listening to as they are unique and detailed and clear. However, with my own classical CDs, the SR-009 just collapsed; disappointing but made the purchase decision easy.


I have not heard 009, and actually I read some post on headfi.org of people saying they comeback to O2MkI after 009. No experience, so no idea.
On the collapse, I did not experience anything that drastic so far (my source is EMT930 with the stock arm+TSD15 and Romyfied EAR834),
but I do get a lot of irritating chaos on complicated loud passages. At this moment I tend to blame the amplifier (a characteristic "breaking"
of the solid state amp), but it may as well be the headphones too. Let's see what I get with the serious, dedicated amp I plan (easily convertible
to a spreaker amp if all that turns out to be a pile of costly crap).


 scooter wrote:
As a side note, I spent some time with the HifiMan and Audeze electrostatic headphones which seemed to all have the same challenge with classical music. Maybe electrostatics have problems reproducing "classical music" or electrostatics need different amplification solutions to reproduce "classical music" effectively.


My current working hypothesis is the second one, although I admit I do not have too many convincing arguments and I may be simply wrong.
Even with the very inferior SRM717 but +/- advanced source I'm able to get interesting musical moments on O2, but, as I said, full scale orchestra
is out of reach now. I believe, although seemingly small, the electrostatic diaphragm can eat very substantial amounts of instantenous current.
Hence a serious current capable amp is needed. Now, if you want to make it properly, you end amp with an amp of a size, cost, and complexity of a medium power speaker amp. Nobody would buy it, so nobody has seriously done it (I doubt in the T2's myth...with all those solid states servos, ccs' etc etc???). DIY or half-DIY attempts (Blue Hawaii, DIYT2 with 234 solid state elements, various Frank Cooter's DIY amps) use short-cuts here or there (e.g. fully SS servoed tubes or output transformers, etc).

I'd also add the source as a major factor. My O2's can be very-very nasty to the source limitations with some sources and wonderfully forgiving with the other.

Cheers,
N-set



Cheers,
Jarek
06-28-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
scooter
Posts 161
Joined on 07-17-2008

Post #: 5
Post ID: 19577
Reply to: 19576
Chaos & instantenous current: Implicataions for headphone and full-scale systems
fiogf49gjkf0d
 N-set wrote:

On the collapse, I did not experience anything that drastic so far...but I do get a lot of irritating chaos on complicated loud passages. At this moment I tend to blame the amplifier (a characteristic "breaking" of the solid state amp), but it may as well be the headphones too. Let's see what I get with the serious, dedicated amp I plan...



"Irritating chaos" is a better descriptor than "collapse." However, in my experience it didn't take much complexity or "full scale orchestra" or much "loudness" to rear it's ugly head. A single piano, classical guitar usually seemed ok, beyond that things went south very quickly. This was listenable for a few minutes, max then I just lost interest. I noticed the same problem at Goodwin's High End store in Boston with those low-sensitivity hi-fi systems but the failure/collapse/chaos was never so significant/brutal as it was with electrostatic headphones.

I think that is a VERY interesting issue to think about in the broader scope of sound reproduction with full-scale systems.

 N-set wrote:

I'd also add the source as a major factor. My O2's can be very-very nasty to the source limitations with some sources and wonderfully forgiving with the other.


I suspected these systems were sensitive to source and electricity; but these were potential secondary issues . This is because I tried a lot of these electrostatic systems, under different conditions, at different times, at different places and noticed the same "irritating chaos" consistently.

06-28-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
N-set
Gdansk, Poland
Posts 454
Joined on 01-07-2006

Post #: 6
Post ID: 19582
Reply to: 19577
Source
fiogf49gjkf0d
 scooter wrote:

I think that is a VERY interesting issue to think about in the broader scope of sound reproduction with full-scale systems.


I'm not sure it's so interesting in the context of speakers--you have much more parameters to play with than with the headphones.
You can change drivers, crossover points, topology, positioning etc etc etc. I believe this chaos is a very "low level"
hardware error so to speak.
But with the headphones I agree, it's more challenging.

 scooter wrote:

I suspected these systems were sensitive to source and electricity; but these were potential secondary issues . This is because I tried a lot of these electrostatic systems, under different conditions, at different times, at different places and noticed the same "irritating chaos" consistently.


From my limited experience I'd be very careful calling the source a "secondary issue" with top Staxes!
Right to the contrary.
I've never been to all those CanJams and other orgies of headphone lovers (I listen on the headphones
because this is the only option for me, not because I love them, I hate them actually), but looking at the dozens of pictures
appearing each bloody year one sees the same bullshit, again and again, no serious source efforts to talk about, and marginally better
when it comes to the amps (so called "Stax mafia" producing one engineering fetish after the other)
 Not to talk about musical tastes....As I said, I'm decided to try to resolve the amplification question
myself (the initial details are in the Staxquiades thread)

Cheers,
N-set



Cheers,
Jarek
07-02-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
N-set
Gdansk, Poland
Posts 454
Joined on 01-07-2006

Post #: 7
Post ID: 19597
Reply to: 19582
A proposal
fiogf49gjkf0d
Scooter, if you happen to be in my part of the world, I invite you to stop by my place
(I provide accomodation right in the city center) and listen to my EMT with O2.
My Staxquiades won't be ready soon for sure, but my source is well operational
(refurbished EMT930 + EMT929 with TSD15SPH + SME3012R with a Q4 FR-7f,
DIY Romy 834 with tribute MkII iron).

Cheers,
N-set




Cheers,
Jarek
07-02-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
scooter
Posts 161
Joined on 07-17-2008

Post #: 8
Post ID: 19599
Reply to: 19597
Thanks!
fiogf49gjkf0d
Thanks N-set,
Poland is absolutely a place I want to visit, although it won't be in the near-term unfortunately. I'll keep you posted. Do keep the Staxquiades project updated, however. Thanks again for your insight and invite.
Best,
S
07-02-2013 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
N-set
Gdansk, Poland
Posts 454
Joined on 01-07-2006

Post #: 9
Post ID: 19601
Reply to: 19599
Gdansk
fiogf49gjkf0d
You are very welcome! Keep in mind however, that I do not
pretend that my "sound" is anything special  at this stage--I'm very much on the
beginning of a long journey, progressing slowly. What I offer is a chance to listen to O2MkI with a
+/- advanced source and a shitty amp (as for now).

As for the Staxquiades, almost all of the iron is there (exept from the phase splitter
which Pieter of Tribute will take care of), quite some other parts too, but I have
more urgent needs now: to tame my TT on a suspended wooden floor (a mastodont
DIY rack is on the way).

Cheers,
N-set



Cheers,
Jarek
04-28-2014 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
scooter
Posts 161
Joined on 07-17-2008

Post #: 10
Post ID: 20739
Reply to: 19570
State of portable audio players Q4 2013
fiogf49gjkf0d
Linked is a brief article that categorizes the the portable audio player options available Q4 2013 as clearly and succulently as any I have seen. It also includes some portable dac/amp combos for your mobile phone. 

Of course, DSD is a hot buzzword regardless of sound quality, file size, music availability, player battery drain, or whatever. I also think it is fair to say that most players have varying degrees of clunky, buggy firmware. Apple's interfaces are decent, maybe the best, but far from perfect. I have heard several of these players and universally thought there was room for improvement in sound quality.


The author sells some of this gear but his opinions should not detract from the usefulness of the article purely as a descriptive inventory list. There are more portable options available, of course, particularly when one starts to consider separate amps or modifications to these things. 


And the article misses the recently released Sony Zx1, Sony F886, Fiio X5.... I'm sure there are others. The new Astell & Kern AK240 player is the most expensive at $2,500 (!); looks stupid in pictures but in person the industrial design is actually quite nice and it is easy to hold. Maybe the RedWine guy's mods will take the edge off some of the irritating higher frequencies of the AK240:

http://www.headfonia.com/the-future-of-portable-music-players/

http://redwineaudio.com/mods

P.S. I know Romy is not interested in equipment catalogues but I think this is a good supplement to my headphone journey thread. Unlike most people, I have easy access to virtually all headphone related gear so think it is worthwhile to share some sources of data.
04-28-2014 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
Paul S
San Diego, California, USA
Posts 2,157
Joined on 10-12-2006

Post #: 11
Post ID: 20740
Reply to: 20739
Format and Portability vs Sound/Quality
fiogf49gjkf0d
It seems like most of the effort these days goes into trying to make these things able to play and convert anything to everything, and scant consideration is given to the resultant sound. Does anyone else remember the little Sony "Pro" Walkman tape recorder/player? I heard some tapes of recorded-live jazz that blew me away; but when I looked around, there was essentially nothing in the way of pre-recorded music, and what there was, sucked. Similarly, like I shared here a while back, a friend of mine played his "uncompromised" WAV files over my system from his iPhone and it was very poor sound quality. I love the idea of having Music "at hand", but I see no reason at this point to "invest" in anything portable I've heard to date. With the current lack of direction (in terms of sound quality), one might at well at any point simply wait another couple of months until something "just as good" appears at a fraction of the cost.

Best regards,
Paul S
04-28-2014 Post does not mapped to Knowledge Tree
scooter
Posts 161
Joined on 07-17-2008

Post #: 12
Post ID: 20742
Reply to: 20740
Agreed . . . but
fiogf49gjkf0d
Paul - I agree with your comments overall. Indeed Sony had a couple of Walkman tape players with surprisingly good sound quality. At the time I thought they were expensive and delicate. Today I appreciate the amount of engineering and care that Sony put into them.


Unfortunately, I am constrained by a small headphone system these days. As you note, like all trendy consumer goods, one can wait another couple months for the next big thing, which is essentially the last big thing with slightly different clothes. But over a period of several years, I like to think some products can improve. We know lots just devolve, however.
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  »  New  Interested in reading more of your headphone experience..  Romy, these look like most of the only other possibilit...  Audio Discussions  Forum     11  72247  04-26-2007
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