Why you might not need a better headphone amplifier.

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Lake People G103-S my reference headphone amplifier.

When I first jumped to the portable audio enthusiast train, my first pairs of headphones didn’t need a portable amplifier to sound great. I don’t say this in jest, it’s the truth.
Sure, my music players were mostly Sony Walkman’s at the time, so they had a decent sounding inbuilt amplifiers, this was in 90’s so you can imagine the quality of a mainstream amplifier these days.
My need for a better audio amplifier happened very late in the game when I purchased more demanding headphones that were not built to be driven by a standard consumer amplifier .

Given my experience with budget dynamic and balanced armature headphones I often dislike the idea of purchasing a amplifier if the one at hand is good enough to drive the gear.
I watch many newcomers worrying about what amplifiers should they buy to drive cheap and Mid-Fi headphones, when they should really worry about finding the best headphones they can possible buy with their current budget.
The community is often at fault here, new enthusiasts giving advice to newer enthusiasts, with opinions taken from Hi-End forums where people actually have headphones that need a better amplification.
Uninformed enthusiasts often give space to hype, snake oil sellers and more uniformed opinions being shared around, the very same happens with the need for better audio amplifiers.

Don’t get me wrong a good audio amplifier is very important if you have a headphone that can extract every ounce of quality, that is not the case with budget headphones that are limited by design and specs.
What I want to make clear is that the most important piece of the audio chain are the headphones, doesn’t really matter the money you spend on the amplifier, if you have shitty headphones no amplifier will solve that, so spend money were it really matters.

I don’t have a High-End amplifier so my Lake People G103-S is my reference when comparing mainstream amplifiers on motherboards, portable players, smartphones and Hi-Fi decks.
I only truly notice a true improvement when the headphones being tested have more demanding needs specially in terms of higher impedance and less sensitivity, that’s is not the case with cheap or Mid-Fi headphones with very low impedance and good sensitivity that can be driven by most mainstream amplifiers on the market today.
Some desktop motherboards are now claiming to drive up to 600 Ohms headphones, if thats your case, try them before follow the hype train.

I will be probably frown upon by most enthusiasts who read this, but this is my opinion based on experience, so deal with it. I’m not here to sell gear by making reviews like: “This great amplifier really made my cheap ass headphones sound amazing”. If you are in to that, go visit the so called biggest headphone forum in the world and be amazed at so much colors of bullshit!  🙂

Desktop is up and running.

So my Blackbird desktop is running like a charm, in the end I had to change the CPU for the X version of the Ryzen 5 1600 because Amazon didn’t carry the standard 1600.
The Ryzen 5 1600X is a brutal CPU and I won’t say more. Anyone who buys Intel these days is losing money big time but thats my opinion.

Right now I’m using my Nvidia GT740 with 2Gb DDR5 to do the GPU honors because I need to buy a good GPU to pair with the Ryzen.
After talking with a pal of mine I’m leaning over to the AMD radeon RX series with at least 6 Gb of VRAM, being price, support for Linux and specs the main reason I will change back to Radeon. GPUs are expensive and I want a decent one so I will need to save some money for it, if all goes smoothly I’ll buy it in January because Christmas is coming and I don’t want late or lost parcels.

Because the GPU will be power hungry I’ll need to buy a good power supply or I’ll have stability problems. The one I got is starting to show some age signs on the caps. This sucks but PSUs are very important so I’ll probably buy a branded one from Corsair or Cooler Master with a minimum of 750W.

Storage wise I got a “problem” like I always did.
I don’t like to put all my eggs in the same basket so I got 5 storage mediums on the desktop. Yes, I know this stresses the PSU power rails.
I got 2 drives dedicated to operating systems and 3 for storage. Besides that I got 1 external drive for backups, plus several 2,5″ HDD I have with several backups of the backup. I’m not paranoid, I just don’t want to lose the family photos.
I know I should buy a new 240Gb SSD for the Win10 partition but my wallet isn’t happy about that, so for now it’s in the back burner.

RAM is still on the menu, and I’ll continue to update the motherboard with more modules. If all goes as planned I’ll have 32 GB soon after I buy the GPU.

Noise
Because I’m a audio enthusiast and these things matter a bit, I should note that my desktop is not silent but it’s quite tolerable with five fans doing their job:
– 1 for the CPU radiator that takes fresh air from outside the enclosure. Almost silent even in heavy loads.
– 2 silent 12cm fans that push air from the front to the back of the enclosure to remove the hot air of the CPU radiator.
– 1 small noisy fan for the GPU, most of the noise comes from this bastard.
– 1 fan on PSU that takes air from the bottom of the case and pushes it outside. This position of the PSU was one of the reasons I bought this enclosure.

I think the noise will come down when I buy a GPU with 12cm fans, most of it comes from the small fan the GT 740 has.

Final words..for now at least.
My old Core2 Quad will serve my kids as soon as new parts arrive for the Blackbird, right now it’s stored in the attic. It will be their school PC because I’m against disposing of good old tech, maybe thats why it survived so much time.
I’ll make a small update on the state of the desktop probably when I buy the GPU.

KZ ES3 mini review.

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KZ ES3

As usual these earphones were paid with my money and I’m NOT endorsed by Knowledge Zenith in any way. This review will be added to my guide to KZ earphones.
The auditions were made with the stock tips that came with the ES3, if you use foam tips your mileage will vary but the piercing treble will be tamed.

With that out of the way, I don’t like these IEM’s, KZ has better options on the table right now. Buy this model only if you need a cheap comfortable IEM that you won’t mind losing on a commute or trip overseas, the fact it needs foam tips to tame the treble just shows these IEM are not well tuned from the beginning, so I can’t recommend them.

When I first heard the ES3 my first impression was that it sounded too bright compared with the my V1 ZS5’s.
This kind of sound might sell well with most public but lacks all around quality in the bass and treble control.
The bass and sub-bass are all over the place, the ES3 has a really “in you face” presentation and even if you love bright IEMs the ES3 really accentuates sibilant recordings.
I think these IEM’s were tuned to sound bright from the start, probably V-Shaped but I have no way to objectively measure this so take my word with a grain of salt.

The KZ ES3 is a very comfortable IEM, with a decent construction (for the price) which KZ is known for, a all plastic shell, around the ear memory wire and a stock KZ cable.

To end of this mini review, if you really must have a IEM with balanced armatures, buy the ZST Pro or the first version of the ZS5. I just can’t recommend the ES3.

The audiophile cult of High-End.

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Maxell “Blown Away Guy” advertisement in the 80’s.

I love music and like most audiophiles adore new shinny toys, be it new or vintage.
Sadly these days I’m getting a bit tired of most audiophile gear related magazines, sites and blogs, and it all started when I bought yet another magazine.
I picked up the 4€ monthly volume skimmed a bit and found one or two things of interest, mostly affordable Hi-Fi gear. All the remaining pages of the magazine were about very expensive High-End gear and when I say expensive I’m talking about car or motorcycle prices, just for you to have an idea.

I was dismayed that a reputable magazine could literally be only reviewing pricey Hi-End gear. Ok, most ads on the magazine try to sell similar gear but I’m sure most people who buy these magazines don’t buy expensive gear every month.
Sure, car and motorcycle magazines do this all the time, everyone likes to read about supercars but even those magazines try to deliver that kind of article as a special treat to their readers, after all there are classic motorcycles, cars, the story behind the great brands. etc. There’s a lot to write about, for example I truly enjoy special numbers which give a detailed account about the story of motorcycles.

So why do audiophile magazines keep publishing so much reviews of High-End gear and so very little of accessible gear?
From my perspective, maybe because readers buy the magazines without complaining about it and also because the ads that support the magazines are payed by the same companies who send gear to be reviewed. This also applies to specialized websites and blogs, even when they say they are not influenced by advertisers,etc. Yea, it’s bullshit…
I think most audiophile mediums cherish the “cult of High-End” a never ending circle that feeds on hype, inflated prices and elitism on the hobby.

Anyone who complains about the cult of High-End is branded and kicked from the kingdom of audiophiles.
Sadly new arrivals to the hobby want to belong to community and thus help the frenzy.
Can’t hear a difference between two amplifiers?
You lack the trained golden hear of a good reviewer, even if most of those audiophile reviewers hear less than a typical teenager.
The continued effort of high-end audiophile brands to eclipse less niche companies is something I’m watching since I remember reading about audiophile gear.
Creative Labs portable DACs are too mainstream, one needs to buy a specific brand which makes niche DACs, because every audiophile buys that obscure brand. Even if the quality control is bullshit.

Affordable gear is still around and people from outside the hobby buy it all the time, it’s not eyecandy or worthy of bragging rights but it does the job, just like most mainstream cars and motorcycles do everyday.
I understand why an audiophile magazine refuses to review a portable headphone amplifier made by a mainstream company, after all the reviewer would have to compare it with a very expensive model that would sound almost the same do to the law of diminishing returns in audio.
Said unwritten law says that after a certain price point you will have to spend large amounts of money to have very little improvement in audio quality.

The cult of High-End gear will not end soon but it’s important that audio enthusiasts know about it and call out magazines, websites and blogs on their biased views towards expensive gear.

About my stencil hobby.

My second attempt, after this photo I made some corrections.

I really need to dedicate more time to some of my “hands on” hobbies, I love stencil and lettering so these days I watch a lot of streams of painters on Twich just to have some tips and ideas how to deal with my own creative craft.
When I started drawing on jackets, it was mostly because I wanted unique designs, everyone likes to have unique pieces that show their own character, so that was my way of having cool stuff on the cheap.

My main problem with painting clothes is my love for black and dark blue colors, most paints need a lot of layers and the ones that don’t need it are expensive as hell.
I want to try stencil with bleach on black and color the bleached areas after.
Got some cool ideas for T-shirts besides the typical nerdy things that is.

I suck at drawing but I have no problems with stencil or copying line art, I got a fairly strong hand and when I was a kid my favorite thing was to copy layouts of warplanes from books and magazines so I could paint them after.
Thanks to that, I don’t have problems working with stencil on my clothes but I still want to learn new refined skills from painters I enjoy. Some of their techniques can be brought from the digital realm in to the stencil crafts, specially the way the mix colors and use shadows.

I don’t plan in doing stencil craft tutorials mostly because there are tons of material in Youtube already, but I might show some step by step or just works in progress as I make my T-shirts. Painting jackets is expensive not only because one needs to have a denim jacket around but also because denim requires a lot of paint if you want a nice work.
T-shirt on the other hand only require a pre-washed cotton base and I can buy them for 5 or 8€, so it’s really the best medium to work on if one wants to practice stencil.

Sorry for the rant but I just wanted to share what was on my mind, in a way it’s normal that I want to return to the “hands on” crafts because I do miss the days I worked in actually creating something that would endure time and leave a legacy to future generations, my current job is nothing like and that makes me sad.