Why you might not need a better headphone amplifier.

g103-front-1f
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!  🙂

Communities and sellers.

tumblr_inline_mlaiu3hvfk1qz4rgpOne of these days I was visiting a Brazilian headphone community at Facebook when someone asked if his motherboard was compatible with a pair of headphones and if he needed a external DAC.
Now, this is normal on that community thus I went and read some of the replies until my eyes gazed at so much bullshit that I had to reply to the apparent intelligent user who wrote it.

His reply to the question was something along the lines of telling the person to change the power cord of the PSU and also change the SATA cable for a special audio one, he followed all of this bullshit by giving a link to a very known Brazilian audiophile community that has some really nice members but also a lot of pseudo-science bullshit. Sadly this link was of the last type.

My reply was simple, all elements inside a computer case are made to tolerate a lot of interference, if that wasn’t the case CPUs would not process data, power cables are important for their amperage and will not change the audio or affect the DACs of the motherboard. SATA cables are made for data not audio, and adhere to specifications which are on paper.

Things went down hill from there, after the guy laughed at my reply I dismissed him as the typical audiophile which believes in voodoo and went my way.
That was until someone in the group told me he was a seller of audiophile gear, after a fast Google search I found his site and BEHOLD, he sold very expensive audiophile cables, with prices high enough for me to raise my eyebrow.

I was looking at a snake oil seller, just my luck. Everybody knows I love them!
I went back and told everyone that I didn’t know the guy was a seller and that I would have not interact with him had I known it beforehand. I avoid this type of people like the plague because they go against everything the audiophile hobby represents.
Anyway, another group member called him out as a charlatan and the seller actually left the community after that.
I must admit I had a little fun with his departure comment and shown him the way out, just like a good internet gentleman. Maybe I was a bit out of line but I hate snake oil sellers.
To be sincere the guy could have stayed because nobody would have cared anyway.

Now I’m sure this was not the last time a seller tried to sneak in to a community to guide future costumers. A nudge there, a push right or left and voila new primed costumer in the horizon.
I believe people who sell or are related to manufacture companies should always disclose where they work before interacting in a community.
In this case the seller could have put a visible link to his site on his Facebook profile but he didn’t do it. Clearly the idea is to sweet talk less informed people in to believing bullshit.

This is another fine example why one should be careful with reviews, opinion makers and hype. Bullshit is just around the corner and it will jump at you when you least expect it.

AKG K-518.

I love the AKG K-518 BLK edition, they are my new headphones for traveling, sure they can be a bit bass heavy but when one is outside that can be good thing.
They are not perfect so if you got a big head these will clamp hard on your ears, in fact that’s also the main reason why they isolate the outside noise so much, also these headphones have a huge and I mean huge cable so be prepared for that.
For 40€ these are great but grab them soon because they were discontinued.

Raspberry pi + Wolfson Audio Card project.

 

So I finally finished my Raspberry pi + Wolfson Audio Card project.

Yea, I was lazy….anyway I now can play 24-bit, 192KHz lossless audio on my rig and there’s no need for a power hungry computer.

The Pi box is behind the TFT, its a simple black box similar with the one with a wood front in the photo. HDD is next to the decks and yea I’m gonna disconnect the blue LED ou cover up that light.
I did a little overclock to the CPU but nothing too serious, heat dissipation is enough and the box has an open back.
I also have a little hub to connect the keyboard and mouse.

Software wise the Wolfson cards suck…most distros out there aren’t compatible with it.
It runs the OS image provided by the amazing Ragnar Jensen.

As for playing music, it does sound nice and there aren’t dropouts or noticeable hum.
Anyway I’ll put a decent keyboard on the thing when I can.

On a final notice, stay away from this board as it doesn’t have decent support.
There are better things out there these days.

Some updates on my gear.

So I bought a new CD player on Thomann, its a cheap Swissonic but for the money it’s pretty impressive.

Massive bonus is the fact it has XLR outputs.
I’ll be sincere I wont use half of the pro specs it has.
It’s a pretty solid piece of gear for the price, the fact its designed for a rack also helps.
Now why the hell did I buy a pro deck..because there isn’t any good Hi-Fi deck on this price range. Second hand is not an option, CD players are awful deals unless you really know the seller, have mad skills at repairing or have plain luck.

Also because I wanted free shipping I had to stack some more stuff on my order.
So I also bought two original Beyerdynamic DT-880 headbands and new pads for my DT-880…Always nice to have those in stock even if I know mine will last at least 10 or 15 years until they get awful but better safe than sorry.

I also bought a fender cap, the blackout model. I love this model plus its one of the few ones that actually fits my head. Fender I love you!

Also two months ago I went for a 8Gb Sony Walkman NWZ-E584, my BQ Aquaris E4 smartphone was OK for music with a portable headphone amplifier but the Sony packs a punch even with my Grados. Where it truly shines is with the active noise canceling headphones that are included, sure you lose some details but on a train or bus they are a thing of heaven.
Anyway to comute I use my Sennheiser CX 3.00 in-ears and with the Sony they sound really nice. I don’t enjoy expensive gear when I comute don’t want to get mugged for something stupid as too much bling.

As a follow up to my Beyerdynamic DT-880 purchase I did buy the Lake People headphone G103 and its a match made in heaven.
I don’t actually review gear but the Lake people is not build like a tank, the darn thing is build like a aircraft carrier! 😀

@chiisai-fukurou we both love Japan, you more than me but dude I also love German engineering!

I also got some cheap portable headphone amplifiers one from Creative Labs and one from M-Audio.
The E1 from Creative one can be a nice simple DAC also, as for the M-audio Bass Traveler like the name says it’s has a nice bass boost function that I enjoy using when I comute. I recommend both as entry level headphone amps, they drive my Grado and Shure headphones with ease.

This is a half year list of purchases related to my hobbies, thus it might look like a lot of things but it isn’t all that much if compared with more hardcore  audio enthusiasts.