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!  🙂

Audiophile reviewers and disclosure.

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

A word of warning before you read this, if by any chance you review audiophile gear keep in mind that I’m probably not writing about you.
With that out of the way, I’m totally against people who say they are reviewers or make review blogs just to get free samples or even money for their opinions.

In fact this post came to be because I started to notice a pretty awful trend on so called headphone reviewers, most of them do it because they receive free stuff which they get to keep after their reviews.
Bloggers know it’s wrong and the companies who supply them often make a blind eye, because it brings them more customers already primed by word-to-mouth hype.
In fact this kind of marketing strategies were one of the reasons the FTC made US bloggers disclose any kind of endorsements or free samples.

No wonder we never read truly negative reviews on some audiophile sites or blogs.
Those writers refuse to review bad products because it would ruin their relationship with the merchant who’s giving them free samples! Sad but true.
Sure some bloggers will disclose they are receiving free gear but it’s all for nothing if they are reviewing just to receive the gear, thus they lack the main thing any reviewer amateur or professional needs above all, integrity.

I totally understand the rush of receiving new stuff on the doorstep, but these writers are literally selling their opinion to the lowest bidder.
Because of them most who are serious about their work or hobby are faced with the sad reality of being pressured by those very same companies for positive reviews. After all if one reviewer sells out everyone else will surely will!

I totally suck as a reviewer and I lack the necessary wine tasting vocabulary most use on their articles, but I do strive for honesty on my opinions.
For example in my KZ earphones guide I disclosed this:

– All earphones are bought with my money from various online shops.
– I’m not endorsed by KZ in any way nor do I want to be. 

I can fairly bash any KZ earphone I bought because of this, It’s my money and I’ll give my blunt opinion on the gear. Until now I never gave a negative opinion on any KZ product, but I don’t know what the future holds.

In this niche everyone has their fair share of blame for the problem.   
Some reviewers are addicted to free stuff and sadly some consumers need to confirm their purchases with positive reviews.
Reviewers are very important to the current consumer society but they are also accountable for their words.
It’s up to each one of us to understand what’s bullshit and what’s not.

ZS5 added to my Knowledge Zenith guide.

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KZ ZS5

I updated the KZ earphones guide with the new ZS5 model.
I’m not a reviewer so my opinion is a blunt one. If the KS5 fits your ears go buy them.

KS5 
– Currently the best KZ IEMs I own. Sure there is some hype on the community about these, because after all we are talking about a 2 dynamic driver + 2 balanced armature IEM for less than 30€.
– Their sound has all the good vibes of the KZ IE8, plus one amazing bass that doesn’t overtake the music even if you are hearing metal. They are detailed and very fun to hear but they can cause some fatigue in the long run with some types of music.
– Noise isolation is decent but the fitting inside the ear is not for everyone, some adjustments need to be made for a comfortable fit and even so they can hurt a little in long listening sessions. In terms of comfort these IEMs are not for people with small ears.
– The shells are mode of plastic, they are sturdy enough but not amazing.
– Detachable stock cable is ok but I prefer the silver cable for some comfort around the ears.

Read more at KZ earphones guide.

A glimpse in to the history of Beyerdynamic headphones.

I’m a fan of Beyerdynamic headphones since I had the chance to try the DT 880 in the 90s, right now I have some models from the brand in my collection and they are a joy to hear, so what comes next is a labour of love of an enthusiast and should be viewed as such.

I tried to be accurate on my research and I’m always open to corrections and constructive opinions. Any help is welcome so please feel free to leave a comment.
This article will focus on headphones I find relevant for the hobby and will be edited when needed.
It’s quite difficult to date some models without the original launch dates from Beyerdynamic, thus most release dates are approximated. I did my best but I can only do so much with the material available. A reference is provided in the end of the article.

Eugen Beyer and Beyerdynamic.

Eugen Beyer was born St. Petersburg in 1903. His German parents would later move to Stockholm, Sweden and at the age of eighteen the future electrical engineer moved from Stockholm to Berlin, a land of opportunity for a young intelligent mind.

In 1924 he founded in Berlin the “Elektrotechnische Fabrik Eugen Beyer”, a company that would start by manufacturing / developing amplifiers and loudspeakers for the first movies with sound circa 1926, a decade later in 1937 the company would release the DT 48 the first dynamic headphones. The DT 48 model would be manufactured for 56 years with only a very few modifications.

Many other technical achievements in recording and reproduction of sound would lay the foundations to a now global company.

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Beyerdynamic building at Heilbronn 1965.

With approximately 350 employees in various departments , their research and
development is made “in house” and Beyerdynamic still manufactures products in Heilbronn, Germany. The company takes pride on the handcrafted work that goes it to their products and the “Made In Germany” logo further accentuates the importance given to their specialized employees who not only manufacture but also keep a close eye in the quality of the final product, something very few companies can do these days.

Eugen Beyer died in 1959, his family still owns the company after more than 90 years, an unusual practice by today’s business standards, but in my opinion also one of the reasons the company respects and listens to their clients.

Chronology 

1937 > DT 48 – A 75 years old legend.
Manufactured from 1937 to the end of 2012 the DT48 is an unusual sight in the consumer oriented world. Few companies can brag about having made a consumer product for so long.
The DT 48S model was released circa 1964, at the time it had a frequency response from 16 to 18000Hz just like the DT48, in 1971 the frequency response would go up to 20000Hz. These headphones are still avidly collected and have a massive community behind them. Tyll Hertsens from the site Innerfidelity.com measured the DT 48 E if you wonder about the sound and quality.

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The historical Beyerdynamic DT 48.

 

1969 > DT 480 Sound Juwel / DT 100 – The modular construction.
The DT 480 model had a impedance of 200 Ohm, with a frequency response from 20 to 20000Hz (Circa 1971), these Stereo headphones are in many ways similar with the DT 100 model which had an impedance of 400 Ohm and frequency response starting at 30Hz, much like the DT 202 model.
I still associate their modular construction with the 70’s and 80’s radio / TV broadcast headphones and headsets like the DT 102, or the DT 108 and DT 109 that would later be the exclusive headsets of the Olympic games in Seoul/Korea (1988).  

1970 > DT 900 – The 70’s child.
The DT 900 model had a impedance of 600 Ohm, with a frequency response from 30 to 18000Hz. The DT 900 came in a very 70’s red colour and even the ads were a product of that time.

1973 > DT 204 – Quadrophonic surround headphones.
A product of the sound advances of the 70’s these quadrophonic headphones would allow the reproduction of surround sound encoded media.

1976 > ET 1000 & N1000 – The electrostatics made in Germany.
The ET 1000 electrostatic model had a frequency response from 10Hz up to 25000Hz.
The N1000 was needed to push the power hungry electrostatics, in fact it could push two pairs if necessary. Sadly these were the only electrostatics Beyerdynamic ever did, they were made at least until circa 1984.
Looking at the quality of their current Tesla technology I can only imagine the amazing things they could have achieved had they continued developing electrostatic headphones.

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The Beyerdynamic ET 1000 & N1000.

1976 > DT 220 – A closed back with a lot of personality.
The DT 220 model had a impedance of 400 Ohm, with a frequency response from 20 to 20000Hz. These very robust closed back headphones probably were the inspiration for the DT 770 design.

1976 > DT 440 / DT 444 Infraphone – The silver twins.
Both models are similar in design, the DT 440 was a wired dynamic stereo headphone with a impendance of 600 Ohm and a frequency response from 20 to 20000Hz. The DT 444 Infraphone was a wireless model that needed a infrared emitter to work.
There was also a model called the DT 441. Sadly I couldn’t find more reference specifications about the 444 and 441 models.

1980 > DT 880 – A legend is born.
The release of the DT 880 would prove to be an advance in the quality of dynamic headphones. Beyerdynamic compared the performance of this model with electrostatic headphones something unheard at the time.
In the 80’s 3 versions of the DT 880 model were manufactured, the “Studio”, “Monitor” and standard versions, each had a different target market. They differed slightly between each other on design, construction choices and frequency response.
The “Studio” model had a frequency response from 5 to 35000Hz, the “Monitor” went from 5 to 30000Hz and the standard version went up to 25000Hz. All models had a 600 Ohm impedance. The vintage DT 880 is now a collectors item, after more than 3 decades some still sound amazing for their age.

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The Beyerdynamic DT 880 during the 80’s.

1980 > DT 660 / DT 550 / DT 330 –  The forgotten ones.
In the 80’s Beyerdynamic had models that were sadly eclipsed by the DT 880 legend.
(Circa 1984) The DT 660 MKII had frequency response from 15 to 25000Hz with a 600 Ohm impedance. The DT 550 had a frequency response from 10 to 22000Hz also with a 600 Ohm impedance and finally the DT 330 MKII had a 40 Ohm impedance and a frequency response from 15 to 18000Hz. All the models had very respectable specifications so I’m sure many collectors still want them.

1985 > DT 770 – The musician best friend.
The DT 770 closed back model would also become a legend on it’s on right. The very robust Pro version is still cherished by musicians in every part of the world. The 10 to 30000Hz frequency response and 600 Ohms impedance (Circa 1993) were also probably very good reasons this model achieved a cult status in recording studios.

1985 > DT 990 – An open dynamic reference.
The DT 990 was for a time the best open back model Beyerdynamic had to offer, the 600 Ohm impedance and 5 to 350000Hz frequency response made these flagship headphones a professional reference.

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The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro and DT 770 Pro during the 90’s.

2006 > Headzone – Surrounded by sound.
A technology for reproducing 5.1 virtual surround sound via headphones, mostly a tool for professionals that would later be released to the mainstream public.

2009 > T1 – Tesla technology unleashed.
The T1 model was the first headphone to bring the new tesla technology to the table, the new flagship model had a frequency response from 5 to 50000Hz and a impedance of 600 Ohm.

2015 > DT 1770 Pro
Inspired by the DT 770 the new DT 1770 Pro is a closed back studio flagship which uses the same tesla technology as the T1. The frequency response goes from 5 to 40000Hz and the impedance is 250 Ohm.  

2016 > DT 1990 Pro
The DT 1990 Pro are the evolution of the DT 990 open back model. The specifications are the same as the DT 1770 Pro.

2024 > The Future.
Beyerdynamic will be 100 years in the year 2024.
I’m sure many good things are still yet to come.

Editor notes and acknowledgements.
Again please note the chronology above only refers to relevant headphones, the Beyerdynamic timeline is full of important achievements, for more information please visit beyerdynamic.com. Also I’m well aware I didn’t include the famous DT 49 used in Plattenbars (record-bars) in the 50’s.

The frequency response and impedance are there just to give an very general idea about the specifications of the headphones. You can visit the wegavision website and research the old Beyerdynamic catalogs or again go to Beyerdynamic.com and access their specification pages.

This article would not be possible without the help of many collectors who contributed with catalogs on the wegavision website and many others who devoted their time to collect, restore and measure Beyerdynamic headphones.  To all of them my sincere thank you!

My sincere gratitude goes also to Beyerdynamic for letting me use in this article the photographs of the Beyerdynamic building in Heilbronn and the DT48.
Last but not least for the correction on the city of birth of Eugen Beyer.

References:
http://www.generationaudio.com
http://www.beyerdynamic.com
wegavision.pytalhost.com (Catalogues)
http://www.gbaudio.co.uk/data/dt100.htm (Specifications)
http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/historic-beyerdynamic-dt-48-e-25-ohm
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadraphonic_sound
http://www.radiomuseum.org
http://www.head-fi.org

Copyrights:
For legal reasons all images belong to their respective owners and are not included on the main Creative Commons license of my blog. 
If you want to use any image of this article please contact their respective owners.
The Beyerdynamic building in Heilbronn and DT48 photographs are used with permission from Beyerdynamic.
All other photos belong to the Beyerdynamic catalogues found at Wegavision, they are used to depict old models of historical interest.

Things to consider when receiving advice for buying headphones.

alphacolor-13-182248editedIf you dedicate enough time to this hobby you’ll sooner or later ask for advice about a headphone you never had the chance to hear.
Inexperienced hobbyists will try to help because everyone likes to help and you’ll probably buy a product only to find out it doesn’t really have the sound signature, comfort or practical utility you needed from it, thus the cycle starts again.
Some sites and forums I shall not name here actually make a living from this kind of advice and they prosper.

Sadly more often than not people giving advice never actually heard the product but use the reviews of others to help you the best way they can.
This is not wrong per say but can make you lose time, money and sadly even make you give up on you newly found headphone hobby.

I admit sometimes a headphone or brand is so bad that everyone in a group agrees you should stay away from it. You just need to be careful to know if it’s not a biased opinion. So you should search review sites, online shops reviews and get your hand on everything related to what you want to buy, this includes measurements made by reputable sources and fans alike.

You should always try to hear a headphone before buying it, specially if it’s your first foray in to the hobby! This rule is THE rule!
Your first serious headphone is the base for everything else you’ll buy later, and believe me this hobby can be dangerously addictive if you go in to the rabbit hole.
Your first headphone is also very important because it gives a reference point to experienced users who want to help you. There are people out there who dedicate a lot of listening time to this hobby and their opinion should be respected specially if they take time from it to help you find a great pair of cans.

If someone really wants to help you, he or she will say if they intimately know the product, whats their favorite headphones or sound signature and their favorite music genres.
One thing is someone who heard the product, the other completely different is someone who gives an opinion based on specs, frequency response and opinions from their favorite reviewers who might have a different taste in the sound signature of a headphone and might also be in to different music genres.
People who only listen to bass heavy music are not the best ones to give you advice about good cans for the classical genre. Then again some musicphiles might actually surprise you.

To end this now long opinion of mine, keep the following in mind before buying gear or requesting help from other hobbyists.

– You should always try to hear a headphone before buying it, specially if it’s your first foray in to the hobby!

– Your first headphone is very important because it gives a reference point to experienced users who truly know their gear.

– If someone really wants to help you, he or she will say if they intimately know the product, whats their favorite headphones or sound signature and their favorite music genres.

It’s up to you to decide if you should follow my advice, because after all it’s all from my perspective of things.

Above all else enjoy your music and have fun.