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How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

I was considering assembling a quiet pc as my main stereo source for home listening with headphones, but was disheartened because of the very limited selection of silent/quiet pc components available here in Brazil. In this process, however, I was surprised by how close the Sanca Clip+ came to some soundcards like the E-MU 0404 in rmaa tests.

I don’t really know how to read rmaa info so it could just be that the comparison is invalid. The tests for clip+ are usually done using 16 ohms headphones while for the sound cards they tend use high end speakers or high impedance headphones. Would the results for the clip+ be significantly altered if a 300 ohms headphone were used?

Furthermore, how do these data translate into perceptible differences in sound quality? Would the extra 10db in noise level or the lack of 10db in dynamic range make a real difference? (here's from one test: E-MU 0404 16-bit/44.1kHz/Noise level, dB (A): -96.1 Excellent/Dynamic range,dB (A): 96.3 Excellent /// Sansa Clip+ V-Moda Vibe (Normal Volume) Noise level -89.4/ Dynamic range:89.3 /// The Clip+ drops respectively to -62 and and 62.2 when tested with the UE11(low volume))

Another problem is that my headphone amp is showing its age and I fear it may fail in the near future. The data about portable players and full size phones is scarce. Would the clip+ manage to drive something like the HD 650 (300 ohms) without an amp?

In more general terms what I’d like to know is whether portable players have a reached a level where they can be used transparently (or close to) for listening with good headphones in silent environments. I’ve been unable to locate abx tests involving portables. How good are they sounding?

In yet other terms: Has a U$30 mp3 player replaced U$3000+ cd players (or somewhat cheaper pcs) as a reliable source for headphones? I have no personal experience with portables but this just seems to good to be true.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #1
In yet other terms: Has a U$30 mp3 player replaced U$3000+ cd players (or somewhat cheaper pcs) as a reliable source for headphones? I have no personal experience with portables but this just seems to good to be true.


I see nothing surpising unless you are surprised by the march of technology in the electronics field.  I've been using an iPod classic for over a year and when travelling, with admittedly expensive headphones, the sound experience compares with any large component system I have heard very well.  I think the quality of the headphones is a much, much bigger variable than the electronics.

We've known how to make essentially perfect electronics at low cost for around thirty years now, when it comes to audio reproduction.  Now we've learned to make that quality small.

Ed Seedhouse
VA7SDH

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #2
The Sansa Clip+ is an excellent player.  It can convert the digital data to an analog signal in an audibly transparent manner.  The only issue you might have is that you may not be able to drive the HD650 to loud volumes when you are listening to certain types (e.g. classical) music.  With other types of music (e.g. loudly recorded pop music) you probably won't have any issues.

Here is another point.  Generally speaking, a high impedance load is easier to drive than a low impedance one.  Most portable players and sound cards measure much better with high impedance headphones than low impedance ones.  The only real issue is volume.

The entire concept of "audiophile" sound cards and CD players is BS.  Most of them are little more than over-hyped and over-marketed snake oil.  Some of them do measure better than cheaper players, but even the cheaper stuff has passed the point of sonic transparency.  So you are paying for better measurements, not audibly better sound.

I have done controlled, volume matched, tests with portable players, professional stuff (e.g the EMU 0404 USB) and some "audiophile" stuff.  Some portable players (e.g. the Cowon D2) slightly roll off the bass with low impedance headphones.  It's not major, but you can hear it in an ABX.  The Sansa Clip does not do this and can drive low impedance headphones without changes to the frequency response.

After those tests, let me just say that I'm never buying any "audiophile" stuff again.  My Rockboxed Clip+ is just fine

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #3
I don’t really know how to read rmaa info so it could just be that the comparison is invalid. The tests for clip+ are usually done using 16 ohms headphones while for the sound cards they tend use high end speakers or high impedance headphones. Would the results for the clip+ be significantly altered if a 300 ohms headphone were used?


Yes, using higher impedance headphones will load the amp less and thus give better results. 

Furthermore, how do these data translate into perceptible differences in sound quality? Would the extra 10db in noise level or the lack of 10db in dynamic range make a real difference? (here's from one test: E-MU 0404 16-bit/44.1kHz/Noise level, dB (A): -96.1 Excellent/Dynamic range,dB (A): 96.3 Excellent /// Sansa Clip+ V-Moda Vibe (Normal Volume) Noise level -89.4/ Dynamic range:89.3 /// The Clip+ drops respectively to -62 and and 62.2 when tested with the UE11(low volume))


Are you comparing a sound card with no load to a clip+ driving headphones?  If so, thats not really a good comparison.  You should compare unloaded to unloaded, or loaded to loaded. 

Another problem is that my headphone amp is showing its age and I fear it may fail in the near future. The data about portable players and full size phones is scarce. Would the clip+ manage to drive something like the HD 650 (300 ohms) without an amp?


It might be a little quiet depending on how sensitive the 650s are.

In yet other terms: Has a U$30 mp3 player replaced U$3000+ cd players (or somewhat cheaper pcs) as a reliable source for headphones? I have no personal experience with portables but this just seems to good to be true.


Yes, but that happened many years ago.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #4
In yet other terms: Has a U$30 mp3 player replaced U$3000+ cd players (or somewhat cheaper pcs) as a reliable source for headphones? I have no personal experience with portables but this just seems to good to be true.


Your comparison seems extreme only because it ignores the fact that good $80-100 optical disc players are sonically transparent and therefore cannot be sonically improved upon by $3000 CD players.

The more factual comparision is that the $27 2GB NIB Clip+ I scored on eBay a few monhts back is IME the sonic and bench test equivalent of a good stereo receiver and  a good CD player.  That's close to $200 worth of electronics being replaced by a $27 portable player.

BTW my Clip+ has a better equalizer than the one in my receiver.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #5
One thing likely to improve as you go from clip to cheap CD player to somewhat more expensive is not the sound quality, but how likely it is to be in good working order in 10-20 years. 

The clip has a sealed in Li ion battery that will deteriorate both from use and shelf life.  Depending on how short a battery life you will put up with it will have to be replaced in 2-4 years even if nothing else breaks. 

Cheaply built plug-in components tend to eventually have knobs fall off, switches that stop working (or get noisy) etc.  If you're lucky, the extra money for a mid-range one is going to mechanically durable construction instead of unobtanium wire.


How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #6
The battery life span is generally somewhat less of a problem than it may appear. The battery in the first generation iPod I’m using has been replaced a couple of times. One just needs to carefully pry open the case and not be too thick fingered and break something while disconnecting the old battery and plugging in another. However, since Li ion battery formats do not seem to be standard (such as “flashlight” batteries are), it may become impossible to find a new one after awhile.

Anyway, does one actually get any better build quality with a $300 personal mp3 player than with a $30 one, or just more features?


How does this Sansa Clip do for audio books, lectures, etc.? There are a couple of functions that may be largely irrelevant to most music listeners but that I find very important. Portable cassette players excel at these.

One is the ability to resume without losing position, whether after a brief pause to answer someone’s question or after several days or more of not using the device. What happens when the battery is recharged? What if one neglects too recharge before the player stops dead?

Two is the ability to easily skip backwards. Listening to a complex topic may require replaying a description several times to get the picture. An interruption may bring the need to back up ten seconds or so to find where one lost the thread.

Can the device be recharged, or played, from an automobile’s “cigarette lighter” power outlet?

Does it work properly for low bitrate VBR? I have 1000-2000 hours of stories backed up, formatted to one channel, 22050 Hz sample rate, LAME V8. Mostly I’ve never needed the backups, but I discovered the iPod has a strong tendency to skip the last few seconds, or more, of a track.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #7
[quote author=AndyH-ha link=msg=735034 date=1292022407]The battery life span is generally somewhat less of a problem than it may appear. The battery in the first generation iPod I’m using has been replaced a couple of times. One just needs to carefully pry open the case and not be too thick fingered and break something while disconnecting the old battery and plugging in another. However, since Li ion battery formats do not seem to be standard (such as “flashlight” batteries are), it may become impossible to find a new one after awhile.

Anyway, does one actually get any better build quality with a $300 personal mp3 player than with a $30 one, or just more features?


How does this Sansa Clip do for audio books, lectures, etc.? There are a couple of functions that may be largely irrelevant to most music listeners but that I find very important. Portable cassette players excel at these.

One is the ability to resume without losing position, whether after a brief pause to answer someone’s question or after several days or more of not using the device. What happens when the battery is recharged? What if one neglects too recharge before the player stops dead?

Two is the ability to easily skip backwards. Listening to a complex topic may require replaying a description several times to get the picture. An interruption may bring the need to back up ten seconds or so to find where one lost the thread.

Can the device be recharged, or played, from an automobile’s “cigarette lighter” power outlet?

Does it work properly for low bitrate VBR? I have 1000-2000 hours of stories backed up, formatted to one channel, 22050 Hz sample rate, LAME V8. Mostly I’ve never needed the backups, but I discovered the iPod has a strong tendency to skip the last few seconds, or more, of a track.[/quote]

If using rockbox, yes to pretty much all of that.  Not sure about the OF, haven't really used it.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #8
I take it that "all of that" means the Sansa Clip with Rockbox installed has all this functionally, including the ability to resume in the correct place after recharging either a partially or fully discharged battery, but what does "the OF" mean?
Quote
Not sure about the OF

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #9
[quote author=AndyH-ha link=msg=735059 date=1292048562](snip) but what does "the OF" mean?[/quote]
Original Firmware. Rockbox lingo, I suppose.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #10
[quote author=AndyH-ha link=msg=735034 date=1292022407]The battery life span is generally somewhat less of a problem than it may appear. The battery in the first generation iPod I’m using has been replaced a couple of times. One just needs to carefully pry open the case and not be too thick fingered and break something while disconnecting the old battery and plugging in another. However, since Li ion battery formats do not seem to be standard (such as “flashlight” batteries are), it may become impossible to find a new one after awhile.


Anyway, does one actually get any better build quality with a $300 personal mp3 player than with a $30 one, or just more features?
[/quote]

The Sansa Clip and Fuze don't have the utterly slick look and feel of the iPod. For example their case backs and sides are all slightly textured plastic, not smooth chrome plated steel. The plastic seems to be relatively thick. Their best durability assets are probably their small size and low cost. I mean $30 for a 2GB Clip+, why would you worry about fixing it?

Quote
How does this Sansa Clip do for audio books, lectures, etc.? There are a couple of functions that may be largely irrelevant to most music listeners but that I find very important. Portable cassette players excel at these.

One is the ability to resume without losing position, whether after a brief pause to answer someone’s question or after several days or more of not using the device. What happens when the battery is recharged? What if one neglects too recharge before the player stops dead?


The Sansas don't let you run them absolutely dead flat, so when they start refusing to work due to battery condition, there's still more than enough power to maintain internal status, and they do maintain it.  Besides in these days of cheap flash memory there's no excuse to forget *anything*. I've run mine to a halt a number of times and it restarted from where it halted every time.

Quote
Two is the ability to easily skip backwards. Listening to a complex topic may require replaying a description several times to get the picture. An interruption may bring the need to back up ten seconds or so to find where one lost the thread.


I'm very pleased with how the backwards scanning works.

Quote
Can the device be recharged, or played, from an automobile’s “cigarette lighter” power outlet?


Yes, the Clip  receives power via a mini USB jack that is easy to use for just power or for power and data transfer. The jack has a bit of resistance before you push it home deep enough to do data transfers. When partially inserted, you can charge it and listen to it at the same time.

USB power adaptors for cars, homes, and AA batteries are readily available for low prices from third parties. They work for many cellphones and PDAs, so need I say more? ;-)

What's scary is that I paid almost as much for my AA-based USB charger as I paid for my Clip+. I bought it for my Microtrack, so there wasn't much of a twinge at the time.

Quote
Does it work properly for low bitrate VBR? I have 1000-2000 hours of stories backed up, formatted to one channel, 22050 Hz sample rate, LAME V8. Mostly I’ve never needed the backups, but I discovered the iPod has a strong tendency to skip the last few seconds, or more, of a track.


I've played 22050 Hz  32k bps mono MP3s, no sweat.

Quote
If using rockbox, yes to pretty much all of that.  Not sure about the OF, haven't really used it.


I'm running the current vendor firmware.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #11
[quote author=AndyH-ha link=msg=735034 date=1292022407]The battery life span is generally somewhat less of a problem than it may appear. The battery in the first generation iPod I’m using has been replaced a couple of times. One just needs to carefully pry open the case and not be too thick fingered and break something while disconnecting the old battery and plugging in another. However, since Li ion battery formats do not seem to be standard (such as “flashlight” batteries are), it may become impossible to find a new one after awhile.[/quote]

Lithium polymer (the thin flat batteries) are often custom made to fit the space in the player, so replacement availability depends on the will of the player's manufacturer.  So read that as NOT if the player is a sealed design.  Ipods likely have enough volume to attract the attention of aftermarket suppliers.  The other possibility is a replacement that is slightly smaller than original.


Quote
How does this Sansa Clip do for audio books, lectures, etc.? There are a couple of functions that may be largely irrelevant to most music listeners but that I find very important. Portable cassette players excel at these.


I put rockbox on my clip pretty early on, but if I recall, podcasts had the resume feature, but not music files. 

Rockbox does resume to the same place (if you want).  Also an optional "car mode" that will pause when external power is removed (as when you turn your car off when the player is plugged into the cig lighter) and restart when the power comes back.  You can also configure on the fly for the "skip back/forward" buttons to move by some amount of time instead of track-at-a-time so you can rehear that last minute or 2 that was interrupted.
Scan-forward/back is progressive; starts slow and accelerates the longer you hold it so you can get to the middle of an hour long file pretty quickly.

For long things like audiobooks I often use a speech specific format (spx) that takes as little as 5 MB/hour.



How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #12
As far as replacing the battery, I wouldn't recommend it in the Clip.  Opening up a Clip is difficult and you are probably going to damage the housing.  I tried this at one point and my Clip ended up looking like a animal attacked a corner of it.  The battery wires are also soldered to the board and there is a small circuit board that needs to be moved over to the new battery.  As people have already pointed out, the Clip is cheap enough that you can just replace it.

There is a tutorial for replacing the battery on anythingbutipod.com


How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #13
As far as replacing the battery, I wouldn't recommend it in the Clip.  Opening up a Clip is difficult and you are probably going to damage the housing.  I tried this at one point and my Clip ended up looking like a animal attacked a corner of it.    As people have already pointed out, the Clip is cheap enough that you can just replace it.


I chekced out the situation with USB external batteries/chargers which has evolved quite a bit since I last investigated it. It seems like running a clip with a totally ruined battery using an external USB power source could be a last-ditch option (before total replacement)

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #14
Its probably more cost effective to just buy another clip.  I think I paid $20 for my 4GB one.  They're basically disposable.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #15
Its probably more cost effective to just buy another clip.  I think I paid $20 for my 4GB one.  They're basically disposable.


More convenient, yes. More cost-effective, well maybe not. Based on some other comments I checked out the prices of portable USB power sources and found that they are now a lot cheaper. There are two kinds - one that is based on 2 AA batteries, and one that has its own Li cells built in.  I paid less than $7 for a AA based solution, and less than $14 for one with its own Li Cells built in.  Both prices include shipping.

If you want your Clip to be truly portable, which for me includes camping/hiking/canoing in the back woods far away from regular power, you need something like one of these, regardless.

Based on my experiences last fall, running a Clip on AA cells is not very economical, but it was the only choice for me under the circumstances. Each full recharge of the Clip pretty well used up 2 AA alkaline cells.

I recently bought a Li cell charger that came with 2 AA cells and 2 AAA cells for about $7. If I used the AA li cells with the AA cell based USB power source, then this could be a cost-effective solution all by itself.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #16
The Sansa Clip+ is an excellent player.  It can convert the digital data to an analog signal in an audibly transparent manner.  The only issue you might have is that you may not be able to drive the HD650 to loud volumes when you are listening to certain types (e.g. classical) music.  With other types of music (e.g. loudly recorded pop music) you probably won't have any issues.


Is there any way I could actually calculate what kind of phones could be driven and how loud? I'm also a bit worried by the fact that the hd650 has varying impedance at different frenquecies:


Since you say that it might play loud music without amplification, would it also be able to play normalized music (via for ex. replaygain), which I could set at 89 db or higher?

One thing that the objectivist programme in audio always left me wondering is if the actual differences in speakers and headphones might also become neglible beyond a certain point. This didn't use to be a problem with phones since even the best of those aimed at domestic markets were affordable by anyone with a serious interest and sufficient leisure to pursue the hobby. But today the top grade ones are already pushing U$2.000, and seemingly on the rise. If U$30 gets me transparency up to the amp, should I abort that dream upgrade to the HD 800, or even consider a downgrade?

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #17
The clip+ will operate normally when plugged into a power-only USB host (like the USB chargers or unconnected USB hubs). It will recharge and play at the same time and, after recharged, i think it just plays off the external source.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #18
The Sansa Clip+ is an excellent player.  It can convert the digital data to an analog signal in an audibly transparent manner.  The only issue you might have is that you may not be able to drive the HD650 to loud volumes when you are listening to certain types (e.g. classical) music.  With other types of music (e.g. loudly recorded pop music) you probably won't have any issues.


Is there any way I could actually calculate what kind of phones could be driven and how loud?


Sure.  You've got about 500mV RMS of voltage, same as every other mp3 player in existence.  Take that, square it, divide by impedance and then multiply by the sensitivity of the headphones.  Of course half the time the specificied sensitivity of headphones is pretty far off, but its a rough idea.

I'm also a bit worried by the fact that the hd650 has varying impedance at different frenquecies:


It'll be 1.5 dB louder at the top of that 80Hz peak then at the bottom.  If that bothers you, play around with EQ.

Since you say that it might play loud music without amplification, would it also be able to play normalized music (via for ex. replaygain), which I could set at 89 db or higher?


Replaygain makes things about 2-5 dB quieter depending on how you set it.  So it'll play loud music 2-5dB quieter with replaygain.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #19
Is there any way I could actually calculate what kind of phones could be driven and how loud? I'm also a bit worried by the fact that the hd650 has varying impedance at different frenquecies:


You can make rough estimates.  Unfortunately those estimates are based on numbers (e.g. sensitivity) that may not be accurate.  There is also the variable of your preferred listening volume.  I made a rough estimate right now and I don't think the Sansa clip will drive the HD650 to loud volumes with classical music.  I have a thread about calculating listening volumes somewhere here - I'll try to find and link to it this afternoon.

A far easier way is to ask somebody.  I know Arnold Krueger has a Clip and a HD580.  Perhaps he could tell you his experiences with that combo.

You might need a headphone amp to drive the HD650, but even something with a 3V or 5V power supply should do.

Quote
One thing that the objectivist programme in audio always left me wondering is if the actual differences in speakers and headphones might also become neglible beyond a certain point.


Occasionally people conduct blind tests with speakers and post reports here.  I don't think I've seen any evidence to support the claims of expensive speaker manufacturers and audio reviewers.

I've tested a wide range of headphones, from the disposables to the now expanding $1K range.  IMO there is nothing magical about those expensive headphones.  Like cheaper headphones, they each have their own unique frequency response.  People talk about those headphones as if it's going from a Corolla ($30 headphones), to a BMW ($300 headphones), to a Ferrari ($1000).  I don't agree with that viewpoint at all and think there is a fair bit of placebo.  It's no surprise that people who swear by the superiority of a $1K+ headphone also swear by the superiority of expensive headphone amps/DACs, and even cables.

I will agree that headphones in the $300 range are typically (not always) better than the $30 ones.  With the $300 phones, you get lower distortion, better frequency extension, better comfort, etc.  I haven't seen any quantitative measurements demonstrating the superiority of $1K+ headphones over far cheaper ones.

For a long time headphones were a niche or even second-rate sector in the audio industry.  That has changed in the last few years and so manufacturers have realized there is a market for really expensive stuff.  Headphones are a niche no more!

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #20
A far easier way is to ask somebody.  I know Arnold Krueger has a Clip and a HD580.


I have Fuze+ and HD580. Classical radio with pretty strong colume compression is OK. Classical music ripped from CDs definitely is not loud enough. I mean large symphony/choral stuff, chamber music is mostly OK
Ceterum censeo, there should be an "%is_stop_after_current%".

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #21
Suppose a classical recording with a gain of -15db. Wouldn't applying +25db of gain leave it with the same perceived loudness as that of a heavily compressed mastering, with +10db, while not necessarily ruining the dynamics? The gain could be applied either in a hard fashion, through software like mp3gain, or simply through the addition of replaygain info in the tags, as the clip+ apparently supports this.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #22
Replaygain will correct for low overall volume, but it won't make the music sound as loud as something with gain compression.  You could also add that, but a lot of people don't care for it.

IMO talking about how loud music sounds over headphones without replaygain is pretty useless, so hopefully thats what people are talking about.

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #23
IMO talking about how loud music sounds over headphones without replaygain is pretty useless, so hopefully thats what people are talking about.


Why?

There are plenty of music playback devices (e.g. cell phones) that do not support replaygain.  It may sound ridiculous, but at one point I used to listen to a K240DF (600 ohms, 89db/mw sensitivity) directly plugged into my cell phone.  It got to acceptable volumes with pop music

How does the Sansa clip+ compare to audiophile sound cards?

Reply #24
[quote author=AndyH-ha link=msg=735034 date=1292022407]How does this Sansa Clip do for audio books, lectures, etc.?[/quote]An extra feature is anything loaded as a podcast can be played back faster or slower than normal (if you wish).


It is a little quiet into my HD580s with mp3gain applied at 89dB. This is with the EU volume limit disabled (something you can do easily with the Clip/Clip+, but can't with some other players, which presumably must be even quieter).

It's more than loud enough with typical in-ear headphones.

Cheers,
David.

 
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