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Topic: Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed. (Read 12354 times) previous topic - next topic

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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
I'm finally getting around to building a decent CD Player / headphone amplifier setup.  I had originally spec'd out a $1000 setup, but recently decided to just do it on a (lean) budget.  I'm not looking to spark any controversy but I'm going to try the old Sony PlayStation 1 as the CD player as I hear it's very competent.  Here's what I've got en route:
  • CD Player: Sony PlayStation Model SCPH-1001 (can't get cheaper than that!)
  • Headphone Amp: Creek OBH-11

I was looking at rounding it out with a pair of Grado SR-80i's or maybe even the SR-125i's.  Any advice there? Also, do I need an equalizer?  I was looking at the Behringer FBQ800.  Thoughts?

  • ExUser
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #1
You should have asked here first. Most of us would tell you that the first place to cut corners is this headphone amp. They are almost universally unnecessary.

  • guest0190
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #2
Meaning an expensive headphone amp will most likely be no better than an inexpensive one. However, it might still be worth it to upgrade over the PlayStation's built-in amplifier (I don't know how good it is, but my gut reaction is it's probably nothing too impressive -- but if, like you say, it has such good DAC, who knows). Make sure the PlayStation has a line out.

You do not need an equaliser unless you're dissatisfied with the frequency response on your headphones, in which case you should be more concerned with getting a new pair of headphones. I have no experience with the Grados, but I know many people feel they have an uneven (though not necessarily unpleasant) frequency response curve.

If I were you I'd probably go for one of the inexpensive monitor headphones which are popular today, for example one of the following:
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M40
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50
  • Sennheiser HD 380 Pro
  • Shure SRH440
  • Shure SRH840
  • Sony MDR-ZX700
  • Last Edit: 16 August, 2012, 06:13:03 PM by guest0190

  • DVDdoug
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #3
If you search this forum for "headphones", you'll find some good recomendations.

My usual advice...  All headphones (and speakers) sound different.    The specs are nearly usless, and different people have different tastes & preferences.

If you are going to be picky about the sound, go to a hi-fi store and LISTEN before buying headphones or speakers (if possible).

Most of the Grado headphones are widely praised as being one of the best in their various price ranges.  So, if you buy Grados you won't get "ripped off".  I've got a pair of  SR225's, and I like 'em.  I also generally  prefer "open' headphones, like the Grados.    (Except the Grados look cheap, and like they are out of the 1950's.  )  But, I don't listen to headphones very often so I won't try to describe the sound or compare them to other headphones I own. 

If you want to improve your sound quality, speakers/headphones will make the biggest difference  and that's the place to start (unless you have a "weakness" elsewhere in your system). 

Or if you just want to "change the sound" (a little or a lot), an equalizer can make a big difference too.  And, you don't have to buy new equipment every time you want to experiment with a little change to your sound!  And heck...  Its FUN to play with!    It can be educational too, if you want to get a feel for the frequency spectrum.

There are two or three reasons to use an equalizer...

- To correct for frequency response variations in your headphones, speakers, or room.  These kinds of changes/corrections can be done with a software equalizer (if your system has one), since it's something that you can "set and forget".

- To correct for (hopefully occasional) poor frequency response in recordings (i.e. This pop song has too much boomy bass.)

- To adust to taste.  (i.e.  I like tons of bass, or exaggerated highs.)  Of course, most "audiophiles" would consider adjusting to taste an evil thing to do!    ...The ideal of high fidelity is to reproduce the music exactly as intended.... not the way you like it.  (I say it's YOUR dang EQ and you can do whatever you want with it!      )

Some "beginners" seem to think an equalizer is for boosting the overall loudness...  It's not...  It's for altering the frequency response (or "frequency balance").

The Behringer EQ should be fine.    If you were trying to precisely calibrate speakers in a room (with a spectrum analyzer, etc.), a 1/3 octive EQ, and/or a parametric EQ would be an advantage.    But for most purposes, a 9 or 10 band graphic EQ is adequate.    And with modern electronics it's not hard to make one with low noise & low distortion, so there's not much reason to go all "audiophile" and pay a lot of money.  (That goes for most electronics.)
  • Last Edit: 16 August, 2012, 09:53:03 PM by DVDdoug

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #4
Wow, thanks for the input guys.  The PlayStation does have a line out with high quality connectors.  Also, I went with the Creek model because I have heard lots of good things and got a great price ($99).  I am in love with Grados, having owned a pair of SR-80s in the past.  I'm hoping to either get the SR-80i or like I said, set up to a 125i.  I think their sound is very well balanced and warm for the price point.

Thank you for the EQ advice, I think I'm going to wait to hear how well it performs coming out of the DAC, but it's good to hear that the Behringer is generally acceptable.

  • andy o
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #5
Why a PS1? If you're going old-school, wouldn't a discman make more sense?

(I have heard stuff about the SCPH-1001, but it's unsubstantiated, is that what you referred to as "controversy"?

  • 2Bdecided
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #6
The better your equipment, the less you need an EQ. IME, anyway.

But I always like to have something, because some CDs and just too bright, and some podcasts have an annoying hiss, and... etc!

For gentle changes, there's a lot to be said for decent simple tone controls.

Anything is possible in software - and it's often free.

Cheers,
David.

  • mixminus1
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #7
(I have heard stuff about the SCPH-1001, but it's unsubstantiated, is that what you referred to as "controversy"?

There's no controversy: it's a piss-poor CD player - see Stereophile's measurements here.

The low-level linearity, in particular, is jaw-droppingly bad.
"Not sure what the question is, but the answer is probably no."

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #8
(I have heard stuff about the SCPH-1001, but it's unsubstantiated, is that what you referred to as "controversy"?

There's no controversy: it's a piss-poor CD player - see Stereophile's measurements here.

The low-level linearity, in particular, is jaw-droppingly bad.


Atkinson likes to make a fuss about things like that, but consider his stance on DBTs. If he ever did any and believed the results, he'd have to change any number of tunes that he sings.

Chances that anybody would actually hear the effects of this problem -  zero!  Yes, its kinda trashy below -80 dB, but as a rule CD's don't have anything on them that low - the program material itself usually bottoms out in its own noise floor long before that.  If there is a problem 80 dB down, it has to be huge to be heard because everybody's ears aren't exactly perfect with sounds that small.

  • halb27
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #9
... I am in love with Grados, having owned a pair of SR-80s in the past.  I'm hoping to either get the SR-80i or like I said, set up to a 125i.  I think their sound is very well balanced and warm for the price point.
...

I like Grados, too. I bought a SR80 this year as a replacement for my broken Allessandro MS-2 (Grado 325 variant). The SR80s sound great, but the sound is different from the MS-2 and my old SR60 which I still have. The rather warm sound is gone in favor of a more brilliant sound. To me neither better or worse from overall view, just different.
  • Last Edit: 17 August, 2012, 11:32:34 AM by halb27
lame3995o -Q1

  • guest0190
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #10
Get a pair of Grados (or Alessandros) and I'd say you're good to go. If you want a higher quality CD player you can get one later on. With the setup you have now, the perceived sound quality will be great even if the CD player in the PlayStation isn't theoretically perfect.

Also, a software equaliser will of course do all that an analogue will, and you will most probably not be able to hear a difference. A good analogue equaliser does, however, offer a theoretical advantage over software equalisers.

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #11
Get a pair of Grados (or Alessandros) and I'd say you're good to go. If you want a higher quality CD player you can get one later on. With the setup you have now, the perceived sound quality will be great even if the CD player in the PlayStation isn't theoretically perfect.

I agree with you.  Granted the PlayStation is not perfect, but the basis of the post was a cheap system.  In fairness, it should be noted that Atkinson's review is not on the same PlayStation unit.  His review is on the 5501 model, the one without the RCA output jacks and the AKM AK4309AVM 16-bit sigma-delta DAC chip.  I never claimed this was an awesome CD Player, but the original 1001 unit is supposedly solid; and especially attractive since I purchased it for $4.99.
  • Last Edit: 17 August, 2012, 05:41:44 PM by spicymeatball77

  • mixminus1
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #12
No, he measured the 1001 - it was "destroyed by UPS" when he *then* shipped it to Art Dudley.

He only references the newer model that his son has in order to observe:

Quote
I measured that sample, but it was very much worse in most respects than the SCPH-1001.

In any event, since you got the thing for $5, as long as you understand that it is a poorly-engineered CD player whose measured performance can be easily bettered by pretty much any digital audio device on the market today - have at it.

I'm still not convinced that its measured faults would not translate to anomalies in its sound.  For instance, that 0.25 dB dip in its frequency response isn't much in absolute terms, true, but it's centered at *exactly* 3 kHz, where the ear is most sensitive, and as such, could potentially be audible with normal program material.
"Not sure what the question is, but the answer is probably no."

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #13
I'm still not convinced that its measured faults would not translate to anomalies in its sound.  For instance, that 0.25 dB dip in its frequency response isn't much in absolute terms, true, but it's centered at *exactly* 3 kHz, where the ear is most sensitive, and as such, could potentially be audible with normal program material.


A widely respected set of rules for evaluating the audibility of frequency discontinuities is posted here:

Level Matching Criteria from JAES

The way to interpret this reference in accordance with your concern is to note that a 1/3 octave dip that is about 1.2 dB deep or high is not audible for sure, and with a considerable safety margin.

It would have to be on the order of 2-5 dB to be reliably audible because the reference is about variations that are unconditionally safe. 

The actual dip is at most 0.2 dB deep, and an overall level broadband level variation that size is unconditionally safe or tolerable for an ABX test.

Narrow bands are always less audible than wide bands.

You're right when you suggest that this kind of dip is very uncommon and few digital players have anything that is like it.

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #14
I figured this would be a hot-button issue, tried to avoid that.

ANYWAYS, thanks for the advice, it's helped.  I've got the Creek amp, the Behringer EQ and Grado SR-80is will be here tomorrow.  All told I've spend $281.  Pretty acceptable, now I can't wait to hear how it works.

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #15
Sorry to post twice in a row but I'm all set up.  I ended up with the following:
  • Creek OBH-11 Headphone Amplifier
  • Behringer Mini 9-Band EQ
  • Grado SR-80i

I tried the PlayStation 1; wasn't hugely impressed so I decided to run the audio straight out of my PC.  I have the Fiio D3 DAC on the way (with a Wolfson DAC) to accept the Toslink from my computer.  I'm using Foobar 2000 to play my FLAC files, and I can't wait for the DAC to arrive.  Thanks again guys.

Also, I realize now that I don't need the Behringer since I can implement a software EQ, but it's really nice and I like it anyways.


  • mzil
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #16
For years my headphone amp was the similarly sized Behringer product called an AMP 800. I had no need for its multiple headphone outs and balanced inputs, but what I did appreciate was it's low price, low noise, L/R balance control (in the input stage, but that works for me) to perfectly center the image, and input level trim pots, complete with backing LED meters to warn of clipping and to optimize the gain structure for optimal SNR.

The only reason I stopped using it is because I switched to their 802 mixer, instead, so I could simultaneously hear TV and computer based audio at the same time.
  • Last Edit: 24 August, 2012, 01:34:20 PM by mzil

  • greynol
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #17
I'm glad to see that people were able to help you and you're happy.

I fear we may have failed to give proper attention to the topic of DACs. Technology has progressed to the point where you can get a competently designed DAC without having to spend a lot of money. Simply choosing something based on the specific converter does not guarantee superior performance, let alone compent engineering.

You might want to start by considering whether there's a legitimate reason to think the one in your computer is inadequate.
  • Last Edit: 24 August, 2012, 01:44:15 PM by greynol
13 February 2016: The world was blessed with the passing of a truly vile and wretched person.

Your eyes cannot hear.

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #18
(I have heard stuff about the SCPH-1001, but it's unsubstantiated, is that what you referred to as "controversy"?

There's no controversy: it's a piss-poor CD player - see Stereophile's measurements here.

The low-level linearity, in particular, is jaw-droppingly bad.


Atkinson likes to make a fuss about things like that, but consider his stance on DBTs. If he ever did any and believed the results, he'd have to change any number of tunes that he sings.

Chances that anybody would actually hear the effects of this problem -  zero!  Yes, its kinda trashy below -80 dB, but as a rule CD's don't have anything on them that low - the program material itself usually bottoms out in its own noise floor long before that.  If there is a problem 80 dB down, it has to be huge to be heard because everybody's ears aren't exactly perfect with sounds that small.


True.

  • Porcus
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #19
Myself I wonder how much it really costs extra to build a more than good enough headphone output in a device that already has box, print, power supply and line-out. And if it is so little as I think, why the [profanity] isn't there one in every DAC?

  • nastea
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #20
I think most people connect their DAC to a high quality amplifier, and most amplifiers have headphone output.
But I would also be very glad to see a headphone output in every DAC.

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #21
You might want to start by considering whether there's a legitimate reason to think the one in your computer is inadequate.


Depending on the rest of the hardware the gain from an external DAC can be substantial. The Fiio E17 DAC does as far as my ears can tell a much better job at converting digital signals into analog output than the Asus Xonar DX in my PC does. In the low frequency range the Xonar lacks power and presence, and on the other end of the spectrum the Xonar offers too much, the high frequency's get way to high and rather unpleasant and tiring, at least for my ears. The external and rather inexpensive Fiio E17 DAC has way more presence in the lower frequency's and the higher frequency's are there as they should be without being unpleasant to listen too. Player is Footbar2000 and as headphones I use the Beyerdynamic DT 990Pro. And with that combo the difference is clearly audible, at least to my ears.
  • Last Edit: 25 August, 2012, 11:16:17 AM by Nichtswisser

  • greynol
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #22
Our rules which you agreed to follow upon registering don't grant you the right to make such claims without objective evidence.
13 February 2016: The world was blessed with the passing of a truly vile and wretched person.

Your eyes cannot hear.

Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #23
Our rules which you agreed to follow upon registering don't grant you the right to make such claims without objective evidence.


How can someone provide objective evidence that the higher frequency's of a certain DAC are unpleasant to his ears?

Edit: Changed my prior post to more clearly reflect the subjective nature of my opinion.

Edit2: After thinking it through, I came to the conclusion that providing objective evidence for anything involving subjective human perception is pretty much impossible. I'm not even sure that the color we both probably know as "blue" looks the same to me as it does to you.
  • Last Edit: 25 August, 2012, 11:22:53 AM by Nichtswisser

  • greynol
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Audiophile on the Cheap. Advice needed.
Reply #24
Sorry, but you can't get around the rule by claiming personal opinion.  If you can't substantiate your claim the you don't get to make it. It's really that simple.

Further off-topic discussion on the matter will be binned.  This is not up for debate.
  • Last Edit: 25 August, 2012, 11:26:37 AM by greynol
13 February 2016: The world was blessed with the passing of a truly vile and wretched person.

Your eyes cannot hear.