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a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts tagged Headphones

Schiit Modi 3, RME ADI2 DAC, Audio-gd Reference 5 DSP

I’ll cut to the chase.

I have the following gears for comparison purposes:
– Schiit Modi 3
Audio-gd Reference 5 DSP
– PS Audio DS DAC (not pictured as it is sitting on my audio rack with lots of cables tied onto the back of the rack, btw the rack is a beauty: Symbol Audio Dovetail)
– Denafrips Ares II (not pictured)

The comparisons were made using my headphone system. The headphones are:
Sennheiser HD6xx
– Campfire Audio Cascade (yep, after so many bitchings about ALO Audio, I hold their first headphones in high regard)
– Grado RS2e

Yes, the last two headphones are very colored. I like them because they are fun to listen to and offer completely different experience from one to another. Unlike DACs which are hard to differentiate, headphones and loudspeakers are not.

Headphones amps used to power headphones above:
– Schiit Magni 3+
Woo Audio 6 SE

My thought process was to use two different amps to basically give some options. The Magni 3+ is a sublime solid state while the Woo is a superb Class A tube amp.

Build Quality

They all offer very solid build quality. There is no product used from bad audio company here. At first, I thought the most attractive was off course the PS Audio DAC. My friend who visited me told me it looks like a Canon printer.



I can’t say I disagree. 😆
If I want to go down to nitpicking detail, I prefer all jacks to be chassis mounted. My Modi 3 has developed looser RCA connectors.

Chassis Mount Jacks

Sound Quality

To level the playing field, I always use this album as a reference point: https://www.hdtracks.com/#/album/5bffce2cc6e102670ab3facd

With the exception of PS Audio DS DAC and Audio-gd RE5 DSP, most my DACs sound neutral. This is all you should know really.

Again, if I want to go down to nitpicking details, the RME DAC performs the best out the bunch. It’s incredibly detailed and transparent. The DAC is not fatiguing like some high end DACs can be (I’m looking at you Mytek Brooklyn…).

This RME DAC actually makes my Cascade more listenable. I thought the Cascade was somewhat producing slightly convoluted sound. I was not hearing clear enough passages between notes. There is not a clear sense of space. at least with Modi 3 and Ares II. I can use the Cascade for hours, a very rare case for headphones to me. Cascade becomes more precise in terms of imaging, instruments separations and soundstage. Bass thumps are not so overly boomy anymore. I’d even claim that now, Campfire Audio Cascade has become my favorite headphones.

With Grado RS2e, the German-made DAC does not improve much of Grado’s sound traits or at least as much as it improves Cascade. It does offer similar improvements on sense of space. I love the Grado phones as it is. Actually there isn’t much to improve. Or it could be that this particular Grado is not very sensitive to small changes. To me this is a win.

One interesting find that I very much appreciate is the availability of fine sounding headphone amps in the unit. To keep this short, unless you want to have transformers-coupled tube amp sound signature, you need to daisy chain the ADI2 DAC FS with an amp like my Schiit Magni 3+. Not only if you drive your headphones direct, your headphones will sound better but also the simplicity. I do not favor using a longer signal path in between DAC and amplifier unless a preamp or a separate headphone amp brings something different on the table. So, after I paired it with Magni 3+ and WA6SE, I drove my headphones direct from RME ADI2 DAC FS. You’ll get extra airness and impacts. It’s an audio bliss how this small unit can offer so much and sacrifices nothing in sound quality.

If I want to compare DS DAC and Ares II, I would have to use a headphone amp. There is a small noticeable inferior detail retrievals. Driving my headphones direct is simply superior. Does it fare well against Paul McGowan‘s beloved DAC and Denafrips’ cheapest DAC? Yes, it does. Both DS and Ares II DAC sound warm. This can be a very pleasing for some tracks. DS DAC basically masks imperfections. The next question what Hi-Fi exactly is? RME ADI2 DAC FS is hi-fi.

Ares II fares better, although not without its flaws. Ares II somehow lacks punches. It does not have the same surreal listening experience if you play good recordings. It’s far too flat and uninviting. This Ares II will definitely go for sale soon.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a very sensitive IEM. My only IEM is Sennheiser IE8. The IEM headphone jack drives both the IE8, Cascade and RS2e just fine. It’s completely silent. There is no background noise, period. According to AudioScienceReview.com, RME ADI2 DAC FS IEM output measures the best, even when compared to the venerable THX AAA 789.

AudioScienceReview.com

RME ADI2 DAC is feature-packed. I’m a proponent that no speakers sound the same in various conditions. Headphones are not room-dependent but our ears are shaped differently. If micro adjustments are needed, RME has the features to do so.

I won’t cover all the features, they are just too many. You can read the manual, it covers everything. The manual is an interesting read; read it before you decide to buy it: https://www.rme-audio.de/downloads/adi2dac_e.pdf

Even without its’ features and functions, ADI2 DAC FS is a superb sounding DAC. Its’ features are basically the deal breaker. I’d pick RME ADI2 DAC FS over DACs listed above.

Happy listening!

I have had my eyes set on one of Schiit products for some time. Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat are incredible engineers and their products speak for themselves. They are also a company that I must keep an eye on. I can learn a lot from them. Look at their branding and website, they’re hilariously funny!

Before I got the Lyr, I was searching for a HeadAmp Gilmore Lite, an AMB M3 or a HeadAmp GS-1. I have had a fair share with various amps, this will be my last, so this has to be really good. I like small amps. I don’t think a single-ended headphone amp needs a big enclosure; most of them are empty space anyway. On the other hand, I also want a tube amp badly, whether it’s on the output, the input or both. I made my choice to have a tube amp due to its ability to fine tune the sound by swapping the tube valves. And there is something magical about tube valves, its glow, its sound, beauty of the past.

Honestly, at first I didn’t expect the sound to be this good, nor the chassis or the build quality.

The usual setup:
Source: MacBook Air (w/ BitPerfect or Audirvana Plus playing mostly ‘good’ music ripped from CD or downloaded from HDtracks & iTunes)
DAC: CEntrance DACport
Amp: Schiit Lyr (various tubes – see below)
Headphones: Grado RS1i

(w/ stock tubes)

The Sound

So, the sound… It’s fairly transparent to the source. If an inferior source (NuForce uDAC-2) is used, it will sound bad. If paired with the excellent Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2, it sings. It drives my Grado RS1i (my only full-size headphones) with prowess and confidence. There are tons of power reserve left. I don’t have the chance on trying out an ortho with it. When I do, I’ll post an update here. The RS1i is an efficient headphones. Efficient is strange sometimes. Sometimes, when you put more power to it, it doesn’t sound any better. I suspect what Schiit is giving it is not merely more power but finesse that most inferior amps lack. Low level listening session suddenly becomes enjoyable.

Keep in mind that if you are planning on pairing a Lyr with sub-par DAC, forget it, it won’t perform. The amp will perform at its best when paired with a superb DAC. And just like the importance of a great-sounding DAC, it’s even more important to get the best headphones that you can afford. Get a pair of headphones first, then a DAC and an amp. While the Lyr can perform well when fed with great source, it’s not as transparent as I would like. I want it to be a little more detailed and produce a bit more immediacy. The soundstage is also a bit constrained and not as airy as some of the best single-ended amp (tube and solid state) that I have tried. I guess tube-rolling will definitely help here. This is the real hassle of having a tube amp, most of the time, they won’t perform at their best with stock tubes.

I never have any problems with hum or noise. My Lyr is dead-silent, even when I turn up the volume. If you have hum/excessive noise problems, check your electricity. You might want to consider getting some sort of a power conditioner or an isolation transformer.

Build Quality

That’s enough for the sound. What about the build quality? Have you ever owned an amp that is produced by one of the well-known headphone amp manufacturers that uses aluminum for its entire chassis? If you have, say a Woo Audio amp, the Schiit Lyr (and all Schiit products) has a much better build. All screws are well positioned and fastened. Woo finishes look sloppy at best. I don’t think Schiit will let the kind of sloppy fit and finish as Woo amps have passes QC. It is that good. To be fair, Woo Audio chassis finishes do look bad (I have owned a few Woo Audio amps). What about its PCB, fitment, soldering job? It’s just as good as or better than the most well-built electronics out there. Schiit’s overall build quality is up there comparable with high-quality well-known brands, thousand of dollars gears. I think this is a testament how much Schiit cares about their products. And I’m sure it will easily last a lifetime or more.

The only design flaw that I can think of is the tubes are seated deep into the chassis which make them really hard to remove. Use a piece of masking tape to pull the tubes.

Superb Product

Please don’t judge it by the price. Price does not always equate with quality. Try it, give it some time to warm up and you will be rewarded by the great sound it produces. They spent a bit of time explaining why achieving the price they offer is actually possible. I think this is the ultimate single-ended headphone amp. I’ll be following Schiit, they will be around for some time, producing yet another bombastic line of products.

(for tube rollers) stop here if all you want to use is stock tubes.
This section will be updated as I get more tubes.

stock (GE 6BZ7) Vs. JJ
forget it, waste of money

stock Vs. 1963 Telefunken 6DJ8
coming soon

stock Vs. JAN Phillips 6922
coming soon

stock Vs. NOS 6N1P Russian (Valhalla’s)
coming soon

stock Vs. Amperex 6DJ8
The most detailed so far…

stock Vs. Siemens 6922
coming soon

stock Vs. Mullard CV2492
This are the tubes to get if you want to turn the Lyr to lush-sounding tube amp…
I’m liking the Mullard. They are my fav…

I actually started with speakers system. I had many speakers brands that I can’t remember exactly the names are. My dad also bought a few expensive gear decades ago. Since he’s getting older, it’s time for him to step back and enjoy life. My exposure to headphones has been very positive. I do not consider my financial losses as cons. There are more pros than cons. I learned to be a good buyer, I learned to pay attention to what I hear and what I expect. Headphones can be very cheap and also very expensive. Cheap if you consider superb sound quality in one small package and relatively inexpensive. And expensive when you have found similarly priced decent speakers are actually better than headphones or when you go over the top on headphones for marginal improvements. What I mean by decent speakers are speakers that offer superb sound quality for the money. Let me tell you that there are not many of them. So you really have to step up your game and search for true high performance.

HEADPHONES IS EXPENSIVE

Like many small things or miniaturized things, they tend to cost much more than their bigger counterparts. In my opinion, this is true with headphones. They do cost a lot of $$. For those who think headphones setups are smaller than speakers. Well, you have to look around. There are extremists who own headphones amps bigger than speakers amps. These extremists can be easily found and there are many of them by the way. It’s kinda funny to look at those monstrous headphone amps, considering the headphones themselves are much tinier than a set of speakers. They are often more expensive than speakers amps. I think people got off on the wrong foot when they consider the bigger the better (headphones amps), the more expensive the better (headphones and headphones amps). It just does not work that way. Yes, there are differences between more expensive headphones and cheaper headphones, but how much differences are we talking about? Subtle! Actually, you can find much cheaper headphones outperform the more expensive ones. But then again, there are bone-headed audiophools who think cheaper headphones suck, no matter how good it actually performs.

SPEAKERS NEED SPACE

In my opinion, headphones may save tons of space and tons of $$ only if you do not spend crazy money on big-honking headphones amps and DACs. Headphones are arguably able to reveal a bit more details (this is arguable, headphones drivers are practically centimeters away from your ears. if you stick your ears closer to the speakers drivers, you’ll hear more details than say, sitting 10-feett away from the speakers) than speakers but what about the other things like imaging, soundstage, resolution, and presense. Those areas are where headphones fall apart if compared with a good speaker system.

I’m not going to cover much about what smaller headphones amps are better bigger headphones amps or what cheaper headphones are superior than more expensive headphones. I’d say, earn your education, and experience them by yourselves. You will have much better understanding about various headphones and headphones amps that way.

Speakers use big drivers, woofers, and etc… There are many options that you can choose from to build your perfect speakers. Dome tweeter Vs. Ribbon tweeter for example… They are very different. I own an Audez’e LCD-2. In my opinion, it is the best headphones out there. It is beautiful, produces superb sound quality but poorly made. But it still cannot match my Selah Audio speakers which sports RAAL riboon tweeters, Accuton ceramic dome midranges, and Scan-Speak Illuminator woofers. The crossover that Rick Craig of Selah Audio designed is also superb. Add that to the marvelous mix of high performance tweeters, midranges and woofers, it will give you an audio nirvana.

The only three advantages of having a headphones system over a speaker system are:

  1. space saver; audiophile headphones itself is no bigger than mass-produced headphones and the amp itself is much smaller than a speaker amp. One doesn’t need a dedicated listening room which is almost a must for a speaker system. It demands acoustics perfection.
  2. $$ saver if one is looking for a superb sound quality for a lot less $$. With headphones, one doesn’t need to worry about the acoustics of the room. The cost to treat a room is very expensive. I spent over $3.5k to get the ‘proper’ room & speakers correction technology from DEQX.
  3. reveals more details; again, this is arguable, the drivers are very close to the ears.

I currently don’t have enough space for my speaker system, so what I used now is my headphones system. I’m very satisfied with it. Until I find a proper space, I’m going to use my Grado RS1i. But once I installed my speaker system, my headphones system will no longer be my main audio system.

Happy Listening!