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Are a dac and an headphone amplifier really worth it vs my phone ?

Vincetot

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#1
Hi,

3 years ago I’ve decided to buy a good pair of headphones and I’ve discovered at the same time the obscur world of audiophiles.
At this time I was very enthusiastic about all the things that I could read and I finally bought a pair of Sennheiser HD-650 for a really good price and because everyone was saying that it needed a lot of power I also bought a Fiio A5 to use it with my phone (I hadn’t a lot of money to spend, my priority was a nice pair of headphones).
When all this package arrived I was surprised (and a little bit embarrassed) that my phone was perfectly capable of pushing these headphones, the fiio A5 didn’t change anything in the sound but it just aded more power (that’s what it’s designed for but I don’t need to listen to music at 130 db to appreciate it) and it was highly impractical... I also tried mp3 vs flac 16 bit and even 24 bit and once again i was a little embarrassed because i couldn’t tell any difference (I’m young and I’ve got all my hearing capabilities...) or if there is a difference I absolutely don’t care because I think that it is not worth all the money and effort vs spotify... (maybe with a better dac ???)

Since this time i listen to spotify with my Samsung S10e and my HD-650 almost every day and I’m perfectly fine with it, I’m always between 1/3 and 2/3 of the volume... and I think that the majority of the audiophiles are full of s _ _ _ (sorry)

But with the quarantine happening in Europe I dive back into this world and I’ve discovered this forum wich seems more serious and « scientific » than most.
My questions are the following :

1) If I buy a good dac (like Topping D50s) and a good headphone amp (like THX 887) will it make an easily noticeable difference in sound quality vs my phone or will it be same difference between mp3 and flac 24 bit ? As i said before i don’t care if that’s just a little difference barely noticeable with more power :-/

2) I would like to use spotify via my phone or my iPad wirelessly : if I use a bluetooth dac (like Fiio BTR5 or iFI Zen Blue), will it noticeably degrade the audio quality (spotify) vs a more classic dac ?

3) Fiio A5 vs Monoprice THX 887, same question : is the upgrade easily noticeable for my ears or is the THX 887 just an excessive amount of power and better curves in theory ?

I understand that my questions can look totally stupid for some people who care about every little differences they can hear whatever the cost (and I have absolutely no problem with that) but please keep in mind that I’ve never tried anything else than my phone and my Fiio A5 and I’m not interested in some minor upgrades :)

(please excuse me if my english is not perfect and for this long and stupid message)
 

Asylum Seeker

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#2
I am one who has said -- and taken flak for saying -- that smartphone headphone jacks can be very good now and that you do not>need< a DAP, DAC to hear good sound these days. Look at the headphone jack measurements out of GSM Arena, for example. (And no, those have not been 'debunked' given the scant, episodic evidence provided). The 'problem' with smartphone headphone jacks is their limited power.

Often the case against the Smartphone headphone jack is that there are now few smartphones that come with it. That's simply untrue. Since 2019, there have been 413 smartphones (of 503 released) with headphone jacks, according to GSM Arena's database. Samsung's flagship last year, the three phones in the S10 series, had a headphone jack with very good measured performance. So far in 2020, there have been 53 smartphones released, and of those, 41 carry a headphone jack.

2. Probably not, since Spotify audio quality will be a/the weak link. SQ is only as good as the weakest link. It is not additive.
 
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frogmeat69

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#4
It's nice knowing you have the power to use if you need it, and the FiiO A5 will have it for you if you ever try a different set of headphones that might need that extra bit of oomph to get to your preferred listening level.
Now you got me wanting to see if my iPhone XR can power my HiFiMan HE-6se to any kind of decent level (doubt it, lol), but I can't find my Apple Dongle, :facepalm:. Plus I would need like 3 adapters to get the XLR plug on the cable down to 3.5mm, lol.
 

LTig

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#5
Hi,

3 years ago I’ve decided to buy a good pair of headphones and I’ve discovered at the same time the obscur world of audiophiles.
At this time I was very enthusiastic about all the things that I could read and I finally bought a pair of Sennheiser HD-650 for a really good price and because everyone was saying that it needed a lot of power I also bought a Fiio A5 to use it with my phone (I hadn’t a lot of money to spend, my priority was a nice pair of headphones).
When all this package arrived I was surprised (and a little bit embarrassed) that my phone was perfectly capable of pushing these headphones, the fiio A5 didn’t change anything in the sound but it just aded more power (that’s what it’s designed for but I don’t need to listen to music at 130 db to appreciate it) and it was highly impractical... I also tried mp3 vs flac 16 bit and even 24 bit and once again i was a little embarrassed because i couldn’t tell any difference (I’m young and I’ve got all my hearing capabilities...) or if there is a difference I absolutely don’t care because I think that it is not worth all the money and effort vs spotify... (maybe with a better dac ???)

Since this time i listen to spotify with my Samsung S10e and my HD-650 almost every day and I’m perfectly fine with it, I’m always between 1/3 and 2/3 of the volume... and I think that the majority of the audiophiles are full of s _ _ _ (sorry)

But with the quarantine happening in Europe I dive back into this world and I’ve discovered this forum wich seems more serious and « scientific » than most.
My questions are the following :

1) If I buy a good dac (like Topping D50s) and a good headphone amp (like THX 887) will it make an easily noticeable difference in sound quality vs my phone or will it be same difference between mp3 and flac 24 bit ? As i said before i don’t care if that’s just a little difference barely noticeable with more power :-/

2) I would like to use spotify via my phone or my iPad wirelessly : if I use a bluetooth dac (like Fiio BTR5 or iFI Zen Blue), will it noticeably degrade the audio quality (spotify) vs a more classic dac ?

3) Fiio A5 vs Monoprice THX 887, same question : is the upgrade easily noticeable for my ears or is the THX 887 just an excessive amount of power and better curves in theory ?

I understand that my questions can look totally stupid for some people who care about every little differences they can hear whatever the cost (and I have absolutely no problem with that) but please keep in mind that I’ve never tried anything else than my phone and my Fiio A5 and I’m not interested in some minor upgrades :)

(please excuse me if my english is not perfect and for this long and stupid message)
This is not a stupid message at all - just the opposite. It's good to keep things in perspective. In fact your experiences matches mine.

(1) My Samsung S5 neo perfectly feeds both a Beyer Dynamic DT990 pro (250 Ohm) and a Sennheiser HD800 (300 Ohm, price was 1200 €!) with (for me) satisfying volume, although I measured an output power of around 1 mW (AFAIR). There are headphones with very low sensitivity which do not work with a smartphone output but your's and mine do. And: please keep in mind that having too much power available and using it leads to permanent damage of your ears.
Also the sound quality is very good, even with the HD800 although the audiophile hype says that the HD800 needs very expensive amplification to sound good and does sound horrible when driven by improper (a ka cheap) amplifiers. Agreed both headphones sound better when driven by my RME ADI-2 PRO fs (1500 €), but as you wrote the differences are not night and day - not with my aging ears - and the RME is not portable anyway.

(2) I also admit that I do not hear a difference in sound quality whether I listen to music playing a CD (player feeds preamp via SPDIF output) or playing a flac file on the smartphone with HD blutooth connection (blutooth receiver feeds preamp via SPDIF).

(3) the THX will be louder of course, but I don't think you need it. It may sound better but not night and day. IMV the only reason to invest in a better amplification is an EQ or similar features to fix FR or improve listening experience (crossfeed, loudness) like the RME ADI-2 DAC (DAC and Headphone, no blutooth, ~1000 €) offers.
 

MRC01

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#6
... Agreed both headphones sound better when driven by my RME ADI-2 PRO fs (1500 €), but as you wrote the differences are not night and day - not with my aging ears - and the RME is not portable anyway.
... the THX will be louder of course, but I don't think you need it. It may sound better but not night and day. ...
It's true that the audible sonic differences between a phone, and a well engineered DAC and headphone amp, are small -- except for the obvious difference in output power/voltage which is needed for many headphones. However, those subtle differences are part of what the audiophile hobby is all about: learning to hear differences that are close to the thresholds of perception. Or as some might say, splitting hairs. However, the phrase "splitting hairs" doesn't quite do it justice because it's not entirely an abstract exercise. Listener training hones our perception which can enable us to find greater appreciation and enjoyment of the finer subtleties of music. Audiophilia can also be scientifically, mathematically, biologically, psychoacoustically educational, for those who are so inclined.
 

Asylum Seeker

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#7
Yes...except that 1.) some smartphone rigs (straight headphone jack or a USB DAC) already offer objective, measured performance that matches or nearly matches that of the human hearing apparatus, and 2. that is nearly all for naught because earphones/headphone performance still lags orders of magnitude behind.

Which suggests that in an/the optimal allocation of finite resources, funds should go first and by far, not to a DAP or DAC, but rather to improving the weakest link in the chain, that is, the earphone/headphone itself. To the first approximation sound quality is about the earphone/headphone.

It's true that the audible sonic differences between a phone, and a well engineered DAC and headphone amp, are small -- except for the obvious difference in output power/voltage which is needed for many headphones. However, those subtle differences are part of what the audiophile hobby is all about: learning to hear differences that are close to the thresholds of perception. Or as some might say, splitting hairs. However, the phrase "splitting hairs" doesn't quite do it justice because it's not entirely an abstract exercise. Listener training hones our perception which can enable us to find greater appreciation and enjoyment of the finer subtleties of music. Audiophilia can also be scientifically, mathematically, biologically, psychoacoustically educational, for those who are so inclined.
My advice to the OP: spend your money on headphones/earphones. FYI, there are some outstanding values (also a lot of trash and hype) out there in Chi-Fi IEMs.
 
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majingotan

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#8
It's true that the audible sonic differences between a phone, and a well engineered DAC and headphone amp, are small -- except for the obvious difference in output power/voltage which is needed for many headphones. However, those subtle differences are part of what the audiophile hobby is all about: learning to hear differences that are close to the thresholds of perception. Or as some might say, splitting hairs. However, the phrase "splitting hairs" doesn't quite do it justice because it's not entirely an abstract exercise. Listener training hones our perception which can enable us to find greater appreciation and enjoyment of the finer subtleties of music. Audiophilia can also be scientifically, mathematically, biologically, psychoacoustically educational, for those who are so inclined.
The thing that makes this statement fall apart is that under volume matched A/B testing, those splitting hairs you are describing becomes vapor. Take the AK SP2000 DAP that I have which is more than 350 times the cost of the Apple dongle and both sound the same under volume matched conditions

untitled2.JPG
 
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#9
Different people are different. It doesn't sound like it would be worth it for you. If you didn't hear a difference between the typical streaming quality song from Spotify vs. the "Hi-Res" file from Tidal, etc.. then that's that! Or.. keep listening and see if you can find it? The difference is definitely small. The law of diminishing returns is in high effect here. I bet you can tell a difference between a 96 Kbps song and a 320 Kbps song.. if you're old enough to have heard those lol.. but going from a quality streaming service such as Apple Music where your downloaded songs are already of decent quality (320 Kbps I believe) to FLAC is a much smaller difference with respect to how humans perceive it, typically at least. Plus today's main-stream tech (phones, for example) sometimes have some decent, if not great, hardware (DACs) built into them. Every situation is different. I'd say that for easy to drive headphones, an additional amp is not necessary. They're there for the demanding headphones that need more power. At least that's how I see it.

Hmm.. this conversation doesn't seem scientific enough for around here.. =P

Cheers
 
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cjfrbw

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#10
I would say it depends on how you listen. If you use your phone for 'serious' listening in quiet environment for extended periods of time, then yes, it is probably a good idea to upgrade the DAC etc. If your listening is mostly on the go in noisy environments, then no, it is a waste of resources.

I have pretty much concluded that the way I listen to music on most portable or computer devices with headphones, that the built in electronics these days are already more than good enough (ipod, Samsung Galaxy 8, mac mini). So called 'serious' listening is for the main stereo system.
 
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Vincetot

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Thread Starter #11
Thanks a lot guys, you definitely enlighten my vision of the audiophilia and I feel less weird when I use my HD-650 with phone :D

I think that I will just buy a Bluetooth dac to use with my Fiio A5 for the moment because it’s more convenient for me and I will see if I can hear an improvement or no (and I will try again mp3 vs flac :p).
 

solderdude

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#12
For HD650 I found:

The part of the recording below was playing at a comfortably loud level which is easy to listen to for 1 or 2 songs before getting the urge to turn it down to more comfortable levels.

This resulted in the following (rounded off) numbers:

RMS levels = 236mV = 0.174 mW = 90dB (average)
Peak levels = 2.63VPP = 930mVRMS = 2.7mW = 102dB
calculated DR = 11.9dB for that 10 sec part of the song

 

MRC01

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#13
The thing that makes this statement fall apart is that under volume matched A/B testing, those splitting hairs you are describing becomes vapor. ...
Sure, sometimes the differences in equipment are below thresholds of perception. But that doesn't weaken my statement, which was about learning to hear differences that are near thresholds of perception. The point is, listener training causes a measurable improvement in A/B test sensitivity, which means most people can improve their perception through listener training. It's a useful exercise, so the fact that most well engineered DACs and amps sound similar if not identical, shouldn't discourage anyone from experimenting.
 

Jimbob54

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The thing that makes this statement fall apart is that under volume matched A/B testing, those splitting hairs you are describing becomes vapor. Take the AK SP2000 DAP that I have which is more than 350 times the cost of the Apple dongle and both sound the same under volume matched conditions

View attachment 55758
Yes, but the SP2000 is Hi-Res, it has the sticker to prove it, And more res is better all day , everyday.

The tape on the dongle is a nice touch though. But Is it audiophile grade? Could get a few more dB of blacker noise floor if it was black platinum ice treated. £300 per roll.
 

Jimbob54

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#15
@Vincetot you seem happy with your phone and 650s as they are. Leave things as is. If you want to spend more money, do so on a contrasting set of headphones as others have said.

Maybe heresy round here, but see what fun you can get from a pair of Grados. The SR60 are the entry level and a different beast to the 650s.
 

ZolaIII

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#16
You never really told which phone you use. Standard Snapdragon DAC would be more than enough for 99% of music you will have a chance to listen if implemented good as G8 ThinQ measurements shown.

It really depends internal vs external DAC & it's much more about other things than performance alone and what you want to achieve. Good matching also plays a quita role to keep it all closer to ideal.
The OS limitations apply to all if you don't skip the bail. So Android USB audio 2.0 doesn't have mic support but you are mostly good regarding the rest. Both Android audio & default USB audio drivers have implied set of limitations (resampling limitations & implied rules). AAudio & rest libs also ain't that good, Bass+ is among better (currently available without licensing problems) & I know couple promising players currently based upon it & that's where default android stops. Now costume drivers quality will certainly depend upon... (miracles among other) and some solutions are more costume than others. Again you don't have much of a choice when it comes to player's with such solutions. I would actually recommend the most HiBy Music as it's free regarding Android USB Audio 2.0 but also the direct link USB mode on rare hardware it actually supports it (phone charging, regular USB cables...). It ain't special & it work's. Regarding external portable DAC's and amp's; there actually are some that are rather good & not much pricy. They usually lack proper electrical disturbances isolation in most cases at least (both power delivery & body EMI and other) while working in hars conditions. This is solvable (elegantly) with those a bit on a larger side & easy disassembly also helps. Small ones you can ware in protecting pouch bag or whatever. There's awful market omission when it comes to USB C to Micro or other C 5 pin OTG cable's (pore choice of the product & not so good pricing). It the end it really comes to what suits you & your needs. Plan should generally go as; buy as good analog transceiver as you can afford (sound should be at the first place), than find him as perfect match to drive it as good as it can at the way you want.
 

majingotan

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#18
Yes, but the SP2000 is Hi-Res, it has the sticker to prove it, And more res is better all day , everyday.

The tape on the dongle is a nice touch though. But Is it audiophile grade? Could get a few more dB of blacker noise floor if it was black platinum ice treated. £300 per roll.
Gotta maximize the placebo-fi as part of the hobby. On a serious note, the tape is there to prevent wear along the thin wire connecting the jack to the DAC
 

Jimbob54

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#19
Gotta maximize the placebo-fi as part of the hobby. On a serious note, the tape is there to prevent wear along the thin wire connecting the jack to the DAC
I figured that. There's a substance, can't remember it's name, like putty that sets but still flexes. Perfect for such fiddly cables and connections. I'll find it and update.
 

Asylum Seeker

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#20
Well, if it has that sticker it must be good, right? :rolleyes:

Yes, but the SP2000 is Hi-Res, it has the sticker to prove it, And more res is better all day , everyday.

The tape on the dongle is a nice touch though. But Is it audiophile grade? Could get a few more dB of blacker noise floor if it was black platinum ice treated. £300 per roll.
 
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