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Can we agree headphone amplifiers are solved?

Fluffy

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#1
Recently there has been multiple headphones amps challenging the THX AAA 789 for top notch performance, some surpassing it, and at lower prices. It seems that many different companies had figured out how to make completely transparent headphone amps even without THX circuitry. Maybe it's time to call it quits? Why keep develop new amps?

And another thing – what does this means for power amplifiers? Why don't we see SINAD of 120 in those? It seems that for lower power and voltage, perfect linear amplification is easily achievable. What are the limiting factors to scaling this performance to the voltages and wattages of speaker amplifiers?
 

3125b

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#2
Well, more competition can only be good for us customers.
But I agree in that there is not much need (or even still room) for improvement on performance alone, same for DACs.
On price and features however, there always is.
 
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Veri

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#3
Maybe it's time to call it quits? Why keep develop new amps?
Well that's a silly statement. L30 has crazy performance at never before seen budget price. It exists directly because of the continuous development (yes, amps challenging the THX AAA 789). What are you complaining about??

If more all-in-ones include high-performance amps, or even cheaper devices achieve similar performance, I would applaud it, not complain about it.....
 
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#4
I see Fluffy's point. No expert here but it seems to me that anyone wanting to buy in technological excellence is now catered for at a very low price. Numbers can go up still but it's all beyond our hearing range, I guess. So it becomes about features, build quality and, yes, price. It's pretty much commoditization from now on, I suspect.
 

Beershaun

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#5
I don't know the numbers but I understand headphones are the fastest growing market segment in audio. Unless all those buyers also bought these amps to power them there is a lot of work left to be done. Price, miniturization to put them in to the headphones themselves while still maintaining power and quality. If they are Bluetooth headphones then power consumption is still a problem to tackle. Lots left to go after I suspect.
 
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#7
I don't know the numbers but I understand headphones are the fastest growing market segment in audio. Unless all those buyers also bought these amps to power them there is a lot of work left to be done. Price, miniturization to put them in to the headphones themselves while still maintaining power and quality. If they are Bluetooth headphones then power consumption is still a problem to tackle. Lots left to go after I suspect.
Oh, sure. Looking at it this way you are absolutely right. I was thinking more about desktop HP amplifiers.
 

majingotan

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#8
And another thing – what does this means for power amplifiers? Why don't we see SINAD of 120 in those? It seems that for lower power and voltage, perfect linear amplification is easily achievable. What are the limiting factors to scaling this performance to the voltages and wattages of speaker amplifiers?
Scaling up OP AMP stacking tech to drive speakers with lots of power and low impedance load is still not yet optimized to this date so speaker manufactures resorts to Class D discrete amplification instead. Only tech that’s closest to is the Benchmark AHB2 with THX to reduce the inherent distortion from Class AB and H designs.
 

sergeauckland

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#10
Yeah heaphone amps are a mature tech. Transducers need to catch up
I can't think of any audio electronics that are now not a mature tech, and therefore essentially a commodity. Whether RIAA phono amps, integrated amps, power amps, streamers, DACs or whatever, the technical specs are, and have been for very many years, done, finished, no longer possible to improve. The issue isn't the electronics, engineers will continue to make them measure better, because they can; it's the intellectual challenge of another 3dB off SINAD,but until we evolve better hearing, it's all moot, it's angels dancing on pinheads, it's all a pissing contest.

Buy the cheapest that'll do the job, whether on facilities or appearance or bragging rights down the pub.

Transducers are still flawed, starting at the microphone, (albeit those are the least flawed) loudspeakers still pretty flawed, but the worse is the lack of a method of distributing the soundfield of an original performance. Even 7.1 doesn't do it, and certainly two small drivers either side of one's head has to be the most flawed.

That's where I'd like to see research and development going, a way of reproducing a complete soundfield, not just another DAC/amplifier with even less SINAD.

S.
 

Racheski

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#11
I can't think of any audio electronics that are now not a mature tech, and therefore essentially a commodity. Whether RIAA phono amps, integrated amps, power amps, streamers, DACs or whatever, the technical specs are, and have been for very many years, done, finished, no longer possible to improve. The issue isn't the electronics, engineers will continue to make them measure better, because they can; it's the intellectual challenge of another 3dB off SINAD,but until we evolve better hearing, it's all moot, it's angels dancing on pinheads, it's all a pissing contest.

Buy the cheapest that'll do the job, whether on facilities or appearance or bragging rights down the pub.

Transducers are still flawed, starting at the microphone, (albeit those are the least flawed) loudspeakers still pretty flawed, but the worse is the lack of a method of distributing the soundfield of an original performance. Even 7.1 doesn't do it, and certainly two small drivers either side of one's head has to be the most flawed.

That's where I'd like to see research and development going, a way of reproducing a complete soundfield, not just another DAC/amplifier with even less SINAD.

S.
What about cables?
 

Cahudson42

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#12
There is room for adding built-in DSP - starting with a 10 band PEQ based equalizer..

The IL-DSP shows the way. Unfortunately, it is fatally flawed (IMO) by requiring a PC to program it and extremely feeble power output. The DSP-408 has a much better approach to programming with bt and an app.
 
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PolkFan

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#14
It's easy to say but motherboard audio is still lackluster even though good enough for a pair of 30$ headphones.

However in terms of listening i have no idea why i would spend over 100$ on a amp my Objective 2 did a good job and so does my new Modi3+Magni 3 Heresy $200 for both


Good for my AKG K712 Pro's and probably good enough for a lot of other cans too.

Like my objective 2 the analog volume makes noise when i turn it up and down even more so in high gain mode.

But that's not important to me.

Low volume sounds a bit better i feel with my newer setup though but i waited a good 7 years before upgrading owned the Objective 2 +Odac combo for years and i was very happy.

Spent money on better numbers and i really don't know if it sounds a LOT better.
 

MSTARK

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#15
Next thing....... eliminating cables without sacrificing quality.
Optionally, amps with downloadable headphones profiles/correction/streaming capabilities.
 

Tks

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#16
Lol solved? It's just started..

Now I want to see pots that don't scratch, or just better parts in general, more connectivity etc...

You know how smartphones don't actually compete much in terms of performance since they source all their components from the same vendors? Amp performance is reaching such parity, now what they can do is include just better finishing touches (build quality, design, etc..).

There is one performance metric I am still thinking has room for improvement (lower level output, like 50mV considering all the super sensitive and annoying IEM/headphone designs these days with awfully low impedance to boot). Oh and end-game dynamic range of true 24 bits (though it has been claimed in the past this is impossible physically or something concerning the field of audio).

Though I agree, leaving that engineering circlejerk aside. Pure amps are done in terms of performance. I am much more interested in DAC+AMP all-in-ones. That field hasn't even started (just look at how far ahead RME is compared to everyone else, with the wealth of creature comforts). That field has so much that can be done in terms of features, seems like the sky is the limit once you decide on FPGA usage especially.

EDIT: But before any of this, please, speakers, headphones, and IEMs. Can someone establish some standards concerning these devices? Seems like every product from 99% of companies is a shot in the dark, with no validation testing, and barely any improvements. Speaking of speakers... Power amps/AVR's are pretty awful, those look like they got lots of growing to do.

EDIT 2: Oh and how could I forget this... ADC's! Where the hell are these things? So many people use mics and such. I'm surprised there's not much in the way of these interfaces (I know there is Scarlett and Motu etc..)
 
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Blumlein 88

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#17
snip.....
There is one performance metric I am still thinking has room for improvement (lower level output, like 50mV considering all the super sensitive and annoying IEM/headphone designs these days with awfully low impedance to boot). Oh and end-game dynamic range of true 24 bits (though it has been claimed in the past this is impossible physically or something concerning the field of audio).
SNR of 24 bit might be problematic physically. However dynamic range of this much is achievable. Zoom F6 and the current Sound Devices MixPre recorders can record in 32 bit float, and they use parallel DACs optimized for different signal levels so you can have a dynamic range closing in on 24 bit results. I don't know this is important enough it will become widely available in the near future, but it is possible. Its usefulness in field recording is you don't have to set recording levels and you never get a clipped recording.
snip.....

EDIT 2: Oh and how could I forget this... ADC's! Where the hell are these things? So many people use mics and such. I'm surprised there's not much in the way of these interfaces (I know there is Scarlett and Motu etc..)
ADCs are pretty much solved as well. The very low end isn't SOTA, but you can get close for not much more, and even low end models are good enough they aren't any kind of impediment for one's needs.

Really other than creature comforts and such everything in audio is solved except transducers.
 

Tks

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#18
SNR of 24 bit might be problematic physically. However dynamic range of this much is achievable. Zoom F6 and the current Sound Devices MixPre recorders can record in 32 bit float, and they use parallel DACs optimized for different signal levels so you can have a dynamic range closing in on 24 bit results. I don't know this is important enough it will become widely available in the near future, but it is possible. Its usefulness in field recording is you don't have to set recording levels and you never get a clipped recording.

ADCs are pretty much solved as well. The very low end isn't SOTA, but you can get close for not much more, and even low end models are good enough they aren't any kind of impediment for one's needs.

Really other than creature comforts and such everything in audio is solved except transducers.
Yeah I was actually reading something to this effect recently, that higher dynamic range is possible by splicing different parts of the signal range to be handled by separate DACs. Just seems expensive (or just unconventional?). Not sure which, but I think this is really cool that ADC's seem to implement this regularly more than DACs themselves?

As far as ADC's being solved, I was not clear. I mean't solved in the sense of performance at costs seen from DACs for example. Also even if their performance was at such (I know RME's PRO is pretty SOTA), and even if the price was there. There just doesn't seem to be many ADC+DAC bundled devices nor mini-devices like the USB DAC sizes or inline mics as options for headphone cables and such. So solved in my machination would include availability, and various number of various offerings.

Speaking of 24-bit ADC's, it seems LG's V series (at least the V50 and later for sure that I know of) have recording capability of 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 192 all at either 16, or 24-bit ranges, and can be saved instantly as M4A, WAV, or FLAC. Really cool to see that.

Also, I don't feel filters are SOTA yet either, aside from FPGA implementations like the sort from Chord using million taps supposedly, where you get a really nice brickwall. ESS is good enough though, but AKM I'm a bit disappointed didn't have a nice 22kHz brickwall from their latest 4499 offering (but it seems they're doing this on purpose or is a technical limit of their design as someone spoke to me about a while ago).

Oh and DSP is definitely not solved. Even my RME DAC doesn't do low pass or high pass filtering as well as I'd expect (it's pretty lazy in terms of the slope dB/octave). Compared to JRiver for example that can muster 48dB/octave, the RME seems to be somewhere around 12db/octave or so(maybe better, but I'm not sure). Not bad, but I want more agressive sloping (though of course this could be included in your notion of creature comforts). Not sure how scaling of processing power that is required here, but surly I would imagine we'd be more far ahead at getting more DSP in more of these audiophile devices.


Also, do you think AVR's and Power Amps should be in a better place by now, or do you think their performance is gated by our best minds on the matter itself? And one final question since I highly value your opinion and have learned a lot from reading your technical exchanges with others. The transducer issue, what is the actual problem? Is it simply a material science ordeal? Inability to find a material to suit the higher performance aspiration. Or is it something else like dumb enclosure designs that eventually ruin nearly all transducer implementations? I'm really curious to know what exactly is the problem. And how far are we from what you would consider transducers to be as "solved"?

Oh and would microphones themselves be considered in your transducer defintion? I've seen some crazy vid Amir posted a little while back about some scientific microphone picking up on the chewing noises of some leaf eating worm and such. Any thoughts?
 

bobbooo

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#19
There is room for adding built-in DSP - starting with a 10 band PEQ based equalizer..

The IL-DSP shows the way. Unfortunately, it is fatally flawed (IMO) by requiring a PC to program it and extremely feeble power output. The DSP-408 has a much better approach to programming with bt and an app.
The Qudelix 5K has a 10-band hardware PEQ, controllable with an app via Bluetooth (or at least it will very soon in an upcoming update).
 
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