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Enough volume but not enough dynamics?

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Hi everyone,

I'm relatively new to the audiophile world and I'm trying to understand the relationship between an amp providing enough volume and dynamics for power-hungry headphones. I tend to use a Topping L50 on my desktop setup, which drives my Drop 8XX (300 ohms of impedance and 103dB of sensitivity) just perfect. I'd like to listen to the 8XX when laying in bed, so I've been thinking of either getting an iFi Hip-DAC 2 or a Hiby R6 III dap. I've seen comments online stating both will provide more than enough volume but not enough dynamics.

Is this true? I've also seen people stating that if there's enough volume without distortion then there's no need for a stronger amp, and the rest are just people trying to justify the purchase of amps with tons of unnecessary gain. I'd like to understand what is the relationship between an amp's ability to provide enough volume, and the ability to provide enough dynamics.

Thanks a lot.
 

oleg87

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Assuming the amp has good performance up to clipping, there is no difference between peak volume and dynamics.

But audio content varies in dynamic range. For low average volume/high dynamic range content (movie sound mixes, for example), you could have enough power to cleanly reproduce the average volume of the material, but it may clip when there's a big explosion or something. There's a decent chance a portable device would not clip into 300ohms at any volume it can produce, but you'd want to confirm this with measurements.
 

DVDdoug

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Headphones, speakers, and amplifiers are linear unless over-driven into clipping/distortion.... They don't change the dynamics of the recording.

Our perception of loudness is related to the short-term average and the frequency content. Short-term peaks don't necessarily sound "loud" so highly-dynamic music may not sound as loud as highly dynamically-compressed* music, so you may need more amplifier power with more-dynamic music so you don't clip the peaks.

Is this true?
Most of the audiophile community is nuts! (And non-scientific.) Audiophoolery may help you to recognize when "audiophiles" are using meaningless terminology, or using terminology inaccurately.

* Don't confuse dynamic compression with file compression like MP3. MP3 is lossy compression (data is thrown-away to make a smaller file) and it can "damage" the sound but it doesn't hurt the dynamics. In fact it gives you a better measurement of dynamics (a higher crest factor) without affecting the sound of the dynamics. Cutting & playing a vinyl record can also give you a better "measurement".

P.S.
Musical dynamics (or program dynamics) are what I like to call "dynamic contrast" and it depends on the composition, arrangement, performance (the instruments and how dynamically the musicians play and how may instruments are playing at the same time) and the production (how much compression is used during mixing & mastering). Some people call that "dynamic range", but IMO, dynamic range better-applies to the equipment or the transmission format/channel, and it's the dB difference between the noise floor and maximum signal level. Usually we want enough dynamic range to go as loud as we want without distortion, and without hearing any background noise, regardless of the program dynamics. (Even with highly-compressed music we don't want to hear noise between tracks or during the fade-in/fade out.)
 
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Miguelón

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Headphones, speakers, and amplifiers are linear unless over-driven into clipping/distortion.... They don't change the dynamics of the recording
At which point are completely linear?
I have an audio interface connected to a pair of active monitors, and the result of adjusting input gain to +6 dB (the minimum in the Genelec way of expressing as “dB input that produces 100 dB output”) sounds different as adjusting to -6 dB which is the highest sensibility. Of course I correct SPL with the volume knob of the interface, so average is the same. But still sound different, more brilliant the highest the sensitivity (even noisy at the maximum, despite lowering the output signal on the DAC)
 

JaguarIT

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I don't trust anyone who can't explain in exact, descriptive language what they mean when they say things like "plenty of volume, not enough dynamics." In what way exactly? How about a tangible example I can replicate? If that isn't forthcoming, then I assume they just know how to sound like they know what they are talking about, but actually don't know a damn thing.

In fact, that language is nothing more than a FOMO (fear of missing out) sales tactic, which is really the foundational sales tactic of overly expensive audio gear. "Oh no! I'm missing 0.00001% of top of the line quality. It's expensive, so it must be better!" The whole game of chasing peak expense (not the same as peak quality) is just a P. T. Barnum linguistic trick to lighten the wallet of suckers. Audiophile communities are completely infected with it and pass it along like kids sneezing in each other's mouths. It's great you are excited about better SQ, don't get me wrong, but there's no need to get infected with FOMO either.

Just make sure you can ship and return any option you decide to try for free for any reason, including dissatisfaction, and start with the cheapest and see if it's acceptable in bed, considering all factors, like battery life, durability, ease of use, etc., not just SQ. In the hype & FOMO driven audiophile world, the lowest price option can be the objectively best option, or as good as the objectively best option for regular human hearing (let alone old person hearing). That said, with hearing loss, tastes change due to frequency sensitivity change.

Personally, I would even suggest just trying out a simple portable HP amp, with no DAC, and no DAP, and attached to the phone HP out. In my experience, DAPs are not worth the cost, not remotely, not when you can get just a HP amp to attach to your phone to pump up output voltage and drive those big ol' cans, and while USB DACs obviously work, the phone battery drains much faster than with HP out, even when DAC has its own battery, and UAPP is the only good app for hires DAC on Android, but even it is not very stable compared to PowerAmp, yet both sound transparent and identical when volume matched on hires tracks I've checked out, making an external DAC (and thus hires) utterly pointless. In addition, DAP & DAC manufacturers are pretty small-time and so often have pretty terrible customer service, and high powered models have pretty terrible battery life. Just keep the HP out on the phone quiet enough to be distortion free, and go to town with an amp. Yes folks may suggest that's double amping and that "always bad," but I have yet to see explained exactly what the issue is, or if the potential issues that bring one to that conclusion hold any water. I don't have any thing needing high power, and so I'm just mentioning another option to consider and Amir has loads of measurements for all this gear, so check those out.

Best of luck and cheers!
 

Miguelón

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I don't trust anyone who can't explain in exact, descriptive language what they mean when they say things like "plenty of volume, not enough dynamics." In what way exactly? How about a tangible example I can replicate? If that isn't forthcoming, then I assume they just know how to sound like they know what they are talking about, but actually don't know a damn thing.

In fact, that language is nothing more than a FOMO (fear of missing out) sales tactic, which is really the foundational sales tactic of overly expensive audio gear. "Oh no! I'm missing 0.00001% of top of the line quality. It's expensive, so it must be better!" The whole game of chasing peak expense (not the same as peak quality) is just a P. T. Barnum linguistic trick to lighten the wallet of suckers. Audiophile communities are completely infected with it and pass it along like kids sneezing in each other's mouths. It's great you are excited about better SQ, don't get me wrong, but there's no need to get infected with FOMO either.

Just make sure you can ship and return any option you decide to try for free for any reason, including dissatisfaction, and start with the cheapest and see if it's acceptable in bed, considering all factors, like battery life, durability, ease of use, etc., not just SQ. In the hype & FOMO driven audiophile world, the lowest price option can be the objectively best option, or as good as the objectively best option for regular human hearing (let alone old person hearing). That said, with hearing loss, tastes change due to frequency sensitivity change.

Personally, I would even suggest just trying out a simple portable HP amp, with no DAC, and no DAP, and attached to the phone HP out. In my experience, DAPs are not worth the cost, not remotely, not when you can get just a HP amp to attach to your phone to pump up output voltage and drive those big ol' cans, and while USB DACs obviously work, the phone battery drains much faster than with HP out, even when DAC has its own battery, and UAPP is the only good app for hires DAC on Android, but even it is not very stable compared to PowerAmp, yet both sound transparent and identical when volume matched on hires tracks I've checked out, making an external DAC (and thus hires) utterly pointless. In addition, DAP & DAC manufacturers are pretty small-time and so often have pretty terrible customer service, and high powered models have pretty terrible battery life. Just keep the HP out on the phone quiet enough to be distortion free, and go to town with an amp. Yes folks may suggest that's double amping and that "always bad," but I have yet to see explained exactly what the issue is, or if the potential issues that bring one to that conclusion hold any water. I don't have any thing needing high power, and so I'm just mentioning another option to consider and Amir has loads of measurements for all this gear, so check those out.

Best of luck and cheers!
I personally don’t care about if the DAC is on the phone or on the USB DAP, but many times happen that phones don’t give all the demanded power by the external accessories especially Apple ones.

It worths to verify output with a multimeter, I have not the same results from connecting to a computer, tablet or phone
 

kemmler3D

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Headphones, speakers, and amplifiers are linear unless over-driven into clipping/distortion....
Correct, but it's not that hard to push speakers (or weak sources connected to demanding transducers) out of linearity, especially if we have 20+ dB peaks in low frequencies, or something.
 

Miguelón

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Correct, but it's not that hard to push speakers (or weak sources connected to demanding transducers) out of linearity, especially if we have 20+ dB peaks in low frequencies, or something.
Yes, it was made me crazy before joining ASR and being convinced about DACs linearity: I was persuaded they sounded different connected to same source but instead they were just sounding at different levels.

In classical music one can find high contrasts in dynamics and recordings are made usually at lower levels than electric powered instruments, so is really easy to obtain different “signatures” by little nonlinearities and possibly this so called “lack of dynamics” rising up sensibility on my monitors when connected to my comercial DAC: conversely connected to my audio interface (which is the usual device to power professional monitors) is much more easier to match and keep in the optimal region of the speaker or amp
 

kemmler3D

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Yes, it was made me crazy before joining ASR and being convinced about DACs linearity: I was persuaded they sounded different connected to same source but instead they were just sounding at different levels.

In classical music one can find high contrasts in dynamics and recordings are made usually at lower levels than electric powered instruments, so is really easy to obtain different “signatures” by little nonlinearities and possibly this so called “lack of dynamics” rising up sensibility on my monitors when connected to my comercial DAC: conversely connected to my audio interface (which is the usual device to power professional monitors) is much more easier to match and keep in the optimal region of the speaker or amp
If you are using powered monitors then the DAC is probably not diminishing dynamics in any real way. Nonlinearities come into play when an amp runs out of current or voltage, or the speaker itself hits limits of some kind.

But I do think highly dynamic music like classical, played loud, would tend reveal audible nonlinearities.
 

Palladium

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If you are using powered monitors then the DAC is probably not diminishing dynamics in any real way. Nonlinearities come into play when an amp runs out of current or voltage, or the speaker itself hits limits of some kind.

But I do think highly dynamic music like classical, played loud, would tend reveal audible nonlinearities.

0dBFS @ 2V to a 10K line-in is only 0.2mA.

A cheaper-than-dirt NE5532 in short-circuit output is rated at 38mA typ and 60mA max. I don't see how a DAC can limit dynamics unless it is so shoddily designed.
 
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kemmler3D

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0dBFS @ 2V to a 10K line-in is only 0.2mA.

A cheaper-than-dirt NE5532 in short-circuit output is rated at 38mA typ and 60mA max. I don't see how a DAC can limit dynamics unless it is so shoddily designed.
Right, I agree. DACs are not going to be going non-linear unless something has gone pear shaped.
 

Miguelón

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If you are using powered monitors then the DAC is probably not diminishing dynamics in any real way. Nonlinearities come into play when an amp runs out of current or voltage, or the speaker itself hits limits of some kind.

But I do think highly dynamic music like classical, played loud, would tend reveal audible nonlinearities.
I understand what linearity is in theory, but in my home I have two different setups: one is a pair of Genelecs 8030 monitors for a digital piano and recording monitoring and listening and the other is a comercial portable Dali speaker (Bluetooth and mini jack line-in). When connecting my Ifi Zen Dac to the Genelcs it sounds weak and lack of bass and highs, medium emphasized and dynamic is flatter: I have to turn up the gain to -6 dB (the maximum on Genelecs) to have better sound even if the volume knob at the DAC has to be at medium level to compensate. Notice that comercial line out is usually-10 dBv. Conversely it sounds very good plugged to the Dali line input.

The opposite is when I connect my audio interface (around +4 dBu) it handle the Genelecs very well and with good kicks on bass and most audible highs. If I switch to the Dali, the interface produce a very different sound, quite “hursh”. Even if I turn down volume of the speaker.

Ideally one can have P=V x I linear and obtain same P = V/2 * (I* 2) but I think slight nonliearities on pre-amplifier and amplifier combined get audible differences.
 

Miguelón

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Right, I agree. DACs are not going to be going non-linear unless something has gone pear shaped.
That’s true, but if DAC voltage / current is weak regard to the sensitivity of the active monitor or headphone, you turn up DAC volume (or the gain at the monitor) and easily go to pre amp compression on usb devices (my dragonfly distorted over 70% volume), or too much amplification ratio on the monitor loosing linearity. Am I wrong?
 

kemmler3D

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That’s true, but if DAC voltage / current is weak regard to the sensitivity of the active monitor or headphone, you turn up DAC volume (or the gain at the monitor) and easily go to pre amp compression on usb devices (my dragonfly distorted over 70% volume)
Maybe at this point we are talking about a headphone amp not being able to drive a certain headphone... definitely possible. What was the headphone?
 

Miguelón

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Maybe at this point we are talking about a headphone amp not being able to drive a certain headphone... definitely possible. What was the headphone?
It was the Sennheiser hd 560, not very difficult to handle: 120 ohms if I remember well.

When connecting the DAC to a computer it sounded better, the iphone didn’t get enough power to the dragonfly apparently
 

JaguarIT

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Now they have changed the port into USB C (3.0 I believe), my actual iphone goes better with all the stuff I connect to it. It even can run with my Focusrite interface which maybe interesting to someone who works with it on the go.
Doesn't USB-C support higher power output than lightning? Can quite recall, but that and bigger battery for the USB-C models might explain that change.

I mean Apple does like to throw users an occasional bone so they feel good about massively overpaying, for no HP out, still having camera notch, and tiny, overpriced non-expandable local storage that makes no sense in current devices ("buy more iCloud subscription, peons", lol).
 

staticV3

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I mean Apple does like to throw users an occasional bone so they feel good about massively overpaying, for no HP out, still having camera notch, and tiny, overpriced non-expandable local storage
Apple offer somewhat large storage (500GB on iPhone, 1TB on iPhone Pro), but boy is it overpriced.

Adding 256GB of fast 1500MB/s NAND Flash to your laptop or PC costs around 25€.

Adding 256GB of fast 1500MB/s NAND Flash to your iPhone costs around 250€. Ten times as much for the same underlying chips.

Apple execs are laughing up their sleeves at the ridiculous profit margins that they manage to sneak past their users :)
 
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