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Frustrated

animalwithin

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Hi everyone, new guy here and fairly new to high-end audio.

Having an extensive audio library and coming from exclusively Apple products, I decided to do a bit of upgrading and get myself a nice set of over-ear headphones and a nice DAP. I started out in search for a pair of nice closed-back headphones and after much research, I ended up with a pair of Kennerton Gjallarhorn's which, per the many reviews and forums out there, are purportedly top-of-the-line.

In short, I didn't like them. Aside from some physical issues I had with them, they simply did not sound good to my ears. After 100 hours of burn-in, I was still getting a distant, almost muffled sound with them. To be fair, I had these going through an iPod touch as well as my desktop so nothing with good power but the consensus is that they're fairly easy to drive. I ended up returning them.

My search continued and I picked up a used-but-mint-condition Sony NW-WM1A which I love (although I think not many on here care for the Sony). I proceeded to comb the internet for a solid pair of high-end headphones and came upon the Denon AH-D9200. Aside from a few individuals claiming that they're overpriced, from what I found most everywhere, these are highly lauded headphones, very easy to drive, and well worth the price. I got excited when I found a discounted, open-box pair (basically unused) from a retailer and pounced upon them.

Physically I love them but unfortunately, upon plugging them in, I'm met with the same audio issues I experienced with the Kennerton's. The best way I can describe it is that there is a band playing music in a room but I'm outside the room and the door is closed. As such, I'm hearing distant, muffled, foggy, music which isn't exactly clear and turning up the volume doesn't add much in terms of clarity.

My only reference is a pair of basic Apple ear pods which are fairly one-dimensional but they're completely clear to my ears when plugged into the Sony. I tried the Denon's with my desktop as well as my iPod touch and while they sound different than they do on the Sony, they're still muffled/distant/foggy.

I'm being told that the Sony doesn't have enough power to drive these which doesn't make sense as there are people praising these using phones, iPads, etc. I'm also being told the I need to get a pair of 4.4mm balanced cables to use with the Sony and that will make things much better but I'm leery of spending more money.

In short, I'm frustrated. I can't return the Denon's as they're open-box. At these price points, I was expecting shimmering clarity and sound quality and I'm getting better listening out of a $20 pair of ear pods. I tweaked around with the Sony's equalizer and tone control as well as using the "high gain" setting and all this helped, but I still find the Denon's to be distant/muffled/foggy, etc.

Sorry for the rant but I felt this might be a better place to seek advice than from the other "hi-fi" audiophile sites. For what it's worth, I have very sensitive ears and listen to everything on fairly low volume.
 

DjBonoBobo

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ADU

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A few thoughts after readin yer post, animalwithin.

Unless they are very low sensitivity/high impedance, most headphones will work without an amp. That doesn't mean they cannot benefit though from using one. And alot of folks who use higher-end headphones try to find synergistic combinations of the two.

I think all the headphones you mention above also have dynamic drivers, rather than planar magnetic drivers. Have you tried, or do you have any interest in planar magnetic headphones?

What type of music do you mostly listen to?

Do you want an open or closed headphone? Most people think the open over-ear headphones sound better than closed. Closed headphones can potentially give you somewhat better extension in the bass though,... especially when using dynamic headphones. Because open planar magnetic headphones can be extended a little better in the lower frequencies with some EQ than the open dynamic headphones can.
 
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animalwithin

animalwithin

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@DjBonoBobo Thank you for the links! I need to educated myself on the nuances of sound and EQ as all this is still very new to me.

@ADU The Denon are low impedance/high sensitivity so, in theory, the Sony should certainly have no problem driving them. I'm okay with trying a balanced cable with these but seeing as this was supposed to be a setup that is at least somewhat portable, buying an amp to connect to the Sony and the headphones are not something I'm keen on doing.

I haven't tried any planars but I'm not against them. I'd have to sell the Denon's if I'm to get another pair of headphones, however.

I listen exclusively to classical music as well as movie scores/soundtracks (think Lord of the Rings) Most everything is instrumental, no vocals. I'm wanting closed-back headphones to offer some sort of sound isolation, although I'm not expected complete external sound cancellation.
 

ZolaIII

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You got a hip trip.
You definitely don't need more than a phone out (0.9~1.1V) to drive those Denons (Foster drivers).
Just rise them for around 4.5 dB at 2.3 KHz and you are good to go.
Now tell me what you really want and how it needs to sound (be free to use what ever description you want)?
It's funny that you want closed back hedaphones and complain why they don't sound open (even for open earbuds).
Edit: that Sony is so epically bad that it actually might not be enough even for those on its unbalanced output (0.6V only).
 
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animalwithin

animalwithin

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@ZolaIII Haha definitely a hip trip, wish I was more educated about all things audio before I set out.

I want clarity at low volumes. I don't want muffle, I don't want it to sound like there is something that exists between me and the music. I want to hear every note clearly without having to crank up the volume. I want a pair of headphones that are immersive, which pick up on all the nuances of the piece of music. I want a pair that is even and doesn't necessarily favor bass, mids, treble, etc. I also want a pair that is capable of offering some sort of noise blocking. Perhaps not as extensive as a pair of Bose but working in my office, I want to tune out some of the background noise.

I admit I'm fairly uneducated about all of this and that I'm possibly expecting unrealistic things from specific gear.
 

tifune

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You got a hip trip.
You definitely don't need more than a phone out (0.9~1.1V) to drive those Denons (Foster drivers).
Just rise them for around 4.5 dB at 2.3 KHz and you are good to go.
Now tell me what you really want and how it needs to sound (be free to use what ever description you want)?
It's funny that you want closed back hedaphones and complain why they don't sound open (even for open earbuds).

@animalwithin this fellow here is correct. I have a lot of experience with those headphones; I powered them with an iBasso DC03 (a $70 dongle) and still miss them to this day. I only sold them so I could afford to buy the Stealth.

If you can return that Sony walkman thing, you should do it right away. It is interesting, though, the symptom you describe matches that of low power. Some low cost (relative to 9200) dongles you can try, in addition to EQ mentioned above, that would at least guarantee you have necessary power. I know the 9200 doesn't come with a abalnced cable so these are all single ended - it doesn't really need balanced, it's just weird to me they give you 2 unbalanced instead of 1 of each at that price point.

E1DA 9038D
iBasso DC03
Meizu HiFi *Pro* (if you can find one)
Qudelix (if you want wireless)
 

ZolaIII

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@ZolaIII Haha definitely a hip trip, wish I was more educated about all things audio before I set out.

I want clarity at low volumes. I don't want muffle, I don't want it to sound like there is something that exists between me and the music. I want to hear every note clearly without having to crank up the volume. I want a pair of headphones that are immersive, which pick up on all the nuances of the piece of music. I want a pair that is even and doesn't necessarily favor bass, mids, treble, etc. I also want a pair that is capable of offering some sort of noise blocking. Perhaps not as extensive as a pair of Bose but working in my office, I want to tune out some of the background noise.

I admit I'm fairly uneducated about all of this and that I'm possibly expecting unrealistic things from specific gear.
Tell you what first play with those you have and EQ, and I mean a lot to form your own preference. Those straitnen up at 72 dB comply (which it's not very loud). While they are not bad they have a real problem, they are lo impedance high LSP so they are hard to drive while retaining the SINAD. To the extent that Walkman may not be a such a bad choice (anemic regarding output power as it is) and its built as a tank.
 
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tvrgeek

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A bit if a catch-22 to want superb sound and portable. Well, we all want something for nothing, but mother nature often does not cooperate.
 

ZolaIII

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Each and every hedaphone design has it's shortcoming and advantages (open, close, semi open, earbuds and IEM's) and so do the drivers (dynamic, tube, planar, electrostatic). ;)
 

Kegemusha

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So if understand right, you usually used your iphone to airpods, so this means BTtoot only?, I dont think you need a DAP, buy an apple USB dongle and use you phone and I hope the music source are at least CD quality.
I listen FLACS from my S21 trough an apple dongle and sunds really good, even with my old sony 7506 (that are not brilliant but I use eq ), I had the m1060C before , but the build is crap so I returned them for 2 weeks ago, music sounded even better, these were open headphones.

If I would buy some headphone now, probably will be the Sennheiser 560s
 

ZolaIII

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ZolaIII

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My recommendation for portable DAC/AMP's if the price (its not huge just high for a dongle meaning on W1) is not a problem and you really want to drive lo impedance high LSP hedaphones good (presumably unbalanced).
Edit: all do never mesured properly I will suggest the HiBy R3Pro (CS43131 version) as DAP if you still can find one and insist on DAP's.
 
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acbarn

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Maybe look at one of the tried and true classics from the Sennheiser HD series (600, 650, 660S, 6XX, 58X). They aren’t perfect, but the Sennheisers are industry standards that are widely used by professionals in recording studios, and also headphone enthusiasts as references for comparing to other headphones. They’re a good starting point for getting into the hobby deeper.
 

DVDdoug

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If you have a local audio/video store or a store that sells musical instruments & associated equipment, I recommend you go to the store and listen for yourself. ;)

Of course, you can check the reviews here on ASR and you sort/select by "recommended" and/or by cost.

Headphones are "difficult" to measure because of different people's ear-shape effects the sound, as well as the position on the ear and how good of a seal you get (with closed headphones). Plus, the comfort is different for different people.

And opinions & preferences vary...

The main thing that affects "sound quality" is frequency response and to a large extent you can adjust that with equalization. But if you think the sound is "horrible", EQ may not help.

And.... There isn't much correlation between price and sound quality.

After 100 hours of burn-in
Burn-in shouldn't make any difference. That's mostly an "audiophile myth". There's rarely a measurable difference after burn-in and hopefully the product is stable so the performance doesn't change after they (hopefully) test it at the factory. Where I work (non-audio electronics) we test everything, then burn-in at elevated temperature for 48 hours, then test again. That's NOT because the performance is expected to change. It's to weed-out early failures.

I'm also being told the I need to get a pair of 4.4mm balanced cables
You'll need a DAC or amplifier with a balanced headphone-output and the only difference will be (potentially) double the voltage for +6dB more volume before clipping.
 
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animalwithin

animalwithin

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I appreciate all of your replies, thank you :)

So it appears the culprit is the Sony, bummer. I like the unit, it is definitely built like a tank, 128G internal storage has been great, the UI is simple without all the Wifi, streaming, an apps fluff, and the battery life is crazy good. All things I was looking for in a DAP. I can't return it, I would have to sell it but it's in pristine condition.

@tifune Do the dongles drain power from DAPs? I'd have to find one that is compatible with the Sony if I were to keep it.

@ZolaIII I will play around with the EQ and then decided what to do from there. I appreciate all the recommendations!

@Kegemusha All files are hi-res FLAC. I think the reason why I opted to get a DAP rather than an iPod + amp is that I didn't want to deal with any extra components. Just source and headphones. It appears, however, that I might have not made a good choice with the Sony and I'm back to needing some extra components such as a dongle.

@DVDdoug I had a hunch that the burn-in was just audiophile myth but I thought I'd at least go through the process so I can say it was done. I should have gone to my local audio place and try a bunch of headphones and DAPs. Impatience got the better of me and I walked into all of this blindly :facepalm:

I understand what you all are saying with respect to trade-offs between different types of gear. I just didn't expect it to be so pronounced perhaps or I set my expectations too high.
 

ZolaIII

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@animalwithin (and everyone else) hedaphones and loudspeakers burn in is a mith however brain adoption how it processes the auditory or other sensory input isn't. It goes analytical as possible at first when input changes significantly to adopt sensation of it (trim, compress it and normalise) to discard overwhelming (to it) details and volume (as much as it can). When it adopts which is relatively fast on pattern it already knows it shuts down auditional analitic. For instance I used to prefer only 30 minutes critical listening session with above average volume (not mind blowing) for that reason.
It's not that Sony Walkman you got is bad for a DAP, it's that DAP's are usually bad in general regarding quality of analog autoput signal they produce (which is shameful even more so for as those are specialised devices).
I use to recommend portabl gear by efficiency (how much electricity it uses), how good DAC - amp design is (regarding both both performance and EMI rejection rate) and CS43131 is still my favourite.
There is also a let's call it flask alike portable battery powered category of DAC/AMP's which we didn't mention so far. I know that Sony Walkman is built as a tank - single peace CNC Alu hosting and even a metal cage plate as I have similarly made Sony phone.
Best regards and have a nice time.
 
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tifune

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I appreciate all of your replies, thank you :)

@tifune Do the dongles drain power from DAPs? I'd have to find one that is compatible with the Sony if I were to keep it.

Well, I'd personally get rid of that. If you can return it, you should. Otherwise sell it. Unless you have some unique need for it? The use case for dedicated DAPs is getting narrower by the minute. The average smartphone + dongle can meet or beat such a device, with the exception potentially being power output (FIIO M17).
 

ZolaIII

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Well, I'd personally get rid of that. If you can return it, you should. Otherwise sell it. Unless you have some unique need for it? The use case for dedicated DAPs is getting narrower by the minute. The average smartphone + dongle can meet or beat such a device, with the exception potentially being power output (FIIO M17).
Average smartphone performs better than wasp majority of DAP's (90~94 dB SINAD) power requirements (output voltage) are another question.
 
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animalwithin

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I'm definitely going through the brain adoption phase. It's weird when you really focus on nuances that you previously didn't pay attention to. Am I being OCD and hearing things that aren't really an issue? I feel like I'm reaching a point of diminishing returns, or hallucination o_O

I'm the odd person who likes to distance myself from my phone as much as possible so I have no problem with the concept of a DAP, even if the concept is becoming outdated. I got the Sony at a good price, I can't imagine spending over $1k on a DAP, however.

So the EQ tweaks definitely helped and I'm liking the sound better. But something is still missing. Cymbals, for example, don't really shimmer when struck. Instruments like that sound farther away than others.
 
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