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Inherited some gear....

themacguy

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Someone passed away and I received a pair of Meze Empyrean headphones, and an SPL Phonitor xe (no DAC). I've always appreciated high end audio, just never thought I would own a pair of phones like these!

So far, I haven't been able to listen to them, as I received some cables (I'll post a pic if it lets me), that have a combo 3.5mm and 2.5mm(?) on one end and XLR on the other. I tried running the 3.5mm from a Mac Mini output to one of the XLR channel inputs on the back of the Phonitor but got no sound even in mono.

I think that the cable set is for an Astell Kern player (which I didn't get). I also don't have a DAC to run into this amp - the options seem overwhelming, and the thing I am most wondering - I keep seeing reviews or recommendations for the AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC - and other DAC/Headphone amp combos that are from SMSL or Topping that supposedly do the DAC job AND run the headphones? They are so small in physical size! Can they really run my headphones when the SPL unit is so huge? More power I assume, right?? If I get a standalone DAC, does it need to be one with XLR out?

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So what do I need? I've no experience listening to such resolving headphones, so should I add something like and SMSL SU-9, or sell the Phonitor and get something else like an SMSL M500?

Any help greatly appreciated! Please don't tell me to buy a $4000 DAC even though the rest might demand it - I just can't!
 

MRC01

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A friend of mine just got a pair of those headphones, after comparing them with some other well engineered high end models. He loves them. They're not particularly inefficient or demanding of a headphone amplifier, so your options are wide open. As for cabling, it looks like a dual XLR which is a bit unusual for headphones. You can other cables for those headphones with a standard 4-pin balanced, or 1/4" unbalanced. They shouldn't cost a fortune. If you can't find cables ready-made, Bluejeans cable in Seattle will custom build you a cable using top quality parts for only a bit more than the cost of the parts.

The Phonitor isn't terrible but it is underwhelming for the price. My advice is to sell it and use the money to get something cleaner and better. As to what, there are plenty of great options for well engineered DACs and headphone amps having state of the art performance. Better performance & lower cost than the Phonitor, what's not to like? Peruse Amir's detailed review and measurements here.
 

AdamG247

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Condolences on your loss and congratulations they picked you to enrich your Audio life. :cool:
 

charleski

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Definitely sell the Phonitor. It's a lovely case with lots of knobs and meters, but the performance is distinctly mediocre, especially with low-impedance headphones like the Meze. Of course, this hasn't prevented it getting rave reviews from several hifi mags, but that means you'll be able to sell it for quite a lot (it goes for $2200 new) and blow a fraction of the money from that on a decent DAC/AMP from Topping (like the D30Pro/A30Pro, or go for a 90 series if you're feeling extravagant).

Don't even bother thinking about the Audioquest Dragonfly. seriously
 

Madjalapeno

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You really are a Mac guy aren't you? Nice seeing one of the big Mac Pro's in your pic. I have two sitting in a wardrobe gathering dust.

Good luck finding something that works.
 

Helicopter

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Condolences.

I would keep the Phonitor for sentiments and aesthetics. I would just get a DAC with balanced outputs to go with it and a new headphone cable. There are tons of good DAC options. I recommend Schiit Modius. If I were going to buy a cable, I would probably get one from Periapt. I would get a 4 pin XLR to go with the Phonitor. Does that headphone use mini 4 pin XLR like Audeze LCD? What is the brown cable in the headphone case?
 
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themacguy

themacguy

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Thank you all for your advice, MUCH appreciated. I am leaning towards selling the Phonitor and grabbing the Mini i 3 pro from MA. Today I hooked up the analog out from my Mac Mini to the Phonitor, and while good, I can imagine a better source sounding real good.

As to the cable situation:

I have that weird combo cable I posted above, now positive it was used with the Astell Kern SP2000 DAP, to run from it into the Phonitor or the McIntosh Headphone Amp he also had. I think the other brown cable in the case is also for that device, to go direct into the headphones? It has that tiny 2.5mm plug on it and the 4 pin XLR's on the other. I tracked down another cable that is Meze branded, I think it has an unbalanced plug on it, I will have to see when I meet up with others in their family to swap cables.

Condolences are of course appreciated, but it wasn't actually MY family member, but one of some close friends. He had several pairs of headphones including a Dan Clark Stealth set, the Meze's and Kennertons amongst others. I helped them sort through his gear and electronics and initially they told me take several items, but I declined several times until days later when they basically said they would drop off a random pair and amp on my doorstep if I didn't choose :). Good friends yes!
 

Firefly00

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Definitely sell the Phonitor. It's a lovely case with lots of knobs and meters, but the performance is distinctly mediocre, especially with low-impedance headphones like the Meze. Of course, this hasn't prevented it getting rave reviews from several hifi mags, but that means you'll be able to sell it for quite a lot (it goes for $2200 new) and blow a fraction of the money from that on a decent DAC/AMP from Topping (like the D30Pro/A30Pro, or go for a 90 series if you're feeling extravagant).

Don't even bother thinking about the Audioquest Dragonfly. seriously
Are you kidding?! That thing looks so cool! Put it behind you to look smart in Zoom meetings
 

MRC01

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Sounds like you have been bit by the bug and your journey is beginning. Have fun!
Amir's reviews (and this site) can be a useful guide through the largely uncharted audio wilderness.
 

Doodski

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themacguy

themacguy

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Nice unit. The only thing missing is the parametric equalizer. You're going to need a PEQ.:D
When you get to the PEQ point there is a selection of them here for most OSs.
If using windows this and this are good and they are free.
The PEQ that I recommended looks like this.
View attachment 166465
Oh interesting, I hadn't thought about this. I guess I was under the impression that best practice was to remove as much processing and modification of the sound as possible from the original recording?
 

MRC01

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Yes that's generally true. However, no headphone has perfect frequency response, and everyone's taste is different, especially with headphones due to individual HRTF variance. PEQ implemented in DSP can smooth the deviations providing better sound, used properly there's no real downside.
 

Doodski

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Oh interesting, I hadn't thought about this. I guess I was under the impression that best practice was to remove as much processing and modification of the sound as possible from the original recording?
Nope... PEQ will be like night and day after setting it.
 
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themacguy

themacguy

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Ok! So these programs modify the sound in the bitstream before the external DAC converts it to analog? I am all Mac by the way ;)

The all in one devices like the Shanling EM5 appeal to me because I can easily move the entire thing around to different friends houses etc and wouldn't have to take a laptop and all that with me...
 

Snoopy

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Ok! So these programs modify the sound in the bitstream before the external DAC converts it to analog? I am all Mac by the way ;)

The all in one devices like the Shanling EM5 appeal to me because I can easily move the entire thing around to different friends houses etc and wouldn't have to take a laptop and all that with me...

Did you get the Shanling EM5?

I'm considering it as well. Just not sure if the DAC is up there with current ESS DACs and the amp could be a bit underpowered for demanding headphones.

But a stack will require more space, cables and difficult to move around.

The Shanling would be really easy to use in more than one location.
 

ZolaIII

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This one is preferred by Mac users I am told.
Yes, the PEQ will need a PC.
Wavelet uses the same PEQ library but it's Android only.
Ouch those will be problematic to drive properly because they are very sensitive.
Use the 50 mV @600 Ohm's THD+N table for reference.

Call me crazy but I would try those with a dongle (Luxury&Precision W2)
 
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