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Legion 7 soundcard vs Topping E30 II lite and Topping L30 II perception

cluster

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Hello everyone, I have been lurking these forums for quite a while and having read about DACs and AMPs and headphone sensitivity, I decide to buy an E30 II lite and the L30 II to help my HD 650 (maybe some planars in the future if it justifies over HD650 EQ).

The reason for this is that while my gaming laptop is top in regards to performance, the sound card does not seem able to drive my headphones for music with extreme dynamic range unless I crank it to 85% +, furthermore I would like to use EQ in the future to bring them to something more similar to Harman curve.

What is making me confused is knowing that supposedly DACs are very transparent these days in high end laptops/macbooks, I also have all the sound enhancements disabled and still I can notice a difference when I compare it to the topping chain at the same sound levels (as far as I can tell anyway). The difference is not gigantic and I had to find a few tracks to come to this conclusion, namely this one:

I am 99% convinced that the bass in this track sounds more controlled or less bleeding overall compared to the laptop headphone jack, in a way there is more separation between the highs, the bass line and voice. I tried to do the same test at a medium high volume by reducing it on youtube, to make sure there is no clipping (after all I do have the volume set to 90% in windows for the jack) and the conclusion is the same.

So this makes me question myself and also, if I am not crazy where does the difference come from? Is it just the frequency response not being neutral in my sound card? It could be, but there seems to be more to this than a different frequency response as the bass is a bit more bloaty? Could the sound card amp have more distortion which can give the impression of more bass but with less quality, or so I have heard? Or is the sound card amp just not perfect enougheven at a lower volume?

Do notice the test was done in the link I posted, so it is not like I am giving the best source quality as well.

Thanks in advance:)
 

Dunring

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I'd do a comparison using flac files, setting both the sound card and DAC to the same settings as the music file. Also use a decibel meter on your phone to volume match both playback, don't trust your ears. Also exclusive mode in a player for each can do the same thing.
 

twsecrest

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Try installing the free program Foobar2000, with WASAPI installed, try playing a FLAC music audio file.
Also Foobar2000 has a Graphics Equalizer add-on.
 

Palladium

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The output impedances of Topping HPAs are a known quantity but those of virtually all PCs audio outputs aren't.
Also there may be hidden APOs running on the laptop's own DAC which also can affect the sound.
 
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cluster

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Thank you for the quick replies.

So there are some quick suggestions to try out while doing a new comparison. I might try with a flac file and match the levels with a decibel meter later on.

As for possible explanations, wouldn't the output impedance need to be high for a headphone like the HD650 to show differences, maybe it is indeed high. Any other explanation like not enough power on my sound card amp ?

Thank you guys!
 

twsecrest

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Thank you for the quick replies.

So there are some quick suggestions to try out while doing a new comparison. I might try with a flac file and match the levels with a decibel meter later on.

As for possible explanations, wouldn't the output impedance need to be high for a headphone like the HD650 to show differences, maybe it is indeed high. Any other explanation like not enough power on my sound card amp ?

Thank you guys!
If you plug a 600-Ohm headphone into a headphone amplifier jack, that only has a 1-Ohm output impedance, there is no negative effect.
If you plug a 600-Ohm headphone into a headphone jack with a 60-Ohm output impedance, it should sound the same as a headphone jack with 1-Ohm output impedance (in general).
 
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cluster

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So I did the test again using a decibel meter (sorry only had access to a higher quality, 320 kbps mp3) but I still saw the difference. At 0:56 passage the bass seems fuller, bleeding more with the sound card, compared to the dac and amp combo which had a more airy percussion and overall presentation while bass seems to have a bit more texture to it as well, again the separation is bigger.

The sound card may appear slightly warmer due to a slightly higher distortion playing the bass line, or maybe high output impedance as said here, or again the sound card might be slightly warmer than neutral.

The last option is that I can't trust my senses:)
 

Palladium

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The last option is that I can't trust my senses:)

I once did a mostly blind test to see if I could reliably tell apart the built-in 3.5mm output of a cheap phone (Redmi 5) versus an expensive one (Samsung Note) with a KZ ZST IEM.

I had a friend plug in the IEM randomly to either phone and he would also adjust the volume by my request.

Under comfortable volume levels I couldn't. Hell I even got it wrong on the first try when I was so dead certain the apparently worse sounding phone was the cheap one.
 
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cluster

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Yeah it is harder than I thought. I still believe that the DAC and AMP have more separation and more textured bass, but I will have to live without certainty as I do not trust my senses enough:).

I know I would need to buy the AMP so that I can start using equalizers, but not certain about the DAC, (it was 85 euros). I bought the DAC to assure clean line to the AMP, and topping E30 ii lite comes with many different inputs in case I need to connect it to other sources in the future, like a TV or any other system other than my pc.

Hopefully it was not a bad deal, everything costed around 200 euros.

If I am to spend money again it would be for any headphones within 400 euros that would be better than the HD 650 with EQ (but better yet if they can be as good or better even without EQ).

I have not started with the EQ as of yet because I am still testing the DAC and AMP for the moment, but I have heard here that the HD 650 will sound very good with something like Amir EQ or Oratory1990's. As of now my problem with HD 650 is just the sub bass not keeping up as much as I would wish, hopefully the EQ will not cause audible distortion in the sub bass as suggested.

As for headphones I have heard that Sundara could be something to consider:)
 

voodooless

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Also use a decibel meter on your phone to volume match both playback, don't trust your ears.
This isn’t enough. A few days ago we had somebody using a professional SPL meter and it turned out it was still way off. Use a multimeter to match the voltages.

Then again, the difference, if real, may indeed by be because of the output impedance difference, as others have eluded to. Add a bit of bass boost to your Topping output and see if that gets the sound closer to each other.
 

HarmonicTHD

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Yeah it is harder than I thought. I still believe that the DAC and AMP have more separation and more textured bass, but I will have to live without certainty as I do not trust my senses enough:).

I know I would need to buy the AMP so that I can start using equalizers, but not certain about the DAC, (it was 85 euros). I bought the DAC to assure clean line to the AMP, and topping E30 ii lite comes with many different inputs in case I need to connect it to other sources in the future, like a TV or any other system other than my pc.

Hopefully it was not a bad deal, everything costed around 200 euros.

If I am to spend money again it would be for any headphones within 400 euros that would be better than the HD 650 with EQ (but better yet if they can be as good or better even without EQ).

I have not started with the EQ as of yet because I am still testing the DAC and AMP for the moment, but I have heard here that the HD 650 will sound very good with something like Amir EQ or Oratory1990's. As of now my problem with HD 650 is just the sub bass not keeping up as much as I would wish, hopefully the EQ will not cause audible distortion in the sub bass as suggested.

As for headphones I have heard that Sundara could be something to consider:)
SPL Meter will not suffice.

What you can do however with a bit of cable/connector diy, is using your soundcard to record at the headphone connector the signal with the headphone plugged in. Use REW to run some FR sweeps and some SINAD tests. Match the level. Just be a bit careful not to clip / over volt your sound card’s input. (Yes the measurable SINAD is limited by your sound card but might be transparent enough for the purpose).

Much much much less error prone and orders of magnitude more accurate. Plus you can document it and even record the signal for further analysis.

This will show you if there is indeed a signal variation which might be audible (or also not).
 

DVDdoug

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a slightly higher distortion playing the bass line,
You can get audible distortion (clipping) if you overdrive the amplifier or you can get digital clipping if you boost with digital EQ and you don't bring-down the overall level with a "preamp" setting.

Usually, the amplifier built-into a soundcard or DAC is "calibrated" with enough headroom so the digital signal clips first and you can never clip the amp. You rarely get audible distortion from an amplifier unless it's clipping Of course that CAN happen with you have a separate amplifier with its own volume control/

Otherwise the only defect or difference you are likely to hear from electronics is noise (hiss, hum, or whine in the background). Almost all audio electronics have flat frequency response of the audio range.

high output impedance as said here
The output impedance of headphone amp CAN interact with the headphone impedance to create frequency response variations, but that seems to be rare these days.

That's it for electronics - Noise, distortion, and frequency response. (See Audiophoolery)

With speakers & headphones, frequency response is usually THE big issue. Some headphones distort when you boost the bass, but that's a headphone characteristic and it's the same with any amplifier with the same boost & output level.

while bass seems to have a bit more texture to it as well, again the separation is bigger...

The sound card may appear slightly warmer... or again the sound card might be slightly warmer than neutral.
Those words aren't defined. ;) "Audiophiles" tend to use lots of meaningless words, but this is Audio Science Review. ;)

Also see: What is a Blind ABX Listening Test?
 
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cluster

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SPL Meter will not suffice.

What you can do however with a bit of cable/connector diy, is using your soundcard to record at the headphone connector the signal with the headphone plugged in. Use REW to run some FR sweeps and some SINAD tests. Match the level. Just be a bit careful not to clip / over volt your sound card’s input. (Yes the measurable SINAD is limited by your sound card but might be transparent enough for the purpose).

Much much much less error prone and orders of magnitude more accurate. Plus you can document it and even record the signal for further analysis.

This will show you if there is indeed a signal variation which might be audible (or also not).

How will I record the sound in REW that comes from the headphone jack plus having the headphone connected? I do have an external splitter connected to the jack, to be able to separate the mic in (i have an external mic) from the sound out.

From the comments I read here, it is really unlikely that I am hearing different sound quality between the soundcard and the topping stack, knowing that I am limiting the volume on purpose to leave headroom for the soundcard.

DVDdoug, I am sorry but I could not describe it in a different way I guess, but the reason I am here is to use science to invalidate or confirm such possibilities.
When I first started searching about high end audio, you read over and over in other sites how the amp/dac will make a headphone like the HD 650 scale, but as I started to read more sites like this, I realized that this is usually not the case unless you are limited by power.
 

Lawhaus

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You are overestimating the capabilities of your onboard/inbuild sound device. Even if it’s marketer as a highend laptop, the sound is always a compromised for costs. Same with highend motherboards.
 

kemmler3D

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The worst headphone amp I've ever heard (by a long shot) was in a Lenovo thinkpad. If you played a tone below 50hz the THD was blatantly over 100%. Closer to a square wave than a sine.

So for me, If you can hear a difference beteen a laptop headphone jack and a real DAC using demanding headphones, that is not a surprise at all.

We like to say "all amps and DACs sound the same" but the important qualifiers are usually left out, which is that they are 1) designed properly and 2) used within their 'design envelope', i.e. not abused.

For most standalone devices we don't always need to write out those qualifiers, but when it comes to unknown built-in amps in random laptops, it's worth remembering that it's not actually that hard to abuse a cheap HP amp.

Laptop headphone outputs aren't always designed properly, and even if they are it's often easy to overdrive them. So in this case I am happy to assume OP was hearing some audible distortion from the laptop.
 
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cluster

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Just to be clear if there is a difference it is very minimal in my perception, hence I am thinking it might be psychological, but it is good to know some Lenovo have crap soundcards. If the soundcard was as faulty as the thinkpad you described I assume I would have an easy time distinguishing them. I am open to have a non audible transparent card, it just does not seem as bad as that one:)
 
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cluster

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I also tested a sinewave tone test and at 20hz it sounds good with both setups.
 

AnalogSteph

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The worst headphone amp I've ever heard (by a long shot) was in a Lenovo thinkpad. If you played a tone below 50hz the THD was blatantly over 100%. Closer to a square wave than a sine.
Probably a rogue APO at work. This is not uncommon in OEM systems. It may be a good idea to disable all factory APOs. In some cases offending software may even need to be explicitly uninstalled (e.g. Waves Maxxaudio). On my desktop Asus board I had to disable the DTS headphone misimprovements as well.
 
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cluster

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Another question, assuming the soundcard is totally transparent, is there any advantage connecting the E30 II lite to the amp instead of feeding the amp directly via soundcard headphone jack, other than being very handy to work as preamp to my Yamaha HS7 monitors when not using the headphones?
 

HarmonicTHD

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How will I record the sound in REW that comes from the headphone jack plus having the headphone connected? I do have an external splitter connected to the jack, to be able to separate the mic in (i have an external mic) from the sound out.

From the comments I read here, it is really unlikely that I am hearing different sound quality between the soundcard and the topping stack, knowing that I am limiting the volume on purpose to leave headroom for the soundcard.

DVDdoug, I am sorry but I could not describe it in a different way I guess, but the reason I am here is to use science to invalidate or confirm such possibilities.
When I first started searching about high end audio, you read over and over in other sites how the amp/dac will make a headphone like the HD 650 scale, but as I started to read more sites like this, I realized that this is usually not the case unless you are limited by power.
Yes you would wire together a splitter.

To test the capability of your sound card in order to see what “errors” are introduced by it vs the differences you might measure, you can run a loop test. That is, connecting the output directly to the input and run an FR and SINAD test.
 
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