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Which audio setup will minimize listening fatigue ?

Bouly

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Hello, I just upgraded to a premium DAC (RME ADI-2 DAC FS) which is connected via XLR to some active speakers (Eris E8). The DAC is connected by USB either to a PC or to a Macbook (using a USB switch).

I am experiencing a level of listening fatigue I haven't had since I stopped listening to 128kbps mp3s. When the speakers were connected to the Asus Essence STX sound card on PC, or to the Macbook headphone Jack, I did not have listening fatigue.

I'm open to making changes to my setup to solve this. It is sad to say but the Macbook Pro laptop speakers, even though they are weak, at least don't give me a headache, and I can listen to it easier than to my sound system. I'm thinking maybe switching out the active speakers for an amp with passive speakers could help.

Until now I liked the idea of using studio monitoring speakers for the great detail they provide at a generally lower price than the audiophile stuff. Also active speakers make the setup easier because I don't need to worry about getting a compatible amp. But now I'm reconsidering my priorities and would like a setup that is enjoyable, and forgiving with lower quality sources like youtube, because often I don't want to search a specific song in my hi-res collection and just want to let youtube autoplay on for the convenience.

Amp: I listen to music mostly at lower volumes while working on the computer. In the paradigm of prioritizing a fun, colored sound, rather than fidelity, I was thinking maybe a tube amp would be good, but I am reading that they actually tend to be louder than other types of amps so not sure if it fits with my "quality at low volume" objective. To be honest I like the idea of a tube amp mostly for the retro cool look.

Speakers: They should help avoid listening fatigue. Be forgiving with lower quality sources. I don't need much volume because I listen mostly at low volume like 99% of the time. I like bass but my room is not treated whatsoever and can't handle too much of it. In fact I have the Eris E8 speakers set with the 80 Hz low cutoff on, otherwise I would get a headache in a few minutes. So I dont really need that much bass because mostly I remove whatever is under 80 Hz and anyway I would have trouble with the neighbors.

I was considering just replacing my current speakers with Focal Solo6 Be before I had this listening fatigue problem. The advantage is that it is a drop-in replacement in my current setup and I dont need to search for an amp. But I'm not sure getting even more detail is what I need in my current situation.

Overall Budget: 500 to 2000 $ but I dont mind paying less if there is an easier solution. Thanks for any insight!
 

BDWoody

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Overall Budget: 500 to 2000 $ but I dont mind paying less if there is an easier solution. Thanks for any insight!

If you haven't looked into some room correction, that might be a place to start.

REW (free software) and a Umik microphone and you can start seeing what you're working with in terms of actual in room frequency response. The room/speaker system is the most neglected part of most systems, imho.
 

DVDdoug

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I have no idea what causes listening fatigue and I assume it varies from person-to-person...

Beware of "audiophile" websites and terminology that's not clear and scientific..... "Audiophiles" often use lots of meaningless words... Whatever it is, it should be identifiable (noise, distortion, limited frequency response or excess bass or excess treble, etc.). Maybe modern over-compressed (constant loudness) recordings are fatiguing?

I was thinking maybe a tube amp would be good, but I am reading that they actually tend to be louder
That's not true. Loudness depends on amplifier power, and the volume control, and the sensitivity of the speakers, and how close you are to the speakers, etc... A good tube amplifier will sound no different than a good solid state amplifier.
 

Trell

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Have you made any settings changes to the RME? There are several that will affect the sound like bass/treble tone controls, dynamic loudness, crossfeed, PEQ.

To check that the RME DAC receives unaltered PCM there are some files by RME that checks this. Se the manual for details.

The DAC can also check if there are errors when sending data over USB. In Windows you see this in the DACs settings dialog. See manual for MacOS.
 
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Bouly

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If you haven't looked into some room correction, that might be a place to start.

REW (free software) and a Umik microphone and you can start seeing what you're working with in terms of actual in room frequency response. The room/speaker system is the most neglected part of most systems, imho.
Room correction is an interesting subject I know very little about. Do you have some links as to how to get started in this area ? My listening area is also the living room so I can't be too agressive, but maybe I can do some simple things to improve the room acoustics somewhat without turning it into a sci-fi clean room.
 
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Bouly

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I have no idea what causes listening fatigue and I assume it varies from person-to-person...

Beware of "audiophile" websites and terminology that's not clear and scientific..... "Audiophiles" often use lots of meaningless words... Whatever it is, it should be identifiable (noise, distortion, limited frequency response or excess bass or excess treble, etc.). Maybe modern over-compressed (constant loudness) recordings are fatiguing?

That's not true. Loudness depends on amplifier power, and the volume control, and the sensitivity of the speakers, and how close you are to the speakers, etc... A good tube amplifier will sound no different than a good solid state amplifier.
do you have some decent tube amp recommendations ? entry-level or mid-range is fine, I dont want to spend thousands on it because it would also require buying passive speakers so I would need to save some budget for the speakers.
 
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Bouly

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Have you made any settings changes to the RME? There are several that will affect the sound like bass/treble tone controls, dynamic loudness, crossfeed, PEQ.

To check that the RME DAC receives unaltered PCM there are some files by RME that checks this. Se the manual for details.

The DAC can also check if there are errors when sending data over USB. In Windows you see this in the DACs settings dialog. See manual for MacOS.
I need to RTFM it seems. I just plugged it in and installed the drivers but it seems I need to dive deeper in this. First thing I need to figure out is how to set the XLR gain to 0 because it is way too loud at the moment. I think it will be useful to do the checks that you mentioned because I'm plugging the DAC through a USB port that is my keyboard that itself is plugged into a USB switch (this allows me to toggle DAC use between my PC and Macbook), so the system is a bit complicated and not sure how robust it is.
 

Trell

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I need to RTFM it seems. I just plugged it in and installed the drivers but it seems I need to dive deeper in this. First thing I need to figure out is how to set the XLR gain to 0 because it is way too loud at the moment. I think it will be useful to do the checks that you mentioned because I'm plugging the DAC through a USB port that is my keyboard that itself is plugged into a USB switch (this allows me to toggle DAC use between my PC and Macbook), so the system is a bit complicated and not sure how robust it is.

I've the RME ADI-2 DAC FS myself and I like it a lot for it's features, of which there are many, so the manual is really helpful. I recommend downloading it so you can search it easily. The Bit Test (bottom of the Product page), drivers and manual are here: https://rme-audio.de/adi-2-dac.html

For gain/level matching your DAC to your monitors have a look at this post on the RME Audio forum, section 2: https://forum.rme-audio.de/viewtopic.php?pid=161721#p161721

You might need attenuators if your monitors are very sensitive and have limited sensitive controls: https://forum.rme-audio.de/viewtopic.php?pid=161721#p161721
 

ahofer

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do you have some decent tube amp recommendations ? entry-level or mid-range is fine, I dont want to spend thousands on it because it would also require buying passive speakers so I would need to save some budget for the speakers.
My suggestion is you don't jump to the upgrade. I would be willing to bet a tube amp won't solve your problem, whereas the level matching and Room EQ suggestions, which are dramatically cheaper, might well do it.

I don't know much about Eris speakers (measurements look ok), but "listening fatigue" for me has always been 1)excess treble - above 3khz, and/or 2)distortion, with the latter being worse. Any departure from reasonably linear, or any really harsh room reflection (causing same), will have your ears/brain working overtime to interpret the sound in a more familiar way, which is my pet, unscientific theory of frequency-related listening fatigue.

The ADI-2 is thoroughly linear at the output, unless the settings are wrong.

Finally, what distance are you listening from?
 
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Bouly

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My suggestion is you don't jump to the upgrade. I would be willing to bet a tube amp won't solve your problem, whereas the level matching and Room EQ suggestions, which are dramatically cheaper, might well do it.

I don't know much about Eris speakers (measurements look ok), but "listening fatigue" for me has always been 1)excess treble - above 3khz, and/or distortion, with the latter being worse. Any departure from reasonably linear, or any really harsh room reflection (causing same), will have your ears/brain working overtime to interpret the sound in a more familiar way, which is my pet, unscientific theory of frequency-related listening fatigue.

The ADI-2 is thoroughly linear at the output, unless the settings are wrong.

Finally, what distance are you listening from?
Sounds reasonable. First I have to read the manual and set up the DAC and I'll report back here once I'm done. I just measured about 1 meter listening distance ie about 3 feet.
 

Trell

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Sounds reasonable. First I have to read the manual and set up the DAC and I'll report back here once I'm done. I just measured about 1 meter listening distance ie about 3 feet.

The DAC has PEQ that can be used to cut down a few peaks which should improve the sound, and perhaps that's is enough and you don't need software on both PC and MacOS for Room EQ or an extra device. There are also bass/tone controls that are configurable and useful.

To ease experimenting with the various EQ/DSP that the DAC has you can configure the remote buttons 1 to 4 to enable/disable features. This way it's much easier to check what sounds better to you.

You do need some measurement mic (like the UMIK-1) so that you can use REW if you want to use PEQ. There are apps on iOS as well that can use the built-in mic but I'm unsure how good they are or which one is good.
 

ahofer

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Sounds reasonable. First I have to read the manual and set up the DAC and I'll report back here once I'm done. I just measured about 1 meter listening distance ie about 3 feet.
Sounds OK. Some powered monitors clip at higher SPL/longer distances - which is definitely fatiguing. Are you controlling volume from the DAC or the speaker? (see the thread around here)
 
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BDWoody

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Room correction is an interesting subject I know very little about. Do you have some links as to how to get started in this area ? My listening area is also the living room so I can't be too agressive, but maybe I can do some simple things to improve the room acoustics somewhat without turning it into a sci-fi clean room.

There is a lot on the site, but you can start here.



A lot can be done through EQ to minimize issues inherent in every room.
 

pseudoid

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I have no idea what causes listening fatigue and I assume it varies from person-to-person...

One form of such listening 'fatigue' is thru sustained high SPL exposure, or perhaps lower SPL but for longer exposure times. Both of which are considered additive in nature. Non-ignorant motorcyclists know this. Illegal as they may be in most states, wearing proper hearing protection actually allows the rider lower the ambient noise levels. The illegality obviously was made by a now deaf motorcyclist because in technicality, the rider is able distinguish other sounds (like a siren or a horn) better, as the overall higher frequency noises are lowered more. Especially predominant noise sources at speed, which are associated with rush of the air in the frontal area and parting-the-wind with the helmet. I would venture to guess that the difference between wearing ear-plugs (while riding) makes a difference before the onset of such "fatigue" from 1 hour to 2 hour sustained exposure. But, it turns out that the exposure to such long duration and/or high SPL do some real weird sh*t to our whole body: It supposed to release triglycerides into the blood system or stomach. It supposed also mimic some reactions that are similar to alcohol consumption and testosterone regulation (yeah, that copulation idea after a nice 2-hour ride is not the optimal time).
But @Bouly's dilemma will not be readily solved by a mere suggestion of ear-stuffing during Thanksgiving music and beyond.. :0
Pappy told me that the best audio system is one that adheres to the unachievable concept of "straight line with gain?" I have had this fight all the way up (and down) the chain of those who do it in their home A/V systems, as well as those who insist on it in the recording studios. As if PROCESSING the audio -- thru multiple (processor) chains from the point it is created to the point of entry into your cranial -- is really going to cover the flaws of a badly recorded or a bad hardware or flaws of the listening environment.
@Bouly: Can you get down to listening to the same content (you contend is giving you fatigue) in a much simpler setup where you get rid of the PC/MacBook/USB and the active speakers from your chain and get closer to the 'unachievable concept' pappy was talking about? I would be most interested in learning about your results.
 

Jimbob54

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One form of such listening 'fatigue' is thru sustained high SPL exposure, or perhaps lower SPL but for longer exposure times. Both of which are considered additive in nature. Non-ignorant motorcyclists know this. Illegal as they may be in most states, wearing proper hearing protection actually allows the rider lower the ambient noise levels. The illegality obviously was made by a now deaf motorcyclist because in technicality, the rider is able distinguish other sounds (like a siren or a horn) better, as the overall higher frequency noises are lowered more. Especially predominant noise sources at speed, which are associated with rush of the air in the frontal area and parting-the-wind with the helmet. I would venture to guess that the difference between wearing ear-plugs (while riding) makes a difference before the onset of such "fatigue" from 1 hour to 2 hour sustained exposure. But, it turns out that the exposure to such long duration and/or high SPL do some real weird sh*t to our whole body: It supposed to release triglycerides into the blood system or stomach. It supposed also mimic some reactions that are similar to alcohol consumption and testosterone regulation (yeah, that copulation idea after a nice 2-hour ride is not the optimal time).
But @Bouly's dilemma will not be readily solved by a mere suggestion of ear-stuffing during Thanksgiving music and beyond.. :0
Pappy told me that the best audio system is one that adheres to the unachievable concept of "straight line with gain?" I have had this fight all the way up (and down) the chain of those who do it in their home A/V systems, as well as those who insist on it in the recording studios. As if PROCESSING the audio -- thru multiple (processor) chains from the point it is created to the point of entry into your cranial -- is really going to cover the flaws of a badly recorded or a bad hardware or flaws of the listening environment.
@Bouly: Can you get down to listening to the same content (you contend is giving you fatigue) in a much simpler setup where you get rid of the PC/MacBook/USB and the active speakers from your chain and get closer to the 'unachievable concept' pappy was talking about? I would be most interested in learning about your results.

Please outline an example of the equipment chain(s) you are referring to assuming either digital or analogue source content.
 

pseudoid

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Please outline an example of the equipment chain(s) you are referring to assuming either digital or analogue source content.
"... where you get rid of the PC/MacBook/USB and the active speakers from your chain ... I would be most interested in learning about your results." I was thinking like the layers of the onion skins but starting to peel them from the inside out. Starting as simple as possible, like pappy suggested. Then, progressively 'add' the skin layers back in (trying to) determine the source of the 'fatigue'.
 

Jimbob54

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"... where you get rid of the PC/MacBook/USB and the active speakers from your chain ... I would be most interested in learning about your results." I was thinking like the layers of the onion skins but starting to peel them from the inside out. Starting as simple as possible, like pappy suggested. Then, progressively 'add' the skin layers back in (trying to) determine the source of the 'fatigue'.
Replace the PC/Macbook/USB with what? Something has to play and transport the digital file to the DAC. Or the vinyl/ tape recording to the amp.

If they strip the active speakers they have to get an amp and passive speakers.

The smallest onion would be PC etc digitally to active speakers but I dont think that is what you mean.
 
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