Audio

Sennheiser HD8 DJ

HD8 DJImagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I received note from Sennheiser, offering me the unique opportunity to review the new HD8 DJ headphone, freshly announced at CES 2014 in Las Vegas. With piqued curiosity, I agreed to share my thoughts on this headphone.

As both a DJ and a Head-Fier, I happen to have a couple DJ headphones already on hand. For several years, I’ve been happily using the Adidas Originals, a special edition of the venerable and delightfully named Sennheiser HD 25-1 II — henceforth referred to as HD25. I recently picked up an AKG K550 to see how I liked the design. I like how the K550′s swiveling cups allow me to cue from the neck, but the cups are funky-large. They also have a very loose grip on the head. The HD25, by contrast, grips the head quite tightly. This is nice for mixing but not so great for extended listening. While I’ve seen DJ’s pull off the crooked head cue technique with the HD25, it’s really not ideal.

HD8 DJThe physical design of the HD8 DJ easily bests both of these headphones. For general listening, the circumaural grip they put on my head is perfect. They aren’t going to move around, and they isolate from the outside world *very* well. I find them to be very nice street headphones (especially for these snowy days in Detroit) though a shorter cable would be better for this. While the cups don’t fold flat like the K510, they do rotate much of the way. Between that motion and the nicely flexible headband, neck cueing is definitely easy and comfortable to do — and the cups funnel the sound in.

HD8 DJThese headphones seem to have very robust build qualities. When I shake it in my hand, I can tell it was made with the intention of withstanding years of physical abuse. One of the key improvements over the HD7 DJ is the use of metal parts in key locations like the round hinge clearly visible on the sides. This allows the cup to swivel between a few notched angles, including up into the headband for easier travel. The replaceable cable plugs into a 2.5mm locking port on either the left or the right side of the headphone.

Along with the headphones, the box also contains a nice, though rather large carrying case. To be honest, I’ll probably throw these headphones in my bag without the case. The headphones came with a pair of soft velour earpads installed, but I think I slightly prefer the slightly grippier leatherette pads also included. A curled cable and a straight one are included, both 3 meters in length. (Coiled cable is 1.5m without stretching.)

HD8 DJCompared to the already dynamic and punchy sound signature of the HD25, the HD8 DJ seems to have the same perspective, but better. When the HD8 DJ makes its comfy little seal around your ears, you’re delivered a big, dynamic sound with plenty of bass that is smooth, accurate, and deep. This is definitely not the laid back, bass-neutral sound signature of the K550. I’m actually finding the sound quite fun and engaging.

So in the end, not only does the HD8 DJ best the form and ergonomics of my other two pairs, but it is a comfortable and fun-sounding headphone for general listening, too. I honestly don’t recall using a DJ headphone that I prefer. Sennheiser deserves proper respect for this well-designed piece! I want to give a big thanks to Rosmadi Mahmood from Sennheiser for the headphones and for the opportunity to share my thoughts on them ahead of release. Also thanks to Jude Mansilla for recommending me.

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 Audio, Reviews No Comments

The Enticing Sound of the ATH-W3000ANV

Note [2014-09-28]: I had nice photos in this post, but I lost them in the website crash. The backup didn’t include them :(

I’ve been enjoying Audio-Technica’s ATH-W3000ANV since I picked them up 6 weeks or so ago. My good friend Jose had them for some months before I was able to give them a listen at his place. Needless to say, I was fond enough of them to bite.

The ATH-W3000ANV is a beautifully built and finished headphone that Audio-Technica has released to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Interestingly, these have the same wood style and (for me at least) very similar sonic characteristics to the ATH-ESW10JPN that I’ve written about before. I still use the ESW10 all the time at work, and recently the W3000 has given me more of the same but bigger (in size and sound) at home.

› Continue reading

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 Audio, Reviews No Comments

MPD on Mac OS X

My story really starts with Trackbox, an experiment of a perl script daemon I wrote long ago that worked like a headless jukebox daemon and allowed a client program to connect to it to provide a user interface to allow the user to browse the collection of music, manage playlists, play, pause, change volume, and all the other things you expect from a media player. It was pretty hacky, but it did the job. When Shank got MPD, the Music Player Daemon, working properly in raw C, though, I retired Trackbox. MPD is very similar to Trackbox: a super lightweight daemon that sits in the background, performing the duties of of music player. If I don’t need to interact with it, I don’t even need to have a client running — like when my linux tower boots and the init script starts it up. MPD resumes playing where it left off before I even launch X. I’ve obviously been a long time fan of even the idea of MPD.

I’ve been using a Mac increasingly over recent years. It started with a 15″ MacBook Pro for work, and eventually I got a 13″ one for personal use. My current and second Mac is a 13″ 2011 MacBook Air, and I’ve been frankly thrilled with it. Macs are great, but but I think a lot of folks endure the frustration of hunting for a great music player that simply doesn’t seem to exist.

Currawong started this excellent thread on head-fi which gives a really great overview and discussion on the most visible Mac music player options. I’ve tried most of them, but never really found one to my liking. Each was either buggy, lacking features, stupid expensive, or didn’t maintain a library, making practical use limited. I have gone back to iTunes every once in a while, and I’ve always been disappointed with crashing or general bloaty slowness. I finally went as far as to uninstall it from my system entirely, reclaiming hundreds of megabytes. (After removing the iTunes.app, I simply used the Preferences screen of “Software Update” to disable future update notifications.) I must say, I don’t miss it, not one little bit.

I finally decided to give MPD a go on the Mac. After using it for perhaps about a month now, I can happily say it is absolutely my new favorite. At home, I mount my server’s RAID array, and at work, I mount my off-site backup, a 3Tb external drive at my desk, so I always have my full collection of mostly lossless music readily at my disposal. I’ve even found a nice way to start mpd with different config files so I can aim it at the server or the local collection, depending on what I need. Being a global hotkey junkie, I’ve mapped restarting mpd with each config to a different key.

MPD is only as nice to use as the client you’re using. Theremin is nice native Mac one, but seems fairly unmaintained at this point. It scrobbles and has album art, but its main drawback for me is that it doesn’t allow browsing the collection by directory structure like most clients. I would recommend giving this one a try; it may fit the bill. There are countless others to choose from, though. I managed to get the excellent, GTK-based Sonata client to run under OS X with the help of MacPorts, but it is a bit kludgey. Client175 is a very nice, web-based one.

I’ve actually found myself liking the terminal-based ncmpcpp client best. It is jam-packed with features, remains blazingly quick, and even has the ability to add a random album, artist, or track to the playlist! I can understand why many folks might not like using a console client, but it works really well for me. Bind it to pop up with a global hotkey, and you have a slick, quick-launching client that you don’t even need running most of the time!

The other client I use is mpc, the command-line interface client. I barely ever actually use it on the command line, though, but through global hotkeys to toggle (play/pause) and play next track. I’ve also written a wrapper for mpc that allows me to play (or append to the playlist) random tracks on random albums. The most unique feature of my tool is the ability to specify “top-level” directories by a pre-designated “short code” and add random tracks or albums only from within one top-level dir at a time. The main directories of my collection are genres, so I can throw on some random ambient music or random drum ‘n bass. For example, with my Alfred extension, I do my ⌘+space to open him up, and type, “rt db” — immediately 10 random drum ‘n bass tracks are added, and the first one plays.

Honestly, this has revolutionized how I listen to my music. I often don’t even have the patience to drill down my folder structure or otherwise hunt for something to listen to. Now I can tell alfred “rt ch” and have random chill out beats. If I want to hear the entire album for one of the songs, ⌘⌥5 will play it.

I use and adore Alfred for many things including setting up these global hotkeys, and I feel it is worth plenty more than what Andrew is asking for it. But if you want something that is free, I recommend BetterTouchTool. Here is the key configuration I use on my Air:

  • ⌘⌥1: play/pause toggle
  • ⌘⌥2: next track
  • ⌘⌥3: play 10 random tracks from entire collection (hold shift to append)
  • ⌘⌥4: play 1 random album from entire collection (hold shift to append)
  • ⌘⌥5: play the album the currently playing song belongs to (hold shift to append)
  • or all the above, holding Control as well causes the command to be directed at my server, which drives the living room speakers/headphone system
  • Control+⌥+n: launch ncmpcpp under iTerm2

(Note: I use Control+⌥+letter to launch / switch focus to my most often used apps. This makes me very efficient and I love it.)

MPD does the trick for me. It is slim, efficient, and invisible. I can do 90% of everything I need with a simple global hotkey, and Growl gives me feedback. When I actually do want to browse around or manage the playlist, ncmpcpp or other client lets me do that. There are some folks who look for an “audiophile” player, but the fact is that if the program can decode the file and feed it to the audio device in a “bit perfect” manner, every app should sound the same. I think there are apps that are broken and don’t do this quite right, and I also think there are people who get fall victim to the placebo effect. I really see no reason to worry about the sound quality of MPD — I trust it.

I’ve uploaded my mpct.php script to GitHub in case anyone is interested in it. If you use it, I would love to hear about your experience. If you have any questions about any of this, I would really love to hear from you in the comments!

Installing MPD

Installing MPD on OS X is really easy according to their instructions. Simply install homebrew with

/usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/gist/323731)"

then use

brew install mpd

I really like this brew software manager! I can even install packages they don’t provide with something like

brew create //unkart.ovh.org/ncmpcpp/ncmpcpp-0.5.8.tar.bz2

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011 Audio, Computers, Reviews, Software 11 Comments

My JH-3A Journey Ends

So the latest news about the JH-3A broke a few days ago when JHAudio sent out an email update to their customers informing them of the latest developments. It seems that a patent that Jerry filed when he was operating Ultimate Ears finally went through, and so he is no longer able to use the active crossover design.

He has a clever solution, though. The original JH-3A design had the crossover in the digital domain, before even conversion to analog. This seems even better to me than the basic requirement for an active crossover: to have the crossover happen before the amplification. But what Jerry had to do in order to protect himself from UE is move the crossover into the earpiece, turning it back into a passive one.

So now, he’s still using 6 discrete channels (3 per side) of DAC and amplification, but instead of each being assigned a narrow band of the audio spectrum (which is supposed to increase driver control and dampening), all 6 channels output the full spectrum. The crossover (high-pass/low-pass filters) needed to separate the highs, mids, and lows is now in the earpiece.

Jerry says he can hear no sonic difference with this new approach.

But the big plus for this box still remains, thankfully for Jerry. Because he has the 6 discrete channels in the digital domain, he is able to calibrate the channels by adding tiny delays to make up for where the drivers are mounted in the earphones so that the waveform that exits the earphones has all the separate channels “in phase” with each other, adding coherency across the audio spectrum. This is really what gave the JH-3A the great leap in performance in the first place.

Apart from all the dropped features, though, the way in which JHAudio has communicated and treated their customers throughout this story has been bothersome. It took immense coercion to get updates out of them, with the juiciest of bits coming from leaked private correspondence. They gave a hard time getting refunds, ranging from complaining to outright refusing until they learned how they could be sued for it, without a product to ship. The latest evidence is this patent that Jerry filed himself, having been granted in January, that we haven’t heard anything about.

Folks evaluating this product should probably be looking at what it is and not what it is not, but for myself having been within the first 10 preorders, placed when Jerry first unveiled this thing at CanJam 2010 in Chicago, it’s been really interesting watching the feature list erode over the last year and a half.

In the end, I don’t think any one aspect of this journey could have deterred me all by itself, but when you add it all together, well.. it really adds up. Maybe if I was to find this product after release I could have jumped on board and loved it, but I really haven’t enjoyed watching and experiencing its development much — especially with the expectation that the product was going to ship in 1-3 weeks at all times. (Like basically since last November.) Peel feature after feature from what I thought I was paying for when I plunked down the cash, and the value this energy-sucking box has for me quickly diminishes.

Oh yeah — did I forget to mention that they took our money on day one? Consequently, it sure seems to me that they should be held to a transparency standard. Many have taken their refunds at various stages before me, but I’ve been serious about this device all along, staying the course through thick weather. I was mildly debating taking the refund recently until JH made it easy with the latest news about the great secret of the UE patent and the new design.

I think I summed it up on the forum:

I took my refund today because my original expectation of — having a breakthrough IEM system with a rust-color chassis, 24/192-capable DAC/DSP chip possibly capable of accepting flash updates, 3-way, active crossover, 20-hour battery life, absolutely silent background, and the ability to charge while listening, from a company who treats their customers with dignity and respect — wasn’t nearly met.

At the end of the day, the JHA folks are just operating the business the way they know how, and I’m sure they’re doing the best they can. This company is usually known for being friendly and easy to work with, so I can’t dismiss them completely for this experience alone. Maybe next time, Jerry.

Friday, October 14th, 2011 Audio, Reviews, Technology No Comments

My Sennheiser HD 25-1 II

I’ve been enjoying my Sennheiser HD 25-1 II for a month and a half now, and I wanted to share my thoughts on them. I’d been using my Audio-Technica ESW10JPN headphones a lot at the office because I like the ease of throwing them on and around the neck as I’m invariably interrupted. For this casual use case, I really appreciate the form factor of this type of small, supra-aural headphones. I also find these headphones to be extremely durable. I have no problem just throwing them in my bag whereas I need to be more careful with the ESW and its beautiful wooden cups.

One thing I really like is that the phones are so modular and user-serviceable. Perhaps in part related to how the HD 25 is 23 years old, you can buy every single piece separately. You can get replacement cables, ear cushions, cups, etc in many different colors. They also seem able to withstand much abuse without issue!

I ultimately decided that I was a fan of the blue accents on the Adidas-branded version over the straight black one. I’m not really an Adidas fan at all; I just like the blue. :) Yes, I could have gone crazy and bought a modded one or got the paints myself, but it would have been a bit more time or money than I wanted to invest. (Jfunk does some jaw-dropping work on these phones and others.)

The fit of these headphones on my head is very interesting to me. While my ESW10JPN clamp very lightly and have sort of stiffly-swiveling cups that make it possible to direct the pressure to the temples rather than the ear, the HD 25-1 II does what I feared the ESW’s would — clamp hard and non-discriminately over the whole ear. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as I expected, though. I find the head clamp cozy on these phones and only after some time (maybe 1 hr+) does it begin to bother my ears a bit. Usually a little adjustment or couple-minute break is all that is needed. This nice, padded grip does give you really great isolation and I find the comfort surprisingly acceptable.

The HD 25-1 II is known for being a good choice for DJ’s and studio engineers. Apart from the left earcup flipping forward and back to allow one-ear monitoring, the sound quality is quite decent. When I compared Jude’s HD 25 vs his Beyerdynamic DT1350, the HD 25-1 II had a *much* more exciting sound with punchier bass. I was actually quite surprised. If you were purely after clarity of sound, the Beyers might do it for you, but when I casually tested these headphones, I found the Senns to sound hugely more appealing for the attributes that I wanted in them — fun sound and punchy bass with great clarity.

I still haven’t brought myself to let go of my Shure SRH750DJ for my mixing habit, though. The Shures have nice big cups that swivel to allow a quick preview of the next track while they’re around the neck, crooked-head style. I do just fine mixing with either pair, though.

Overall, I’m extremely pleased with these phones. They’re robust enough that I’m not afraid to throw them in a bag or get them a bit scratched up, and they sound good enough to satisfy my inner audiophile for the casual listening I intended them for. They’re not the cheapest of their class at around $200, but I feel they were worthy of the cost.

Saturday, July 30th, 2011 Audio, Reviews, Technology No Comments

My JHAudio JH-3A: Attempt #2

It’s been a while since I sent my JH-3A back to JHA for the second time. I wasn’t looking forward to writing this unfortunate update, but figured I should in order to keep current.

Given the loudness of the hiss the first time, the continued issues of other folks on the forum, and the speed with which JHA turned around on my amp had me somewhat pessimistic about what was headed back to me when I got the second shipment notification indicating the amp was on the way for round 2. I wasn’t sure if a firmware change could truly solve the noise floor problem. After fully charging it, flipping it on, and inserting the earphones, I heard almost the exact same somewhat headache-inducing buzz as the first time. I think it was a little reduced, but it was still loud enough to hear with even loud music if the specific frequencies were not adequately masked. The gain setting was still much too high.

Phoey.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. A couple folks on the forum report NO hiss at all! Had it not been for this testimonial, I might not have thought it possible with the hardware design.

On another note, when JHA reduced the gain enough that the noise cannot be heard, they found that a PCB (circuit board) change was needed in order to gain-match the analog level to the digital one. Someone pointed out that they’re not technically matching gain, but tweaking the analog one so they’re both “usable”. So, here’s hoping we’ll see a finished JH-3A in fewer weeks rather than more.

Edit: I just wanted to add to this pretty negative post that I still have every reason to believe that this product will ultimately be extremely satisfying. I can’t wait to enjoy the full effect of the 3A and share my experiences.

Saturday, July 30th, 2011 Audio, Reviews, Technology 3 Comments

My JHAudio JH-3A: Attempt #1

I didn't feel like taking a picture of my 3A, so here's Laslo's (warp08). His 3A was the first shipped to a customer.

So after long last, my JH-3A arrived from JHAudio. It landed on the 14th of June, just barely over a year since Jerry shared the demo of this amazing new twist on custom-molded IEM’s at CanJam in Chicago, IL. (I wrote a post about it then.) Originally slated for release in the fall of 2010, the inevitable delays and mixed signals from JHA turned the wait into long and confusing one. Today, though, I want to describe how things went when my JH-3A first arrived.

With the package opened, the first thing is to evaluate the fit. When I stuffed the phones in my ears, I immediately knew they were much too small, making it difficult to impossible to attain any kind of seal, let alone a good one. In speaking with Jerry, it seems that they let the impressions they took at CanJam sit for about 10 months before using them to make molds. Honestly, I’m pretty surprised they actually did this rather than reach out and ask me for new impressions. Well, no worry; they guarantee the fit.

Next, we turn to the amp. The shortcomings it has next to my expectations are several, but let’s start with the ones Jerry says he can fix for us. First, there is quite an audible hiss. Now I’m somewhat sensitive to hiss in amps and truly love it when I hear one with a perfectly black background — I’ve returned amps for hissing with my IEM’s before. This amp hissed much louder than I’ve ever heard an IEM hiss, and I was very surprised and frankly appalled at first given that this system was supposed to be tuned to the IEM’s.

Second, the range on the digital volume knob was downright silly. The very bottom cuts off the sound entirely as you would expect. When I hit the very first notch, the sound (when connected via USB) is somewhere in the moderate to loud range. This means that in order to listen comfortably, I would likely need to use this very first digital step and turn the volume down further in the digital domain — a no-no for those after absolute quality. The next few notches might be useful for serious rocking out, but the rest of the knob ranged from extremely loud to i’m-afraid-i’d-damage-the-earphones loud.

Thankfully, it sounds like both these related issues were purely an accident — something that, according to Jerry, the factory did to the firmware after he had “signed off” on it. They increased the gain, and it was missed in QA. I’ve just shipped everything plus fresh impressions back to them for adjustment.

Other Head-Fiers mentioned both of these issues — folks that did not seem to have the extreme gain issue that I did. And in following up with Jerry, it sounds like he is addressing them both further than just fixing the very broken parameters in my amp. He is lowering the noise floor further and tweaking the range on the volume knob further from his previous aim. I have high hopes that when my system returns, it will meet my expectations.

Just for posterity’s sake, allow me to enumerate the other, thankfully much less important differences between what was delivered and our expectations. I know a whole lot about the JH-3A project changed since last year such as the original DSP developer of questionable ethics bailing on the project, but here’s the list none-the-less.

  • Battery life went from the 20 hrs Jerry was aiming for at CanJam to 6-7.
  • The unit cannot be ran continuously: if you charge it (via USB) while using it, it will run for about 10 hours.
  • The max sampling rate of the DAC went from 192 to 96 kHz.
  • The “mic” feature (for pro use) means that if I hit the source select button one too many times, the earphones emit a very loud, high-pitched sound. I’m still a bit boggled that Jerry released a product that makes accidentally deafening yourself easy.
  • The “rust” color amp is no longer an option. The JH-3A is black.
  • The unit is incapable of accepting flash updates. The hopes of user-set EQ’s and other niceties are no more.
  • The JH-13 version is no longer available. Jerry decided it’s only worth making the JH-16 version.

Thankfully, just about none of those are going to impact my enjoyment of the 3A.

The JH-3A still holds immense promise in my mind. I still use my JH-13 all the time and am really looking forward to enjoying a well-functioning JH-3A. I think we’re on the cusp of seeing many very happy 3A customers, and JHA will earn much praise for this breakthrough product.

Saturday, June 25th, 2011 Audio, Reviews, Technology No Comments

Audez’e LCD-2: The Headphone, the Myth, the Legend

LCD-2Back in June at CanJam 2010, I had the opportunity to try out the LCD-2, a new open-backed, orthodynamic headphone from Audez’e. (The name is pronounced like “odyssey”.) At his demo table, I met co-founder Alex Rosson and learned that not only is he the dnb-head behind all the drum ‘n bass on the demo iPad, but his wife is Reid Speed, a dnb DJ I have great respect for! It was very cool meeting him.

When I switched between Alex’s LCD-2 and my own Edition 8 out of the Woo tube amp on the his table (a WA6), it became immediately apparent that the LCD-2 was showing me much deeper into the recording. The Edition 8 has a warm, fun, and punchy sound that should be forgiving of the recording. It rounds over some edges, making most material sound good. Great even, if you’re into that flavor. But the LCD-2, by contrast, is like a squeeky-clean window, giving an extremely detailed view into the recording. I knew right away that the LCD-2 was a special headphone.

The LCD-2 is a beauty. The outer rims of the cups are Caribbean Rosewood, and some treatment oil is included to preserve the wood. The cups are quite large, accommodating even the largest of ears, and the clamping force is fair. Also, some fairly heavy driver magnets mean the LCD-2 can do amazing things out of weak sources such as an MP3 player headphone out, but it comes at a cost — the headphones are a bit on the heavy side. I wouldn’t say the LCD-2 is necessarily an uncomfortable headphone to wear, but there’s no doubt they want you to know they’re on your head.

The orthodynamic driver in these headphones is quite different from your average dynamic cone driver. It is comprised of a very thin diaphragm with a flat voice coil embedded onto it through which current is applied. The advantage of this type of driver is primarily the speed with which it moves and thus the detail or clarity that can be heard.

I’ve primarily listened to the LCD-2 out of two rigs. My HeadRoom Ultra Micro DAC and ALO Rx amp make a really excellent transportable stack, and they do not let me down with the LCD-2. The Rx has incredible power for its size that really brings out what the LCD-2 has to offer. When I plugged them into my RudiStor RPX-33 (fed by PSAudio DL III), I feel I’m really squeezing the headphones for all they’ve got. Soundstage, detail, and authority come right alive, and I just want to turn up the volume. The sound is immensely clean and refined; I can hear everything in the recording with amazing clarity.

When I switch to the Sennheiser HD600, I feel I get an extra dose of the trebles at the cost of a little of bass. After a quick and casual listen, my brother actually preferred the HD600, but I think this is mainly due to the increase in treble giving an illusion of more detail and “hifi-ness”. If I listen to a good recording (that hasn’t been abused in the studio) and turn up the volume, I get detail, frequency response, and a lack of distortion that is simply breathtaking.

A printed frequency response graph of each headphone is included from Audez’e, and I think it’s pretty obvious why. Each pair’s graph is very similar, showing Audez’e has a well-controlled manufacturing process. Also, apart from the high frequencies (which are very difficult to maintain a flat response for), the graphs are nearly ruler-flat all the way down to 5 Hz. So while you won’t find the accentuated bass that is common in many mainstream headphones, you WILL find an extremely neutral sound signature. No frequency range really stands out too much, and that’s exactly what they’re designed to do — produce a really neutral and balanced sound.

I think this very neutral sound signature is really the Achilles’ heel of the LCD-2. Many will find the sound signature uninteresting because they don’t get “sparkly treble” or “phat bass” like you can get from even other monitoring or audiophile headphones. Instead, the extremely neutral sound of the LCD-2 mostly seems to “wow” its listener with detail, tone, and mega low distortion. I mean yes, the bass is deep and textured and the highs sweet and extended, but no range really calls attention.

As a final note, I must mention that the stock cable on these headphones is no good. Just because the headphone is a bit on the cumbersome side does not mean that the cable needs to be, but the one they ship with these headphones is just flawed. The wire from the Y-split to the ear cups has a sort of plastic mesh sheathing that easily and often rubs against itself, causing the very worst kind of microphonics; the sound just digs into your brain. The cable is stiff, too. Heck, it’s literally labeled “speaker cable” right on the covering! It sucks to admit it for this headphone, but it was worth replacing the cable. (And I’m not one to speak critically of cables usually.)

But now that I’ve got a few months’ experience with the LCD-2, I must say that I’m overall very pleased with it. To me, it does everything very well, but nothing overdone, and it continues to be my go-to headphone when I want to relax and really enjoy the music.

Monday, November 22nd, 2010 Audio, Reviews 9 Comments

The Schiit Asgard Headphone Amp

Schiit Asgard Headphone Amp

I recently had the opportunity to borrow a Schiit Asgard for a few weeks, and I wanted to just briefly put down my thoughts.

Schiit has a sense of humor about their name. They aren’t shy about playing into it in their marketing materials and manuals.

The amp is a relatively slim profile, solid aluminum enclosure with an RCA input in the rear for your DAC or CD player and a 1/4″ headphone output on the front. Do not cover the vent on the top because it needs the air flow. While this amp WILL get extremely hot to the touch — even the volume knob after a bit gets quite hot — the makers assure that it will continue to operate just fine. It’s all part of the design.

And what a design they have, too. For a mere $250 asking price, this amp has some serious output. I’m used to the RudiStor RPX-33 ($1300+) which is a very capable dualmono headphone amp (and preamp) and it’s actually quite difficult for me to really tell them apart. They both belt out gobs of detail and big, lush soundstage. They’re both extremely capable head amps, no doubt, but when you look at the price, it’s not hard to see that Schiit really has something here.

I would highly recommend this amp for anyone trying to drive the more demanding headphones such as the Sennheiser HD6x0 and Audeze LCD-2. It drove these headphones wonderfully for me.

And thanks again goes to Jude for letting me borrow his amp.

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 Audio, Reviews No Comments

RSA “The Protector” Balanced Headphone Amp

Protector RigI had the opportunity to borrow a Ray Samuels Audio “The Protector” headphone amp, and I thought I could say a few things before returning it.

The amp has the same great build as always from Ray. The size is the same as the Predator. It has an unbalanced input on the rear, with balanced AND unbalanced headphone outputs on the front. This amp has the ability to split the unbalanced input signal and turn it into a balanced one.

Having a balanced output means that there are ultimately 4 signals, each finally driven with their own amp. Per ear, one of the two signals is 180 degrees out of phase from the other. By doing this, the drivers are both pushed in one direction and pulled in the other. (With unbalanced, the second lead only serves as a ground.) The point of balanced systems is to reduce noise and channel separation by not using a shared ground, and also to improve driver control (DETAIL) by working the speakers from both directions.

My test system is the HeadRoom Ultra Micro DAC feeding the Protector with the balanced Whiplash Audio TWag IEM cable I was also lent. Now, I went into this thinking that I might not even hear the difference or feel that it was a difficult one to pick out. It took about a minute of listening for me to realize the difference, and a quick switch back to my unbalanced TWag and ALO Rx amp confirmed it. Further flipping through different recordings and genres drove it home.

Versus the unbalanced output of my Rx, the balanced output of the Protector brings my JH13’s an absolutely dead silent background, an improved soundstage, and improved detail! Since I’m extremely picky about hiss, I would say the Rx has a barely audible hiss. The Protector has an absolutely black background. Channel pans and effects seem even more vivd somehow. The biggest thing to notice, though, is the gobs of detail with everything! The Rx is no slouch here at all, but with the Protector, instruments like the violin, clarinet, and cymbals have amazing realism. Up close, well-recorded voices and instruments are especially eerie because of how real they sound. I haven’t really tried, but I bet the benefits of high resolution files become more apparent with detail like this. Hearing some of my dnbradio.com set in 128kbps mp3 was a laughable experience. I could hear all those mp3 artifacts clear as day.

As I wait for my JH3A, I really wanted to take a moment to see what improvements the Protector brought. I resisted the Protector because I knew an amp with a balanced INPUT or something would supersede it. Well, I was right, but it turned out to be something unexpected. The active crossover of the JH3A should bring very real improvements considerably above and beyond the Protector, and my wait should be nearly over.

Let me give a big thank you to Jude of Head-Fi.org for letting me borrow the amp and cable!

And for a little disclaimer, I did build Ray’s website for him and think he’s a great guy and amp manufacturer, but I do not let these things color my judgements of this product review or any other.

Monday, September 6th, 2010 Audio, Reviews No Comments

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