My introduction to hifi

I am completely new to the world of hifi audio and have been gaining knowledge of the subject for about 2 months now. I have also only been browsing through hifi guides for about the past two or three weeks and made an account yesterday. With that in mind, please bare with me if I happen to say something incorrect or break any guidelines (I did read them). Also, I am not sure if this is important for you to know or not, but it may provide some context. I am 17 years old as I write this post and I have always had a static noise in my both ears since I can remember, I’m guessing that is tinnitus. Since this is such a long post, let me give you a summary of what to expect before you choose to invest your time into reading this. I will also take the liberty of breaking this up into separate paragraphs so you can choose to read only what interests you. The first paragraph is telling the story of how I happened to be introduced into this world of hifi, gives background context to my musical experience thus far, and mentions what I have learned so far. The second paragraph is what I ended up purchasing, my reasoning for what I purchased, and a little story about yesterday. The third paragraph is all the plans I have laid out for the future so far, and a few questions about those plans. The fourth paragraph is filled entirely with questions I have about audio equipment. The fifth, and final paragraph, is an idea I’m curious about with headphones and a question I have about bluetooth iems.

  1. I began listening to music in a serious manner around a year and a half ago. Since then, I would say I have listened to music, on average, a little over an hour every day. It has been a bit of a thrilling experience for me and certainly an eye opening one as I have found out just how much is possible in music. My guiding principle that sways me to keep going, is to always find something I haven’t heard yet. I haven’t found any genre that I don’t like yet and I take privilege in embracing as many genres as I possibly can. That is as far as my musical experience goes. I have not partaken in educating myself into the technique of making music, and up until now, I had never know anything about the audio equipment used to reproduce music. When it comes to what I have used for that year and a half, I first started with simply my laptop speakers and later became air pods, which I have been a heavy user of for the past year as my way of listening to music for both enjoyment and critical listening. (Yes, I do know now, that air pods are in no way as I can tell from public opinion, meant to be for critical/serious listening. They are designed to be for ease of use and transport from what I can tell. My guess as to why I bought them is because of them being all over the place, which makes free advertising for apple, and keep in mind, a little over a year ago when I got them, I knew nothing of the audio world, and this was just about the only product I knew of. I also believe I found it cool seeing that no wires was possible, aka bluetooth. It was my first time seeing such technology.) Now, move the clock to about 3 months ago. I was on discord as perusal and someone mentioned how bad human headphones are to me and told me to go search them up, so I went to youtube to search for a video and found one from a channel called GYMCADDY. I don’t have anything in particular to say about this video, besides it seeing the product in a negative light when it comes to its performance. (Side note: I would love to see Z reviews shit on these.) A few days passed and I returned to the channel to watch more videos. I can’t remember why I returned, but I know somewhere along the line, the reason became to look for my Christmas present. I started by specifically targeting videos about wireless earbuds. From there, I branched out to several other channels to watch and learn more about wireless earbuds. From that, I learned the bluetooth codecs, being sbc, aac, aptx, aptx hd, and ldac. I learned what audio pass through, active/passive noise cancelling, and ipx rating is. I learned the terms tinny, lows, mids, highs, instrument separation, sound stage, imaging, and eq. Eventually, I started to run out of new wireless earbuds to watch and I had already decided on getting the Sennheiser Momentum Truly Wireless Earbuds, which were retailing for 205 at the time. The reason I choose these specific truly wireless earbuds, was because of it being widely accepted that these are the best sounding earbuds on the market right now. (About 3 months ago, idk if anything is considered better now.) After all my effort, I felt pretty contempt, but then I started itching to see what headphones had to offer over earbuds and I began to watch a few videos on headphones. Then, when I googled the advantages and disadvantages of each, I immediately clung to the idea of bigger drivers generally sounding better than smaller drivers, and yes, it was mentioned that a large driver which is shit won’t be as good as a small driver which is good. Once that happened, it was back to the drawing board and I began to watch video after video about headphones and somewhere along the line, I went from mainstream headphone videos, to hifi headphone videos. This is where everything really began to flood me with information, which I still don’t understand all of it 100%. I learned that headphones with higher impedance rates and lower sensitivity, will require amps to properly drive them. The 1/8th rule for the impedance of the amp and headphone. An exterior dac of good quality will improve sound quality. What ergonomics, audio chain, bit rate, bit depth, suspension straps, sound leakage, balanced cables, single ended cables, energizers, dacs, daps, solid state amps, and tube amps are. All devices that play sound have a built in amp and dac. Balanced cables are considered to be better than single ended cables, though some don’t believe in this and I wonder if it’s really the cable that’s better or is it the way it interacts with the amp when plugged in balanced that makes it optimized to work better than if your interfacing with the amp through single ended. I also found that for cables generally under 10 feet, single ended is preferred, while over 10 feet, balanced is preferred and I believe this has to do with interference being picked up in the cables, though, I think this comparison was made with the cables being used for a different purpose in mind, than using headphones to listen to music. What makes a cable considered balanced or unbalanced, trs, trrs, and stuff like that. All the different connectors headphones and iems have. Different driver types being dynamic, planar, electrostatic, bone conductor, and balanced armature. More terms such as depth, bright, warm, muddy, aggressive, airy, laid back, and maybe some others.

  2. Suddenly, I went from looking at the earbuds for 205 to the hifiman sundara, theaudio phantoms, and blon b20 being 350 each based off of where I would purchase them, (Blon b20 is 350 on massdrop.) monoprice m570 being 300, koss esp/95x being 400, and a used pair of sendy aivas if possible, as I didn’t quite want to spend 480 for them, forgot where from. (I haven’t plunged into the world of speakers, yet, and speakers definitely won’t work for the environment I live in, just as a side note.) From what I have seen discussed, I know it’s quite possible that it would have been better for me to start with a cheaper pair of headphones as to dip my toes into the world of hifi to find what qualities I like best in my audio equipment before committing to more expensive gear, but for now, I will get what I have already purchased. Since I don’t have any past experience with true hifi gear, my decision on sound traits and quality really just came down to what was recommended more across the board, even though, yes, that reviewers opinion may not line up with mine, and maybe I would of liked the other options more in their comparisons, but for me, this was as good as a reliable source as I was going to get, the user experiences of others, and having to trust their tastes since I don’t know my own yet. The other factors which didn’t matter as much to me, but still held value, were the design/looks, build quality, and comfort. Though I must admit, of the 3, my focus was mainly prioritized on the looks. When all was said and done, I sprung for the blon b20s, and I almost got a barely used pair of sendy aivas on ebay, but was outbid, and it was sold for 370ish I believe. (Didn’t know how automatic bidding worked then, so that also went against me when someone bid higher on about the last hour.) Besides the aiva being what I want the most but didn’t want to pay the price for, the blon b20 became my choice, because I personally favored the looks of it, I felt that the mids being the weakest point of the frequency response might be what I prefer over bass or treble suffering, I like that the soundstage is described as somewhere in the middle, so maybe this will help me decide in the future to look for a wider or more closed soundstage or maybe I’ll even like this amount of soundstage just fine, and the build quality seems to be quite nice. Even if I might of been better off choosing one of the other headphones listed, I feel quite confident that choosing any one of those headphones would of been a nice experience for me. The one part I do wish I knew more about before making my purchase decision though, is trying to find out whether I would prefer a headband or suspension strap more. I would also like to mention the first thing I bought was a subscription for tidal hifi which was only 2 dollars for 4 months. Only new users could purchase the limited time deal and it was available for the cyber monday weekend I believe. After the headphone, came the dac and amp. Originally I planned on getting the fiio k5 pro, but I ended up going for the jds labs atom and topping d10 stack. My decision for these was purely based off of what people seemed to think had the best performance and would keep my total budget around 500. (I bought the blon b20 for 350 on massdrop and got the 20 dollar discount for being new, making it 330.) Then I purchased a 1ft rca cable and a 1/4th inch male to 3.5mm female adapter. So far the rca cable and adapter have been shipped to my house. Now, the funny thing is… my jds labs atom arrived yesterday, which I bought from ebay, but I opened it and instead was greeted to a scientific calculator. Which when I think back to the details provided by the seller, it makes sense to me now. They had no pictures of the amp in person, just stock photos, and the really sketchy part about it, is they said they received it for free with a pair of headphones they purchased, which out of the 30 or so headphones I’ve seen so far, none of them come with a jds labs atom, and the only one I know of that comes with a headphone amp, is the Sennheiser Orpheus. (excluding bluetooth headphones) I feel a bit stupid for not focusing enough attention on making sure nothing like this happens by checking the legitimacy of where I buy my products from, which I did to a degree, but not enough. I guess I was just too focused on everything else since so much information was being thrown at me. It should be all good though, because I should be able to get my money refunded and this time I’ll just buy it straight from jds themselves. The other two products I’m still waiting on since it’s massdrop, which I’ve seen people make jokes of their eternal shipping, which, Is certainly validated.

  3. The next step for me is finding out the proper way, or should I say, most efficient way of equalizing my headphones. From what I have seen, the extension Equalizer APO with the Peace Equalizer interface, may be able to serve as my equalizer, which for context, I will be using my laptop which has windows 10 to play my audio sources. I haven’t done much research into digital vs analog equalization yet, so if any information could be provided to me on that, it would be much appreciated. I would prefer sticking to digital though, as to primarily save on money. My knowledge for equalization only really goes as far as knowing that dropping other frequencies to make another more present is preferred over boosting the frequency you want more present as to not lose clarity and detail. I would love to have some advice on caring for my equipment so they last longer. I currently do not have a headphone case or headphone stand and the blon b20s don’t come with a headphone case. I wonder if I can store them in the foam packaging and be good to go with that, or do I need something else? They are open back, so no need to transport them. I would prefer getting a headphone stand unless a case will, for whatever reason, keep it in better condition. I would also love to learn how the value of the audio equipment will be affected over time. For instance, if I bought a pair of headphones for 200 dollars, what can I expect to sell them for in 3 years with varying degrees of condition? Will more expensive headphones retain closer to its original price than cheaper headphones? How long will a 100 dollar headphone last me compared to a 500 dollar one? The last step I have planned, is for when my birthday comes around in about 2 months. I may get a closed back headphone or iem I can use portable with a portable headphone dac and/or amp. I do already have airpods as I have mentioned before, but those do a poor job of isolating your music from external noise and I would assume they have very lackluster or just meh sound quality compared to what I could get it. I assume over ear headphones will isolate your music better than iems. I don’t particularly want on ear headphones and I don’t think they would really work in this case, since from my knowledge, they will leak sound more and let more external sound in. I don’t have any particular pair in mind as I haven’t really searched for one yet. I do wonder though, if it might be a good idea to get an iem that has an electrostatic driver in them. I passed on the koss esp/95x and I know the only way I’m going to get an electrostatic experience cheaper than that is through iems. I know that the tin p1 and shuoer tape have one. Besides that the meze 99 noir peaked my interest and I may decide to go for active noise cancelling headphones, but that isn’t likely. The reason I need anything portable is for school. My budget for this will be half of my budget above at 250 dollars. Since I have the blon b20s, is there a reason I should spend up to 250 on another pair for portability, or should I really be looking cheaper? One more thing to note, is the blon b20s have 2.5mm trs connectors, if I go the headphone route, it might be nice to get a pair of headphones with the same type of connectors and get an upgraded cable to use for both. I do like how braided cables look and I don’t think making a cable myself is really an option. I’m also curious when I join the workforce in the future, what I can use at work, which I know will heavily depend on what job I go for, which I can’t answer yet. I’m most interested in how much you can get away with, when using bone conduction headphones in this field, since they allow you to listen to music and still hear your surroundings.

  4. I know there are a lot of things I can still learn about audio equipment and I’m sure I’ll have more questions in the future, but for now, I would like to have these questions answered. What does it mean when a headphone amplifier is Class A, Class AB, and whatever other classes there might be? I heard that unless you have hifi equipment, you won’t hear a difference between low quality files and high quality files. I know to my ear, with air pods, I can’t hear the difference between something such as youtube and spotify free, vs Tidal hifi. With your equipment, can you really hear a noticeable difference, and if so, what exactly is that difference? What is the highest bit rate and bit depth you could ever need? When does it become just about pointless to go any higher in bit rate and bit depth, if ever? I’m still a bit conflicted on the meaning of depth. What I think it means is how forward or behind you, your music plays, but with that definition it makes me think that maybe sound stage is only from left to right of you and not all around. If I’m not mistaken, I heard a term in a video called “ice amp”. What is that, if I am not just making that up. The human ear can hear frequencies from about 20-20k hertzs, certain headphones go beyond this range. I hear conflicting information about whether this really makes a difference or not, the argument being that you can’t hear those frequencies, which is true, but I heard these two statements roughly, from two different sources, which makes it sound like these frequencies have a purpose, and I wonder about the legitimacy of them. One is that these frequencies will affect the frequencies you can hear, and the other is that these frequencies can’t be heard, but they can be felt. There is still a lot of listed information with amps, dacs, and headphones I don’t get. What is THD, sinbad, and noise floor? Lastly, I’d like to know what headphone you know of, that has the most vertical sound stage to it. I don’t hear this mentioned much in sound stage from the headphone reviews I’ve watched or read.

  5. I haven’t seen any bluetooth earbuds yet, which allow you the option of having a detachable cable if you so choose. I wonder why this is. I watched zeo’s review on the 1more triple driver and having watched a few reviews about the nuraphones, I began to wonder about this idea of having a multi driver headphone that is designed like the nuraphones. I know multiple drivers in iems isn’t a rare sight, but in headphones it is. If a headphone was made like the nuraphones, I wonder if this design could be beneficiary for implementing multiple drivers. It could even be somewhat of a fusion of iems and headphones. Also, I always wonder what it sounds like if you wear iems with headphones over them and play the same song through both. I imagine it would be utter chaos, but who knows.

If you took the time to read all this, or even just part of it, thank you. I hope it wasn’t a total waste of your time and that you found something useful or enjoyable out of it, and again, feel free to correct me on any false information I might have provided. (I wonder how many messages this will accumulate.)

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Jesus this is info overload for me lol. Well I hope you enjoy your time in this hobby :+1:

That’s pretty unfortunate with the jds labs atom, make sure to file a claim right away

I will answer some of the questions below that I skimmed over, please feel free to ask more or ask for more elaboration

This is just fine, don’t worry about a hardware eq tbh.

Correct, I don’t eq the most for listening so others can give you more tips and tricks on that

So you just want to treat it with care for the most part. Don’t expose them to much moisture, make sure to keep the pads clean, make sure it doesn’t scratch on some places where you set it (I like to set headphones on something soft), keep particles/debris from getting in the drivers that often, wipe them down if you get sweat on them, keep cables from being bent in harsh angles or ways, etc. You don’t need a stand, but I would store them from somewhere out of harms way, and if you want to store them in a box no problem. Just find a way to prevent them from getting dusty or being stretched or exposed to a rough surface or something.

It really depends on the headphone and how sought after it is and how good of condition you keep it in. Also keep all the boxes and original accessories too if you plan to sell in the future. More expensive higher end headphones typically hold their value better but it really depends on the model.

That really depends on the headphone itself. Higher end headphones tend to have better build quality, higher qc, and more long term support. That being said, some headphones in the 100 buck range can last just as long as them for sure.

Actually IEMS typically isolate more than headphones most of the time. On ears are more of a comfort thing and how large your head and ears are if they work well or not

They are different designs of an amplification circuit, here is a helpful video (it mainly talks about speaker amps but it applies to headphone amps as well): https://youtu.be/rj6h4qYxkCc Also one is not superior to another, the overall amp in whole is what determines the final sound.

So this is both true and not true. Higher end gear will assist you in hearing the difference for sure, but listening is a skill that you develop, and even with lower end gear you will start to realize the differences. The difference is typically that it is just a more realistic representation of sound, it’s something you just have to experience. (I can go more in depth if you would really like)

This one is a bit debatable lol. I will mainly just say that as long as it’s 16 bit 44.1khz genuine lossless file, you are set for sure. The bit depth is something like 16 bit or 24 bit and is the number of bits of information in each sample. Higher bit depth is more precise sampling which theoretically yields a higher quality more accurate, but this is arguable if it’s actually audible or not. This does not involve soundstage or presentation, just simply the definition of the file.

They are prob talking about an ICE chip power amp which uses chips from a company called ICEpower. They are class D amplifiers with switch mode power supplies, and are very flexible and sound good, but let’s not get wrapped up into that one.

So personally as long as a headphone goes from 20hz to 20khz I wouldn’t worry about this one. I personally can hear up to almost 23k, but it really doesn’t matter as I can’t really digest that info in that range, it’s just “there” to me. Also most music does not have any sounds above around 18k in it anyway, so you aren’t missing out much

THD is Total Harmonic Distortion and is the amount of harmonic distortion the equipment being measured has, and harmonic distortion can either be good or bad, but for now I’m just going to keep it simple and say that as long as it’s not really bad, don’t worry about it. SINAD is Signal to Noise and Distortion and it measures how much clean signal there is vs how much unwanted noise or distortion there is, higher = better if you only look at the measurements. Noise floor is the amount of noise the amp produces at a certain level or just sitting idle, and this can translate to hissing if high. It depends on the amp and the audio device used as more sensitive headphones or iems will pick up more hiss on a lesser quality amp. I personally wouldn’t worry about measurements as long as they aren’t bad, I would focus on more subjective aspects.

Hm, this is a hard one. I think the most immediately impressive verticalty might be the hd800s with the right amp, but I would argue that others can be more accurate at representing verticality, but the 800s stands out without really having to think about it.

It’s been done a decent amount of times but hasn’t really took off. I personally wouldn’t worry about it too much

It’s interesting for sure lol. Mainly the iem isolates you so you get the iem sound but perhaps a feeling of greater isolation and more bass impact depending on the headphone. But I don’t think its something I would do often lol. I do wear some noise canceling headphones over iems on planes though for max isolation

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Thank you for all the useful information. I may respond later if I find that I have additional questions. Also, I never thought of using a headphone for active noise cancelling while wearing earbuds underneath. That is quite an interesting idea.

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So first of all welcome, i read the ENTIRE thing. Very entertaining specially since i am just listening to music and not doing anything. You really jumped all in with the Blon headphones lol, like that. As for looking for other pairs for portability i think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to actually buy a couple of cheaper IEMs instead. Mostly to expirience different sound signatures to see what suits your music best, or maybe just expiriencing more stuff for the fun of it. Sorry to hear about the jds atom, hope you get that resolved as soon as possible

rip atom amp. best to file a scam claim with ebay and pay pal.

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Come to think of it, there is a boundless amount of products to enhance the sound of your music, but what about the feeling, something tangible? I know you can get different amounts of bass impact on your body, but what else can be adjusted, and what products exist for this?

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hmmm i don’t know if i would go down that rabbit hole lol. bunch of snake oil and people trying to make quick money. I would say just getting into a comfortable position, like a nice chair is a fine investment. Being comfortable where you are listening to music, make it an expirience if you want. personally i actually wear a blindfold since it helps me close my eyes and just listen to the music. stuff like that, some people even burn candles for a nice smell

You’re a saint lol mod of the year goes to…

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He should be Time Magazine’s person of the year lol

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You can either just use speakers (easier) or invest in something like a haptic monitoring system if you can’t have speakers

Welcome! I am also new to this hobby…I went a little different route and just jumped in headfirst after only a week…I tried to pick up a d10 and ended up with some chinese knockoff I wasn’t willing to settle for, so I returned it (ty to amazon returns). so instead I got the smsl m100. I also got the jds atom from their website - was a good customer experience overall.

In the future I am interested in getting a BTR5 (or similar) and a decent set of IEMs for portable use, but for now I am so happy with my current setup with the m100, atom, and my HD58x. I’ve got the 4xx coming soon (massdrop’s eternal shipping :laughing:)

A lot of people say don’t equalize, get different headphones…I really cant weigh in on this since I am new, but I must say I got used to my new headphones FAST, and I can’t go back…

Overall, I think you nailed it for a very subjective experience. You know what to look for, what the terms mean, and you can start to put sounds to those terms as your headphones come in. Be patient (damn I need to take my own advice…) and learn what you like. If you can listen to some gear, do so…it helps even if its nothing you like - it provides knowledge.

I would love to hear how you feel about the purchases you made and how you feel about their sound signatures. I have a similar setup but my headphones are the 58x (and soon the 4xx when they arrive). I plan on making a new thread about my experiences once I feel I have information to share.

Kinda, people generally accept eq and use it, but I think you are mainly referencing the concept that you shouldn’t try and use eq to turn a headphone into something else. EQ is great for mild tweaks but if you would have to eq it a ton you might be better off getting a different headphone

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basically treat eq like a razor blade, not like a sword. also swords are cool but not all that useful kinda unwieldy and you cant conceal them

Thanks @M0N and @MarlFox for clarifying. This is what I meant. :slight_smile:

How much of a difference can a cable make to the sound of your system? From what I can tell, it’s mainly about getting a cable which has the least detriment to the sound of your system. I’m guessing that cables can’t improve the sound, but they can certainly make it worse. Also, is there any sort of properties I should look out for when getting a cable?

get the exact length you need, don’t over spend, no kink aloud.

Whooo boy lol. Here is what I will say. I personally am reaching into the territory where it makes a difference (but everything matters like the power to my home, and all that garbage). Any basic well made cable will work more than well. Something from amazonbasics is very well made and gets the job done very well. You don’t really want to buy a high end cable (don’t even think about it for now) and you would really only consider that when you are decently past the 10s of thousands of dollar setup (and even then)

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I am personally using Mediabridge 12 gauge that can be found on Amazon. It’s pretty legit and a shop that was trying to selling me some top-end cable allowed me to A/B demo the cables – it sounds different, but for a fraction of the price, the Mediabridges can keep up. Keep in mind my setup is currently 2-3k and will not retrieve every single detail.

Whenever I do get my amp, will it matter in anyway if I leave it plunged into the wall when I’m not using it?

You should have no problems just leaving it plugged in