Portable audio players traditionally have poor quality amplifiers built in. Because you're used to it, you probably don't notice that the louder it gets the worse it sounds. Static gets introduced, instruments blend together, and frequencies get distorted. Ipods are known to have among the worst audio quality in the portable music market. A headphone amplifier takes the burden off of the player and does all of the amplification. It also processes the sound, which I'll get into in a minute.
So who needs a headphone amp? Ideal candidates are people who have high end headphones, or even just big headphones. These phones need more power to drive them, so they tax the player even more than usual. Examples are the Etymotic Research and Shure E5 headphones. Another time when it's essential to have an amp is when you're trying to split the audio between two pairs of headphones, as this doubles the power needed from the player.
Have you ever noticed that wearing headphones for a long time is uncomfortable and makes you feel restless? There's a reason for this. When we hear audio in real life, it's never only coming in through one ear. Even if someone's yelling at you directly from your left, your right ear gets a little bit of that through your bones and skin as well as from reflections of the sound. This is called crossfeed. When you listen to headphones, there are some sounds that only come in from one ear. This fatigues your brain because the sound seems so unnatural and it can't place its location. A good headphone amp will automatically crossfeed a bit of audio from each channel to the other ear, resulting in a much more pleasant and relaxing listening experience. This sounds like a bunch of bull, but the difference is obvious once you have an amp.
The headphone amp market used to be pretty bad. Good amps cost thousands, while cheaper amps weren't very high quality. Still, I bought one in the middle of the road, and it was amazing. I brought it on road trips, plane rides, and even just walking around listening to music. Then my friend stepped on it and I had to get a new one.
Enter www.fixup.net, a rather unprofessional seeming site made by a rocket scientist (yes, literally) named Xin Feng. I'd actually e-mailed back and forth with Dr. Feng in the past because he had created a way to power laptops with camcorder batteries. Long story.
Feng took it upon himself to build the ultimate headphone amp at a ridiculously low price. The device is fanatically over engineered, somehow incorporating features not found on amps ten times its price. I bit the bullet and bought one, hoping it would live up to the hype. These amps have a lot of different features that I won't pretend I understand. Words like op amps and triple buffers confuse me. Truthfully, I don't care how he does it as long as the end result is good.
And it is - I bought the SuperMacro (pictured), but in retrospect I probably would have bought the middle sized one. It's not too big, it's just that I'm obsessed with buying small things. Right out of the box, the sound quality is insane. Instead of feeling like the music is playing inside my head, it seems as though the artists have assembled themselves in a wide formation in front of me. The bass is richer, the trebles are crisper, and instruments and vocals aren't muddled together. Honestly it's astounding how good it sounds.
I notice that whenever I listen to music with the SuperMacro I hear more than I had before. I hear the bow brush across the strings before a note is played. I hear the singer take a breath before delivering a verse. Slight nuances are still slight, but they add up to make the listening experience richer and more enjoyable.
I should mention that I'm not an audiophile. I appreciate good quality audio, but only to a point - I'd rather hear a good artist through an 8 track player than a mediocre one through the best setup. At only a few hundred dollars, though, the SuperMacro lets me get a lot more mileage out of my favorite songs.
One last interesting point. To get a top of the line home audio system is impossibly expensive, costing possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, between a $350 headphone amp and a $200 pair of Etymotic Research headphones, you can literally have the best portable audio in the world which rivals those hundred thousand dollar home systems. When done on a small scale, audio is a lot easier to manage.
Yeah Etymotic headphones are awesome,but these headphones cant be fixed :(.Mine had problems with connection.
Best audio quality has WAV second is mp3 320 kbps.
Good heaphones are for DJs(Pioneer,Technics,Denon) so you can get headphones with replaceble cord.
If you want good quality speakers you can check out monitors KRK rokit RP 5 G2 or some monitors from Mackie(expensive)
Seeking info on the best portable Micro amp to use with my on the road music...using Shure E4 Headphones
If you have an ipod or another mp3 player, the music you are listening to is (usually) already compressed. Since CD's play at about 1200kbps and mp3's range from 128-320, how much of an effect is this going to have on the compressed mp3s?
The Boostaroo Revolution is a good alternative to the build it yourself models. For only $49.99 you can get a pretty descent audio amplifier and splitter. www.boostaroo.com
No kidding! After reading a few pages of posts, I see that somebody there would hunt me down and kill me for not owning a $3000 rig and actually not having an opinion on xfeed and soundstaging...hard. core.
If you're wanting more information about these devices, check out the forums at www.head-fi.org. You might not want to mention that you own Bose headphones though :)
I am finding this site rather uselful...
I currently wear a pair of BOSE Quiet Comfort II headphones, up to 12 hrs/day, nearly every single day. I am starting to experience some discomfort, if I listen to music through them for more than 1-2 hours at a time and would prefer to have the music on for a lot longer. I need to ask the good doctor a few questions, but it looks like I'll be buying one of the mini amps. Thanks man.
Okay, okay, okay... I'll write the gear post before the year's over! One of the things that keeps me from writing all year is that it never really feels like the stuff in my pack has changed all that much. I switch one item at a time, never thinking I have much to write about. Then the end of the year comes, the citizenry demands a post, and I'm always surprised to see just how much has changed.
I called last year's gear post the Style Edition because although it was 100% functional, I also made a few choices to have slightly better looking clothing. That trend has continued a little bit this year, but I'm calling this one the Zen Edition because my already minimal packing list has become even shorter.
When I first started traveling, the minimalism aspect of it was pure coincidence. I had intended on buying a normal backpack, but Todd convinced me to go smaller. Our first 28L Deuter Futura backpacks seemed impossibly small at first, but after a year of learning what is and isn't necessary, space gradually opened up. My response was to fill it with new gadgets-- eventually I had a portable kettlebell, a full cot with silk sheets, and who knows what else.
As the years went on, Todd continued to get smaller backpacks, which influenced me to get smaller backpacks as well. I would always pack them completely full until recently. Last year I had some empty space, and now my pack is less than halfway full. If I could find a well organized and designed 12 liter pack, I would use it.
Part of the reason I have less stuff now is because technology keeps getting better. My laptop is tiny and light. The camera I have now couldn't exist five years ago when I started all this. Everything charges with the same cable. The other reason I've continued to reduce what I travel with, though, is because carry unnecessary items makes your trip worse. They weigh your pack down, clutter it up, and make it take longer to pack and unpack. The less I travel with, the better my experience is. At this point my pack weighs 10.7 pounds, which makes it trivial to carry it all day, even when climbing through the mountains.
This was published in Premiere guitar magazine here.
Why is it that the engineer says, “Here’s a direct box. Plug in and let’s get recording,” when a bass player shows up at a studio, then proceeds to spend hours and hours setting up the drums, guitar cabs, mics, pedals, etc? Without a kickin’ bass line, there is no foundation for the music. You need a bass sound that will punch, thump, rumble, boom, and articulate. So, how do we add rocket sauce to bass tracks?
The ProcessObviously you need to start with a great bass and new strings. For rock and metal there are some fantastic choices. I love Ibanez basses for this purpose. Fender, Tobias, Music Man, and others also make solid, quality choices. As far as strings go, I’ve found DR hand-wound strings sound and feel incredible, but this is purely a personal preference. Get yourself a nice bass amp/cab rig— I enjoy Ampeg, SWR, or Trace Elliot. Any sort of speaker configuration will work. I have managed to get amazing sounds out of a diverse range of gear, from tiny combos to giant-sized cabinets.
To begin, mic the speaker up. One of my favorite bass amp mics is the Sennheiser MD 421. I use this mic constantly. If you want a little extra zing or sparkle to bring out articulation and attack, grab a nice condenser mic as well—there are tons of them out there from Neumann, Shure, AKG, Audio-Technica, Blue, Rode, among others. Putting the mic directly in front of the cone often works to achieve a punchy, “in your face” sound. But you can also experiment with placing the mic near the edge of the cone, placing it halfway between the center and edge of the cone, turning it off-axis (turned slightly away from pointing straight on to the cone), and pulled back varying distances from the cabinet. Try a few things to see what you like and what works for the track.