Tag: Headphone Amplifiers

FiiO E5 vs. FiiO E6: No Wrong Answers

The FiiO E5 and E6 are twins but this does not mean they are identical. Although they share particular similarities, it would be a mistake to consider them interchangeable or to overlook the distinct characteristics of each. Each amp offers particular qualities that make them unique and better suited for different tastes and demands. In the following, the E5 and E6 will be compared and contrasted on various points including construction, user interface, and most importantly, sound.

Construction

FiiO E5

At first glance, the E6 shares one obvious quality with its younger predecessor: portability. Like the E5, the E6 is remarkably compact and easy to take anywhere. Both units are designed to seamlessly integrate with portable music devices for powerful headphone amplification in virtually any setting.

FiiO E6

Where the E6 begins to differ from the E5 is in its construction materials and design. Unlike the E5 which featured an aluminum housing with matte black finish and a fixed clip of the same material, the E6 is constructed entirely out of plastic and finished with a glossy black coat. While the plastic construction of the E6 is may initially taken to be a shortcoming of the E6, it is sturdy and can reliably withstand the regular jostling that portable devices must be able to endure. Unfortunately, the glossy finish of the E6 is prone to unsightly scratches and smudging in a way that is absent from the E5. Moreover, the fixed clip of the E5 has been replaced by a removable plastic clip on the E6. A removable clip offers users the advantage of opting out of using a clip, but has effectively sacrificed the structural integrity of the clip. The E6 plastic clip is not as sturdy as the E5’s fixed clip. Perhaps in an effort to address the strength of the clip, FiiO includes two clips with the E6.

Features and Interface

Beyond their appearance, the user interface of the E6 has been completely redesigned from that of the E5 and includes new features not found on the E5. A single sliding switch allows

FiiO E6, Sliding Switch

users to toggle between three EQ setting and holding the switch in position for 3 seconds turns the E6 off. EQ settings and charging status are indicated by a color changing LED that reflects through a plastic edge on the cut-away corner of the E6 for a sleek and attractive look. Unlike the E5 which featured a flat or  bass boost selection, the E6 features more options in the way of EQ settings. Users have the option to select from flat, EQ1, and EQ2 bass boost settings each applying a noticeable change in sound character. Unfortunately, more does not mean better.

In this case, the bass boost settings of the E6 are notably overwhelming. In particular, the EQ1 setting might be exactly what bass-heads are looking for but poses a noticeable problem for individuals seeking a complex and detailed bass response.  The EQ2 setting delivers a palatable alternative to the gushing bass, but does not offer the type of clear and balanced bass of the E5’s single bass boost setting.

FiiO E5 Controls

Nonetheless, one aspect in which the E6 does carry a clear advantage is in volume adjustment. While the volume adjustment button has remained the same, the E6 offers a 64 step volume gradient compared to the E5’s 32 step volume gradient. The expanded volume gradient allows users to personally define the volume level. On the other hand, the E6 and E5 are both silent in their adjustment, allowing users to change the volume levels without interfering with the quality of the reproduction–a reproduction which is impressively clean and neutral.

Sound Quality

Like any good amp, the signal should not be tainted by the amp’s circuitry. On this count, the E6 delivers surprisingly well. Unlike the E5 which is slightly colored by hiss, the E6 features reduced hiss and does not have perceptible coloration on its default flat setting. Even at high volume levels, the hiss remains low. Moreover, the E6 does not produce a loud pop when turned on and prevents damage to the drivers from the sudden spike in voltage. The absence of a loud pop is also a quality that the E5 proudly shares with many FiiO amps including the E6.

Conclusion

Both the E6 and E5 are excellent portable amps. Both headphone amps deliver a neutral response with low distortion levels across the frequency response. Each have the ability to drive high impedance headphones with reliably powerful output. Whether you choose to the E5 or E6, neither will be a sacrifice in quality. It is really a matter of what preference. I personally own the E5 and it suits my purposes especially well– nothing is quite as thrilling as listening to Richard Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Hollander” with a bass response that really makes the instruments breathe. Either way you go, FiiO E6 or E5 will both deliver high quality.

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Portable and Desktop Headphone Amplifier Solutions

At the most subjective level, headphone amplifiers might make a pair of headphones sound louder at lower volume levels. More specifically, a headphone amplifier does much more to the physics of a headphone’s drivers than simply produce more sound. Most importantly, a headphone amplifier gives the drivers the power necessary to control its motions in a precise manner and thus increase the quality of a headphone’s sound reproduction.

Portable Headphone Amplifier Solutions

The AKG K240 MKII

For music lovers seeking to ditch the white buds, it is important that the headphones are adequately matched to an appropriately potent power source. Assuming the highest quality sound files, pairing a set of new AKG K240 MKII to a standard iPod would be much like filling a Formula One race car with standard unleaded fuel. While the AKG K240 MKII might perform better than standard Apple earbuds, the full potential of the AKG K240 MKII will not be fully reached without a portable amp such as the FiiO E11 to compensate for the lack of power from the iPod. The increase in sound fidelity and volume when a higher impedance headphone is properly powered is attributed to the fact the the headphones have enough current being fed to them to respond to the demands of the high and low frequencies in a timely and responsive way, reducing overall distortion.

Home and Studio Solutions

Headphone amplifiers in home and studio settings often serve a similar purpose as their portable counterparts, but in a slightly different way. For instance, most computers and home stereo systems feature sufficiently powerful sound cards to drive higher impedance headphones of up to approximately 250 Ohms. In the case of home and studio sound systems, power is not the issue; the issue is quality. Most often, the quality issue is characterized by an annoying hiss. A desktop amplifiercan function as an external sound card, bypassing the internal sound card of lower quality and delivering an equally powerful signal with added clarity.

Whether at Home or On the Road

A headphone amplifier can be a great step in the direction of high quality sound. While an amplifier alone cannot itself make listening better, with a proper set of headphones and quality sound files, you will be on your way to a listening experience that will make you fall in love with your music all over again.

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What It All Means: Frequency Response, Impedance, Sensitivity, and Drivers

As headphones of all types gradually become  fashion accessories, important technical measures of performance with unglamorous scientific measures seem to be preeminently targeted for exclusion by many manufacturers. Further still, even when manufacturers supply technical information, it can often be overlooked and placed beneath less pertinent factors to listening experience and sound reproduction such as model style, crafty novelty, and brand name. Just as one would not purchase a new set of reading glasses because they look “cool” without first considering the appropriate magnification, buying headphones requires that buyers are equally aware of the characteristics that best fit their particular needs. Whether it is a total suppression of relevant information or lack of knowledge surrounding the specifications that make a true difference in sound reproduction, purchasing headphones of any type based solely on emotive judgement can  result in an inadequate and unsatisfying listening experience. To help you make your next headphone purchase as a discerning and refined buyer, this blog will explain the importance and relevance of their most crucial technical specifications.

In the following sections we will define and explore the effect on listening experience of specifications including Frequency Response, Impedance, Sensitivity, and Drivers (which classify better as components rather than a characteristic, yet are imperative to sound quality). This list covers only the most common specifications and do not take signal quality or signal source into account.

Frequency Response

The Grado SR225i features a frequency response between 20 - 22,000 Hz, well within the average human range

Perhaps the most controversial specification among audiophiles, the frequency response uses Hertz (Hz) as a measure of sound waves per second where 1 Kilohertz (kHz) = 1,000 Hz. In reference to headphones, and speakers in general, the frequency response describes the frequencies a set of headphones can produce. Essentially, the lower end of the frequency response indicates the lowest frequency the speaker can produce while the larger number describes the highest frequency the speaker can produce. This, of course, does not necessarily translate into sound heard. The reason for this is because human hearing averages between 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. What makes this measure particularly polarizing is the general assumption that a frequency response with a lower Hz measurement translates into a better bass reproduction. While a frequency response lower than 20 Hz can be taken as a strong indicator of the potential bass reproduction, measures beneath roughly 16 Hz are felt as sound pressures rather than audible tones. The same logic that applies to bass applies to the treble scale. Sound above roughly 22 kHz tend not to be audible. As a general principle when shopping for headphones, buyers should at the very least be sure to accommodate for the average audible range for human hearing with a safe amount above and below the human hearing range. For example, a set of headphones with a frequency range of about 16 Hz – 23 kHz is  adequate for most casual listeners. Nevertheless, frequency response should not be the lone factor in deciding a purchase, there is plenty more to consider.

Impedance

The Sennheiser HD 650 features an impedance of 300 Ohms making it practically impossible to play with only a portable device

Without complicating matters too much, impedance basically indicates the power demand of a headphone and is most useful to buyers as an indication of a headphone’s application. Impedance is measured in Ohms and when thinking of impedance it is useful to separate into low and high impedance categories.

Low impedance headphones ranging from around 32 ohms to around 100 ohms are particularly well suited for portable applications. Because low impedance headphones require less voltage to produce high volume, a battery powered MP3 player or a portable device like an iPod have enough voltage to allow the voice coil and magnet to push and pull the speaker in the appropriate direction.

On the other hand, high impedance headphones are intended primarily for high-powered applications. High impedance headphones require more voltage from the source in order to reach comparable volumes to a lower impedance headphone. Nonetheless,  at a higher impedance, the tightly wound, thin voice coil wire creates resistance and results in a greater magnetic field that allows a more responsive diaphragm allowing high impedance headphones to push and pull the speaker with greater ease. High impedance headphones can be used with portable devices if they are paired with an appropriate headphone amplifier that will provide the high impedance headphone enough voltage to convert the electrical signal into music.

Sensitivity

In direct relation to impedance is a headphones sensitivity. While impedance describes the voltage necessary to power the headphone at a specified volume level, sensitivity is describes the amount of electrical signal that is converted into sound.  The relationship between sensitivity and impedance is such that sensitivity is a direct result of voltage. In other words, sensitivity tells users about the volume level, measured in decibels (dB), at a specified voltage.  So, if you know the impedance of a set of headphones and the power supply, sensitivity can give users a good idea of the volume you can expect for a set of headphones.

Drivers

Finally, the driver. Easily the most important part of a set of headphones as this is the place where the music happens. Although there are many types of drivers available to consumers, perhaps the most common is the dynamic driver. All the specification discussed up to this point directly affect the performance of the driver. Of particular importance is the driver size, as this most often indicates the type of frequency the driver will best suited to reproduce.

The old adage that bigger is better is only partially true in regard to headphones. For instance, if the goal is to get the most bass out of a pair of headphones and have made sure to see that the frequency response of the headset is sufficiently low, then a large driver may be the best option. Because a large driver with a larger surface area will push more air through the chambers, the large driver is best suited to provide the best bass response. Moreover, because of the large surface area, the pressure of inaudible frequencies will be more noticeable.

However, if your musical tastes and demands tend toward the higher frequencies, a larger driver is antithetical to your purposes. Higher frequencies travel in faster and tighter waves than the broad bass frequencies. This means that your driver will need to respond quicker and fluctuate faster than it would need to with low frequencies. Smaller drivers, with a smaller surface area and reduced mass, are much easier to move making it the most appropriate option for mid to high frequencies.

Conclusion

Despite the continuing trend toward marketable and trendy headphones, these devices are complicated and technologically advanced pieces of equipment that have developed over many years. Understanding how to get the most of a set of headphones require a dedicated degree of commitment and personal investment. Ultimately, the diligence necessary to fully appreciate the characteristics of a pair of headphones can be the difference between just another mundane experience and a lifetime of enjoyment.

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Headphone Amplifiers

If you are one of the many lovers of music who understand the importance of investing in a premium set of headphones,  you may also consider investing in the missing piece of the puzzle to make your great headphones sound amazing.

Headphone amps aren’t just an expensive toy for eccentric audiophiles.   Since the advent of the iPod and iPhone, the past decade has undergone a revolution in the way we experience music.   We compile our own personal playlists and shuffle through life to our own soundtrack, and we make a very personalized statement with the way we experience our music.

A headphone amplifier is typically a class A transistor circuit amp, although they are sometimes vacuum tube driven amplifiers, that will enable you to get the absolute most out of your headphones.   Your high-end headphones are designed to work in a very specific way,  and unlike the white ear buds that came with your phone, the drivers in your high-end headphones are much larger and require much more power to  reproduce all frequencies and perform to their max potential.

A high-end headphone amplifier like the Grado RA-1 uses a 32Ohm output impedance allowing you to make a great set of  high-end headphones sound amazing all in one stylish and sexy package.   This amp is also available in a portable version powered from two nine volt batteries.

Another use for a headphone amplifier is to allow multiple users to experience the same audio source all at once.   Some times refered to as distribution amps, these devices are designed for music production but can be employed by any group of music lovers who all want to get the best possible sonic experience.   The Presonus HP4 is the perfect way to pass the sound around, with four independent level controls the Hp4 gives you a ton of control.

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