May 12, 2018410 views

The necessity for a DAC or Amp

So recently I got really into music after I received my Koss KPH30i headphones, I've been listening to music downloaded straight from Youtube in a MP3 format. Was wondering if a cheap DAC or Amp from massdrop would make a difference. I'm not very smart in terms of being an audiophile,so please guide me thoroughly!
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The KPH30i is an excellent low cost on-ear... for $20 it's an incredible bargin, even better bargain than the SHP9500. Love mine for anything on my tablet, from Youtube to my high quality FLAC library output through UAPP. Sounds great just plugged right into a tablet or laptop, no external DAC/amp needed. I will say though, the KPH30i sounded absolutely phenominal plugged into an RME ADI-2 DAC/amp.... was bringing me to tears. The RME ADI-2 DAC/amp wasn't really for it though, I just wanted to see what difference it made since I had the KHP30i's with me.

Here's what the KPH30i looked like paired with the RME ADI-2 DAC/amp:
VRacer111
Damn it looks sweet,I'm still new into being an audiophile but thanks for the explanation and brief about the DAC/amps you use for the KPH30i,really awesome and cool to hear about it. :D
Cheap DACs/amps for cheap headphones generally aren't worth anything.
Rhamnetin
oh okk,I understand that :D
So, here are some bottom line questions:
1. Are you happy listening to music on YouTube?
2. Do you enjoy your favorite music just as much whether you hear it in a car, a store, or your headphones?
3. Is the quality of sound enough of a priority that it's where you want to spend your money on it at this point in your life?

Your KPH30i are very good headphones for ~$25 you spent. I have a pair - you spent that money well. You're probably getting just about everything you're going to get out of YouTube with them. With just YouTube as a source and your Koss phones, a DAC or amp won't do much (unless you have obnoxious static or some other problem like that). If you're happy, enjoy your music and don't worry about it. If you want to have some free audio fun, play around with EQ on your device to understand how the different frequencies affect the sound. You can really make a big difference with that, and learn what type of sound profile you like (e.g., bass heavy, v-shaped, etc.). Your Koss phones respond nicely to EQ, so they're good ones to play with. For starters, reduce the 250hz band on them a bit and you'll notice a distinct improvement in clarity.

Now, don't get me wrong, you can absolutely gain a great deal of quality by upgrading your equipment. If you have budget, focus on your headphones and your source. That's where your bang for your buck is. A DAC's job is to change digital bits into analog sound (what you actually hear). You have to spend a lot to find one that will make a difference to an audio newbie. An amp's job is to increase the amount of power to your headphones. If you choose headphones with low impedance and decent sensitivity, you won't need a separate amp. Whatever device you are already using to play digital music already has both. If they're not obviously bad (e.g., hissing, popping, etc.) they're fine for now.

My recommendation on a first high quality headphone would be the Philips SPH9500. Hard to find a better bang for the buck as long as open-backs are ok for you.

Hope that all helps!

GunsOfBrixton
I'm excited to hear that you own a pair of them too! And yeah besides finding ways to improve my equipment I also wondered about buying new headphones from the advice of different people. I'll look around for the Phillips SPH9500. Thank you!
Priority should be transducer(headphones/speakers) -> amp -> DAC

With your headphones and the quality of music files you are using, it is not worth it.
Juka
Oh alright, thanks for the opinion!
It depends on the overall combination of components. Adding an amp only helps if the output you would otherwise be using doesn't match the headphones well.
A headphone with impedance too high for your source will usually sound good, but you might not be able to get it loud enough. An amp with a higher voltage swing will help. (but maybe not some of the small portable ones)
A headphone with efficiency too low might distort due to lack of current in which case most amplifiers (even small portable ones) will likely help.
A headphone with impedance that's too low for the device will often lack bass (due to the coupling caps being too small), but might otherwise be alright (assuming sufficient current) An amp will probably help, assuming it's designed to work with a low impedance.

If your headphone is well matched to the device driving it (sufficient current, low enough cutoff frequency, enough voltage swing), an amp probably isn't going to improve things. (and may make things worse, in some cases)

fhood's explanation is a common oversimplification.
The DAC in your PC is probably just fine. The amplifier wrapped around it may or may not be well designed. Some of them have a tendency to pick up a lot of noise. Some are quite low powered opamps that can't properly drive most headphones, or are AC coupled with tiny caps that will eat all your bass, but don't assume an amp will improve things. Your headphones might be well within its design capabilities.
There aren't any real hard lines on this stuff either. I have some 400ohm earbuds, which sounds like a too-high impedance for a low voltage device, but the sensitivity is high enough that they work great.
I also have some 50 ohm planars that would typically be assumed to be a much better match based on their impedance alone, but they're very insensitive, and sound bad unless I'm driving them with a pretty beefy amp. (I turn the phone to max volume, and it sounds decent, but not very loud)

I do agree, though, that sometimes better headphones and (if necessary) supporting equipment, will allow you to hear just how badly some of your favourite songs are recorded. It will also make it clear how terribly they're often encoded. (Terrible transcodes on spotify, youtube, etc.)
nwimpney
I understand in terms of badly recorded music as my friend and I do compare headphones frequently and we realise that the same songs could sound differently, I'll find out regarding the impedance of both my headphones and my PC's output, thanks a lot!
First, don't source your music from YouTube.

Second, whether you need an amp depends entirely on the impedance of your headphones.

Third, the DAC in your pc is probably awful and affecting your sound quality. There are exceptions to this (most newish apple computers for instance), but not many. A DAC is what converts your digital music (one and zeros) to your analog signal (what your headphones need).

Fourth, tube amps are for guitars not headphones. Come at me.

Fifth, the O2 stuff (amp and DAC) is quite good, and if you are willing to spend the money on them are probably going to be an improvement. Fiio is usually good but can be hit or miss, so do some research before you take that route. I hear good things about schiit, but have no personal experience with it.

Sixth, a lot of music is terribly mastered and good equipment is going to ruin a lot of songs for you.
fhood
So your advice is to understand which equipment of mine is holding me back and change that and compare if there's improvements after the changes?
Most DACs sound very similar in nature, especially sub $150. Like my Micca Origen 2 sounds slightly clearer than the onboard PC Card.

You notice a bigger difference going from that to a nice dac/amps like the HA-2SE or jotunheim.

But as your system moves up, more headphones gain more benefit. Take the HD600, they need some juice to power.
Whyweneed
Ah I see,because I was wondering what differed some with others at different price ranges as well,thanks for explaining it to me
If you are listening to MP3’s (or mp4’s?) and YouTube, then you’re actually already using a DAC in your computer or phone or whatever. Most separate DACs in the price range don’t have a noticeable quality upgrade over what you’d already be using, unless you’ve got a noisy computer with background hiss or weird chirp sounds when you move the mouse on your desktop. IMO you would be better off sticking with what you have and saving up for something at least in the $70-$80 range.
Evshrug
thanks for the advice!
It depends, whats your definition of cheap?
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I love it if it was, but it was around $80-$100USD when it was on sale.
SarcasticWhale
Ah dang, guess I'll need to keep my eyes open for any sales next time
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