W A R N I N G !
This page is full of non-facts and bullsh!t, (just like the internet and especially forums and other blogs), please do not believe entirely without exercising your intellect. Any resemblance to real things in reality is purely coincidental. You are free to interpret/misinterpret the content however you like, most likely for entertainment, but in no case is the text written on this blog the absolute truth. The blog owner and Blogger are not responsible for any misunderstanding of ASCII characters as facts. *cough* As I was saying, you are free to interpret however you like. *cough*
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
"Please do not purchase my amp if your source has no line out. Using the headphone jack out of your source to any amp defeats the purpose of using an external amplifier. Many posts we read where the person claims that there is no difference in sound quality between the source headphone jack & the amp that he or she purchased using the headphone jack as the input to the amp."
--taken from somebody from somewhere, better not to reveal the name. Leave your email and I'll send you a *totally unrelated link*
Well, it's wierd that with my PSP, Zen Stone, my friends Cowon D2, my brother's Nokia 5310, my computer, and the living room computer that is connected to the TV, I (and a few other) can clearly hear the difference when used with an amp. And out of the six, only the last two had true line-out... so...
It's true that the performance of a seperate amp would only be maximised when used with line-out, but that doesn't mean you cannot hear a difference in the sound. Unless the amp is totally transparent... what are the odds of that?
Not being able to hear a difference can easily be due to lack of sharp hearing (so it's a user problem), but attributing that to headphone out is...
What does that make you think about this person's understanding of headphone amps?
The sound signature. Far from being flat, the X3i has a very noticable boost in the slightly lower bass region and some highs roll-off. And that is why these phones "sound so good", especially to the untrained ears; even trained/"trained" ears will find it good. The X3i series is indeed the king of equalisation - with this kind of sound signature, the midrange where all the noise affiliated with cheap drivers and players lie is gone. So what you get is a very clean sound, which may be recognised as clear.
But clear is not what the X3i is, and this equalisation can backfire. The deep bass is too boomy and uncontrolled and spills over to the mids where I cannot hear much, the highs are rolled-off. And the worst part - because of the recessed midrange, where lots of the stuff in music like secondary instruments and reverb actually lie, a whole lot of details are lost. I found out this sad fact when I listened to the EP-630 after being accustomed to the X3i, despite being more noisy and sounding more cheap, I can hear more stuff in the music. No wonder a friend of mine says the X3i is a piece of crap - he's using the triple.fi, which has a similar sound signature as the X3i, but with all the details still there.
*In this context, mids and midrange are two different things - mids refer to the 250Hz spectrum plus-minus one octave (each octave = doubling of frequency), while midrange refers to the 1kHz spectrum, again plus-minus one octave. These two ranges are for entirely different parts of the sound, but I'm using the terms that people tend to call them.
Other names for ~250Hz spectrum include mid-bass and lower-midrange. However these two terms can be confusing for the technically less-inclined, because mid-bass may suggest only the lower bass notes of the music, while lower-midrange may suggests that it's still part of midrange, or the treble part of the music (around 500Hz base frequency, plus its resonances at 1 to 2kHz). For the record, middle-C is 261.626Hz. But the reason you hear it more when you up the 500Hz, perhaps the 1kHz ranges is because of its resonances. So basically you have to take note that notes will "sound one octave frequency higher" because of its resonances, and this is especially true for the secondary instruments and the feeling of "space".
Therefore, the "mid"-bass and the lower-midrange would be one octave lower than the middle-C, where the majority of the bass notes seem to lie. It's different from the deep bass easily known by the bass drum, but it is still bass to musical notation. Probably the reason why it's called mid-bass, but I'd rather call it instrumental bass, or higher bass. Or just what lots of people call it, the mids.
--end of technical blabbering
Furthermore, the deep bass is so boomy that this thing is not recommended for listening at home or in other quiet places.
So despite all the problems with the sound signature, why am I still using them?
It's exactly this sound signature that makes it EXTREMELY good for outside usage. The rumbling of the trains and buses, the cars and commotion, are all low-frequency in character, and masks the bass in your music. To compensate, you up your bass, which is what the X3i does nicely. Alternatively you can up the volume, but that's bad for the ears, and X3i provides enough bass at lower volumes.
Also, the seal of the X3i is awesome, at least for me. Better than EP-630, better than triple.fi (which is designed to leak a bit, those tips), much better than half-open-back PL30. Much much better than the SA* quad-flange earplugs that didn't seal at all hence leaving me with this ear damage, lots of agony and zero compensation.
And when you're outside, what matters most is the seal, isn't it? Without enough seal, the outside noise leaks in, making your earphone sound cheap. You lose lots of bass, too.
I had tried the PL30, and, despite it having a much better sound quality, it cannot be used outdoors at all, because the seal is almost as bad as earbuds. I didn't even bother writing a review for it, because they (PL30 and X3i) are for different purposes.
With my X3i dying (it survived much longer than I thought), I needed a replacement, and chanced upon the metro.fi 150. How will this fare against the X3i?
It sounded cheap. I was hit in the face by the rush of the midrange. Yes, being accustomed to the X3i's lack of midrange means everything else sound cheap or mediocre, and that includes Audio Technica ATH-ESW9.
However, the cheapness went away after a while and I was reminded of what the X3i had sacrificed for its excellent sound signature; the metro.fi 150 has a lot of treble and vocal "in your face", and crisp cymbals with lots of space in comparison.
The fit is good. Very comfortable. It does not feel too tight, yet just enough to get a good seal. I can listen to it for longer hours before getting fatigued.
Bass is not as much as X3i, but not too lacking either.
These opinions are formed when I was listening to it on the bus, with my PSP.
Also, it felt as if it was harder to drive than the X3i as I had to up my volume more.
Further testing - direct comparison against X3i
The amp used this time is the built-in amp of Zhaolu D2.5A. I kicked-started the testing with one of the newer songs that I have, so that I would not hold any prejudice due to being used to the sound.
The metro.fi went first. It was ok, if not quite good actually. Treble reproduction wasn't very clear and midbass was lacking, but that may be due to me being pampered by my Paradigm Atoms. There was definitely a lot of feeling of space, like someone turned on the SRS WOW effect by a bit.
Bass, this time, wasn't lacking. It wasn't powerful, but that can be expected from such an earphone. However, it was controlled and decent.
Now comes the defender, X3i.
I plugged it in, listened for a bit,
And plugged it out.
It sounded muffled. This time, it's the X3i that sounded cheap.
The metro.fi 150 just has a much clearer treble. Also, the bass of the X3i was boomy and muddy.
Strangely, this time both IEMs have a similar amount of apparent bass.
Seal-wise, the X3i has a better seal, though not by much. Perhaps that gave the metro.fi the better soundstage. Also, the metro.fi is more comfortable. And at least it doesn't exhibit the one-side-louder-than-the-other problem that the X3i has.
So I thought the metro.fi is harder to driver than the X3i hence the weakened bass and louder volumes with the PSP, so I tested them on the PSP again to be sure.
I was suprised by the findings. As this time, both have the same amount of bass again.
After listening to the X3i for a while, I realised the reason. Because X3i's bass is boomy and spills over to the mids, I'm guessing it has more of the deep bass than the metro.fi, and over a wider frequency range. In a noisy environment, one would be able to hear this bass louder, hence the perception of more bass and overall louder volume.
Also, X3i has a better seal and that helps.
I'll probably be listening at higher volume levels with the metro.fi due to that, but strangely, I'm not getting ear fatigued as easily. This shows that the sound is good, and X3i's bass is too overpowering. (The sounds that hurt your ear are those you cannot hear)
With better sound quality across almost all aspects (the X3i only "sounds cleaner" and "more warm"), and good performance during outdoor use losing just slightly to the X3i (but the metro.fi still has better overall experience), much better build quality and a similar price tag of $80 (extra $10 for saving the trip to Jaben every 6 months to replace your broken Mylar), the UE metro.fi 150 is total OWNAGE over the previous performance-value champion, the Mylarone series.
(*hack splutter cough cough*)
Good job UE.
Add: I let my brother listen to the two. He used the background music of Patapon as test track, and easily he said the metro.fi is better. And at first he thought the one looking cheap would sound better because I told him both are at the same price lol.
Wonder why these babies aren't popular yet. Perhaps the world is already full of preset opinions. Sometimes people have to open up more or lose out.
At that time, there were PSU calculators that showed much higher wattage numbers (probably dropped from the sky) and encouraged people to buy oversized PSUs.
Now, the blatant lying in PSU wattage ratings has been exposed, thanks to sites (notably SPCR) that stress-test the PSUs to their rated limit and measure actual system and component power consumption. The truth is clear: a decent PSU of modest ratings can handle lots of medium-to-high-power systems. A system with a mid-end graphics card + cpu never takes more than 200W.
The move was good; previously manufacturors could overrate their products because the user would believe that the product failed due to their systems indeed drawing too much power, now they are forced to produce PSUs that do withstand the torture.
So all is well and cheery? Well not to everyone.
I have seen a few cases of people buying underpowered PSUs and then selling them due to being unable to sustain their rigs. And more cases of people thinking that an underpowered PSU would be able to support a system on forums.
Why the reverse?
When people read somewhere that the system only measure 300W, then they recommend a 300W PSU. Or maybe 400W. But it will never be adequate.
1) The more problematic mistake would be not looking at the seperate power ratings on the different voltage rails, most importantly, +12V. Because bulk of high-power draw comes from here. The +3.3V and +5V, I can never imagine more than 50W coming from it.
So lets take 50W from +3.3V and +5V rails combined. That leaves 250W from the +12V. Now, find me a 300W PSU that has 250W from the +12V rail.
Manufacturors knew they were getting busted on the false ratings, so they needed to have real ratings, yet have a nice big number on the packaging. So they have lots of wattage on the +3.3V and +5V (which, btw, is most usually true), and very little on the +12V. Any failure due to an underpowered PSU will be blamed on the user not reading the fine print carefully.
2) So now we have PSUs that are both solid and have lots of amperage on the +12V, and I have a 400W PSU that has 300W on +12V. So now what's the problem here?
Well, firstly, you would not want to run anything at or near its limits for long, not especially for a product that is known to deteriorate over time. Plus, any sudden huge power draw (like spinning up a harddisk - this eats a lot of power - while gaming) is going to force a shutdown.
Running a PSU near its limit has another side effect - your system is going to have a tornado inside. The fan is going to spin at near its limit, too.
Secondly, though less importantly, is cross-loading. Cross-loading is about having too much load on one rail while not having much on the rest (quite strangely for the name of the term). The result is voltage going out of spec, either more or less. Most PSUs today can handle this quite well in normal circumstances, but not all can do it perfect at the max rating of any rail. I myself have seen a PSU that die and got replaced multiple times due to too little power draw on the +12V.
It may be a small problem, but everything adds up.
My guideline is to have the system draw around half of the PSU's max rating, personally I prefer less but some may like more due to the better efficiency it gives on certain lines of PSU. (However, I have noticed that more and more higher-power PSUs are having their optimal efficiency at loads much less than half of maximum rating, suggesting that they are building a PSU that is optimized to lower power loads, but it is also solid enough to withstand more power. This is a good move for most people with low-power-draw system, but bad for the hardcores and does not reflect good on the product)
Hence, for a system that draws 300W, I'd give it around 600W on +12V, which gives us...
A 700W-800W PSU.
Aren't we back to where we first started off?
Only except this time, we can be darn sure that our PSU is not going to blow up anytime soon.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This guy obviously never looked at schematics before.
Well, first thing, I always thought there is always only one type of rectification process commonly found in consumer PSUs. (Or is there even another?) Diodes, in full-bridge or half-bridge, or perhaps vacuum tube, which is a form of diode when used in this way. Rectification is converting AC to DC anyway, nothing to do with regulating, or fixing the DC output voltage.
Switched-mode and linear power supplies differ in their voltage regulation method. I won't go into details... but google for PWM and it's easy to understand.
And, since when is the small, efficient SMPS less sophisticated than the big, bulky, inefficient, hot, linear-regulated power supply? It's possible to build a linear power supply from scratch, try that with a SMPS. Nobody use SMPS with audio stuff anyway due to the switching noise issue mentioned above, but the good part of SMPS is that you can build a PSU that supplies 500W and weighs less than just the transformer of a linear PSU that supplies 50. But I digress.
This quote is found on the website of a "respectable reviewer". No serious audio person find that reviewer serious anyway, so I'm not here to find faults with it. The not so serious people who believe whatever this website says, well, they belong to an entirely different market group (like iPod vs iRiver), and we need this kind of people to keep the industry making big buc... I mean barely sustain.
Add: I'm amazed that the second page of the review actually has a part titled "Why SLA (sealed lead-acid) battery". His (the reviewer's) experience with a UPS has somewhat left him ho-hum about SLA batteries in general. Even market leaders like APC and Belkin, their SLA batteries last about 3 years at best, under 2 years on average.
He didn't ask why even the market leaders use SLA batteries in their UPSes. He should have.
And so after some research, he found that, under the strengths of SLA:
(5) ability to maintain potential voltage under load
(amazingly he put it under the 5th point out of 6)
Duh! That's the reason why they're still being used today. In more commonly-heard phrases, it is "able to supply large amounts of current" due to "low internal resistence". I mean, it can start your car. Try starting a car with NiMH batteries. If they don't explode before that.
He also forgot about the weaknesses that it's fucking huge and heavy and hence inconvenient, low energy density (low amount of stored charge for its size), kill themselves over time (as the electrolyte evaporate), liquid corrosive and gas toxic plus causes acid rain, environmently unfriendly. Then why are we still using this piece-o'-crap which is like the first rechargable battery invented in 1859? Reason above. And a strong enough one - to date, no other battery type can come close to the 100A that they can produce. You can get 100A by connecting lots of batteries in parallel, but that would be too expensive and too hot.
And he stilled asked another company representative to confirm that SLA is the best choice for this application.
Maybe his brain has been damaged by music. Or maybe his ears are thinking for him. "Trust your ears", it is.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Creative X-Fi Elite Pro
Now when people say that the Xonar is much better-sounding for music I can totally understand.
Somebody should join Creative and produce a card good for both gaming and music. Onkyo X-Fi, maybe?
Or maybe hi-fi really isn't part of Creative's market. Seeing how their own $5,000 system is so close to their T3. T3 is worth close to $5,000/The $5,000 system is worth $5,000, one of them has to be lying. Or both.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Looks like I won't be giving up on the D3 just yet.
I realized my review of the D2.5A vs D3 wasn't ever finished. But that's not stopping me from writing this post.
For a few times I AB-ed between the D2.5A and D3 and the D2.5A constantly won. I decided to do it again today, with the same result, but with one more important observation:
There are people saying that the CS4398 chip is warmer. And then there are people saying that the AD1852 chip is warmer. They are both correct. So are the people saying that CS/AD has better bass and highs.
The conflicting accounts is due to different perception of warmth, good bass, and good highs.
With the AD1852 of the D2.5A, the sound is more mellow, laid-back. Some may refer to this as warm. With the CS4398 of the D3, the sound is more forward, there are more mids, and it sounds fuller also. Hence also warm.
And hence "warm" is an excuse of an answer to hide the fact that one doesn't have good enough hearing to listen out for specific qualities in audio, or to convince oneself that his system is good. ("Warm" is usually associated with good sound, as opposed to "cold")
Back to AD vs CS, this time the highs. The AD chip seems to have more a higher-reaching highs and more space compared to the CS chip which is more crowded. After a few listenings and some thinking I realized that it's the CS chip that has better highs instead. The AD, because of the more laid-back character, has some of the highs not able to be heard, and hence the feeling of a lower noise-floor, separation, greater extension, and more space. Up the 4-8khz spectrum on the AD chip a bit, and it sounds uncanningly similar to the CS, but still rather constipated. The CS just has too much detail compared to the AD. And this cannot be gotten back via equalization.
And so you realize that certain simlar reasoning can be used to explain the bass performance. Yup, because the AD chip has less mids, the bass sounds more and cleaner and extends more, but the CS chip has more impactful bass. Reason? The hitting (or tight) part of the bass spreads out over a range of frequencies in the mids, reaching above 125hz which would be crossover point for bass in a decent system (or 300hz for the not-so-decent, but never mind it reaches past that too).
Ignoring the sonic differences, the CS4398 is undoubtly the better of the two. But I'm guessing more people (including me) would prefer the AD's more musical character. The CS chip would be good for producing and monitoring though.
Onto the performance in the DACs and setup, taking into consideration the difference between the two DACs. The AD, having the OPA-Earth HDAM, has a big advantage. Else it wouldn't have been able to compete with the CS chip on the highs. So for a while I was hoping that with the OPA-Earth I might get the best of both worlds with the D3 - musical sound that is full of detail.
But one thing suggests that to be impossible. Because of the mids, the CS4398 sounds very constipated especially with a poor recording. It sounds muffled, the rusty-grainy-loud-high-frequency kind. The AD is also muffled, but the laid-back-gagged-in-the-mouth kind. The latter is definitely more pleasing. This is the CS4398's natural sound, because I didn't have any op-amp at the output this time round, and the OPA627 is fairly transparent. I remember what happened when I replaced my LM4562 with the OPA-Earth: sound is brought more forward, soundstage is flatter, not good in terms of space. And I'm not the only person with this observation. The ones that do not are the fanboys.
Hmm... maybe I should try back the LM4562s.
That means, if I try the OPA-Earth with the CS4398 D3, I'm going to get even more constipated sound. Since they will definitely amplify this weakness of each other.
That may explain why the modded (Zapfilter, OMZ) Zhaolus are better with the AD chip. Or sound better. Since they are all using discrete op-amp output.
So the modded chips "sound" good because of reasons stated above. Whether that is good or bad, you make the decision.
But I'll never be going to spend USD$599 on the OMZ.
The Zhaolu D3 is definitely a good DAC. At stock it's definitely worth the money ($299 in MO). It has a lot of performance, performing even somewhat close to the next-higher-class DACs. But it is sunk by the fact that it uses the CS4398 chip that sacrifices too much musical qualities for the details. What we need the next level is musical qualities + details, hence the Citypulse 2.03E using discrete output. In the meantime, look for an op-amp that will make the D3 sound more musical yet not remove it of its details (sorry no OPA-Moon here, if you're reading this. You know who I'm talking to).
Maybe LM4562 will make its reappearance.
The full name is Musume Dancing Visualizer. Comes with the eroge むすめ～か～'s opening single むすめいく！ -musumake- by MOSAIC.WAV
Pictures below are from the trial version, it doesn't have Karin and Ichigo.
You can download the trial version from here. For those that do not understand Japanese and hence are saved from the Anime realm's evil, don't worry here is the direct link.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
"If you look at Charlize's competitors, they are mostly built using thru hole components rather than surface mounted components. What's the big deal you may ask? It's not a big deal if you love a higher noise floor. You see, we build using the more difficult-to-handle surface mounted components for sonic reasons and not for ease of manufacturing."
...except that no part of your product is surface-mounted. Even the amp chip is thru hole.
Good job marketing department, for criticizing your own product.
Original article here
So this thing costs ~USD$1000. Lets take a loog at what's inside.
This still looks uite okay, because of the transformers. But there's still some space that can be shaved.
There's a good reason why they want a close-up of the amplifier module. To make it look cool, well yea. With something so small if you don't zoom in there won't be anything left.
And what's with the Tripath logo on the chip?
Yes, this thing is using a Class-T amp! Class-T is a variant of Class-D, or switching amp.
If you are the high-class owner of this amp, I can understand why you're feeling this pain in your chest now and reaching for the heart-attack medicine.
But relax, according to 6moons here, the $39 Sonic Impact T-Amp using a Tripath chip sounds like a $3200 integrated would be unparalleled even for $390. Hey wait, the Charlize amplifier costs $340. And it uses the same or better chip. So who's lying?
BTW most China T-Amps can sound better than the Sonic Impact just from the looks of the internals alone. (You guys believe in looks, right?) But I'm not talking about this today.
So you've look at the inards. Now I'll mention their pricing again. It's $300 for the DAC, $430 for the volume control, and $340 for the amp.
Minus off the actual working components inside, how much does the wood cost?
The seller (DIY Paradise) is also willing to sell the modules separately, at $135, $260 and $110 respectively. So you can roughly calculate the cost of the wood, plus assembly. I am positive that the PCB module comes with all the components; I wouldn't spend $135 on an empty PCB.
This is not the first. The more famous one would have to be the Grado RA-1 headphone amplifier. This product is famous, good-branded, and well-known for the performance and quality and has received lots of positive reviews.
(Picture taken from diyaudioprojects.com)
Here is a totally unrelated link to nowhere
So, still got any consumer confidence left? I know Singaporeans have high consumer confidence compared to the rest of the world and even during the global recession, but you still shouldn't waste your money.
Also, making wood expensive is a good move to save trees and reduce global warming. You have to admit that the makers are eco-conscious. But then they shouldn't have even used wood in the first place. Oh wait, it's classy, so it makes it sound good, right?
Amazing, my blog actually lasted that long. And I got IMHO quite a good number of total clicks. Not a lot compared to most blogs out there, but pretty good enough for such a blog.
Thanks and have another good year ahead.
It also became apparent that I spent too much on audio in the last year since I became an audiophile not too long ago lol.
ADD: Forgot to mention this is the 101th post too! That is, including all the drafts that were supposed to be up but haven't make it.