Phones > Digital Out > DAC/amps

Discussion in 'Portable Audio Sources' started by quadpatch, Oct 21, 2012.

  1. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    I thought that I would write a little bit about the options for using high quality DAC/amps with a smartphone as a transport. Here are the ways I know of to do this, please add to this post you know of any others...

    1). iPhone/iPod doc with digital out. Thing like the Pure i-20 seems like a cheap way to do it (£70) and a nice option if you have speakers as it comes with a remote too! This is cool but generally I was thinking of more portable or transportable options so let's move on to sections 2 & 3).

    2). iPhone to i-device DAC (usually comes with an amp too). Now not any USB DAC will work with the iPhone. Apple control this very carefully and although they allow companies to connect their DACs to the iPhone they do charge a healthy sum of money to unlock the digital Audio stream via the connector. Devices that connect to the iPhone are things like the HRT iStreamer - although I'm not too keen on this one due to it's audio quality vs price and the utterly horrible and inconvenient cable/power set up. Proper fully portable options make way more sense. Things like: Fostex HP-P1 (£500 - DAC/amp), Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo (£500 - DAC), V-Moda VAMP (£500? - DAC/amp), VentureCraft Go-DAP 4.0 (from $365 - DAC/amp). This last one is essentially what the V-Moda VAMP is based on and both of these only support the iPhone 4 (not iPods). I think there may be a couple more i-device DACs out there, but these are the main ones.

    3). Android phones: Not all Android phones support digital audio out via USB so it's a bit of a mine field. Some work, but need to be rooted and the OS updated, some only support a special Android digital audio out even if they are rooted (which not all DACs support). Now for the good news: Some work out-of-the-box and with standard USB Audio too. Tyll did an article on innerfidelity about the 'Meizu MX 4-core' which sounded great, but you have to order this from China, it uses a special version of the Android OS (and a special player too I think). This is not going to be the most slick option. Then someone contacted me via my blog to let me know that some Samsung phones now work like this too! So far the only ones that I know about are the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note II. I have ordered the Note II and it arrives tomorrow (hopefully) so I will report back when I have tried this out myself. So far I'm only aware of this being done on the Asian versions, hopefully this is not something that's disabled on the European ones - watch this space...

    Android phones and USB DACs

    As for Windows phones, blackberry's etc. I'm not sure, if anyone knows of any options please leave a comment.
     
  2. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    I just got the Galaxy Note II and the USB OTG cable and.... it works! Instant portable DAC and amp. It seems to need to be independently powered, but it just works. No settings to fiddle with at all. The phone's volume still works so I guess it's not bit-perfect but oh well. So far I have tried it with the Epiphany Acoustics EHP-O2D. I have yet to try it with the Yulong DACs (that's the only other powered DACs I have here). I heard that the Fiio E17 wont work, but I can't test that because the battery is dead on mine atm anyway :(.
     
  3. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    If the player volume works out to the digital port to the DAC, then in principle that doesn't seem much different than Apple devices whose EQ settings work on the digital out (even though the volume doesn't). With Apple devices and EQ, there's a noticeable hesitation when EQ is switched on and off, as though data buffers come into play so the dithering(?) can act smoothly without glitches. Just a guess. So apparently you have some dithering for volume in the player, and I wonder if setting the volume to maximum reduces the dithering to zero or some insignificant amount. I wonder how the sound quality is with the player volume at max and the DAC/amp volume adjusted to listening level, compared to setting the volume higher on the DAC/amp and reducing the player volume. The latter case should produce the worst sound, yes? BTW, the way the tone controls work on Foobar2000 is the same as how they work on the Apple devices, although in Foobar the volume works too.
     
  4. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    I tried your suggestion of changing the volume on each and yes having the volume in the phone set to 100% is the best option. I noticed that I can also effect the EQ and thank god because I am playing with the M100s at the moment and for me these headphones need a lot of EQ'ing to sound ok. They are half way between recessed mids and just dark. It's really quite pronounced, but EQ does fix it ok.

    Anyway. I tried the Fiio E17 and the stories of it not working are unfortunately true. That's a shame because that would have been a neat portable solution. The Yulong U100 also does not work (haven't tried the D100 mkII yet).
     
  5. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I was really warming up to the idea of getting the M100, and now I'm worried.

    BTW, stories of the E17 not working? Not working at all?
     
  6. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    I won't say much more about the m100s for now. I will carefully work on the review for the next couple of weeks and give them a lot more time to sink in. I gave them to the wife and she likes the rolled off high freqencies but when I showed her them with and without EQ she described without as 'muffled'.

    The E17 does not work at all with Android I'm afraid. Something hardware related I think, it will only work with a computer for some reason. Oh well, will have to wait for the Fiio DAP (x3?) For some portable audio DAC goodness :p
     
  7. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I feel lost now. I don't remember where my impressions came from, but I was under the distinct impression that the M100 had a more proper hi-fi treble than the M80 (which is slightly recessed), and a fuller, stronger bass than the M80 that's clean and doesn't compromise the mids at all. So have you compared directly to the M80, or is that comparison even possible?

    With the E17, you apparently mean as a real USB DAC? If so, I wouldn't be too concerned. As a real USB computer DAC, I don't think it's significantly better than running off a iphone4's LOD. And as a USB DAC, the sound quality is far below the Headstreamer ($135 USD), the Audioengine D1 ($165), and the Dragonfly ($250).
     
  8. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    BTW, on another "hot tip" I've been looking at the ATH ES10, direct Japan import. So far I'm not buying due to uncertainty about the sound, and to a lesser extent the serviceability.
     
  9. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    Yeah that's pretty much what I was expecting too, but that's not what I am hearing. I have tried it against the M80 briefly and my impression of that holds firm as a great sound.

    I'm not keen on the Headstreamer myself and I found the E17 a little better than the iPhone 4, but my phone doesn't sound as good as the iPhone 4 straight so I was secretly hoping the E17 would work. Unfortunately none of those other DACs will work either, at least not easily. I am going to try some kind of USB power splitter to get the rPAC (and others) working, will report back next week when I can source the cables.

    I got the Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC (O2 DAC) and then plugged that into a battery powered headphone amp and that worked great, but my battery powered headphone amp is not fantastic (Shonyun 306).

    Another little feather in the cap of the Galaxy Note II, is that it will play Apple audio, including Apple lossless (although this could be the Power Amp app more than the phone's compatibility). I wouldn't want to try FLAC on an iPhone although perhaps similarly there is an app for that.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2012
  10. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    Here's what I found elsewhere and am still trying to correlate:
    "The m80s sound a bit muddy/muffled sounding compared to its m100 big brother. It took a little getting used to the sound considering the better treble response and clear Tight mids and textured bass."

    So I'm wondering now, did the initial impressions of the M100 change, or is the treble still much better than the M80? And in spite of having more bass, is the bass still clear, tight, well controlled or whatever?
     
  11. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    I just checked the two VModa's on my phone and they difference between them there is... well, very different. The M-100 is a more powerful sound but it still has that bass which is just too strong for most music, the M-80 still feels more 'hifi' to me here, even if the fit is more tricky and less comfortable. When I tested the two before it was with the Fostex HP-A8 which has two outputs and that was so much easier! It also sounded more clear / a bit brighter in presentation and more detailed (as you would expect). I heard Val say that the M-100 is better mostly when well amp'd but I always found the M-80 was stunning under good amplification.
     
  12. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    My investigations of the bassier headphones has produced interesting results. The upward increase as the bass gets lower is unusual, the ATH M50 being a good example. That increase is endearing but not ideal, since the sensation of "bass thump" is great at first but eventually becomes annoying. The very large and broad emphasis in the upper bass of the Amperior didn't offend me as it would with a Philips L1 and some other headphones, but the Amperior has been pushed down a couple notches on my favorites list. My current two favorites should be great examples of good but perhaps not ideal bass. The Momentum is sublime - although warmer than ideal (I think), it just delivers a musical presentation that's, well, musical. It needs a treble boost unfortunately, but with that it has a quality much like the Grado PS500 (the PS500 needs an adjustment to the upper bass to suppress a hump there). The ATH ESW9A is better than the Momentum in the lower mids to upper bass, being cleaner and more neutral, but the "bass thump" (for lack of a better term) is noticeable, and I haven't decided whether that will be a long-term issue. Then I might have made things worse by ordering the ATH ES10 from Japan.
     
  13. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    Thanks for your thoughts on this Dale! Those feeling vibe very well with me too. I am still struggling with defining the M-100 for review, so since I have a lot of others to write I am going to focus on those while I continue to test the M-100 in the background.
     
  14. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    I think you've got a method that's going to work well. Instead of working with just one headphone and consequently tuning out the anomalies as you get used to the sound, the change-off to other sounds should help keep everything in perspective. I think that's how the Mahler guy at head-fi produced such a successful review - by considering and weighing everything on the same plate, and just as important, by consulting other reviews to double-check his own impressions.
     
  15. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    Well you can finally see my views on the M-100. I know they said they wont change it for production but I really hope that they do, even if that would leave me with an infamous waste of metal that I could never sell.

    Going back to the original topic for a sec... I tried the Galaxy phone with the Yulong u100, Yulong D100 mkII and the Audiolab M-DAC but none of them work - meh!! I also tried powering the USB DAC/amps separately with no luck so far. Right now I am trying to get my hands on the Sony PHA-1, which I know works with the Samsung phones as well as Apple devices and computers - how cool is that?!!
     
  16. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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    In my struggles with the iStreamer, I realized it was ridiculous in the end - a lot of extra cables, devices, power supplies - all to get inferior sound. The DACs that go straight in with their own power like the Fostex etc. make some sense for home use, but Val's Vamp makes the most sense for a portable on-the-go.
     
  17. quadpatch

    quadpatch New Member

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    Agreed! I don't think we will ever see something like that for Android unfortunately - too many different shapes. I'm not sure that I am that bothered about fine details on the move though, there is often so much background noise that it isn't worth it. I kinda like the idea of something easily transportable and fairly small that can run from the phone. If I can get better quality that way then all the better. Something that I can throw in a bag and take with me to work or on holiday etc.
     
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