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A (relative) newbie's quandary


Hailey
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Ok, I have some stuff...and it doesn't sound quite the way I wish it would. So my question is...am I asking too much?

 

A little background. I listen to classical. My live reference standard is Boston's Symphony Hall. My reference recording is the BSO's in-house release of Wagner's Tannhauser Overture and Silbelius' 2nd Symphony (24/96 FLAC). Not only is this a great performance of a demanding orchestral work, but it's a marvelous recording, and captures a singular characteristic of Symphony Hall's acoustics...an effervescence that I can identify in a heartbeat.

 

So it's the perfect reference recording for me because not only do I know what it can sound like, I know what it should sound like.

 

Which brings me to my gear.

 

Circumstances force me onto headphones right now, which simplifies things--no room treatment issues to consider. I've been alternating between two sets of headphones--Sennheiser 700, and Fostex/Massdrop TH-X00.

 

They're driven by a Benchmark DAC2 HGC.

 

The Benchmark uses a Signal Cable digital power cable and a Pangea Audio USB cable.

 

The USB cable is attached to a 2014 Mac Mini. I've installed a solid state drive.

 

Both the Mac and the Benchmark are plugged into a Shuntaya Hydra Model 6. The Shuntaya uses a Shuntaya Cobra power cable.

 

1014415852047e12869d17781835c651.jpg

 

Ok so that's my setup.

 

Ok, first what I like.

 

I think I love the Fostex. They're just involving. Fun, in a way. If I were a recording engineer, I'd go with the Sennheiser, but for simple listening, it feels like homework. I feel detached from the music in a way I don't with the Fostex.

 

And I'm really impressed with the Fostex soundstage. With this recording, they place you a foot or two behind the conductor's podium. With another in-house BSO release, Brahms' German Requiem conducted by James Levine, I'm a bit further back...perhaps floor center sixth row. Different recording engineer, perhaps different microphone placement, and the Fostex presents it beautifully.

 

Another thing I like: I do get a taste of Symphony Hall's acoustics. The decay after the final chord in the Wagner--I know that decay so well, and it gave me shivers to hear it reproduced so...specifically...with my little pile of gear.

 

Ok, what I don't like.

 

Pretty much everything else. The music sounds...for lack of a better word "clotted"...in dense orchestration. And Symphony Hall does not produced clotted sound...ever. Lighter orchestration is reasonably satisfying but just lacks the "snap, crackle, pop" that makes music, music.

 

Ok, I suspect some upgrades are in order. But with so many variables (far fewer, though, if we had to include room acoustics), I'm at a loss as to where to start. I picked up a second-hand Regen USB this week and I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of effect that might have.

 

I'm also planning to swap out the power supply on the Mac Mini for a linear PSU.

 

But, quite honestly, I have no idea what I'm doing.

 

If you've read this far, well, thanks for sticking out. Any and all suggestions grateful heard!

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Cool.

 

Audirvana: Have you tried tweaking Preferences > Audio Filters > Forced Upsampling?

 

Not heard the TH-X00 but have tried the Fostex TH900. Fun with chamber music, jazz and female vocals. But, for a 'grander' symphonic performance, perhaps:

 

Senn HD800: Very resolving, fast, (relatively) neutral freq response. Projects one of the nicest head-stages in head-fi. But has a 6kHz hot spot that may come across as being sharp with some recordings.

Senn HD800S: Apparently addresses the 6kHz peak with little compromise. Thinking of getting one.

Audeze LCD-3: Big sound, sweet mids backed by a solid bottom-end. Perhaps not as resolving/wide open as the 800, but detailed nevertheless.

Audeze LCD-X: LCD-3-ish, does not require an overly muscular amp to bring out its best.

 

Incidentally, a 800 + HDVD800 amp pairing sounds pretty good for classical. However, an Audeze LCD-3, partnered with a Woo Audio WA22 amp, presents an interesting viewpoint as well.

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3 suggestions:

 

1) Tweak Audirvana and see if it makes a (good) difference.

 

2) Check out the trial version of HQPlayer to find out if DSD up-sampling works for you.

 

3) Treat yourself to some head-fi audition sessions. Lug your stuff to a dealership or three to test headphone options. In this case, the Mini + DAC + TH-X00. Make few appointments, drop in, plug in and listen to your ref recordings.

 

a. Audition other reputable headphones first.

 

b. If 2 or 3 headphone swaps still leave you wanting, make a request to the dealer to hook up one or two decent headphone amplifiers to your head-fi chain.

 

c. Test the amplifier with your TH-X00 first.

 

d. You may also wish to test other headphone + amplifier combos.

 

At the very least, answering your original question should be both enlightening and fun.

 

Cheers.

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My live reference standard is Boston's Symphony Hall. My reference recording is the BSO's in-house release of Wagner's Tannhauser Overture and Silbelius' 2nd Symphony (24/96 FLAC). Not only is this a great performance of a demanding orchestral work, but it's a marvelous recording, and captures a singular characteristic of Symphony Hall's acoustics...an effervescence that I can identify in a heartbeat.

Sorry to go OT, but where did you obtain a 24/96 recording of that performance?

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

- Einstein

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3 suggestions:

 

1) Tweak Audirvana and see if it makes a (good) difference.

 

2) Check out the trial version of HQPlayer to find out if DSD up-sampling works for you.

 

3) Treat yourself to some head-fi audition sessions. Lug your stuff to a dealership or three to test headphone options. In this case, the Mini + DAC + TH-X00. Make few appointments, drop in, plug in and listen to your ref recordings.

 

a. Audition other reputable headphones first.

 

b. If 2 or 3 headphone swaps still leave you wanting, make a request to the dealer to hook up one or two decent headphone amplifiers to your head-fi chain.

 

c. Test the amplifier with your TH-X00 first.

 

d. You may also wish to test other headphone + amplifier combos.

 

At the very least, answering your original question should be both enlightening and fun.

 

Cheers.

 

Good suggestion. Thanks!

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Cool.

 

Audirvana: Have you tried tweaking Preferences > Audio Filters > Forced Upsampling?

 

Not heard the TH-X00 but have tried the Fostex TH900. Fun with chamber music, jazz and female vocals. But, for a 'grander' symphonic performance, perhaps:

 

Senn HD800: Very resolving, fast, (relatively) neutral freq response. Projects one of the nicest head-stages in head-fi. But has a 6kHz hot spot that may come across as being sharp with some recordings.

Senn HD800S: Apparently addresses the 6kHz peak with little compromise. Thinking of getting one.

Audeze LCD-3: Big sound, sweet mids backed by a solid bottom-end. Perhaps not as resolving/wide open as the 800, but detailed nevertheless.

Audeze LCD-X: LCD-3-ish, does not require an overly muscular amp to bring out its best.

 

Incidentally, a 800 + HDVD800 amp pairing sounds pretty good for classical. However, an Audeze LCD-3, partnered with a Woo Audio WA22 amp, presents an interesting viewpoint as well.

 

Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out.

 

Have you listened to the Senn. HD-700s? How do they compare to the 800s?

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The "poor man's" planers are the Oppo PM-3 ($399). I am going to place my order this week. I wonder if they might not bring out the detail (if this is the opposite of the "congestion" you are hearing) during complex passages.

 

You also might try some EQ. I have been playing around with DMG's Equilibrium past couple of weeks and if used judicially it really can clean things up if your headphones/speakers have weak spots...

Hey MQA, if it is not all $voodoo$, show us the math!

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Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out.

 

Have you listened to the Senn. HD-700s? How do they compare to the 800s?

 

+1 for the HD800. Hard to find something better for classical music. Open and incredibly detailed.

 

The HD700 are in a fully different league, not comparable to the HD800.

 

Haven't tried the HD800s yet (to scared I may end up trading in my HD800).

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If you like rich, detailed orchestral imaging you might consider the Grado Reference series, or even the 325s. Terrific mid-range and instrumental separation.

 

I'll check that out. Thanks

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