An Autonomous Agent

exploring the noosphere

Category: DAC

TEAC UD-501, Sennheiser HD 650, Audiophile Linux

UPDATE (2016-Feb-01):
Upgraded from HD 650 to HD 800. Now in audiophile heaven. Also, added SOtM internal USB port with SOtM SATA In-Line power filter.
I recently switched my computer’s audio system from the Objective2 Amplifier and ObjectiveDAC (a good low-cost set-up) to the TEAC USB AUDIO DAC UD-501. I connected the TEAC to a spare laptop running Audiophile Linux. Listening with Sennheiser’s HD 650 headphones, the system playing native DSD albums sounds remarkable. All instruments and vocals are crystal clear and superbly smooth. It’s the way music was meant to be heard.
DSD is the future of music — beautiful high quality audio. With a well produced DSD album, it sounds as if you are at the recording studio with the artist. Granted that a typical DSD album can be around 2-4 GB, it is rather disappointing that people seem to prefer poor quality MP3 recordings playing on low quality DAC chips in iPods and cell phones. NOTE: If you want a portable option, see the Geek Wave. An MP3 album is less than half the cost of a DSD album, but it is also less than half the quality IMO. I don’t think many people are aware of how amazing DSD quality music played back with professional quality electronics can sound. Since we live in a time where hard drives in the 2-4 TB range are rather cheap, I hope that consumers begin to demand that music producers focus on providing high fidelity music.

Headphone Amp

About a year ago I purchased the Sennheiser HD 598 headphones. I have been listening to music with them through my Onkyo TX-SR604. The quality seems decent and I love the sound on the HD 598 (great for vocals and that hi range). However, the potential for a better listening experience has convinced me to try hardware devoted to headphone amplification versus the standard headphone output on the Onkyo. Rather than selling the Onkyo, I will take advantage of its DAC abilities to convert digital signals to analog. Thus, my loss-less FLAC audio collection and the HD audio on YouTube should sound pretty good with an amplifier.

In search of a high quality headphone amplifier I found the following:

Qinpu – A-6000 MKII – Integrated /Headphone Amplifier
Amazon link and reviews

Matrix M-Stage
Amazon link and reviews

Woo Audio WA3
Official Website of WA3

(the name is like the molecule oxygen)
JDS Labs – O2

First, the Qinpu and Woo Audio WA3 are both tube amplifiers. Since I didn’t know much about amplifiers I thought tubes were cool. However, upon further investigation I found that they may not be the best way to go. Apparently they “add color” to the sounds they reproduce. The WA3 is a little pricey ($495 at the date of writing) while the Qinpu is a little better in pricing (around $280). After reading some reviews (head-fi WA3 review) of the WA3 on the Internet and finding a like-new one for sale on Ebay for $350 I was intent on buying it. As my luck died, the WA3 was sold before I made up my mind. Looking at the Qinpu on the Internet I found various reviews. The Amazon reviewers seemed very impressed and happy with there purchase. However, it was at this point that I discovered the Matrix M-Stage.

The Matrix M-Stage Amplifier has some great reviews (check Amazon and head-fi).  I was sold on this amplifier.  Up until today I was going to buy the M-Stage. But when I looked once more for headphone amplifiers I came across the O2.

The O2 was recommended for the HD 598 headphone on head-fi in one of the forums. After reading that, I looked for more information on the O2. Here is the webpage of NwAvGuy (the creator of the O2). His webpage also contains a great many other reviews and links for audiophiles. So, I then made my decision to buy this amplifier. The best site I found was Mayflower Electronics, which had a holiday special for the standard version of the O2. I bought the O2 for $115.
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