Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Grado RS-1

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A few years back I never imagine I will ever have a pair of headphone as good and as expensive as the Grado RS-1. Now it is my favorite headphone! I have tried other good headphones, but so far it is still my favorite.

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There are quite a lot of reviews of the Grado RS-1, so I'm not gonna repeat it here. I just would like to share my opinions, my own words, of how it sounds to my ears.

RS-1 is one of the very high-end headphone that can easily be driven by even a cheap single AAA battery MP3 player, or a Notebook PC. It's 32 ohm impedance is really user friendly. My Creative MuVo N200 MP3 sounds best with Grado RS-1 :D

And how does it sounds? To me:
1. Very fast and dynamic. For those who likes fast music, hard hitting bass, will love it.
2. Very detailed. It's speed makes it sounds very detailed, it will reveal any subtle detail sound from any music material.
3. Excellent Bass. Maybe one of the best, nothing more to say.
4. Lovely midrange, warm, detailed, and full of emotion for vocal.
5. Bright high tones. This might not suit all. For some people it may sounds to bright. For me, the brightness level is on the level that I can still enjoy. Any brighter it will gives me ears fatique. It is also depend on what's drives it. If it is paired with a good headphone amplifier that match it's characteristic, it will be very enjoyable.
6. Staging, it will bring you very close with the singer, like you are on the stage with him/her. Excellent sound stage / stereo image, not the far-distance type (like Senns), but the close-distance one.

I would say RS-1 goes very well with all type of music, classical comes alive, singer sounds lively, and the hard hitting bass explode to it's full power. It is a very emotional headphone, not the analytical one. But bad metallic recording CD, doesn't goes well with it. If you have metallic recording CDs, go get sennheiser or beyerdynamic. For those audiophile recordings, RS-1 sounds beautifully.

At the end, Grado RS-1 is an excellent sounding classical look headphone. I think to get this level of sound fidelity with any speaker system, we might need to spend 10 times or more, the price of an RS-1.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Creative MuVo N200

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Creative MuVo N200 (1Gb version)

I have this small player for more than 9 months now. A pretty small wonder. So far I'm satisfied with this player in general. I still wish some changes though ;) I will cover it later.

This review might be outdated, but hopefully still usefull for those who is looking for second hand MP3 player.

I had a 'not responding player' problem at the first time, but solved with firmware upgrade. So don't forget to upgrade firmware if you buy it. Actually I did upgrade the firmware twice, the first one to solve the problem mentioned above, the second time was to solve FM radio problem. Now it is working as it should :)

As an MP3 or WMA player, this small player performs very well. Overall sound is good for such a small player. Some people said it sounds better than iPod, but I don't think so. It sounds about the same as iPod when playing MP3 (320 kbps, I didn't try WMA). But it offers more functions than iPod (Line In recording, FM radio, FM recording, & voice recording) ^_^

The sound quite neutral, the bass a bit weak and less punchy. But it is compared to my Panasonic PCDP SL-CT810. For a player powered with 1xAAA battery, I have no complaint, just boost the bass a bit with it's custom equalizer (yes it has custome eq), then the bass sounds pretty decent (bigger but still less puchy).

The midrange and treble is fine, neutral and enjoyable, pretty good for such a tiny player.

The supplied earphone is average quality, weak bass, a bit dull treble, with a bit dominant midrange. But quite listenable and neutral. Anyway, I never use the supplied earphone anyway. I use this N200 with my other headphones (Sony MDR-E888, Audio Technica ATH-EW9, Grado RS-1).

I like the way they create the menu, it is simple and fast enough for a player with one line display and only a few buttons. No problem with it, I didn't even read the manual to operate all the functions.

The Line In recording is amazing. The quality is very good, with selectable MP3 bit rate: 96 kbps, 128 kbps, and 160 kbps (the highest).

The FM radio do the auto scan very fast, and the FM quality is good. A very nice feature (compare to iPod :p )

The FM recording is just average, not high quality, ADPCM format (.WAV) 16 kHz 4 bit, fixed. This is something that should be improved to MP3 format recording.

The voice recording is my only complaint, ADPCM format (.WAV) 8 kHz 4 bit, fixed. Poor quality voice recording, sounds muffle, good enough to record personal note, not good enough to record lecture, when the lecturer is a few meters away from the recorder. Only sufficient for close distance recording. I really wish Creative would improve it with MP3 format recording.

I wish Creative will give a higher quality FM and voice recording, make it the same quality and format as the line in recording.

The battery seems last long enough, still full after a few hours listening. When the battery show less than full, it seems that after I let it off for a few hours, the battery will recover some power, and it sometime shows full again. I guess it is a normal behaviour of Alkaline Battery.

Compare with iPod shuffle, this player is more expensive (around SGD 300.- for the 1 Gb. I bought slightly less :P ), but offers more function, and....DISPLAY..... Yes 'DISPLAY'... I can't imagine people can live with MP3 player without display.....

With 1 Gb memory (around 994 Mb usable) I can store around 7-8 CD albums in 320 kbps MP3 quality ^_^ Good enough for me.

Recommended mini player, for those looking for flash base (more durable than harddisk), very light and small audio player. And don't forget the AAA battery, that means you don't have to worry about the 'end of life' of those propietary Li-Ion Battery in a few years down the road ;)

Things I wish to be improved by Creative (for this model, or the next small player in this category):
1. More capacity please, 2 or 4 Gb would be nice.
2. MP3 format for FM and voice recording.
3. Supports Lossless format like 'WMA Lossless', FLAC, & 'MP4 Lossless'.
4. Proven and Tested Firmware before they launched the product.

Note:

Firmware upgrade to version 1.16.02 gave some improvement, espescially to the volume. With previous firmware the max volume was 35, and I ussually has to set to 32-33 for normal listening level on the street (noise environment with 'clip on' headphone). With new firmware 1.16.02, the max level now 25, and I just need to set it to 17-18 to get the same listening level on the street. So the volume is significantly louder now :) "Recommended upgrade".

Creative has launch new version of this MuVo N200, now it is called Zen Nano Plus. Not sure if there is any different in features. The available capacity are still the same 512Mb and 1Gb. I wish to have more capacity with this tiny player :D

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Flavors of Audio Op-Amps

Personal experience I would like to share with those who into audio electronics DIY.

It is actually an old thread I started last year (2004) in Sgheadphones. When I saw it has been viewed more then 4600 times (by September 2005), I think it is good to share it here as well. And this is the Original Thread.

Cheers!
Bram
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Flavors of Audio Op-Amps


I was looking for audio Op-Amp that suit my ears, so I decided to test a few well known audio Op-Amps from Burr-Brown (OPAs) and Analog Devices (ADs).

Amplifier : 'My Modified Pimeta Clone' DIY HeadAmp
Source and Headphone : Panasonic PCDP SL-CT810 and Grado RS-1
CDs : Ultimate Demonstration Disc from Chesky Records, Women of Song from Chesky, Best of Audiophile Voices, Jennifer Warnes – The Hunter, and some other CDs.

So, I tested them with bright, lively sounding, and very revealing headphone. And for my taste of music, vocal is very important. I like thick and warmth midrange.

There is no exact measurement to describe how audio equipments sound. All measurements are subject to personal taste, so this Op-Amp comparison is only a sharing of my experience with those Op-Amps, with hope there will be readers benefit from it.

My Opinions:

AD8620
Very bright and lively sounding Op-Amp. The treble sounds a bit too dominant. Very good detail and imaging. I love the transient and impact of the AD8620. My only complain with this Op-Amp is the treble, a little bit too sharp, and the color tends to the metallic sound.

The good : Bright, very good detail, lively sounding, the most transparent sounding so far.
The bad : Treble can be sharp and harsh with bright headphones.

Application: Not to be paired with bright headphones. You might get ears fatigue. Probably good for Senns, but not for Grado. I still can enjoy it with my RS-1 though, but only for certain recordings. Very good detail and resolution will reveal recordings flaw. So, this Op-Amp is only for good recordings.

OPA2604
Sweet, but veiled sounding Op-Amp. It’s sounds the other way of AD8610. Not bright, veiled, with poor detail. There is no way you will get ears fatigue with this Op-Amp, but you might get bored. It is not a lively sounding Op-Amp. It is not bad, it has a nice color of sound, just a bit mellow with strong Burr Brown’s laid back signature. Some people might like it.

The good : Sweet, warm, never sound offensive, good for long hour easy listening.
The bad : Poor detail, veiled, mellow, far from lively.

Application:
To be paired with very bright and lively sound headphones. For those who like long hour easy listening, this Op-Amp might be the choice. As it will hide many details, it might be good to listen poor recording with this Op-Amp.

OPA2228
Very nice natural sounding Op-Amp. I like its treble. Not too bright, just nice. It has the laid back Burr Brown sound, but light not as strong as the OPA2604. It is not very bright and lively, but not heavily veiled either. For Senns it might sounds analytical, but for the lively sounding Grado, it makes the Grado sounds well controlled. I can use this Op-Amp for a long hour listening with Grado without getting ears fatigue. Good detail, but not as good as the AD8620. The midrange and bass are slightly thicker than the AD8620 which are nice. Overall, I like this Op-Amp in my headamp paired with Grado, it sounds natural and really ears friendly. I can feel a lot of 'air', like listening to the singer in open air. When you listen to my amp with this Op-Amp, it is not a WOW, but its sweet, and you might wear the headphone longer. I just miss the lively sounding and transparancy of the AD8620 a little bit.

The good : Natural and sweet. Very nice treble, good midrange and bass.
The bad : Not as detailed as the AD8620, and slightly slow in transient and impact.

Application:
To be paired with bright and lively sound headphones. Very nice for long hour listening, better than the OPA2604. As it is not highly revealing amp, it forgives flaw in recordings. I might put this OPA2228 permanently in my ‘Pimeta like headamp’, it is very nice to be used for listening my ‘non audiophile’ CD collections.

OPA2134
Putting this Op-Amp in Pimeta doesn't change it's sound characteristic a lot. Just a tad more transparent (only a tad) compare to CMoy. I would say that this Op-Amp has the worse imaging than others that I have tested. Very narrow, narrower than my PCDP output. Very narrow space between the singer and the musical instruments, sometime feel like putting my head in a bucket. It only good in bass, nothing else. So for some music from MIDI, which doesn't need imaging at all, this Op-Amp is fine. It has big bass and thick midrange, which is good. The treble is a bit 'short', means bell's sound will sound shorter than the AD8620 or OPA2228. Ok, I have no intention to make it sounds like a bad Op-Amp. OPA2134 is a good Op-Amp, very DIYer friendly, and they have nice sound color of which I like. My complaint is only the narrow imaging, that's all.

The good : Big bass and thick midrange. Nice color of sound.
The bad : Poor imaging.

Application:
I think this Op-Amp need bright, transparent, and wide imaging headphone to balance it's narrow imaging characteristic. This Op-Amp is a NO NO for people who demand good imaging, probably another good alternative for those who like music from MIDI / electronica, and like BIG bass.

AD8066
This Op-Amp dethrone the OPA2228. It sounds much better than the OPA2228. It has the AD signature, bright and fast. What I like most from AD8066 is the BASS. It has excellent bass, bigger than the OPA2228 and AD8620, and it goes lower. It has very good low bass. For comparison, OPA2134 also has good bass, but more to the mid bass, while AD8066 has better overall bass. My headamp is DC coupled, so it takes all frequency from DC. If yours is AC coupled, you might not be able to hear or feel the excellent low bass from the AD8066. Try 'The Hunter' from Jennifer Warnes to test the bass.

If OPA2134 'KICKS' then the AD8066 'KICKS' and 'SHAKES' :D

This AD8066 is not only good in bass. It also has excellent imaging, about the same as the AD8620. I love the treble which is a tad smoother, more 'airy' than the AD8620 which I often feel a bit sharp. So the conclusion is, excellent Op-Amp, very neutral, excellent bass, crystalline clear mid and treble (very good transparancy), excellent imaging, fast and detailed.

The good : Excellent BASS, fast, detailed, good imaging, with a pleasant 'airy' feeling. This Op-Amp really brings music to life.
The bad : Depend on personal taste, might be too bright for some people.

Application:
Eventhough I think this Op-Amp is an excellent general all-purpose audio Op-Amp for any headphone, but it tends to sound bright. With good recordings (non-metallic treble recording), this Op-Amp sounds very good with my RS-1. AD8066 is very revealing, you will hear any flaw of poor recording. For poor recording, OPA2228 might still preferable.

OPA637
I agree with most of the DIYers that said that this OPA637 (and OPA627) is one of the best Audio Op-Amp. It is the most expensive as well :(. I didn't have enough time to listen to it, just a few tracks of Chesky Demo Disc, so my comment here will be based on mine and my brother comment (I bought the OPA637 for him). I use this Op-Amp in the headphone amplifier I made for my brother, which in theory has the same circuits as my headamp.

It sounds Very Very Very natural. Almost no coloration, very musical with high listening pleasure. It has thick bass and midrange, with just the right level of treble for my Grado RS-1. The imaging is excellent. Comparing with AD8066, the AD8066 is a tad brighter, and slightly has more space in between the singers and the musicians, but the different is subtle. The OPA637 has the laid back Burr Brown sound which I like, but it is very minimum comparing with other OPAs.

The good : Very neutral and musical. Thick bass and midrange with transparant treble. One of the best Audio Op-Amp.
The bad : Probably a little dark for dark Headphone, slightly laid back sound which might not suit some people.

Application:
The best general Audio Op-Amp. Highly recommended for Grado users, or other bright sounding headphones. For Senns users, please audition before you spend the money for this Op-Amp.

OPA2107
If you like Burr Brown sound but OPA627/637 is way out of your budget, try OPA2107. It has the color of the expensive OPA637. So far amongs the other OPAs I tested, this is the one that is close to the OPA637, but it doesn't have the superb detail and the good imaging of the OPA637. It has a natural-dark sound, with very good bass and midrange, the treble is fine, but not as transparant as the ADs. It also has the BB laid back signature, more laid back than the OPA637 and OPA2228. I rolled back and forth with OPA2228 (which I like for being very warm and sweet), OPA2107 sounds more natural, faster, with more accurate and better imaging. But it is a bit darker than OPA2228. So for it's price, between the OPAs, it sounds right. More natural & faster than OPA2134, OPA2604 & OPA2228. Compare to the AD8066, I prefer the AD8066 for having better imaging and more transparant treble.

The good : One of the best Burr Brown Audio Op-Amp for the price. Natural-dark sound good for bright headphone such as Grado. Excellence Bass and Low Mid, very tight and thick. It sounds musical and enjoyable, good for long hour listening :cans:
The bad : Dark sound not good for dark Headphone. Laid back sound which might not suit some people. The imaging is narrower than the AD8066 (but wider than the OPA2134, OPA2604 & OPA2228). The treble is a bit too dark for me, not as transparant as the AD8066.

Application:
Good general Audio Op-Amp for it's price, recommended especially for those who like the dark and laid back Burr Brown sound. Recommended for Grado users, or other bright sounding headphones.

Now I'm still using the AD8066 in my Amp, so far it is the best sounding Op-Amp for me.

Happy listening!
Bram