Monthly Archives: May 2017

Balanced and Unbalanced Headphones: What’s The Difference?

When looking for new headphones, there are so many options and factors to consider than making the right decision seems like an arduous and almost impossible task. One of these decisions that many may find themselves having to make is whether to choose headphones with a balanced cable or an unbalanced one.

So what’s the difference between the two?

The makeup of a cable can have a significant effect on how the overall audio system will sound. Your set up is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, so finding the best cable for your needs is a crucial factor. An unbalanced cable uses two electrical conductors in their design; one for the audio signal, and one for the ground. This results in a connection that is much more subject to hum and interference. A balanced cable uses three conductors; one for the positive and one for the negative phase of the signal, and one for the ground. This ensures maximum protection against hum and interference. Using a balanced connection will also increase the headroom, stereo image and soundstage of the music you are listening to.

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Does my gear support a balanced connection?

Generally, a balanced connector will be 2.5mm in size rather than the standard 3.5mm connector most frequently used by unbalanced headphones. Players that support balanced headphones will also have a 2.5mm port.

Some headphones come with the option to swap between a 3.5mm unbalanced cable or a 2.5mm balanced one. Some headphones may have removable unbalanced cables, which can then be swapped for a balanced cable bought separately, so long as the connection between the headphone and the cable is compatible.

Do you have any gear you could recommend?

Two brands that are making some excellently designed yet reasonably priced balanced connection compatiable products are FiiO and Pioneer.

For earphones, the new FiiO F5 earphones provide a rich and detailed sound, and if you would rather use them with unbalanced equipment, the cables are interchangable, and the 3.5mm unbalanced cable is Made For iPhone (MFi) certified, and comes with in line controls! Alternatively, the Pioneer SE-CH5BL cover a huge frequency range (up to 45kHz!), resulting in a realistic sound with pin point accuracy. Both of these sets are Hi-Res certified too!

If you love your current interchangable cable earphones and don’t want to swap them, you can still balance them using FiiO’s range of balanced RC cables! They come in three different variations, with each compatible with a different type of earphone connector, depending on what brand your current earphones are.

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A good example of a player with a balanced output would be the new Pioneer XDP-30R. A small but powerful player that provides an immersive sound experience for satisfying the audiophile and casual listener alike.

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All of these suggestions and many more balanced connector products are now available at AMP3. If you need any further advice, be sure to give us a call or a message and we’ll be happy to help you find the perfect product to suit your needs!

New FiiO Products Added to AMP3!

This week, we added some new FiiO products that are worth a look at if you are a FiiO fan, or if you fancy trying something new.

FiiO F5 Balanced IEM Earphones Featuring Infinity Sound

The FiiO F5 earphones are balanced, Hi-Res in ear monitors. As well as interchangable 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced cables, this model also boasts a diaphragm using aerospace materials to create a wonderfully rich yet delicate sound with more even mids and trebles complimented with a warm, full sounding low end.

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FiiO F3 Dynamic In Ear Earphones

Using a robust graphene driver diaphragm with excellent conductivity, you’ll be hard pressed to find other earphones at this price point that can reproduce your music as faithfully as the FiiO F3s, which give your music a clean, rich, high fidelity sound.

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FiiO DK1 Plug and Play Micro USB Universal Docking Station

A harbour for your player. This aluminium docking station is for conveniently charging, syncing and playing back files from your FiiO player. Compatible with the FiiO E17K, X1, X3ii, X5iii and X7 models.

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FiiO L16 3.5mm to 3.5mm, 55mm Long Stereo Audio Cable

A short but resilient straight ended 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable. Perfect for use between your player and a headphone amp!

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We are constantly adding new products, so be sure to like AMP3 on Facebook and keep checking our website for further updates!

The Beginner’s Guide to MQA Audio

Streaming music services are now becoming the main way many of us access our music, but since the majority of these services use compressed audio streams, it has never been much of a world for audiophiles. We’ve discussed Hi-Res audio before, but there are not many options out there for those who want Hi-Res music streams. That number seems to be increasing. Qobuz has offered Hi-Res streaming through it’s Android app, and as of this year Tidal are also offering a desktop app that allows Hi-Res streaming. It’s called Tidal Masters, and it achieves this feat by using an audio codec called MQA.

What Is MQA Audio?

MQA, like many other streaming methodologies, uses lossy compression to store music as a small enough file that it can be easily streamed. Where MQA deviates however, is the with the quality of the stream, using a different sampling processes and dithering techniques to bring a Hi-Res stream directly to you. You will no longer require a huge bandwidth to enjoy studio level audio quality!

How do I listen to MQA Audio?

MQA is not a file type, but rather a codec that is packaged within other formats such as WAV, FLAC or ALAC. This means you will need the appropriate hardware or software to decode the codec. Right now, there are not many of these going around, but as MQA moves out of its infancy stage, more manufacturers and developers may follow suit. MQA has a list of their current partners on their site, which include Pioneer, whose excellent XDP-100R player can decode MQA.

Tidal Masters seems to be the best (and only!) place to go for an MQA audio stream. Used in their desktop application only, meaning that the DragonFly by AudioQuest may be a sound investment for those using this service. The DragonFly is a USB DAC that supports MQA following an update, and will really help make those Hi-Res streams come to life.

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Where can I find MQA music?

MQA music files are currently available at online retailers such as Onkyo Music, 2L and (unsurprisingly!) Highresaudio. For streaming, as mentioned above, Tidal is the place to go.

As more companies begin adopting the MQA codec, be sure to keep checking AMP3 for new products that are compatiable over the coming months!

A Crash Course in Hi-Res Audio

 

hiresWhat is Hi-Resolution Audio?

Hi-Resolution Audio is defined as “lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources”. Hi-Res has a higher sampling frequency and bit depth than CD quality, which is 16-bit/44.1kHz. Hi-Res audio files usually use a sampling frequency such as 96kHz or even 192kHz, and a higher bit depth of 24-bit.

There are a few different file formats to choose from, such as FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF and DSD. ‘Lossy’ file formats such as MP3 or AAC files on iTunes are not Hi-Res.

Why is Hi-Resolution Audio Better?

Put simply, Hi-Res Audio files offer a superior, uncompressed quality over standard compressed audio formats. They can more closely replicate the sound quality intended by the artists and engineers who created the music you are listening to.

Where Can I Find Hi-Resolution Audio Files?

There are various places Hi-Res Audio files can be downloaded. Popular stores include HDTracks, 7Digital, and Qobuz. Some vinyl players offer a facility where you can rip your vinyl collection to Hi-Resolution Audio files.

What do I need to listen to Hi-Resolution Audio?

To get started, you will need a player that is compatible with the file formats, sample rates and bit depths discussed above. As Hi-Resolution becomes more popular, there is a growing number of models on the market that are suitable for playing Hi-Res Audio. Here are some of AMP3’s favourites:FIIOX5IIILARGE

  • FiiO X5iii – an excellent, Android based, lossless playback compatible music player, with rapid charging capabilities and a whopping 544GB maximum storage capacity.
  • Cayin i5 – a robust and user friendly player that offers 12 hours of continuous Hi-Resolution Audio playback. One of the smallest and lightest DAPs on the market, and a great entry level model for dipping your toes into the Hi-Res marketplace.
  • Sony NW-A35 Walkman – with a long battery life and a range of colours to choose from, you can now get the classic Sony sound in Hi-Resolution with a price tag that won’t break the bank.
  • Cowon Plenue D – small but powerful! A well-built player with expandable memory, 100 hour battery life, and a huge range of excellent sound enhancements and EQ filters so you can fine tune your Hi-Res files so they sound just how you like them.
  • iBasso DX200 – featuring what iBasso refers to as an ‘Audiophile Quality DAC’, the DX200 will be picking features out of your favourite records that you’d never noticed before.
  • Astell & Kern KANN – an extremely powerful portable music player, featuring balanced connectors and the capability to play files up to 32-bit/384kHz to deliver a perfectly detailed sound.

What about headphones?

For a set of headphones to be classified as Hi-Res, they need to be able to produce an upper frequency of at least 40kHz. Though this is far beyond the range of human hearing (20kHz), the sound information sitting outside of this range will allow the headphone to render the complete harmonic structure of the sound you are listening to, rather than clipping off the harmonics produced above the average hearing range of a human. You will only be able to get this frequency range from Hi-Res music files played back on a Hi-Res player. Here are some of our top picks for Hi-Res headphones and earphones that won’t leave you disappointed:MDR1000XLARGE

  • Sony MDR-1000X – a set of over ear headphones that provide a rich and detailed sound, with the added benefits of Bluetooth and noise cancelling.
  • Pioneer SE-CH9T Earphones – built from a solid combination of brass and aluminium, these earphones come with a detachable cable, meaning those with a player with a balanced port can use these earphones without having to use the standard 3.5mm input. We recommend the FiiO RC-SE1B balanced cable for this situation, which can be bought as part of a bundle deal from AMP3.
  • HiFiMAN HE-400i Open Back Headphones – for a pair of over ear headphones, these are both incredibly light and very efficient. No need for a powerful amp to drive these headphones!
  • Dunu DK-3001 Earphones – a pair of hybrid earphones boasting three armature driver units and an additional dynamic driver to produce a highly detailed sound across the entire frequency spectrum.
  • Westone UMpro50 Earphones – meticulously built by a staff of dedicated artisans and lab techs, these five balanced armature driver earphones feature Westone’s True-Fit Techology, guaranteeing you a comfortable fit.
  • FiiO EX1ii Earphones – a comfortable, lightweight pair of high quality earphones at a low price we’ve all come to expect from FiiO’s products.

If after taking this all in you still need further advice or would like to hear about different models from the ones we have recommended here, don’t hesitate to give us here at Advanced MP3 Players a call or a message. We’ll be happy to help!