Audiophile 101: Essential Gear Overview
Image credit @zhugunic https://drop.com/talk/67372/gl-2-k Do I need an amp? What are these acronyms like DAC, DSP, or DSD? What even are all the components that make up an audio chain? Let’s take a beginner’s look at the core, essential building blocks of a digital audio chain, and lay it plain what each piece does. We can cover the major pieces separately, but I’ll still include a few tips to optimize playback here. Please hit the little bookmark button and feel free to check and share this guide whenever you need a reference! For people who need a visual and audible explanation, or are worried it would take too long to get a working knowledge of the audio chain, here is my YouTube video on this subject that is just 7 minutes long! I like writing though, so let’s get started with an overview, then break it down into what each piece does and how an upgrade would benefit the final sound quality. Signal Path Image credit @SpeleoFool https://drop...
Mar 22, 2023
MassDrop x Pinnacle PX: Not my favorite IEM in general, but they work rather well with the TA-20. These IEM are harder to drive properly, not even close to as sensitive as most all of my others, and have zero background noise because of this. No major bass roll in Teardrop, also nothing overly special with Robots Don't Cry. Sounds about as good as you're going to get with the PX, some missing detail in the mid to upper frequencies, but this is totally normal. Not a bad pairing if you've got and like the PX.
BQEYZ Spring1: Very slight background hiss upon plugging in, almost unnoticeable. Minimal bass roll in Teardrop. Treble doesn't seem impacted in Robots Don't Cry, which is great. This is an unexpectedly good pairing. I definitely could rock this combination all day and be completely happy. Lots of thump and detail where it should be.
Kinera Idun: Noticeable background hiss. There is a touch of bass roll-off in Teardrop, but not enough to ruin the enjoyment. Treble gets a bit of a boost with this combination, noticeable in both Teardrop as well as Robots Don't Cry. Some of those high notes can get really high, but not enough to turn me off. I could likely use these all day without much complaint as long as music is going the whole time. Any silence will show off the hiss. Not bad, but not amazing.
MassDrop x NuForce EDC: Minimal background hiss. No really noticeable bass roll in Teardrop. Very pleasant mid-bass and treble in Robots Don't Cry. No real loss of audio quality. They generally aren't my favorite IEM, but this combination does work well for me. I could use this all day without rage.
Shozy Form1.1: Noticeable background hiss. Slight bass and treble roll-off in Teardrop and Robots Don't Cry. I'm not terribly fond of these IEM in general, I doubt I'd want to use this combination for terribly long. If all you have are the Form1.1, this isn't the best pairing. It works, but... yeah, I nope on em.
Shozy CP-3: Very slight background hiss. Fully detailed sounding with no noticeable bass or treble roll or enhancement in either Teardrop or Robots Don't Cry. If not for that hiss, these would be very win on the TA-20... and even with it I could totally use these all day. They're by far my favorite balanced armature only IEM, so it is awesome hear them not sucking on a tube amp.
Headphones: Beyerdynamic T1 gen2: Zero background noise. I'd be surprised if it happened at 600Ω. All I gotta say is damn these sound great with the TA-20. Highly recommended combination. Lows, mids, and highs are all where they're supposed to be, and detailed as all hell. $1299 MSRP cans in action. Totally viable as an all-day setup.
MassDrop x Focal Elex: Once again, zero background noise and the lows, mids, and highs all in their proper places. This is also a highly recommended combination. Not much more to say other than once again, expensive cans in action sounding expensive and wonderful. Very much so another viable all-day setup.
MassDrop x Sennheiser HD6xx: As you likely guessed, no background noise at all. These are a staple set of cans from the MassDrop lineup, and they perform wonderfully on the TA-20. Very detailed, with absolutely nothing to dislike. Excellent combination for reasonably priced cans. Once again, this is a quite viable all-day setup.
MassDrop x Sennheiser HD58x: Continuing the lineup of cans which don't show any background noise on the TA-20. Very nice and bass forward as standard with the HD58x, mid and highs right where I expected them to be. Even cheaper than the HD6xx and nearly as good sounding. Totally could rock em all day happily.
MassDrop x Meze 99 Noir: There is a very very slight background hiss at the very edge of my hearing. These cans are fun on anything that can drive them, and the TA-20 is no exception. So much happy sub and mid bass. Treble also shines, but not in a scrape your eardrum sorta way. Teardrop really shines on these. Yes, I could use this pairing all day and every day if it came down to it. These are currently my favorite closed-back dynamic cans.
E-MU Teak: No background hiss. These are generally sibilant cans, so I have to be careful with the amp and music pairings. Neither of these tracks nor does the amp make it any worse, but the cans are a smidgen brighter than usual (probably the tubes). Bass is tight and about as punchy as you get with a Foster OEM driver. The TA-20 drives these cans excellently. Definitely all day capable, if you can stand the treble.
MassDrop x Hifiman HE-35x (S/N 00086): I hear a very light amount of background hiss, but I had to work at identifying it over the background noise in my room. These are extremely fun open-backed cans, and work well with the TA-20. Price per performance wise, these may be the best out of all my cans. Others sound better, but these are dirt cheap and easily driven to hearing-loss levels of loud warm goodness. The bass isn't as strong on them, but the overall performance of the combination is awesome. Absolutely an all day setup if you're not all about critical listening.
MassDrop x Hifiman HE-4xx (S/N 1546): I normally keep these cans as far away from Tube Amps as possible. They generally suck hard there. In this case, not so. There is no audible background noise whatsoever, all of the bass and treble are perfectly where they should be. Detailed, impactful, punchy, tight, absolutely all the things they weren't on my P20, ZDT, and LittleDot1+. Wonderful planar with a touch of tube harmonics. I did not expect this, at freaking all. Robots Don't Cry came across as a complete ear-treat, all the lovely synth playing across the field of sound totally showing off their imaging capabilities. My HE-4xx finally have a tube companion. All day capable, for sure... assuming the cans don't squeeze your gourd too hard or rest in the most uncomfortable spot on your skull.
Fostex T60RP (S/N A0594): Dead silent when no music is playing, zero background hiss. These are another set of cans that surprised me by working beautifully on the TA-20. Fast detail ear candy, with that unique sound that only wooden cups, planar magnetic, and tube pre-amping gives. If these cans didn't mechanically squeek with every bloody movement, they'd be one of my absolute favorite sets. As is, they do a stand-up job at handling the audio from the TA-20. The bass isn't as strong as it could be, but it usually never is, and what is there is a nice sub-bass rumble coupled with detailed mid-bass. A touch of EQ would make them pure EDM cans. These are totally all-day safe, assuming the chipmunk in the earcups will shut the hell up every time I move my head.
Fostex TR-70-250: As expected from these high Ω cans, no background hiss. Sadly, while these are internally wired for balanced drive and would benefit from it greatly, good luck getting a 3.5mm TRRS cable that'll work with them due to Fostex proprietary fuckery. Never been so pissed off at a headphone company for their stupid moves as I am with them for this. At least the TA-20 is able to drive them hard enough single-ended to make me go def, but not as well as it could balanced. If they could be easily custom-cabled, these would be the absolute best bang for buck when it comes to high Ω cans. They accept all the Fostex T-RP mods and sound awesome. Anyways, I digress, these do everything I expected on the TA-20. Bass and treble are in their proper spots, harmonics, and levels of detail. They might not be the best studio cans, but they're dang fun. All day safe for sure.
Fostex T50RP Mk3: These are my oldest actively used cans, typically living in my garage for use when I'm melting and making things with irons and airguns. They are also the cans that really turned me onto Planar Magnetic, and for all their flaws (and oh god they have many), I love their sound. It is the same general sound as the T60RP, just less refined. Like on the T60RP, there is zero background noise on the TA-20, and all the frequencies are exactly where they're supposed to be. Ain't balanced, would sound better balanced, but for single ended planar, they kick some ass. Easily all day capable if you don't mind replacing the ear-pads and adding a comfort strap... and assuming your TRS ingress port on them doesn't develop... static. Totally recommended.
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x: Now this is a set of cans I wish I'd bought a few years earlier. They're some of the most balanced sounding AT cans on the market, and one of the very very few AT that can do balanced drive without getting into the $1000 price range. They're 470Ω and sound fantastic on anything with enough power to drive them properly. Luckily this amp has more than enough power, and like with all of the other high Ω cans it gives a near flawless presentation. This is a wonderful all day pairing.
Drop x HiFiMan HE-X4 (S/N 00190): There isn't much to say about these that I've not said on the 4xx or 5xx. Consider this set of cans to be sorta halfway between the 4xx and 5xx. With few exceptions these are usually big nopes on pure tube amps, thankfully this hybrid amp doesn't have any problems. They sound wonderfully clear, with all of that delicious planar fast response. They are rather thirsty cans, but this amp has the more than enough power to push them into brain melting happy places. Highly recommended combination if the cans don't rest on your skull painfully.