What equipment do you have?
by yuriv - 5/26/05 9:17 AM
In Reply to: One more thing: by equazcion
For most folks the iPod doesnt sound worse than FM radio. It really shouldnt sound worse than the way you describe it. If you let us know about your setup, we might be able to hear the same sorts of problems with our iPods. Heres what I want to know:
1. The make and model of everything in the signal path (the sound card, the receiver, and the headphones). Is there anything else in the signal chain?
2. The song(s) that you compared.
3. The ripper, encoder, and encoder settings that you used to prepare the MP3 or AAC files. EAC? CDEX? LAME?
4. The player software that you use on your computer. iTunes? WMP10? Winamp? Foobar2000?
Perhaps theres something wrong with the setup that youre using when youre comparing the computer/receiver rig to the iPod? Here are my guesses:
1. Youre not comparing the same kinds of signals from both sources.
2. Your headphones dont work well with the iPod.
3. Youve encoded your music with format and settings that are difficult for the iPods decoder, but not for your software player. This is unlikely to happen.
4. Your iPod is malfunctioning.
5. Nothings wrong. Youre just very sensitive to distortion and you have a very low tolerance for it.
Lets see if we can rule out one or more of these:  Im assuming that you already have neutralized or bypassed the tone controls on all sourcesbass/treble on the receiver and the equalizers in the iPod and the software player. Also check your sound cards software to see if it has its own tone controls. If your receiver has a loudness switch, make sure its turned off because it boosts the bass and the treble.
Some folks say they can tell if automatic level controls have been turned on. You may want to turn these off, just for comparison. On the iPod and in iTunes, its called Soundcheck. In WMP10 its called Auto Volume Leveling.
Also make sure that any digital signal processor (DSP) enhancements on the software player, the sound card, and the receiver are turned off. For example, in iTunes, there is a Sound Enhancer check box on the Audio tab under the Edit/Preferences menu. Your sound card might have something like this too; for example, the Sound Blaster Live! and Audigy cards have built-in hardware DSPs. If your receiver has any DSP effects, turn them offtheyre sometimes labeled Surround, Theater, 3D Sound, Ambience, SRS, WOW, Sensaura, BBE, or Spatializer, or whatever. If youre to make a fair comparison, you have to make sure that in the entire signal path from the media file to the headphone jack, you have kept the audio signal as plain as possible, with no additional processing in any stage:
MP3/AAC/WAV --> Software Player --> Sound Card --> Receiver --> Headphones
 If all tone controls and DSP effects, have already been turned off, then maybe your headphones simply dont work well with an iPod. Some models, even high-end ones, will sound awful on an iPod. You said that you used the same pair on your Sony receiver. Have you tried the stock iPod earbuds on both sources? Is the difference in quality still as noticeable?
In your post, you said that you suspected that the iPod might not have the power to drive your pair of headphones. You can test that by using a more efficient pair of phones. You can also do that by finding out what your headphones sound like when the iPod is connected to an amp; do this by hooking up the iPods headphone output to one pair of line-in jacks on your receiver:
iPod --> Receiver --> Headphones
The sound quality should improve a little bit because this time the iPod isnt driving a difficult load (compare my RMAA results for loaded and unloaded). If there is a dramatic difference in quality, your headphones are probably too difficult for the iPod to drive.
 is unlikely (even with VBR MP3), so if the iPod still sounds bad through the receivers headphone amp, then  it might be malfunctioning. You could use RMAA to get some numbers to verify this if you want a more objective measure.
If youre pretty sure that your iPod isnt malfunctioning and it still sounds bad through the amp, then perhaps you have to address  by replacing the iPod with a much better source. I dont know if a Creative Zen will be good enough. A while ago I listened to a Zen micro for a few hours, and I still remember how good it sounded. But I cant tell you that it sounded THAT much better than an iPod because I didnt listen to them side-by-side. RMAA measurements of the Zen arent too convincingi.e., they arent that much better than the iPods figures (this is for unloaded case only; I dont have any RMAA figures for the Zen when its driving a load).
I hope you find a solution that works, because eventually there has to come a point when we have to stop listening to audio and start listening to music. I remember a long time ago on the school bus, when I deeply enjoyed the music on cassette tapes playing back on my walkman clone. I recently dug up my old portable rig and I played back some stuff. Awful! By todays standards the sound quality is atrocious: SNR around 50 dB (maybe 60-65 with Dolby B or C noise reduction), Frequency response = > 40 Hz to < 14 kHz, lots of distortion, and lots wow and flutter (their version of jitter, only much worse). So Im thinking, How could I have possibly enjoyed music on this crap? But back then, I did!very much so. In those days I didnt know that portable audio could be much, much better, and so the audio quality didnt bother me and I just listened to and enjoyed the music. I guess many of us have been spoiled by our 20 GB+ collections on our iPods and Zens.
Believe me, I have no golden ears (Im more engineer and musician than audiophile). But many people can tell the difference between an original PCM source and a 320k CBR MP3 if they know what to listen for. You can actually train yourself to get better at spotting these audio problems; see http://www.pcabx.com and htttp://www.pcabx.com/training/index.htm for details. If Im really trying, and Im using a revealing pair of headphones (Sony MDR-7506 in my case), even I can do this on most of my MP3s, especially if the music has instruments that have lots of high-frequency content, e.g., triangles, cymbals, high-hats. Some high-pitched instruments should chime with crystal purity, as Alfred Cortot would put it. But with lossy encoding, particularly at lower bit rates, it doesnt quite sound like thatthe chime has a slight ringing or warbling sound along with other compression artifacts.
But I dont let all of this stop me from enjoying 128k MP3s and 96k VBR WMAs on my portable players. Some folks are just lucky that they can turn off audiophile mode. We may have to wait a few months or maybe a few years for better players; theres simply a relatively low demand for audiophile-grade portable players. Several forums have suggested that the Rio Karma came the closest, with gapless playback, parametric EQ, better capacitors, etc. But these audiophile-type features cost manufacturers money; making the player $10 more expensive to make just to cater to audiophile tastes might cut into their profit margins.
BTW one of my computers has
Emu 0404 --> Samson Q5 --> K271S | HD280 | 7506 | SR-125
Another signal path is
Yamaha DS2416 --> 2x Yamaha AX44 --> same headphones
Don't ask me about my computers' speaker monitors, which I actually use more often. It's complicated than it should be.
My portable rigs:
iPod Mini (1st gen) --> Sony MDR-EX81 (black) | Koss KSC-75
MPIO FY400 (1 GB) --> Sony MDR-NX1 (black)
I wonder what folks are using nowadays.