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Thread: Audio Gear Info and Buyer's Guide

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    Default Audio Gear Info and Buyer's Guide

    So basically I'm bored and I found the saved document of a thread I used to have on MMOHut before it was acquired by OnRPG, and I decided to update it lol :P

    For anyone who wishes to skip all the TLDR and just go to the recommendations, click here.
    For anyone who wishes to focus more on the gaming aspect of audio, there is a much more detailed guide on Head-Fi.org about it and it has its own recommendations for gear


    Audio Gear Info and Buyer's Guide



    About sound in general:

    When you listen to music on most audio equipment, it's slightly colored and usually is not the same exact sound from what the producer did when he heard it because you mostly are hearing it on something different. Many headphones on the market nowadays attract potential buyers by being and saying it's bass (or lower frequencies) is good or whatever. However, headphones used in professional studios and sound booths around the world are relatively “flat,” or most frequencies it outputs are on relatively the same level in order for the listener to notice the differences. "True audio enthusiasts" tend to chase after gear and setups that reproduce a very neutral sound signature, though most people will obviously settle for something less than perfect.

    This means that Dr. Dre's (or just about any other celebrity-endorsed headphone) claim that the Beats Studios by Dre is the sound he listens to is completely false unless you count the Beats Pro, which actually sounds somewhat similar to a pair of monitor headphones (well, more similar than the Studios at any rate). Instead, when they claim that a pair of headphones sound "like you're in the studio" is from their perspective of listening to loudspeaker monitor speakers, which is a very different experience and a very different kind of sound compared to headphones. That said, many celebrity-endorsed headphones is not exactly what you call a very good value for money anyways.



    Headphones

    Types

    Open: Headphones that have been designed so that the back of their earcups are allowed for sound to travel freely, meaning that there is more sound leakage as well as more ambient sound while listening to them. Having open headphones usually means that the sound you hear from it is more “open” (hence the name) and airy; this sort of design usually feels more natural and provides a better perception of distance and location for the audio. Due to their design, open headphones do not have good acoustic support for lower frequencies as there is not a closed barrier that helps to reverberate the lower frequencies back to the listener. However despite this, most enthusiasts will agree on open headphones being the design of choice.

    Closed: Headphones designed that the back of the earcups are acoustically sealed so the listener would hear a little outside noise as possible, and (usually) people near you would hear a little as what you're hearing as possible without requiring any sort of electronic sound-canceling. This creates a scenario where the listener will feel like as if the music is coming in from inside him rather than outside like what the open headphones provide. Because of this, closed headphones are naturally more “bassy” due to the lower-frequency energy not being able to escape the earcups as readily and thus more of it is focused outwards towards the ears while wearing them.

    More than just if the earcups are sealed or not, headphones are also sorted by the size of their cups, whether they will rest on the ear of the listener or around it. This means that in addition to being open or closed, they combo into open or closed headphones with either a large earcup housing to rest the headphones around one's ears or one with a smaller housing that will rest them on the ears themselves instead.

    Supra-aural: “On-the-ear” headphones; or headphones that sit on the ears of the wearer, is usually the most common type among many of the lower-priced models you would commonly find in many electronics stores. While they do nor provide the noise isolation that a provide pair of sealed, closed circumaural headphones would, they tend not to make the ears as hot as one either, despite having more sound leaks (which doesn't matter if you're talking about open headphones). Due to design, many supra-aural headphones may house smaller drivers, which could lead to a “whimpier” sound than many circumaural headphones. Supra-aural headphones are smaller, which makes them a better candidate for travel use alongside earbuds and in-ear monitors.

    Circumaural: “Around-the-ear” or “over-the-ear” headphones; are headphones that rest on the side of the head instead of directly on it, in order to put less pressure on the ears. This means that circumaural headphones can afford to house bigger drivers which in turn are generally naturally louder-sounding and occasionally more bassy as a result. Compared to supra-aural headphones, closed circumaural headphones are more prone to hot or sweaty ears after a prolonged listening session due to little to no airflow between the inside and outside of the earcups. Similar to how some supra-aural headphones makes the ears uncomfortable after awhile, many closed circumaural headphones made for monitoring for professional audio work squeezes the head quite hard for someone not used to it in order to get a proper seal for acoustic purposes or otherwise.


    Headsets:

    Headsets are pretty much just a pair of headphones with a microphone attached to it. They come in many forms but the vast majority of headsets are closed, be it circumaural or supra-aural. Gaming headsets, especially, are usually closed circumaural headphones with an attached microphone as a result to eliminate as much outside noise as possible for the gamer while playing. Compared to the variety of headphones out there, most gaming headsets nowadays is more geared to have a strong bass and treble response with less of a mid-end to highlight explosions as well as footsteps and gunshots in many of today's shooters.

    Surround Sound Headsets:

    Within the last several years, there has been a stride to create headsets geared for gamers that provide some sort of surround sound in an effort to help the gamers pick out sounds better form a distance. The two main approaches to this problem is to either stick more drivers into the earcup (and as a result making the headset way heavier) in an effort to provide actual 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, or to use a software solution to re-encode surround sound into a stereo signal in a way to trick the brain that it's hearing sounds in more directions than it's coming from. Whichever method you choose, it's often dependent on the listener to actually perceive these surround sounds as the sound from either method essentially comes from the same place due to how close the sound comes from in a pair of headphones.



    Speakers

    Types:

    Full-range Speaker: A full-range speaker, as the name implies, is a speaker designed to output the widest possible frequency range without the use of multiple drivers on the unit (though they occasionally employ an additional speaker for various purposes), and are commonly found just about anywhere.

    Woofer: A speaker designed to output low-frequency sounds, and is generally a part of a multi-driver unit. A subwoofer is a type that is designed to output the lowest possible low-frequency sounds, and is a common part of many speaker systems.

    Mid-range Speaker: A speaker designed to output middle frequencies. They are used to reproduce the widest part of the audible spectrum and is a central part to many speaker systems.

    Tweeter: A speaker designed to output the high-frequencies in a speaker system. Like woofers and mid-range speakers, tweeters are commonly found as a part of a complete speaker system.

    Crossover: Crossover systems are a speaker setup where the various frequency ranges are split and sent to different sorts of speakers individually. Many speaker systems are of the crossover design nowadays.

    Enclosure: Also called cabinet speakers, they are speakers that consist of a set of drivers mounted onto an enclosed system that minimizes interference between the drivers.

    While speakers are generally split between many designs and driver types, they all fall under two main categories, classified by how they are powered.Those with a built-in amplifier are called "active" speakers, meaning they require additional power in order for them to activate and give off sound. In many home theater or computer systems, the subwoofer is the only part of your speakers that is an active speaker. Passive speakers, then, are speakers that do not have a built-in amplifier, and must be amplified externally by the computer or other device's internal audio hardware or by a dedicated amplifier.



    Surround Sound

    While surround sound has become more and more common in the gaming world as a replacement for actual surround sound speaker setups, it is still generally accepted that a good speaker setup is both more accurate and more detailed in surround sound in headphones and headsets. While a surround sound setup is generally a pleasurable method of enjoying gaming and other media, it is commonly regarded as a less-than-perfect method to enjoy most music as the vast majority of music is a stereo experience, meaning that the optimal way of listening to most music is through stereo headphones or speakers, as a surround sound setup may split the signal or play the same signal throughout the entire setup.

    Open vs Closed headphones + virtual surround sound vs “true” surround sound

    A very specific topic pertaining only to the gaming scene, the vast majority of surround sound headsets (or gaming headsets in general) are of the closed variety. Having surround sound emulated digitally or via multiple drivers will create a sort of “open” experience, a phenomenon that less people experience with surround sound software on open headphones (surround sound headphones/headsets actually working is a very individual experience to begin with, some people will not feel as if there is surround sound in the first place). That said, some games will not feature surround sound in the first place, or is designed with their own algorithms with headphones in mind as to provide a virtualized surround experience within its own sound engines, causing external software or multi-driver headsets redundant or less useful.



    Earphones

    Just about everyone has had a pair of earbuds from their phone or portable music player. Lots of people bash them for generally not being as good-sounding as headphones, and they're true when comparing to the earphones one would find in any retail store. However, they're incredibly portable and handy to carry around in your pocket or the like so one would be able to listen to music just about anywhere they go.

    Types

    Earbud: Generally among the cheapest pieces of personal audio gear you'd find anywhere, are earphones situated on the outer ear. While portable, they are prone to a lack of acoustic isolation and leaves room for ambient noise to seep into the listening experience.

    In-Ear Monitors (IEMs): Earphones that are inserted into the ear canal in order to increase isolation during the listening experience. While most IEMs one would find in any retail store be of the single driver design, there are multi-driver IEMs designed to reproduce very accurate sound signatures. Furthermore, there exists a market of custom IEMs, where the shape of the IEM in question is molded specifically for a certain individual; many musicians use CIEMs during concerts as both a defense against hearing loss as well as a way to listen to the track.



    Microphones:

    While many headsets come with a microphone attached (though some could also be detached and reattached for convenience), there are also the option of a dedicated desktop or studio microphone for various purposes (though for this, mainly for gaming and general voice chat). If you're currently on a pair of good headphones and have no interest in using a microphone, a desktop or studio microphone can cover the lack of one for talking on Skype or Ventrilo. When talking about microphones, though, there are two main types (though in many headsets the engineers might also opt for a simpler kind).

    Additionally, many desktop microphones that are on the lower-end of the price spectrum come (usually only) as USB powered devices, excluding the very low-end microphones that come with 3.5mm jacks. This is beneficial for a variety of reasons, but the biggest of which is that there is no need for a mixer to power the microphone in question, and many USB desktop microphones will sound just as good as many of the XLR + mixer solutions out there unless you're ready to fork over a large sum of money or require multiple microphones recording for whatever reason.

    Types

    Dynamic: Dynamic microphones are usually good at producing a good signal on a certain frequency range and is more resilient to loud sounds. The design of their internals is also often more resilient to physical abuse as well as not requiring a dedicated power source most of the time, making them a good option for use in situations such as concerts or other events with many people (karaoke included).

    Condenser: Condenser microphones are good at producing a high-quality signal on a wide band of frequencies, but are usually more sensitive to loud sounds, and require a consistent power source of some kind, making them more popular in recording studios.

    Lapel/Lavalier Microphones: Generally what most would call the clip-on microphones as they are condenser microphones that are built to be very small and able to clip onto clothing. They are used professionally in scenes like talk shows, where they would have the hosts and guests clip one onto them for easier recording. Similarly, lapel mics have gained popularity in conferences and larger-scale presentations due to allowing the presenter(s) a much larger degree of movement.

    Shotgun Microphones: Highly directional condenser microphones, they are special in the fact that they are designed to record in one direction and nothing but. While not as popular in home recording, they are used often professionally, from film sets to stadium recordings, to recording the audio from wild life.

    Condenser vs Dynamic microphones

    While their use in a concert or recording environment is well regarded to having dynamic mics in concerts and the other in recording studios, deciding between the two in a home setting tends to be a confusing decision for the more serious person. By design, condenser microphones can pick up audio from a relatively large frequency range very clearly and in varying degrees of volume due to the distance of recording, which means that as a side effect, they tend to be naturally more sensitive (though some are designed to be less so for various purposes) and may pick up unwanted sounds while recording (like your PC's fans, someone flushing the toilet right next to the room, etc.). Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, are less sensitive to sound and are generally more popular in a live setting because of that; they tend to capture mainly what is very close to them and mostly nothing but. You have condenser microphones used in places like theaters and churches where their large pickup range is perfect for the unique recording environment, whereas places like the White House has chosen a dynamic microphone to record their speeches for its consistent volume and recording quality despite the environment; in the end it's up to you to decide which type of microphone is right for you.


    Headset microphones:

    Headsets, too, come with different microphone designs, though most are designed as condenser microphones. Many microphones that come with gaming headsets nowadays also come with a basic form of noise canceling as an effort to eliminate repetitive outside sounds in order to for the speaker to be heard more clearly over voice chat.

    Types

    Boom: Boom microphones on headsets are the type that simply swing down from some sort of fixed point (though some boom mics are also of the detachable sort for different purposes), and is the most popular kind on headsets. They usually are able to afford housing larger drivers than the other kinds and thus usually are better at reproducing male vocals.

    In-line: In-line microphones sit on the cord connecting the headset to the computer and simply picks up the sounds of its surroundings. Lavalier microphones as well as dedicated microphones that clip onto the cord of a pair of headphones or otherwise also fall into this category.

    Retractable: Retractable microphones are the sort that can retract into it's housing inside an earcup of the headset, and as a result usually has smaller drivers that pick up a more limited frequency range. On the upside, retractable microphones are better at picking up vocals due to their positioning than in-line mics and are less cumbersome than many boom microphones.



    Amplifiers and DAC's

    Most (if not all) computers are already equipped with an amplifier and DAC (digital-to-analog-converter) where the computer's CPU does the audio processing. Sound cards, be it an internal solution or an external solution via SPDIF or USB, take that processing out of the CPU's hands and generally provides a better signal. Amplifiers, on the other hand are just there to amplify the signal by pumping more voltage or current into the output device so the listener can hear it clearer and louder.

    Many sound cards provide 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound as an analog output, but most amp/DAC's that are meant to compliment headphones will only have a stereo output headphones (or speakers if you choose to amplify them). Among them, some sound cards are meant for gamers and as such provide features such as software for digital surround sound stereo headphones and headsets as well as provide more juice to them. Alternatively, there are also DAC's that provide just the processing and surround sound features without any of the amplifying features for the gamers that just want virtual surround sound or the sound of the DAC in general.

    Amplifiers come into the picture when the output device (either the headphone of speaker) in question is rated at a rather high impedance, or at least higher than most other similar devices of its kind. The job of the amplifier is to feed more voltage into the device, and thus amplifying the signal and making a signal sound "louder" to a listener. Lower impedance (basically just about everything you would buy from a shop, or anything lower than about ~100 ohms of impedance as far as headphones are concerned) devices require more current than they do voltage to perform at similar volume levels. Headphones are especially affected by this trait as many headphones are designed to be highly efficient with low-impedance, and thus is harder to amplify or power properly if one wishes to have the best possible listening experience on a set. Alternatively, higher impedance headphones generally cope with different levels of amplification well compared to the lower-impedance models, but may sound somewhat weak and feeble until enough power is delivered to the unit.



    Headphones vs Speakers

    There's quite a large divide within the more involved community between the headphone and speaker users (I'm part of the former, if you can't tell by now, despite owning a pair of expensive speakers), labeling themselves and each other as “headphiles” and “audiophiles,” respectively. A big factor in this divide is that headphones just don't sound like speakers, or vice versa. With headphones a lot of the sound one would hear feels like it's in their head, even on open headphones. Listening to a very good pair of speakers feels more of a proper “listening experience” of sorts, as there's more directionality involved; it's the more natural form of listening to audio in general due to soundstage and just sheer presentation of the music. However, speakers, by design, will generally never have as natural as of a reproduction of a good pair of headphones in terms of the reproduction of the process itself, as well as how the recording process “abstracts” the real thing due to the acoustic properties of the listening environment. In this regard, headphones are the more “pure” listening experience as far as actual sound re-production is concerned, as very good headphones will deliver a far more accurate rendering of any given track than any speaker due to the speaker being reliant on the listening environment in question, leading to headphones being a more intimate experience with one's music. On the other hand, listening to very good speakers is very much more visceral, it's a physical experience where one would connect to their music in a different way in the same way that a concert is different from a recording.

    In the end, the music in question comes from the same source, so it's up to you to decide what kind of listening experience you want. Obviously speakers and some open headphones will be less optimal for certain environments where one would be either in a loud area or does not want others to hear them for whatever reason, though in a properly isolated environment speakers and open headphones are concerned to be some of the best listening experiences one can afford at home. Closed headphones find home in portable use or in the recording studio, though with the popularization of headphones as an essential part of one's everyday setup due to celebrity-endorsed brands like Beats by Dr. Dre and Monster, closed headphones are finding themselves homes in the home environment more and more as well.



    Gaming Audio

    While a good speaker setup is considered to be one of the best experiences for gaming, the same goes with a good headphone or headset setup. Generally, headsets are considered to be inferior to headphones in just about every way possible as far as sound quality is concerned, and the only redeeming feature they have is that you don't have to go buy a microphone separately (that said, actual audio companies that have made headsets like Sennheiser's PC lineup are considered good for both listening and recording quality, however, products like those are generally far and few between). However, if you have enough desk space in your setup, getting the microphone and headphones separately allows one to have the best audio experience possible, as there is a wider range of options available and for better value. Furthermore, a good sound card, be it an internal solution or external is recommended for most people on laptops or lower-end motherboards that does not feature a great on-board solution. For the ones running with higher-end headphones, sound cards or even a dedicated amp is recommended unless of course the motherboard can provide enough power to the headphones in question.



    Lossless Audio

    While most audio enthusiasts will say that lossless audio is superior, many are also in agreement that high bitrate mp3 and AAC files are also suitable for many due to a lack of dynamic range in much of modern music (pop or otherwise). That said, the general consensus is that there is little difference between high bitrate music and lossless music in the first place for the vast majority of listeners anyways.
    Last edited by FanOfKOTOKO; 28th October 2013 at 02:27 AM.
    「僕たちの前にはいまだ巨大すぎる人生が、茫漠とした時間がどうしようもなく横たわっていた。 」
    "We live in a very special time: the only time where we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time." -Lawrence Krauss

  2. #2

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    Simplified Buyer's Guide
    = = = = = = =
    Headsets:
    Spoiler!




    Earphones:
    Spoiler!




    Speakers
    Spoiler!




    Headphones:
    Spoiler!




    Microphones
    Spoiler!




    Sound Cards and (Headphone) Amplifiers
    Spoiler!
    Last edited by FanOfKOTOKO; 20th July 2015 at 06:19 AM.
    「僕たちの前にはいまだ巨大すぎる人生が、茫漠とした時間がどうしようもなく横たわっていた。 」
    "We live in a very special time: the only time where we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time." -Lawrence Krauss

  3. #3
    Green Bean rasudoken's Avatar
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    Will a Dynamic Microphone pick up whispering volume? The sort of volume you'd be speaking with in an environment where you can't be loud or normal voice volume?
    by Cryopon

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by rasudoken View Post
    Will a Dynamic Microphone pick up whispering volume? The sort of volume you'd be speaking with in an environment where you can't be loud or normal voice volume?
    rasu wants headset to whisper to someone with

    TIL what circumaural is.
    Nice guide.
    viva la nagato yuki

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by rasudoken View Post
    Will a Dynamic Microphone pick up whispering volume? The sort of volume you'd be speaking with in an environment where you can't be loud or normal voice volume?
    Maybe? Depends on how loud you are, and whether or not the mic in question is sensitive enough (or made it sensitive enough via the mixer or otherwise). Each microphone is different, so I can't really tell you a straight answer.

    If you want something that'll most probably pick up your voice no matter what you can go the condenser route, but condenser mics will also pick up just about everything else, too.
    「僕たちの前にはいまだ巨大すぎる人生が、茫漠とした時間がどうしようもなく横たわっていた。 」
    "We live in a very special time: the only time where we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time." -Lawrence Krauss

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    IAちゃんまじかわイア blankaex's Avatar
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    Nice guide :o
    I read a bit and skimmed through the rest, looks great! One of my friends was actually looking for some audio equipment so I'll link this to him. ( ・ω・)ノ



  7. #7
    Amdinistrator turles's Avatar
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    Nice guide, informative. Are you into ICE (in-car entertainment) at all?

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by turles View Post
    Nice guide, informative. Are you into ICE (in-car entertainment) at all?
    Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not, so I wouldn't know much about it :x
    「僕たちの前にはいまだ巨大すぎる人生が、茫漠とした時間がどうしようもなく横たわっていた。 」
    "We live in a very special time: the only time where we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time." -Lawrence Krauss

  9. #9
    butts FailFTW's Avatar
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    AUDIO EXPRESS
    THE HOME HOME HOME of the ONE DOLLAR INSTALL
    Butts.

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  10. #10

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    Updated with more headphones, microphones, and sound cards :x
    「僕たちの前にはいまだ巨大すぎる人生が、茫漠とした時間がどうしようもなく横たわっていた。 」
    "We live in a very special time: the only time where we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time." -Lawrence Krauss

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