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  #1  
Old 07-12-2008, 04:45 PM
Adam Krebs
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Default Do All MP3 Players Sound Alike?

<div class='os_post_top_link'><a href='http://mobilitysite.com/2008/07/do-all-mp3-players-sound-alike' target='_blank'>http://mobilitysite.com/2008/07/do-...ers-sound-alike</a><br /><br /></div><p>"<em>Recently I read a review of an mp3 player where the author purposely chose not to discuss sound quality because, in the author&rsquo;s words, 'The chosen player has a great deal to do with how you access your music, but very little to do with how it sounds&hellip;'&nbsp; That got me thinking.&nbsp; Do all mp3 players sound alike?&nbsp; They are all digital, so it&rsquo;s the same 1&rsquo;s and 0&rsquo;s playing the music, so how can there be a difference in sound quality? I have tested some mp3 players myself and have noticed drastic differences.&nbsp; I have trouble believing that mp3 players don&rsquo;t influence sound quality that much.&nbsp; They have different components, circuitry, software and build tolerances, so how can there not be a difference?</em>"</p><p><img src="http://images.thoughtsmedia.com/resizer/thumbs/size/600/zt/auto/1215875393.usr495.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></p><p>Mobility Site's Steve Laser writes on a very important topic in the portable media player discussion. I seem to recall that in 2001 when the iPod came out, other players on the market were focusing on more faithfully recreating their digital sound and used higher-quality audio parts and software decoders. The iPod on the other hand, was more focused on affordability and battery life, and went the "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman" target="_blank">walkman</a>"&nbsp;route in supporting a technology that was "good enough" for most people. Laser poses the question to audiophiles and tech reviewers from around the net, with surprising variance in their responses.</p>
 
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Old 07-12-2008, 08:04 PM
Jason Dunn
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There are some people that are shocked at the fact that the Zune doesn't come with an EQ, and while one would be nice, it has a very nice default sound that I have no complaints about...
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Old 07-12-2008, 09:12 PM
Chris Gohlke
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And, lets not forget the the headphones that come with these devices are the weak link to start with.
 
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Old 07-13-2008, 02:13 AM
timbevil
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Red face ....ah, yes, those headsets...

The Zune sounds great, when you invest in some good ear plugs. Even a small investment of $20-30 will get you better sound than the so-called "premium" earplugs that come with the 80G. The premium earplugs create a muffled sound, like listening to music in a cave. Not good. The volume on the zune could be upped a few notches as well. Ever try listening to the zune at a crowded health club during peak hours with their overhead speakers blaring music?
 
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Old 07-13-2008, 09:48 AM
Stinger
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Gohlke View Post
And, lets not forget the the headphones that come with these devices are the weak link to start with.
This is so true and very few people bother to upgrade to something better. The number of people I see walking around with a $500 PMP that still use the standard crappy headphones is astounding.

As to varying sound quality, let's face it - most manufacturers use the same chips in their players. Sound quality will be roughly the same if they're using the same components. The only manufacturer producing noticeably better sounding mp3 players is Sony. And even then, the superior sound quality doesn't outweigh all of the negative points about their products.
 
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Old 07-14-2008, 03:37 PM
inteller
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The sound quality between a Zune30 and a 5G iPod 30 should be unnoticeable since they both use the same high quality Wolfson chip. Later gen iPods use a crappier Cirrus Logic chip though. Unless the headphone jack on the Zune30 is just supper crappy, it should sound just as good as a 5G iPod with the same headphones.

I don'y know what the later Zunes use, but if they are still using the high quality Wolfson DAC, then they should have superior quality to the Apple Cirrus Logic DAC junk.
 
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Old 07-14-2008, 10:07 PM
Jason Dunn
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Gohlke View Post
And, lets not forget the the headphones that come with these devices are the weak link to start with.
Indeed - many people don't seem to realize how sucktastic the bundled headphones are.
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  #8  
Old 07-17-2008, 02:56 PM
firedog
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Default of course dfferent players don't sound the same

The old sawbone about digital reproduction: "it's all the same 0's and 1's, therefore how can it sound different" is a total piece of nonsense.

Why? Several reasons:

First of all, it's not all the same 0's and 1's. Different hardware devices read digital info differently and with different degrees of accuracy. That's why digital players of all types have "jitter" - or errors in reading the digital information. It's parallel to what we used to call "distortion" in analogue reproduction.

Second, b/c of jitter digital units usually have some type of "jitter correction" built in. This is essentially software written to find and correct "mistakes" in reading the digital info. It includes the "X times oversampling" you see written sometimes in specs. The jitter correction can differ in quality between devices, and the resulting sound will sound different from different devices.

Third, we hear in analogue, not digital. In order to hear music stored digitally, it has to be converted to analogue at some point. This is done by what's called a DAC, or "digital to analogue converter". Almost all devices - from the $20 mp3 player to a $20,000 audiophile CD deck - have some kind of DAC built in. The quality of the DAC chips and the software written for them also varies. In broadly general terms, more expensive devices usually have better digital to analogue conversion, and therefore sound better.

Fourth, there are lots of other factors which affect the sound quality. One is the build quality of the electonics. Better or worse AC/DC conversion, capacitors, board design, op amps and all sorts of other electrical components also effect the end result of the sound.

If you remember early CD's, they were often harsh or metallic sounding. One reason that bad sound is less frequent on today's CD's is that electronics companies have improved jitter correction, and developed better DAC's etc.

For just these reasons, audiophiles with expensive sound systems often will just use the digital output of a CD deck, and feed it to an external, high quality DAC. This change alone can vastly effect the resulting sound. And different DACs clearly give a different sound to the music we hear at the end of the process.

Obviously these differences are less pronounced between inexpensive players than between a cheap player and an expensive component system. However they do exist even in mp3 players, as every producer has to decide which components to use in his/her build in order to hit his/her price point.

For an extreme example, see: Red Wine Audio iMod - an audiophile modded ipod.
And reviews of it: Red Wine Audio imod - iPod modification review at onHeadphones.com

or Red Wine Imod review

Yes, this is an extreme example, but it makes the point.

And all of that is without getting into upmarket earbuds and headphones.

Danny

Last edited by firedog; 07-17-2008 at 03:02 PM..
 
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Old 07-17-2008, 04:14 PM
David Tucker
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While I completely agree on all of these points...I do think that in their base configuration the main players in the market at the high end will all have very similar sounds. That leaves the headphones as the weak link. And your sound will only sound as good as your worst component is capable of giving you.

Upgrading your headphones is simply a must. I was blown away when I upgraded to my current Sennheisers and I'm sure they're really not that good.
 
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  #10  
Old 07-17-2008, 06:41 PM
firedog
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Default differences in mp3 players

I agree that the main well made players may sound very similar and the main difference is probably the earbuds.

However, even a relatively small difference such as the quality of the headphone jack and the internal connections to it can make a big difference in the sound. I wouldn't be surprised if differences such as these do exist between some well known players.

The only way to tell would be to test different players with a good set of buds/phones.

I invested a moderate amount ($90) bucks 2 years ago in some Shure e2 phones. The sound improvement over standard earbuds in vast, and there exist much better upgrades than this model.

Danny
 
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