If you are like me who is anal with the things we put into our ear (say what?), then having better sounds from our PC/Laptop would be the top of our list. Of course the first order of business when it comes to aural nirvana is to get the headphones that matches your taste in music (and the finance department).
I have heard quite a lot of headphones lately at the shops but some of them are more brand than substance and add insult to injury, they are not cheap. There are consumer brands such as Audio Technica, Sennheiser, Sony, AKG, Bose that has been around for sometime and are top of their game and won’t go wrong buying them.
However I have been using Shure earphones for sometime now and am looking forward to get their headphones for a bit more comfort at home. At sub S$100 price the Shure SRH240A may seems like a cheap headphones but to me it provides the biggest bang per buck spent.
The Shure won’t be a headbangers gear of choice that’s for Shure….errr…sure. The base is deep enough for a casual listener and for myself, I am not a fan of heavy base for soothing, lounge, bossa nova and classical music. The Shure has a good balance between the base, mid and treble so much so it gives a very controlled performance.
Yes the sound stage seemed a tad restricted as compared to top of the line headphones but the sound image is pretty distinctive as vocals can be heard very clearly. If paired with a surround sound audio decoder, the 3D aural imaging is pretty good.
One should note that the Shure SRH240A is an old offering and it is plasticky but judging by the price I have paid for it, it is really good value for money.
One thing the Shure do lack a bit is the base “ommph” though the sensitivity range is comparable to headphones in this price range. I personally think it can be a tad better and that’s when an amp would be helpful to provide a bit of the push.
In comes the ASUS Xonar U7 audio decoder and amplifier.
As we all know, the audio output that we have from our laptops are usually of stereo in nature (in short there are split into left and right channel only). If we are to see a movie on the laptop or even PCs, the sound system may not be able to replicate the actual multi-channel sensory surround sound effect. That’s where an external Digital to Analogue Converters (DAC) such as the ASUS Xonar U7 helps.
The Xonar is able to take the digital sound signals from digital source and convert them to analogue for listening pleasure. The signal to noise (SNR) ratio is at 114dB, thanks to its hyper grounding technology that shields components interfering with signals and the use of the Cirrus Logic CS4398 chip thereby improving audio clarity. What’s interesting to me is the integrated headphone amplifier as I usually would immerse myself in the audio world using a pair of headphones and having an amplifier would at least enable the headphones to reproduce music files closest to the original recording.
The unit is like a small note book but is petite enough for the laptop bags and is so light that it is really not a burden to bring for trips. Although I would primarily use for headphones, it can also be hooked to left/right speakers, plug to side/centre/rear speakers for surround sound and S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interconnect Format) via TOSLINK (Toshiba Link) fibre optic connectors to actual amplifiers.
Generally the unit do maximise the performance of the Shure and will do so for other headphones. The degree of performance increment would be quite subjective for each individual but for me at least the bass has gone a bit more pronounced and the aural stage has expanded somewhat. Imagery is quite good too in stereo and in 3D biaural youtube videos where every audio nuances can be heard. You can actually feel the voice breathing down your neck in this video/audio test called The Interogation Room (http://youtu.be/u163wC6mP2A).
What I would really like is to have a truly mobile solution with micro stereo plug input with the music source from my mobile phone and can be battery powered without the need for software.
For those who crave some some good sound when settled down in the office or the hotel room, the Xonar can plug some aural addiction when you are with your laptop and its small size makes it easier to bring it around too.