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Why doesn't anybody make one of these?

Discussion in 'AV Receivers & Amplifiers' started by NicolasB, Nov 19, 2003.

  1. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    I've probably grumbled about this before, but anyhow.....

    I'd like to see a stand-alone Dolby Headphone decoder.

    • Digital input (choice of optical or coax).
    • First DSP - DD/DTS decoder.
    • Second DSP (perhaps the purpose-designed ASIC from Lake Technology, which is quite cheap)
    • Just two decent DACs
    • Line-level analogue output
    And that's it! No need for bass management, THX, delay, EQ, level adjustment or anything else.


    Optional extras should include:

    1) Analogue input with A/D conversion.
    2) Dolby PLII pre-processing of a stereo input.
    3) An actual headphone jack with some headphone-amp circuitry (including a volume control) behind it.
    4) Switching between multiple analogue and digital sources.
    5) External power supply.


    So how come no one makes one of these?

    (Well, they do. But they're all too expensive, or impossible to get hold of, or have to be bundled with headphones that are definitely not going to be as good as my Sennheiser HD600s, and amplification that probably won't be as good as my GSP Audio Solo headphone amp, either. Hmph.)
     
  2. chrisgeary

    chrisgeary
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    mm i agree. i have heard this working using win-dvd and a pair of sennheiser hd-25s (i think, cant even remember what my own cans are!) anyway, i was moderately impressed with the soundstage that was presented. surely a stand-alone unit could be produced sub-£200. I guess its a bit of a weird thing to sell to the masses without strapping a dvd player and lcd screen to it, which then becomes rather expensive. Perhaps its only a few people that would value such a thing using an optical/coax input.

    Why, though, do we not see it on more AV amps? That must be a prime target for such technology.
     
  3. buns

    buns
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    well Im guessing that experience tells the manufacturers that it is a dead duck...... fair enough lucas wasnt in the same league, but sennheiser ended selling bundles with 580s for less than the 580's alone just to get rid of them! Although I like the idea too, I cant see that there would be sufficient demand

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  4. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    One reason is that the Dolby Headphone algorithm does actually require quite a lot of processing power. Tag McLaren, for example, offer it as an option on the dual-processor AV32R or the AV192R, but not on the old AV32R. That's because the DSP on the old model simply doesn't have the horsepower necessary to do it.

    Similarly you definitely won't see it on Bryston or Parasound Halo processors until and unless there's a DSP upgrade.

    The Denon A1SR offers it.

    I believe Arcam and Lexicon devices could do it if they wanted to....

    There are other issues too. For instance, the DSPs on some processors don't use outboard memory. That puts a surprisingly low limit on how much space there is for storage of all the algorithms the DSP has to deal with. Unless the manufacturer thinks there will be a demand for it, it may not be worth the risk.

    Then there's the problem that many processors don't currently have headphone jacks and headphone driving circuitry, and most headphone listeners wouldn't want to pay for Dolby Headphone if they can't actually plug their headphones in. (I would, because I already have quite a nice headphone amp, but I'm in the minority). Installing this would cost more.

    Well, as you say, the Sennheiser Lucas wasn't in the same league. :)

    As I've said before, I did once listen to the Dolby Headphone output of the Denon A1SR on my Sennheiser HD600s, side by side with the A1SR driving some B&W Nautilus 805/HTM2/CDM SNT speakers, with a REL Q-series sub. And I have to say that the headphones sounded MUCH better than the speakers did. The soundstaging wasn't as good - especially from front to back - but the clarity more than made up for it.


    There are actually stand-alone Dolby Headphone systems, now, but most of them are inextricably connected to a particular set of 'phones, typically cordless 'phones, which is a real pain. :mad:

    Click here for some examples.
     
  5. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    I would buy one if it was well done :)
     
  6. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Another possibility for people who have speaker-based systems already might be Lake Technology's "Theaterphone" which is designed for monitoring 5.1-channel mixes in recording studios over headphones.

    Click here for info.

    There's no UK distributor, AFAIK - I've emailed the Lake people to ask them what the price would be of importing one from Australia, but I'm not terribly sanguine about that.

    In any case, this is obviously not the right way to do it for a consumer device - you want to have the decoder and the Dolby Headphone processing in the same box. As a quality issue you don't want to go through a D/A, A/D conversion in between; but also from a cost point of view, you don't necessarily want to have to own a full-blown AV Processor just to drive the Theaterphone.

    I don't suppose anybody knows anyone who might be able to build a device like this (at not too outrageous a price) as a bespoke project?
     
  7. chrisgeary

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    another question might be: why would you want to spend too much on a system that does an ok job at presenting a 5 channel image but at the same time adds ambience that sounds a bit odd (ok you get used to it). And it can never give you the rear centre channel properly. consequently you are left with the rear channel appearing to come from the centre of your head.

    i don't know about anyone else, but I always tend to prefer using loudspeakers - you can never feel the music or movie with headphones (unless you strap a sub to your chest!)

    surely the general public would only be interested in a portable DVD player with this technology. or using it on a pc/laptop and whilst the quality isn't going to be great, isn't it enough for the few times one might watch a movie using headphones?
     
  8. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Advantages of Dolby Headphone:
    • Doesn't annoy the neighbours.
    • You are automatically at the perfect listening position ("sweet spot"). Even if there are multiple listeners, they are all at the sweet spot.
    • The setup is totally immune to the acoustics of the listening room.
    • If sensibly designed, it's far cheaper.
    It starts to make sense when you put some numbers in. I said higher up the thread that I thought the result of the Denon A1SR's Dolby Headphone output was greatly superior to what it was doing through speakers on that occasion. Let's do some costing:

    Sennheiser HD600 headphones: £250. (That's a list price - you could probably get a pair for £140 if you shop around).

    B&W Nautilus 805s: £1400.
    B&W Nautilus HTM2: £850.
    B&W CDN SNT: £750.
    REL Q150E: £500. (It may have been a more expensive sub, but we'll be conservative).

    So on that occasion I had £250 worth of headphones sounding MUCH better than £3600 worth of speakers.

    But one could go much farther than that. The Denon A1SR has a list price of £3000. If you don't actually have any speakers, then you don't need any amplification: so the price of the processing/amplification section of the system immediately divides by two.

    But there's more. An AV processor has to do many things besides decoding a Dolby Digital stream. It also has to do things like bass management, channel delays, level matching, THX post-processing (much of which is an attempt at correcting for poor room acoustics), maybe even room EQ. It has to have at least 6 (typically 8 or more) audio outputs, each of which has to contain a DAC, and pre-amplification.

    A dedicated Dolby Headphone device doesn't need ANY of this. Bass management, delays, level adjustment - all of these things are necessary only to compensate for less-than-perfect speakers and a less-than-perfect room. And instead of six or eight, there are only two audio output channels.

    So a device constructed on these lines would not only require no amplification, it would only cost a fraction of the price of a conventional stand-alone AV processor.

    So you might end up with a few hundred pounds (at the most) of decoding and Dolby Headphone processing, ~£400 worth of headphone amplification (if you're a real snob like me!) and £250 worth headphones.

    Total cost likely to be under £1000.

    And if you're a bit less of a headphone snob than I am, it could very easily be under £500.

    And that lot is going to be outperforming by a large margin a speaker-based system costing £6600.

    So you're talking about a system that sounds better than a conventional one, but costs about 1/20th of the price. Maybe now you see why I'm interested.

    Now, of course, not everyone will want a system like this. My ear/brain system is exceptionally sensitive to harshness or distortion, and I would far rather have less convincing sound-staging with a really clear, pure signal than better sound-staging with less clarity. And I'm also not fussed about stomach-churning bass - I would rather have accurate, undistorted bass. (And, I might add, Sennheiser HD600s do one hell of a job of this - they are rated from 39kHz down to 12Hz - not many subwoofers can go that low). And there are plenty of other issues - headphone listening is rather antisocial, for example.

    So, as I said, not everybody will want a system like this. But even I can't help feeling that there still ought to be enough of a market for something like this for it to be worthwhile developing.
     
  9. buns

    buns
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    but........ headphones will never give the thing that it is obvious (considering the number of related threads) that customers want..... bass! You will never be able to have your guts wrenched with a headphone set up. For alot this is number one priority and they would likely get bored of headphones fast.

    Dont get me wrong, it is a good idea, just the appeal to joe average is limited

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  10. chrisgeary

    chrisgeary
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    how about Dolby Headphone.1 ? You listen to the majority of the soundtrack in your quality headphones, but you also run your regular subwoofer(s) too.. might have to turn them up a bit :D
     
  11. buns

    buns
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    I half though about something like this..... headphone system with buttkickers..... still would be lacking i think

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  12. rozzar

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    theres a Sony headphone surround thing...will try and find pic...
     
  13. rozzar

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  14. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Headphones will not deliver bass to your gut; but they can deliver very impressive bass to your ears. Like I said: how many subwoofers go down to 12 Hz?


    The Sony thing looks interesting, though there's a notable absence of the phrase "Dolby Headphone". Instead they talk about "Sony VPT Virtual Phones Technology". I don't know how the two compare. There's also the same problem that there is with Philips and Pioneer products, namely that you can't unbundle it from headphones - in this case, cordless headphones.
     
  15. buns

    buns
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    MJ acoustics..... they all go down there, and REL :D

    I guess until you have heard headphone surround, you wont know how good it is, so im not really qualified to be talking!

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  16. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Headphone bass can be seriously impressive, don't under estimate it.

    Out of interest has anyone tried the new Senheisser HD 650 yet?
     
  17. buns

    buns
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    what i mean is i never feel the same emotion towards music using headphones as with a speaker set

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  18. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    get new headphones!
     
  19. alexs2

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    Simply have to try listening on a good H/phone setup to realise how involving it can be,buns....try Stax for example...just about any of theirs are superb.
     
  20. buns

    buns
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    :p my phones are good you cheeky buggers! :p maybe you just need new speakers! :p :D

    I have, since buying, discovered im not much of a phones listener..... i think i maybe have used them half a dozen hours since i bought them..... not exactly value for more than £300!

    I guess we'll just have to agree to generally differ. Of course my phones listening has only been music which i can listen to on my main system without having noise complaints...... the same is not true for cinema so having the ability to listen to film late at night at a good volume does appeal.

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  21. rozzar

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    seconded- i hav esome Stax Lambda Basics, and they sound outstanding. A bit more coloured than my Kingstons, but possibly a bit more enjoyable as a result :)
     
  22. chrisgeary

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    nah i'm with buns on this one.. i've got a reasonable pair of cans, Sennheiser HD25s, perhaps not the smoothest in the world, but good enough i think. for me, its about presentation. i believe audio should be presented in front of me and from a distance. there is a distinct sonic difference between the soundstage presented between two loudspeakers and that from a pair of headphones. you would never place your speakers directly to your left and right would you? most music is presented assuming such things and thus 9/10 it sounds awkward in headphones. dolby headphone goes some way to addressing that but realistically, only for movies. the ambience added is too distracting for music.

    i guess its all a matter of preference (and perhaps down to social reasons too) - but if you are permitted to raise the volume, speakers win, for me, every time.
     
  23. alexs2

    alexs2
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    I really only use mine for late night listening,or when everyone else in the house is hogging the TV etc,and although I have Dolby Headphone and SRS on my laptop,I much prefer the sound without all the extra processing in general.

    For me,as Nic knows,what really improves the sound,and makes headphones worthwhile is not only the 'phones themselves(nothing special,Sennheiser 565)but the front end,and the headphone amp,an Earmax.
     
  24. Jase

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    I think it all comes down to personal preference. I've got some Sennheiser 580's and after doing some comparisons of Dolby Headphone (I have the upgraded Denon A1SE) vs Dolby Digital through all my speakers I much prefer the latter. This also goes for music as well. The only area that was better through the headphones was the fact you could hear more detail at a lower volume level as the cans are slap bang on your ears. In terms of impact, dynamics, bass response etc the speakers/subwoofer were much better, although system setup/room has a huge influence on this.

    As I said, it's down to personal preference, some would prefer headphones, others speakers.:) Headphones are incredibly handy if you don't want to upset the neighbours though and at least I've got the option of Dolby Headphone if I want! :D
     
  25. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    No argument there: remarkable how much difference a good headphone amp makes, and any system will be strongly dependent on the source.

    I think that if anyone wants to say "I've listened to a good headphone system and I don't like it" they ought not to do so until they've hard not only a good pair of 'phones, but a good pair of 'phones plugged into a good headphone amp.
    :devil:


    No, you wouldn't: the recording is intended to be played back over stereo speakers.

    Out of curiosity, though, have you ever listened to a binaural recording over headphones? The effect is surprisingly impressive. It's too bad there's the whole chicken/egg thing about binaural recordings and headphone listening. :(


    I'd like to know the answer to that, too!


    Still, getting slightly off the subject, here. Anyone got any other suggestions about where one could obtain a stand-alone Dolby Headphone decoder? Anyone fancy making one as a DIY project? :)
     
  26. Jase

    Jase
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    This product by Philips may suit (it was in an earlier link). It has the headphones attached by a cord so presumably you could use some other headphones if need be.

    HERE
     
  27. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Yeah, but I'd still be paying extra for headphones and headphone amplification circuitry I don't want. :mad:

    Anyone know if the Philips thing is actually available in this country?
     
  28. Jase

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    Cheaper than buying an A1SR though! :rotfl:
     
  29. Jeff

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    I have Senheisser HD 600 on order together with a Sugden headmaster preamp. I post my thoughts after I've had a chance to play properly.
     
  30. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Ooh, Sugden Headmaster.

    (drool)

    I'd love to try one of them and see how it compares to my Graham Slee Projects "Solo" (mk II). But £600 is a lot of money. :(
     

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