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The Headcase pico Lovefest: Post your impressions here


thrice
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I've had my Pico with DAC for a few days. I've tried it with a Vista PC and a Macbook. The DAC is decent and surprisingly good for such a small package, but I don't think it's particularly good compared to a Lavry DA10, for example.

The Pico drives the ESW9 reasonably well and and they comprise a nice transportable package together with the Macbook. I worry a bit about the Pico's battery life and potential effects of many charge cycles.

Really? Interesting I find it muchh nicer than the Lavry/Benchmark stuff but it might just be that it's sound signature is merely optimal with my personal tastes.

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I'd wager that both of those aspects were intentional and not at all accidental.

True for the most part. I'm still learning post-processing and sharpening is something I'm not overly confident about, I just sharpen to a point that looks good to me without pushing artifacts or looking like overkill (these are around 120/0.4/0 USM in CS2). So I'm sure that my point of view in that regard may or may not be what someone else considers correct. I did take some pics at smaller apetures, but the meager amount of extra sharpness was not worth the tradeoff for smoother, less distracting OOF areas.

I'm going to compare the performance of the two for a while, including using the Pico to amp the Apogee's analog output. At this point I'm not sure if I'll keep the Apogee or not, it is more convenient for speaker use.

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Hmm well I went back and fiddled around with the files a bit more, but I didn't come up with anything I found preferable, the current results just look better to me than something more conservative. Of course, I wouldn't sharpen people pics to the same extent, but for conveying the sleekness and precision of the Pico, I think it works.

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Yeah, that's the downside of a switched pot. I'm not a big fan of them. While it does make it impossible for you to accidentally turn it on at max volume, it comes at a cost of volume control range.

That said, the gain levels are higher than the Predator. I got a chance to compare head to head. The Predator has three levels of gain, with the lowest allowing a pretty large range of volume control. But the Predator does not amplify as much as the Pico does, so those with HD650's and K701's are going to be pretty disappointed with the Predator compared to the Pico when it comes to straight volume levels.

Oh that and the USB DAC section in the Predator seems to be more prone to noise. With my Fujitsu P1610, the Predator was quite loud hissing noise at all gain levels. Pretty much made IEM use un-listenable. The Pico on the otherhand was dead quiet. I tried a few USB cables and different USB ports, but the result was the same. Using the Predator's analog input only, it was quiet. So the noise is coming from it's USB DAC. The Pico was dead quiet no matter what I plugged into it.

Of course, this seems to vary depending on the computer. Talking with Jude, he had issues with the Corda Move hissing like crazy with his Dell laptop, while the Headroom Total Bithead did not. So it can be somewhat of a crapshoot there.

Just out of curiosity, I think I'll be plugging my Pico into various laptops and computers I can find everywhere, seems like Bestbuy and Fry's would be a great place to start. :P Although I will bet that I'll be wasting my time, as the end result will be the same.

-Ed

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True for the most part. I'm still learning post-processing and sharpening is something I'm not overly confident about, I just sharpen to a point that looks good to me without pushing artifacts or looking like overkill (these are around 120/0.4/0 USM in CS2). So I'm sure that my point of view in that regard may or may not be what someone else considers correct. I did take some pics at smaller apetures, but the meager amount of extra sharpness was not worth the tradeoff for smoother, less distracting OOF areas.

I'm going to compare the performance of the two for a while, including using the Pico to amp the Apogee's analog output. At this point I'm not sure if I'll keep the Apogee or not, it is more convenient for speaker use.

Are you shooting in RAW or jpeg? If jpeg, what sharpness level are you using? If you're sharpening the jpegs in camera, then usually when you run a USM pass, it becomes oversharpened. I generally shoot in RAW and then 1 pass of USM 100,0.3,0, and then an extra pass on eyes if the subject is a person. With objects, generally just one pass of USM, maybe a contrast pass, but that's about it.

Back on topic. So what volume do you use with your phones. You said volume doesn't change until 9 and it might be too loud?

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Thanks for your input Ed.

So far I agree with the non-existing background noise: using my home laptop, the pico is dead quiet, no hiss whatsoever with iems. In contrast the ipod touch has very low, but audible background noise (and I thought it was not that bad). I'll try with a mac tower at work.

Hum, bummer then, with my pico switched pot there is this dead vol area that is needed at my listening levels for iems....

One guy on H-F reported incremental vol from the "on" point. I wonder if there is variability among individual pots that could yield this results. I did write Justin, maybe he can find one that can provide adjustment closer to the on position...

Yeah, that's the downside of a switched pot. I'm not a big fan of them. While it does make it impossible for you to accidentally turn it on at max volume, it comes at a cost of volume control range.

That said, the gain levels are higher than the Predator. I got a chance to compare head to head. The Predator has three levels of gain, with the lowest allowing a pretty large range of volume control. But the Predator does not amplify as much as the Pico does, so those with HD650's and K701's are going to be pretty disappointed with the Predator compared to the Pico when it comes to straight volume levels.

Oh that and the USB DAC section in the Predator seems to be more prone to noise. With my Fujitsu P1610, the Predator was quite loud hissing noise at all gain levels. Pretty much made IEM use un-listenable. The Pico on the otherhand was dead quiet. I tried a few USB cables and different USB ports, but the result was the same. Using the Predator's analog input only, it was quiet. So the noise is coming from it's USB DAC. The Pico was dead quiet no matter what I plugged into it.

Of course, this seems to vary depending on the computer. Talking with Jude, he had issues with the Corda Move hissing like crazy with his Dell laptop, while the Headroom Total Bithead did not. So it can be somewhat of a crapshoot there.

Just out of curiosity, I think I'll be plugging my Pico into various laptops and computers I can find everywhere, seems like Bestbuy and Fry's would be a great place to start. :P Although I will bet that I'll be wasting my time, as the end result will be the same.

-Ed

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My Pico also doesn't provide any sound until about 9 o'clock, though that level is still low enough for use with the E500's (using the internal DAC). Actually it seems like a large range of usability for the E500 to me, as I can use them up to about 10:30-11:00 for quieter material, whereas the Apogee's output could move nary more than an hour from off before becoming ear-bleeding. Fortunately, the relatively stiff nature of the Pico's pot makes fine volume adjustments easier, IMO.

Are you shooting in RAW or jpeg? If jpeg, what sharpness level are you using? If you're sharpening the jpegs in camera, then usually when you run a USM pass, it becomes oversharpened. I generally shoot in RAW and then 1 pass of USM 100,0.3,0, and then an extra pass on eyes if the subject is a person. With objects, generally just one pass of USM, maybe a contrast pass, but that's about it.

They are from RAW images. I also tried something I've read several people (whose work I like) use, which is several less aggressive passes (say 50/.3/0), but to me the end result of that was identical to what I did before.

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question:

I don't get any change in volume until I reach about 9ish. Anyone else experience this or this unit has a deffective volume pot?

It would not bother me otherwise, but at this point (9ish), it can already be on the louder side for some sensitive iems.

I think this is dependent upon the sensitivity of the IEM.

With regular apple earbuds, I get the same effect...nothing until 9, but with my UE11s, I hear music just by turning it on.

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I think this is dependent upon the sensitivity of the IEM.

With regular apple earbuds, I get the same effect...nothing until 9, but with my UE11s, I hear music just by turning it on.

Right on, I am using the 13 ohm ue10s. Like I said before, there is very low level sound once I turn it on, as I change the knob slowly it does not increment, but then once it gets to 9ish, it gets loud giving little room for adjustment on higher level recordings.

With higher impedance cans this is a non-issue. Unfortunately for me, the ue10 are my main portable headphones.

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listened to mine all day at work, and irght now actually... i can dig get used to the conveniance of having a badass little setup at work. Waay nicer then my ipod ;). It' wasn't cheap, but you get so much for what u pay for, the dac in this hting is really awesome.

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I'm using my Pico with er-6i which are 16 ohm and the volume starts around 9 but I get a nice range from soft to loud. I don't find it to be a detriment in the least. I'm using it at the moment as a usb dac from my mac mini using the mini to rca out of the headphone out. I have the Pico volume maxed out, going into my integrated and K1000 out of the speaker taps. This thing is great. I use it in the office with a Cambridge Soundworks Model 12 the same way and it sounds great.

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A little Pico vs. Apogee Mini-DAC action:

So far I can only compare them as DAC/amp combos, as I have yet to do any real listening with the Pico hooked up to the analog output of the Apogee.

In this configuration, the first difference I noticed when listening to the Pico is the improved bass control as compared to the Apogee (using the L3000). I'd almost be willing to bet that the Pico has a lower output impedance than the Apogee's amp. Quick, dynamic bursts of bass pack a more powerful, yet abrupt punch, whereas the Apogee portrays such transients in a more muffled manner. Also, fast basslines are easier to decipher with the Pico, while they have a tendency to run together and sound less like distinct notes with the Apogee. This could lead some to percieve the Apogee to have more bass, as that indistinctness gives an impression of near-constant bass levels whereas the Pico's level fluctuates more with the music. Note for note, the Pico has an equal volume of bass, it is simply delivered in a different fashion.

On a related note, the Pico seems to produce sharper transients, more rapid sudden changes in volume. The effect is to make sounds more viceral, but also closer sounding than from the Apogee, which has a larger, if more diffuse presentation. Likewise, the Pico produces a slightly more layered sound which lens itself to identifying and following individual instruments more easily. There is also a touch more high-end sparkle when listening to the Pico.

When using my linear power supply with the Apogee it produces an equally smooth/grain-free sound to the Pico. However, the stock linear supply makes the sound a bit edgier/grainer, so the majority of Apogee users would likely find the Pico slightly better in this regard as well.

There you have it; for my preferences, thus far, I've found the Pico to be a better-sounding one-box USB audio/headphone setup. I can see how some might prefer the somewhat more relaxed, diffuse presentation of the Apogee (w/linear PSU). Though the frequency response of the two is empirically nearly identical, I think many would find the Apogee to be the "warmer" sounding of the two units, like due to the aforementioned bass transient and sparkle issues. And one also must consider gear pairing, and as I've used the L3000 for this comparison, someone using a radically different sounding headphone might have a different preference between the two.

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