Bartok headphone level setting and volume setting

I posted the following question in another thread on the Bartok and headphone choices and it may have been lost in that context. Posting as a new question to focus the topic. I searched and did not find an answer.

I have at least one pair of headphones that are efficient and also benefit from the balanced connection (The Composer), and my second pair may too (Meze Elite). Since they are both efficient headphones I’m doing a lot of adjusting between the headphone level setting and volume setting, album to album, and I’d love to learn more about how these two settings relate in the Bartok, to optimize sound quality.

I’ve read that some prefer the dynamics of the 0 dB output of the Bartok even if they have to dial back the volume - which the manual states is optimum between -10 and -30 dB.

Output level varies album to album, so with both headphones I have to adjust the headphone output between -10 dB, -20 dB or -30 dB, to achieve the “ideal” volume setting for a given album/source. With 0 dB I often have to go below -30 dB, but sometimes I can go as high as -26 dB.

To summarize the question - do you lose dynamics when you set the Bartok headphone level to something less than 0 dB or am I making a big deal out of nothing? Should one optimize for volume setting or headphone level?

Hi Andrew,

Given the precision that the FPGA’s work to when handling the audio data then there’s no loss of resolution until you’re way down on the volume control, -50db is a sensible guidline and that’s only really because you’re working with a fixed noise floor rather than any loss of resolution and I’m happy using down to -60db myself…

It’s often said that you should aim to keep the volume control in the -30db to 0db range and that’s not because of losing resolution in the actual audio (we don’t do a “discarding bits” type of volume control of course) but simply because generally you’re wanting to keep the best signal-to-noise-floor ratio that you can and therefore being up the top of the volume range makes the most of that.

I hope that helps.

Phil Harris

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Thank you @Phil . Appreciate the detailed, informative reply. I’ll continue to experiment.

I know this has been covered in other threads but I assume the guidance is the same for the line output as well as the headphone output.

For what it is worth, on the headphone side – I run my Bartok with a HD800S at 0 for really dynamic classical (volume range -35 to -30dB and the -10 or -20 setting for recordings that feature more dynamic compression.

I feel like the 0dB setting is more dynamic but that may be cognitive bias, or that fact that I choose to listen to music that is more dynamic at that setting.