I've contemplated buying a headphone amp since acknowledging many months ago that I would need one to fully utilise the benefits of my Sennheiser HD580s, and a few days ago I finally acquired an Earmax non-Pro headphone amp from ebay to replace the headphone output on my Arcam Alpha 8R integrated amp. It arrived this morning, and I've tested it with numerous CDs in my Marantz CD6000OSE (non-LE) with QED Qunex II interconnects, comparing it against the headphone outputs on both the amp and CD player. Although it's certainly different, I've yet to decide whether it's even an enhancement, let alone sufficiently superior to justify the cost (which, at £200, was fairly bargainous compared to the retail price of the Pro). I can just about discern an improvement in the mid-range, but the harshness in high frequencies that initially sparked my interest in purchasing a headphone amp is barely improved to my ears, and while I never expected nor indeed wished it to provide monstrous bass I can't help finding it somewhat underwhelming in that department as well. A couple of points need clarifying here. As is probably obvious from the contents of my post thus far, I'm no audiophile, and many aspects of the art confuse me completely. I will readily admit that I chose the Earmax chiefly on the grounds of its availability at the price I paid. After reading on this and other forums that it's considered a highly appropriate match for HD580/600s and other high impedance headphones, I decided to go ahead, reasoning that even if it isn't exactly the perfect choice, I would never be able to get anything comparable for a similar price new. Secondly, I realise that my source is bound to be the limiting factor in this situation. During the past few months I have already arrived at the conclusion, though almost certainly without justification, that it's perhaps weakest component in my system (completed by a pair of B&W DM601S2s on Atacama Nexus 6 stands connected with QED Silver Anniversary). While with some material it copes admirably, I've considered replacing it for a while to address my concerns about harsh treble and pacing problems with non-funereal tempos through both speakers and headphones; I just don't know how to decide what to replace it with. As far as the amp itself is concerned, the seller assures me that the stock valves have been replaced with the ECC81 and ECC88 from the Pro, but since I can see no such markings anywhere on them I'll have to take his word for it. It's second-hand so presumably fully broken in, and I had it running plenty of time to warm up, though I understand this is an unusually minor concern with the Earmax in the first place. So three possible conclusions can be drawn - either my CD player (possibly together with interconnects) genuinely is almost solely responsible for the unimproved tonal characteristics, or the Earmax isn't appropriate to my needs, or my ears are too unrefined to appreciate good hi-fi. I wouldn't rule out the latter at all, and if to hardened experts it's the logical consequence of everything I've said then I'd welcome that opinion so I can sell the Earmax, relinquish the notion of attaining perfection and content myself with a sound that is still vastly improved over anything I've heard from headphones before. If, however, either the source or the amp itself could make a night-and-day difference, I would very much appreciate any suggestions (preferably not bank-breaking), remembering that I'm still fairly clueless about hi-fi and don't really know where to begin with choosing a new CD player. I will hopefully be able to borrow a friend's NAD C541i at some point for testing, but since it's in a similar price bracket to my player it might not give a good indication of the improvements I can expect. Profuse apologies for the length of this post if you've made it this far, and if you've skipped straight to this paragraph the above can be summarised as follows - 'Earmax headphone amp disappointing, is it my Marantz CD6000OSE player or my ears?'. Any constructive (which I'm sure it will be) advice welcomed.