Headphones / Headphone amps

Discussion in 'Headphones, Earphones & Portable Music' started by baileych, Apr 13, 2002.

  1. baileych

    baileych
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    I recently took advantage of the current low pricing on Sennheiser HD600 (£120). Please don't give me opinions on these unless they are good - I've already bought them! ;)

    What are people's thoughts on headphone amps? The only two (reasonably (?) priced) that I can find available are the Musical Fidelity X-Can v2 and the EarMax Pros.

    Are they much better than using the headphone socket of a normal stereo amp (say my Arcam Diva A85 when it comes back from its software upgrade)?

    Would the EarMax sound over twice as good for over twice the price? (That eternal hi-fi question again! :D)

    Thanks,

    Charles.
     
  2. Mr.D

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    Well I've got the HD600s and the Xcan V2 . I use them at work ( my idea of personal stereo).

    I bought the HD600s first and was blown away by them but I was always a little suspect about the headphone socket on my rather old sony CD player and intrigued as to the benefit a dedicated amp would bring.

    In the main its a lot less noisy than the socket on the cd player and it sounds a lot more detailed : the socket on the cd player is a lot more brittle with nowhere near as much low end. The main problem is that it gives a very detailed yet warm sound but it highlights every quality quibble on the source recordings : I thought it was a bit hissy at first but the first album I put through it was Goldfrapp which was recorded in someones front room ( you can hear the hiss fade off with the music on certain tracks). You can hear samples clipping out in the high frequencies. So you have to be a little bit careful what you put through it. The HD600s need a bit more oomph to drive em than most headphones so they do benefit from a bit of amplification.

    You can also get a stand alone musical fidelity filtered power supply that apparently makes a bit more difference again.

    I'm very happy with the HD600 XcanV2 combo.
     
  3. ReTrO

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    I can highly recommend the Rega Headphone amp, costs around £100. Used one with various Sennheiser, Beyer and Grado phones at work, very good, alos used with my Sennheiser HD25sp's, well worth listening to.
     
  4. baileych

    baileych
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    Thanks for the suggestions, people. I'll have to track down somewhere where I can listen to the Rega and the X-Cans. I'll ask my local first but I don't remember seeing any Rega there last time and definitely no headphone amps.

    Charles.
     
  5. buns

    buns
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    Another one you might try is the Creek headphone amp......i got mine for £120, i cant compare as i have heard no others, but with the 600's I find the sound neutral and relaxing yet having good detail and to my mind just the right amount of fizz!

    Ad
     
  6. john87

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    My amp has no pre-outs so is there no way I can use a headphone amp... or is there another way?
     
  7. ReTrO

    ReTrO
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    Most headphone amps have their own volume control built in, so you can use them through the outputs on a tape loop.
     
  8. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    The never ending quest for a good headphone amp. I have never quite sorted this one so I am still looking. Here goes

    Musical Fidelity is okay but personally I am looking for something much better, particularly with the great 600s (great choice by the way). I am a big fan of the X boxes so I am a bit disappointed by the phones amp and the X-LP2.

    Naim headphone amp is good but only really for Naim amps! Dins and all that. Nice case though.

    The Ben Duncan one is excellent but is fiddly with both XLR to phono and the big battery box / charger. Sounds very good though. Really tempted here.

    An american firm has some interesting products. www.headphones.com I think. Some are silly money but you could get a fully balanced drive for a rewired 600. More than you will spend I think though. Friends tell me they are very good though.

    Creek is an excellent little amp and good value. I prefer it over the Musical fidelity but again I am after something better. It is cheaper as well.

    The Earmax headphone drives (both standard and pro) are very good. However they are too light however (moves when you tug the cable) and the stupid importer won’t tell me what valves it uses. This alone has stopped me buying several ‘expensive’ bits of kit off him. No service no sale. Valves are something I love dearly but I recognise only the basic ones are still being made (ECC83s etc) today. There are finite stocks. I am lucky to have a large stack but if I buy a piece of equipment that uses slightly unusual valves I need to know what they are to replace them in 10 years time. The stupidity of the importer here is amazing. He has lost £5 figure sales from me for Cary gear. The irony is that as well as having a large stash of valves, I also have one of the most comprehensive valve data collections in the UK, I also posses perhaps the best UK valve tester! It would not take 5 minutes to find out what the valve was! No service no sale.

    I haven’t heard the Rega but their kit is nearly always good. Richard won’t stitch you up.

    Some other amps have great headphone stages as well. The old Audiolabs (8000a) had a brilliant headphone stage (better than Musical Fidelity / Creek). It was rarely appreciated. I am working on Tag to do dedicated headphone amp but they just push their pre amps. There are other examples out there. Seconhand?

    Perhaps the best I have found to date was the Sudgen. Half width box, started out as a headphone amp but is now their ‘pre’ for that lifestyle range. Not cheap but works really well.

    I once heard a brilliant headphone amp by ART but I never saw a production version. It was as big as most amps! Great sound

    EAR do one but again I haven’t heard it. The company has never answer my letters for info on stockists / equipment so they don’t get a sale anyway.

    Don’t forget you could use the pre outputs from an pre amp (or some of the better integrates) or even a tape loop. One contributor here has used a replacement Senheisser cable (with a built in volume control) re wired for phonos from Tape outputs. Not a £3 figure solution but again high quality.

    There is more out there than you think!
     
  9. ReTrO

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    Project have a nice little headphone amp so I am told, should be around £100 also, it's similar in style to their £100 phono pre-amp so should be built very well and look quite cool.

    If you want to take headphones really seriously then the only people I can really recommend is Stax. They make probably the best headphones you can get for listening (not suitable for monitoring/studio/DJ work). They use electrostatic panles rather than conventional drivers, and it makes a huge difference.

    Their start from £449 for the Basic III System which has a pair of Head-speakers, and a Head-speaker Energiser box.

    Thier top ones are around the £7k mark I think (don't sell them much!).

    The Naim headphone amp requires a Naim power-amp or PSu since it doesn't have a PSU built in (I think!)

    (Look forward to their AV2 and NAVP175 soon!)
     
  10. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Omega 11 is the best I have heard, one day......;)

    Best dynamic is still the 580 Jubilee / 600 though there are more expensive dynamics around it is just soooo even in balance

    Electostatic can be sublime leaving for dead even the 600, just serious money to justify.....Stax are well priced though given their superior quality.

    any deals on Omega 11? ;)
     
  11. ReTrO

    ReTrO
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    Who makes Omega 11?
     
  12. Matt F

    Matt F
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    Yes, that contributor was me - Sennheiser do an extension cable (HZR6) which has a passive volume control built into it - I got it from these people:

    http://www.barnsleyhifi.co.uk/Sennheiser.htm - it costs £22.95.

    I take a feed from my TAG's tape out phonos using a "2 RCA - 1/4 inch (small headphone) stereo jack lead", connected to the HZR6 lead via one of those female-female connectors.

    And it sounds fantastic with my HD600s as the TAG tape outputs have plenty of oomph so I reduce the volume a bit using the HZR6 and I'm in hifi heaven.

    Before I came up with this solution I did look at headphone amps - one that hasn't been mentioned so far is this one:

    http://www.audiocontrol.co.uk/headphone.htm

    I can't vouch for how good it is but I know some of Graham Slee's other products (phono stages etc) have been favourably received.

    Matt.
     
  13. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Forgot to mention the two I own:!

    Hart (WilmslowHart now) audiophile version with audiophile separate PS. Okay, I wouldn’t bother again

    HiFi World kit (though probably available ready built as well). Excellent. It gets even better with Mullard ECL83s (easy) and tweaked components (harder).

    The Omega 11 is the Stax flagship! Driven by a 007t energiser it doesn’t get any better (inc £10k Sennheisser). The best of the best. £3000

    The EAR HP4 is £1700!

    My heart is with the Omegas
     
  14. ReTrO

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    Oops should have known that!

    We don't do many sets above the Basic III, the one above that around £1,000 sells occasionaly.

    Don't think we've done an Omega 11.
     
  15. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    This months HiFi World (June 2002) has a great review of the Sudgen (£599) and a good review of the SE Creek (£230).

    Now I wonder if Sudgen do it in black......
     
  16. garmtz

    garmtz
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    I have recently bought a Stax Lambda Nova Classic with SRM-3 class A "energizer" second hand and sold my Sennheiser HD600. The HD600s are great (possibly the best dynamic headphones, except for the more expensive Grado top models) and need a very good amp (you just need to find out which one suits you best, I have tried it with the X-Cans V2 and thought this was a pretty good combination, although maybe a bit glassy in the highs and too fruity in the lows). I love the very neutral, unfatigueing, musical and transparant sound of the Stax headphones and you gotta loooove their bass, nothing like it... :) And while expensive, very good value for money, especially second hand.

    Not very informative for Charles, but I hope it made for some nice readin'... :)
     
  17. baileych

    baileych
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    Right, I've got an X-Can (original - not v2) on home loan at the moment. So far listening to a Musical Fidelity A3CD player I think that it's better than the NAD C350 headphone socket although the difference isn't huge. Will try listening to the DV88 through Arcam A85 headphone socket later.


    Is the X-Can v2 noticeably better than the original. Apparently a previous customer has both and can't really tell the difference.

    If I like it, what sort of deal should I be getting? My dealer said £100 off the top of his head but I may be able to haggle. I buy a lot from him!

    Charles.
     
  18. garmtz

    garmtz
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    I have never compared the original X-CANS and the V2, but I think the difference will not be that big. A friend of mine even likes the original one better (but he uses a Grado SR80).

    100 UKP sounds like a very good deal, but indeed do try some built-in headphone amps and see if you think a separate amp is worthwhile.
     
  19. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Only a small difference IMHO.
     
  20. baileych

    baileych
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    I shall now state the extremely obvious. I do this because these are things which a lot of people 'just know' but which I don't always take for granted.

    1) Headphones need running in. I guess they're portable speakers and speakers need running in. I've had my HD600's for several weeks and they're sounding better than ever. They're also even more comfortable (you don't get to say that about floorstanders ;)).

    2) The X-Cans need to warm up. I'm borrowing an ex-demo model so I think they've been run in. Anyway, they sound a lot better after they've been on for an hour or so.

    So what did I think?

    I had a long listen last night (a bit of Led Zeppelin IV, more Beethoven 5th piano concerto). As usual the differences are more easy to notice on classical music. I was using the Arcam DV88 as CD source and comparing to the headphone socket on the Arcam A85 integrated amplifier. The CD source is probably the weakest link in the system but it's the better of the two systems on which I'm probably going to do my headphone listening. (Having spent a lot on a DVD player I can't afford a dedicated CD player downstairs as well!)

    Yes, they sound different :). It's very easy to find a difference when demoing an upgrade and to assume that because it's different that it's better. It took be a lot longer but in the end I did find it better! There was a little more detail and the music was a little more involving (IMHO).

    But, for me, not worth even the bargain £100. In some ways I guess I wanted to try the X-Cans just to know if the quality of the headphone sockets which I regularly use was not up to scratch. I found that I'm not missing a lot compared to the dedicated headphone amp. Considering that the Arcam A85 is £750, I should hope that even its headphone socket should be pretty good!

    Having discovered this, I'm no longer in the market for a headphone amp. Considering the amount of listening I do on headphones (a bit, not a lot), the heaphone sockets on my integrated amps will do fine.

    There is another situation in which I would consider X-Cans though. To suppliment my portable MD player at work. I tried the X-Cans and my portable Sony MDZ-R30. While it's certainly never going to match the original CD for quality, it's easily the best sound I've ever head come out of my MD walkman (remembering not to use Mega Bass (yuck!).

    I would consider a deal on the X-Cans and the Sennheiser HD580s which my dealer has in stock. It's impractical to carry the HD600s in and out of work each day, and considering the noise level (small office but tons of PC fans) and the fact that I'm never going to get complete 'hi-fi' at work, a good deal on these two would certainly get me interested.

    Anyway, an interesting experiment.

    Charles.
     

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