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I give up!!!!!!

Discussion in 'Headphones, Earphones & Portable Music' started by WhyAyeMan, Mar 11, 2005.

  1. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    With headphone amps that is.

    This is not the first time I have posted about this in various forae, but I am just totally convinced now that for me at least, these things are one of the biggest rip offs in hifi.

    My source is an EMU 0404 soundcard, my headphones Beyerdynamic DT531 and my headphone amp is the Headsave Classic with AD8620 opamps. Also at my disposal is a Rotel RA-01 stereo amp which has its own headphone socket.

    I had not listened to my headphones at all for quite a long time... why was this I wondered? So I decided, being in a mood for some tunes last night, to listen to them. The sound was sweet, and 'nice' but the sound for me was uninvolving - where is the bass? Where was the warmth?

    So I decided for old time sake to plug them into my amp, and again this morning. Doing this has made me realise what I liked about these headphones in the first place: warm, bright, punchy and musical.

    In fact, despite me having had many headphone amps in the future, and therefore knowing the Headsave to be one of the better amps I've had, there was not one single area that the Rotel sounded worse than the Headsave to my ears, on my equipment, with my music etc. I was expecting to hear a muddy, muffled sound in comparison. It simply isnt. It manages to sound more inviting, warmer, with a more fleshed out but still just as punchy bass (which is good because it almost seemed like it was absent before).

    I have tried around with various interconnects with the Headsave, but nothing really gave me the sound I wanted.

    I appreciate that for many people, they might well prefer the sound of a headphone amp - it is arguably a cleaner sound, and will happily spend hundreds for that last few percent. I appreciate that other headphones will appreciate a dedicated amp more, and I appreciate I am probably in a minority on this - but this is my 6th headphone amp now, all of which were used with various headphones, and I have not personally been impressed by any of them. Some would blame the quality of my source and/or headphones, but I really dont think it is this - the soundcard sounds much better than most people probably imagine who hadnt heard it, and even if it was, surely if there was an improvement to be had, then it would still be there to hear... or perhaps I'm just deaf. It does however, prove one thing to me: At best, headphone amps really are a "last few percent" upgrade for those who have a good quality speaker amp with a headphone socket.... and in my particular case, I have often preferred the sound of the speaker amp, no matter how against the grain it happens to be :hiya:

    The only other possibility is that the headphones I've got, which are quite an old design, are perhaps designed for speaker amps in the first place, hence why they sound too thin on a proper headphone amp. I have to say that I have had headphones that subjectively do seem to have benefitted, so what I am saying is not the be all and end all. Everyone hears different, and I respect this, and all headphones and systems are different. What I would say though, is carefully audition these devices if you can before you buy, because depending on your kit, your music taste and your hearing you might find the same. For me at least, I am done buying any more headphone amps.
     
  2. sceptic

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    I've said this before. Every time I look at my kit and see the headphone amp I regret buying it. It's a 2004 Slee Solo that cost £450 driving Sennheiser HD600 cans with a Marantz 6000 KI CDP.
    Of all the AV/hifi stuff I've ever bought this is by far the biggest waste of money.
    I've tried hard to convince myself that it's an improvement over the the AV/Hifi amps I've used but can't discern much, if any, difference. I've also asked friends to listen with similar results. I'm embarrassed, frankly, to tell anyone how much I paid for the damn thing. It doesn't even look good.
    It still bugs me to think how much better spent the £450 could have been.
    I keep intending to sell it but haven't yet got around to it.
    Anyway, I would advise anyone intending to get a headphone amp to audition (I didn't) although this is easier said than done.
    Doh, I've got myself in a state again.
     
  3. superpixel

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    sceptic,

    if you can beg, borrow or steal a pair of Sennheiser HD-25 closed-back professional headphones (for which the Slee was specifically designed), then you may well end up flogging those HD600s and keeping the amp...I'd say its the headphones that are more the rip-off :D

    although you may well be right about value for money - £450 of Slee in expensive casing is probably £150 worth of major manufacturer Headphone Amp

    anyway - let me know your price before you advertise it up for the sale! please!
     
  4. sceptic

    sceptic
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    superpixel
    I thought that the Slee was designed using Senn HD600/650.
    I've also used the amp with Sony MDR-CD1700 cans and had similar, disappointing, results.
    As for selling I really must get organised. I'd like to recover most of the £450 I paid. Maybe I'll start in this forum and move to Ebay if I can't get enough.
     
  5. NicolasB

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    Dear me! What a lot of negative emotions in this thread! :rolleyes:

    1) Some pieces of AV equipment have good quality headphone output without the need for a dedicated headphone amp. It isn't particularly difficult to make a good quality headphone stage, it's simply that most manufacturers don't bother. If you're trying to make a good integrated amp that sells for £200, adding a good headphone stage to it might put the price up to £300. If you've got a rival who produces a similar product with a headphone stage that costs 50 pence, then one of two things is going to happen: either his product will sound as good as yours with speakers but be £100 cheaper, or it will be the same price but sound better with speakers than yours does. So, if we assume that most listeners will hardly ever use the headphone socket, there's a limit to how much money it makes sense to spend on building it.

    If you're fortunate enough to be using AV equipment which does actually have good quality headphone output then, unsurprisingly, a separate headphone amp probably won't sound much better.

    2) Not all headphone amps are created equal: there are very bad ones as well as some good ones (same as with almost any other kind of equipment).

    3) Different sets of headphones benefit from a headphone amp to different degrees. To take an extreme example, try finding a cheap portable CD player or a flash MP3 player, and plug a pair of Sennheiser HD600 'phones straight into the headphone jack. It sounds terrible. Running the signal through a headphone amp will improve it significantly, simply because the source can't produce enough power from its batteries to sound good on its own. But try the same thing with a pair of cheap in-ear 'phones and you probably won't hear a difference.

    4) Inevitably you need good 'phones and a good source to make it worthwhile. I use an Arcam DV27A as a CD player, with a Graham Slee "Solo" and Sennheiser HD650 'phones, and, if I wanted to improve the sound, I suspect the best way to do it would be to buy a better CD player (or DAC) rather than a better headphone driver.

    But of course, not everyone likes the Sennheiser sound.

    5) As far as the Graham Slee amp in particular is concerned, it's true that Graham Slee Projects does not enjoy the same economies of scale that a company like Sony or Denon has access to. But then again, companies of that size don't generally make dedicated headphone amps. In independent reviews the "Solo" generally compares fairly well with headphone amps that cost double or even triple the price of the Solo.

    Graham Slee's whole philosophy is about value for money. Read the reviews for his phono stages - they're not state of the art, but they're exceptionally good value at the price. Quite a while ago I bought some made-up XLR interconnects from him, and the philosophy there is the same: silver-plated Neutrik connectors, high grade double-screened microphone cable, not fancy but effective and (at the time) pleasantly cheap.


    Edit:

    One other thing: if you think that Sennheiser headphones don't benefit from a Graham Slee amp, then ask yourself when Sennheiser themselves would chose to use a "Solo" headphone amp to show off their 600 and 650 'phones at more than one large audio exhibition.
     
  6. avanzato

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    I spent about £100 on my headphone amp and it sounds nice, it also gives me the convenience of not having to power up the main system to listen by phones.
    So I can't agree that as a product they're the biggest rip off around, I'm very happy with my 'value for money'.
     
  7. StevieDvd

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  8. sceptic

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    OK I'll ask myself.
    I think one answer must be that the Solo produces good results. Another may be that Sennheiser find a headphone amp a lot easier to transport than a full-sized amp.
    There may also be marketing deals between the two companies.
    None of this alters my opinion that the Solo, at £450, for a was not worth it and that there is no significant improvement, discernible to me, over several HiFi/AV amps that I've tried with headphones.
     
  9. sceptic

    sceptic
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    I'm not suggesting that the Solo is a ripoff. In fact the service I had from Graham Slee was excellent.
     
  10. alexs2

    alexs2
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    My own opinion on this is that a good set of phones benefits markedly from a good headphone amp,and my own experiences with an Earmax,and comparisons with headphone sockets on amps,plus other H/p amps bear out the fact that it certainly works for my system,but it all comes down to personal preferences,and whether or not the rest of the system can resolve the differences/benefits gained with a H/p amp.

    I can easily tell the difference between the Earmax driving my Sennheisers,and other sources....however,the reverse is also true,in that if it doesnt produce the desired sound or benefit,there is little point in paying for one.
     
  11. sceptic

    sceptic
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    Exactly.
    That's what I feel I've done - paid £450 for a component which doesn't produce the desired benefit.
     
  12. alexs2

    alexs2
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    I can understand your feelings about that,and it's often difficult to arrange demonstrations of H/p gear,whereas similarly priced speakers etc can be dem'd often with minimal trouble.

    My own experiences of H/p amps,and even using low powered amps directly,are that there are potentially good gains to be made,but so much comes down to the individual system,and listener.

    The H/p amp i have is clearly better(to my ears)than any H/p outlet on an amp that I've yet tried,but that in no way contradicts your own feelings on that topic...there are plenty of people who wouldnt want a £450 odd pound Earmax either(when you include NOS tubes etc).
     
  13. avanzato

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    Not at you but at this. ;)
    I'm not really sure where this is supposed to be going as I could gather and quote many posts of Pbirkett enthusing about headphone amps, some very recent.
    Where has the disillusionment come from?
     
  14. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    Hi mate,

    Perfectly fair point.

    Yes I did produce some promising reviews of some headphone amps in the past. I still stand by what I say that the HEadsave Classic is a really good little headphone amp for the money... but that is relative to the other amps I've owned.

    OK, I've owned the following, and used the following headphones with -

    Meier Audio Corda HA-1 - ~ £220 - Beyer DT931, DT770, DT880, DT990, AKG K271S, Sennheiser HD580
    Musical Fidelity X-Can v2 - £100 - Beyer DT531, DT770, Sony MDR-CD3000
    Musical Fidelity X-Can v3 - £250 - Beyer DT531, Sony MDR-CD3000, Sennheiser HD650
    Perreaux SXH1 - £275 - Beyer DT531, Sony MDR-CD3000
    Rega Ear - £120 - Beyer DT531, Sony MDR-CD1700
    Headsave Classic - £70 (that what it cost me anyway) - Beyer DT531

    Out of all of those, I can honestly say that the Classic is every bit as good as any of those.

    The problem has always come when I have then compared it with the integrated amp in the tried and tested way for an audiophile: That is, to listen to the new toy for an extended period of time, then go back to the "old" one to see if your improvements are realised.

    Its always as soon as I do this that the realisation kicks in.

    I am guilty as charged of getting a toy and thinking its the mutts nuts, only to find out later that it wasnt what I hoped it would be.

    I believe the phrase is "The Emporers new clothes".

    HTHs.

    PS. I am perfectly open to the prospect I may be "deaf". When I was comparing the Corda some time ago with my audiophile mate, he accussed me of being deaf because he thought there was a big difference and I thought there was none. Fair enough, but to me that does suggest that its quite subtle, either that or my hearing is a lot worse than I thought. Strange though this might sound, I am sure I've heard more difference between cables than I have between these amps and my stereo amp.
     
  15. NicolasB

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    I gather there's a significant gap in quality between most of the headphone amps pbirkett is talking about, and higher-end models like the Solo, Earmax, or Sugden Headmaster. I recall one review, for example, in which the reviewer reckoned that the mk III Solo (which was definitely not as good as the mk IV) was about comparable in quality to an X-Cans, if you take out the valves and put in much better quality ones, and upgrade the power supply, and do one or two other tweaks as well.

    I also have to say that, having tried both, the Sennheiser HD650 is (to my ears) hugely much better than the Beyer DT-531. But, pbirkett presumably doesn't agree with me about that (or he wouldn't still be using the 531s), so I guess that's a practical example of different people liking different sounds. It's not a question of being deaf (well, maybe it is, as I am actually partially deaf!) it's just a matter of differing tastes. Obviously you have to go with what you like, not what everybody else likes. :)
     
  16. franc

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    Hi all. I recently purchased a pair of the cheap BA sennheiser HD25 SP headphones in the classifieds which I have enjoyed. The 25's were fed from a Sony DVD player with a headphone socket. The sound was fine and not so different from a marantz CD63 player connected in the same way. I use this set up entirely for late night listening in bed.

    This led me to thinking that an upgrade to something like the 650's would increase my listening pleasure further. Having done some research, I am aware that the majority of the hardcore h/p listeners advocated and some even stressed the importance of a seperate/dedicated h/p amp. Thats even before we get started on the replacement cable! Now this made me curious if adding a dedicated h/p amp would benefit my set up.

    I was probably going to plumb for a Headsave Classic until Norm pulled the plug and broke some hearts. So, as an experiment and a tentative toe in the water, I ordered a B-TECH h/p amp to see if it would offer any kind of increased performance.

    The unit arrived the next day (great price and service from Beyond Hi Fi) and I was genuinely excited. Hooking it straight up to the Sony, I lay back and hit play.....

    huh! This sounds awful!

    A quick look at the unit and I can see that the tone control is set all the way to the left. This had robbed the music of high frequencies and introduced a bass-heavy mess. Moving the dial to the central position, I could hear the music even out and the top end sparkle return. It did, however, sound alot warmer and smoother than it did straight into the Sony. The bass had filled out and the increased extension was also notable. I do prefer a more neutral sound and found myself adjusting the tone control a little to the right to find a happy medium and introduce a little more sparkle.

    One thing that was more noticable was the quality of the recording. Some older recordings lacked dynamics and were ultimately flat. Newer releases were well-controlled and offered a very pleasing full sound.

    The B-Tech can be extensively modded for not much money. As a complete novice in soldering and electronics, its something I won't be attempting. I would like to try the Headsave Classic with the dedicated op-amps aimed at the high-end sennheisers. If anyone knows where they can be had at a good price, I would appreciate it.

    These are simply my findings. I don't have a great deal of experience using headphones but I did hear a difference when using the dedicated h/p amp. The big question is ' did it really sound better, or just different?' I will continue to compare the different set-ups and will try and introduce an intergrated amp to see how that affects the overall sound.

    *Last night I did try the HD25's into a Denon A10SE h/p socket. This was in turn, being fed a digital signal from a Marantz KI sig CD player. It was a brief listen but it didn't sound great at all!

    Thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully someone will find it useful.

    Regards FRANC
     
  17. WhyAyeMan

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    Just goes to show doesnt it.... you prefer the HD650 and I prefer the DT531, and presumably you also prefer most headphone amps to headphone sockets, and yet for me its the other way around. Really weird, but like you say, it does just go to show how dramatically peoples opinions differ and how important it is to audition if possible. I've spent a lot of money on headphones in the last 3 years, only to come back to my current rig.

    Personally, I would be inclined to agree the HD650 having better sound quality, its more natural and detailed. I think though the DT531 and Rotel is not exactly audiophile but its very good fun to listen to, with a forward sound and powerful bass, while the actual sound quality is good enough for me not to be distracted by it, and listening to the Beyer/Rotel combo seems to stop me from analysing the music so much as I often find myself doing with better headphones. :)

    I think perhaps the Headsave does have better sound quality than the Rotel, but like I say its just not my cup of tea, just doesnt have enough impact to the sound for me. But I find that with all the amps I've used so far. I cant speak for the real expensive (£450+) amps, but really for me I cant afford to spend that much and sceptics comments would certainly put me off trying it given my experiences so far.

    FRANC, you have PM mate.
     
  18. ipodstudio

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    Personally, IME, this question is all down to synergy. I used to use an Arcam FMJ CD33t ($3500 USDs) as my source which didn't even have an headphone out... :rolleyes: A dedicated headphone amp, was therefore a must! I invested in a Larocco Full Monty (just over £1000) to feed my HD650s...

    [​IMG]

    Eventually, through sheer boredom and the will to experiment, I sold my Arcam and bought a Denon DCP-150 PCDP for $180 bucks. I had planned to purchase a Meridian 588.24 to replace the Arcam but after listening to the Denon I binned the idea and have now achieved a sound and synergy I previously only dreamed of.

    Now why is this, exactly? How can a $180 PCDP from ebay possibly match or better my previous Arcam source? Answer = synergy.

    I have tested a multitude of different combinations and what works well to my ears and gives me exactly the sound I am after is Denon DCP-150 to full monty amp via Zu Cable RCA to Mini to HD650s via Cardas v2 upgrade cable. The latter cable actually cost me more than the source!

    The fact of the matter is that the Denon's headphone out is pretty darned good and 2 level bass boost allows for some fun listening with certain music...but it's still a wee bit mushy and not at all as clean and refined as when plugged into the Full Monty.

    That said, if I exchange any of the components involved in my rig the sound degenerates to levels where my headphone amp would not be considered worthwhile at £1000. With all those components in place, however, the story is very different. :devil:
     
  19. extremelydodgy

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    Sometimes components just don't sound the way you like. That's all there is to it. Hunting for what you like while not compromising on sound quality is the long and expensive process.


    I've had a lot of 'what the fudge' moments with amps. Many amps, such as the maxed-out PPAs muddies the sound from better sources to achieve a 'nice' sound. If that's synergy, keep me a long way away from it. The Audiovalve RKV II was another slight disappointment... I can honestly say that a mildly modded World Audio HD83 matched, if not beat it and didn't have to rolling off at the frequency extremes. But many are for one reason or another, happy with these two even with good phones. Maybe they just like the way it sounds, maybe their sources aren't up to revealing problems, maybe their hearing isn't that good. I think that for many, the colour in the sound is more important than sound quality.


    Interestingly, on the matter of sources there's never been an Arcam system I've liked that much... from the CD92 a few years back all the way to the DV29 I was trialling last week. They sounded... a bit rough or metallic, for want of a simple word. The DV29 is definitely off my list :D
     
  20. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    I think it must be for me.... on further listening, I think perhaps the classic is better than my integrated, but I somehow still prefer listening to the integrated.

    To be honest, I think I am through with it all. I cant afford to keep buying stuff until I finally find something that suits. My disposable income isnt what it once was :(
     
  21. Grif

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    I know how you feel.

    I do think the Headsave is a superb little amp though....shame Norm packed it in.
     

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