Improving vinyl setup for headphone listening

nickpish

Novice Member
I'm extremely pleased with my current vinyl/hi-fi rig when listening via speakers, but the headphone listening experience when using the receiver headphone jack is a bit lacking. I recently upgraded my receiver to a Yamaha R-N803—after receiving a ton of phenomenally helpful feedback/insight on this forum—which I have paired with a Cambridge Audio Azur 551P phono preamp and Technics SL1200MK2 turntable. When I plug my Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro (80 ohm) headphones directly into Yamaha's headphone jack, I'm finding the output rather lifeless (flat and lacking in bass, in particular.) I have read in numerous places that the headphone jacks on receivers are often tacked on as something of an afterthought, and don't typically use the quality components of, say, a dedicated headphone amp (although, I'm not sure if this is actually the case with the R-N803.) Thus, as I'm finding myself wanting to have more vinyl listening sessions at night with the use of headphones, I'm wondering how I might best optimize/improve the sound quality?

Specifically, I suppose my first question would be if there's anything I can do on the receiver level to improve the headphone output quality? Beyond that, I'm contemplating upgrading my phono preamp to one with an integrated headphone amp, such as the MoFi UltraPhono, which looks to receive rave reviews. I've also looked at the Schiit Audio Jotunheim modular headphone amp with the passive phono module. (Lastly, I've also read about the Cambridge Audio Alva Duo, but numerous reviews indicate the headphone amp is lackluster.) If I go the upgrade route, can I reasonably expect the headphone output from one of these devices to offer a major improvement over that from the Yamaha headphone jack? If anyone has any thoughts on those units in particular, or has something else to recommend, I'd greatly appreciate the feedback. From searching online, it seems there isn't a super-abundance of these kinds of combo phono/headphone amp units out there, so I'm also open to any other suggestions for modifying my setup to improve headphone playback- thanks in advance for any insight here!
 

DT79

Well-known Member
If you’re serious about headphone listening then you’re right, a phono-preamp with a decent built-in headphone amp is the way to go, or better still see if you can find a phono preamp with two sets of outputs and hook the second set up to a dedicated headphone amp.

If the Yamaha receiver has a tape out, or fixed level zone 2 stereo output, you could try hooking a headphone amp up to that. It’s not ideal to have the signal going through the Yamaha first, but will most likely be a great improvement on using the Yamaha’s internal headphone amp.

Or other way around, if you just want to listen to vinyl via the headphone amp, then I’m sure there are some that have a line out (make sure it’s a line out not a pre-out) so you could plug the phono pre into the headphone amp and then take the line out to the Yamaha.
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
When I plug my Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro (80 ohm) headphones directly into Yamaha's headphone jack, I'm finding the output rather lifeless (flat and lacking in bass, in particular.)

Have you been happy with these headphones when used in another, perhaps earlier, setup or are the headphones new to you? I say this because closed-back headphones for domestic music listening are an acquired taste but if you're good with these headphones then I agree with @DT79 above.
 

BT Bob

Distinguished Member
I have the Alva Duo and regularly use the headphone output (I have Meze 99 Classics) and i really like the sound.
It's "cleaner" somehow - less coloured - than the output from my CA CXA61 amp.
I don't have anything else to compare it to - apart from the output of my iPhone - but to me it sounds great.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
You can connect the Yamaha to any headphone amp via the Line Out RCA and all your components connected to the Yamaha would play through that. Most headphone amps only have one set of RCA inputs to the Yamaha would have to act as a hub for all connections. A good headphone amp will make a considerable difference in your listening pleasure.

As for headphones then open back are always going to give you a wider soundstage than closed backs. There are so many to choose from in all price brackets. Same can be said for headphone amps. All depends on how deep your pockets are.
 

nickpish

Novice Member
If you’re serious about headphone listening then you’re right, a phono-preamp with a decent built-in headphone amp is the way to go, or better still see if you can find a phono preamp with two sets of outputs and hook the second set up to a dedicated headphone amp.

If the Yamaha receiver has a tape out, or fixed level zone 2 stereo output, you could try hooking a headphone amp up to that. It’s not ideal to have the signal going through the Yamaha first, but will most likely be a great improvement on using the Yamaha’s internal headphone amp.

Or other way around, if you just want to listen to vinyl via the headphone amp, then I’m sure there are some that have a line out (make sure it’s a line out not a pre-out) so you could plug the phono pre into the headphone amp and then take the line out to the Yamaha.

Thanks for the reply @DT79 - my Yamaha receiver has two line level outs; I hadn't thought about going that route to incorporate a headphone amp, that would definitely be cheaper. Would looping the sound through the main amp to the headphone amp have any adverse impact on the sound? I'm also curious if there's a case to be made for keeping a separate phono preamp and getting a separate headphone amp as opposed to combining all that circuitry in one box, as with the MoFi UltraPhone or Shiit Jotunheim?

Have you been happy with these headphones when used in another, perhaps earlier, setup or are the headphones new to you? I say this because closed-back headphones for domestic music listening are an acquired taste but if you're good with these headphones then I agree with @DT79 above.

@dogfonos - Good question; to be honest, I'm still figuring out how I feel about the Beyerdynamic headphones. I bought them as an upgrade from my Audio Technica ATH-M50x, and (ironically) I find myself frequently returning to the AT's. They certainly sound better when using the Yamaha headphone jack, no question; still lacking in depth, but better than the DT770 Pro, to my ears at least.

I have the Alva Duo and regularly use the headphone output (I have Meze 99 Classics) and i really like the sound.
It's "cleaner" somehow - less coloured - than the output from my CA CXA61 amp.
I don't have anything else to compare it to - apart from the output of my iPhone - but to me it sounds great.

Thanks for the feedback on the Alva Duo, @BT Bob - do you feel like the sound out of the Duo is richer/fuller than straight from the jack of the CA CXA61? That unit is definitely still a serious contender in my mind.

You can connect the Yamaha to any headphone amp via the Line Out RCA and all your components connected to the Yamaha would play through that. Most headphone amps only have one set of RCA inputs to the Yamaha would have to act as a hub for all connections. A good headphone amp will make a considerable difference in your listening pleasure.

As for headphones then open back are always going to give you a wider soundstage than closed backs. There are so many to choose from in all price brackets. Same can be said for headphone amps. All depends on how deep your pockets are.

Thanks for the reply, @gibbsy - I hadn't thought of using the line out RCA on the Yamaha- is there any real downside to having the sound routed via that amp to the headphone amp? That would certainly be the most economical route, as I could just get a decent headphone amp and be done with it. I will also look into an open back headphone- I honestly didn't realize the closed-back architecture had such an impact in shaping the sound when compared to open back.
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
I'm still figuring out how I feel about the Beyerdynamic headphones. I bought them as an upgrade from my Audio Technica ATH-M50x, and (ironically) I find myself frequently returning to the AT's.

Both these headphones are closed back so won't sound particularly spacious when compared to open-back 'phones. Generally, the soundscape of closed-back 'phones will either be within the head or just outside - but you probably know that anyway. Have you ever listened to a quality open-backed pair of 'phones? The imaging can be spectacular, although I appreciate that may not be your top priority.

I'm a born-again headphone convert. Decades ago I owned midrange Sennheiser open backed 'phones. Deep bass was lacking, as is typical with open-backed 'phones, but the sound presentation was awesome - so spacious and airy. I probably didn't appreciate just how good they were (nor how important this aspect of sonic presentation was for me) until I recently purchased a pair of semi-open 'phones that are great in most respects but they barely image outside the head.

I wonder if there are any headphone users on this forum who choose to use closed back 'phones for their listening pleasure (caveat: other than folks who require the sonic isolation provided by closed-backs)?

I hope you manage to find a not-too-expensive solution that works with one set of your 'phones, but if not, maybe consider/audition some open-backed models. Some good info here:

 

gibbsy

Moderator
Thanks for the reply, @gibbsy - I hadn't thought of using the line out RCA on the Yamaha- is there any real downside to having the sound routed via that amp to the headphone amp? That would certainly be the most economical route, as I could just get a decent headphone amp and be done with it. I will also look into an open back headphone- I honestly didn't realize the closed-back architecture had such an impact in shaping the sound when compared to open back.
That is how I have my stereo amp and headphone amp linked although my stereo amp has a dedicated RCA for connection to headphone amps. Otherwise the 'record out' would normally be used.

I have a pair of open back and closed back headphones. Closed back are good when the wife wants to listen to something on the TV and I can listen to music without impacting on her TV watching. Open backs will allow a certain amount of audio 'bleed' which some sitting around you may find annoying. I prefer my open backs.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I wonder if there are any headphone users on this forum who choose to use closed back 'phones for their listening pleasure (caveat: other than folks who require the sonic isolation provided by closed-backs)?
I would never choose my closed back (Shure 1540s) over my open back (Oppo PM1) purely for quality listening. There is a fair gulf between them for depth and instrument positioning with a more open soundstage. That's not to say the Shures are poor, far from it once you get into a listening session that needs to be done with closed backs. It is after all Strictly Come Dancing season and I need some sonic isolation.
 

nickpish

Novice Member
That is how I have my stereo amp and headphone amp linked although my stereo amp has a dedicated RCA for connection to headphone amps. Otherwise the 'record out' would normally be used.

I have a pair of open back and closed back headphones. Closed back are good when the wife wants to listen to something on the TV and I can listen to music without impacting on her TV watching. Open backs will allow a certain amount of audio 'bleed' which some sitting around you may find annoying. I prefer my open backs.

@gibbsy Just so I'm clear (as I'm very much still learning here) I'm attaching an image of the back of the Yamaha RN803 - I currently have my phono stage connecting to my "Line 2" inputs, which also have outputs; would it make sense for me to wire a headphone amp via the "Line 2" outputs (and I guess I'd just just turn off the speakers when listening to headphones) or would it make more sense for any reason to use the "Line 3" out to the headphone amp?

As far as headphones, I need to do some research on the difference between open back and closed back, as it seems I've only ever listened to closed back- I'd be really interested to listen to open back cans to compare!

Both these headphones are closed back so won't sound particularly spacious when compared to open-back 'phones. Generally, the soundscape of closed-back 'phones will either be within the head or just outside - but you probably know that anyway. Have you ever listened to a quality open-backed pair of 'phones? The imaging can be spectacular, although I appreciate that may not be your top priority.

I'm a born-again headphone convert. Decades ago I owned midrange Sennheiser open backed 'phones. Deep bass was lacking, as is typical with open-backed 'phones, but the sound presentation was awesome - so spacious and airy. I probably didn't appreciate just how good they were (nor how important this aspect of sonic presentation was for me) until I recently purchased a pair of semi-open 'phones that are great in most respects but they barely image outside the head.

I wonder if there are any headphone users on this forum who choose to use closed back 'phones for their listening pleasure (caveat: other than folks who require the sonic isolation provided by closed-backs)?

I hope you manage to find a not-too-expensive solution that works with one set of your 'phones, but if not, maybe consider/audition some open-backed models. Some good info here:


Thanks for the info, @dogfonos - I do listen to a lot of bass-oriented (electronic) music, so it is a general rule that open back headphones have a lesser bass response when compared to closed backs? Thanks for the link- I see the ATH-M50x is on the list! I would *love* to try the HD 800 S...
 

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gibbsy

Moderator
@gibbsy Just so I'm clear (as I'm very much still learning here) I'm attaching an image of the back of the Yamaha RN803 - I currently have my phono stage connecting to my "Line 2" inputs, which also have outputs; would it make sense for me to wire a headphone amp via the "Line 2" outputs (and I guess I'd just just turn off the speakers when listening to headphones) or would it make more sense for any reason to use the "Line 3" out to the headphone amp?
The manual shows any external recorder to be connected to 'Line 3' so for the headphone amp it would be the bottom pair of RCA. You would have to turn the speakers down manually.
 

BT Bob

Distinguished Member
Thanks for the feedback on the Alva Duo, @BT Bob - do you feel like the sound out of the Duo is richer/fuller than straight from the jack of the CA CXA61? That unit is definitely still a serious contender in my mind.
I hate trying to describe sound, but richer/fuller aren't necessarily words I'd use. But then I think my amp/speakers (CXA61/Ophidian Mojos) have a full, warm sound anyway.
My TT/Cart (Rega P6/Ania) are pretty detailed and clear sounding, and I think that's more pronounced on the headphone output of the Alva than the one on the CXA.
I should stress I bought the Alva as a phono stage to replace my old Schiit Mani when I went down the MC route, so the headphone amp is very much a bonus for me.
Don't know if this helps or not, but good luck in your search.
 

nickpish

Novice Member
The manual shows any external recorder to be connected to 'Line 3' so for the headphone amp it would be the bottom pair of RCA. You would have to turn the speakers down manually.

Ah, ok! Thanks for checking @gibbsy, it's most appreciated; I don't suppose you'd have any recommendations for a headphone amp? I see lots of acclaim for the Schiit Magni- do you have experience with that line?
 

nickpish

Novice Member
I hate trying to describe sound, but richer/fuller aren't necessarily words I'd use. But then I think my amp/speakers (CXA61/Ophidian Mojos) have a full, warm sound anyway.
My TT/Cart (Rega P6/Ania) are pretty detailed and clear sounding, and I think that's more pronounced on the headphone output of the Alva than the one on the CXA.
I should stress I bought the Alva as a phono stage to replace my old Schiit Mani when I went down the MC route, so the headphone amp is very much a bonus for me.
Don't know if this helps or not, but good luck in your search.

@BT Bob Interesting you moved to the Alva as a replacement for the Mani- I'm actually currently contemplating getting the Magni 3+ or Heresy - were you happy with your Mani? I was also contemplating the modular Jotunheim (w/ phono module) but it would actually be cheaper to just get the Magni and use my receiver's line out along with a separate phono stage.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Ah, ok! Thanks for checking @gibbsy, it's most appreciated; I don't suppose you'd have any recommendations for a headphone amp? I see lots of acclaim for the Schiit Magni- do you have experience with that line?
I've been trying to get a Schiit Magni for my secondary headphone set up but stock in the UK is virtually zero. I have a Lehmann Linear headphone amp in my main system.

Linear < Home < Headphone Amplifiers < Lehmannaudio
 

BT Bob

Distinguished Member
@BT Bob Interesting you moved to the Alva as a replacement for the Mani- I'm actually currently contemplating getting the Magni 3+ or Heresy - were you happy with your Mani? I was also contemplating the modular Jotunheim (w/ phono module) but it would actually be cheaper to just get the Magni and use my receiver's line out along with a separate phono stage.
The Mani was great with my RP1/Bias2 and more-so when I got a Nagaoka MP110.

However, when I then changed to a P6/Ania, I was less impressed with it's MC performance (I struggled like mad to find any useful reviews on the Mani with MC cartridge). The DIP switches to set the load don't match the output of the Ania and I just felt I could get more out of it. I also noticed a small amount of background noise (I assume, due to the higher gain) with the Mani.

Lots of research - I got hold of a Trichord Dino+ but I couldn't get rid of a dreadful "mains-hum"; no matter how I connected it or where I sited it. So that went back.

Then I spotted an as-new Alva on eBay for a great price, so took a punt. Although it's not adjustable for load or gain, the figures are a closer match to the Ania. I figured that if it wasn't an improvement on the Mani, I could probably get all, if not most, of what it cost me back. As this all happened in May/June, Schiit UK had no stock of Manis, so I was able to sell my Mani for more than I paid for it (such is the demand for them - I've subsequently seen them going for over £200!!!!).

I noticed an immediate improvement - firstly, the noise floor dropped to virtually nothing; I found a greater depth to the music and the increase in detail I'd been expecting from the Ania, that I felt was lacking in the Mani in MC mode.

As I said above, the presence off the headphone amp was a bonus - I've never had a separate headphone amp, so really have no direct comparison.

I've subsequently added a screened power cord which, although I can't detect a change in sonics of music, has, I think, improved the already impressive noise-floor. (One of the attractions for me was the Alva doesn't use a wall-wart PSU, but has a direct IEC cable into the back).

HTH
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
so it is a general rule that open back headphones have a lesser bass response when compared to closed backs?

I'm no headphone expert, but as I understand things, yes, it's a general rule - but like most generalisations, there will be exceptions.

Check out some detailed technical reviews for individual headphones on the website I linked in post#7. I can honestly say I've never seen such comprehensive technical testing of any hifi product before. The scope of RTINGS headphone testing regime is staggering.

So to answer your question, check out bass performance for a range of headphones on RTINGS (both open backed, semi-open and closed-back) and you'll see for yourself. Example:
 
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dogfonos

Well-known Member
That's not to say the Shures are poor, far from it once you get into a listening session that needs to be done with closed backs. It is after all Strictly Come Dancing season and I need some sonic isolation.

Wouldn't you be better off with wireless 'phones for pirouetting around the lounge?
 

nickpish

Novice Member
The manual shows any external recorder to be connected to 'Line 3' so for the headphone amp it would be the bottom pair of RCA. You would have to turn the speakers down manually.

@gibbsy One more question for you re the connection (pardon my being dense here) - I'm seeing in the R-N803 manual:

"In order to prevent the audio signal from looping when an audio recording device is connected, the audio signal is not output from the LINE 2 (OUT) jacks when LINE 2 is selected. Similarly, the audio signal is not output from the LINE 3 (OUT) jacks when LINE 3 is selected."​

So, it seems I'd keep my phono stage going into the Line 2 input, and connect the headphone amp to the Line 3 out, while keeping Line 2 selected as the source (and turning off speakers when listening w/ headphones)? I had initially assumed I'd use Line 2 for both, i.e. input for phono stage and output for headphone amp, but it seems they need to be attached to separate lines? Thanks for the clarification!
 

gibbsy

Moderator
It's not very clear really but I think you have it right. Use Line 2 In for the TT and as in the manual Line 3 Out for the headphone amp.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Wouldn't you be better off with wireless 'phones for pirouetting around the lounge?
Oh too old for that. The wireless headphones.......... ;)
 

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