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Using headphones - worth having a headphone amp?

Discussion in 'Headphones, Earphones & Portable Music' started by Crocodile JD, May 23, 2003.

  1. Crocodile JD

    Crocodile JD
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    Hi All

    I love the sound from my Kef Q35.2s and would be happy listening through them all the time. However, with having young kids, listening levels at night have been reduced to frustratingly low levels so I've ended up getting some cans as well.

    I've got Sennheiser HD590s and I've been told, by more than one person, that they are certainly good enough to warrent a dedicated headphone amp. Currently I'm using an Arcam Alpha 7 amp for all music duties. While the sound via the cans is good, there's nothing like the attack that is there when listeng via the speakers. It could be that it gets better as the cans get run in, it could be a limitation of the cans or, it could be that the amp is simply not as good at driving them as it is the speakers?

    I've never had the chance of auditioning any so the question is would a dedicated headphone amp be that much better and if so what is a sensible price point? In fact any specific recomendations?

    Crocodile JD
     
  2. WhyAyeMan

    WhyAyeMan
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    As someone who has recently gone from not being into headphones at all, into becoming a veritable headphoneaphile :D I think I may be able to offer some advice here.

    First of all, the Sennheiser headphones you have are some of the easier to drive phones they make, that is, they will be driven pretty well out of the headphone jack of your integrated amp, and the improvement may perhaps not be as great as you want for getting an amp.

    Having said that, they could still improve noticably with a headphone amp I guess (not having heard the 590's).

    Recently, I got some Beyerdynamic DT931 headphones. They sounded alright out of the headphone jack of my Rotel amplifier, but there was definetly room for improvement, the sound was overtiring and hard.

    I recently got a Meier Audio Corda HA-1 headphone amplifier, a supposedly synergestic mix for those particular headphones. The sound is dramatically improved in dynamics, refinement, smoothness, it can also go louder and has more impressive bass. It also has a nifty crossfeed feature, which sends musical information from the left channel to the right channel, with a slight delay and vice versa, and this gives more of an impression of using speakers (its not perfect, but it goes a long way to reducing fatigue when using headphones).

    During my research, it has been suggested that the minimum of a Corda HA-1 or META 42 (a DIY amp) is recommended to see a useful improvement on the headphone jack of an integrated, and judging by the performance of the Corda, I'd say it was true.

    So, I'd say go for it, if you intend to spend a lot of time listening to cans. Just one thing though - I have found that headphones can never quite match the impact and slam that speakers can have, although you can get bassier headphones, its pretty much impossible to recreate the feeling of bass you get from speakers.
     
  3. alexs2

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    Depending on how much you want to spend,a good starter is the Creek Audio headphone amp at around £100 www.creekaudio.com (if memory serves),or if you want something truly sublime,the Earmax headphone amp from www.audiophileclub.co.uk a single ended triode amp that puts just about anything else in the shade....about £400.

    I have one of those with a set of Sennheisers and the detail etc is amazing.

    There is a huge difference between the quality of most integrated headphone outputs on amps/receivers and a dedicated haedphone amp,and I think you'd find that even one as well priced as the Creek would offer quite an improvement.
     
  4. Crocodile JD

    Crocodile JD
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    pbirkett

    Thanks for the reply. You're right about the 590's being easier to run than some. They are 120Ohm as opposed for example to the 600's which are 300Ohm. I don't pretend to know anything about the technical side, but that's the way I understood it from the reviews I read when I was choosing. I went for the 590's hoping that I wouldn't need a separate amp. One thing that is really good on them is the bass. In fact I was really suprised that you could get that much bass from cans. Deatil is all there as well. It's just a bit of punch that seems to be lacking.

    How much are we talking for the Corda HA-1 or the META 42 and does the META come as a complete kit? Would I need a reasonable understanding of electronics or is it more about being able to read instructions and use a soldering iron?

    Crocodile JD
     
  5. NicolasB

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    Hell, yes!

    Well, very often. You do find amplifiers and pre-amplifiers that have satisfactory headphone outputs, but they are rare. Most manufacturers don't bother, because they know that most people don't listen much with headphones, and they want to make the amp cheaper without affecting the speaker performance.

    The Earmax gets very good reviews. I'm a big fan of my Graham Slee Projects "solo" headphone amp (although admittedly I paid about half the price they cost now). If you want to go completely mad the Sugden Headmaster is supposed to be superb (and not a bad stereo pre-amp to boot) for about £600.

    There are various other cheaper options, too: Rega, Musical Fidelity X-Cans, and so on.

    There have been a few threads about this before. Check this one and maybe this one (for some rather esoteric discussion), and perhaps this one too.

    (There are others if you do a search).
     
  6. WhyAyeMan

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    Hi Croc,

    First of all, regarding the META42 amp, I'd go to www.head-fi.org and do a search, you may find enough info about it to get you started. But I believe you will need a reasonable understanding of electronics / DIY to get going with it.

    As for the Corda, you can find these at www.meier-audio.com. These are the only distributors of these amps, and the HA-1 cost me £206 including VAT and delivery. This is one excellent amp, and from what I've read, its far superior to the MF X-cans, Creek or Rega amplifiers, in fact at its price level, its the only commercial amp worth getting.

    From my research, the X-cans, creek and rega amps are only a tiny bit better than a decent headphone jack on amps of Rotel or Arcam's caliber. So you will want to be aiming for at least the Corda IMO.
     
  7. nathan_silly

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    Could you wire up headphones into the speaker terminals of a low powered amp? for example a tube amp?

    Would the phones go 'poof!

    ??
     
  8. NicolasB

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    Certainly, as I said, some amps have good headphone outputs. And some don't. My father has just bought himself a 2nd hand Rega headphone amp (£65), and says it's a very big step up from the headphone socket on his amplifier - but then the amp is a Sony TA-FE570, which, at £130, is not exactly state of the art.
     
  9. alexs2

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    In answer to nathan's query,there are a few(mostly american) valve amps that are very low powered,and have been used with both horn loaded speakers and headphones.
    These have mostly used the 2A3 triode and allegedly sound very good,but have price tags to match.

    For the record though,most valve power amps will be unsuitable due to power output,as most valve amps other than SETs are more than healthy in the power department(witness Manley's MB-1250 or ARC's amps).

    Far better to stick to purpose built headphone amps.....another great source of info as well as superb(but expensive headphone amps) is http://headroom.headphone.com/layout.php this site covers just about everything headphone related.
     
  10. Bassbin

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    I've been eyeing up Xcans at my local dealers for about a year now but have never felt strongly enough to shell out on them. However, this thread has rekindled my interest. Am I right in thinking that the Xcans use valves? I assume that this will give a very different sound to the other amps around. The two other products that have caught my eye are the Senheiser Lucas (would not use the surround features but could it be used just as a headphone amp) and then one from QED but I can't recall the number. Both of these units have the advantage that they can power 2 pairs of headphones which I would like. However they are only budget items so I wondered if anyone has tried them.
     
  11. Crocodile JD

    Crocodile JD
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    Thanks NicolasB:D I think so judging by the response to this thread at least. Thanks for all the replys guys.

    alexs2 what are your Sennheisers, are they the 600's?

    Being honest, I'm not in the £400 league. I'd say with the listening ratio at about 65% speakers and 35% headphones and given that my cans were only about £85 ish, I'd say the £100 to £200 range. I'm also on the trail for a second hand Arcam Alpha 8p power amp at the mo - so another hit on the wallet. I'm definately going to look into the Corda HA-1 though.
    pbirkett what are your Beyerdynamic DT931s rated at? Interested because you mention the close compatability with the Corda HA-1.

    Crocodile JD
     
  12. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    I have Sennheiser HD600s. They're rather lovely.

    (I actually have two pairs. I one the second one in a competition about 3 weeks after buying the first pair.:suicide: )

    The 580s are very nearly as good as the 600s. I'm afraid the 590s are actually a step down in quality from the 580s despite what Sennheiser might want you to believe.
     
  13. WhyAyeMan

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    Nominally, the DT931's are rated at 250 ohms, but they can peak at 700 ohms in the bass.

    The reason I mentioned the Corda is because not only does the Corda have the 120 ohm jack, which is matched to the DT931's but its also a synergistic match (i.e. components that compliment each other perfectly).

    Having said that however, I've been trying the cans out of the 0 ohm jack as well (almost all headphones use 0 ohm jacks as optimal, the 931 is a rare exception), and I actually prefer the 0 ohm jack, it gives a far livelier and more musical sound.

    I bet the Corda and 590s would also sound very nice together.

    Believe it or not, not everyone prefers the 580 / 600 over the 590, the 590 is allegedly even more comfortable, has a better quality 1 sided cord, and a livelier, more upfront balance. I know plenty of folk who prefer the 590's, but they are all good headphones and a matter of taste, but too many people write the 590's off without hearing them.
     
  14. Crocodile JD

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    OK I'm back. Apart from a very busy weekends patio building! I've been running through the various recommended threads etc. I must admit, that after reading the so called "esoteric" thread, I'm more confused than ever as to which headphones are easier to run and do I understand correctly that with the right lead I could us the tape out or pre out on my integrated for a better sound than from the headphone socket?

    On the choice of headphones, originally I was trying to get some 600s, purely on the back of reviews I admit. At the time Richer sounds were selling them at around £100+ but they were out of stock. I got fed up of waiting so I went to my local dealers. They only had the 570s and the 590s. The 590s were in a different league to the 570s but very expensive at around £160. But when I saw them on line for about £80+ inc. postage I went for it. Thanks pbirkett, your comforting words have saved me from the upgrade bug (for now at least), lets get the amp sorted first:) Unless that is NicolasB wants to sell a set of 600s cheap:D

    Crocodile JD
     
  15. NicolasB

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    I buy cheap and sell expensive. :)

    Results from plugging 'phones directly into pre-outs or tape loop may not be that great. This is one of the places where you might be thinking about plugging in a headphone amp. If you're listening to (say) a CD player, then it should be plugged into the source (the player), but it's less obvious what one should do in an AV setup. If the processor is doing decoding and/or conversion then you'll need to plug it into one of the processor outputs.
     
  16. Crocodile JD

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    I've now read many reports on Head Fi forum that backs up exactly what pbirkett says. In a few cases people actually changed from 580s and 600s to 590s. So maybe your being a little harsh on the 590s Nick.
    BTW, I actually payed £78 inc. delivery, I checked on the receipt last night, so all in all not a bad sound per pound rating. It also seems that they will benefit from a good running in period. There are many reports on bass tightening over time. :smashin:

    Crocodile JD
     
  17. WhyAyeMan

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    Just to add more weight to the argument, supposedly the 590's cable is better (and is one sided), and it is more comfortable than the 580/600. It sounds more lively, and is easier to drive.

    The 580/600 are fine cans, but need expensive source/amp/replacement cable to shine. The 590 can sound good from most sources, but still improves with decent amp/source and even cable). Not everyone likes the laid back sound of the 580/600, which to many sounds veiled.
     
  18. buns

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    I havent heard the 590's but i have heard a couple of lesser designs in comparison to my 600's....... i can understand some people not think the 600's to be the best, they are to my ears alot more refined and relaxed than many other. For me this is a good thing since they are only for relatively low level music, but one friend disagreed and went for cheaper on the basis that he would like his delivery somewhat different. Horses for courses

    ad
     
  19. Matt Horne

    Matt Horne
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    Well I have just gone in for a pair of Stax headphones which come with a headphone amp..they sound amazing though they should as the cheapest set is £450 (though luckily I bought mine second hand from ebay for a lot less :) )


    Now I cannot get the headphones off from my head.. they really are great!

    MAtt
     
  20. Crocodile JD

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    Hi Matt

    Lucky you your making me jealous;)

    I never get any joy with ebay. It seems to me that people generally pay over the odds. Seem to get carried away, maybe peoples natural instinct not to be beaten?

    Hope you got a bargain. How did you make yourself happy that what you were buying was kosher. I keep looking for headphone amps on there but they seem to be few and far between.:(

    Crocodile JD
     
  21. WhyAyeMan

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    Good headphones can be very addictive. The Stax are nice cans mate, although personally speaking they wouldnt be my first choice, but I'm more of a dynamic can man myself :rotfl:

    Actually, I've just ordered myself another pair of cans - some Beyer DT770's. BASS MONSTERS!!!
     
  22. Matt Horne

    Matt Horne
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    Well to be honest I was very lucky.. it was one of the ads with no picture and the seller had a zero rating.. but he did mention that they were boxed and even included the original receipt.

    I emailed him to find out what his reserve was (£150) and ask for pictures etc etc. I just offered him his reserve (on condition that the phones were sent special) and he closed the auction. Seems they were the last bit of his system which he was selling and even though the headphones were 8 years old he has hardly used them.

    I actually rang the guy and had a chat.. which helped me believe that he was genuine and not on the scam. So it all arrived.. boxed original receipt even had Stax catalogues from when he was choosing which to buy..:D :D

    Glad he pulled the auction as the price was rising real quick even though it had a week to go. The phones are AMAZING!

    Matt
     
  23. alexs2

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    You did well there,Matt,thats a genuine bargain and I can understand why you're happy...of all the electrostatics I've heard the Stax are about the best.
     
  24. Crocodile JD

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    Hey Guys

    What about the Rega Ear. I know it's only entry level but would it be an improvement over the headphone jack from my Alpha 7 amp? Only I've seen one for sale S/H but can't find any reviews. Just a little bit on Head Fi but not much. I know it's solid state and apparently as a result bass is kept fairly tight? Anyone have any more?

    Cheers

    Croc
     
  25. WhyAyeMan

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    It might be an improvement, but you have a decent amplifier there, so it may not be, although it will get rid of the problem with output impedance (your headphone jack may have a higher output impedance than a headphone amp, causing the bass to be more prominent, warmer sound, less treble). Chances are though, the Rega Ear will probably only represent a slight improvement (if any) over the headphone jack of your amp.

    If your going to go for an amp, do it properly, and head for one such as a Corda HA-1 (~ £210 including delivery, but this will DEFINETLY be an improvement).

    I have that said amp, and it drives my very power hungry Beyer DT770s with ease.

    PS: I seen your offer on the HFC forum, I certainly would not pay more than you offered. They are only just over £100 new.
     
  26. Crocodile JD

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    Hi Paul

    Funnily enough I've just been reading your post on there about your DT770's. I thought I reckognised this as a departure from the cans you were using when you first posted on this thread and just popped over here to check and yes I was right and here you are. I've read several of your postings across various sites with interest. :smashin:

    I think you're right, I've decided to withdraw the offer (as there's been no response to it anyway). The 590's that I have are sounding pretty good already via the amp. They've improved with use over the last couple of weeks as well. They're sure to be still running in at present as although I've had them a little while, I've only just started using them seriously. (They are so comfortable you can listen for hours). But i did pick up one ref. from Head Fi saying that the Rega was on the bright side. That would not be the best match for the 590's. I'm happy with them tonnaly, but I wouldn't want them any brighter. I just need a bit more slam and if it happened that a head amp gave a little bit of warmth or should I say extra richness at the same time, then I'd take it:smashin:

    I see there is a Creek OBH-11SE up for grabs at the mo as well woundered if that might be better. (You can tell I'm in the cheap seats can't you):smoke:

    Cheers Paul

    Croc:)
     
  27. WhyAyeMan

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    Hi Mate,

    I was myself once considering a Creek OBH-11/21 amplifier, but was advised to buy the Corda instead, although that being said, this was advice based on using Beyer headphones - there certainly seems to be a very special synergy going on between the Beyer and Corda. The Creek is supposed to be warmer with slightly more bass, but generally, the guys who have heard both Corda and Creek prefer the Corda. Mind you, this is the 590s, so it may work out differently.

    Try asking at headfi...

    Good luck
     

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