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I have a decent system and need a headphone amp that will sound great with my system. I have the following:
Magnepan MG1.7i speakers
Wyred 4 Sound 1000 MKII amp
Audible Illusions Modulus 3 Pre-amp
Speaker Cables: SP-4 Morrow Audio
Component Cables: MA-4 Morrow Audio
Phono Cables: PH-4 Morrow Audio
Looking for a nice tube unit that will allow me to listen to my headphones at night when the kids are down and the wife is asleep. Don't really have nice headphones, I have the AKG K240 MKII's...... Would like to uprade on the headphones and add a nice tube headphone amp to add to the system. Anythingy I need to pay attention to? Any suggestions from you guys??
New for me is the TEAC UD503. I bought it to be a front end for my bedroom audio system - but because it sets on my night stand I am using as a headphone amp as well. It has no noise, music sprouts from either my Sennheiser 580's or my Etymotic ER4's, out of blackness, with detail and clarity.
The other audio interface I use, that has another "out of blackness" and dynamic headphone output is my Sound Devices USBPre2 device. It is mobile (though not self powered)and travels with me. Excellent A/D's - and even when powered by a cheap USB power supply in a hotel room and not my main system power conditioners, there is no noise and harshness ever...
Both of these are a little pricey at $1k for the Teac and $900 for the USBPre2. But not bad if you consider incredible A/D and D/A's are included.
"The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat" - Confucius
There are lots of headphone amps to choose from and not each of these is a good match for each headphone.
If you are going to choose a high impedance headphone (example: Sennheiser HD 600) you will need an amp that can power that higher load with a large voltage swing. Some headphone amps can power lots of headphones great but sound terrible with high impedance loads.
For 300 or 600 ohm headphones you will usually find a tube based amp as the best solution. These amps are not great choices for many low impedance headphones because many low impedance headphones require larger current demands. A Bottlehead Crack is a great choice for Sennheiser HD 600 headphones but sounds lousy with Audeze LCD-X cans.
If you concentrate on Schiit headphone amps (a great choice for reasonably priced American made headphone amps) you will find that the Valhalla 2 is a great match for the Sennheiser HD-600.
As an alternative choice, the HiFi Man HE-400S, is a headphone that some reviewers prefer to the Sennheiser HD-600. For that headphone the Lyr 2 is a great choice that can drive almost any headphone made.
The Lyr 2 is a hybrid tube/Mosfet amp that has 6 Watts per channel at 32 ohms which is very high power. That sounds like an amp that could handle anything but the Valhalla 2 is a better choice for high impedance headphones.
You have to first choose the headphone you will use and then check its impedance. If the impedance is 300 ohms or higher, you will need a headphone amp like the Schiit Valhalla 2. If its a lower impedance headphone you will benefit from an amp that has high power like the Lyr 2.
Good luck with your choice,
NOTE: An amp that has 6 Watts/channel is very high power for a headphone amp and you will usually not need an amp with that much power. The Lyr2 is an example of an amp that has very high power, is very reasonably priced and is made in the US. A lower powered amp could do the job with most headphones but having a lot of power on hand is not a bad thing to have.
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I suggest checking out the InnerFidelity website. They review headphones and headphone amps, and they also have a recommended components list, aka Wall of Fame.
Woo Audio WA7D, regularly $999, now $799.
The dac is unremarkable but if you're just using it as an amp it's a bargain. Read the rave reviews - this is a hot piece.
"To Learn Who Rules Over You, Simply Find Out Who You Are Not Allowed to Criticize."
Designed by David Berning. You can even use it as a very transparent preamp. Excellent sounding for headphones and not near the price of something that won't sound any better. I use it with my Hifiman HEK2 and Focal Utopia all the time.
iBasso DX100,DX50 DX90. Chord Hugo. HiFiman 901s balanced. RSA Intruder, The Lightning. Fostex TH900 balanced, HE1000, HE-6, 560, 500, JH13 Pro balanced. Lyr2, Audeze. Balanced mostly with Whiplash cables. Photo gallery: www.pbase.com/jamato8
Didn't know there was a more affordable alternative.
"... only a very few individuals understand as yet that personal salvation is a contradiction in terms."
If I were looking for a tubed HP amp, Woo would be where I'd start. At a much lower price point, you might also consider the Dark Voice amp.
Headphones - bought Focal Elears a few months ago. Replaced HiFiMan 560s. The first HP I've heard that I enjoy as well as speakers. Clean, clear, dynamic, easy to drive, well made, comfortable. But pricey.
Some factors to consider - open or closed, hard to drive?, comfort, reliability. Dynamic or planar. HiFiMan wires are torturously awful. Elear wire thick as a extension cord. Ugh. So find how people rate wires. Aftermarket can be expensive.
Senn HD600s seem to be a standard reference HP that's stood the test of time. You could start out in much worse (and more expensive) places.
The 600s paired with the Dark Voice would get you in a very nice place for not a lot of $$.
Some good YouTube channels to check out for reviews, etc;
Lachlan Likes A Thing
Best of luck.
I just discovered a company online named Woo Audio. It looks like it produces very nice headphone amplifiers ranging in price from $500 up to $15,000. Check it out:
Had my WA6 (1st gen) for five years now.
"If people don't want to come, nothing will stop them" - Sol Hurok
Woo Audio is a highly regarded company known worldwide for producing amps with outstanding sound and jewel-like craftsmanship. The principal, Jack Woo, is a super nice guy who participates in many headphone events in NYC and around the world.
I have submitted for review (not on the website yet) a tube headphone amp/Integrated amp / Power amp.
It uses EL84 output tubes for 12 watts as an integrated. It is valve rectified
The tube output is a dedicated winding (not a cheap IC chip like most others) and it has three impedance settings depending on the headphone you use.
It has three inputs and a prein so it can be used as a power amp.
It is autobias so not voltmeters required.
I have had my HD600s for 17 years and I have had a few headphone amps over the years and tried several others and this is the first time I feel I've heard my HD600s sound like I always hoped they would sound when I bought them.
As an integrated amplifier it is superb as well.
$800US ($6,500 Hong Kong Dollars including shipping so it depends on the exchange rate though the USD is usually tied to the HKD) - the downside is that it is only available as an online order shipped from Hong Kong. So on the one hand you might have issue buying online - but on the other hand you are not paying triple for Importer and Dealer mark-ups.
It's a pretty small amplifier but weighs in at 24lbs.
Unlike most of these tube headphone amps like the Line Magnetic 218Mini or Antique Sound Labs this amplifier sounds far ballsier and extended and open (perhaps being valve rectified and using a beefier output transformer). Further because it actually offers some real power you can use it not just as a headphone amplifier.
I can't give everything away from my review - but it is coming.
King has a long history in computers and repairing and selling audio gear from the likes of ATC, Rogue Audio, Line Magnetic, Melody Valve Audio, Zu Audio. He was the repair/upgrade center in Asia for these tube amps.
As always with such questions; what is your budget? There are so many options over a huge range of prices that it would be of great help in answering your question if some can be ruled out due to cost.
Very open question, but if you are looking for a proven and very musical combo, maybe start with Sennheiser HD600, and a tube amp like an OTL Bottlehead Crack + Speedball (there are lots of upgrades for the amp, it's dIY but you can find them pre-bullt. Maybe try some Cardas Clear phone cables.
This is a very satisfying combo. Amp is easy to roll (just 2 tubes). You can also get an adapter to use 6sn7 tubes (I suggest tihin)
The Bottlehead Crack is excellent. Just note it is designed for high-impedance headphones. (It's magic with the Senn 800's.)
"A man need merely light the filaments of his receiving set and the world's greatest artists will perform for him." Alfred N. Goldsmith, RCA, 1922
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