What are the main reasons for getting a headphone amp?

Discussion in 'Headphones' started by Alobar, Feb 1, 2018.

  1. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    I am fairly new to the world of headphones. I have just ordered the Sennheiser HD 579 which are a 50 ohm, open back model and I probably won't play these too loud. I have a rebuilt Kenwood vintage separate amp/preamp now, each with headphone jacks. I know this will probably be a difficult question to answer, but is there an advantage to buying a separate headphone amp for these cans? I am looking at the Schiit Magni 3 as in my budget range, but I obviously don't want to buy it if the Kenwood 700 headphone amp will be just as good.

    Having such little experience with headphones I probably wont ever be certain if I am hearing the HD 579's at their best without understanding just what a separate headphone amp can do for me.
     
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  2. boza

    boza Super Member

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    Hi Alobar.
    I would bet that your kenwood will sound pretty good and may take some beating at a reasonable price.
     
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  3. JoeESP9

    JoeESP9 ESL's & tubes since 83

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    Good question Alobar. Although I use a headphone amp (Little Dot MKII) I'm curious as to the answers you'll receive.
     
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  4. the skipper

    the skipper Amateur Curmudgeon Subscriber

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    Three main reasons I can think of:

    1) Your current setup is not capable of driving your headphones to their fullest potential.

    2) You believe your current setup is not capable of driving your headphones to their fullest potential.

    3) You simply want one.
     
  5. sKiZo

    sKiZo Hates received: 8641 Subscriber

    What he said.

    Many integrated receivers have good solid headphone support, but a dedicated amp tends to be more flexible when matching cans for optimal performance. A new dedicated amp will also be using current tech just not available until recently that can have outstanding impact on what you hear.

    * I do know my Maverick TubeMagic runs rings around any of my integrateds for clarity and SQ even after complete recaps. The Maverick DOES have upgraded op-amps, which help a lot.
     
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  6. elcoholic

    elcoholic AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    In the case of planars which provide no feedback to the amp the difference is dramatic. An amp designed for speakers with some sort of aux circuit may drive hp’s well enough but will be comprised compared to an amp design specific to headphones. Some people suffer listening fatigue with headphones which is psychoacoustic as opposed to physical comfort. There are hp amps such as those by Meier Audio with a crossfeed circuit that is effective in reducing this issue.
     
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  7. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    Thanks for the responses. One other possible use for a headphone amp could be for the times when I'm traveling and just have a cellphone to play music with. I am not sure that my phone has enough guts to drive these cans, at least not well but feeding its output into the headphone amp would solve that and quite possibly give me a good bump in the SQ dept. My wife is going in for major surgery within a month or so and we are going to be in a hotel for a few weeks and having a good amp fed from the phone might be nice.. I know, it sounds like I am talking myself into this!
     
  8. abpeep

    abpeep OU Sucks!! Subscriber

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    I have used a Samsung Galaxy tablet-> OTG cable-> Fiio E10K DAC/Headphone amp-> IEMs and it sounds very good. The only problem is that the Fiio is powered by the tablet so at some point you would have to get a charge while not being able to listen. I never listened that long at one time.

    I seem to remember seeing a DAC/amp with 2 USB, one for power only.
     
  9. sKiZo

    sKiZo Hates received: 8641 Subscriber

    Been doing the rounds of hospitals lately and get along nicely using just the smart phone and a pair of decent "sports" phones with wrap around ear holders, so they don't get yanked off as one tries to roll around and such. My music library is all stored in the cloud, but that depends on what you've got for a connection. Good news here is most facilities have decent guest wifi available. Keep in mind you'll have limited desk space to work with and you can bet the staff will have issues having to get around or trip over too many cords, and chances are good you won't be there to supervise a cleaning crew and get everything put back right. Also a shortage of wall plugs is common and you need to plan around that as well.
     
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  10. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    She won't be in the hospital that long,just overnight if all goes well, but the follow-ups make it impractical to leave the area so will be nice to have a good sounding entry level headphones to pass the time. Only watch the tube so long! Hope the Sennheisers sound decent.
     
  11. elcoholic

    elcoholic AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Earlier I assumed we were discussing table top hp amps. Once you get a taste for the good stuff if you’re like me you’ll want flac or Alac files and a phone’s limited storage won’t do. You may want to consider a player/amp/DAC such as the FiiO X5. A regular Swiss-army knife of portable audio that can hold 1/2 TB of your music.
     

     

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  12. illinoisteve

    illinoisteve Super Member

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    One reason to have a headphone amp would be for a stereo system in a location where you would would not be able to or would not want to play music over speakers.

    The ideal quiet-room mini-system:
    1) A music source (cdp, tape deck, tuner, etc.)
    2) Headphone amp
    2) Headphones

    Alternate version:
    1) Turntable
    2) Mini phono preamp
    3) Headphone amp
    4) Headphones
     
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  13. sKiZo

    sKiZo Hates received: 8641 Subscriber

    I can guarantee you most any hospital nowadays wouldn't allow a system with speakers. They even limit the volume on the pillow speaker used with the TV now ...
     
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  14. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    Yes I agree with you about the cellphone as a music device with its limited dac and 320 kbps. But this is only going to be for a brief period of time, 2 weeks or so, the biggest majority of time using these headphones will be at home playing it through a decent dac and all lossless files from my Raspberry pi. The X5 is intriguing however and I need to look into that as an alternative to the cellphone storage and player for when away from home.

    I really don't know what to expect from these new HD 579 headphones . I realize going in that they are what I consider entry level, but beings I have not experienced what I think of as good hp's I am hoping to hear some sort of a detailed music experience from them that would make such things as source (equipment and music) noticeable. Thus far the cans I have had didn't seem to make much difference what sources were used. What I am wondering is if having a dedicated hp amp could make a difference with these headphones or would I need better cans still to make much of a difference.
     
  15. elcoholic

    elcoholic AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I found that the better the HP's the greater the benefit (need?) of lossless files and a good amp. I ripped a thousand CD's at 128kbps for Apple's packed-in ear buds, then again at 320VBR for Etymotic in-canal IEM's and again to ALAC for headphones before ripping them again to FLAC for my non-Apple future player. It was relatively easy to batch convert an ALAC copy of my library for my 2 iPod Classics. When they're done I'll get an X5 or ???
     
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  16. olderroust

    olderroust AK Member

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    In general, a big part of the rationale for a headphone amp is impedance matching. I have heard the issue in the particular case of Sennheisers, Many Senns have an impedance versus frequency curve which features a much higher than nominal impedance region at around 100-150 hz. I have Senn 598s (nominally, a 50 ohm headphone,) and I've seen the impedance curves for the 600s and 650s - they have similar shapes.

    If you're using an amp with an output impedance that isn't very low relative to the nominal impedance of the cans - 1/10th to 1/8th at most, so in the case of a 50 ohm headphone, 6 ohms output impedance or lower - that deviation from nominal will result in distorted sound.

    In the case of my 598s, a standard headphone jack on most gear is well above 10 ohm - 50 ohm output impedance is pretty common. The sound of the headphones is very poor through (for instance) a Denon integrated and a Yamaha receiver - the headphones sound very boomy, and comparing them to speakers it's obvious that they have a very different timbre.

    By comparison, when used with the low-impedance schiit fulla 2 or Arcam irdac-II, they sound fairly neutral, and are a good match for the timbre of my Gallo monitors. Those two amps are in the 1 ohm output impedance range.

    For much more on the topic of impedance, check out

    http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/02/headphone-amp-impedance.html
     
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  17. Bob

    Bob AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    couple of other points

    1. your system is SS and your HPs seem to do tube stuff better, so a tube amp/buffer/HDP-amp is next
    2. your system is far away and plugging a headphone in/out is painful
    (why guys over 40 have remote controls - because other hand has open mug of topped-up beer)
    3. you pull the hedadphones out and the loud music shatters your trophy cabinets and SWAT arrives 5 mins later
    4. you have electrostatics and don't want to push the buttons all the time, so you use tape/buffer outputs
    to a nearby amp (SS or tube) and dedicate this amp for HD listening. while using your remote control(s)
    to mute/lower sound levels through main system
    5. you are a fashion A-list king and your headphone amp matches your headphones, in color,
    style (Bauhaus), clothing worn during headphone experience, and of course your customized car.
     
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  18. elcoholic

    elcoholic AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Or (1+4)/2=2.5 I do have Stax e'stats and drove them off my main system's tube amp on the 8 ohm tap. Meanwhile my Bi-wired B&O speakers were on the 4 ohm terminals necessitating pulling 4 sets of banana plugs at the speakers to listen to the Stax. So eventually I bought a Musical Fidelity V90 speaker amp to feed the Stax 230 Volt output adapter for the Stax "ear speakers". Totally worth it by the way.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2018
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  19. Alobar

    Alobar Pulling out of the Last Chance Texaco.. Subscriber

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    Thanks for the info, and great link! I learned a lot.. I dug out the owners manual for my old Kenwood 700C and discovered it has an 8 Ohm phone output, a little higher than what would be max for 50 ohm cans using the 8ths rule, so will be looking for a headphone amp for in home use.
     
  20. ic-racer

    ic-racer Well-Known Member

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    Headphone output of many amps is an Lpad from the speaker outputs. Good, you hear your favorite amp's output section, but you are listening through some resistors. Some people will lose sleep over that, I suspect.
    Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 4.49.15 PM.png
     
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