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List of amps that double as stereo amps

post #1 of 47
Thread Starter 
Hi. Thought I'd start a list for those who would like to purchase an amp that can double as stereo amp as well as a headphone amp. Many people (I know I was one of them) want to plunge into a proper 2-channel speaker-based set-up, but find the prices of loudspeaker systems to be daunting. I personally found out that paying a bit more for a quality amp that has a dedicated headphone amp/out is a smart move.

I would like to start with a tentative list, but please reply with your recommendations, and I will add to this list. Criteria: the amp must be able to double its duty as integrated amp, power amp, or pre-amp.

Before I list some of the amps, I'd like to add that from my personal experience, the amps whose headphone outs are DIRECTLY coupled to the output transformer tend to sound the best as headphone amp. I've heard a lot of integrated amps with headphone outs whose performance was disappointing. With that in mind, I'd like to start out with two integrated amps with the headphone outs directly coupled to their output transformers, the Leben and the Cary. I will make brief comments on the amps that I've personally listened to. Otherwise, please feel free to comment on the amps on this growing list. *The recommending member's name will be in parenthesis, with the post # following it so you can easily refer to their impressions/opinions. Mind you, the #s do NOT represent some ranking. Cheers:

Integrated Amps:

1. Leben CS600. As far as I know, THE best integrated amp I've heard yet that doubles as a headphone amp. You have to flick the switch on the front panel to have the amp work as a dedicated headphone amp, so that the sound is transmitted directly from the output transformers, no op-amp involved. Excellent tube-rolling possibilities, as it accepts EL-34, 6L6, KT-77, KT-88, 350B families of tubes. Less romantic than Cary, but clearer, pacier sound... but still has the liquid sound. Tape-out, Bass control, Mono switch.

2. Leben CS300 and CS300X. The smaller sibling of the CS600. Made its reputation before CS600 as an excellent headphone amp. EL84-based. Puts out 15 wpc as opposed to 28-32 wpc of the CS600, so you definitely need sensitive speakers if you go with the CS300.

3. Cary 300SEI . Some prefer this amp to the Leben. Very hard to resist 300B tubes if you're a tube junkie, especially in single-ended config. If you're a chamber music listener, or solo vocals, you're in bliss. 15 wpc.

4. Cary SLI-80 (Mellow Triode, #22). Tube integrated amp, 40 wpc in triode, 80 wpc in pentode. 6550-based.

5. Cary Xciter. Would love to hear this integrated amp, as it seems that Cary is really going for the youth market. Smart move. Uses 6L6 and KT-88. 5 wpc, so you should definitely pay special attention to speaker synergy. Interesting design as Cary opted for single-ended triode rather than push-pull topology.

6. Opera Consonance Cyber-10 (TopPop, #2). Push-pull tube integrated amp, 2A3 tubes. 3 wpc.

7. Moth Audio Si2A3 (Uncle Erik, #3). "3 wpc, tube rectified, 6SL7 pushing a pair of 2A3 into Electra-Print output transformers." Single-ended, Class A1, zero negative feedback.

8. Portal Audio Panache (jonathanb715, #4). SS Integrated amp, 100 wpc into 8 ohms, 200 wpc into 4 ohms. Class AB. Dual mono design amp section. Headphone output path same as main output path.

9. Marantz PM series integrated amplifiers (jonathanb715, #4).

10. Glow Amp1 (Sherwood, #5). Single-ended pentode integrated amp, EL84-based. 5 wpc. Built-in DAC w/ USB input.

11. Beta 22 (Sherwood, #5). "Can and should be" configured to drive loudspeakers.

12. Sound Quest SQ-84 (SACD Lover, #9). Push-pull integrated amp, 6V6 tubes. 10 wpc; verson 2 puts out 15 wpc. Cap-coupled headphone amp, as builder believes cap-coupling sounds better than transformer-coupling with SQ-84.

13. TEAC A-H500 (IceClass, #10). SS integrated amp. 50 wpc @ 8.5 ohms, 80 wpc @ 4.5 ohms.

14. VTL IT-85 (Minimus, #11). Tube integrated amp. 60 wpc @ 8 ohms. EL-34 based. "Amplifier driven headphone output."

15. Luxman SQ-N100 (Minimus, #11). Tube integrated amp. 12 wpc. EL-84 based. Built-in MM phono stage.

16. AudioValve RKV Mark II (Old Pa, #13). Dual-mono, OTL design headphone amp. PCL 805/PCL 85 tube-based. "Screw terminals on the back for 3 watts RMS output."

17. Audiolab 8000A (Milkweg, #15). SS integrated amp, 60 wpc. MM/MC phono input.

18. Bottlehead S.E.X. kit (Ampersand, #24). Tube integrated, SET. 2 wpc. 6DN7-based.

19. Dared MP7 (tako tsubo, #29). Tube integrated amp. 8 wpc. 6P3P. *tako tsubo recommends MP5, but it seems that MP5 is discontinued and MP7 is the latest reiteration.

Pre-amps:

1. Woo Audio 2. Very well known here, but not many have tried it as a pre-amp. I've tried it and it's excellent as a pre-amp, as well... review forthcoming. The one I have for review has the new PDPS, and with the OTL configuration and this new fortified power stage, it's a headphone amp/pre-amp that's very close to my heart right now. Been listening to it every night.

2. Red Wine Audio Isabella. I've yet to hear it, and am dying to, given Vinnie Rossi's proven reputation. The dedicated headphone output stage PLUS the option of keeping the NOS DAC in one chassis, not to mention its ability to serve as a premium pre-amp. Can't wait to listen to this one.

3. Cary SLP-05 (Mellow Triode, #22). Tube pre-amp. 6SN7-based gain & 5AR4 tube rectification. Tape loop. Zero feedback.

4. Ray Samuels, The Emmeline II B-52 (krmathis, #20). 12AU7/12AX7 tubes. 5687 tube-buffered headphone amp w/ 1 1/4" headphone out & 1 XLR headphone out. Fully balanced, dual-mono PS.

5. Ray Samuels, The Apache (krmathis, #20). Dual mono external PS, fully balanced SS pre-amp. 1 1/4" headphone out & 1 XLR headphone out.

6. HeadAmp GS-X (krmathis, #20). SS pre-amp, JFET, Class-A. Separate PS chassis. 2 1/4" headphone outs, 1 XLR headphone out.

7. Manley 300B Pre-amp (Snacks, #26). Single 300B running with 6SL7GT for input stage. Class A. Ripple rejection circuit to filter out PS noise, esp. for headphone listening. 2 1/4" headphone outs.

8. Sugden Headmaster (chaostheory1980, #27). Class A pre-amp. Tape-out.

9. Mapletree Audio Ear + HD kit (kydsid, #31). Pre-amp functionality. Tubed.

10. HeadRoom Desktop (wharfrat1, #25). Pre-amp, DAC option. One 1/4" and one 1/8" headphone outs.

11. Benchmark DAC1 Pre. SS Pre-amp with DAC. Two 1/4" headphone outs. HPA2 headphone amp, high current, 0-ohm.

Power Amps:

1. Woo Audio 5. Doubles as power amp, obviously, and the 300B configuration, again, is hard to resist if you are a tube aficionado. I've only heard it briefly at a head-fi meeting, so I'll refrain from comments. But from what little I heard, the tonality of woodwind instruments (it was the opening bassoon solo of the "Rite of Springs" in this case) was just beguiling, even in comparison to the WA2.

And here's another thread for your reference:

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/req...eivers-353333/
post #2 of 47
Opera Consonance Cyber-10. Very warm tube amp, with a great build and look.
post #3 of 47
The Moth Audio Si2A3. 3WPC, tube rectified, 6SL7 pushing a pair of 2A3 into Electra-Print output transformers. It has a slightly warmer than neutral sound, but has that luscious liquid sound you get from a DHT.

I especially enjoy this amp with some of my "faster" cans, like the Sony MDR-SA5000 and the Beyerdynamic DT880 and DT48. Vocals sound incredible with those. I also have the Moth connected to a pair of ESS AMT-1 loudspeakers. The AMTs are very efficient, so 3W is enough to drive them. They won't rattle the windows, but reach room-filling levels without any trouble. I especially love this setup because these AMTs are one of the few (if not the only) planar speakers efficient enough to be driven by a fleawatt SET amp. The sound is warm, rich, detailed, and involving.
post #4 of 47
Portal Audio Panache - what I'm using. If you're into the single ended tube sound, may not be your cup of tea. Powerful, with reserves that I don't think I've tapped into yet. Captures much of the midrange magic of my old LFD Mistral integrated (another SS integrated), but with better bass and more power, to say nothing of a dedicated, and very good, headphone output that captures the strengths of the amplifier. 4 inputs, one tape out. No remote, no phono stage, no dac or computer input of any kind. Simple, straightforward, and kind of ugly (IMHO). This thing really sounds good, whether via headphones or speakers.

Marantz PM70 (? - it's been a while since I auditioned it, but I think that was its model number) - smooth, fatigue free sound through speakers. The headphone out is somewhat veiled in comparison to the Portal, and somehow some of that midrange magic, particularly on vocals, is missing. Considering the whole thing retailed for less than $600 when I auditioned it, it seems like a pretty good set of compromises to hit a price point. Tons of inputs, including a fairly mediocre phono stage, remote, switchable to Class A ( cuts rated power in half, but did little to nothing to change the sound as far as I could tell), tone controls (too intrusive on the midrange for my taste, so I left them switched out). If you ignore all the bells and whistles, I think it would be hard to improve on the overall sound for $600. However, I had trouble getting past the feeling that it was just too smooth, and too veiled, for my tastes. One thing, though - having this in my system convinced me that I could get get rid of my old MF X-Cans headphone amp - the headphone out on this sounded about as good (different, but just as good).

JB
post #5 of 47
Thread Starter 
Amazing. Both of you (Uncle Erik & Top Pop) recommended 2A3 tube amps! I love the 2A3 tubes... didn't even know about these amps, let alone hear them. Thanks for the recommendations!
post #6 of 47
On the lower-end of things, the Glow AMP1 is a speaker amp as well as a headphone amp / DAC.

Also, most iterations of the Beta 22 can (and should) be configured for speaker use as well.
post #7 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by ghostmusic View Post
Amazing. Both of you (Uncle Erik & Top Pop) recommended 2A3 tube amps! I love the 2A3 tubes... didn't even know about these amps, let alone hear them. Thanks for the recommendations!
Can you come to CanJam this year? I'll have it there and I'm sure a few other 2A3 amps will show up, too. And I completely agree - the 2A3 has become one of my favorites.

Sherwood, thanks for the rec on the Beta22. I had been planning to build one as a headphone amp, but it really makes sense to put speaker taps on it.
post #8 of 47
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post
Can you come to CanJam this year? I'll have it there and I'm sure a few other 2A3 amps will show up, too. And I completely agree - the 2A3 has become one of my favorites.
I'd love to, but don't know if work will allow me any free time! I'm also in the NYC area, so unless I come up with a rockin' excuse to give to both my work & my wife, seems very unlikely...
post #9 of 47
Sound Quest SQ-84 .... 10 watt per channel integrated using push/ pull triode connected 6V6s x 4 running class A/B with only 6 db of negative feedback .... and a pair of 6U8As for input/ gain. Myself, I use lower power and better sounding (to me) 6K6s for the output tubes as I use the amp only for headphones and power isnt an issue. Interestingly, I was told by the builder the headphone amp is cap coupled and does not use the transformers as the cap coupling sounded better. The headphone output is very good by any standard. This amp is a great deal bought used.






The new Sound Quest SQ-84 V2 is up to 15 watts and is listed as still using 4 x 6V6s push/ pull with only 6db of negative feedback. The new SQ-84 V2 must not be biased as heavily into Class A to be getting 50% more power from the same tube compliment.
post #10 of 47
TEAC A-H500 Integrated.

• 50W + 50W RMS output power at 8 ½
• 80W + 80W RMS output power at 4 ½
• Full-function infrared system remote control
• Separate left and right channel circuits
• Toroidal power transformer
• 4 ½ speaker drive capability
• Motor-driven volume control
• 6-input selector: Tuner, Tape 1, Tape 2/MD, CD, Phono, AUX
• Tone control (bass, treble)
• Rec. selector (Tape 1-2, Tape 2-1, Off, Source)
• Balance control
• CD Direct
• Binding-post speaker terminals
• 6.3mm gold plated headphone jack
• WxHxD: 285 x 131 x 319mm
• Weight: 7kg
... and a damn fine headphone section.
post #11 of 47
Other options:

VTL IT-85: integrated tube amp, 60 watts per channel, headphone out, tape out, but expensive at $4,250 retail. Can occassionally be found used for about $2-2.5K. (One is for sale on Audiogon right now but it is 230V). VTL makes some world class preamps and power amps. For a tube amp, this is pretty powerful and probably best suited for speaker use. You don't need 60 watts for headphones.

Luxman SQ-N100: integrated tube amp, 12 watts per channel, headphone out, retails for $3,000 but Todd at TTVJ would probably sell it for less. It's a very compact unit but I have heard two people who really know both speaker and headphone tube amps say that the headphone out on Luxman amps sounds as good as or better than some high-end dedicated headphone amps. But 12 watts per channel is not suitable for speakers is not a lot of power unless your speakers are pretty efficient.

Leben integrated tube amps appear like a great option until you see the retail price. The 600 retails for almost $6,000. Theire lower power amps are north both north of $3,000.

One thing to remember with speaker rigs is that used equipment typically sells at a much steeper discount (~50% lower than retail) than headphone gear, so it generally makes less sense to buy retail in this segment of the audio market than in the headphone amp market.

Also note: you can find preamps and integrateds that have a line out or tape out. You then can connect a separate headphone amp to that line/tape out. If you buy used and have the available real estate in your home, that combination can be a much cheaper route than paying retail for a "one box" solution.
post #12 of 47
I reviewed the RWA Isabella and can attest that it is a superb preamp and headphone amp.
post #13 of 47
AudioValve RKV Mark II - screw terminals on the back for 3 watt RMS output.
post #14 of 47
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by minimus View Post
Other options:

VTL IT-85: integrated tube amp, 60 watts per channel, headphone out, tape out, but expensive at $4,250 retail. Can occassionally be found used for about $2-2.5K. (One is for sale on Audiogon right now but it is 230V). VTL makes some world class preamps and power amps. For a tube amp, this is pretty powerful and probably best suited for speaker use. You don't need 60 watts for headphones.

...

Leben integrated tube amps appear like a great option until you see the retail price. The 600 retails for almost $6,000. Theire lower power amps are north both north of $3,000.
I think the CS600 retails for $4950? It was last time I checked, which is slightly higher in MSRP than VTL IT-85. Ironically enough, one of the amps I auditioned vs. the Leben CS600 was VTL IT-85. There was no denying that VTL IT-85 had that gorgeous midrange, heard with Devore Super 8 speakers. Total magic. Voice recordings and solo piano stuff had the golden sound. But it couldn't do large scale classical or gritty rock like the Leben could. To be honest, any tube amp with limited wattage like Leben will compromise on the large scale classical music, but Leben somehow compensated with the pace and drama, made sense of the music whereas VTL kind of fell apart, despite the higher output. Which was a big reason I chose the Leben over the VTL...

Quote:
Also note: you can find preamps and integrateds that have a line out or tape out. You then can connect a separate headphone amp to that line/tape out. If you buy used and have the available real estate in your home, that combination can be a much cheaper route than paying retail for a "one box" solution.
Excellent advice, Minimus.
post #15 of 47

Audilab 8000A
60w/ch Integrated Amplifier Toroidal power transformer 6 line level inputs and 3 tape loops MM and MC phono inputs. Headphone jack Phase compensated tone control system with by-pass switch Automatic fault protection & muting On-Off switching of 2nd set of speakers Power amplifier input jacks Low source impedance pre-amp output
No loger in production but can be found on eBay for decent price. Has been replaced by 8000S which is in production as Audiolab was started up again not too long ago.

audiolab

Review

The return of 8000
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