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Best Amp for High Sensitivity IEMs - None?!?

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
I apologize for starting this thread if there is somewhere else that this question is clearly answered, but to be honest, I've been searching and searching and have found very few posts on this topic that offer much in the way of detail.

With Low-impedance, high-sensitivity IEMs how much difference does an amp really make?

I'm not looking for "it depends," I'm looking for people's actual A/B stories.

The posts I've found have been divided between "not necessary, don't bother" on the one hand, and "yes, EVERYTHING sounds better with a good amp" on the other. But the people saying the later are often mainly talking about full sized cans, not IEMs. And many amps reportedly even make the IEMs sound worse, because they're way too powerful and end up generating more noise than clarifying the original signal. I can't find any consensus on this.

Everyone seems to always be talking about full sized cans. But I have turned exclusively to IEMs, and I prefer the sound signature of the UE series. Am pondering eventually getting the UE-11 or the JH-13. I would love to know from the OLD TIMERS on this group, the ones with lots of experience listening to many different amps, sources, and IEMs, how much difference in sound quality the amp made, and what were the best amps for the money for these kind of IEMs in their experience.

If you have a portable rig that uses an low-impedance IEM and an amp, I want to hear about what you've tried and what you think faired best and why. are there any cheap amps that work wonders? any mid-range amps that made a huge difference? are there any amps TO AVOID using high-sensitivity IEMS - one's that will make them sound WORSE? I want to know. Thanks!
post #2 of 30
Look at skylabs 37 portable amp round up. head fi search will pull it up. cheers
post #3 of 30
I went from no dedicated amp -> buget amp -> relatively ok amp (STX -> LDMKIII -> HR2).

overall there was an improvement each time. Was it worth the $800 or so the emmeline costs? For me probably (especially since I got the amp for free), but it depends on how much is a big upgrade for you.

I find that just about every amp with more than unity gain is too loud for the ER4P (the phone i was using) btw.
post #4 of 30
Many amplifiers are not built with iems in mind. They have high gain, hiss, imbalanced volume pots, etc.

However, there are newer amps that eliminate some of those issues. The tomahawk has low gain, a very well balanced pot and is absolutely hiss-free. Others from RSA and Headamp (and maybe ibasso?) have digital volume controls which are perfectly matched.

As far as sound goes, it's rather hard to tell. My westone UM2 hisses so much without my tomahawk that an a/b comparison would be silly. I needed a way to control the UM2 and bring the best out of it. Using an impedance adapter is not an option because added resistance changes the sound.
post #5 of 30
Thread Starter 
Guidostrunk, thanks - I've read through Skylabs amazing roundup, but that's precisely the kind of problem I'm talking about. That review is based - like this whole subforum on "portable amps" in general - around the idea that people are using full-sized cans. Every once in a while a bone is thrown to the IEM people.

Frankly, I think there needs to be a whole new subsection of head-fi exclusively devoted to IEMs.

I guess at some point, "serious" audiophiles thought cans were ridiculous compared to full size speakers. I remember growing up and my friend's day had some insane 8ft tall electrostatic things whose amp seemed to dim the neighborhood powergrid when they warmed up But it still seems like many one this forum think of full sized cans as the only "real" headphones. I think IEMs like the JH-13 are changing that in a hurry. I'm just curious, as these new super IEMs become better and better, how much of what is written about full-sized cans is inapplicable to high-sensitivity IEMs?
post #6 of 30
Almost everything is inapplicable. Generally when using full-size cans, problems like hiss and channel imbalance are non-issues. However, when using the vast majority of iems, those issues are paramount.
post #7 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by AVU View Post
Guidostrunk, thanks - I've read through Skylabs amazing roundup, but that's precisely the kind of problem I'm talking about. That review is based - like this whole subforum on "portable amps" in general - around the idea that people are using full-sized cans. Every once in a while a bone is thrown to the IEM people.

Frankly, I think there needs to be a whole new subsection of head-fi exclusively devoted to IEMs.

I guess at some point, "serious" audiophiles thought cans were ridiculous compared to full size speakers. I remember growing up and my friend's day had some insane 8ft tall electrostatic things whose amp seemed to dim the neighborhood powergrid when they warmed up But it still seems like many one this forum think of full sized cans as the only "real" headphones. I think IEMs like the JH-13 are changing that in a hurry. I'm just curious, as these new super IEMs become better and better, how much of what is written about full-sized cans seems is inapplicable to high-sensitivity IEMs?
You have a great point there, his review is with cans and i havent read the entire thread to decipher amps for sensitive iems, i know some amps can create a hiss problem for sensitive iems. I'm sure some of the elite here wil steer you in the right direction, so far they have been great to me.Maybe clieOS will see this and give you some advice. He writes alot of reviews on iems and might be able to make some suggestions. good luck my friend.
post #8 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Punnisher View Post
Many amplifiers are not built with iems in mind. They have high gain, hiss, imbalanced volume pots, etc.

However, there are newer amps that eliminate some of those issues. The tomahawk has low gain, a very well balanced pot and is absolutely hiss-free. Others from RSA and Headamp (and maybe ibasso?) have digital volume controls which are perfectly matched.

As far as sound goes, it's rather hard to tell. My westone UM2 hisses so much without my tomahawk that an a/b comparison would be silly. I needed a way to control the UM2 and bring the best out of it. Using an impedance adapter is not an option because added resistance changes the sound.
as well as ttvj on the balanced digital pot
post #9 of 30
I much prefer any portable amped versus naked, but when I am out and about, I often cannot justify the added bulk. There isn't an option for people like me. A lot of amps though, do have imbalance issues and hiss because they are not meant only for iems. But even amps built for iems will hiss, but much much less than other amps.
post #10 of 30
Sound quality wise I say the difference can be quite large.
As long as you put some thought into matching the components, especially getting a portable amplifier designed to be used with IEMs.
post #11 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by AVU View Post
I'm looking for people's actual A/B stories...I would love to know from the OLD TIMERS on this group, the ones with lots of experience listening to many different amps, sources, and IEMs, how much difference in sound quality the amp made, and what were the best amps for the money for these kind of IEMs in their experience.

If you have a portable rig that uses an low-impedance IEM and an amp, I want to hear about what you've tried and what you think faired best and why. Are there any cheap amps that work wonders? Any mid-range amps that made a huge difference? Are there any amps TO AVOID using high-sensitivity IEMS - one's that will make them sound WORSE? I want to know. Thanks!
Well the range of questions opens up so many discussion points but I'll try to be brief. (looks down at post... )

1. Regardless of advice from old timer or otherwise YMMV. You may reduce the range of options to try but you really will need to try a few for yourself.

2. Some amp designers clearly indicate they use IEMs to design and voice particular amps. The Xin Supermini and Supermicro come to mind, both being designed utilising the Etymotic ER4P.

3. But that last point also raises one of the most critical - synergy. Even if the amp does produce far less hiss because it accounts for the requirements of something like the ER4P that doesn't mean it'll work as well with other IEMs, whether that be because of their sensitivity, voicing or otherwise.

4. I've tried all RSA portable amps before the Mustang (by which point I'd decided to stop trying so many different amps out). All had strengths and weaknesses, as Skylab and other reviewers ably document, including in relation to SQ and hiss levels. As has been mentioned, the Tomahawk has served a number here with IEMs for some time now but I personally felt its size compromised its SQ in comparison to other RSA models (Note: all my RSA were well burned in beyond the recommended hours for each so I did hear all that I experienced at their best, and, at that time, with a consistent rig for all other elements in the chain. Not that I wouldn't re-do the whole experiment with even better components I've since acquired (if I still had all the amps) so, again, depending on what else you also have in the chain, YMMV).

5. One day (hopefully soon) I'll finalise my portable rig and post full details of this particular IEM listening journey. For now, though, what I can state is that: (a) overall synergy is the highest factor to consider. (b) along with your preferences in relation to SQ (e.g. importance of soundstage, hiss level, bass quality, bass amount, etc, etc for YOU). (c) whether you may want to use the amp with other headphones, or whether you really are building a rig for your UE11 or JH13 purchase exclusively. (d) an amp as delivered may benefit from modding, whether that be as part of the design (opamp rolling, jumpers, etc) or via recommendations from fellow HeadFi-ers (e.g. cap rolling, etc). I've experienced the benefits of both modding approaches with Xin, iBasso and Stax portable amps (Yes, I'm into electrostats as well as high quality IEM listening).

6. I would also agree with the previous posting that IEMs aren't particularly focussed on in an exclusive way in these forums. I am into electrostatics but not into dynamics and got into IEMs by appreciating the speed, similar to my ESPs, and isolation, for my travels. Currently I have three IEMs, a JH13Pro, a Livewires T1 and an Ety ER4P, with all either already set up or in the process of being set up to be served via Picollino cable. I also use Picollino for my mini-2-minis connecting portable sources with portable Amps. I currently source via FLAC through iRiver H140s (all in the provcess of being upgraded to 120G) OR via 352kbps ACTRAC through Sony NWHD5s for my most portable setups. The amps I currently rotate between, depending on circs and synergy with the particular IEM involved, are the RSA SR71 (Original), the Xin Supermicro, the Xin Supermini (not used too often but retained because of its very strong configurability options), a couple of iBasso D1s (both topkitted and both likely to be sold soon) and a qusp Maxxed iBasso D10 (about to be burned in prior to assessing whether it will be the ideal I settle on for my H140 rigs). In relation to hiss I am not easilly distracted by small levels of hiss but at a certain point I'll be annoyed and take action. So, for instance, I had a Xin Supermicro III before I got the IV and with alkaline bateries the hiss was horrific (to me). But with NiMHs it became acceptable. So sometimes, even with the better designs (to me) I've had to explore what tweaks will make it worth my while. The aforementioned D10 has been modded because I simply appreciated the opamp topkit's SQ but couldn't stand the hiss - with the mods I'll hopefully not only relieve myself of the hiss but also maximise the amp's SQ potential with my IEMs. And, although I have a lot of trust in the work done I will reserve my judgement on that till I've had a good deal of listening with it.

So I guess that's my final point. Take your time. Not only is the portable landscape changing all the time (both in terms of releases and mods available) but also you need time with any particular synergy, after spending any recommended burn in time, to really judge if it works for you with your preferred music and listening environments. And you may even find the bulkier equipment combinations are what you need in your bedside rig but you can compromise a lot more for your exercise or outdoor rig.

I hope that may help in some way.

Keep looking, keep listening, keep critically reading what's posted in this thread for you and, where applicable, elsewhere across the threads (It's amazing what you can find when you search around the encyclopedic history of these forums ).
post #12 of 30
my answer is it depends.

se530 not that much difference, tf10 i felt opened up so much it was a big surprise the first time i amped them.
post #13 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by webbie64 View Post
I hope that may help in some way.
Incredibly, incredibly helpful. Thank you so much.

I have no idea where I'll be down the road, but right now I've got a pair of custom UE triple.fis coming this week. Before I sent them off, I tried them directly out of my iphone 3gs headphone out as well as through a sendstation direct out with a cardas cable to my old penguin cmoy. Obviously the cmoy is sort of a toy, but the cardas cable and the sendstation should at least be ok. Since the rest of the rig is actually quite good AND inexpensive and the iphone 3gs seems to have an excellent DAC, and sounded great with the triple.fis all by itself.

A top quality direct out can cost more than I paid for the IEMs by itself, and many of these amps cost 2-4 times as much. So it's not like it's a minor addition. The cmoy didn't make any difference whatsoever. Might have even made it worse. I was wondering whether there were other relatively inexpensive amps that would work well with the triple.fi's.
post #14 of 30
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mark2410 View Post
my answer is it depends.

se530 not that much difference, tf10 i felt opened up so much it was a big surprise the first time i amped them.
Thoughts on synergy between your Filo E5 with your tf10? I never saw that amp before.
post #15 of 30
E5 sounds worse than the a normal zune HPO
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