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Amp upgrade - tell me what I should be hearing!

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
I'm after a litte advice. For years I've been using Benchmark DACs and their internal HPA2 headphone amp. I've tried various external amps in this time as I've considered upgrades, but never really heard much of an improvement in quality as a result. That's not to say I can't hear a difference at all, often the sound might be slightly different, but 'different' is not the same as 'quality' as you all know.

So I'm in the fortunate position of being able to borrow a Headamp GS-1 from a fellow head-fi member. I've been listening to it for most of the afternoon through my HD800s. I really can't hear much of a difference between the GS-1 and directly out of the Benchmark DAC. I understand the difference shouldn't really be huge (not so obvious as new cans for example), but I'm struggling to hear a difference at all... Considering that the GS-1 costs around the same as the DAC, I was expecting more.

Just to be clear from the outset, this is not an attack of any sort, I believe Head Amp make excellent products and I had a wonderful time with my Pico, I'm just trying to understand what I should be listening for.

What difference should I be hearing? Maybe I'm not listening for the right sort of difference, so tell me what I should be noticing. I would especially appreciate feedback from any HD800/GS-1/DAC1 owners, I know there's loads of you so speak up!

Thanks
post #2 of 8
Thread Starter 

Nothing?

post #3 of 8

What are you listening to?

post #4 of 8

Poo, try to borrow a tube amp, if you can! The HD800 are very revealing from top to bottom IMO, so to really hear a change try some tubes....But as Protegemaniac asked, what are you listening to (music Wise)????

post #5 of 8
X2 on checking out a tube amp. Solid state is great, but you get a lot more character with tubes.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies guys. I'm not really after 'more character' or interested in tubes. I plan to stick to solid state and am not looking for coloured sound.

 

It's not that I'm unhappy with what I get from using the internal amp in the Benchmark DAC, in fact that's really the reason for my post, which is to say that I'm very happy with it, because if I can't hear a significant difference in quality when I spend an additional $1000 on an external amp, the little HPA2 in the Benchmark must be something of a giant killer (or my ears are horse feces).

 

In terms of my listening, it's pretty diverse. I've tried to compare a large range of genres and recordings during this comparison. Everything from Kronos Quartet, Pink Floyd (MFSL Remasters), Cult of Luna, Bjork, Isis, Pelican, Various Classical releases, Beck (MFSL remaster), Toe, Olafur Arnalds, Helmet, Bonobo, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Portishead, Primus, Les Claypool, Mogwai... I could go on...

 

All of this is largely irrelevant to be honest, I just want to understand what sort of things people hear in terms of quality improvements when upgrading an amp, so that I can listen for those things and see if I agree.

 

So back to my original question... What difference should I be hearing?

post #7 of 8

Well, it may take some time to actually hear some of the differences.  Right off the bat, there should be subtleties like maybe a slightly more refined bass, perhaps even a tad larger of a soundstage.  Over time, as you listen to more and more music, you'll begin to notice your headphones being taken to the next level.  When I switched from my vintage Kenwood stereo receiver to the WA22, I was disappointed with the change (because there really wasn't much of one) since I was too used to the Kenwood's sound.  Over time, I've begun to really appreciate what the WA22 can offer, in terms of its abilities and the tubes I can roll.

 

Really, the main purpose of a headphone amp is to properly drive and control the headphones, which will result in better sound.  I'd suggest checking out the audiophile vocabulary stickied thread (or whatever it's called), and just skim over some of the terms and see if any apply to what you're hearing.

 

And in all honesty, it's pretty much up to you to determine the differences.  Everyone perceives sound differently, so if someone has the same exact setup as you and thinks that the highs are harsh, that doesn't mean you'll hear the same thing.  It's all subjective.


Edited by TheAudioDude - 8/22/10 at 5:48pm
post #8 of 8


Oh, yeah, forgot, x2 on what TheAudioDude posted. Listen to the GS-1 for about a month then go back to the just the Benchmark. Also, aside from personal preferences, even our ears have different response graphs on top of headphones having that, ergo, YMMV.


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by poo View Post

 

In terms of my listening, it's pretty diverse. I've tried to compare a large range of genres and recordings during this comparison. Everything from Kronos Quartet, Pink Floyd (MFSL Remasters), Cult of Luna, Bjork, Isis, Pelican, Various Classical releases, Beck (MFSL remaster), Toe, Olafur Arnalds, Helmet, Bonobo, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Portishead, Primus, Les Claypool, Mogwai... I could go on...

 

All of this is largely irrelevant to be honest, I just want to understand what sort of things people hear in terms of quality improvements when upgrading an amp, so that I can listen for those things and see if I agree.

 

So back to my original question... What difference should I be hearing?


Just checking, I've heard a lot of people being curious about the K701/702, HD580/600/800, T1, etc, but they're listening mostly to simpler recordings that Grados can do well enough while being less picky about amplification. (pop rock, smooth jazz, that sort.) If you're up to spending more money though, an SACD player and a few SACDs might make a lot of difference through the GS-1 and Benchmark.

 

On what you should be hearing, I'd tell you about my headphones. The HD600 actually despite Grados having that energetic presentation still gets more out of using my Little Dot MkII. The HD600 doesn't care much if it's fed directly by my Marantz CD60's headphone out or the tube amp, but, it still gets an audible improvement with the percussion and a tiny amount of tube warmth for guitars. Take note though, the MkII by my ears is very tube-y sounding, at least not the typical tube sound that I mostly hear from EL34 PP amps. By contrast my AKG K66 is is so analytical and transparent (it is a studio monitor after all) the overall sound changes drastically between SS and tube, although being entry-level, it doesn't mean it gets more detail out than the other two with a good source. Which means the HD800 does not need that much more current than what the Benchmark is giving it, and impedance is very nearly a match (assuming it is with the GS-1 also.)

 

The low impedance of the Grados probably acts against its own dynamic capabilities (which explains why it benefits from a dedicated amp more than the HD600), theoretically. Amps being amps, ie, have more current out of a dedicated power supply vs the simpler piggy-back HP-out on the Benchmark, play Pink Floyd again and listen for dynamics. Does the percussion really sound the same? Or if the volume level is the same, perhaps the GS-1 is helping hte soundstage depth, so try to locate how far back these are in the soundstage. From my experience what sounds like "weak" mids isn't always the case; with both speakers and headphones sometimes the stage is just considerably deeper, and what people perceive as "eye-poppingly strong mids that grab your attention" - as with mid-level Focals or the typical Grado sound - usually don't have much for stage depth, even if the stereo and instrument separation is good.

 

And since you're open to rock and classical, you might want to try Epica's "The Classical Conspiracy." I was in a meet a few months ago and the K701 stepped all over my SR225 when used with my DAC-AH and LD MkII. Straight out of the laptop though, I didn't like either, but the Grado at least didn't sound as weak.

 


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 8/22/10 at 8:40pm
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