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How much difference does a portable amp make?

post #1 of 53
Thread Starter 
I am new to high end audio and I primarily use an Apple iPhone and an old 80gb iPod. I will be purchasing some Etymotic HF3's soon but I have never heard the difference between an amped headphone and just one that is plugged in to the music device. I notice amps and the associated accessories can get quite expensive so I was just wondering what the real advantages of using a portable amp are in regards to IEMs.
post #2 of 53

I can't say much about the sound quality "improvements" that come with amping but looking at the HF3's 105dB/mW sensitivity and 16Ohm impedance, but I don't think it really doesn't need extra juice to sound good.

 

For 110dB it just needs ~3.2mW (RMS voltage of .23V and a peak current of  20mA), which most portable players are easily capable of. Now I've never been a firm believer of amping IEMs unless you want a certain coloration that a specific amp brings to an IEM (IMO achievable through EQ). However I guess if you put the volume on maximum and use the ipods lineout jack to an amp, you might get slightly better audio quality. But honestly, I think it's too much of a hassle if you're looking for portability. This just my opinion though.

ph34r.gif


Edited by winkyeye - 7/29/11 at 8:01am
post #3 of 53
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by winkyeye View Post

I can't say much about the sound quality "improvements" that come with amping but looking at the HF3's 105dB/mW sensitivity and 16Ohm impedance, but I don't think it really doesn't need extra juice to sound good.

 

For 110dB it just needs ~3.2mW (RMS voltage of .23V and a peak current of  20mA), which most portable players are easily capable of. Now I've never been a firm believer of amping IEMs unless you want a certain coloration that a specific amp brings to an IEM (IMO achievable through EQ). However I guess if you put the volume on maximum and use the ipods lineout jack to an amp, you might get slightly better audio quality. But honestly, I think it's too much of a hassle if you're looking for portability. This just my opinion though.

ph34r.gif

Thanks for the response. I haven't been posting very long here as you can see but I have been lurking quite a bit and there are some extremely helpful people here who give freely of their time and knowledge and I really appreciate that. I can definitely see sticking around this forum since, as my salary increases over time, I plan on purchasing a nice headphone setup for home listening since it is more affordable than a home speaker system of similar quality.
post #4 of 53

straight up amping the hf2 might not improve it but you might want into looking at adding an resistance adapter and an amp.

 

someone in the hf5 appreciation thread recommends 100ohm resistances.


Edited by Nagasaki_Kid - 7/29/11 at 9:42am
post #5 of 53

I personally don't experience a "drastic improvement" in sound quality when amping iems as some members on here do. The only reason I see for having an amp is if you have something that can't be powered to audible levels straight out of your source (in the case of power hungry cans) or if the amp has a slight coloration that you prefer and feel that EQ does not give you the same quality.

 

Having a volume attenuator would probably suit your needs given your current setup.

post #6 of 53

I have been playing with a JDS Cmoy for the last two weeks.  I am using it with a Iphone 4 and, mostly, my Ety HF5's and a LOD jack and while the HF's are easily driven I am hearing a pretty drastic improvement. Not sure exactly how to explain it but the JDS is suppose to add just a slight hint of warmth to the sounds which I do hear but I really think the biggest difference is in the sound stage....it just sounds so much wider and deeper to me.  With the bass boost on you get a nice notch up in the bass "punch" while never sounding muddy, I am guessing I listen to 85% of my tracks with the BB on.  All in all adding the JDC Cmoy make the sound bigger and better all around and I think it is pretty noticeable.

 

The down side is that adding a amp, even the size of the Cmoy,  is a PIA for portability.  I have had a Fiio E1 for months and while it may not be a amp in the truest sense of the word it gets the signal from the LOD and it offers the controls on the wire...perfect for truly portable use.  I only seem to use the Cmoy for static listening just because of it size and PIA factor.

 

For $60 I am totally happy with what it has done for my listening enjoyment.

 

Cheers,

Jim

post #7 of 53
Read Boomana's Wiki for new users for a realistic take on portable amps.

Personally, I don't see the point of portables.

Highly efficient IEMs and headphones run fine right out of an iPod or similar. No need to buy a portable.

Inefficient full-sized headphones are not driven well by portables - they need an amp powered off the mains to really sing. Again, no need to buy a portable.

I run my IEMs directly off my iPod when I go portable. At home, I run big, heavy and not-so-portable tube amps for the best sound.

Money is not an issue. I see no need for a portable amp.
post #8 of 53

My limited experience tells me that there is no definite answer to that question. Improvements can be either subtle or quite dramatic depending on the phones in use. As an example I don't think the B&W P5 needs much amping. On the other hand the DT 1350 seemed to improve quite dramatically with added power. 

As far as IEMs go I think power isn't that important. Most important in that case is how the amp is designed and how well does it cope with the load it sees.

So I think amping can bring up differences, but it depends on a lot of factors.

For the OP's HF3 : I had at some point in my life the HF-2 and the ER4-P. I'm not sure amping will bring massive improvements. These two earphones already were quite limited by design in dynamic range, and I feel their transparency is in some way "built in" their sound signature. I could be wrong, but my guess is that it will provide at best a slight boost to sound quality, but nothing that can compete with selling your headphones and buying a higher-end one for the same price.


Edited by MayaTlab - 7/30/11 at 3:50am
post #9 of 53

Uncle Erik, I normally agree with most of what you have to say, but you are grossly over-generalising re IEMs and portable sources.

 

Joker would seem to be in total agreement with you that *most* IEMs dont demand an amp, but the reality is that some most definitely do and he points that out in his monster IEM review. That doesnt mean it has to be portable, and there are valid objections to the idea of using multiple components in a noisy portable environment, but for those of us who enjoy *transportable* kit, there is a lot to be said for having something you can plug into that laptop or DAP in the hotel room - I am typing this from a Net cafe in Southern Thailand and very much looking forward to a few DVDs via my uHA-4 later tonite - try doing that with the ZD  ;)

 

(on the plane, I use IEMs straight from my DAP, and the OP may never need anything more)

post #10 of 53
Thread Starter 

Well as it stands now,  I own the Klipsch Image S4i's and have the hf3's on the way here and I just jumped on the RE0 bandwagon to see how well those headphones work for dedicated use with my ipod.  I have some music on the iphone but there just isn't close to enough space (16GB) to accomadate my entire collection.  Would the RE0's be better suited to being amplified just on the ipod or am I simply better off saving the money and not even worrying about it at all.

post #11 of 53

RE0 improves mildly with an amp.  It has sufficient efficiency, so no need to worry.

post #12 of 53

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post

Read Boomana's Wiki for new users for a realistic take on portable amps.

Personally, I don't see the point of portables.

Highly efficient IEMs and headphones run fine right out of an iPod or similar. No need to buy a portable.

Inefficient full-sized headphones are not driven well by portables - they need an amp powered off the mains to really sing. Again, no need to buy a portable.

I run my IEMs directly off my iPod when I go portable. At home, I run big, heavy and not-so-portable tube amps for the best sound.

Money is not an issue. I see no need for a portable amp.


You're oversimplifying the matter.  Some portable sources behave kind of funky when trying to power low-impedance earphones (there's the Sony players as one example I've seen around here), or output impedance isn't low enough for optimal dampening factor, which will affect how well the player's amp controls the earphones/headphones.  High efficiency is perfered, but there seems to be such thing as too efficient, and not just because of the resultant hiss.

Switch to an external, well-made amp and the player's line-out = problems solved.  A really good external amp will make your rig sound better at the same volume as the player's HP amp.  Cleaner, fuller, tighter, clearer sound with bigger soundstage and mildly improved precision.  It's like when you get a really good DAC with a built-in amp that is a bit of an "afterthought" compared to the DAC, then later you switch to the DAC's line-out and connect it to a much better standalone amp.  You will get some improvement in sound.

I should mention that a portable amp comes only after acquiring the source and 'phones and you really like the both the source and 'phones.


Edited by Mad Max - 7/30/11 at 11:27am
post #13 of 53
There should be sufficiently low output impedance from any solid state amp - including portables. The problem is that they're underpowered for the big headphones. Output impedance is primarily a problem for OTL tube amps where some manufacturers claim they drive anything when they don't.

Sure, some IEMs might need additional power, but the majority are fine from a DAP.

As for full-sized headphones, I'd rather run them off an old receiver left out for trash collection.

I do agree that a transportable amp is worth having, as long as it plugs into the mains. I might case the CK2III in a small package so I can travel with it.
post #14 of 53

I can honestly say two things about IEM and amps:

 

1.) Yes an amp can make a huge difference. I work with a fellow audiophile and he plugged his Ultimate Ears into an Ultra Desktop I had laying around at the time and it just about floored him.

 

2.) Due to most IEM's having low impedance ( anywhere from 4 Ohms up to 150 Ohms ) you want to make sure whatever amp you use can drive such low impedance drivers. For instance the Music Hall 25.2 amp will not drive low impedance drivers such as Ultamate Ears

 

Regarding Etymotic HF3's I think they are awesome. I personally cannot get these type of IEM's to fit well in my ear canals so I cannot use them. When I hold them in place though they sound amazing. I bought a friend of mine a pair of Etymotic MC5's and he loves 'em. They certainly seal really well and sound nice to boot.

 

I would say start with purchasing your favorite IEM, then if the sound is not up to par look around for a Total Bithead. It is not very expensive, it is portable, and is a really fun device. I let my lab mate use mine and he loves it with his Grado SR-80's. 

post #15 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by NA Blur View Post

I can honestly say two things about IEM and amps:

 

1.) Yes an amp can make a huge difference. I work with a fellow audiophile and he plugged his Ultimate Ears into an Ultra Desktop I had laying around at the time and it just about floored him.

 

2.) Due to most IEM's having low impedance ( anywhere from 4 Ohms up to 150 Ohms ) you want to make sure whatever amp you use can drive such low impedance drivers. For instance the Music Hall 25.2 amp will not drive low impedance drivers such as Ultamate Ears

 

 


But an Ultra Desktop isn't portable, and doesn't even qualify as a transportable. Shouldn't we be recommending portable amps that illustrate the difference amping can make to OP's proposed setup of HF3 + iPod/iPhone?

 

Also, which IEM has an impedance of 4 Ohms? I thought single-digit impedance was the domain of speakers.

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