"That's all well and good in practice, Mr. McAnaney, but how does it hold up in theory?"
Prior to receiving my HE-6s, I was concerned about my ability to drive them adequately with my current gear, given all the hype on Head-Fi about how hard they are to drive [Side note #1: Why does everyone on Head-Fi feel compelled these days to brag about how hard their headphones are to drive, like it's some sort of macho status symbol? It's like watching a bunch of adolescent boys arguing about the size of their....oh, nevermind], hype that I now consider largely misplaced.
Anyway, I happened to remember that in the 6 Moons review of the HE-6*, Srajan Ebaen mentioned driving the HE-6s with a Dayens Ampino speaker amp with good results. The Dayens Ampino is a 25/40 wpc speaker amp that won a 6 Moons Realsization award. Unfortunately, from personal experience I know that the price of the Ampino skyrocketed after it received the award and it was therefore out of my budget for this little experiment. I did, however, recall another little amp that won also won a Realsization award, the Trends TA-10.2 (see the 6 Moons review here). The TA-10.2 is even smaller and cheaper (only $189!) than the Ampino, but is only 15W into 4 Ohm, and 10W into 8 Ohm. Being a naive little boy unschooled in the ways of the world, I assumed that anything that can drive full size speakers can drive a pair of headphones, so I went ahead and ordered the SE version from KAB Electro Acoustics. After placing my order, it was pointed out to me that 10W into 8 Ohms implies something like 1.25W (maybe a little more) into 50 Ohm, if you assume that W halves as impedance doubles.
Now, we all know that the HE-6 requires, nay DEMANDS something like 6W (preferably more) to show it's TRUE character, right? I mean, sure, you might get it loud enough with some plebian amp, but to reveal the HE-6's dynamics, its detail, it's impact, it's full load of fairy pixie dust goodness, it needs >5W, right? [Side note #2: Where does this 5W number come from? I see there is an uncredited reference to it in the 6 Moons review of the HE-6, but does anybody know the original source of that number? Has anybody actually TESTED it to see if it's true?] And preferably you should be hooking your HE-6's up to some sort of 250 or even 500 wpc behemoth of a Class A speaker amp, right?
Having edjumicated myself by reading the HE-6 threads on Head-Fi over the weekend, I realized what a colossal mistake I had made. Not only was my Audio-Gd NFB-10SE (which puts 6W into 50 Ohms) insufficient to drive the HE-6s to their TRUE potential, but my little Trends amp had absolutely zero chance of driving the HE-6s with it's implied ~1.25W. I was going to have to eat the shipping charges and the restocking fee when the TA-10.2SE arrived, which it did yesterday.
I briefly considered not even opening the box and just returning it in its original carton to avoid any kind of claim that I was returning used goods. But curiosity killed the cat Adam, so I had to open it and take a look. The TA-10.2 is about the size of 3 ipod Classics stacked on top of eachother, or roughly 1/200th the size of my Vincent SV-236 Mk. This thing can drive full-size speakers? I decided to see if it could power my HE-500s, since they should need far less power than the HE-6s. So I grabbed my speaker tap to 4-pin XLR adapter and wired it to the TA-10.2 outputs. My HE-500s had the TRS cable attached to them, and I was feeling lazy, given that I was about to pack this thing up and send it back to KAB, so I decided to just give it a shot with the HE-6s, which had a balanced cable attached. I plugged the RCA interconnects from the NFB-10SE into the TA-10.2 and, starting with the volume turned all the way down, began to listen.
Miraculously, there was sound. And at about 12 o'clock on the Trends' volume pot, it was bordering on being uncomfortably loud.
Even weirder....it sounded good. Really good. Exceptionally good. Really, truly, honest-to-goodness flat-out excellent. Impossible! Suddenly, the earth shook, the skies opened up, hailstones barraged my house, lightning flashed, a pig flew by and Satan wheeled by selling ice cream.
At that point, I noticed that my NFB-10SE was set to low gain (don't ask me why, but even when set to fixed output through the RCA outputs, although the volume control itself is disabled, the volume still changes with the gain setting). So I pushed the button to switch to high gain. My head split open, I was thrown across the room and --- ears ringing --- I jabbed at the gain setting to go back to low gain. What thug had clocked me upside the head, and had he taken any valuables? After checking my wallet and waiting for my skull to stop vibrating, I considered the situation. One of three things was necessarily true:
A: The HE-6s do not, in fact, need 6W.
B: The output of the TA-10.2 doesn't drop linearly as impedance rises, so that it is actually putting much more into 50 Ohms than just 1.25W.
C: My house sits in the middle of a tear in the space-time continuum where the laws of Head-Fi don't apply.
Given the impossibility of A and B, I immediately called NASA to investigate C.
OK, look. The HE-6s sound really, really good with the TA-10.2. Dynamics, detail, control, power, frequency extension, you name it, it's there. Pixie dust by the boatload. It's not just volume. I know what underpowered headphones sound like, and this isn't it. Not even close. The HE-6s sing out of the TA-10.2. Don't believe me? Fine. Think I don't know what good gear sounds like? Erm, try again - check my profile. I'm just trying to do everyone a favor here and debunk some of the giant misconceptions that are being perpetuated. You don't have to go out and buy an EF-6 or a Dark Star to drive the HE-6s phenomenally well. If you want to, then by all means, go ahead, but there are other options that don't require you to rummage around garage sales for 200 pound amps and receivers from the 1970s. Here is an amp, available new, for under $200, that hardly takes up any space, that can be delivered to you in 2 days, and that will drive your HE-6s into bliss-inducing territory. Try it, you won't be disappointed.
*Please, don't complain to me about 6 Moons reviews. I know, all their reviews are over-hyped, they claim everything is better than whatever they reviewed last, everything is a giant-killer that slays gear costing 10x as much, etc. etc. I get it. I don't care about the 6 Moons review. I care about what I hear. And I'm telling you that the TA-10.2 sounds great with the HE-6s because I actually tried it, instead of just relying on theory or taking someone else's word for what the HE-6s "really" need based on some Internet myth and a set of technical specifications.