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The point of an amped iDevice? (And external SS amps in general)

post #1 of 43
Thread Starter 

Hi there, this may get people raving but I have a bold statement that may burst some bubbles. I have a both iPod Classic and a iPhone and currently own a Fiio E11, a iBasso PB2/DB2 setup and have had others prior to these - Now for the thing that bugs me: The reason i keep switching is that i don't seem to hear much difference with them or without them (not enough to lug half a kilo of hardware around anyway). Don't get me wrong, with the PB2 the sound gets slightly more crisp and precise and the soundstage gets slightly bigger, but on a blind test my accuracy on wether it was listening to the PB2 or the iPod was terrible. If you plan on using, say, a HE-6 the iBasso PB2 would be an obvious choice because its an absolute monster when it comes to power and voltage swing, but actual sound quality, resolution etc? 

I'm having a hard tim justifying why i would want something like it for anything that the iPod could drive on its own. 

I can see the point of for example the DB2 if you have a absolutely rubbish source but compared to my Macbook Unibody the sound improvement was again, almost unnoticeable. This is not a thrashing of iBasso, i love them - it a general thing for me with high quality amps, especially the portable ones, the actual SQ improvement is barely there, it just provides driving force, some may change the sound signature, like a tube amp of course, but thats something entirely different - Interesting but different.

Am I alone with this problem, or...?

I'm considering strongly to sell my iBasso rig and try something new again in the search for a point of an amp...Do you have any idea what to try? I'm primarely after a portable amp but a desktop amp in that price bracket may be of interest too...


For reference, here is a list of my gear:

Headphones it's going to drive:


Denon D7000 (Ebony Markl)

Grado HF2 (Bloodwoo/Ebony mushroom cups)

1964ears Quad Driver Custom IEM



iPod Classic + iPhone 4


Cambridge DacMagic


A few of the Genres i listen to:

Metal/Hard Rock (From Rock to Death metal)

Electronic (Ambient, House, Electronica etc.)

World Music (Celtic etc.)

And more...


Any thoughts and recommendations are very very welcome...

post #2 of 43

Recently picked up a Fiio E11 to go with my Minerva Mi-1 single driver custom IEM's (Source: HTC Desire S) and secondary my Corsair HS1A headset (over ear headphones, Source: Logitech G510 keyboard).


The difference is, in the majority of cases, quite substantial. Soundstage depth increased, instrument separation became more pronounced, detail previously hidden was unlocked. Even discounting the EQ settings, I found the bass response in my Mi-1's to be improved (which were custom tuned by Minerva to reduce the bass in favour of more intimate vocals and better high responses).


The difference in my HS1A's is also pronounced though to a lesser degree (because I honestly think they sound pretty awful for gaming and music but they do very well for vocals on acoustic tracks or VOIP/Gaming chat audio).


I have had a few occasions where I have not had access to my E11 and had to plug directly into my sources. Although I haven't specifically missed the E11 from just enjoying the music, when I can relax and focus I really do miss that extra punch and detail.


There are instances where I honestly cannot hear much/any difference and have to check to see if my E11 is plugged in.


From what I'm reading in your experience over multiple sources, amps and outputs, you don't really see much benefit from having an amp connected. There's nothing wrong with your opinion and a lot of the sound arena seems to be a subjective area anyway. From my near 1 week of owning my E11, I'm thinking that it is my best audio purchase to date.


Just listen to what you enjoy in the way you enjoy it best.

post #3 of 43

I have an iPod Touch 3G 64GB. I had 32 ohm Grado SR325IS phones. They were the clearest and most detailed phones I had heard. They were a touch bright, which I didn't mind, at least for the music I listen to, which is jazz. But to sit and listen to them for a four or five hour period was tiring. I came to know first hand what was meant when a phone is said to cause listening fatigue. But for the iPod, the 32 ohm Grados were fine - unamped. But when I wanted to get new HP's based on the characteristics I wanted, I was somewhat limited due to the iPod's ability to drive them. I got the TTJV Slim amp, due to its characteristics. It is classified as analog sounding, very smooth, a touch warm - almost tube sounding. That amp allowed me to get the HP's that provided the sound signature that is right for me, the Sennheiser HD650's. The pair make my iPod sound great, and I couldn't be happier. This all goes to your question of justifying why get an amp for an iPod. I like a particular sound, and this combo gives it to me. FWIW, I am using a LOD as well. Hope this helps.

Edited by FlatNine - 9/26/11 at 6:07pm
post #4 of 43
I hear your point and this is why I've never gotten into portable gear.

When I want to be mobile, I pick something that is driven easily by my iPod. The old Shure IEMs I have are just fine without an external amp. I've tried a few portables, as well, and I'm happier running straight out of an iPod. Cheaper, easier, lighter and I don't feel I'm losing any sound quality. When I (eventually) upgrade IEMs, I'll buy ones that an iPod drives easily.

As for my full-sized headphones, I don't take them along. Too big, they're open, and completely inconvenient to go mobile. I only listen to them at home. So I run those with full-sized desktop amps, which I find much better than portables. Further, you can get an excellent solid state desktop amp for less than quite a few of the hyped portables. I'll go with better sound and lower cost every time. If you really want to go cheap, a $20-$50 used receiver is often better than a portable, has more features, and can even drive speakers. Heck, a new pair of Magnepan MMG speakers is $600. I'd take thise over a $500 DAC/amp portable and a $200 LOD.
post #5 of 43
Yup, I purposely got very easy to drive headphones so that I can plug them straight into my iPhone 4. My SA6's and my TMA-1's both are driven perfectly fine by my iPhone. Both sets are able to be driven to ear damaging levels with the iPhone alone and I am happy with the SQ and soundstage and all as it is. I dont want to have to carry LOD's and external amps around with me, its just not as portable that way.

To make myself sound even crazier, I recently sold my whole home rig, which was HD650's powered by a HeadRoom desktop amp/dac. I now just use the TMA-1's and the iPhone and Im perfectly happy. I actually prefer this new portable setup. The iPhone 4 is a fine source, and Believe it or not I actually like the TMA-1's more than the HD650's.

Sent from my iPhone 4 using Tapatalk.
post #6 of 43

So mathematically if you look at it, iPods can only drive headphones that have up to about 40 ohms impedance.  I don't really want to go through the math but trust me. 


Also, besides that, there are sound quality issues you have to look at.  The iPod (and other portable devices) were designed with certain parameters in mind.  These parameters were designated to meet the satisfaction point for the largest consumer base.  Some of these parameters include price, form factor, size, battery life, and somewhere in there is performance.  Now, as a DIY'er, I'm building amps and whatnot to the maxed specs usually because I'm not trying to pinch pennies.  I'm also not really limiting myself to size too much (as can be seen from my last Pimeta build).  Therefore, I can get more performance out of my design parameters.  Bypassing (as much as possible) the amplifier in the iPod (or other  portable device) and amplifying the (mostly) clean signal with an amp that won't distort the audio signal as much means I will get better performance out of an external amp -- if it is good enough.


Basically the two reasons you'd want a headphone amp for portable use would be:

   - Power amplifier for higher impedance headphones to deliver the required (or more) power to the trasnducer

   - A cleaner audio signal being amplified (through the amplifier circuit -- aka better opamps, capacitors, resistors) yields better results


This information comes off of my own experiences.  You can get better sound from portable amps.  I can't really hear differences between my iPod straight out and my iPod --> LOD --> CMoy.  However, I can hear big differences between those two set ups and my iPod --> LOD --> PIMETA v2. 



post #7 of 43
Impedance isn't what you think it is.

My speakers are 8 Ohms with 86dB sensitivity. If an iPod can drive anything up to 40 Ohms, then one would drive my speakers. My iPod can't. I've tried it. The iPod can't even move the woofers. Further, the Apogee Scintilla has an impedance of 1.2 Ohms. Easy load? Heck no. They're notorious for - literally (and I mean "literally" in its literal sense) - melting lesser amps.

Impedance is one of four relevant stats. The others are output impedance, output power and sensitivity. Youmneed all four to make a judgment as to how well something is driven.

Saying that 40 Ohms is an easy load is like saying that 100HP is fast. 100HP in a school bus is pathetic. 100HP in a motorcycle will get you speeding tickets and possiblly killed.
post #8 of 43
Thread Starter 

There's definitely more to that equation than meets the eye, i have two headphones with more or less the same specs ~35ohm and 108dB/mW - one of them needs my amp to be at 10 o' clock to be loud enough, the other one needs 4 o' clock...Almost full power...

post #9 of 43

Only been in this game for 10 months or so but this is my take on it.  My IPhone 4 drives all my IEM's (RE0's, DBA-02's, HF5's, EX600's) just fine and they all sound great out of the Iphone but when I add my CMOY the whole sound gets bigger.  I just did a A/B test here and on my EX600's the sound stage sounds bigger, there seems to be more instrument seperation, and the bass feels like it has more punch....I like it better with the CMOY attached but when I am out and about wearing IEM's the CMOY stays at home, but when I am listening in my home office or in bead I am always running it through my CMOY.


my $0.02




post #10 of 43
Its just so much simpler to buy an efficient headphone or IEM and not have to lug around LOD's and bulky amps. Of course not all amps are bulky, buts its still less portable no matter what.

Sent from my iPhone 4 using Tapatalk.
Edited by jasonb - 9/28/11 at 1:06pm
post #11 of 43


Originally Posted by jasonb View Post

Its just so much simpler to buy an efficient headphone or IEM and not have to lug around LOD's and bulky amps. Of course not all amps are bulky, buts its still less portable no matter what.
Sent from my iPhone 4 using Tapatalk.

I have to agree with Jason. I have tried several portable amps but the additional bulk (no matter how insignificant) is a nuisance.


post #12 of 43
Thread Starter 

Point taken, im not nessecerily speaking about portable amps though... :)

post #13 of 43
I use the iPhone 4 with a cheap 5 dollar lod coupled with a koss volume control cable with my sm3. The sm3 have increased detail and stage n the difference is enough for me to use the lod method. When I'm walking on the street with lots of ambient noise I can't tell the difference.
post #14 of 43
Originally Posted by VictorHalgaard View Post

For reference, here is a list of my gear:

Headphones it's going to drive:


Denon D7000 (Ebony Markl)

Grado HF2 (Bloodwoo/Ebony mushroom cups)

1964ears Quad Driver Custom IEM


Those are reasonably efficient headphones and unless you like to listen loud I don't see any problems with just using them straight out of an iWhatever. I recently bought a FiiO E1 that seems to pair well with the DT1350s and add the convenience of the in-line iPod controls. I haven't done any blind tests, but the bass seems to be slightly more controlled out of the E1 compared to a 3rd gen Touch.

My go-to rig remains the Clip+ and etymotic er-4pt, a combo that takes almost no space and that no additional amp could improve.
post #15 of 43
I have to chime in here on people trying to bash the portable amp world using the most popular statement that it makes them less portable. Obviously none of you grew up with sony cassette walkmans or cd players because frankly they were 4-8x bigger than current mp3 players are Even with an amp stuck on, and it just kinda bugs me that people think this way and so easily forget the past and how good we have it now. Now i use an iTouch with an Arrow3g attached together with those 3M poster strips which make them nearly touching with a simple fiio l9 line out ... combine that with any IEM and compared to headphones from the 80s/90's and your still looking at something that's Easily pocketable and comfortable and can play music for 30 straight hours. Back in my youth i could listen to music for 3-4 hours before having to replace the batteries, and rechargable batteries back then were extremely expensive. So please just take a minute to look back on how portable music has changed over the years before complaining smily_headphones1.gif and have a good day.
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