I'm looking to, over the next year or so, acquire a new amp to go with my HD650's. I'm thinking tube...though I'm not married to the idea if it's not the best option/value. Nor am I tied to it having to be a "brand name" amp etc (but I'm not looking for DIY either!)
My music genres are all across the board: classical, jazz, some rock/pop, some electronica/chill/dance, world/latin, some reggae, pretty much everything but rap/hip-hop.
My "best" setup is FLAC (and some lossy ogg/mp3/m4a) played over Foobar2k, and a Yamaha SACD player to an EMU0404 (Wolfson) DAC to a Headroom Micro Amp (desktop config.) I find I'm not using that setup often these days in favor of getting away from the desk.
My current "most used" setup is (as of this week now that I got everything up and running), an iPod Touch streaming the same FLAC + lossy library over DLNA from a Synology NAS via Fiio LOD cable to an E11 portable amp. Despite some occasional stuttering, in the player (and questionable randomness when on shuffle of the whole library) the setup is working pretty darn well.
What I've found is, to my amazement, the iPod setup sounds better than the desktop-tethered setup (inferior Cirrus DAC aside.) What I've discovered is that the E11 is a pretty amazing little amp for the price/size, and I absolutely abhor the sound signature of Headroom products. They used to have a slogan, something like "Right Between Your Ears"....I think that pretty much describes the sound signature exactly....it's like IEMs. The Wolfson DAC of the 0404 may be superior to the Cirrus of the Touch, and the Headroom Micro (original models) may be technically sonically superior, on paper, to the E11....but the E11 manages to sound more musical with more spatialization than I ever got from the Headroom resulting in a more pleasing sound with more instrument separation. I paid $350 for the Headroom. $65 for the E11. And as far as I'm concerned the E11 sounds much better....price is clearly not everything. (That's not a knock against Headroom's quality or performance....just a statement that their sound signature either doesn't agree with my ears, or doesn't agree with my HD650's.)
Which brings me back to my new amp. I'm looking for something that's a big jump from the E11 as a plugged in amp. I probably wont' be buying for months, maybe even a year. Tubes appeal to me, but it's not an absolute...whatever's best for the money. I'm looking at the sub-$500 range, absolutely not over $1000 range, and I suspect between $500-1000 consists of a lot of dead space considering some of the great items at the $500 range, and how narrow the improvements seem to be over $1000.
I'm aware of the Schiit Valhala which is a solid option, as well as the Lyre (but the extreme over-current of that has me cautious), I'm aware of but unfamiliar with the HIFiMan EF5 and Bellari HA540. The HiFiMan EF2A is an appealing curiosity based on price, and somehow the Qinpu A-6000 MKII itrigues me....though I can't figure out what I'd do with those exposed speaker terminals or how usable it is for phones. I'm sure there's many, many other options I've overlooked as well.
Idealy it should pair well with 650's. Classical must be a strong suit for it, but not at the cost of every other genre, etc. I'm sure it's not an uncommon setup, really.
I look forward to hearing all your suggestions!
Edit: Forgot to mention Maverick A1/D1 in the mix...
Edited by IEMCrazy - 1/10/12 at 8:26am