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Integrating headphone amp to home cinema system / pre/power amp discussion

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

My current speaker setup:

Arcam Alpha 8 CD

Arcam Alpha 9 Amp (using power section only)

Yamaha DSP-AX761receiver (using pre only)

Monitor Audio Monitor 3 floorstanders

REL Q50E sub

 

This hasn't changed for over 15 years apart from the receiver.  I'm not a home cinema buff, but I have a lot of components to hook up to the TV and speakers, so that's how I switch.

 

I'm about to purchase a good set of headphones which will require a good headphone amp.  I will still want to be able to use the rest of my system, so how should things connect up?  I see that many headphone amps come with a pre-out.  Is this line level, and therefore with my setup, could I go CD -> headphone amp pre out -> aux input of receiver -> rest of chain stays the same?

 

I hear so much here about headphone preamps, and how they colour the sound.  In the speaker world I was always told that power amps don't colour the sound as much.  Am I wasting time and shelf space powering the speakers through the Arcam?  Furthermore, if power amps don't offer better quality, why do hardcore home cinema buffs use monoblocks?  Sheer impact / volume?

post #2 of 14
Thread Starter 

Anyone willing to offer some input, even flames? ;)

post #3 of 14

First off, is the Alpha 8 (I'm assuming it's a CDP and not just a transport) connected to the Yamaha receiver through digital or analog? If its digital then just connect the headphone amp to the analog output of the Alpha. If it's connected to the Yamaha/Alpha 9 via analog, you can do one of two things:

 

1) Just dedicate the Alpha's analog out to the headphone amp, since the rest of the components downstream are more for HT than 2.0 Audio, and use headphones for that. Or,

 

2) Depending on what headphone you plan to use, you can use a one-box DAC+Amp, and use the digital out of the Alpha to feed that. Do some research, since some of them are more of an DAC than an amp and may be inadequate for the headphones, or may be more of an amp and might not have the correct digital inputs (ie, most amps with auxilliary DACs usually have only 16-bit USB DACs).

post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the answer - all good stuff.  The Alpha 8 is indeed a CD player, and it has two analogue outputs, so I could feed one to the headphone amp and one to the home cinema amp to drive the speakers and listen to other sources.

 

I also thought about other sources e.g. DTV, PS3, which connect to the home cinema amp.  Is there any way to get those to also run through a typical headphone amp?  I don't see it as the home cinema amp needs to do switching of video as well as audio, but maybe somebody has a brilliant idea.  If not, I guess I can use the socket on the cinema amp, but I don't think it will drive difficult headphones well.

post #5 of 14

There are neutral headphone amps and they wont all look out of place in your current rack.

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/582370/streaming-audio-devices-review-and-information-thread-updated-4-23-with-jf-digital-review

 

If you want one of these, I wouldnt waste any time - I dont think Jason will be making any more GS-1s. You can check the FS forums, but my experience has been that very few owners are willing to part with their GS-1 - the next step up the ladder is considerably more expensive.

 

You will find many other recommendations if you take time to read various reviews - one would think that the audiophile mantra of 'neutrality/accuracy/transparency' wouldn;t be so hard to achieve in an amp over, say, 500 bucks. A now dormant amp builder sold an amp called the 'KICAS' that did reportedly have a neutral sound sig, only to find that many of their customers wanted more warmth - they responded by building a variant called the 'Caliente'. We like to talk the talk here, but a remarkably small number actually seem willing to walk the walk, 

 

The Objective2 was designed around the above, but the casing just wouldnt fit in with your current gear, For some people, thats no biggie, but I think its worth mentioning, 

post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hi, thanks, but I don't understand why you sent me a link to streamers.  Did I miss something?

 

I'm simply trying to find out how a headphone amp integrates with a music and home cinema setup that drives speakers.  When I buy a headphone amp, I'd like to be able to listen to DTV, PS3 etc, as well as CD through it.  If that's possible.

post #7 of 14

A dedicated headphone amp is no different to a speaker amp in terms of connections, although some dont have dual-RCA connections - you might need a Y-cable. I was posting in 2 threads - meant to post the link to the GS-1 headphone amp. You can find it via Google, but dont count on Headamp having any stocks. 

 

Just as there is no easy way to connect multiple sources to multiple speaker amps, short of some of the studio gear, I dont see how you can easily integrate a headphone amp into what you have without juggling cables. Every additional link in the chain is a potential problem area - simplest, shortest path is to connect your headphone amp to your source. 


Edited by estreeter - 5/8/12 at 7:06am
post #8 of 14

If you want that many sources connected to the receiver and amp and have them interchangeable, I suggest having a good switcher - you can have it made or you can buy them somewhere. It's the same as when you go to larger retail stores and you can push a button to switch sources, amps, speakers, etc.

post #9 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by estreeter View Post

A dedicated headphone amp is no different to a speaker amp in terms of connections, although some dont have dual-RCA connections - you might need a Y-cable. I was posting in 2 threads - meant to post the link to the GS-1 headphone amp. You can find it via Google, but dont count on Headamp having any stocks. 

 

I don't think that's true, especially when talking about home-cinema amps which often use HDMI, coax or optical digital.

 

However, I should be able to *also* run an analogue-out to the headphone amp from each source, so problem solved I think.

 

Thanks to those who posted.

post #10 of 14

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by estreeter View Post

A dedicated headphone amp is no different to a speaker amp in terms of connections, although some dont have dual-RCA connections - you might need a Y-cable. I was posting in 2 threads - meant to post the link to the GS-1 headphone amp. You can find it via Google, but dont count on Headamp having any stocks. 

 

Just as there is no easy way to connect multiple sources to multiple speaker amps, short of some of the studio gear, I dont see how you can easily integrate a headphone amp into what you have without juggling cables. Every additional link in the chain is a potential problem area - simplest, shortest path is to connect your headphone amp to your source. 

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by topperdoggle View Post

I don't think that's true, especially when talking about home-cinema amps which often use HDMI, coax or optical digital.

 

However, I should be able to *also* run an analogue-out to the headphone amp from each source, so problem solved I think.

 

Thanks to those who posted.

 

I think @estreeter means integrated amps (or pre- + poweramps), and those digital inputs he strictly categorizes as receivers (2ch, like the Marantz PM75; or surround/HT receivers), whose headphone equivalent is usually called "DAC-Amp". Most are more like the PM75, and then there are the ones that are essentially external USB surround soundcards (I think there's the cheap ENMA, and then at least two SoundBlasters), which are like the HT receivers.

 

In any case, his main point is that headphone amps tend to only have 1 set of analogue inputs, and usually it's those with a complex enough DAC that get several digital inputs. So if the amp you get has only 1 set of analogue input, you'd still need a source switcher or splitter cable, unlike the typical (ie, major brand) integrated amp with at least 3 inputs (CD, Video, TT preamp or just a label, etc).

 

Just though up something - does your HT receiver/processor have digital pass-throughs? You can get a one-box DAC-Amp with SPDIF input so you can just run a toslink or coax cable to it from the receiver, and everything else is connected to it via digital. You can also connect the CDPlayer through the analog input if you prefer its sound.


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 5/9/12 at 1:55pm
post #11 of 14

I'm going to guess you can just plug your new headphones into the Yamaha receiver and save cash not having to buy an external headphone amplifier.

post #12 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

I'm going to guess you can just plug your new headphones into the Yamaha receiver and save cash not having to buy an external headphone amplifier.

 

If your Yamaha already has a headphone out, then I'll also recommend the same.

post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post

 

Just though up something - does your HT receiver/processor have digital pass-throughs? You can get a one-box DAC-Amp with SPDIF input so you can just run a toslink or coax cable to it from the receiver, and everything else is connected to it via digital. You can also connect the CDPlayer through the analog input if you prefer its sound.

Interesting, I think so.  There is a toslink digital out, which I assume is always on although I am willing to bet that the DAC in the Arcam CD player will sound better than the DAC in the Yamaha receiver, so I don't really want to go there (if I connect the CD player to the receiver via digital input that is - if I connect it via analogue, it will go through two conversions - if it comes out from the Toslink output at all).

 

I should point out at this stage, that I'll be driving some Tesla T1s, so I was thinking of an OTL tube amp like the Crack Bottlehead.  Otherwise, as PurpleAngel and proton007 suggest, I could just use the headphone output of the Yamaha receiver.  From everything I read on here, surely I'd have a much better experience with a dedicated headphone amp that was designed to drive "awkward" cans?


Edited by topperdoggle - 5/10/12 at 8:17am
post #14 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by topperdoggle View Post

Interesting, I think so.  There is a toslink digital out, which I assume is always on although I am willing to bet that the DAC in the Arcam CD player will sound better than the DAC in the Yamaha receiver, so I don't really want to go there (if I connect the CD player to the receiver via digital input that is - if I connect it via analogue, it will go through two conversions - if it comes out from the Toslink output at all).

 

I should point out at this stage, that I'll be driving some Tesla T1s, so I was thinking of an OTL tube amp like the Crack Bottlehead.  Otherwise, as PurpleAngel and proton007 suggest, I could just use the headphone output of the Yamaha receiver.  From everything I read on here, surely I'd have a much better experience with a dedicated headphone amp that was designed to drive "awkward" cans?

 

If I'm in your shoes, I'd connect the Arcam to the Crack for the T1 and enjoy it mostly for music, and just use the Yamaha receiver to drive it if I need to keep things quiet when watching a movie or playing on the PS3. The T1 is designed to be very effficient anyway; in case you feel it doesn't have enough db's or sounds too lean/flat, then just grab an SR80i/MS1i for the Yamaha receiver.

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