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Small quality headphone amp

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Hi

 

I'm just looking for suggestions for a very small portable headphone amp.

Ideally $100 or less, but would pay more for the right amp, and must be good build and sound quality. Features aren't important, and it will see most its use with an iphone 4s.

 

Cheers

Matt

post #2 of 10

What headphones are you planning to drive, and what features are you looking for?

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 

At the moment i'm using TFTA V1's, but would like the amp to be useful for future iem upgrades.

 

I don't need any features other than input/output as i'm happy to control the volume and Eq from the iphone, but i wouldn't dismiss an amp because it had a volume control etc, provided it was still small.

 

Cheers

Matt

post #4 of 10

Only my own experience - but with all of the IEMs I've owned (mostly Shure SE420, 315, 425, 535LE), they're so sensitive that they don't really need amping.  And an amp really didn't add anything sonically.  If I'm using my 535s - I usually listen straight out of my iPhone4.  Just food for thought.  If you're driving full sized cans that need a bit of juice, then it's a different story.

 

Right - smallish form factor - different budgets.

 

Budget - Fiio E11 (sub $100)

Plenty of power.  Quite a good targeted bass boost (doesn't muddy the mids).  Battery life is around 10-11 hours depending on the power settings you use.  Has a warmish sound sig.  Only cons (this was after a year of use) h/p out jack started to get sloppy, and I'd get wierd bursts of hf static.  Not really noticeable if music playing - but I'm a bit OCD and it annoyed the heck out of me.  YMMV.

 

Mid-range - Leckerton UHA-4 (~ $200)

I haven't heard it.  I did a lot of research on it though - and it was high on my ranking list.  Do a search on head-fi, and you'll get impressions from actual owners.  Seems like a great amp - with some nice features, and good SQ.

 

Getting Up There - Arrow HE 4G (~ $300)

Have had this for a little over a month now.  Love it.  Fantastic form factor, very clean sound, fantastic features for tweakability, great battery life (around 18 hours - could be longer), enough power to drive virtually any dynamic headphone.  I have absolutely no regrets buying it.  Only con I've found is a slight channel imbalance at the bottom of the pot (very low volume) which makes it touch and go if you intend using it with sensitive IEMs.  Like I said earlier though, I don't use it with my 535s most of the time - but I do use it extensively with my HD600, DT880 and even the 325is.

 

Hope above helps.

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for you help wink.gif

I'll have a read up on your suggestions.

I came across the Firestone Fireye mini, which looks suitable, but might be too cheap to be any good?

 

I know what you mean though about the iem's not needing an amp as much as full sized headphones. 

I have a pair of sennheiser HD 280pro's, and they like the extra power.

I have a Neco soundlabs V2, but its size means it doesn't get as much use as it should.

 

Cheers

Matt


Edited by MattSPL - 5/16/12 at 5:11am
post #6 of 10

Most of the times amps sound better because they sound louder. IEMs are pretty sensitive, there's nothing more required to drive them to the limit. Amplification is just that, whether its from your source, or the amp (if its neutral).

post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by proton007 View Post

Most of the times amps sound better because they sound louder. IEMs are pretty sensitive, there's nothing more required to drive them to the limit. Amplification is just that, whether its from your source, or the amp (if its neutral).

Thanks for the input.

Yes, i suppose once the iem is being driven properly, there isn't really anything to be gained.

 

Cheers

Matt

post #8 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brooko View Post

Only my own experience - but with all of the IEMs I've owned (mostly Shure SE420, 315, 425, 535LE), they're so sensitive that they don't really need amping.  And an amp really didn't add anything sonically.  If I'm using my 535s - I usually listen straight out of my iPhone4.  Just food for thought.  If you're driving full sized cans that need a bit of juice, then it's a different story.

 

Right - smallish form factor - different budgets.

 

Budget - Fiio E11 (sub $100)

Plenty of power.  Quite a good targeted bass boost (doesn't muddy the mids).  Battery life is around 10-11 hours depending on the power settings you use.  Has a warmish sound sig.  Only cons (this was after a year of use) h/p out jack started to get sloppy, and I'd get wierd bursts of hf static.  Not really noticeable if music playing - but I'm a bit OCD and it annoyed the heck out of me.  YMMV.

 

Mid-range - Leckerton UHA-4 (~ $200)

I haven't heard it.  I did a lot of research on it though - and it was high on my ranking list.  Do a search on head-fi, and you'll get impressions from actual owners.  Seems like a great amp - with some nice features, and good SQ.

 

Getting Up There - Arrow HE 4G (~ $300)

Have had this for a little over a month now.  Love it.  Fantastic form factor, very clean sound, fantastic features for tweakability, great battery life (around 18 hours - could be longer), enough power to drive virtually any dynamic headphone.  I have absolutely no regrets buying it.  Only con I've found is a slight channel imbalance at the bottom of the pot (very low volume) which makes it touch and go if you intend using it with sensitive IEMs.  Like I said earlier though, I don't use it with my 535s most of the time - but I do use it extensively with my HD600, DT880 and even the 325is.

 

Hope above helps.

 

 

Brooko, concise! Liked your descriptions. Good overview.

 

If a person wants to buy only one and buy it only once; has IEMs and cans and is willing to part with the dough; is the Arrow the way to go?

post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by FieldingMellish View Post

Brooko, concise! Liked your descriptions. Good overview.

 

If a person wants to buy only one and buy it only once; has IEMs and cans and is willing to part with the dough; is the Arrow the way to go?

 

You've got a few options as far as slim form factor go - Pico Slim, TTVJ Slim and the Arrow.

 

I haven't tried the Pico or TTVJ - I bought the Arrow based on a lot of research.  Here were my main reasons - YMMV.

 

 * Form factor!  The Arrow is under 10 cm long, about 5.5 cm wide, and is only about 8mm thick.  It is perfect size for attaching to an iPod Touch/iPhone

 * Tone - it is very neutral, just adding clean amplification - although you can alter the presentation with the switching options (bass, treble)

 * Power!  For me this was the big one - I wanted something that could handle everything from my 325is all the way up to my 600 ohm Beyers.  The Arrow is a one-stop shop.  There are 3 gain settings (2db, 9db, 18db) and combined with the variation on the pot, it is very easy to get the exact volume you want.

 * Tone controls - for when you wnat that little boost without messing round with an EQ.  Separate 3 stage bass and treble settings (off / small boost / larger boost)

 * Long battery life - I just found out that it can be anywhere between 30-80 hours depending on power output you've selected.  Amazing!

 

Other features - these are the 'bonus' features - but the more you use them, the more they become 'the benchmark' for your requirements.

  1. Automatic on/off.  I can't being to describe how good this feature is.  If there is audio running, the Arrow switches itself on.  If no audio - after a set time, it switches off.  No more drained batteries from forgetting to switch the amp off.
  2. Not sure how to describe this .... using a thumb wheel volume pot - instead of the normal exposed knob.  Easier to get at, doesn't stick out, so far I haven't ever accidentally moved it (think blaring volume) like I did once or twice on my E11.
  3. Having input jacks at both ends - so you can orient it to exactly how and where you want the controls (ie which end of your iPod).
  4. Dual headphone outs - magic - spent Sunday afternoon (raining) with my 8yo daughter.  She had my Beyers on, I had the Senns - both sharing the music.  I used a volume attenuator with my HD600s so that I could match her volume without blasting my ears as well.  Magic being able to do this without a cumbersome splitter, or extra cable.
  5. There is also a crossfeed feature - but to be honest, I haven't really noticed a major difference with the music I listen to.  Need to spend more time with it.  Any difference is very subtle.

 

Apparently you can talk to Robert about getting a resistor changed/fitted to lower the gain?/sensitivity with the pot - so that you can use it with more sensitive IEMs.

 

If you're only going to be driving cans up to 300ohm, and prefer a digital volume control (great for IEMs) like the idea of an inbuilt DAC, and can forgo the tone controls and other features of the Arrow - the Leckerton UHA-4 is worth considering.

 

Based on my own experience though, I would unreservedly recommend the Arrow as a one-stop shop.  It is simply a fantastic piece of kit!

post #10 of 10

It sounds like a nice solution. Sometimes, I don't want to have music at moderate levels; preferring it to be background music when crunching numbers on the PC while train riding. The changeable gain can probably furnish this. Features like the dual headphones out and choosing your own end of the amp to affix to is real whipped cream. Even if not needed, it's great to have in case you need it.

 

The one stop shop notion is attractive. In the advanced amateur photography field I am involved in; landscape shooters in particular, tripods are the one item that many cheap out on for their first purchase. They go through one or more (rickety in wind; not tall enough; heavy to carry; doesn't break down small enough, etc.) before they finally ante up for what they should have gotten in the first place. Spend a little more initially and save in the long run.

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