Head-Fi.org › Forums › Summit-Fi (High-End Audio) › High-end Audio Forum › Tube amp for Sennheiser HD800s: deciding between some SE & balanced options
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Tube amp for Sennheiser HD800s: deciding between some SE & balanced options

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
Gear:

DAC: Grace Design m903
Tube Amp: ?
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800

Single Ended Candidates:

DNA Sonett 2
Eddie Current Zana Deux SE
Woo Audio WA2
Other?

Balanced Candidates:

DNA Stratus
Eddie Current Super 7
Woo Audio WA22
Other?

Amp Criteria:

maximize bass performance,
sonic detail, dynamics & imaging,
minimize sibilance,
small foot print,
up to ~$1,000-$2,500

What say you?
post #2 of 33

DNA Sonett 2 should can has balanced out as option like Sonett 1?

post #3 of 33
Zana Deux sounds ridiculous with it. Also, the Super 7 isn't balanced exen though it has an xlr output.

-Daniel
post #4 of 33

Might also want to add the Apex Peak/Volcano to the single ended section. It's the tube version of the Apex Arete/Volcano combo that I run my HD 800 off of.

post #5 of 33
post #6 of 33

try to find a used balancing act:)  best combo I've heard

post #7 of 33
Aside from stax goodness, the hd800 with tubes were my favorite sounds at the last chiunifi and Bay Area meets. In Chicago I heard them on the ray Samuels b52 (balanced amp, though they may have been single ended at show), in San Francisco they were run single ended off the Eddie current xana deux.
Depending on what gets introduced at canjam this year (new ortho from senn?) I may start selling stuff and go one of the above routes.
post #8 of 33
Thread Starter 
Here is where I am at:

I am very satisfied with the Grace Design m903 as both a DAC and a HF amp. I demoed some library HD800s with it and I have found it great with both my K702s and W4Rs as well. It has an extremely good user interface and I also drive my active monitors ( Neumann KH120s) using its balanced outputs.

That being said, being a guitarist I know quite well the magic of tube amps to create a euphonic, warm tone, magical dynamics and overdrive. Being a person who has been involved with audiophile gear for over 30 years (LS35A and Stax owner since early 80's), I am also aware of Audio Research and Conrad Johnson what can be achieved with high-end audio amps. I am also very used to NOS tube rolling in my guitar amps (12AX7, 12AT7, 6L6, 6V6 etc.).

Now, 30 years later I am back in the hobby and I have set up a very nice computer based audio system. I join Headfi and begin to read about tube amps and their "magical" synergy with highly revealing headphones like the HD800s. I read about single-ended and balanced amps. Some say one is fundamentally superior to another, and others say it is more amp topology specific (this makes more sense to me).

After reading way too many threads, I begin to see there are a few makes that people seem to really like: Apex Hifi , Cavalli, Donald North Audio (DNA), Eddie Current, Ray Samuels and Woo Audio seem to have the most frequent and vocal "fans". People speak about synergies with different cans and opinions differ. Many of the top end amps cost ~$4,000ish (more than I want to spend) and NOS tubes can add much on top of that.

The four amps that seem to be fairly universally liked at the upper end of my price range are these:

Donald North Audio
Stratus
Single Ended
8.5"h x 17"w x 9.5"d
$2,500
http://www.dnaudio.com/DNA-Stratus-2A3-headphone-amplifier.html

Eddie Current
Zana Deux SE
Single Ended
9"h x 12"w x 14"d
$2,200
http://www.eddiecurrent.com/Zanadeux.html

Woo Audio
WA2
Single Ended
5.5"h x 13" w x 9"d
$1,090 - $1,630
http://www.wooaudio.com/products/wa2.html

Woo Audio
WA22
Balanced
7"h x 12"w x 10.5"d
$1,900-2,480
http://www.wooaudio.com/products/wa22.html

To use either the DNA or the Woo WA22, I need to have Grace Design make me a balanced output A/B box to get a second set of balanced outputs to connect to a balanced amp (more $). The two single ended amps can be hooked directly to the available RCA unbalanced outs on my m903.

So...

What I am pondering is how much better will they sound over what I have? The simplicity, size and industrial design of the WA2 and the EC ZD are both attractive and can be used with a single ended HF cable.

But...

The balanced amps by both DNA and Woo have me curious. When I factor in a balanced cable and a switcher box I am likely adding another $500 + to the cost to boot. The size of some of the amps concerns we as well.

So what to do?

1) Get a good quality single ended tube amp and use my Grace's unbalanced outputs and singled ended HF cable (stock or aftermarket)?

2) Or, do I spring for what likely an extra $1,000-$1,500 by the time that I am done for one of the balanced amps?

3) Or do I nix this whole idea as folly and enjoy the compact SS amp that I own?

Thoughts Appreciated
Edited by iim7V7IM7 - 9/21/12 at 5:01am
post #9 of 33

The Stratus is a single ended amplifier with RCA inputs. It provides both unbalanced 1/4" and XLR balanced outputs through use of the center tapped-secondary on the output transformers.

post #10 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Donald North View Post

The Stratus is a single ended amplifier with RCA inputs. It provides both unbalanced 1/4" and XLR balanced outputs through use of the center tapped-secondary on the output transformers.

Thanks Mr. North
post #11 of 33
post #12 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7 View Post

1) Get a good quality single ended tube amp and use my Grace's unbalanced outputs and singled ended HF cable (stock or aftermarket)?
2) Or, do I spring for what likely an extra $1,000-$1,500 by the time that I am done for one of the balanced amps?
3) Or do I nix this whole idea as folly and enjoy the compact SS amp that I own?
Thoughts Appreciated

iim7V7IM7,

 

I have not had the opportunity to listen to most of these amps, and therefore I cannot help you chose among them.

 

From the amps I own or have listened to, I would suggest that balanced vs. SE is not that big a deal, at least when it comes to the issues with the HD800 (not enough bass volume; a little too much treble; otherwise pretty great).  In terms of SS vs tubes, the latter provide you with the ability to achieve sound EQ by changing tubes.  What I have achieved with my Super 7 is EQ'ing the HD800 without losing any of its other virtues.  I am quite happy with it, but I certainly cannot say that other tube amps, including both Eddie Current ones and those from other makers, might not be even better. 

 

What I would suggest you do is to enjoy your present system and hold off spending additional money until you have had a chance to listen personally to at least a few of the amps you may be interested in.  The problem is that there is typically no way to go into a store and audition these amps.  Fortunately, there are Head-Fi meets in NYC and Philadelphia, as well as locations in NJ.  Take a look at the meet forum.  You may have to wait for a while to find one you can go to, but I think that it will be worth your while:  this will improve the likelihood that you end up with something that will satisfy you long-term.

post #13 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ctemkin View Post

iim7V7IM7,

 

I have not had the opportunity to listen to most of these amps, and therefore I cannot help you chose among them.

 

From the amps I own or have listened to, I would suggest that balanced vs. SE is not that big a deal, at least when it comes to the issues with the HD800 (not enough bass volume; a little too much treble; otherwise pretty great).  In terms of SS vs tubes, the latter provide you with the ability to achieve sound EQ by changing tubes.  What I have achieved with my Super 7 is EQ'ing the HD800 without losing any of its other virtues.  I am quite happy with it, but I certainly cannot say that other tube amps, including both Eddie Current ones and those from other makers, might not be even better. 

 

What I would suggest you do is to enjoy your present system and hold off spending additional money until you have had a chance to listen personally to at least a few of the amps you may be interested in.  The problem is that there is typically no way to go into a store and audition these amps.  Fortunately, there are Head-Fi meets in NYC and Philadelphia, as well as locations in NJ.  Take a look at the meet forum.  You may have to wait for a while to find one you can go to, but I think that it will be worth your while:  this will improve the likelihood that you end up with something that will satisfy you long-term.

 

A very logical approach, but knowing myself the likelihood of me finding the time to attend a meet is remote (I am lucky to get time to listen or play music these days!).

 

My perception of HD800 bass performance is limited.  I home demoed a library pair and I was able to compare them to my K702s and some LCD-2s. The bass performance on them was good (LCD-2>HD800>K702). The bass performance of the LCD-2s were outstanding, but the small image and discomfort when wearing did them in for me. Overall, their sound was magnificent and they were exceedingly comfortable. So I have no reference on differences in EQ when used with multiple amps.

 

I am OK buying amps site unseen.  The same thing is true with my guitar amps.   All were custom builds purchased site unseen.  I purchased NOS tubes and found my sound.  I have made some mistakes, taken some losses and sold off some gear.  Part of the game I guess.

 

The Grace Design m903 SE HF amp has an output impedance of 1.2 ohm (low, good for the AKGs) and at 50 ohm load (AKG=62 ohm) it outputs 1,200 mW.  At 300 ohm impedance (HD800) the amp's output is 200mW.  Compared to many of the tube amps that we are discussing, I suspect that they have oodles more power than the m903.  I wonder if this effects bass performance?  I also know that my tube amps seem to be much more touch sensitive and dynamic vs. solid state guitar amps.  This ability also has me curious in a Hifi application.  If I also want to be able to use lower impedance HF like my AKGs (62 ohm) or my Westone 4Rs (31 ohm) are some of these tube amps better choices across a broad impedance range 31-300 ohm?

 

Thanks

post #14 of 33

Disclaimer that I haven't heard these headphones or any of these amps.  I had been researching my summit fi headphone setup before I decided on speakers, and during my research I did come across a lot of posts regarding the HD800 and synergy with amps, despite me not being interested in the HD800.

 

And from my research, if you want that tube magic, I'd go for either the DNA Stratus, or the Minute 45.

 

The DNA Stratus already has a pretty good setup, using the 2A3 in SET config.  It's usually a tossup between the 2A3 and the 45 for best tube in a speaker amp, so it doesn't hurt to have it in a headphone amp either.  Plus, it seems to have a sound signature in common with higher end SET speaker amps; that is, it's not "tube" by being as warm and lush as possible, but rather what the higher end tube amps achieve; it just has a "presence."  Kinda hard to describe, but its a nice sound :)

 

Minute 45 probably would be on the same tier, and this would be my choice if I were trying to power some very high efficiency (98dB-100dB+) speakers along with headphones.  However, I've read that it errs HIGHLY on the stereotypical tube signature of warmth, lushness, etc.  It's not a bad thing but it *is* a preferential thing, so that's something to consider.

 

If you want tube magic but aren't sure if you like the stereotypical tube sound itself, then I'd get a Stratus.  If you DO like the stereotypical tube sound, then I'd recommend both the Stratus and the 45, though I"d still recommend the Stratus because of a lot of reports saying the two have awesome synergy.  The 45 I'd only recommend if you've got high efficiency speakers to power.  Stratus is probably going to have a better resale as well.

post #15 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7 View Post

 

A very logical approach, but knowing myself the likelihood of me finding the time to attend a meet is remote (I am lucky to get time to listen or play music these days!).

 

My perception of HD800 bass performance is limited.  I home demoed a library pair and I was able to compare them to my K702s and some LCD-2s. The bass performance on them was good (LCD-2>HD800>K702). The bass performance of the LCD-2s were outstanding, but the small image and discomfort when wearing did them in for me. Overall, their sound was magnificent and they were exceedingly comfortable. So I have no reference on differences in EQ when used with multiple amps.

 

I am OK buying amps site unseen.  The same thing is true with my guitar amps.   All were custom builds purchased site unseen.  I purchased NOS tubes and found my sound.  I have made some mistakes, taken some losses and sold off some gear.  Part of the game I guess.

 

The Grace Design m903 SE HF amp has an output impedance of 1.2 ohm (low, good for the AKGs) and at 50 ohm load (AKG=62 ohm) it outputs 1,200 mW.  At 300 ohm impedance (HD800) the amp's output is 200mW.  Compared to many of the tube amps that we are discussing, I suspect that they have oodles more power than the m903.  I wonder if this effects bass performance?  I also know that my tube amps seem to be much more touch sensitive and dynamic vs. solid state guitar amps.  This ability also has me curious in a Hifi application.  If I also want to be able to use lower impedance HF like my AKGs (62 ohm) or my Westone 4Rs (31 ohm) are some of these tube amps better choices across a broad impedance range 31-300 ohm?

 

Thanks



I also have the HD800, m903, and the amazing KH120 monitors. Am also in the market for a tube amp and I was able to recently audition both the Super 7 and BA with the m903. IMO, both tube amps clearly better the m903's headphone amp, which is no slouch. There is more bass extension, more soundstage, more presence, just simply more musical and more enjoyable. The difference between the S7 and BA for me was less pronounced. The BA just does everything slightly better, maybe 5%-10% pretty sure the law of diminishing returns kicks in strong here. I don't think you can go wrong either way but I'm waiting to set up an audition of the Stratus before I make a final decision on which way to go.

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: High-end Audio Forum
Head-Fi.org › Forums › Summit-Fi (High-End Audio) › High-end Audio Forum › Tube amp for Sennheiser HD800s: deciding between some SE & balanced options