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Seeking advice from experts

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

I'm looking for a headphone amp with enough juice to drive my brand new Senn HD800's. I've only ever used integrated's, but mine is on its last legs, so I think I want to go with a dedicated to replace it. For example, I was just looking at the Burston Soloist preamp/headphone amp. All it has is one knob for volume. Prepare yourself for a stupid question: How would I adjust the treble, bass or balance? Is it supposed to be hooked up to the integrated amp for that? If so, does that defeat the purpose?

 

Be gentle, I'm new at this stuff. Help would really be appreciated, because I'm not exactly a technological sage to begin with. Thanks.

post #2 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sweets2TheSweet View Post

I'm looking for a headphone amp with enough juice to drive my brand new Senn HD800's. I've only ever used integrated's, but mine is on its last legs, so I think I want to go with a dedicated to replace it. For example, I was just looking at the Burston Soloist preamp/headphone amp. All it has is one knob for volume. Prepare yourself for a stupid question: How would I adjust the treble, bass or balance? Is it supposed to be hooked up to the integrated amp for that? If so, does that defeat the purpose?

 

Be gentle, I'm new at this stuff. Help would really be appreciated, because I'm not exactly a technological sage to begin with. Thanks.

 

Relax - no one is here waiting to bite your head of. We all have things we'd like to learn / find out from the others and that's why we hang out here.

 

The often preferred way to equalize the sound is.... not to do it at all: the idea is that with the high end equipment (and the choice of HD800 puts you right there) you should be able to hear everything perfectly the way the artist intended it. You invested in expensive equipment to minimize distortions and now you're ruining the sound by introducing distortions on purpose. That's the theory and you'll find that to some people it's a religion.

 

Another approach is to select an amplifier for your headphone that will give you a slight bias towards your preference. Generally the tube amplifiers will give you somewhat warmer sound, while solid state tend to be more cold sounding. That combination will give you a fixed tonal characteristic, but some amps let you change it by changing tubes, installing op-amps (dedicated chips that process the sound) or applying gentle filters. The differences achieved this way are quite subtle.

 

There are some amplifiers that have tonal correction capabilities - for example you can find bass boost on several popular models, however this tends to be the feature of the lower end equipment. For example FiiO E17 can adjust both low and high frequencies (but please by no means treat it as my recommendation).

 

So where does that leave you? The answer is: if you require tonal corrections, you should do that before you amplify the sound. How you do it in practice may depend on your sources. For example if you listen to music from a PC, many players have equalizers built in and some of them are pretty good. A more universal approach would be to get a hardware equalizer and plug it in before your amp - that way you can correct the tone for any source.

post #3 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sweets2TheSweet View Post

I'm looking for a headphone amp with enough juice to drive my brand new Senn HD800's. I've only ever used integrated's, but mine is on its last legs, so I think I want to go with a dedicated to replace it. For example, I was just looking at the Burston Soloist preamp/headphone amp. All it has is one knob for volume. Prepare yourself for a stupid question: How would I adjust the treble, bass or balance? Is it supposed to be hooked up to the integrated amp for that? If so, does that defeat the purpose?

 

Be gentle, I'm new at this stuff. Help would really be appreciated, because I'm not exactly a technological sage to begin with. Thanks.

 

Ok, ask yourself these questions. If you have Senn HD800's' why would you want to adjust treble, bass or balance? If those things are a must, then forget about minimalist products like that Burson. You are right, hooking a Burson up to an integrated is pointless. Get a nice vintage integrated and you can have your cake and eat it too.

 

On the subject of bass, treble and balance, most good integrated amplifiers have a direct switch that lets you take them out of the circuit. In my experience this normally gives a cleaner more dynamic sound than when these controls are in the circuit. You should easily be able to hear the difference this makes on a pair of cans as good as the 800's. 

 

So, what do you care about most? A clean lifelike sound or being able to adjust balance, bass and treble?

post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 

Ha. I'd flirted with the idea that premiere headphones such as 800's are designed to present music "as is", that being how the artist intended. I wasn't positive, but you two have more or less confirmed my suspicions. The thing is, I don't care about adjusting bass and treble. I *want* as-intended sound from my headphones. With the barely-functioning Harmam / Kardon hk330 Vi integrated amp I've owned since... the late 80's, I've had serious problems with distortion at even moderate volumes. With HD 595's, the bass knob has to be turned *all the way down* at all times no matter what the music is, because even the slightest boost leads to severe speaker-popping distortion. By the way, the balance knob has to be constantly jiggled around because half or sometimes all the balance likes to randomly disappear. All the time. The amp is just shot. That much I know. I guess I'm just gunshy because, frankly, there's no way I'm testing out those 800's on an amp that I know can't handle it. So I've got $1,500 headphones paired up with an amp that wouldn't be worth $20 at a garage sale. No wonder I'm so naive.

 

After spending many hours of browsing, I seem to keep coming back to the Burson Soloist. Judging from specs and various professional reviews, it looks like a powerful little unit at a fantastic price. Here's my next question: That Burson doubles as a pre-amp, so if and when I do decide to pull the trigger on an expensive integrated, I could always just use the Burson as such, right? It seems as though owning a good(?) headphone amp while being open to other options in the future would truly be having my cake and eating it too. Am I warm?

 

I really appreciate the responses.

post #5 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sweets2TheSweet View Post

After spending many hours of browsing, I seem to keep coming back to the Burson Soloist. Judging from specs and various professional reviews, it looks like a powerful little unit at a fantastic price. Here's my next question: That Burson doubles as a pre-amp, so if and when I do decide to pull the trigger on an expensive integrated, I could always just use the Burson as such, right? It seems as though owning a good(?) headphone amp while being open to other options in the future would truly be having my cake and eating it too. Am I warm?

 

I really appreciate the responses.

 

I admit I have no experience neither with HD800 nor with the Soloist, but this combination seems a bit risky to me. On its own the Soloist seems to be a good amp, but in its price range there are other very good options. If it was me, I'd be looking for a tube amp for these cans. Schiit Lyr is said to be a very good match for the HD800, and is much cheaper too.

post #6 of 27

I think you are on the right track, S2TS. The Burson is probably a great pre amp. Once you have that you might consider active speakers for your main system. Many of them have a great sound and they come with power amplifiers included. I am sure the Lyr is nice, but it is limited to one input.

post #7 of 27
You need to upgrade you integrated amp to this one: smily_headphones1.gif

http://www.ttvjaudio.com/Luxman_SQ_N10_p/lux0000062.htm
post #8 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by eugenius View Post

You need to upgrade you integrated amp to this one: smily_headphones1.gif
http://www.ttvjaudio.com/Luxman_SQ_N10_p/lux0000062.htm

 

That is a very nice amp...

post #9 of 27

The only one who should be pleased with what's heard from your gear is you.  You're spending your money on what you like to hear, or the way you want to hear it, whether that be neutral, tweaked in the upper/lower/both regions.  There is no wrong, or right way to listen, as long as it pleases the listener.  In this case...YOU!

post #10 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eugenius View Post

You need to upgrade you integrated amp to this one: smily_headphones1.gif
http://www.ttvjaudio.com/Luxman_SQ_N10_p/lux0000062.htm

Looks like a beast. I was looking at the Yamaha A-S2000, but it's pretty expensive, as is this amp. Me not owning an iPod or anything like that, that dock would be a waste of space and resources for me.

 

@PleasantSounds

The review on avguide for the Soloist specifically states that the Soloist and HD 800's make a great combination. To quote:

 

"I had the joy of listening to ['She's So Scandalous'] for the first time through a pair of Sennheiser HD 800—‘phones that have a reputation for being amazingly accurate sounding, yet perhaps also for sounding a little analytical and 'uptight.' But when you leave the driving to the Soloist, the flagship Sennheisers lose most of that clinical, overly-tightly-wound quality and just open up and get funky, with a really impressive combination of dynamic energy and abandon coupled with the HD 800’s signature control and clarity."

 

I wouldn't just drop a grand without doing a little reading first. Heh. Now that I've been corrected as per my EQ misconceptions, I feel more confident.

 

@Rope

No doubt. If I knew what I was talking about, though, I wouldn't be here asking questions. I'm happy as long as I'm learning.

post #11 of 27
The Yamaha AS-2000 is nowhere near as good as the Luxman for the HD800, it's headphone out is like a good entry level solid state amplifier, that is good for an integrated.
Neither is the Soloist. I just listened to the HD800 on it.

If you want a cheaper amp/dac for headphones, try [then buy] the Woo WA7 [not released yet] with upgraded NOS tubes. That's about the cheapest I would go with the HD800.

But the Luxman will be better. It also has good tone controls that work both for speakers and headphones, like you want. Pair it with the right speakers and you won't ever have to upgrade from it, for both speakers and headphones. If you want to save money, get an used Luxman SQ-N100 (older version without the ipod dock). Should be quite a bit cheaper.
Edited by eugenius - 10/31/12 at 12:10am
post #12 of 27
Thread Starter 

I believe you. Trust me, if I had $2,400 to burn, I would buy it. In fact, I did some reading up on the Luxman SQ N10, and it seems to be a monster of a tube amp. As of right now, that's the integrated amp I'm aspiring toward within a year or two. At the moment, I have about $1,000 set aside to spend on something to hold me off until such a time comes when I can afford an amp like that. Money isn't exactly flowing like wine these days, so that's unfortunately the best I can do this year.

 

I say again, I have NO DOUBT that the SQ N10 would sound better than the Soloist, but my reasons for going with the Soloist are 3-pronged:

 

1. 3 inputs. The Schiit Lyr having a single input is a killer. An input apiece for the TV, phono and PC is perfect for me.

 

2. Its versatility. I was originally under the impression that the Soloist is either an amp or a preamp, but it seems I can take advantage of both abilities immediately. This is because once the Soloist's headphone jack is in use, it cancels out its connection to the integrated amp. Excellent for my needs, as I can use the Soloist for my headphones AND give my vintage amp a boost until I can get a better integrated such as said Luxman.

 

3. The gain control. fabio-fi told me that any equalization should be done *before* amplification, in other words, from the source. That explanation makes sense to me. Tone controls aren't necessarily a priority anymore. Gain control is more ideal, because I do own other headphones of varying impedance levels. It's nice to have options.

 

eugenius, can you give me an example of speakers that pair well with the Luxman?

post #13 of 27
You can get a used sq-n100 around 1400$ maybe even lower if it's imported. That makes it a better value than even a used soloist at 700.

The soloist is not a great preamp because it does not have a remote and it has only 24 steps on the volume knob.

While it's true that EQ is better on the source side, especially minimum phase parametric EQ used to correct for the imperfect frequency response of most headphones including the HD800, having tone controls is very convenient for quick adjustments.

Speakers are a personal thing, but look into any speakers over 92 dB/W/m and with benign impedance curves in the bass area. 120W is only twice as loud as the 12W of the Luxman, keep that in mind. I'll give you some speaker examples if you want.
post #14 of 27
Thread Starter 

Where would used sq-n100's be available? I checked ebay and amazon. Nada.

 

Believe me, I don't care about remotes. Even with TV's, I always had this weird impulse to get up and change it even if I had a remote. That's just me. What does steps on a volume knob mean? I know that max volume is max volume whether the number is 5 or 100 -- I learned that from the Spinal Tap "these go to 11" joke -- but steps? I'm assuming that that determines the detectable volume difference between each twist of the knob. 

 

I'd like an example if only so I can have some sort of reference for price. Just off the top of your head, what am I looking at?

post #15 of 27
The Soloist has a stepped attenuator not a potentiometer. That means you have a network of 24 resistors and you switch between them instead of having a continuously variable resistor (the potentiometer). It also means you adjust the volume in steps (the more the better).

What can happen is this: if your speakers/headphones are very sensitive and/or your speaker amp has high gain, you're left with too few steps in the usable volume range because it's too loud after the first few steps. That means you can't quite get the volume to the right level, the steps in the usable volume range are too big.

Now the Soloist also has a gain switch and that means you can bring the gain to an appropriate range to better use those 24 steps so that's not the problem it was before with the HA160(D) when you didn't have a gain switch. It can still happen that your speakers need a different gain than the headphones so you always have to press it when switching. As I said, as a preamp, not ideal for convenience.

I would still have the stepped attenuator for sound quality and reliability instead of a potentiometer though ... the Soloist with it's increased power and gain switch can drive any headphone, it's just not the right choice for the HD800, not unless you mod the HD800 and/or have a tube DAC for them. The Soloist is more an amp for the HD6x0 and the ortho's (LCD2, HE500).

Used Luxmans are rare but not unheard of. I can't help you there, keep checking ebay, audiogon, craigslist etc. You can also try to import a used one from Japan, that would be the cheapest way but more risky.

Also check for the Rogue Audio Cronus ... that's an integrated with a nice tube headphone out as well. If you're lucky you might find a used but still under warranty example for 1000$. Good luck! smily_headphones1.gif
Edited by eugenius - 10/31/12 at 3:28am
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