Head-Fi.org › Forums › Summit-Fi (High-End Audio) › High-end Audio Forum › Why don't the well known audiophile amp companies make headphone amps?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Why don't the well known audiophile amp companies make headphone amps?

post #1 of 63
Thread Starter 

I would think companies like Mcintosh, Pass, Audio Research, Atmasphere, etc. would make high end headphone amps.

Most of the great headphone amps seem to be made by one-man operations, with notable exceptions like Luxman (and sort-of by Cary and Leben). 

Since there is little competition, I would think this is a low-hanging-fruit area.

post #2 of 63

Bryston just joined in with the BHA-1, so maybe we'll see more.

post #3 of 63

I've got to believe most of them just aren't in the headphone camp.  Maybe not enough markup or just not interested or not take it seriously.  Even if some of them did get into this then some of their gear would be marked up so much I would think they couldn't compete with the direct sales amp guys.  I own a Cavalli Liquid Fire that is incredible.  What would someone like MBL or Nagra charge for the same amp?  Probably crazy big $$$!!

post #4 of 63

In short, the market is seen as too small and not willing to pay the prices those companies feel they need to charge to justify entering it.

 

Think of it this way - if Atmasphere were to have made say the Balancing Act, they would charge something like 8-10K minimum for it - but how many users are willing to pay that much? 10? 15?  It would be a low number, not one that would justify the R&D and production costs on a new line.

 

This may all change - as more flagships are introduced and speaker users are gradually innoculated with the notion of headphones being more than just an "accessory," the high end headphone market will gain numbers and have more members with deep pockets who still see headphone setup prices as a bargain (and/or a necessity in a quiet house at night or an urban environment.)  At that point I wouldn't be surprised to see respected speaker amp companies joining the fray.  They'd still have a hard time of it as the one man operations can undercut their prices, but at that point (the logic goes) there would be many speaker users familiar with the brand name who would prefer to buy their products and would be willing to pay the premium.

 

Personally I'm happy with where the market is right now - the pricing insanity that has infected a large portion of the speaker world has largely passed over the world of headphone amps, with the possible exception of one or two of them.  The headphone world is competing for who can do more for less, whereas more and more the speaker market seems to be about who can charge more and the cachet pricier products bring.  Obviously this is a generalization with exceptions, but I feel it to be true overall.  

post #5 of 63

I too am happy with the market right now.  You can also see there is a ground swell interest happening with headphones.  The site Confessions of a Part time Audiophile is already listening to LCD2's and interested in more, Stereophile has their InnerFidelity site, etc.

post #6 of 63

How about Musical Fidelity?

post #7 of 63

with the expansion of headphone market which is considered quite rapid, i'm sure its just a matter of time.

 

The design principle between headphone amp and normal amp is almost the same so i believe there's relatively small of time and cost involved with the R&D.....for all we know some big audio company may have already designing it as we speak.

post #8 of 63

Heck, Krell made a headphone amp in a limited run (the KSA-5 - I think it was limited to 500 units but may be wrong on that).  I'm sure they would have made one in their next gen as well if they felt the market warranted it.

post #9 of 63
Thread Starter 

I cycled through a number of well known high end preamps and, curiously, the best sonics as a preamp so far are from my Apex Pinnacle. (I just love that thing, and considering that

it's also a great, great headphone amp and serves this dual function, it may sound strange but it's a bargain at its price if you use both phones and speakers).

 

And as for other amp companies, I mean, if a talented guy by himself like Pete Millett or Ray Samuels or Rudi can design and build top-quality amps,

a company like, say, Shindo that introduces new models fairly frequently should be able to do this at not too much marginal effort or expense.


Edited by rgs9200m - 12/6/12 at 9:38am
post #10 of 63

Just FYI, the Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp has a truly outstanding headphone output (fully balanced, dual differential and very quiet)

 

As for standalone, it's hard to build a business case for a volume manufacturer to do a quality HPA.  Musical Fidelity is hardly the state of the art, but other manufacturers watch the sales volume on their headphone amps as an indicator of whether or not the market is really there -- are there enough potential sales at the price point for it to be a good business decision to introduce such a product?

 

By contrast, most of the guys producing great, state-of-the-art headphone gear are small-scale enthusiasts who love this stuff.  They don't have the overhead costs of the established manufacturer which set the floor on the size of business and the number of sales required above break-even. 

 

So it's not that the great high-end manufacturers can't do it, it's just that the business case so far is too marginal for them to enter the market.


Edited by DeadEars - 12/6/12 at 7:37pm
post #11 of 63

VTL (vacuum tube logic) makes an integrated amp, IT-85, that can power a pair of speakers or flip a toggle switch and it becomes a headphone amp.

 

Another company is David Berning, he makes the microZOTL headphone amp.


Edited by wuwhere - 12/6/12 at 8:29pm
post #12 of 63

Audio Note Kits has an HE-6 amp. 

 

It's starting to get there for the 2ch guys, me thinks. They're starting to not scoff at the 'low' prices of Head-fi anymore (mainly because they're going up). 

post #13 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by rgs9200m View Post

I cycled through a number of well known high end preamps and, curiously, the best sonics as a preamp so far are from my Apex Pinnacle. (I just love that thing, and considering that

it's also a great, great headphone amp and serves this dual function, it may sound strange but it's a bargain at its price if you use both phones and speakers).

 

(...)

 

Interesting perspective.

post #14 of 63
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PedroH View Post

 

Interesting perspective.

Yep, even more so when you consider you can get away with one pair of interconnects and one power cord instead of two of each of these for separate preamps and headphone amps.

post #15 of 63
Quote:
Originally Posted by rgs9200m View Post

I would think companies like Mcintosh, Pass, Audio Research, Atmasphere, etc. would make high end headphone amps.
Most of the great headphone amps seem to be made by one-man operations, with notable exceptions like Luxman (and sort-of by Cary and Leben). 
Since there is little competition, I would think this is a low-hanging-fruit area.

I think it's the same reason as the inverse of your question - why do the boutique headphone amplifier companies not make speaker amplifiers (or why do boutique headphone makers not make speakers)? Specialization and economics. Basically zoom your view back, and instead of asking "what would an ATH-W5000 or Edition 10 customer want?" ask "what would a Beats or SkullCandy customer want?" - you get very different answers. Headphones as a "big money" thing is a relatively recent occurrence, and the big money isn't to be had at the high end. So manufacturers like Sony or D&M (which owns McIntosh) have no interest in serving that segment, because the R&D costs are very high and the returns are likely projected to be very low. Finally, the "dedicated headphone amplifier" thing is kind of a gimmick - a lot of the "big companies" produce very competent IAs/receivers or preamps (and in some cases power amps) that are very good headphone drivers (along with whatever other functionality they are meant to provide), but they're much more complicated for a one-man outfit to design or build. So you get the "all full size component headphone jacks are an afterthought" marketing spiel to sell you on XYZ product. There are many high end preamps and IAs that have additional marketing about their headphone jacks now, simply to satisfy the changing times - but honestly I don't see a lot of those devices selling to headphone audiophiles (based on that very few of them are mentioned often (if at all) on Head-Fi). I think the marketing is just too little too late, but I don't think that is indicative of what the devices themselves can do.

This isn't meant to denigrate dedicated headphone amplifiers, at least not all of them - the other side of the coin is the "computer audiophile" devices that we're finally starting to see in a mainstream manner from outfits like Musical Fidelity, Cambridge Audio, and Audio-Technica that cater to users who don't have the space (or desire to find the space) for full-size components just to drive their headphones. That's where I see some dedicated HPAs as a "win" (that, and portable devices), but I don't see a lot of the big names like Sony or D&M being interested in getting into that segment, mostly because they haven't seemed that interested in "computer audiophile" in general (my guess is that they don't want to support third-party software/hardware solutions that would doubtless be involved). Some of the larger companies (like Sony and AT) are starting to pay attention to the mobile segment and release mobile amps/hardware, but it seems like a fairly minor effort for the most part.
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 › Why don't the well known audiophile amp companies make headphone amps?