Originally Posted by Brycicles
Hello all, sitting here listening to my E17/E9 combo with my M50s playing some Rush 2112, pondering my recent purchase I bought a set of AKG Q701's and an Aune T1. I also went ahead and bought a Gold Lion tube while I was blowing money. I'm listening to FLAC's through winamp, I'm pondering the thought of, Will my new setup be $500 better??
Just a thought.. Wondering what your opinions on the matter are. This is probably my last set up I'll be purchasing for a long time.
My own subjective and unpopular opinion is that the headphone amp does very little to change the sound of a headphone other than driving it to sufficient levels.
IE some headphones sound better when driven loud, they gain an unexpressable quality that is hard to quantify other than it sounds more real. If your stock headphone amp can't get them loud enough to reach that level then yeah, an amp is going to make it sound better.
However the job of an amp is to not color the sound, not introduce anything to the signal, but to accurately reproduce the input signal without adding to or changing it. So if an amp is doing it's job, it won't make the sound any different.
That said, I disliked the E7 and E9 combo because it really didn't sound that good, and I was dissappointed in the lack of 24/96. I ended up going with an Audioengine D1 DAC into the FiiO E9 amp and that sounds pretty good to me. As much as I could hope for.
Tubes are a little over rated in headphone and amplification circles (my opinion) because they aren't used for the reason that make tubes superior to transistors, IE over driven. The reason tube amplifiers are popular with guitarists for instance is because when a tube is over driven it's a softer and warmer kind of distortion, a 'soft clipping' where as a transistor would have a less desirable and harder clipping.
Since a headphone amp isn't supposed to distort the signal, the only impact the tube is going to have on the sound is to make it slightly warmer but if that's all you wanted why not just add 2db @ 180hz and get the same sound without needing a new amp?
Anyway in answer to your question, will it sound $500 better? That's completely up to you and what value you place in your equipment for the improvements it gives you. Diminishing returns are different for everyone, for some people they are willing to pay $10,000 for a DAC to get a slightly better jitter measurement that is nearly or completely inaudible but it's worth it to them to have 'the best'.
For me, I'm pretty happy with my $80 E9 amp and $170 Audioengine DAC. Would I like a tube amp? Absolutely, I'm a gear nut and love having different headphones and amps. But do I think I need to buy a tube amp to enjoy my hobby? no.
I have to agree with Malveaux, the single biggest factor in any music chain is the speaker or headphone. They have the single largest measurable impact on the sound. Concentrate on finding a set of headphones that give a sound you love, then get an amp that can drive them to the volume you want to listen at and you're set.
Edited by Kodhifi - 2/19/13 at 10:44pm