Is it some secret formula that the manufacturer keep hidden and no one will ever know? If that factor is not so hidden, can it be perfected? Or is it simply due to "preference" and no amp can be said to be better than even one specific other? What do you think?
What makes one headphone amp better than another?
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It depends on the working definition of better. Many users here seem to think better is what they prefer making it very subjective and spur an endless debate that depends on preference. I like to use the more technical term better which includes a series of metrics, debates, and rigorous testing. This helps remove the bias and preference.
Tyll Hertsens over at Innerfidelity.com and a few other sites out there have measured several headphone amps. They post very well-defined measurements used in the audio industry. You can take a look here:
The goal of which is to bring a little more transparency to the headphone amp market by directly measuring an amp's performance and post the results against other amps.
It can be a great tool much like frequency response charts for headphones.
If you can define your tern "better" people and science can back it up.
Most common reason - placebo.
I love it when audio companies claim to have "engineered" better sounding wires, or better-sounding amps or whatever, but are unable to provide the slightest bit of explanation why, esp when there is no science to explain it either. Atleast with guys like Nelson Pass and John Curl, you know their design philosophies and what they've done. And they dont claim magic, just intelligent design.
Beyond that, it starts to get ridiculous. Eg - tube amps. You can build a top-of-the-line single ended tube amp, using high-end parts and hand-wound top-end trannies, for $500. I did so. And I see the similar designs selling for north of $5000. :facepalm:
Audiophiles are insecure and companies pander to their insecurity. And it doesnt help that most of the science guys are too busy measurbating to realize that good specs != good music. And so there isnt a lot of space for people who realize that good measurements dont necessarily equal to good music, but who also arent ready to buy the snake oil that is being peddled in the industry.
Seriously - $500 cables? GMAFB. And yes, I've tried them. Didnt sound any different from a $20 thick-gauge cable. Shakti Stones or green pens? Any magazine that goes around saying "these make a difference" loses all credibility - yes, TAS, I am looking at you.
Edited by vkalia - 12/12/13 at 10:04am
On a less antagonistic note, a few features that I think make a good solid state amp:
- A beefy power supply capable of delivering a lot of current - this provides much-needed headroom
- Class A design, with zero or low negative feedback - that may measure well, but it kills the sound
- A high S/N ration and low noise floor (in combination with the above)
The best one, of course, is a single-ended, zero-feedback triode in the output stage. :)