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Why bother with a dedicated headphone amp...

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Maverick Audio claims their TubeMagic DAC 1 Plus "...with up to 600 ohm impedance and 1000mW power output, [it] has enough power to drive any headphone on the planet."

 If this is legit, why bother buying a separate dedicated amp to drive my HD 650's?

post #2 of 11

If power, headroom, gain, and signal boost were the only elements at play then yeah... theres nothing gained.  Depending on how loud you listen, an amplifier serves more as an attenuator and impedance matching function, than an amplifier.  There are other "colorful" aspects of circuit design though that factor into the "why amplify" question, and no doubt theres the eye candy & psychological gains.


Edited by kramer5150 - 3/29/14 at 1:27pm
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the reply.  The eye-candy part isn't important for me, but quality of sound & reproduction is.  Willing to spend up to $500 for amp + DAC - will I get orders-of-magnitude better performance with separates over just the Tube Magic DAC 1+ alone?

post #4 of 11
The Tube Magic is a good piece of equipment for it's price. It has a pre-amp output for speakers and multiple inputs. Do you need/want those different types of inputs and the pre-amp outs for speakers?
post #5 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by usery View Post
 

Maverick Audio claims their TubeMagic DAC 1 Plus "...with up to 600 ohm impedance and 1000mW power output, [it] has enough power to drive any headphone on the planet."

 If this is legit, why bother buying a separate dedicated amp to drive my HD 650's?

 

For starters, the line between a "dedicated headphone amp" and a "dedicated DAC" are already blurred due to having one or both in the same chassis using the same power supply, which nowadays is designed so that both would receive ample power and barely any difference if only one section is used. However, in certain cases some devices might be a lot more of a DAC with a simple, low power headphone amp in it, or a headphone amp with a basic USB DAC built in, and in such cases one has the option to add an amp or DAC or to keep the system compact and simple.

 

In the case of that DAC1 Plus, there really is no need to get a dedicated headphone amp. What gave the idea that you would needed one? (save for actually hearing another amp driving the HD650 better) As much as some amps might (I have not heard the D1) drive the HD650 better by a wide enough margin, if it's not really that bad, then no need to throw more money at it if that isn't easy to come by based on your income. I use a Meier Cantate.2, which is a great amplifier with a basic PCM2702 USB DAC in it (other DACs used that chip only as a USB receiver) and I prefer this over a bunch of "hi-fi" CDPs, many of which sound a bit too colored or have weird soundstaging (like the drums going around the back of my head, or the bass drum in front of the vocalist).

post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

The Tube Magic is a good piece of equipment for it's price. It has a pre-amp output for speakers and multiple inputs. Do you need/want those different types of inputs and the pre-amp outs for speakers?

 

Appreciate the reply.  I don't need the pre-amp out but I do need both RCA and USB inputs.

post #7 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by usery View Post

Appreciate the reply.  I don't need the pre-amp out but I do need both RCA and USB inputs.

And that kind of feature need probably puts you at a combo DAC/headphone amp/pre-amp like the TubeMagic. Aren't too many devices that will have that unless you want to get a separate DAC, separate headphone amp, and then this Schitt pre-amp which you could plug both the DAC into and your other device with RCAs, and then output to a separate headphone amp.
post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post

 

In the case of that DAC1 Plus, there really is no need to get a dedicated headphone amp. What gave the idea that you would needed one? (save for actually hearing another amp driving the HD650 better) As much as some amps might (I have not heard the D1) drive the HD650 better by a wide enough margin, if it's not really that bad, then no need to throw more money at it ....

 

Thanks for the input.  Am just getting into the "audiophile" headphone thing and building out my kit (~ $1K budget).  Research so far has me leaning towards tubes for amplification - I already have SS integrated amp as part of main listening room hi-fi (Creek 5350 SE to Nola Boxer loudspeakers + REL R-328 sub).  I'll use the HD 650's with the Creek but I also need headphone amp/DAC for bedroom.  I was closing on a Schiit Vali + DAC combo when I came across the TubeMagic DAC 1 Plus - which appears to do all that a Schitt tube combo would do.  Would be ideal to audition components first, but I won't have that opportunity.

post #9 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by usery View Post
 

 

Research so far has me leaning towards tubes for amplification - I already have SS integrated amp as part of main listening room hi-fi (Creek 5350 SE to Nola Boxer loudspeakers + REL R-328 sub).

 

So why the D1 then? Its tube is for the preamp, not the headphone amplifier section, and I'm not even sure if the signal would pass through that tube when the headphone amp is used as I somewhat remember in the discussion on the original DACMagic that the tube only works on the preamp output on the rear. This is not exactly the same as a speaker system where in some equipment the preamp circuit drives the headphone amp, as in some preamps or integrated amps (actually the headphone output is built into some power amps, but the volume is still controlled with whatever preamp is feeding it), but this has an output stage similar to the output stage on a speaker amp. The difference of course is how much power they're designed to produce, and of course the power supply that feeds it what it needs.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by usery View Post
 

 

I'll use the HD 650's with the Creek but I also need headphone amp/DAC for bedroom.  I was closing on a Schiit Vali + DAC combo when I came across the TubeMagic DAC 1 Plus - which appears to do all that a Schitt tube combo would do.  Would be ideal to audition components first, but I won't have that opportunity.

 

Well, if I'm completely right, then the DACMagic can't do all that the Schiit stack can do, since the Vali's tubes are actually in the voltage rail instead of just a coloring aid in the preamp. As much as I'm also a fan of one-box DAC-amps (see below), that Schiit stack isn't all that huge. Use a flexible RCA cable, or better, try to get your hands on a custom pair that uses flexible cables cut to around 1/3ft (even if you have to pay full price for 1ft), and it's still a compact solution.

 

BTW what source are you planning to use in that bedroom set-up? A small laptop might be nice but you might have a smartphone or tablet there that can stream USB audio, but of course, there's the question of storage and how to power the DAC as they don't output  the standard voltage and current like a gaming motherboard or an Apple computer. However if you want to go that route, then there are ways around these limitations, like wireless streaming from an NAS or wireless storage (Kingston has flashdrives with WiFi, and Seagate has a 2.5in 500gb HDD), which can work with some music player apps, while some DACs are powered completely by their own power supply so the power out of the tablet or smartphone isn't important.
 

 


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 3/30/14 at 10:15pm
post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
So why the D1 then? Its tube is for the preamp, not the headphone amplifier section, and I'm not even sure if the signal would pass through that tube when the headphone amp is used as I somewhat remember in the discussion on the original DACMagic that the tube only works on the preamp output on the rear...if I'm completely right then the [D1] can't do all that the Schiit stack can since the Vali's tubes are actually in the voltage rail instead of just a coloring aid in the preamp.

 

You are completely right, I found all that too reading related D1 thread: tube pre-out doesn't go through its headphone amp circuit.  So I'm back to Schitt stack as baseline candidate.

 

Quote:
...what source are you planning to use in that bedroom set-up? A small laptop might be nice but you might have a smartphone or tablet there that can stream USB audio...

 

Sources will be NAS-based .flac and "hi-res" (320 KHz) stream from Spotify/Beats/whatever over wireless to notebook PC.  

 

Still figuring out the pass-thru from PC to headphone DAC/amp.  Is it as simple as USB out from notebook?

post #11 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by usery View Post
 

Sources will be NAS-based .flac and "hi-res" (320 KHz) stream from Spotify/Beats/whatever over wireless to notebook PC.  

 

Still figuring out the pass-thru from PC to headphone DAC/amp.  Is it as simple as USB out from notebook?

 

Not necessarily - some notebooks, and even some desktop motherboards, don't output the full voltage and amperage necessary to drive some DACs that don't have their own power supply and are totally relying on the bus power (that's why motherboards above $80 have to add in the product page if/that they have full USB power on all ports). Unfortunately the reason for this is because most USB devices don't need that much power, even 2.5in mobile drives, so there really is no way to be sure until you have the DAC at home barring test equipment (which you wouldn't have if you're not an ECE). Even some portable DAC-Amps only work because they have their own batteries, at most needing the USB to power only the receiver chip, and likely the owners charge them with a dedicated USB charger since the lower-output USB port would take too much time. That said, this isn't all that common, but I'm mentioning it so there won't be any surprises.

 

In case it doesn't work try a powered USB hub, but note also that not all of them work - it depends on how they're wired up in side - and that most of the compatibility issues have to do with using an iOS or Android device as a music server. You can always check here for what hubs are known to work, just use the search function.

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