The siren call of the Sennheiser HD800s continues to tug at my heartstrings and pursestrings, and I fear I am going to buy them (as my 22nd pair of headphones!).
Budget is such that I can pay up to about $500 for a suitable amp (a bit higher, say $700 new price, if I look for used).
At the moment, mainly thanks to this thread, http://www.head-fi.org/t/697528/entry-mid-level-amp-for-hd800-need-advice-or-suggestions#post_10113235, I have reviewed a number of candidates (however, this particular author ended up setting aside his "mid level amp" price and springing for something over $2,000, near as I can tell).
My goal is a headphone sound that is most like "you are there" for small groups, e.g., jazz trio-quintet, vocalist with piano and bass, or small rock group. I value "presence" and "transparency" (e.g., treble stuff) over "warm" or bass-enhanced sound for these headphones. I value the very large soundstage, the excellent source imaging, and the coming-from-ahead-of-you-(rather than inside your head) that I understand the Senn HD 800s offer, and I hope for an amp that will complement those features.
My listening will use the iPod Touch 5th Gen, iPod Classic 7th gen, or iPhone 5S as source. I already have the FiiO E12 Mont Blanc amp and my best headphones to date are the Grado PS 500, which excel in presence and in clarity ranging from bass through treble, but are not particularly large in soundstage or precise in imaging positions of separate voices or instruments on the stage. The FiiO amp makes NO difference in sound quality from the iPod sources for these headphones, but with the FiiO E12, I feel I have a portable amp that I could use, perhaps not ideally, for the HD800s... hence I can consider both desk and portable amps for the HD800.
At the moment, I seem to prefer one of:
- HiFi M8 solid state (about $700 new, but likely within budget used) - solid state, portable, with DAC and amp... regarded by many as great for iPod/HD800 combination, also good for a much wider range of headphones, and portable to boot;
- Fostex HP-P1 solid state(about $500) - again especially suited for the iPod, with DAC and amp and efficient iPod interface;
- Crack Bottlehead tube ($279, plus perhaps $115 for something called the Speedball ("Camille Cascode Constant Current Source Upgrade," whatever the heck that is!) - supposed to be super capable for the price, but "some assembly required" (lessee... you hold the COOL end of the soldering iron and put the HOT end against the connection, right?!);
- Woo WA6SE tube ($1190 new, not too likely to get into my price range in the used market) - regarded as ideal by many; but also WA 3 and WA 6 ARE around my $500 figure.... are they OK?
- Little Dot MKVI tube ($799 new, less used) - seems to be a whole clan of Little-Dots... the higher the number after the "MK"," the more expensive... about $100 per increment... MKII is $200; MK VI is $600-$800);
Also, I see references about "single sided OTC" vs. "Class A Transformer," amp phrases I tossed about at my last audiophile cocktail party as if I knew what I was saying (and earned knowledgeable nods of assent), but I really have no idea what these mean and don't even know if I should care for my Senn HD800 / small ensemble music interest.