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Integrated amp vs Preamp+Headphone amp

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Hey there,

About five months ago I purchased a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Ortofon 2M Red turntable and am extremely pleased with it. I am currently running it through a really run-down Hitachi HA-300 amplifier that I snatched from my grandfathers' basement. I mainly listen music through my headphones (as the ones around me don't appreciate the music I listen to) and am looking to increase the sound quality I'm hearing through my headphones. I currently have Sennheiser HD 555's, but am looking to upgrade soon to better ones such as a HD 598, 650 or headphones from other brands. I don't plan on changing my cartridge anytime soon and I mainly listen to hardcore/punk/metal/rock. Now, I am looking for an upgrade of about 300/400 euro's but am a bit torn on which route to take. 

As of right now I only listen through headphones, but next year I'll move out of my parents house and I'll invest in some speakers so I could play my vinyl out loud sometimes. I could buy either an integrated amplifier with a MM phonostage for around 300/400 euro's (with the benefit of being able to connect speakers to it at a later stage) or I could buy a preamp, a dedicated headphone amp and a high-quality chord to connect the two for about the same money. This would have the potential benefit of making my headphones sound better compared to an integrated amp. What the choice ultimately comes down to is whether the second option (with seperate preamp and headphone amp) will deliver superior sound quality through earphones compared to the first option of taking an integrated amplifier.

I've done some research and discovered that the comparison would be between the following choices:

Integrated amplifier:
- Marantz PM5004 (195 euro's)
- Denon PMA-720AE (299 euro's)
- NAD C316BEE (349 euro's)

Phono/preamp:
- Pro-Ject Phono Box MM (79 euro's)
- Pro-Ject Phono Box (109 euro's) / Pro-Ject Phono Box S (159 euro's)
- Musical Fidelity V90LPS (185 euro's)

Headphone amplifier:
- Musical Fidelity V90HPA (225 euro's)
- Pro-Ject Headbox S (119 euro's)

Seeing as buying a preamp and headphone amp together would be a quite expensive ordeal and would leave me no possibility of hooking up some speakers, I am leaning a bit more towards an integrated amplifier, unless the sound quality of the preamp and headphone amp are significantly better. I am completely unaware of the differences in quality and therefore hope to gather some information here. 

Any help, tips, suggestions are immensely appreciated. Thank you in advance!

post #2 of 8

I think you should just keep using the Hitachi HA-300 and buy new headphones.

Currently how do the HD-555s sound to your ears?

Chances are the Hitachi's headphone output would have a high impedance, which might make the 50-Ohm HD555s have a bloated (louder, less detailed) bass.

How does the bass currently sound to you?

 

Sennheiser HD558s use the same 50-Ohm driver as the HD598s.

And removing the black rubber tape from inside the cups of the HD558s will make the HD558s sound somewhat more like the HD598s.

 

The 300-Ohm Sennheiser HD650s would be more at home with the Hitachi's (high impedance) headphone output.

post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thank you for your response! One of the reasons why I am looking to replace the old Hitachi is because I hear a humming sound when the Hitachi is switched on, which distorts my listening experience. I am quite surprised that you mention that I should stick with the Hitachi. I figured they would be pretty much worthless since I couldn't find anything about them online and considering they are so old.

 

I have always been pleased with my HD 555's, but they are quite worn-out and I initially bought them for gaming-use. Therefore, I figured it would be best to upgrade to a more generally accepted headphone that can be used for listening to some nice music. I'm generally really fond of the Sennheiser-sound: not too much bass, quite bright sound.

post #4 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by iPim View Post
 

Thank you for your response! One of the reasons why I am looking to replace the old Hitachi is because I hear a humming sound when the Hitachi is switched on, which distorts my listening experience. I am quite surprised that you mention that I should stick with the Hitachi. I figured they would be pretty much worthless since I couldn't find anything about them online and considering they are so old.

 

I have always been pleased with my HD 555's, but they are quite worn-out and I initially bought them for gaming-use. Therefore, I figured it would be best to upgrade to a more generally accepted headphone that can be used for listening to some nice music. I'm generally really fond of the Sennheiser-sound: not too much bass, quite bright sound.

 

From my best understanding (guessing?), "classic" amplifiers are just as good as the amplifiers built into modern A/V receivers.

But I'm guessing the humming coming from the Hitachi means it's starting to wear out and may not be worth fixing up.

 

If your planning on buying speakers in the future, then investing into a more "modern" amplifier would make sense.

Which of the three integrated amplifiers would be a better "value or choice for headphone use, have no idea.

Usually amplifiers (and A/V receivers) use the same amplifiers that power the speakers, to also drive the headphones (like over 90% of them)

These units usually have a headphone output jack with a high impedance (I know the NAD C316 headphone output impedance is 68-Ohms).

Some amplifier/receivers come with a separate built in headphone amplifier :), but I'm guessing the units you have listed do not.

I would "assume" the Denon and Marantz might be about the same headphone output impedance as the NAD?.

Marantz's seem to have a reputation for quality headphone output.

 

Beyerdynamic (250-Ohm) DT880 headphones might be a better choice over the Senn HD558/HD598, not sure how the DT880 would compare to the HD650.

 

You should be able to get some decent advice on speaker amps on Head-Fi, but you might also try posting speaker amplifier questions on the websites AVSforum and AVforum.

post #5 of 8
Keep in mind that your best sound quality increases will come from headphones and speakers, not from spending a lot of money on amplification.

Why not just find a used mid-level AVR that has RCA outs that you could later plug a headphone amp into if you want to? Get one with a built in phono stage, and you should be able to save some money and put it toward better speakers.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

 

From my best understanding (guessing?), "classic" amplifiers are just as good as the amplifiers built into modern A/V receivers.

But I'm guessing the humming coming from the Hitachi means it's starting to wear out and may not be worth fixing up.

 

If your planning on buying speakers in the future, then investing into a more "modern" amplifier would make sense.

Which of the three integrated amplifiers would be a better "value or choice for headphone use, have no idea.

Usually amplifiers (and A/V receivers) use the same amplifiers that power the speakers, to also drive the headphones (like over 90% of them)

These units usually have a headphone output jack with a high impedance (I know the NAD C316 headphone output impedance is 68-Ohms).

Some amplifier/receivers come with a separate built in headphone amplifier :), but I'm guessing the units you have listed do not.

I would "assume" the Denon and Marantz might be about the same headphone output impedance as the NAD?.

Marantz's seem to have a reputation for quality headphone output.

 

Beyerdynamic (250-Ohm) DT880 headphones might be a better choice over the Senn HD558/HD598, not sure how the DT880 would compare to the HD650.

 

You should be able to get some decent advice on speaker amps on Head-Fi, but you might also try posting speaker amplifier questions on the websites AVSforum and AVforum.

Thank you! 

 

What I'm most concerned with is twofold: 
1. the quality of the headphone plug on these integrated amps.
2. the quality of the phono preamp on these integrated amps.

However, as you say, most audiophiles listen to speakers rather than headphones. So it is tough for me to gather some information.

 

The choice for my future headphones is not determined yet, wether it be Sennheiser, AKG of Beyerdynamic. I'll definitely look (and listen!) to all of them before I make my decision. However, it is important that the integrated amp or headphone amp can match the required impedance of my headphones. For instance, would it hurt to plug a 300 Ohm Sennh 650 into the NAD C316? Would it be better if you would plug it into a headphone amp such as the Musical Fidelity V90-HPA that can take up to 600 Ohms?

 

The choice between an integrated amp and an headphone amp is quite tough for me. The relative benefits of the headphone amp are uncertain to me and the relative costs of the integrated amp (in terms of bad headphone plugs) are also uncertain. For sure I'll go to a Hi-Fi-shop in the future!

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

Keep in mind that your best sound quality increases will come from headphones and speakers, not from spending a lot of money on amplification.

Why not just find a used mid-level AVR that has RCA outs that you could later plug a headphone amp into if you want to? Get one with a built in phono stage, and you should be able to save some money and put it toward better speakers.
 
Thank you, I certainly understand your first point. However, with my current humming Hitachi, it's tough for me to buy better headphones like the Sennheiser HD 650's so I first would like to improve the amplification before I can take it all to the next level.
 
Do you perhaps know which integrated amps have also RCA outs? I think that you make a very good suggestion here, but I checked rearviews of the integrated amps I mentioned in my first post and can't seem to find any (although I'm a total newb when it comes to technical stuff).

Edited by iPim - 5/31/14 at 2:59am
post #7 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by iPim View Post
 

What I'm most concerned with is twofold: 
1. the quality of the headphone plug on these integrated amps.
2. the quality of the phono preamp on these integrated amps.
However, as you say, most audiophiles listen to speakers rather than headphones. So it is tough for me to gather some information.

The choice for my future headphones is not determined yet, wether it be Sennheiser, AKG of Beyerdynamic. I'll definitely look (and listen!) to all of them before I make my decision. However, it is important that the integrated amp or headphone amp can match the required impedance of my headphones. For instance, would it hurt to plug a 300 Ohm Sennh 650 into the NAD C316? Would it be better if you would plug it into a headphone amp such as the Musical Fidelity V90-HPA that can take up to 600 Ohms?

The choice between an integrated amp and an headphone amp is quite tough for me. The relative benefits of the headphone amp are uncertain to me and the relative costs of the integrated amp (in terms of bad headphone plugs) are also uncertain. For sure I'll go to a Hi-Fi-shop in the future!

 

I really doubt there is a "quality" difference between a 1/4' plug on a A/V receiver and a 1/4" plug on a dedicated headphone amplifier.

I know zero about phone pre-amps on receiver/amplifiers.

I plug my 250-Ohm headphones into my Yamaha RX-V671 receiver and they sound fine, I'm assuming my Yamaha's headphone output impedance is some the same as the Marantz & Denon & NAD.

Good chance your old Hitachi's headphone output impedance is a bit higher then the more modern A/V receivers.

And you were plugging 50-Ohm headphones (HD555) into it.


Edited by PurpleAngel - 5/31/14 at 8:16am
post #8 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by iPim View Post

Thank you, I certainly understand your first point. However, with my current humming Hitachi, it's tough for me to buy better headphones like the Sennheiser HD 650's so I first would like to improve the amplification before I can take it all to the next level.

Do you perhaps know which integrated amps have also RCA outs? I think that you make a very good suggestion here, but I checked rearviews of the integrated amps I mentioned in my first post and can't seem to find any (although I'm a total newb when it comes to technical stuff).

I understand. Just don't get expectations up too high that a new integrated amp will provide you much better sound for your speakers. Depending on what speakers you have, might be best to go with headphone amp and new speakers before a new amplifier.

Reviews are not going to provide that info. Most will have that capability.

You'll want to look at a manual or two for some of the models you are considering and see where they show you RCA outputs for video, tape, etc. for hooking up devices for recording; just plug a headphone amp up instead. Once you understand from the manuals how that hooks up and by looking at the diagrams in the manuals, then you'll be able to identify whether or not an amp or receiver has the connections you need just by looking at pictures of the back of it.
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