$300-400 Budget for Portable Headphone Amp
Aug 4, 2010 at 4:36 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 4

sonitus mirus

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I'm looking for a new portable headphone amp and would greatly appreciate any assistance from you fine ladies and gentlemen that seem to know so much about these things.  When I say portable, it really just means transportable, as I'm usually in a place where I have power available, and I'm sitting at a desk in a cubicle at work.
 
First, a bit of background that may or may not be important, but hopefull it's at least somewhat so.
 
I went from a Sansa Fuze with low quality 160 kbps wma files, which were mostly Rhapsody Music files from my subscription, piped into a Headroom Total AirHead portable amp.  Headphones used are mostly Sennheiser PX 100s, which sound great, and occasionally a pair of Grado SR-80s, which don't seem to have the same amount of bass oomph that the cheaper PX 100s offer in my current setup.  This was my primary work/travel configuration.
 
Now at home, earlier this year I picked up a Nuforce Icon HDP that I have connected to my desktop PC through USB and my Sharp LCD TV using optical, while using the HDP as a pre-amp with the RCA output going to my Klipsch 2.1 ProMedia THX speakers.  When listening to my HDP through headphones, I have been using Sennheiser HD-595s.  I like the Sennheiser sound, and will most likely grab a pair of HD-650s before too long.
 
I just got a new HTC EVO Android phone and discovered a new music service, MOG.  The MOG service has much better quality music than what I have been accustomed to using with Rhapsody, Slacker, and even Pandora.  With MOG, I am able to download/stream 320 kbps mp3 files.  Before this, I really couldn't justify anything better than my current setup; however, after experiencing a noticeable improvement using the HDP DAC/amp with the higher quality music, I'm thinking that I could finally benefit from having a better portable headphone amp.
 
I have no line out on my phone, but I might also use this portable amp with my laptop computer or netbook, so a DAC is not critical for my needs in most situations, but I do appreciate what a DAC can offer, and there could be times when I might be able to take advantage of this feature.
 
Portable amps that I have been looking at were the HeadRoom Micro Amp, which I figured would be a natural step up from my AirHead.  This would also allow me to add the Micro DAC at a later date, while giving me the flexibility of leaving the DAC at home when only an amp was needed.
 
Other amps I have considered at times were the Ray Samuels sub-$400 amps, and especially the P-51. 
 
A good feature of the cheap AirHead that I use now is the ability to run it off of 4 AAA batteries, which eliminates any noise from the power adapter.  I can definitely hear a bit of noise when I have the amp plugged into the outlet at work, and I don't really have an alternative other than to use an expensive, low noise power source or use battery power.  So, while not terribly important, any device that excels in this aspect would be a plus.
 
I'm interested in hearing any kind of feedback or suggestions. 
 
Thanks for your time, sorry so long-winded.
 
 
 
Aug 4, 2010 at 5:05 PM Post #2 of 4

project86

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There are plenty of great options out there. One of my favorites is the Leckerton UHA-6. It is under $250, sounds excellent, features a very nice USB DAC section, and had great battery life of 30+ hours. Charging is done off mini-USB, so no need to lug a big wall wart around. It also has a gain switch allowing you to get a quiet background when using IEMs, or very high gain for use with difficult to drive cans.
 
It's not super popular around here but a few people have tried it and liked it as well. I find it to be one of the most versatile portables around, and think it should get more attention.
 
Aug 4, 2010 at 6:09 PM Post #3 of 4

sonitus mirus

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Thanks for the reply!  This one would certainly have slipped by me.  I see that most of the reviewers seem to be using IEMs with the DAC section, while I would mostly be using the analog input, and I don't like sticking things in my ears.  (except for my elbow)
 
Things I read that I love about the UHA-6 were how quiet it was, and another was the balanced volume, especially at very low listening levels.  Coming from a Nuforce Icon HDP, I have to crank the volume up to levels that fatigue my ears quickly before I can achieve a balanced output, unless I turn the source down a bit, which I loathe to do when using a digital input. 
 
I listen to a very broad range of music.  Anything from experimental sounds, Norah Jones, some kitchy lounge stuff, or even a hard hitting drum & bass anthem from Ed Rush or Noisia might be heard in any session.   I can find something to enjoy across every genre.
 
The Leckerton site shows specs of 50 mW output with a 32 ohm load.  This seems a bit low, and I suspect this is for the low gain setting for use with IEMs.  In contrast, my HDP desktop amp has 288 mW at about the same impedance, and I have been spoiled, I suppose.  I was looking at the Pico, which claims 700 mW, which seems very powerful, and has me very interested.  If the Pico is anything at all like the AE-2 (and why wouldn't it be?), it apparently is also extremely quiet, even when charging.
 
I have given up on thinking something decent could be found and delivered to my doorstep before the weekend.  I'm going to have to spend some time researching and reading reviews and 100+ page threads.  Oy!  I'm glad there is not a single, definitive solution with regards to portable headphone amps.  It's good to have plenty of choices.
 
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Aug 5, 2010 at 9:49 AM Post #4 of 4

project86

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I see what you are saying, but specs can be a bit deceiving. For example: 32ohm load, the Graham Slee Voyager only puts out 12mW, and the iQube puts out 80mW. I've not heard any complaints about lack of power from either of them (owned both myself, very nice).
 
But you are right: there are so many great options, that the choice is almost overwhelming. I guess that's a good problem to have.
 

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