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Amps that can drive the HiFiMan HE-6 planar headphones

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by milosz, Dec 23, 2010.
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  1. milosz
    I will list here all the amps I tried with my HiFiMan HE-6 planar headphones.  (I will update this over the next few days  until I have tried all the amps I can get my hands on )
    These headphones want some power and so not every amp will drive them.
    Dedicated Headphone Amps (unbalanced 1/4 inch TRS jack)
    1. Beta22 - YES.  Drives them very well.   Sounded great. (3-channel Beta 22)
    2. Audio-GD NFB-10ES - YES. Plenty enough power. You may want to use a little EQ to reduce the highs some... the DAC in the NFB-10ES is merciless and any HF flaws in the mix will sound too bright. (Using NFB-10ES balanced headphone output.) Great sound.
    3. Audio-GD FUN -  NOT OPTIMAL.   Drives them to a good volume level but bass is a little lacking.  The FUN will do in a pinch but I'd say it doesn't have quite enough oomph to drive them all right and proper. Doesn't sound strained, just not quite....there.
    4. Bottlehead Crack -  NO.  Cannot produce enough power into a low impedance load. Distorted sound and not very much level. (This amp not intended for low impedance 'phones)
    5. M³ - NOT OPTIMAL. Drives them but not very loud. If you are listening at moderate or moderate-to-low levels, this amp works fine. Turn it up just a little more... obvious clipping on vocals, etc.(ELPAC PSU for this amp, not a Sigma.)
    6. Cavalli-Kan Kumisa III - YES. Will drive the HE-6 to loud levels without clipping. 
    7. Ray Samuels Hornet portable amp - NOT OPTIMAL. Drives them pretty loud but ran out of steam before I did; I wanted it a little louder, but the Hornet said "no!" (I tried HIGH and MED gain settings.)
    8. Bijou -  NOT OPTIMAL. Turned the NFB up to get some more gain and the Bijou played pretty loud... but I wanted more. Bass was not quite as good as it should have been, but the overall sound was not "thin." Sounded good, within limits.
    9. Little Dot Mk III - NOT OPTIMAL. Sounded fine at low-to-moderate levels.  Bass clipping when played moderately loud.  Good sound at moderate levels, though.
    10. Musical Fidelity XCAN V3 - YES.  Will drive the HE-6 to loud levels without clipping. Bass was maybe a little less extended than with the Beta 22 but otherwise sounded good.
    "Speaker"  Amps (HE-6 connected directly to speaker output terminals of these amps)
    1. Sugden A25 - YES. Treble a little harsh sounding compared to Beta22; deep bass not quite as good as Beta 22.  Overall, though, not bad.
    2. Dynaco Stereo 70 16 Ohm Tap - YES. Bass was a little wooly and sounded a bit rolled off at the lowest frequencies.  Highs very "sweet" and tubelike but lacking detail.  The Stereo 70 sounded just like it did on my Quad ESL-57's.
    3. AMC CVT-2030a - YES. The AMC CVT-2030 is an under-rated Class A hybrid amp-  MOSFETs driving EL34 tubes.  I really like the sound from this amp on the HE-6. There were audible differences over the Beta 22.  The AMC amp had good bass extension - maybe not quite what the Beta offers, but was no slouch either.  There was a little of that midrange and lower-midrange "roundness" that EL-84's are supposed to be noted for, it sounds like just a tiny bit of extra level and added dynamics from say 225 Hz to 800 Hz.  Something like that.  Just a touch of emphasis. This was coupled with a "sweet" sounding treble range. The overall effect was a kind of "lush" or "romantic" sound. For example, on cello the lower frequency aspects come through just a bit more and there is no steeliness at all in the treble so you get an effect of heightened "texture" of the bow rubbing on the strings. Or, on Fender Rhodes piano or Hammond B3 there was just was just a little extra punch to the percussive attack of the notes that gave the sound a kind of  of palpability.  The Beta 22 sounded more transparent, not clinical exactly, but lacking the romantic (coloration?) of the AMC.  The overall sound of the AMC went very well with the treble emphasis of the HE-6.
    4. Tim Rawson F3 clone- YES. This is a copy of the Nelson Pass First Watt F3 amplifier, somewhat exotic. Tim Rawson, as far as I understand it, is a DIY amp builder that builds an amp then sells it to build another. Some criticize him for "stealing" Nelson Pass' ideas; Mr. Pass is gracious enough to provide schematics of his designs to the DIY amp builder community, with the understanding that folks will not grab his designs and go into manufacturing. So some people see Tim Rawson as a small manufacturer, and apparently he got enough static that he no longer builds clones of Nelson Pass designs.  This is my understanding, I might be confused about all or part of this. At any rate, the amp I have is a Tim Rawson F3 clone.  The F3 is a POWER JFET DESIGN. Currently, to the best of my knowledge, the F3 is the ONLY power JFET design currently available.  JFETs have a much more triode-like curve than MOSFETs, and with longer flat areas and better load-line characteristics they offer lower distortion than a given MOSFET design.  Nelson Pass likes very simple, low device-count designs. He likes low feedback and designs with inherently low high-order harmonics in their output.  I've read that people say the F3 sounds like a very good SET amp, but with bass and clear treble.  I don't know about that. But I will say that this amplifier designed around a silicon-carbide semiconductor (the power JFET) does drive the HE-6 very well. The sound was excellent.  I couldn't A/B it against my reference Beta 22 at this point because I can't A/B balanced or "speaker" amps driving headphones yet.  (Another box to build!)  I will report more after I do the A/B.  Suffice it to say that I really like what I heard from the F3 clone.  The F3 is a Class A design; it is a 15 watt per channel amp that draws 200 watts off the AC line.  Even though it is only a 15 watt/ch amp, it has very large heatsinks and it gets HOT. (See pictures below)
    YES =  drives them well, no evidence of clipping.  
    NOT OPTIMAL =  you can listen through this amp.... up to a point.  All the "not optimal" amps played well to at least  moderate levels.  Some, like the Bijou and FUN played to moderate-to-moderately loud levels.
    NO =  Just can't handle the HE-6
    1. Just because I rate an amp as a "YES" does not mean it is a great SOUNDING amp for the HE-6.  I am not trying to judge that.  All I am trying to do is see how well the amount of power produced by the amp suits the power needs of these headphones.
    2. The "NOT OPTIMAL"  amps might be fine if you never listen loud.  Try it and see.   What's moderate loudness for me might be just right for you.  I tend to like music a little louder than some folks, measurements I've made show that I like to listen at 85~87 dB sometimes maybe even 90 dB.
    Sugden A25
    Dynaco Stereo 70
     AMC CVT-2030a
    CVT-2030 insides
    Tim Rawson clone of First Watt F3 power JFET amp - looks like he builds his own cases by careful home-shop metalwork.  Well done but not as fancy as some DIY casework I've seen.  Does the job.
    Inside the F3 - not much in there.  Still, even with all those square inches of heatsink this puppy gets HOT.
    Bloos and grizzlybeast like this.
  2. csholtmeier
    The Alesis RA150 drives my HE-6 very well. Mids are more fleshed out, bass is improved. I can't really tell if the improved mids and bass make them seem less bright, or the amp itself is less bright. Soundstage accuracy has also improved, the HE-6 now throws sounds up in pinpoint locations.
    Overall, I can't really find anything these do wrong. They may not be the most exciting thing (i.e. Derek Trucks Band self-titled album on RS1i's) on all material, but nothing pokes out at me as glaring misrepresentaions of the recording.
  3. TheWuss
    Virtue Audio TWO.2
    Outstanding tripath amp. 
    Comes with a decent linear power supply, but you can get upgraded power supplies, including battery power.
    I am using the JT Dynamic Linear Power Supply.
    The sound of the HE-6 powered by the Virtue is outrageous.
    There are probably no more than a handful of us head-fiers who've heard the HE-5LE or HE-6 with a Virtue amp (che15, hiflight, TheWuss), but I think we all feel the same way...
  4. kostalex
  5. GeorgeGoodman
    This is an interesting thread.
    X2 for the Virtue Audio as I have not heard it but some head-fiers I respect very much have.
    I will add the Ray Samuels SR71B. I have heard it, and there are no major weaknesses in the sound when driving the HE-6s at all. Despite being a portable amp, it can drive them very well. Everything was there, bass and soundstage included. Search the SR71B thread to find more impressions. Skylab has done a formal review too. At $650, it comes out to about the same as the Virtue Audio TWO.2 with an upgraded power supply, which probably sounds better. 
  6. Prog Rock Man
    My experience with the HE-6 loaner programme was that the Musical Fidelity X-CANV8P has not quite got the necessary power. For the headphones to sound there best I had the volume control at 2 o'clock, which I think is too loud for safe extended listening sessions.
  7. nigeljames
    Audio-gd ROC drives then very well giving a powerful,full bodied sound with plenty of deep fast bass and smooth highs. Plenty of power too.
    Have not heard the HE-6's out of a speaker amp so I havent got a benchmark to compare the Roc with but very pleased with the sound as is but I have been eyeing one of the Virtue amps myself [​IMG]
  8. GeorgeGoodman


    For $450 plus maybe another hundred or two depending on power options and other things, it was quite a shock to me when I saw the price. I was thinking a balanced amp with its capabilities would be at least a thousand, if not two thousand. I guess Virtue Audio hasn't figured out how to package it as a headphone amp and price it as such.[​IMG][​IMG] Be a guinea pig for head-fi and buy one with the 30v battery power supply, then report back here. Oh, the pain of trying out new things for head-fi!
    Edit: Hiflight, who has one of these, also says it is excellent for powering the K1000 and K340. And of course, I am not trying to spend your money for you. It just looks good.
  9. wuwhere Contributor
    I'm using a Sophia Electric Baby speaker amp, w/ caps upgrade, 10w/channel, with my DIY silver speaker cable w/ spade lugs.
    I soldered a 10 Ohms resistor across the speaker terminals to bring down the load to 8.3 Ohms.
    This little amp has incredible bass, wide & deep soundstage after the cap upgrade.
  10. moodyrn
    I know this amp is very hard to come by(a few on ebay, but most of them needs serious surgery), but the fisher x/kx100 is simply amazing with these. Both Skylab and myself have had great results with it. The headphone out is good, but the speaker taps are so good that I have no desire to try anything else. Unlimited and effortless power, with a very wide and deep soundstage. The mids are breathtaking and the bass extends as deep as anything I've ever listened to. A very good combination if you can get lucky and find one for a decent price in good "working" condition. Be be aware some people want ridiculous prices for them on ebay and a lot of those needs lot of work.
  11. davo50
    The Woo Audio WA5 drives them very well through the XLR jack (intended for K1000).
  12. nigeljames


    Its easy to spend other people's money isn't it [​IMG]
    Given how the Roc performs with the HE-6's I was intending to get the T1's next. They were next on my list to buy but decided to get the HE-6's instead as I wanted something totally different from the LCD-2's. Now I don't know what to buy!
    Thinking of the Virtue Two.2 or Sensation M451 (the tube buffer looks interesting).
    As I can get the T1's on a 30 return basis I will probably do that first but if they don't compete with what I have already got I will return then and purchase one of the amps.
  13. hawkhead
    Woo WA6 SE cannot compared to an Exposure XXV (not bad and miles ahead of the Woo) and even better a Primare 30.1 both the latter are speaker amps
  14. hotubei
    Tried them through WA22 (setup in profile, it's 2W for short): didn't like it. The sound was thin, driving them at 3pm made it more fleshy, but too loud and further going into distortion at after 4pm. Tried both the 4p xlr and rca. Wished they came with the bananas adapter for me to try them through my Lavardin integrated amp (no bananas, no try:frowning2:
    So it is low (unsufficient) current output amp after all... Kinda sad, I hoped for the amp to be a nice combo (2W + original 4p xlr output).
  15. Zida
    So Milosz, considering that the only dedicated headphone amp that you tested that worked with the HE-6 besides the B22 was the much more affordable CKKIII I was hoping I could get you to comment on how it sounds with the HE-6. The CKKIII may not clip, but do you feel you get your money's worth out of the HE-6 with that setup?
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