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Are older model amps as good as newer models?

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by flargosa, Oct 29, 2017.
  1. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    I wasn't saying they're absolutely not worth it, there are just other considerations. If I was assembling a speaker system I'd more likely buy a vintage Class A Marantz than a Cayin CS55a just based on the price, considering the lowest impedance I'd put on it would be a 150ohm HD660S anyway, which is why I use high impedance cans - my HD600 didn't vary badly in sound between a Marantz CD60, NAD 304, and the Technics vs dedicated headphone amps (if anything, the CMOY was actually the worst, but it's a 9v battery-powered amp driving 300ohms...though later 7.2v battery amps are a heck of a lot better than it). That of course assumes I have to buy the CS-55a online instead of a local dealer that has a tech that can diagnose or facilitate repairs through the distributor.

    On top of that, the OP was asking specifically about older headphone amps vs newer headphone amps. If the question was a lot more general (ie if he didn't have specific amps in mind) that would be like asking if the Creek OBH-11 which had a good rep in its time would be as good as something with the same or even lower MSRP now (plus, again, there's warranty for buying new, but hey, if it's $50 and somebody just needs a headphone amp for a speaker system with a crappy headphone out on the integrated amp, by all means save some cash).
    richard51 likes this.
  2. flargosa
    Ok, I don’t know what linearity in power delivery means. I assume it probably means cleaner power? So my current amp is the O2, previously I had the Gilmore Lite, soon I will have the Mapletree Ear + HD. So what is wrong with my amps power delivery circuits that the newer amps have fixed or improved upon?

    What makes you come to this conclusion? Any links, I could read? For speakers it makes sense a subwoofer is heaver to move than a tweeter so it will need more power? maybe? With headphones it is the same driver being being move for high and low frequencies. So it should be the same power requirement regardless of frequency, I'm assuming? Also, there are lots of woofers with the same sensitivity as tweeters.

    Aren’t headphones sensitive already? Most of them are around 95 - 103 dB/Watt. So 100 milliwatt of clean power is really all you need right? Is there an assumption that amps with high wattage can provide cleaner power than amps with low wattage?

    I don’t want to come across like I’m attacking my fellow head-fiers, haha. Just wanted to see if there really are improvements in newer amps. When I read amp reviews, it seems that they are describing the sound signature,"Now it has more treble so worth $500". With headphones at least there are changes in materials(lighter thinner drivers from new materials), with amps, don’t they use the same components from 10 - 15 years ago, Capacitors, resistors, wires, opamps? What’s a new amp component that has been created in the last 3 years that is measurably better than what it replaced?
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  3. snellemin
    Any amp is only as good as it's power supply. So cleaner signal with a proper power supply, under heavy loads. Treble heads don't need to worry about their power supplies, as it barely uses any power.
    Headphones with dynamic drivers are just speakers. You want subwoofer level sound out of them, you'll need to feed it power. If you like neutral sound, then the O2 will suffice.

    I like the older amps too. But when it's too old, I swap out the dried out caps and keep enjoying them.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  4. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    AFAIK more linearity means the distortion doesn't just suddenly pile on as you squeeze out more power out of the amp.

    Well...if I had the Gilmore Lite I wouldn't really bother getting the Ear+HD, or pretty much anything else for that matter. It's got comparable THD+N performance and power with the O2, IIRC with more power. Anything newer will just get you more power for more SPL or dynamic range but basically, if you're starting out with an amp like that and it's functioning properly, I would have just kept on using that.

    When it comes to subwoofers and tweeters it's a matter of sensitivity - subwoofers tend to have a lot lower sensitivity vs tweeters. Nearly the same thing as with midwoofers and even midrange drivers, which is why passive crossovers tend to have some kind of attenuation circuit.

    With headphones it's a different matter, and no, I wouldn't phrase it as "low freqs need more power." It's an interaction of several factors like the low bass roll off (even on headphones with a bass plateau), which is really why you need more power, if at all, because along with human hearing being more sensitive to midrange frequencies, you'd now have to crank it up to hear something you can't hear well that most headphone drivers tend to not reproduce as well. EQ-ing the rest of the range effectively lowers sensitivity, although it will help you hear the bass more (but then you might still crank it up a little bit more).

    What you need more power and high damping factor for is if you use the EQ to boost the low bass (or anything else), mainly because you're now forcing the drivers to reproduce something in the amount that they normally can't, which will when force teh driver to move in the number of cycles necessary to reproduce those frequencies (along wiht everything else) while pumping farther/harder to pound out those frequencies.

    Add to all that output impedance, which can either bloat the bass (due to lowered damping factor) or make it sound like a tin can (and still lack bass definition because lowered damping factor), so if you're comparing a really old amp that doesn't take this into account, that adds one problem. Or if you want a double whammy, use an OTL amp (which produces more power at 300ohms, and has high output impedance).

    Well you don't get an instant 95dB as soon as you move the knob away from the hard stop at the bottom of its range, and the gain isn't even negative.

    The sensitivity figure serves as a guide, not that you literally will get 95dB the instant you put 1mW into the headphone. If that were the case headphones now are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too sensitive to be usable because you'd get instant hearing damage just past zero on the dial, considering even a 100mW output amp will definitely be spitting out 1mW by then.

    That depends on the amp. A good example of a low output power amp with very, very, very low distortion and noise (at least among speaker amps) is the PassLabs First Watt. Depending on the version it spits out 15watts or 25watts, but the whole idea behind it (and why it's called First Watt) is that it will have ridiculously low THD+N at the first watt and then piles it on in a linear manner with a low slope so by the point that it's cranking out 25watts, it's still still cleaner than an amp that can spit out 100watts. So in this case if you don't need more than 25watts then why get the 100watt amp. Hence why, if you have the Gilmore Lite, I wouldn't really shop around unless I need another amp for another location or it breaks. That said, not every amp is like that, and some speakers/headphones do need more power, which is why you still have a BAT or a Schiit Lyr (although these are still overkill). Or, heck, there's the Asgard for not a lot of money with 1W per channel with very low distortion which is pretty much all you need unless the sensitivity of the headphone is lower than 90dB/1mW.

    In any case, it still depends on the power supply and circuit design. For an easy to compare example on the difference, look at the E10K and Asgard. The Fiio spits out 200mW at 32ohms, THD at 0.0006% cranked up (prior to clipping), with SNR higher than 105dB (assuming no USB noise), so pretty clean, and 200mW is enough for a 22ohm, 96dB/1mW headphone like the HE400S for example. But then you have the Asgard which spits out 1W per channel at 32 to 50ohms, 380mW at 300ohms, with 0.008% THD worst case (ie just prior to clipping), and over 102dB SNR - this will do better on lower sensitivity or higher impedance headphones. But as much as the THD and SNR on the Fiio seems better, note that THD is measured at 1000hz only, so full spectrum, I won't be surprised if the Asgard has lower distortion across the range. SNR on both are also measured differently, and the Fiio depends on the quality of USB power, though of course AC wall power isn't absolutely clean either.

    THD. Some newer amps might have lower THD (barring anything purposely made to sound "tubey"), if not in the stated figures they might across a wider range, because again tendency is to measure this at 1000hz.

    You're forgetting the circuit design. Even if you use the exact same component part numbers but there's a variation in the feedback circuit for example - or as in the case of AudioGD and the Asgard2 on high gain, zero feedback - can reduce distortion and noise. Fiio is still using basically the slightly improved version of the Philips headphone driver chips that Marantz/Philips have been using in their integrated amps and CDPs, and yet they managed to squeeze out more power, more voltage, more current delivery, etc from a new power supply, on top of which they managed to run 1ohm impedance on the K5, which on prior circuits was causing instability on the same chip.

    Computer components still use the same basic capacitor designs along with resistors and transformers, and even the chips aren't drastically different being based on the same silicon save for having gone down to 14nM, and yet that process is what allows a current CPU to hit 4.7ghz on its built in boost (which means you can overclock it to that level with a moderately good heatsink, unless you're starting out with a higher ambient to begin with) with less power than what an older 22nM chip will suck up only to hit 3.8ghz.
    snellemin likes this.
  5. Currawong Contributor
    Maybe a good example would be to see some measurement graphs, rather than just look at numbers. @shigzeo has been doing some amateur measurements of various devices. If you look at the graphs from Sony's NW-WM1Z, which were made with various headphones plugged in, as well as no load, you'll see once you put a device under load from driving headphones that its performance goes down (larger distortion peaks and variations from flat on various graphs).

    To answer your question though, components for portable devices have changed dramatically in the last decade, so if you wanted to buy a portable player, the capabilities have increased vastly. For full-sized desktop amps, probably less so.

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