better headphones or buying first desktop amp?
Dec 29, 2017 at 10:15 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 15

IkSak

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Hi.

I'm in this amazing hobby since 2015 and I'm thinking about getting serious into it.

So far I have avoided buying a dedicated player, desktop dac and amp. My music is streamed from Tidal (Desktop and iPhone) and my audio gear is a HiFiMan HE400S, Shure SE535, NAD HP50 and a Creative E1 portable amp.

I want take a second step into the hobby and I need advice from people who have walked this road. Currently I'm considering the following options:

1) Getting a better headphone. So far my budget is about US$800 and I have a couple of options in this range (AEON Flow Open and Focal Elear).

2) Buying a desktop amp and see what headphones brings 2018. Being my first, I'd invest no more than 200. I still have not made my mind, but the Schiit Magni looks a good option for me, planning for a stack in mid-future. Also the Objective2 which is currently in Massdrop is a good option, especially since they ship to my country.

I would appreciate a lot your advice. If you think I may be overlooking a third, maybe forth option, please let me know. This is a wonderful hobby and your experience is most welcomed.

With my limite experience, I'm aware the E1 will not do justice to any of the headphones of option 1. However, I'm not sure if going with option 2 is reasonable in this moment, since I will buy the headphones later next year and probably miss the oportunity of doing a good match.
 
Dec 29, 2017 at 10:38 PM Post #2 of 15

Dulalala

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I would go for a better headphone. Better bang for your buck. Just don't pick one that requires a powerful amp like the HE6 or something...
 
Dec 29, 2017 at 11:17 PM Post #3 of 15

buke9

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Well have to say you started out well. I also have the HE-400S and did have the HP50’s. The HP50’s just wouldn’t fit me but they were quite good headphones. Would a amp make the 400S sound better? The answer is yes. Would it be better than a different and better pair of headphones that is a yes and maybe? Most likely yes. Most here will say go for the best headphones you can get for your money. I would most likely agree but you still need a amp and dac to drive them. Sometimes it is a good to get a good amp and dac to set up for the next level.
 
Dec 29, 2017 at 11:36 PM Post #4 of 15

NA Blur

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The Elear is a sweet headphone. The Aeon open is also very good and better sounding than the Aeon closed ( less veiled and more bass impact ).

You are much better off finding a headphone with the sound signature you like than upgrading amps and DACs.
 
Dec 29, 2017 at 11:40 PM Post #5 of 15

PointyFox

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Get better headphones. I've never heard any difference between amps over $40 or so besides tube amps having the tube sound. I have a $2300 pair of headphones and a $1600 pair of headphones. The Magni 3 is more than enough for them and actually overkill on the $2300 one.
 
Dec 30, 2017 at 1:12 AM Post #6 of 15

buke9

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Well I might agree with you but my journey started with a Teac UD-301 and a Cavalli Liquid Carbon (well some before that) and was happy until I got my Questyle QP1R and it sounded so much better than that combo. It wasn’t till I got my Yggdrasil that it topped it by a large margin that I knew what I was listening for.
 
Dec 30, 2017 at 2:19 AM Post #7 of 15

PointyFox

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FWIW I A/B'd the Modi 2 with the Bifrost Multibit and I could hear absolutely no difference. I even got some other people together to do a blind test and while everyone thought they could hear a difference, what they heard was random and often contradictory (not repeatable). Due to the law of diminishing returns and general electronics knowledge, I'd expect all DACs of sufficient quality to sound the same. Even with the Modi 2, I am able to pick out which song has a digital watermark about 81% of the time (16 samples), and the watermarks are supposed to be inaudible.

The MDR-Z1R I have is very easy to drive and I just compared it with three amps: the $1200 BottleHead Mainline, the $99 Schiit Magni 3, and the amp on my computer motherboard. They all sounded identical with the exception of the tube sound of the Mainline. So, the need for an amplifier depends on the headphone. Most consumer headphones don't need a dedicated amp.
 
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Dec 30, 2017 at 2:44 AM Post #8 of 15

Dulalala

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Even with the Modi 2, I am able to pick out which song has a digital watermark about 81% of the time (16 samples), and the watermarks are supposed to be inaudible.

You mean 16 trials? I'm assuming you're the only sample.

FWIW I A/B'd the Modi 2 with the Bifrost Multibit and I could hear absolutely no difference. I even got some other people together to do a blind test and while everyone thought they could hear a difference, what they heard was random and often contradictory (not repeatable). Due to the law of diminishing returns and general electronics knowledge, I'd expect all DACs of sufficient quality to sound the same.
The MDR-Z1R I have is very easy to drive and I just compared it with three amps: the $1200 BottleHead Mainline, the $99 Schiit Magni 3, and the amp on my computer motherboard. They all sounded identical with the exception of the tube sound of the Mainline. So, the need for an amplifier depends on the headphone. Most consumer headphones don't need a dedicated amp.

I completely agree in an objective sense though. Subjectively, there are too many factors (biases, etc) to consider, but this isn't the right thread to discuss that.
 
Dec 30, 2017 at 12:21 PM Post #9 of 15

IkSak

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Hi. I appreciate all your advices and based on them, it seems that getting better headphones is the way to go in this point.

That said, how do I know if the creative E1 can drive them properly? According to creative, it can drive 600ohms headphones, but that's different from being able to do it acceptably.
 
Dec 30, 2017 at 12:29 PM Post #10 of 15

Dulalala

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Hi. I appreciate all your advices and based on them, it seems that getting better headphones is the way to go in this point.

That said, how do I know if the creative E1 can drive them properly? According to creative, it can drive 600ohms headphones, but that's different from being able to do it acceptably.

Impedance isn’t the only thing that determines whether your amp can drive it or not, other factors like sensitivity play a part too. That being said, unless Creative gives the output power of its DAC/Amp too, it’ll almost be impossible to determine whether it can or can’t. However, most headphones don’t require that much power so you should be fine.
 
Dec 30, 2017 at 12:32 PM Post #11 of 15

buke9

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Can’t find the output power in any specs online so hard to say what it can really drive and sometimes that doesn’t always help either. My phone will run all the headphones I have but not always to good results. Saying that it will work with 600 ohm headphones doesn’t mean much to me.
 
Dec 30, 2017 at 11:30 PM Post #13 of 15

IkSak

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Thank you for your comments, your help is really valuable for me. I would like to ask a couple of questions to understand the thing about power requirements and all that stuff:

1) According to a headphone power calculator that I used an online, I got the following results:

Focal Elear requires 0.18Vrms and 2.25mA to reach 100dB. Total power 0.41mW
AEON Flow Open requires 0.2Vrms and 15.38mA to reach 100dB. Total power 3.08mW
My HE400S requires 0.19Vrms and 8.64mA to reach 100dB. Total power 1.64mW

Does this means that if an amp or player (like an cellphone) can drive the HE400S, they also can drive the Focal (since the Vrms are almost the same and it needs less mA)? What about the AEON?

2) The prior calculations were made using the impedance given by the manufacturer, but looking at innerfidelity measurements, the impedance of the Focal has a spike that reaches about 300ohms at low frequencies. Should I calculate using the 300 or the other impedance given by Focal?
 
Dec 31, 2017 at 10:35 AM Post #14 of 15

NA Blur

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Many just take the average of the impedance. That's probably a good place to start.

As for the power / voltage calcs you asked about the simple answer is yes. If the Vrms and power ( Watts ) are lower to reach the same dB them the headphone is more efficient.
 
Dec 31, 2017 at 11:37 AM Post #15 of 15

Dulalala

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1) According to a headphone power calculator that I used an online, I got the following results:

Focal Elear requires 0.18Vrms and 2.25mA to reach 100dB. Total power 0.41mW
AEON Flow Open requires 0.2Vrms and 15.38mA to reach 100dB. Total power 3.08mW
My HE400S requires 0.19Vrms and 8.64mA to reach 100dB. Total power 1.64mW

Does this means that if an amp or player (like an cellphone) can drive the HE400S, they also can drive the Focal (since the Vrms are almost the same and it needs less mA)? What about the AEON?

Most mobile phones use class D amps which are very power efficient compared to class A. However, it still depends on the phone and whether they have a strong enough amp section.

You need to take into account the impedance curve of the Elear since the HE400S has a relatively flat impedance curve, however looking at differences in power draw between the two, it's probably safe to say your phone would be able to drive them.

If the amp or player can supply enough current too, then it would be able to power the Aeon too. I'd say, if you phone can drive the HE400S at less than 50% of it's max volume, it would be safe to say it can drive the Aeon too.

2) The prior calculations were made using the impedance given by the manufacturer, but looking at innerfidelity measurements, the impedance of the Focal has a spike that reaches about 300ohms at low frequencies. Should I calculate using the 300 or the other impedance given by Focal?

As said in my comment above, you need to take the impedance curve into account. With higher impedance, more voltage and less current is required, so just go by the manufacturers specifications and leave some headroom for varying impedance over frequency.
 
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