Budgeting for a Tube Amp for Grado 325is
May 9, 2009 at 6:12 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 6

f00fighters

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I know ZERO about Tube Amps. All I keep hearing on this forum is about how much they improve the sound of your headphones. Am I to understand, that for a Tube Amp to work, I also need a "DAC" (Digital Analog Converter)? Is that DAC really necessary? I have to slowly budget for a Tube Amp, and the one of interest to me is a "Little Dot MK III". I see it for $189.99 on eBay plus shipping. So in addition to that I need something else? Because that really sucks. I currently own a C&C XO portable amp that I got from headb.com for $200 (this was a year or two ago). And from what I'm hearing, that won't do my 325is's justice. Also, I have not received the Grados yet, they arrive this Tuesday. I've never experienced the Grado sound, and I have never experienced a Tube Amp. There are 3 things I want;




1. spend $200 give or take (total) shipping not inclusive

2. best sound for the money

3. aesthetics (it has to be attractive, this is going to be set next to my Mac Pro and 30-inch Apple Cinema Display)




Also, what would be nice, but not necessary, is an iPhone dock. I'm really hoping the DAC part is not necessary; but if it is, than maybe I won't be going down the Tube Amp path. I know what happens to people in here (much like myself); you are never truly satisfied with what you have - and you keep spending in search of that unobtainable satisfaction.

Another thing to consider, I mainly listen to Rock/Classic Rock/Alternative/Electronic (NIN) type stuff. Either my Mac Pro will be my main source via optical or my iPhone 3G via (Line Out Dock Cable). So please all of your suggestions with a price estimate. If worse comes to worse, and I am not satisfied with the Grado sound, I will return the Grado in search of new phones, but I plan on keeping the amp... I think.
 
May 9, 2009 at 7:02 PM Post #2 of 6

Uncle Erik

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Maybe you should hold off until you get the Grados and see what you think of them. You should be able to power them adequately straight off your iPhone and Mac. I sometimes run a RS-1 right from a 3G iPhone and a MacBook - they work well enough.

Don't be too eager to buy the first tube amp that seems affordable and looks nice.

There are a couple of issues with Grados and tubes. First, the least expensive tube amps are OTL. That means Output Transformer Less, or that there is probably just a capacitor between the output tubes and the headphones. That's all well and good, but tubes tend to have a high output impedance. There are a few exceptions, but those are either DIY or four figure prospects, so I won't go into that.

The most common way to lower the output impedance of tubes is to use an output transformer. The problem there is that output transformers cost money. A few months back, I ordered a pair from the UK. Those cost $500 to get over here, and those were just the output transformers, not the power transformer, filament transformer, tubes, capacitors, resistors, or any of the other amp parts. You can get less expensive output transformers, but you're generally not going to find any quality ones for less than about $100 each. So, if you want a tube amp with low output impedance, you have to spend quite a bit more than $200, even if you build it yourself.

The reason OTLs are so popular is because you can build them pretty cheap. Transformers are always the most expensive (and important) part of an amp, and an OTL just needs one if it has a filament winding. That way, you keep costs down.

Why is this important? Because Grados have an impedance of 32 Ohms. You have to match the output impedance of an amp to the impedance of the headphones. If there is an impedance mismatch, you lose a lot of power. Further, this relationship tells you how well an amp will control a headphone driver.

If you want inexpensive low impedance power, you need to look to a solid state amp. Even a confirmed tubehead like myself will admit that solid state can sound terrific. It's not as cool, but if you need quality sound on a budget, it's the way to go. Solid state operates at much lower voltages than do tubes, so you can still have high quality with much less expensive power supplies. More importantly, solid state always has a low output impedance. You never need to resort to exotic tubes and circuits or pricey output transformers for solid, low impedance output with plenty of power.

Anyhow, I'd recommend holding off until your new Grados show up. Then spend a lot of time listening to them with what you already have. Use that time to evaluate what you like and don't like about them and what you might like to be different. You can then tailor an amp purchase to suit you needs. If you're not sure you like the Grados, hold off until you know. You need to match an amp to headphones, not the other way around. The most important part is finding the headphones you want. Aside from the quality of your recording, nothing is more important than your headphones. Pick the ones you want, then find a suitable amp. Having an amp first and then trying to match headphones to it doesn't work - the headphones that work best might not be ones you like.
 
May 9, 2009 at 7:18 PM Post #3 of 6

SemiAudiophile

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i'd agree with uncle erik. patience is key at head-fi. take some time to adjust to the sound first before deciding on buying a amp for it. in my experience, finding a good SS amp to drive grado's are rare just because of their bright signature. they would usually sound harsh. instead of the MK3, you could go cheaper and get the LD I+. i hear that may also be a good match with the 325i. also if you want a good budget dac/amp combo, i can suggest the beresford tc-7520. i recently bought one and the headphone out portion does the grado justice.
 
May 9, 2009 at 7:51 PM Post #4 of 6

f00fighters

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Sounds good, Uncle Erik, will do. What you said makes a lot of sense. I need to make a more informed decision. I will wait to see if the Grados are "my kind of headphone" - then search for a suitable amp, most likely a solid state to accommodate my budget.
 
Dec 22, 2010 at 5:55 PM Post #5 of 6

Kevin Brown

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Resurrecting an old thread.  I searched for "tube amp" and "Grado" and voila.
 
Uncle Erik- your post is pure gold.  Thanks !! 
 
Dec 22, 2010 at 11:39 PM Post #6 of 6

ArmAndHammer

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Since this was dug up already...I'll just add that this, IMO, is very true. This is a very, very good low budget introduction to tubes amps and it just so happens this amp also pairs very well with the SR325i. 
 
Quote:
, you could go cheaper and get the LD I+ (Little Dot 1+). i hear that may also be a good match with the 325i. also if you want a good budget dac/amp combo,

 

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