Do I need one ?
Feb 21, 2017 at 10:28 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 6

CBonUK

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Hi.  I'm a newbie to "audiophile" level listening.  Thus far, Ive only ever had a bog standard type of home audio setup. A couple of years ago I splashed out a little cash on a Marantz MCR610 multimedia player coupled with some small but capable Dali Zensor speakers.  To me the sound quality was/is great.  I still have this now, but have finally decided to get some headphones so I can listen when others don't wish to hear music.  I started with Grado SR125e's but have now ended up with beyerdynamic DT1990 pro's, having tried a few different ones along the way.  These headphones cost 2/3 of what the Marantz system cost me, so relatively speaking, they seem expensive, but they give me a sound that is close to the Marantz and Dali combination, so I'm happy.
 
But I see, all over the place, reference to headphone AMPS.
 
DO I need one ?  I know for a fact that my Marantz system heaphone output jack produces more then enough power to drive my 250 ohm headphones, and the sound quality seems fine.  Apparently its just a diverted path from the normal audio out. 
 
So, what would a headphone amp bring to the party ?  I would not want it to change the characteristics of the headphones.
 
Your comments would be most welcome.
 
Feb 22, 2017 at 12:10 AM Post #2 of 6

Jacobh

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If you like the sound of the headphone and your Marantz powers it sufficiently then you definitely don't need an amp. However, you may find your enjoyment is increased by adding one. I'd look in the DT 1990 thread for people's experience with those headphones and different amps.

The primary reason someone would get an amp is that their headphone output doesn't provide enough power for their headphones. It's not strictly speaking about volume since headphones present a variable impedance depending on frequency and the amp needs enough headroom to cover the dynamic spikes in music you listen to across all frequencies. That being said, while your headphones have a high impedance they are pretty efficient. I can't find any specs on the headphone output of your Marantz, but it could definitely be capable.

A second reason would be the headphone output is noisy or essentially isn't providing clean power. In a lot of cases the headphone output is an afterthought for manufacturers. You might find a dedicated amp connected to the line out sounds a lot cleaner even if the headphone out was sufficiently powered.

A third reason people get amps is because they can change the sound a bit. An amp might roll off the high freqiencies to create a warmer sound, provide a bit of a boost in the low end or something else. Tube amps can emphasize certain harmonics which is technically distortion, but some people find it makes things more pleasing or natural sounding. All this being said, well-designed neutral amps should theoretically sound very similar if they can provide sufficient power to your headphones.

There are other reasons to buy an amp like convienent volume control, ability to act as a pre-amp, different input options,etc.

Unfortunately sound is very subjective and your perception of things is influenced by many factors. The only real way to know if you like a particular amp better than the Marantz headphone out would be to try it out.
 
Feb 22, 2017 at 12:30 AM Post #3 of 6

markbrauer

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My story... A change in living conditions made it imperative that I switch to headphone listening. I had a pair of Sennheiser PX100s that I bought years ago (they got good recommendations on various web sites) to replace the stock phones on a portable CD player. I wanted something "better". To prepare myself for headphone shopping I listened to the Senns for a couple of weeks, plugged into my home receiver. I then took them shopping with me, to use as a baseline for comparison. Shop #1 set me up with a few headphones, a  CD player, and a receiver. I first listened to the PX100s for a while, they sounded pretty much the same as at home. I was not impressed with the models I demoed so I went to shop #2. There they put me in front of a CD player and a real headphone amp. I again started with the Sennheisers. I could not stop listening to them. I was amazed at the sound coming from these relatively efficient, cheap portable headphones. Best thing I'd ever heard. With the receivers I had used, the music got more than loud enough, but was kind of thin and boring. With the headphone amp everything had body, was rich and full sounding. There was more detail. Bass now had authority. The music was more exciting. Took me over 3/4 hour before I could pull myself away from my own phones and start auditioning new models. At that point I knew I needed to get both phones and a dedicated headphone amp. So yes, a proper amp makes a BIG difference.
 
There is some home stereo equipment that offers good headphone performance, and maybe your Marantz is one. The Marantz site gives no mention of headphones at all for your model. Some Marantz models do specifically mention separate headphone circuitry. Others on Head-Fi may be able to tell you if your Marantz is up to the task. But you'd be best to get out and try a headphone amp. Again, other Head-Fiers can point you to amps that would work well with your headphones.
 
Feb 22, 2017 at 3:58 AM Post #4 of 6

CBonUK

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  My story... A change in living conditions made it imperative that I switch to headphone listening. I had a pair of Sennheiser PX100s that I bought years ago (they got good recommendations on various web sites) to replace the stock phones on a portable CD player. I wanted something "better". To prepare myself for headphone shopping I listened to the Senns for a couple of weeks, plugged into my home receiver. I then took them shopping with me, to use as a baseline for comparison. Shop #1 set me up with a few headphones, a  CD player, and a receiver. I first listened to the PX100s for a while, they sounded pretty much the same as at home. I was not impressed with the models I demoed so I went to shop #2. There they put me in front of a CD player and a real headphone amp. I again started with the Sennheisers. I could not stop listening to them. I was amazed at the sound coming from these relatively efficient, cheap portable headphones. Best thing I'd ever heard. With the receivers I had used, the music got more than loud enough, but was kind of thin and boring. With the headphone amp everything had body, was rich and full sounding. There was more detail. Bass now had authority. The music was more exciting. Took me over 3/4 hour before I could pull myself away from my own phones and start auditioning new models. At that point I knew I needed to get both phones and a dedicated headphone amp. So yes, a proper amp makes a BIG difference.
 
There is some home stereo equipment that offers good headphone performance, and maybe your Marantz is one. The Marantz site gives no mention of headphones at all for your model. Some Marantz models do specifically mention separate headphone circuitry. Others on Head-Fi may be able to tell you if your Marantz is up to the task. But you'd be best to get out and try a headphone amp. Again, other Head-Fiers can point you to amps that would work well with your headphones.


​Thanks for that.  Can I ask what amp you liked the best ?  I realise it wont necessarily be the best for my DT1990s, but it is of interest anyway.  Cheers.
 
Feb 22, 2017 at 11:17 AM Post #6 of 6

markbrauer

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​Thanks for that.  Can I ask what amp you liked the best ?  I realise it wont necessarily be the best for my DT1990s, but it is of interest anyway.  Cheers.

I started with a Purity Audio K.I.C.A.S. It got great reviews on Head-Fi ( http://www.head-fi.org/products/k-i-c-a-s-caliente ) and drove my Sennheiser HD555s quite well. My longer term plan was to upgrade to Sennheiser HD650s so I had emailed the Purity Audio designer and he assured me that the 650 was a reference he used in building the amp. Indeed, when I acquired the better Senns a year later the K.I.C.A.S. was fully up to the task. I was totally satisfied. A couple years later I got the bug to upgrade and decided a DAC/amp was what I needed. I ended up with a Burson Conductor SL with the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC ( http://www.head-fi.org/products/burson-audio-conductor-sl-9018-headphone-amp-and-dac ). It improved every aspect of music playback, even on the older HD555s and other "easy to drive" phones I have. It's important to note that both amps are said to be in the "neutral" range with flat frequency response, they don't add or subtract bass or treble or midrange, so the overall "sound" of the headphones was basically the same on each of them. What the better amp did was give quieter backgrounds, opened up the dynamics, and reproduced the music more with more detail and authority. Depending on the characteristics of your Beyerdynamics you may want an amp that is less neutral, boosting or attenuating the bass, adding "sparkle" or removing "sizzle" in the highs, etc. Scouring Head-Fi threads should help here.
 
And, as has been pointed out, you don't NEED any of this. OR DO YOU?
 
What I have really grown to love with my HD650/Burson setup is Beethoven/Haydn/Mozart piano sonatas. On any of my lesser equipment these recordings, especially the close-miked highly dynamic ones, just don't cut it. The highs take on an annoying harshness, the lows lack authority, and the notes in fast passages blur together. On most other types of music I can be pretty happy with the lesser equipment, the music comes off good enough. But without the HD650/Burson combo I would not listen to piano sonatas - and they are my favorite. So for me, I DO NEED this. (And I have no doubt that there is $tuff out there that would $ound even better. We'll leave that for another day.)
 
Another thing you might want to consider in an amp is output impedance. Your DT1990s, with a high 250 Ohm impedance, could work well with most any amp out there, as long as it has enough power. But if you ever expect to use low impedance phones, like IEMs, with the amp it should have a very low output impedance. I often take my listening outside to the deck. My city location makes for a lot of noise and IEMs, with their sound-blocking capabilities, are needed. Typical IEMs are 16 Ohms and did not play at all well with my K.I.C.A.S., which specifically said it was for 24 Ohm and above phones. My IEMs actually sounded quite a bit better out of my smartphone than my nice amp. I did find some 32 Ohm IEMs and they worked well, but did not really like their sound signature. So, one of the reasons I chose the Burson when upgrading was because of it's low, < 1 Ohm, output impedance. That, along with the high/low gain setting, allows me to use basically any impedance headphone.
 

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