First Time Amplifier Buyers : Here is some advice for you
Apr 19, 2004 at 3:00 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 65


Member of the Trade: Veda Audio Contributor
Nov 10, 2003
This is tageted at the new members of the forums who have no prior experience with Headphones or Headphone amplifiers.

* What is a headphone amplifier?

Strange? Do you think it is silly that people here use amplifiers for their headphones? I thought so too until I heard the life is changed for the better and my wallet has changed for the worse

To keep it simple : Your portable has a built in DAC and Amplifier. However the manufacturer doesnt want to spend too much money here...profit margins are the order of the day. Designers are forced to make the electronics efficient and small. The result is that Audio quality is sacrificed for the sake of profit and extra features.

This, as an audiophile, is blasphemy. As an audiophile you dont belong to some "elite" society or order. We are just a bunch of people obsessed with the desire to extract the best possible sound. We want to hear the music the way it was played in the studio or on stage. Extra features mean nothing, efficiency, battery life, appearances mean very little or nothing at all.

Therefore -> We bypass the built in DAC and Amp in portables and use the Optical out to supply pure digital signals to a DAC. From here to a high quality amp and from there to high quality headphones.

* What are headphone amplifiers :-

These are small scaled versions of their bigger brothers - NOT!!

Headphone amps are specially designed to reproduce the input signal faithfully, with minimal coloration but with higher power to drive our headphones. Every amplifier has a sonic signature that is a result of the components used, the electronic design, materials, potentiometers (volume controls) and power supplies (loads of other things but I cant remember them).

If you have one of the headphones that are recommended on this forums then the chances are that you will need a nice amplifier to exploit their capacity.

I will proceed to suggest a few nice amplifiers that I have heard in person. This list is neither conclusive nor exhaustive and I expect other members to chime in with their recommendations as well.

To make it simple I will classify your setup as $$-Fi, $$$-Fi and $$$$-Fi and make recommendations in each class.


Sources : Portable CD Player, MP3 Player, Low End Source (Toshiba/SONY dvd players), XITEL (or something similar) external DAC/Soundcard (M Audio Revo etc.)

Headphones : Grado SR-60, Senn HD-515, AKG K-401, Ety ER6, Shure E2c, Stax NOS-Lambda Nova, Koss KSC-35/Portapro etc.

Amplifiers for this range :-

* Headroom Airhead / Total Airhead
* PIMETA based amplifier
* Porta Corda
* MINT amplifier
* Xin Fixup amplifiers
* Gilmore Lite
* Grado RA-1
* Creek OBH-11SE
* Vintage Marantz receivers (they make good headphone amps as well)
* Stax SRM-Xh (For electrostatic headphones)


Sources : SONY NS-500V, Toshiba-3950 Other DVD based SACD players and DVD Audio players, Pioneer SACD/DVD-A sources, Unmodded Philips 963SA and other sub $1000.00 sources

Headphones : Sennheiser HD580/600/650 ; Grado SR-225/325/RS-1/RS-2 ; Beyer DT-880, AKG K-501, AT W-100/W-1000/A-900 , Sony CD3000, Sennheiser HD-555/595, AKG K1000 (special case) etc.

Amplifiers :-

Solid State :-

* Corda HA-1 / HA-2
* Headroom Little / Maxxed Out Home
* Emmeline XP-7
* Gilmore Dynamic / Gilmore V2
* PPA (DIY amplifier)
The Economy build includes the following:
Nichicon Muse Capacitors
Oxygen Free Copper Wire Interconnects
Tiffany style RCA's
AD8610 Opamps
* Perreaux SHX-1 (if you can find one at a decent price these days)
* Stax SRM-212/313 (For use with the electrostatic headphones)

Tube amps :-
* Singlepower PPX-3 / MPX-3
* MG Head OTL/DT
* Earmax PRO
* Berning microZOTL
* Rudistor RP-5 (hybrid amp)
* MG Head DT/OTL 32
* Musical Fidelity X-Can V2/V3
* ASL WAV-8/20 Monoblocks (for AKG K-1000)
* nOrh SE9 (for AKG K-1000)


Sources : most $1000.00 and up sources

Headphones : Sennheiser HD-650, Sony MDR-10, AKG K1000, AT Leatherheads, AT W2002, Grado RS-1/HP1/HP2/PS1 etc.

Amplifiers :

If you have sources and headphones in this range you probably already know what you want
But here goes anyway...

SS :-

* Corda Prehead
* Grace Design 901
* Headroom Max/Blockhead with Stepped Attenuators
* Rudistor RP-5
* Emmeline HR-2
* Sugden Headmaster
* Maxxed Out PPA with all options
The Deluxe build (maxed-out) includes the following:
Black Gate Capacitors
Cardas RCA's
Silver Interconnect Wire
Burr Brown 627 Opamps
* Berning MicroZOTL
* KGSS (For use with electrostatic headphones)

Tube :-

* Singlepower SDS / MPX-3 with all the options maxxed out
* Audiovalve RKV MK-II
* Emmeline Stealth
* ASL AQ (AQ1005 DTi) Series (for the AKG K1000)
* ASL Twin Head MK-2
* Stax SR-007T (For use with electrostatic headphones)
* Shanling T100 and/or T200 (Headphone outputs)


Weebl/Blue Hawaii (By Kevin Gilmore?
Stax T-2
Manley 300b Classic Pre-Amp
Cary 300B
Angstrom Research
Egmont Signature (From Trieste Italy)

I hope my members will jump in with their recommendations and please tell me under which class to put them. Or just recommend them with the pricing info and i'll add it to the list.

Apr 19, 2004 at 3:21 AM Post #2 of 65

Welly Wu

Headphoneus Supremus
May 16, 2003
Don't forget to mention the Ray Samuels Emmline XP-7 (with / without the Power Supply Option) and the Emmeline HR-2. I would say that the Emmeline XP-7 falls in the mid-fi range while the HR-2 falls in the HI-FI range.
Apr 19, 2004 at 3:32 AM Post #4 of 65


Headphoneus Supremus
Jan 23, 2004
Nice post.
Maybe you could add the Gilmore V2 (550$) and Gilmore Lite (250$ including the elpac power supply) and Perreaux (well, price now is 600$, used: >300$).
The Gilmore Lite is sorta between mid and low-fi.
Apr 19, 2004 at 3:45 AM Post #5 of 65


Headphoneus Supremus
Jul 23, 2003
I object to the "Low-Fi" "Mid-Fi" and "Hi-Fi" classifications. This is not the way these terms are commonly used in the audio world, and I think it would just confuse newcomers. E.g. if Grado SR-60s are "low-fi," what does that make a pair of cheapo Coby earbuds (No-Fi?

Since an objection should come with a suggestion, how about "budget hi-fi," "midrange hi-fi" and "ultra hi-fi" (or something similar to these terms).
Apr 19, 2004 at 6:24 AM Post #8 of 65


New Head-Fier
Apr 16, 2004
Could also add in the Earmax although I don't know it's pricing/aabout vailablity in the US(about £450 here in the UK),and in the lower price ranges both the MF X-cans and the Creek.
Apr 19, 2004 at 1:40 PM Post #10 of 65


Member of the Trade: Veda Audio Contributor
Nov 10, 2003
Sources and Cables will be done in the respective sections of the forums. This thread is for amps just like there is a thread for headphones in the headphones section. I have very little experience with cables and sources and therefore I feel someone else should take the initiative in those areas of audio

Added a few more amps to the listing...
Apr 19, 2004 at 2:01 PM Post #11 of 65


Headphoneus Supremus: Untie!
Dec 4, 2002
I can't stress enough how the porta corda can grow with you. You get it and it's not biased to class A by default (mine wasn't). But you're new and don't care and it just sounds good and battery life is great..

Then you start wondering about all this class A business. You open it up and flip the switch. To save power you turn off the LED switch. Oh wow, yeah, nice indeed.

And then you decide to take the plunge into the harder-to-drive headphones. You hunt for a 24V power supply and once again, you're really hooked up. The porta corda II will be with you longer than those who've never had one would think.
Apr 19, 2004 at 2:21 PM Post #12 of 65


Headphoneus Supremus
Jun 12, 2002
How come HD650 and RS-1 are deemed suitable for the mid level and high level, but the CD3000 is only deemed suitable for the mid level?

Oh yeah, and add the Perreaux to the list
Apr 19, 2004 at 2:42 PM Post #14 of 65


Member of the Trade: Veda Audio Contributor
Nov 10, 2003
Keep in mind that this is not a list of recommended headphones. This is a list of recommended amps for people who may have "A B C sources and D E F Headphones".

Just examples.

I havent spent much time with the CD3000s and I will be getting that opportunity towards the end of this month (when a member has agreed to send me his pair (very kind
) )
Apr 19, 2004 at 4:50 PM Post #15 of 65

Sean H

Headphoneus Supremus
Oct 23, 2001
Maxed out PPA's (well designed linear PSU, Discrete buffer board, Stepped Attenuator and Black Gates) gets you into the highest dollar category. Actually, even minus just one of those options still puts you close to that highest dollar category. Depends on the builder. Since this amp can be built so many ways it really can fit in the mid and hi level categories both. I like how you decided to group these more by dollar amount than perceived performance level, as I think that would be way too hard to do and highly subjective in the end. For example one might find the midrange (if that was all they cared about) of the MG Head to be of the highest quality period and the HR-2 doesn't match it. What's the perception of mid and hi-fi there? Single Power MPX-3 and even PPX-3 amps, and decked out PPA's likely find company with the big dollar performers performance wise but they are not priced like them. You know what I'm saying. But no argument needed, you aren't grouping them in that way.

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