Good Idea?: Audio Interface Balanced Line Outputs to Headphone Amp Line Inputs (for better sound).
Jul 29, 2020 at 8:02 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 4


New Head-Fier
Jan 8, 2011
Hello everyone,

First I would like to apologize because I mistakenly posted this on the wrong thread. I don't know how to delete the first one. It was posted on "Headphone Amps (Full-sized). So, if anyone can help me with deleting my 1st post that would be wonderful.

Anyway, I am a home music producer. I compose, produce and mix music as a hobby. I am not a professional but it’s safe to say that I am proficient in what I do. I ask help from my fellow audiophiles to give me advice if I have some concepts wrong and if my “semi-pro” audio setup can be homogenized with some decent Hifi gear to give me the best of both worlds. In short, I was hoping to have a decent all-in-one setup that can be used for my music hobby and at the same time, be used for leisurely listening to music.

I think the converters of my audio interface sound clean and decent but I want a better experience because the headphone amp of my audio interface sounds warm or muffled in a non-flattering, lacking kind of way, even with the SHP9500. I’ve heard most people in many forums describing the headphone amps in most prosumer audio interfaces as “dry” and I agree with them. Could it be the 10 Ohm rating and I have 32 Ohm headphones?

So, I’m looking for a separate headphone amp with line level inputs, strictly under $150. (maybe $200 if I’m patient enough). What I plan to do is use the balanced line outputs of my audio interface and hook it up to a separate headphone amp's balanced line level inputs. This is in the hopes of getting a better sound from a dedicated headphone amp with the decent AD converters of my interface.

My basic setup:

Audio Interface
• M-audio 2x2m hooked up to a PC using a shielded USB cable. (It has 10 ohm output impedance in the headphone amp). I use Foobar2000 for playing FLAC and MP3 files.

• For music production I use my M40x.
• For listening to music and sometimes as an extra reference, I use the Philips SHP9500 (I plan to get a HD 58X, HD 6XX or HD 660s in the future).
• For general mundane purposes (piano practice, tracking), I use my Oneodio Pro 10g Dj as it’s very up front with the bass frequencies making it easy to follow the beat.

My Questions:

-Do you guys think this is a “viable” option?

-Do you think getting a separate headphone amp and using the line outputs of my interface will yield a considerably better experience?

-I’ve been recently looking at the SMSL SAP II PRO and the SMSL SAP-1. Are these good options for what I plan to do? (I’m not sure if these have line level inputs).

-Or is this a stupid idea and should I just get something else entirely for music listening?

-If it is stupid, then I’m eyeing the FX Audio DAC-X6. Is this decent enough?

I'm not looking for an endgame or a 100% experience, I'm just hoping I can make my current setup better or turn it into something decent. Sorry for the long post. All comments and suggestions are welcome. Cheers.
Jul 30, 2020 at 12:17 PM Post #2 of 4
I don't think it is a silly idea at all. You are craving better sound. That's what we all crave!

Without knowing the output levels for your balanced outputs ( 4v RMS for example ) it might be hard to nail this first try, but my first thought is go with something like the Geshelli Labs Archel 2.5.
$180 new

Has balanced inputs and measures very well. I enjoy mine with all of my headphones.

One caveat: Usually when I hear that the headphones sound anemic etc I first suspect the source ( DAC ). In many cases if the DAC is not outputting enough voltage to the amp then the entire system suffers. I've experienced this a few times with some Pro-Ject branded DAC units. The second thing to consider is the headphone. It after all is the final piece of equipment that couples the sound to your ears.

Your Philips SHP9500 lacks in bass response and has a ton of treble energy which will make it sound bass-light and bright. You can EQ it which is what I suggest first. You should look into a parametric EQ to bring up the bass ( or bring everything down other than the bass ) to see if you can get more impact in the low end. This will help things sound more full.

If you get a balanced amp you will certainly sense higher volume levels and hopefully better sound, but the headphone's you are using will be your limit.
Jul 31, 2020 at 5:14 AM Post #3 of 4
Thank you very much for the wonderful suggestion and the useful info!

I agree with you about the SHP9500, I will try your EQ suggestion tonight. If I outgrow them, I will get a more capable headphone.

I was doing so much research and I couldn't find anything. Especially in my price bracket.
I did come across the Geshelli Erish at one point but that one has balanced outputs too so that was not an option.
I will be keeping an eye out for the Geshelli Archel 2.5. Though, I'm not sure if I can find a retailer in my country but once I can find one I will purchase it.

In the mean time I will look for a temporary alternative.

What do you think of adapting my Audio Interface's line outputs via TRS to RCA to the SMSL SAP II PRO? Basically balanced TRS to RCA and It will be running through short wires.
Is it a bad idea? Is it possible to do so?
Jul 31, 2020 at 6:40 PM Post #4 of 4
My two cents
Skip getting an external headphone amplifier.
Get the Massdrop Sennheiser HD58X and plug it into your 2X2M's headphone jack.

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