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Headphone Amplifiers for a beginner

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by pezhore, Dec 19, 2012.
  1. pezhore
    I'm relatively new to the head-fi forum, and I'm beginning to look at how I can enjoy my music on a higher level. A few years ago I picked up a pair of Sennheiser HD 203s and I was immediately blown away by the difference in comparison to my more generic headphones. I'm considering either upgrading my cans or perhaps putting that money towards a headphone amp - but I'm not really sure what I should be looking for.
    Can someone explain to me the benefits to using a headphone amp, especially with regards to computers and portable devices (e.g. tablets/smart phones)? I've just begun to look at DACs - does it make sense to get a DAC and Amp combo, or would an amp by itself be enough of a difference in sound clarity/quality?
    I was considering a DIY amp - perhaps the CMoy - just to see if I liked the change. Would such an inexpensive amp provide some sembelence of what I can expect with a slightly more expensive amp?
  2. chewy4
    For DACs - What is your current source? Onboard audio on a computer can be sub-par sometimes but in a lot of cases you aren't really going to see any improvement with an external DAC.
    For amps, there are a few reasons why you would need an external amp:
    1. Your headphone's aren't loud enough.
    2. The output impedence of your current source is more than 1/8 of your headphone's input impedance. This only matters with headphones with dynamic drivers(pretty much all Senn's are I believe), and a mismatch here really mostly just causes an increase in bass which some people like anyways.
    3. Your current source's amped output is distorted. If that's the only output if your source, then you would need a DAC as well.
    So it would help to know what headphones and source you have.
  3. pezhore
    My source is mostly an HP Business Class ProBook - music (google music, local MP3s & FLACs) and video (Youtube, netflix, etc). I currently use the headphone out, but there is a line out on my laptop dock. Plugging my Senn HD 203s into the line out results in a mono/flatter sound.
    I also have an 6th gen iPod Nano I'll occasionally use for running at the gym with a cheaper set of ear phones; the gym headphones are really just some generic $10 ones from Walmart.
    Is there an easy way to determine the output impedence for my laptop?
    I'm not generally disappointed with the volume; distortion only shows up when the volume is maxed on my laptop.
  4. chewy4
    I would try looking up the specs of the specific laptop you have... might not be easy to find unfortunately. But from what I've heard it can be pretty high for some onboard sound.
    Most iPods have a fairly low output impedence though I believe, less than 5 Ohms at least. So if your laptop's sound is significantly bassier the impedance is likely to blame.
    At any rate, you're going to have the biggest improvement in sound with headphones at this point. I wouldn't go and spend double the cost of your headphones on an amp that will likely not even make a significant improvement. Just save up some money and get some better headphones or IEMs.
    pezhore likes this.
  5. pezhore
    Good advice. I'll start looking for some new cans. Thanks!
  6. Destroysall Contributor
    Mind me. I'd recommend the HD558 from Sennheiser along with the FiiO E10.
  7. p a t r i c k
    I think the advantage with a better amplifier or DAC is that it loses less of the original signal.
    Often people think that using a separate amplifier from the one built into a computer or portable device will bring some sense of "more amplification" in some way, may "more muscle" or something but in fact the better amplifier will simply lose less of the original signal. So, for example a very delicate piece of music may sound even finer, more delicate with a better amplifier.
    The amplifiers built into portable devices can work quite well, but personally I like to use an alternative amplifier for increased quality of reproduction.
    What I've written about amplifiers is true also of DACs.
    I can't be specific about which amplifiers or DACs because to be honest although I've listen to many over the years I am not that au fait with the ones currently available.
    There is a forum dedicated to amplifiers and suchlike and you may get some good responses there.
    Personally I tend to avoid amplifiers or DACs that have some influence on the music. I don't think that amplifiers should be "warm" for example. I think amplifiers should be as neutral as possible, having as little influence. Let the musicians be warm, or cold in their playing if they wish.
  8. MacedonianHero Contributor
    PA2V2 from Gary. Great amp that can drive IEMs and full sized cans all at an affordable price...and from a great guy:
  9. mikek200
    +10,000 ,on that 
    Used it for months..a great amp--thats why it is rated #1.
    Gary is great,used to get almost instantaneous replies to my constant questions.
  10. MacedonianHero Contributor
    Don't they go for $65 shipped? Best deal on Head-Fi IMO (especially for someone starting out).

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