Headphone amps – how much do they improve the sound?
May 12, 2002 at 2:26 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 13

JaZZ

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Hi everybody!

First: (how much) would my portable source (Archos MP3 Jukebox Studio 20) benefit by an external amp? And which one would be the best to drive either Etymotic ER-4S/(mod.: 50 ohms) or Sennheiser HD 600 or Grado SR 80 or Koss Portapro? First choice is the Etymotic.

Second: (how much) would an other stationary headphone amp improve the sound in comparison to my Musical Fidelity X-Cans? Source is a Theta DS Pro Basic II DAC – which, by the way, is capable of driving my above mentioned headphones (via potentiometer) directly, and the sound isn't absolutely bad this way! How can any amp «improve» this signal without colouring or adding something to it? Well, I'm not sure which way is better: direct or via X-Cans... the sound of which is richer in the highs (tube amp effect?) and maybe has a trace of more contour, while direct connection seems somewhat clearer and plainer.

Which amp would clearly improve my present setup? Is there one which I could use both outside and at home? How good are Jan Meier's Cordas – which have rather good prices? Or which other amp(s) would you recommend?

JaZZ
 
May 12, 2002 at 4:04 PM Post #2 of 13

JaZZ

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rolleyes.gif
Any experts around?
 
May 12, 2002 at 4:56 PM Post #3 of 13

2 channel

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Well, Im not an expert but...
I would recommend the MG Head with the Senn HD600s. With Grados I'd recommend a JMT CHA 47 or a Headroom TAH or Supreme if you have the bucks!

Why not look at higher end Grados 225 or 325?

I have no experience with ettys but they get great reviews

2
 
May 12, 2002 at 5:01 PM Post #4 of 13

Hirsch

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The only headphone I have that's mentioned in your post is the HD-600. Yes, it is possible to improve the performance of the HD-600 by a great deal over the X-Can. However, there are considerations that need to be met before I can recommend anything. First, what budget are you looking at? Second, what are your sonic preferences? If you're looking for a portable, which your post appears to imply, something like the Headroom Cosmic might meet your needs. They have a 30-day return policy, so you can listen before your final decision...a very important consideration. Do you prefer a tube amp or solid state? My main headphone amps are tubed...both the Melos SHA-1 (no longer made but sometimes available used) and the Berning MicroZOTL offer very significant improvement over the X-Can...but only if that's the sound you prefer.

I've never heard the Corda HA-1, so I can't comment on it. I can say that I haven't seen anybody write anything bad about it, and they don't seem to appear on the used market.
 
May 12, 2002 at 5:08 PM Post #5 of 13

markl

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You could not listen to your headphones without an amp. Every headphone jack on every component you have is connnected to a headphone amp. The question is, how good is the amp in my component? In most cases, pretty bad.

You listen to MP3's and you have a portable source. IMO, you would benefit little from an amp in this set-up. You'd be back here the next day mad at us for making you spend money on something that didn't help.

Number one rule of an amp and any other component: garbage in, garbage out. If you get a stand-alone CDP and get some CDs, then you will really start to benefit from what an amp can do.

markl
 
May 12, 2002 at 7:13 PM Post #6 of 13

JaZZ

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2 channel

«Why not look at higher end Grados 225 or 325?»

The Grado Sound is not the one I prefer at the moment...
frown.gif
I still got a recommendation for the JMT CMOY – but I don't even know where to get it from... What's the difference to the CHA 47? Do you have a link to the MG Head?


Hirsch

«...what budget are you looking at? ... what are your sonic preferences?»

The budget... depends... I would set a 700 $ margin, provisionally. My musical spectrum is wide, and I want a sound as neutral as possible, with extended frequency range, without any coloration. It should be clear and smooth, but nevertheless accurate, dynamic and free of effects. (I know, not very modest!) So I guess, a transistor amp would meet my ecpectations the best: despite the «greater», more complete sound of my Stax SRM-T1 I mostly prefer the cooler, livelier reproduction of the SRM-Xh at the moment.


markl

«You could not listen to your headphones without an amp.»

Oh? What a surprise!
cool.gif
In fact I meant an external amp... But don't underestimate well-encoded MP3s! Surely the Archos Jukebox is no high-end device, but I have great pleasure to listen to music from it using my electrostatics and my SRM-Xh. But the battery life of the latter is very short, and the whole equipment isn't really portable in my eyes... add to this that I'm pretty enthusiastic with the Etymotic at present...
By the way I am on the lookout for a stationary headphone amp that is better than my X-Cans. Actually I'm very pleased about the sound it elicits from the ER-4S... but unfortunately I have joined this forum... By the way, the Theta DS Pro Basic II DAC output has enough power to drive the Etymotic and the Sennheiser directly (via potentiometer) in an impressive manner, too... So: what can an additional amp do better with the signal?


JaZZ
 
May 12, 2002 at 7:59 PM Post #7 of 13

Anders

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Depends somewhat on which version you have of the C-Xan. Should be easier and cheaper to find something better if you have the first version rather than X-Can V2.
Some time ago I visited a dealer who had both versions, the old one with a 33% rebate. He said it was hard to get rid of the old one because all who had listened were willing to pay 50% more for V2. Last time I made a visit, the V1 had disappeared. I didn't ask why, but assume that he had found someone on a limited budget, and maybe cut the price to get rid of it.
If you have the V2, it should become better with the X-PSU power supply. I have added this to my X-LPS phono preamp with good results. It is hard to say if this is optimal spending of money becuase it costs nearly as much as the basic unit. On the other hand, an important difference between cheap and more expensive phono amps seems to be that the later have better regulated power. I could also connect an audiophile power cord, with a substantial accumulated improvement.
There are infinite other options that I haven't tested!
 
May 12, 2002 at 8:33 PM Post #8 of 13

JaZZ

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Anders,

it's probably the first version – no «V2» imprint detectable. I bought it 2½ years ago.

JaZZ
 
May 13, 2002 at 4:22 AM Post #10 of 13

markjia

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Jazz,

Your setup may already sound very good, but it could sound much better. I don't have the ER-4S, so I can't say much about them, but I know that the HD600s are very demanding. Different amps can make a huge difference, and should show drastic improvement btw the X-Cans, MG-Head, Melos, etc... It's just a matter of how much you want to spend.
 
May 13, 2002 at 2:00 PM Post #11 of 13

legoman

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For me, the most astounding difference I have heard so far is:

ER6 + Panasonic 470 PCDP = okayish sound
ER6 + Panasonic 470 PCDP + Little = beautiful, clear, airy, effortless sound

It is almost like listening to a different headphone. Like twilight & day.
 
May 13, 2002 at 4:51 PM Post #12 of 13

JaZZ

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Yes, I'm about to believe that I «must» have a new amp... The budget is set at 400 to 700 $, maybe more... but one important problem is: I live in Europe, Switzerland, Zurich, where the headphones culture is kind of underdeveloped, according to the supply range... so I have no opportunity to evaluate all the tempting US amps mentioned here by listening! I am dependent on the judgments of you experts and pros! Who, I hope, will give me all your support in such an important decision of serious consequences...

I think, for portable use, a Porta Corda would do the job. What about the home amp, the task of which is to drive the ER-4S (107 or 57 ohms) and the HD 600... instead of my X-Cans?

(By the way: I need a 230 volts power supply.)

rolleyes.gif
JaZZ
 
May 13, 2002 at 5:31 PM Post #13 of 13

Anders

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What I have seen from reviews, the Corda is not far from the Headroom amp, but at a much more attractive price, especially in Europe.
I saw the Earmax Pro at a verý atractive price in Germany (€ 520).
http://www.hifibelzer.de/ (pages in German)
I have no experience of them, but it is the best price I have seen, assume becasue it is produced in Germany. This must be a 230V model, but assume that you have that voltage in Switzerland.
 

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