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Headphones for Home Theater?

  1. EricaR
    Hello All, this is my first post.
    I need help; I am looking for a wired (preferably) over the ear set of headphones for movies. I want Bass. I want clarity. Comfort is a big plus.

    Content is usually streaming Amazon Prime or Netflix, some Blueray and Standard DVDs. The DVD player is nothing special, a Sony, but it seems to work very well. I'm upgrading the internet interface to a LG OLED soon. Right now I am driving a pair of HiFi Man HE-400 (the original) Planar Magnetic Headphones with a Yamaha RX-V667 Receiver, connected to the headphone jack on the front of the Yamaha. I'm not happy with the HE-400s, they don't have much bass.

    So.... I've searched the threads here, and there isn't much recent activity on headphones for movies. I've searched the internet (of course... and this site has the reputation for good information). Internet recommendations are for bluetooth phones like the Sennheiser Momentum or Sony XB950N1 (extra bass). You may wince, but the Sony XB950N1 sounded pretty good at Best Buy today. You can turn the bass boost off. Not a good demo environment, I have to say... Seems like 90% of the consumer headphones are for IPhones or Androids with bluetooth these days. Why pay for a transmitter and receiver... I am fine with a wired headset, and I don't have to worry about voice/picture synchronization.

    Budget is approximately in the $200-$250 range. Anybody use headphones for movies here? Please help with suggestions. Also, where to purchase? Vastly prefer a no-hassle refund, but I really want to get this right without returns.

    Thanks, Erica
  2. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Because of impedance (Ohm) issues with headphone jacks on receivers, you woud want to get headphones in the 250-Ohm to 600-Ohm range.
    But I would suggest 250-Ohm to 300-Ohm is best.

    Massdrop/Senheiser HD6XX (300-Ohm) headphones (3 hours left to buy).
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  3. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    The HE400 actually have bass. They measure practically flat all the way from 1000hz down to 10hz...on a proper amplifier.

    Unfortunately nearly every speaker amp out there has very high output impedance on the headphone jack, and as much as planars tend to be less vulnerable to that than dynamic driver headphones that really need high damping factor to keep their more violent movement under control, if the output impedance is already well above 120ohms, you'll still get the same problem where the bass will be loose whether it gets boosted or in your case, gets trimmed. That its response is flat rather than boosted in the bass allowing for 20hz to be more easily audible just becomes no bass once a high output impedance amp is on them.

    Since most receivers don't have a proper line out to a headphone amp, your best option is to get a 250ohm or higher impedance headphone that has boosted bass response.

    Look into gaming headphones since, along with a surround simulation DSP, they'd have a wider soundstage. Most people watch movies on their PCs using the same DSP they use for gaming.

    The only difference is that some gamers will choose imaging depth to gain an advantage on FPS games even at the cost of aural immersion, ie, bass for explosion (more so as it can also get in the way of team voice chats, even if technically, if you want to be immersed in a realistic environment, soldiers just yell at each other), so look out for that. I personally go with more with low end response for immersion and just leave any imaging cues to the DSP, although of course a totally crappy headphone will not effectively get any better just because of a DSP.

    Beyerdynamic DT770 250ohms if getting bass while staying within budget is more important than imaging.

    AKG K550MkII or K553 if you're fine with doing the mods that were absolutely necessary on the original K550/551 to get more bass.

    Focal Listen if you want to avoid the treble of the DT770 and get slightly better imaging, but will go a little over budget. Earpad openings are relatively smaller though.
    legion1capone likes this.
  4. EricaR
    Thank You both for your replies. You are both right-on. Today I tried for the third time in about 4-5 years to get the headphone amp output on my Asus PC sound card to work. I finally succeeded. What a huge difference!!! There wasn't anything wrong with the 30 ohm HIFiMan headphones, it was the output of the Yamaha receiver!

    I also discovered the HIFiMan headphones are open back, and that they have excellent bass... I had thought closed back headphones would perform better in the bass than these open back 'phones are capable of. The Asus card also has Dolby 7.1 DSP which sounds really good to me too, plus the card has all kinds of equalizer options.

    Unfortunately, this puts the audio source further away from the viewing/listening area than the 10 ft cable on the headphones will allow. I found an old and very crappy headphone extension cable around here, and immediately lost something like a third of the fidelity I had gained. Pretty amazing how much difference it makes. I don't believe I will find an off-the shelf longer replacement cable. This HE-400 has weird screw-on connectors where the cable meets the headphones.

    What is your advice on lengthening the cable? Should I make a longer replacement cable myself, reusing the screw-on connectors? Of what cable material? Or, can I purchase a 5 or 10 foot headphone extension cable somewhere which will not degrade the now excellent audio? I have been getting my musical/sound board cables from Monoprice, but this is a more critical application.

    Thanks so much, Erica
  5. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    If that's one of the internal cards, it has an output impedance of at least 30ohms. It basically has a similar but less severe problem as the receiver, except the same headphone can have its bass trimmed or boosted depending on other variables in the circuit. This is why it's best to use low output impedance and cut variances as to how some headphones will sound close to as they really are while others don't. One example are my Grados. Tehy sound unnaturally fatter on my old Little Dot Mk2, but sound like tin cans on my NAD 304 (a speaker amplifier with headphone output).

    That said, if you just want to enjoy the sound instead of shooting for the flattest possible response, then at least that one is working out for you.

    You can buy a DAC-HPamp with SPDIF optical inputs, position it closer to your seat, and then run an optical cable from the Asus soundcard or your HDTV or receiver if either has that. Just note that in the latter case, using the HDTV's SPDIF output will skip the receiver and any headphone surround simulation it might have. One problem though: if the bass output is due to the Asus soundcard's high output impedance, you're probably going to lose some of it when going to a DAC-HPamp as these have low output impedance. AudioGD's NFB-11 for example has around 2ohms IIRC. This also costs more money.

    Alternately you can just use a longer headphone cable. Search on eBay or Amazon as some can be ordered for 10ft or longer lengths. Just make sure you get the right cable because the HE400 all the way through to the HE400i/S and HE4XX have had different connectors on the headphone cups.
  6. ZMG885
    Thanks for that clarity. Explains a lot of what I've experienced with headphones through my receiver (or pre-amp). I've tended to ignore that effect using my Grado RS2es as I tend to favor strong mids for vocals over bass.
  7. ZMG885
    The RX-V667 receiver has a Zone 2 pre-out. I'm wondering if you couldn't configure that to run a small headphone amp like the Schiit Magni 3 and have that close to your seat?

    The surround decoding can be an issue like @ProtegeManiac mentioned. You should be able to configure either your player or receiver to resolve the stream into 2-CH PCM (most players at least have that feature, and may be automatic on some receivers if a 2-CH feed is selected.
  8. EricaR
    I didn't know The RX-V667 receiver has a Zone 2 pre-out. Thanks. I'll figure out what connector if I need it. Right now I'm exploring (and liking) the Asus Xonar Essence STX PC (personal computer/aka IBM/Microsoft) card.

    The Asus Xonar Essence STX (now replaced by the STXII) has 3 settings for headphone impedance: Normal Gain for <64 ohms, High Gain for 64 to 300 ohms, and extra high gain for 300 to 600 ohms. Now that I have the headphone amp working it sounds very good to my novice (and 66 year old) ears. The specifications are also quite impressive.

    The reason I originally purchased the card was for driving my whole house sound system. I just got the most expensive card I could find, about $200. The SPDIF (in coax mode) output succeeds in driving 3 receivers, with about 200 feet of coax in between them. I think this is pretty impressive; no one is going to specify this fan-out.

    Just lately things are getting quieter around here, therefore my interest in headphones rather than speakers.

    Way back when, in first year EET I learned about maximum power transfer, and before this conversation, I thought that was what impedance matching was all about. My first HiFi stereo system had a Heathkit tube amp. I tried changing the 8 ohm speakers to the 16 ohm output, and the sounded better. So what if the output stage heats up a bit. It's sound that I am after. Apparently things change drastically when the impedance mismatch is 300 ohms:30 ohms.

    Here I quote a passage:

    "Unfortunately nearly every speaker amp out there has very high output impedance on the headphone jack, and as much as planars tend to be less vulnerable to that than dynamic driver headphones that really need high damping factor to keep their more violent movement under control, if the output impedance is already well above 120ohms, you'll still get the same problem where the bass will be loose whether it gets boosted or in your case, gets trimmed. That its response is flat rather than boosted in the bass allowing for 20hz to be more easily audible just becomes no bass once a high output impedance amp is on them."

    So,I don't really understand this, but apparently impedance mismatch affects frequency response (even in the relatively low frequency audio range).

    Also, I think this passage is worth quoting:
    "resolve the stream into 2-CH PCM (most players at least have that feature, and may be automatic on some receivers if a 2-CH feed is selected." Yes, well, the Asus card has selections for PCM: 44.1, 48, 96, 192 (all in KHz). Which should I select?

    Thanks, Erica
  9. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Consult the manual on it because on some older receivers Zone 2 won't work with digital inputs because Sony was so paranoid about people copying Sony-BMG CDs.

    Gain doesn't actually correlate that much with impedance, other than how higher gain sometimes increases the output impedance. In all other aspects sensitivity is a more important spec to look at. Barring voltage output drop into high impedance loads, a 35ohm, 93dB/1mW headphone is still harder to drive than a 300ohm, 98dB/1mW headphone.

    In some other soundcards this feature is even labeled by the Marketing Dept instead of Engineering, with ridiculous labels like Pro G4M3R M4ximuM P4WnaGe Mode (I exaggerate but you get the idea) for high gain mode.

    Damping factor on an amp determines how well it can control driver movement, especially on dynamic drivers that have to pump more violently back and forth.

    A low ratio of load impedance to amp output impedance can reduce that damping factor, affecting how the driver moves and ultimately, what you'll hear.

    Also, since reproducing the lower frequencies demands the most straining movements on the driver as it pumps back and forth harder along its suspension limits (while having to move very fast to reproduce the other frequencies as well), that's the part of the range that is most affected by lower damping factor.

    Think of it like putting a 600hp Chevy small block into an early 20th century car with tyres that a modern Harley or Ducati will laugh at right before they call over their Ford and Ferrari buddies. It'll basically be the most dangerous slip n' slide in town.
  10. EricaR
    Well, the Asus card worked well for a year, but now the headphone amp part of it is blown. It hums, and when I turn up the gain on the Asus card to mask the hum, it distorts. It is a complicated set-up running through the Asus card, and at times the headphones got really loud when an input other than the headphone out on the Yamaha receiver was routed through the Asus card. That's probably what blew it.

    So, I am looking for dedicated headphone amp. Can I get a Schitt Magni, and plug it into the Headphone Output on my Yamaha RX-V667 and get good sound? I use the headphones for watching streaming Netflix, etc, with the TV decoding the stream, and with the sound going to the Yamaha RX-V667.

    In an earlier post, there was a suggestion to use the Zone 2 output jacks on the Yamaha Receiver. If I have to, maybe I can get this to work, but The Yamaha is kinda maxed out with driving presence speakers in addition to the usual speakers.


  11. ZMG885
    I still think a small headphone amp from one of the rear analog outputs may be your best option. I would avoid trying to drive an external amp (such as the Magni 3) from the headphone out jack, as it may drive to much voltage for a pre-amp input (designed to drive headphones). And yes, that could have contributed to the failure of the Asus card. This receiver appears to have a 2-CH analog out next to the zone 2. I would try the analog out first as the receiver usually drives all outputs simultaneously, and typically easier to set up than zone 2.
  12. PurpleAngel Contributor
    If not already, disable the motherboard's on-board audio, in the BIOS (not a big deal).
    Install the Unified Xonar Drivers.
    Run an optical cable from the Asus sound card to the Yamaha's optical input port.
    Get the Massdrop/Sennheiser 150-Ohm HD58X headphones and plug them directly into the Yamaha's headphone jack.
    Or any other 250-Ohm to 300-Ohm headphone you might like.
  13. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    I'm not sure why, if the Yamaha is already "kinda maxed out" with speakers, you would think the headphone output would be better when, if the speaker output isn't running ie there's something plugged into the headphone output then its power supply is barely just keeping the speaker output stage at idle. This is like using a 400w PSU and then running a Core i9-9900K and RTX 2080. If you're not running both in an actual game and just using a benchmarking app for either the CPU or GPU but never both simultaneously (much less a stress test or a siege battle in Total War games with all graphics settings on Ultra with MSAA and later on, Real Time Ray Tracing), and no ovverclocks on the RTX 2080 either, then that 400w PSU will run well enough (the only reason why nobody actually does that is because you won't find anybody using only programs that will only load one and not the other).

    That said, the potential noise and distortion off the headphone output is also a problem, and if you accidentally left the volume setting high enough, well, prepare for a shocking surprise (this is one reason to only use one active preamp on one chain).

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