Pro-ject Headbox SE II (2011 version) first impressions, short review (full review coming soon), and comparison to Fiio E9
Sep 8, 2011 at 3:18 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 15

derbigpr

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I decided to upgrade my headphone amplifier from Fiio E9 to Pro-ject Headbox SE II.  I went for it mainly because I wanted 2 headphone outputs and separate volume controls...
 
I paid 300$ for it with the discount (its 350 usually), and so far I'm not fully satisfied with my purchase.  It might be worth mentioning that its the new version. Although it doesn't say its a new version on their website anywhere, and it looks the same externally,  the dealer said its a new version with some minor improvements over the older ones, apparently.
 
Before I start off, let me just say which gear I'm gonna use. 
I have a soundcard Asus Xonar D2X which is connected to Headbox SEII with decent quality RCA cables.
Headphones I'm using are the Sennheiser HD558.
 
Here are some of the specs from the manual:
 
Power output:                             700 mW / 30 Ohms,  110 mW / 300 Ohms
Headphone connection:           >30 ohms
Signal to noise:                          115 dB at full output
Frequency response:                20 Hz - 20 kHz / -0,03 dB
THD:                                           0,003%
Gain:                                           12 dB
Output voltage:                          16V / 1000 mA
 
 
 
Out of the box:
 
Ok, first of all, this thing is HEAVY DUTY. Its really really really well built. Its completely made of metal, it has an aluminum front panel, and the rest is made of steel. The volume knobs are made of plastic, but they are really solid, smooth to operate, and smooth to touch because they're covered with a thin layer of rubber-like material.  It has 4 small silicone feet, and it feels very planted on the desk, it definitely won't be pulled around by cables.
 
With its dimensions of 10,5 cm width, 8 cm height and about 15 cm length, its only slightly bigger than Fiio E9, but the difference is weight.  While E9 weighs a little over 400 grams, Headbox SEII  is well over 1 kg, so when you hold it in your hand, it really feels like something that could come handy for self defense in case you had burglars in your home.
Also,  it looks very nice,  it looks much better in person than on the pictures.  The front panel is like black aluminum, really smooth looking, minimalistic design, with nicely detailed silver letters and a nice blue LED in the middle. This thing definitely doesn't look cheap.
 
It has 2 6,3 mm headphone jacks in the front,  output / input RCA jacks in the back, and a power jack.
 
 
 
IGNORE THIS PART UNLESS YOU HAVE LOW IMPEDANCE HEADPHONES!
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
Listening impressions:
 
When I first plugged it in and started listening, I was greatly disappointed. If you buy this, don't use it before burn-in.  It just doesn't sound right, and I'm one of those guys who thought amp burn-in is a bunch of crap. For the first 5 minutes the only thing that went trough my head (except the terrible sound) was how I'm gonna get my money back.  It sounded terrible, and I mean REALLY terrible, without any exaggerating, worse that out of the Logitech z2300 PC speakers headphone jack. Almost no bass, mids sounded thin, highs were piercing (and that's with pretty warm sounding Sennheisers) and there was a lot of sibilance, but the biggest problem, it sounded like left and right channels were randomly getting louder / quieter, never heard anything like that.  I though it was faulty so I checked the RCA cables, but all was well.  So I took my headphones off, and left the amp to work for a few hours.
 
About 2 hours later, I came back, turned the volume down completely, put my headphones on, and slowly in fear I turned the volume knob to about 40% and put the Chris Issak - Wicked game (its one of my favorite songs for testing new equipment) on . And, there definitely is a lot of improvement, but its still not it, it still feels like its broken. Bass is now here, maybe a bit more in quantity and quality compared to Fiio E9, mids sound full, and highs are not piercing anymore, but they still sound very snappy and nervous, and there is still some sibilance in songs I'm very familiar with, and I KNOW there's no sibilance with Fiio E9 or Logitech Z-2300.  So, I'm gonna leave it burning in over night, and see what happens in the morning.
 
Oh, and one more thing....It doesn't seem to be packed with power. I mean, it runs my HD558 to very loud levels, but I need to turn the knob to 2 o'clock to get my normal listening volume and all the way to 4 o'clock to really make it loud. Now, considering HD558's are only 50 Ohms and very easy to run, It makes me question whether this amp really has as much power as on the paper.  It makes me question whether it will able to run the Beyerdynamic DT990 (250 ohm or 600 ohm) that I'm planning to buy soon. It has more power than Fiio E9, but it definitely doesn't have even nearly as much power as the Logitech Z-2300 output, which to me is staggering, since those speaker are half the price of this amp, and the sound coming trough that headphone jack is currently better than from this amp.
 
Good thing is, it can run 2 headphones at the same time,  and turning one volume knob doesn't affect how the volume or sound of the other output at all, as if the two jacks are connected to separate amps inside.
 
 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
 
Okay, if you're still reading, it means you have high impedance headphones, in which case, this is a good amp.  The reason why it sucks with HD558 is because of high output impedance of 30 Ohms, and low impedance of headphones, which makes them very hard to run.
 
I bought new HD650's, and they work very nicely with this amp.  Plenty loud, nice bass, nice and crystal clear sound, without any distortion even at max. volume.  I would say that this is a very neutral amplifier with a hint of brightness, since HD650's sound fairly bright out of it, in the sense that high end frequencies pop out of the sound more than low end frequencies do.  Its not exactly a warm sounding amp, its very analytical, precise and cold sounding, my guess is it wouldn't sound good with something like Beyerdynamic or AKG headphones, but with Sennheisers (high impedance ones) it's like a perfect match.  Its neutral, but leaning to bright side,  very detailed, with nice debth, nice clarity, precise and with controlled bass.
 
So, as a conclusion,   if you have 250-300 dollars to spend on an amplifier that is going to be used for high impedance Sennheiser headphones,  go for it.  There might be better deals out there, but this is a good enough amp to satisfy most people.   If you have low impedance headphones or headphones that are bright in nature, look elsewhere, because your setup will be too bright with this amp or wont work properly at all in case of low impedance cans.
 
 
 
Sep 8, 2011 at 7:21 PM Post #2 of 15

sennheiserhd485

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Quote:

 
I decided to upgrade my headphone amplifier from Fiio E9 to Pro-ject Headbox SE II.  I went for it mainly because I wanted 2 headphone outputs and separate volume controls...
 
I paid 300$ for it with the discount (its 350 usually), and so far I'm not fully satisfied with my purchase.  It might be worth mentioning that its the new version. Although it doesn't say its a new version on their website anywhere, and it looks the same externally,  the dealer said its a new version with some minor improvements over the older ones, apparently.
 
Before I start off, let me just say which gear I'm gonna use. 
I have a soundcard Asus Xonar D2X which is connected to Headbox SEII with decent quality RCA cables.
Headphones I'm using are the Sennheiser HD558.
 
Here are some of the specs from the manual:
 
Power output:                             700 mW / 30 Ohms,  110 mW / 300 Ohms
Headphone connection:           >30 ohms
Signal to noise:                          115 dB at full output
Frequency response:                20 Hz - 20 kHz / -0,03 dB
THD:                                           0,003%
Gain:                                           12 dB
Output voltage:                          16V / 1000 mA
 
 
 
Out of the box:
 
Ok, first of all, this thing is HEAVY DUTY. Its really really really well built. Its completely made of metal, it has an aluminum front panel, and the rest is made of steel. The volume knobs are made of plastic, but they are really solid, smooth to operate, and smooth to touch because they're covered with a thin layer of rubber-like material.  It has 4 small silicone feet, and it feels very planted on the desk, it definitely won't be pulled around by cables.
 
With its dimensions of 10,5 cm width, 8 cm height and about 15 cm length, its only slightly bigger than Fiio E9, but the difference is weight.  While E9 weighs a little over 400 grams, Headbox SEII  is well over 1 kg, so when you hold it in your hand, it really feels like something that could come handy for self defense in case you had burglars in your home.
Also,  it looks very nice,  it looks much better in person than on the pictures.  The front panel is like black aluminum, really smooth looking, minimalistic design, with nicely detailed silver letters and a nice blue LED in the middle. This thing definitely doesn't look cheap.
 
It has 2 6,3 mm headphone jacks in the front,  output / input RCA jacks in the back, and a power jack.
 
 
Listening impressions:
 
When I first plugged it in and started listening, I was greatly disappointed. If you buy this, don't use it before burn-in.  It just doesn't sound right, and I'm one of those guys who thought amp burn-in is a bunch of crap. For the first 5 minutes the only thing that went trough my head (except the terrible sound) was how I'm gonna get my money back.  It sounded terrible, and I mean REALLY terrible, without any exaggerating, worse that out of the Logitech z2300 PC speakers headphone jack. Almost no bass, mids sounded thin, highs were piercing (and that's with pretty warm sounding Sennheisers) and there was a lot of sibilance, but the biggest problem, it sounded like left and right channels were randomly getting louder / quieter, never heard anything like that.  I though it was faulty so I checked the RCA cables, but all was well.  So I took my headphones off, and left the amp to work for a few hours.
 
About 2 hours later, I came back, turned the volume down completely, put my headphones on, and slowly in fear I turned the volume knob to about 40% and put the Chris Issak - Wicked game (its one of my favorite songs for testing new equipment) on . And, there definitely is a lot of improvement, but its still not it, it still feels like its broken. Bass is now here, maybe a bit more in quantity and quality compared to Fiio E9, mids sound full, and highs are not piercing anymore, but they still sound very snappy and nervous, and there is still some sibilance in songs I'm very familiar with, and I KNOW there's no sibilance with Fiio E9 or Logitech Z-2300.  So, I'm gonna leave it burning in over night, and see what happens in the morning.
 
Oh, and one more thing....It doesn't seem to be packed with power. I mean, it runs my HD558 to very loud levels, but I need to turn the knob to 2 o'clock to get my normal listening volume and all the way to 4 o'clock to really make it loud. Now, considering HD558's are only 50 Ohms and very easy to run, It makes me question whether this amp really has as much power as on the paper.  It makes me question whether it will able to run the Beyerdynamic DT990 (250 ohm or 600 ohm) that I'm planning to buy soon. It has more power than Fiio E9, but it definitely doesn't have even nearly as much power as the Logitech Z-2300 output, which to me is staggering, since those speaker are half the price of this amp, and the sound coming trough that headphone jack is currently better than from this amp.
 
Good thing is, it can run 2 headphones at the same time,  and turning one volume knob doesn't affect how the volume or sound of the other output at all, as if the two jacks are connected to separate amps inside.
 
Is it possible that it sounds like that because of the low impedance headphones, since output of amp is 30 Ohm.
 
 
....more in a few days...
 
 
 
 
Hell....my headphones sound almost as loud straight out of my sound card, and SQ is higher...something's definitely wrong with this puppy.... and another funny thing is, my cheaper headphones with less ohms and higher sensitivity are quieter than HD558...   could it be that this amp simply doesn't like low-impedance cans?
 
I mean,  this is an AMPLIFIER, if it doesn't AMPLIFY sound, then whats the point of it?  Straight out of sound card, sound quality is better, it sounds clearer without being edgy, bass is definitely stronger and volume level is maybe 15% lower. I mean, you cant tell me a 350$ headphone amp rated at 700 mW @ 30 Ohm will give me only a 15% increase in volume with 50 Ohm headphones, reduction in sound quality, less bass....
 
Think they've screwed up by putting 2 separate amps inside, they should put one more powerful amp or join the 2 together somehow, so that you get more power when using a single output.
 
I'm pissed off, tomorrow I'm returning this amp and I'll demand a new one, this one is clearly not functioning properly.  The LAST time I'm buying something without trying it first.
 
 
 
 



You might have a defective unit. That amp should definitely be an improvement over your E9.
 
 
Sep 8, 2011 at 7:25 PM Post #3 of 15

kite7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by sennheiserhd485 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
 
 That amp should definitely be an improvement over your E9.


Based on what? The E9 is a very good amp, don't underestimate it because of its price.
 
Sep 8, 2011 at 7:36 PM Post #4 of 15

sennheiserhd485

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Quote:
Based on what? The E9 is a very good amp, don't underestimate it because of its price.



I would expect a $300 amp from a great company to sound better than a $100 amp from a great company...
 
Sep 8, 2011 at 10:29 PM Post #5 of 15

kite7

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Quote:
I would expect a $300 amp from a great company to sound better than a $100 amp from a great company...


That's really not how things work unless this great company priced their product based on the E9, there's no way money alone tells one how much "better" something is. I can expect it to be better than their own lower offerings and that's about it. You don't know their measuring bar, nobody knows if they are just putting a figure because they think or believe it can compete with products while gaining large margins
 
 
Sep 8, 2011 at 11:17 PM Post #6 of 15

sennheiserhd485

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That's really not how things work unless this great company priced their product based on the E9, there's no way money alone tells one how much "better" something is. I can expect it to be better than their own lower offerings and that's about it. You don't know their measuring bar, nobody knows if they are just putting a figure because they think or believe it can compete with products while gaining large margins
 



That's true. It just seems like most of the audiophile companies have similiar prices on their gear.
 
I usually always just depend on senior Head-fi members when making purchases.
 
Sep 9, 2011 at 5:15 AM Post #7 of 15

derbigpr

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Ok, I just woke up, and amp was working on 80% of volume on both outputs for the entire night.   Definitely improved sound, very noticable.  Bass is again stronger and tighter, highs are not piercing so much and much smoother.
 
As for comparison to E9, it definitely sounds better than E9, not much, but it does sound better.  But the problem is, its not loud. Its only slightly louder than Fiio, and Headbox has more than twice the power on paper. 
 
Could it be that this amplifier works better with high impedance headphones? Is it even possible for high impedance phones to make more use of power?   Since my 30 ohm cans are quieter than my 50 ohm can, and they have higher sensitivity as well.
 
Sep 9, 2011 at 5:46 AM Post #9 of 15

derbigpr

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Quote:
It could be that the amp has a high output impedance  higher than the fiio's 10ohm.



Yes it has 30 Ohm output impedance.  But what does that mean in terms of its compatibility with phones. I only know that it wont work properly with headphones that have less than 30 ohms.
 
Sep 9, 2011 at 5:58 AM Post #10 of 15

JRG1990

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The spec actually says >30 ohms , which means more than 30ohms which explains why it struggles with low imdepance headphones, theres good information about output imdepence a blogspot i'm not allowed to link to here so i'll pm it to you.
 
Sep 9, 2011 at 6:22 AM Post #11 of 15

derbigpr

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The spec actually says >30 ohms , which means more than 30ohms which explains why it struggles with low imdepance headphones, theres good information about output imdepence a blogspot i'm not allowed to link to here so i'll pm it to you.



 
I took a look at that article, and at the very beginning of it, it seems to describe my problem. However, I now notice that it doesn't actually say that output impedance on Headbox is 30 Ohm, it just says "headphone connection :  >30 Ohms".    Maybe the output impedance is much lower,  maybe they've thought of that "1/8th" rule when writting specs, and the output impedance is actually  less than  1/8th of 30 Ohms.... meh I dont know.... I think I'll simply contact the Pro-Ject info-center in Austria and ask them about what could be the problem.  They probably know best since they made the amp.
wink.gif

 
Sep 9, 2011 at 8:53 AM Post #12 of 15

derbigpr

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Ok, i've contacted Pro-ject via e-mail and they've confirmed that amplifier output impedance is 30 Ohms, and they also confirmed that it doesn't show its full potential with low impedance headphones, instead it works much better with 250+ Ohm headphones.  It was recommended to me to use Headbox II model, the cheaper one, for Sennheiser HD558.
 
Sep 9, 2011 at 9:23 AM Post #13 of 15

Negakinu

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Oh boy... 
 
Try not to force yourself to like the new amp just because it's more expensive than the Fiio E9. To ease your mind and put things in perspective; there have been articles from very respected audio enthousiasts that deem "night and day" audible differences between amps a myth. Some reports even show people unable to distinguish the $100 Fiio E9 from the $1000 Beta22 in a blind test. Please stay true to yourself and your ears and return the amp if the investments doesn't seem worth it to you. That money could go towards a new headphone and a new, higher quality headphone WILL improve your listening experience. 
 
Sep 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM Post #14 of 15

derbigpr

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Quote:
Oh boy... 
 
Try not to force yourself to like the new amp just because it's more expensive than the Fiio E9. To ease your mind and put things in perspective; there have been articles from very respected audio enthousiasts that deem "night and day" audible differences between amps a myth. Some reports even show people unable to distinguish the $100 Fiio E9 from the $1000 Beta22 in a blind test. Please stay true to yourself and your ears and return the amp if the investments doesn't seem worth it to you. That money could go towards a new headphone and a new, higher quality headphone WILL improve your listening experience. 


 
 
I like this amp more than Fiio E9, definitely.  It has a different sound signature that I like more, and after 20 hours of burn in all the harshness is gone, and it now sounds like an amp, its pretty neutral actually. The problem is, it's not loud enough for me, i mean, it is loud enough for listening, but i like to know that i have headroom. Fiio E9 has 10 Ohm output impedance,  Headbox SEII has 30 Ohm.
 
The article that JRG1990 sent me describes my problem exactly. 
 
"The greater the output impedance the greater the voltage drop with lower impedance loads. This drop can be large enough to prevent driving low impedance headphones to sufficiently loud levels. A real world example is the Behringer UCA202 with a 50 ohm output impedance. It struggles with many 16 - 32 ohm headphones ".
 
This is exactly what happens with my headphones.  I have some old headphones with 32 ohms, much cheaper than HD558, and they are even quieter on high volumes.
 
It says this amp is meant for audiphile grade headphones (what they mean is high impedance headphones) on their website and the man from Pro-ject who answered my email said it as well;  this amp is NOT good for low impedance headphones, and that I should have chosen their less expensive model.  However, he said that this amplifier shows its real potential with cans that have more than 250 Ohms.
 
I'm buying Beyerdynamic DT880 or Sennheiser HD650 soon anyway (which is one of the reasons why i decided to buy a new amp in the first place, i wanted something more powerful than E9 with 2 outputs), so I'll keep the amp until then, to see how it works with new cans.  If I wont like it then, I'll send it back. I have 1 month of time to do that, so...
 
 
 
 

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