Recommended components to drive a pair of Grado PS500e
Aug 15, 2015 at 8:58 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 15


New Head-Fier
Aug 15, 2015
Hi, I recently purchased a Grado PS500e, with the intention of afterwards buying a CD player/DAC/Amplifier to do these headphones justice. I'd appreciate your recommendations as to components/models to buy.
   >>> For now I'm just interested in home use and, at least until I get a laptop, a dedicated CD player.
   >>> I'm guessing that I'd need a CD player -> DAC -> headphone amplifier would be the way to go. Another thread recommended a Schiit DAC and amp. If so, what would be a suitable CD player to connect to the DAC.
   >>> I might also want to use the DAC/Amp with iTunes via iPhone. (Note: I recently purchased a Teac HA-P50-B Portable Headphone Amplifier for this purpose, but I sent it back to Amazon, since it did not improve the sound for me over just plugging the Grados directly into the iPhone.)
Thanks in advance!
Aug 16, 2015 at 8:54 AM Post #3 of 15
Another idea for a CD player is to go used - there's *lots* of great old components out there, many of them can be had for a song too as people seem not to want CD players these days.

As far as driving Grados - I've not had PS500e, but have had many Grados over the years - IME I'd largely agree with KG Jag that they don't need a fancy dedicated amp. If you end up with hardware that lacks a headphone jack though, something like the Musical Fidelity V-CAN or FiiO E9 are both perfectly capable choices. Again I wouldn't expect any gigantic "night and day" difference to jump out at you, so I'd probably only go this way if you need a headphone output. A decent CD player should have a headphone jack (with volume control) on the front, and IME those have worked swimmingly with Grados.
Aug 22, 2015 at 12:16 PM Post #4 of 15
KB and Obobskivich-
Thanks for the tips.
I guess my first question should be: Can I expect better sound from a CD player, with either an internal or external DAC/Amp, than I can get from simply burning a CD to iTunes and loading it on my iPhone. The ps500e already sounds pretty good with the basic iPhone setup, but I can't help but think these don't do complete justice to the headphones.
As mentioned, I found that that the portable TEAC DAC/AMP did nothing (for my ears) to improve the iPhone sound. So I'm thinking that if there's a bottleneck, it would be in the the compression that the iPhone uses for music. (Although I understand the iPhones compression protocol is nearly lossless.)
Thanks again!
Aug 22, 2015 at 4:30 PM Post #5 of 15
Depending on the contents of the CD and how you rip it, it may be an improvement to play the CD back yes. Basically, if you're going from a retail mastered CD (which is 1411k PCM, essentially lossless audio) and ripping it to 128k to put it on your phone, then yes the CD will be better. If you're already ripping in high bitrate (256k or higher) or lossless (e.g. ALAC) there won't be much difference in terms of the content, so then you'd only be comparing the performance of the D/A and headphone output section of the iPhone vs the CD player.
Aug 22, 2015 at 4:54 PM Post #6 of 15
Obobskivich, Thx for your reply again. I'm afraid I don't know much about bit rates and such, but this is for sure:
1) I put retailed-mastered CDs in PC, then import it in to iTunes, using default settings.
2) I add it to my a playlist.
3) Transfer to my iPhone.
The correct approach in my investigation is of course to take the iPhone, and CD or 2 (that I've also loaded onto the iphone via iTunes), to a hi-fi shop, start the same song playing on CD player and the iphone, then switch the earphones in between them to compare the sound.
Aug 22, 2015 at 5:11 PM Post #7 of 15
I have no idea what iTunes' default settings are - if it's anything like Windows Media Player or other players it's probably something like 256k mp3 (except Apple doesn't use mp3, they use AAC) which is decent enough for much material. Easiest test would be to re-rip something yourself in ALAC and compare to what you already have. You likely won't want to use the big lossless ALAC files on your mobile device (they eat up a lot of space) but for at-home listening (or somewhere else where storage isn't much of a concern) it makes sense imho.
Aug 22, 2015 at 7:25 PM Post #8 of 15
Grados don't like most amps, because the market these days are trying to get to the lowest output impedance.  Grados don't respond well to that.  They're already over-damped.  It's why a lot of people recommend a tube amp for Grados.  Most don't realize it and think that it has something to do with the tubes, but it doesn't.  It's because many tube amps have an inherently higher output impedance  That said, they still like a lot of current, so OTL's are not the best either.  A true, output transformer-coupled amplifier seems to do best.  As for commercial amps - unless you want something a bit more esoteric, DIY, or summit-fi - the Mapletree amps are a great fit for Grados.
The PS-500 will do better than most Grados with sources/amps, because it's a bit mellow, anyway.  For some of the hotter Grados, it can make an enormous difference to follow the strategy in the paragraph above.
Aug 22, 2015 at 8:56 PM Post #9 of 15
Thanks tomb. I didn't know enough to even consider a tube amp. Zoinks, but the Maple Trees are expensive! Will something more mainstream do, such as the well rated (on Amazon) Bravo Audio V2 Class A ($76 on Amazon), or perhaps another slighlly more expensive model that has DAC also to bypass analog from the cd player.?
(This could be a wild goose chase anyway, since per your last sentence and other's comments, it can be hard to improve on the ps-500e sound.)
Aug 22, 2015 at 9:04 PM Post #10 of 15
Also tomb, I see in some sites, like this one:
a recommendation that output ohms should be as a rule ", it’s only necessary to keep the output impedance less than 1/8th the headphone impedance", which for the 32 ohm ps-500e would mean approx a 4 amp output. What's your view on this? (Or perhaps 4 amp is considered high for output, for all I know.)
Thx again.
Aug 22, 2015 at 9:18 PM Post #11 of 15
I wouldn't take anything that nwavguy says as gospel.*  He's as wrong as often as he's right.  Further, I would doubt seriously that he ever heard a Grado, but that's just my personal opinion.  Anyway, I think Grados do well with much higher output impedances than the 4 ohms you suggest.  As for the expense of the amp - yeah, it's a lot, but then you spent $600 on the headphones, didn't you?  Don't you think they deserve a commensurate investment in amplification and source?
I'm not trying to come down on you, but I get a bit frustrated around here when people spend big bucks on a pair of headphones and then try to power them with the latest FiiO or smartphone and wonder why they think they're missing something.  By all means, continue reading, invest in some lower-cost amps that you can re-sell, etc.  Meanwhile, if you find that you enjoy the headphones, you should make yourself a goal and shoot for it.  IMHO, the PS-500's can be an end-game with the right amplifier and source.*
* No, I don't think the O2 and ODAC are an endgame, anymore than a FiiO, Vali or Magni, either. 
Aug 23, 2015 at 9:17 AM Post #13 of 15
To add onto what Tomb is saying (and indirectly plug a less expensive product (vs a high-end OTL or similar) with higher output impedance), I really like my TEAC D/A (UD-H01) with my RS-1 (and many other headphones too). It follows the IEC spec for 120 ohm output impedance ( measured it at 114ohm), and is based on an NJRC opamp that isn't too dissimilar from what Grado puts in the RA-1 (I forget the exact model #s but they're from the same family (I know this because I have pulled up the datasheets in the past) - the one Grado chooses has higher current output but also higher noise and lower slew rate, the one TEAC chooses is lower current but lower THD and higher slew rate, and before any concerns about "lower power" - the TEAC outputs around 60 mW/ch (which is more than enough for Grados and many other sensitive headphones), while the RA-1 outputs around 350 mW/ch). I have no idea (as in, no way to measure/test/etc) as far as Tomb's hypothesis on higher output impedance + Grados (and I have no idea what the RA-1 measures like - never seen it measured before), but I'm not complaining about the TEAC. OTOH, my soundcard's built in TPA6120 does a fine job too - but that's also not amazingly low Z either (its something like 40 or 50 ohms iirc) come to think of it.

AFAIK neither of the amps I mentioned above have especially low Z-out either - I know the FiiO uses the same TPA6120 as my soundcard, and I think the V-CAN is something like 10 or 12 ohms (I've never really had an issue with V-CAN (the FiiO I got had a noisy and mismatched pot and the overall build was a little lacking imho (still not a bad amp for $90); the V-CAN has none of those problems) but I've always found it somewhat forward (and that's with all cans, not just Grado)).

I agree with the criticism of the "rule of 8" (or whatever you want to call it) as a hard and fast rule of thumb. Here's a somewhat old article on it (written by Floyd Toole): (comes from here: And another that was published on InnerFidelity (written by Dr Jan Meier, with comments from Tyll) that deals more specifically with headphones: GoldenEars has also tackled this issue: (deals much more with IEMs)

tl;dr: it's a more complex issue than "lower is better" or "higher is better" - the headphones and listener involved in the equation also matter. My advice would be to try an amp with a high z-out and see how you feel about it. Most likely your iPhone will have pretty low z-out, so as long as it has sufficient power (I don't know all that much about what's inside of an iPhone so for all I know it's also underpowered) it should be a good example of low z-out. For high z-out just try to find an old receiver or amplifier with a headphone jack - usually the z-out will be a few hundred ohms. Would be a very dramatic and quick test/demonstration of "the big idea." :)
Sep 16, 2015 at 12:59 AM Post #15 of 15
I find that my PS500e's sound better out of my headroom home than out of my htc m8's headphone jack (which is actually a rather decent headphone jack) 

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