Speaker amps for headphones

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by operakid, Feb 1, 2013.
  1. Dorisandjess
    I own a Ressonessence Invicta and a pair of Focal Utopias and am wanting to upgrade the headphone component of this setup. The idea of adding a power amp and utilising the Invicta volume control is really appealing as no redundant pots etc will be introduced into the signal path. I have considered various headphone amps but used power amps seem to represent far better value and are far more readily available, as a result I am wanting to at least explore this avenue before splashing the cash. So, given that waffle could anyone give an opinion of how suitable a Passlabs J2 would be in powering the Utopias. If not alternate suggestions would be great fully received.
  2. Sonic Defender Contributor
    I would think it would be an excellent solution due to the design prowess of the company and isn't the Utopia a very easy to drive headphone? Sadly I have no direct experience, but the quality and stability of the power supplies in an amp as well as the design topology matter quite a bit and simply focusing on the reported power output alone isn't really what I would look for. It would be very interesting if you did go this route and we were able to hear how it worked out for you. Hopefully others will chime in and give you some thoughts.
  3. Dorisandjess
    Thanks for the feedback Sonicdefender, I am going round in circles trying to find the most suitable upgrade path for my setup and and despite my efforts to learn the basics I am ready for someone to hold my hand. I am surprised that you consider the efficiency of the Utopia to be a positive in this scheme, my uninformed assumption was that inefficiency would make for a better match with an overspeced amp. I am not wed to any particular brand or topology, would you have any suggestions for which direction I should be looking? Balanced, dual mono, monoblocks etc. I am aware that I am coming across as somewhat of a contrarian and given my level of knowledge should simply stick with a headphone amp. Buuuuuuuuut I really like the theatre of an oversized equipment
  4. Sonic Defender Contributor
    I'm no expert, but I have powered a wide variety of headphones from a 180watt dual mono designed amp. I even use my 16ohm Onkyo H900M with the speaker tap. I think in this context the mismatch is essentially a non-issue for the amp. Yes the amplifier likes to have more of a load, but they do what they do with typically 8ohm loads so heck even a 16ohm headphone is twice the load. I'm not sure if there would really be much difference as far as the amplifier is concerned between a 16 or a 300ohm headphone, at least audibly different. Perhaps a more knowledgeable member can chime in and give you a different perspective.

    I will recount a little story that I like to share. One day in a coffee shop I overhear two men talking and it quickly becomes obvious they are audio component engineers. I couldn't resist so I introduce myself to them and get talking about all things audio. It turns out one of them had just returned from China where he was responsible for a Bose manufacturing plant. His friend had designed some pretty well known headphone amps that are sold by companies well known here in head-fi and he makes his own power supplies. The point of this story is that when I told them I was beginning to feel that the most important aspect of a good quality amplifier was likely the power supply they both completely agreed and insisted that a poor power supply and power distribution topology would have the most detrimental impact on sound. That isn't to say that it is the only important thing, but I always start there. So take a look at the J2 power supply and distribution, I'll bet it is extremely well done and if so, likely means the amp will be very stable which is very important of course.

    The Utopia from what I read deserves a great amp, but it doesn't necessarily need one. However, if you can afford a nice amp to drive it, why not I say? I haven't heard the J2, but I have to admit, I would be shocked if it wasn't an exceedingly well designed and voiced amp. Hopefully you can try it first?
  5. Dorisandjess
    Thanks again SonicDefender. I hadn't really considered that the amp would struggle with the headphones, I was nervous that the inverse would be risky. I do have the option of setting the start up and maximum volume on the Invicta as an insurance to my buffoonery though I'm sure that a single malt slip up will occur eventually. Is there a source of the formula required to calculate the resistor values mounted to the speaker taps? I am off now to investigate the J2 topology, though I suspect I have a lot more homework to do
  6. Sonic Defender Contributor
    You really don't need to worry unless you think that you are really forgetful. Simply start the volume at zero and then work the gain up until you find your volume. Even if you happen to leave the volume there, at least it is the volume you know is safe with the headphone. My NAD has a digital volume read out and by this time I'm very familiar with what level means what and I have always looked at the volume before hitting play. Sure accidents can happen, but really, they don't need to. I have been using speaker taps with this 180watt amp for I think 4 years now and not a single mishap to this point and at one time I also used to drive speakers with the amp so I did have to be quite careful; although I had the speakers and the speaker tap cable on different output circuits. Really, the headphones will be fine as long as you are careful, which really is easy to do.

    In my case I just decided that I didn't need to have another audio box when there was no reason that my main system amp couldn't also be a headphone amp. The issue was that it didn't have a headphone jack so that was when I began researching options and ended up with the current speaker tap cable and I'm extremely happy that I did go this route. I'm sure to find a head amp that could have any appreciable improvement over my NAD M3 I would have to spend at least $2000 US so really in my mind, why bother?
  7. Dorisandjess
    There seems to be numerous happy He6 owners that have had success with the J2 but I have yet to find any evidence of anyone using a dynamic headphone with this amp. Is the prospect of finding a suitable match easier with planers? SonicDefender, you mentioned that you suspect that improvements could be made with a high end dedicated amp. This gives me pause for thought, I would prefer an elegant setup with no redundancies, but not at the expense of sound quality.

    When it comes to electronics I don't know what I don't know, so I certainly won't be trailblazing any approach here. What's more I certainly can't afford a trial and error methodology to system building. Rather I hoped that a was possible to predict with a high degree of confidence the synergy between components given the specifications of said equipment. Was this a naive assumption, probably, but given that depth of knowledge of Headfi members it seemed prudent to at least ask the question. At worst I reveal myself to be a bit of a buffoon, a situation I am very comfortable so I thought hey what the hell.
  8. Sonic Defender Contributor
    I think you are over-thinking this a little, personally. If the amp is well designed, which many are, it will drive the Utopia very well. Personally, I suspect with any adequate amp, really, in blind listening, you would be hard pressed to hear any differences reliably. I say buy the amp that gives you the most flexibility, you can afford, you like the looks of and with a solid company behind it, such as the J2. That said, frankly the JDS Element or any other number of headamps would drive the Utopia very well, it is reputed to be an easy to drive headphone unless I'm mistaken. You need to understand what you really want. It is okay to want to try something simply for the sake of trying something, as long as you can afford it who are you harming?

    So if you don't need the J2, there are many great options out there, the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label the Jot by Schiit, so many choices will all do a great job so what is it you really want from the amp? Frankly sometimes it is just the look of a piece of gear that really seals the deal, and if the gear is technically up to snuff and you buy it because it also looks awesome, great, more power to you. I rather doubt that the Utopia needs or would really benefit from a speaker tap setup, but I'm speculating here as I have never owned the Utopia. The HE6 is a power hog so that you can make a case for doing well with a beefy amp. Seriously, lots of great gear. I'm sure you hang out in the Utopia thread so just ask around, read posts and pick something that appeals to you, chances are it will sound very good as after all, it is the headphone that makes the most different without a doubt.
  9. Rossliew
    My humble NAD3020 drives my hd600 and T1 beautifully with the T1 sounding more synergistic off the speaker taps .
  10. Sonic Defender Contributor
    I had the 3020 myself, that is the Power Envelope integrated correct? Loved that amp, started me into NAD gear. Really nice sounding and I'll bet from the speaker taps it must be excellent.
  11. Rossliew
    Power Envelope? Not sure about that part but it says Series 20 if I'm not mistaken. Good stuff really. I had the speaker taps modified to accept banana plugs so it made it more convenient to use my pigtail adapters. This could be my end game headamp lol
  12. Sonic Defender Contributor
    My bad, it was the 3040PE I had, great little integrated. Loved it. I then went up for a great set of NAD separates (old school 300watt amp and a fantastic preamp). Then I moved onto Creek and Audiolab and now I'm back with my current NAD rig.
  13. Dorisandjess
    I often get lost in the weeds, thanks for providing alittle perspective
  14. supabayes
    @Dorisandjess, I have not try the J2 but I have had great results with my headphones using the FirstWatt F7 and Passlabs XA25. The Utopia headphone is more sensitive than my other headphones and when paired with XA25, I can hear some background noise from amp power supply. With HE1000 and Abyss Phi, both Nelson Pass amps are dead silent.

    You can read @jelt2359 nice review here.

    He calls them Yin and Yang. I will call them Venus and Mars. My favourite combos are Utopia-F7 (Venus - epitome of headphone ethereality/feminality) and Phi-XA25 (Mars - epitome of headphone masculinity).
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2017
  15. Rossliew
    The review by Jason has piqued my interest in Pass Labs amps. But I have no HE6. And the amp costs a lot of moolah. So I guess vintage amps may be my only saving grace.

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