To AMP or Not to AMP - Driving Headphones in the $150-$300 Range
Nov 4, 2014 at 3:11 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 30

jmorgan127

New Head-Fier
Joined
Jul 8, 2011
Posts
12
Likes
10
So, I have a question for the group. Sorry, might be a bit of a newbie question and a bit long, but I would appreciate your collective wisdom.
 
I am somewhat of a budding audiophile and my “at work” headphones have finally give way allowing me to upgrade. My situation is fairly typical – cube desk, Apple Air laptop, Apple 5s, iPad Air (yep all apple, not a fan boy just the way it turned out) … AND … coworkers 3 feet from me on each side. So, I spent most of a Sat auditioning the usual suspects in the 150-400 range (list below). A big range but I am willing to pay for a better set if the difference is clear.
 
Starting with the limitation that my iPhone would be the source (worst case) and that they cans had to be closed back, I went through the standard – too bass heavy, too bass light …. Well balanced but getting expensive. At the end of the day, I was quiet fatigued but had just enough energy to put my home headphones (Shure 940’s) through the same test on the iPhone…. And my first reaction was… wow, they sound boring. Not bad, just didn’t seem to have the level of engagement that I remembered and was coming to expect after hearing others in the $300 level.
 
Frustrated, and a little scared, I unplugged them from my iPhone and into my older Myryad integrated amp…. AND …. POW!!! They came to life, not just good but better than everything I remember hearing through the day… Not louder (adjusted to same listening level), but clearer, more engaging, better balanced (at least for my ears). I loved them…. AND guess what…. The iPhone was still the original sources (iPhone to integrate to headphones).
 
So now I am totally lost. I expected an AMP to better drive high ohm cans and make all headphone a little better, but did not expect that much of a change … from good to great… from clear to alive…
 
After all of that, the questions to you all are…
 
1) Did I just find a perfect marriage between AMP and cans or would any decent headphone AMP have the same effect. Yes some would be better pairings than others, but generally what level of performance can be expected by adding an AMP.
 
2) Will a $150-$200 set of cans (say Shure 840 or ATm50s) with a $100 – $150 dollar desktop headphone AMP out perform a $300 set of cans (sennheiser momentums, Shure 940, NAD Viso HP 50, B&W p5, etc.)
 
3) Is it worth buying a set of $300 headphones if I can only drive from my iphone or laptop (yes it is a matter of opinion but I am asking for opinions)
 
All thoughts welcome...Thanks
 
Jeff
 
-----------
 
(Music types – I go all over the map from alternative to techno, to reggae / dancehall to bluegrass, only things I avoid are country and jazz. I do like my bass but I can not stand sloppy or overly aggressive bass.)
 
(Usual Suspects tested driven from an iPhone in my personal ranking – price ignored) PSB m4u2 (amplification turned off), NAD Viso HP50,  B&W P5,  Sennheiser Momenton, Shure 940, PSB m4u1, M1000, B&O 6 somethings, AT m50x, Shure 840 (Some others I cant remember)
 
Nov 4, 2014 at 3:41 PM Post #2 of 30

Mink

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 7, 2007
Posts
1,396
Likes
877
Location
Netherlands
1. It depends on the type of headphones. Low impedance phones generally don't depend on a dedicated amp, because they need very little power. As an audio sceptic and having tried numerous amps myself I never experienced (real) differences, in musical audio sonics that is, hum and static noise I did hear in some amps with my Audio Technia A900Xs and Roland RH300s, because they are very sensitive.
 
2. In my opinion no. Headhones just like speakers have much more influence on the quality of sound than an amp or CD player.
 
3. In my opinion yes. I listen to my Denon D5000s on a daily basis over the headphones out of my Marantz PM7200 amp, this built-in headphones amp is very basic.
 
Nov 5, 2014 at 12:20 PM Post #4 of 30

Mink

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Oct 7, 2007
Posts
1,396
Likes
877
Location
Netherlands
Anything below 100 ohms?
But sensitivity plays a role as well, although i'll admit that I don't really understand it all...
My headphones listed below do not benefit from a dedicated amplifier, just my opinion and hearing of course :)
The Rolands are the easiest to drive, which is rather confusing, because their impedance is higher and their sensitivity lower than Denon's, which are the hardest (but still very easy) to drive.
 
Denon D5000
Impedance 25 ohms
Sensitivity 105 db
 
Audio Technica ATH A900X
Impedance 42 ohms
Sensitivity 100 db
 
Roland RH300
Impedance 60 ohms
Sensitivity 101 db
 
Don't take my word for it, wait for others to respond, they most likely won't agree with me :)
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 2:39 AM Post #5 of 30

Nada190

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Apr 6, 2014
Posts
176
Likes
22
My KEF M200 benefits from a amp and it's a 16 ohm IEM. Plugging them into my Schiit Asgard 2 vs my phone is quite a noticeable difference with the EXTRA power.
 
So I would think anything would benefit to some degree from a amp, don't forget the DAC too. 
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 2:47 AM Post #6 of 30

Mshenay

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Mar 30, 2012
Posts
15,582
Likes
1,634
  My KEF M200 benefits from a amp and it's a 16 ohm IEM. Plugging them into my Schiit Asgard 2 vs my phone is quite a noticeable difference with the EXTRA power.
 
So I would think anything would benefit to some degree from a amp, don't forget the DAC too. 

It's not the EXTRA power,
 
rather it's the Quality of power, not the Quanity 
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 7:52 AM Post #7 of 30

Koolpep

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
May 18, 2011
Posts
4,110
Likes
2,238
Location
German in Dubai
The way I understand the whole thing is:
 
The Ohm rating is an average. Your headphone might need more ohm and power for certain frequencies of the spectrum depending on the drivers. Hence a nice and powerful amp usually brings out the more rounded sound as the headphone gets the "power/juice" it needs to create all frequencies.
I would like to recommend the JDS Labs C5D to you. It works as a DAC/Amp on the MacBook Air and you can even connect it directly to the iPhone/iPad with the lightning connection kit and use it as a DAC/Amp there too. It will drive headphones up to 250 Ohms perfectly well, tried it with a lot of headphones from ATH-M50x to Beyerdynamic T90 and it really performs quite nicely. Another alternative I can vouch for is the Aune T1 Mk2 if you prefer a desktop setup.
 
But not all headphones benefit form an amp in the same way. There are a few where you won't hear much improvement. General rule of thumb though is: get an amp, be happier.
 
Cheers and enjoy your music,
K
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 1:03 PM Post #8 of 30

Mshenay

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Mar 30, 2012
Posts
15,582
Likes
1,634
  The way I understand the whole thing is:
 
The Ohm rating is an average. Your headphone might need more ohm and power for certain frequencies of the spectrum depending on the drivers. Hence a nice and powerful amp usually brings out the more rounded sound as the headphone gets the "power/juice" it needs to create all frequencies.
I would like to recommend the JDS Labs C5D to you. It works as a DAC/Amp on the MacBook Air and you can even connect it directly to the iPhone/iPad with the lightning connection kit and use it as a DAC/Amp there too. It will drive headphones up to 250 Ohms perfectly well, tried it with a lot of headphones from ATH-M50x to Beyerdynamic T90 and it really performs quite nicely. Another alternative I can vouch for is the Aune T1 Mk2 if you prefer a desktop setup.
 
But not all headphones benefit form an amp in the same way. There are a few where you won't hear much improvement. General rule of thumb though is: get an amp, be happier.
 
Cheers and enjoy your music,
K

No the best way to use an Amp is with a Dac or a Line out, the Line out from either an internal dac of ur mac book or an external dac will feed the amp the cleanest signal.
 
What amps offer is Quanity and Quality of power, both quality and quanity give you a clean sound as a result 
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 2:13 PM Post #9 of 30

Koolpep

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
May 18, 2011
Posts
4,110
Likes
2,238
Location
German in Dubai
No the best way to use an Amp is with a Dac or a Line out, the Line out from either an internal dac of ur mac book or an external dac will feed the amp the cleanest signal.

What amps offer is Quanity and Quality of power, both quality and quanity give you a clean sound as a result 


Since both Amps I recommended are combined DAC/amps they connect to the USB port of the Mac and hence do exactly what you describe. Digital in, clean analog into headphones. And the C5D even uses the iOS digital out so works as a DAC as well. Check the specs of both devices and you will see that what you say is exactly why I recommended to do :wink:

A Mac has no un-amped line out but an optical output in the headphone jack but that would require an optical DAC - so in this case usb is the easier way to get the digital output.

cheers,
K
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 2:40 PM Post #10 of 30
Joined
Jan 30, 2011
Posts
13,315
Likes
24,282
  Frustrated, and a little scared, I unplugged them from my iPhone and into my older Myryad integrated amp…. AND …. POW!!! They came to life, not just good but better than everything I remember hearing through the day… Not louder (adjusted to same listening level), but clearer, more engaging, better balanced (at least for my ears). I loved them…. AND guess what…. The iPhone was still the original sources (iPhone to integrate to headphones).

 
Jeff - genuine question .... how did you level match?  Was it by ear, or did you use an SPL meter?  By ear is not accurate.
 
I owned the SRH940 - and it doesn't (IMO) really improve with amping.
 
Not sure what output impedance is on the headphone out of your Myryad, but a lot of integrated amps tended to be reasonably high (30 ohms or so).  If that's the case, then the ideal damping factor (1:8 rule) would be pairing with a headphone with a reasonably high impedance as well.
 
The SRH940 has an impedance of 42 ohms - so any headphone output from the amp at well above 5 ohms could adjust the frequency response quite a bit.
 
My guess is that it's not the extra power (or cleaner power 
rolleyes.gif
 ) that you're getting - as the 5S has more than enough power (and is a clean source) to run the SRH940.  I'd guess instead that the combo of integrated amp and SRH940 has altered the frequency response enough to sound very different from what you're used to.  Effectively you've applied an EQ without meaning to.
 
Cheaper option - buy the Accudio Pro app for your 5S (and iPad), and EQ your cans the way you want to.
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 2:44 PM Post #11 of 30
Joined
Jan 30, 2011
Posts
13,315
Likes
24,282
  The way I understand the whole thing is:
 
The Ohm rating is an average. Your headphone might need more ohm and power for certain frequencies of the spectrum depending on the drivers. Hence a nice and powerful amp usually brings out the more rounded sound as the headphone gets the "power/juice" it needs to create all frequencies.
I would like to recommend the JDS Labs C5D to you. It works as a DAC/Amp on the MacBook Air and you can even connect it directly to the iPhone/iPad with the lightning connection kit and use it as a DAC/Amp there too. It will drive headphones up to 250 Ohms perfectly well, tried it with a lot of headphones from ATH-M50x to Beyerdynamic T90 and it really performs quite nicely. Another alternative I can vouch for is the Aune T1 Mk2 if you prefer a desktop setup.
 
But not all headphones benefit form an amp in the same way. There are a few where you won't hear much improvement. General rule of thumb though is: get an amp, be happier.
 
Cheers and enjoy your music,
K

 
This is just so wrong.
 
Here > http://www.head-fi.org/t/607282/headphone-amp-impedance-questions-find-the-answers-here
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 3:07 PM Post #12 of 30

Mshenay

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Mar 30, 2012
Posts
15,582
Likes
1,634
   
This is just so wrong.
 
Here > http://www.head-fi.org/t/607282/headphone-amp-impedance-questions-find-the-answers-here

Yea I didn't want to touch that one, thanks Brooko
 
but there are some headphones that change very little with an amp/dac, such as the Logitech UE 6000, the Dido Spider 901 [or what ever that gawd awful thing was] and the AD 900X are a few that I've tried that are "better" with an amp/dac, BUT not "better" enough imo to warrant a purchase 
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 3:10 PM Post #13 of 30

Koolpep

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
May 18, 2011
Posts
4,110
Likes
2,238
Location
German in Dubai


Ok, thanks for correcting me.
Didn't want to misinforming anyone. It was the way I remembered the different impedance in different frequencies. Obviously not correct.

Maybe you can help me understand: headphones have different impedance based on the frequency, so not having a matched amp can lead to distortion or clipping in the specific frequency the amp has the wrong damping factor?

Cheers,
K
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 3:30 PM Post #14 of 30
Joined
Jan 30, 2011
Posts
13,315
Likes
24,282
This might help further:
 
http://www.head-fi.org/a/headphone-impedance
 
Distortion and clipping aren't directly relative to mismatched impedance.
 
This will help on damping :
 
http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/comparison-beyerdynamic-dt-880-32-ohm-dt-880-250-ohm-and-dt-880-600-ohm-headphones
 
This on clipping :
 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipping_(audio)
 
Nov 7, 2014 at 3:35 PM Post #15 of 30
Joined
Jan 30, 2011
Posts
13,315
Likes
24,282
  Yea I didn't want to touch that one, thanks Brooko
 
but there are some headphones that change very little with an amp/dac, such as the Logitech UE 6000, the Dido Spider 901 [or what ever that gawd awful thing was] and the AD 900X are a few that I've tried that are "better" with an amp/dac, BUT not "better" enough imo to warrant a purchase 

Funny - I have the UE6000 here with me now.
 
Impedance 32 ohms
Sensitivity a very healthy 105 dB
 
Drives easily from my iPhone 5S - with plenty of volume room.
 
Tried direct comparison (volume matched of course) with NFB-12 and A200p
 
End result - just my opinion - when level matched, an amp does not help at all.
 
EDIT : reread your post.  Not sure if you are saying the UE6000 does not need amping or it does - your post is not clear ......
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top