Tube Headphone Amps with Preamp Functionality
Oct 20, 2020 at 11:08 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 14

Karlsushi

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Hi.

First post here on Head-fi. Been reading stuff on here for a while without joining, so thought it was about time.

I am looking to get a tube/valve (or hybrid) headphone amplifier that is suitably powerful to properly drive my LCD2s, but which also has proper line level preamp outs for use in my full hifi setup. The other way of looking at this, is that I'm looking for a preamp with a headphone output, but that seems to focus more attention on the preamp, leaving the headphone amp side an afterthought.

No real reason to combine, other than to reduce the box count.

The best option I have found so far is probably the Schiit Mjolnier 2, but they seem to be having a nightmare currently, so no idea when they might be available (especially here in the UK).

The Rogue RP-1 also looks like an option, but I think that may be a case of the latter i.e. preamp with a half-decent headphone amp.

Any other ideas for units likely to be available in the UK up to a price of maybe equivalent to $1200 or so?

Or maybe I should just be looking into a separate headphone amp and preamp!

Thanks in advance.
 
Oct 20, 2020 at 12:04 PM Post #2 of 14

gimmeheadroom

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The problem is that a tubey-sounding amp is probably going to be all tube (OTL) and will not work well with your LCD-2s. A tube hybrid will be a better match for your cans but won't add much if anything as a preamp.
 
Oct 20, 2020 at 1:06 PM Post #4 of 14

gimmeheadroom

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The Aurium is a beauty for sure. I haven't heard it and I didn't like the fact it uses a wallwart PSU at that price point. You could look into Feliks perhaps.
 
Oct 20, 2020 at 2:17 PM Post #5 of 14

m-i-c-k-e-y

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Oct 20, 2020 at 2:54 PM Post #6 of 14

Karlsushi

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Thanks @m-i-c-k-e-y

That looks interesting. Not sure about availability in the UK and always a bit concerned about Chinese products if anything goes wrong, but the unit itself looks like it ticks the right boxes.

Had a look at the Feliks units too, so thanks for that @gimmeheadroom . Hadn't heard of them before. Looks like they might struggle with suitable power for planars, but lovely looking units they are though. Love a bit of wood on my hifi.
 
Oct 20, 2020 at 2:55 PM Post #7 of 14

gimmeheadroom

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Thanks @m-i-c-k-e-y

That looks interesting. Not sure about availability in the UK and always a bit concerned about Chinese products if anything goes wrong, but the unit itself looks like it ticks the right boxes.

Had a look at the Feliks units too, so thanks for that @gimmeheadroom . Any heard of them before. Looks like they might struggle with suitable power for planars though. Lovely looking units they are though. Love a bit of wood on my hifi.
It's a good question and I don't know but there are a couple of huge Feliks threads here. I mentioned them because you're in Europe and because they would probably give some warmth unlike a lot of other tube hybrids. So as I said, just something to look into, it's not for certain.
 
Oct 20, 2020 at 5:30 PM Post #8 of 14

m-i-c-k-e-y

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Thanks @m-i-c-k-e-y

That looks interesting. Not sure about availability in the UK and always a bit concerned about Chinese products if anything goes wrong, but the unit itself looks like it ticks the right boxes.

Little Dot is an old Chinese Brand. There are is a thread in the Head Amp section. And specifically for MK6 (and MK8) for mods. A quick search found it in Amazon.co.uk sold by Shenzen Audio (a legitimate chinese company). Or if you're not against the french, in Audiophonics.fr.

Official info here.

Goodluck on your hunt!
 
Oct 22, 2020 at 12:37 PM Post #9 of 14

kvik

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Many tube headphone amps from this list has pre-out, but only a couple of the entries are actual preamps with headphone output as secondary feature, and within your budget perhaps only one, Transcendence 10 RB from AVA (Audio by Van Alstine) in the US.

It might be worth considering having an amp custom built to your needs, so preamp as primary, with headphone out as secondary. Quite a few manufacturers are one-man-businesses , and will likely offer some degree of customization.

If you expand your search to the whole of EU, there are various options:

Dominance Amps (HDP 600)
Feliks Audio (Espressivo)
UltraSonic Studios (Oblivion customized)
Eufonika (custom preamp)
White Bird Amplification (Firebird/Blazebird customized)
Fezz Audio (Omega Lupi)
Sinus Audio (custom preamp)
Linear Tube Audio (MicroZOTL MZ2) US made with EU dealers
Quad Hifi (PA ONE+)

I am sure there are more, but you can have a look in the thread/list mentioned above.
 
Oct 22, 2020 at 3:12 PM Post #10 of 14

kvik

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Are you sure you need Pre Out rather than Passthrough? The latter would be line level, where the signal from the source just passes through the headphone amp to you hifi setup (integraded amp or pre+power separates). Pre Out would mean the potentiometer on the headphone amp controls the output level, which you might need if you plan to connect the headphone amp to a power amplifier or powered speakers.

If you actually need a number of inputs, and don't have that already in your hifi setup, I could see the need for a pre amp, but if it is just a matter of adding headphone listening to your hifi setup, the Pre Out option doesn't strike me as needed.
 
Oct 22, 2020 at 4:52 PM Post #11 of 14

Karlsushi

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Fair question. Here's the background if you're interested (hopefully this doesn't send this chat down a rabbit hole though!).

The set-up without the head-amp includes a DAC (Chord 2Qute), a passive preamp, a power amp (using an IcePower Class D module) and then some little Spendor speakers. I have been loving the transparency and detail on offer using a passive preamp and thought I'd never need to change anything. In terms of a headphone amp, I was previously just looking for a standalone unit I could, as you say, passthrough to the passive and hey presto.

Of course, this hobby doesn't work like that though. In the mean-time, I have been thinking for a while that I ought to try out some tubes (yes, we all know they're really called valves, but as this is primarily a US site I'll play ball :)). I had never been brave enough to take a punt on a full sized tube pre or power amp, given their not insignificant cost. But then I found out a way to have a play with some tubes, in the form of an old Musical Fidelity tube buffer.

And guess what, it seems that I might quite like what tubes bring to the party.

So to cut a long story short, I am interested in seeing what a proper tube preamp brings to the main system (to compare against the passive pre), whilst also looking to still get a headphone amp, which of course I am now interested in trying out a tube version of too. Thus a passthrough/tape loop on a tube headphone amp isn't going to cut it, because (I assume) this would bypass the tubes and won't give me the benefit of a proper tube preamp in my main system.

Logically, I ought to get a separate head-amp and preamp, but I am quite a minimalist when it comes to hifi and always try and avoid too many boxes if I can, so was wondering if I could reduce the box count and get a neat little box that does both.

So, there you go, a rather long story, but hopefully helps give some background.

As always with hifi, there are so many ways to skin a cat and I acknowledge this may not be the only or best way to do it, but that's what I've got in my head, at least to see what's out there. So many thanks for the suggestions. A load of manufacturers I've never heard of before.
 
Oct 22, 2020 at 5:56 PM Post #12 of 14

kvik

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Thanks for the clarification, that means you only need one input and one output (Pre Out), and with LCD-2 in mind preferably a hybrid or OPT (output transformer) design. My shortlist above still stands, largely, Fezz and Eufonika (on request) make OPT amps, Feliks and Sinus do OTL only I belive. I would also add World Designs (HD3S) to the shortlist (UK based).
 
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Oct 23, 2020 at 5:28 AM Post #13 of 14

Karlsushi

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Thanks again @kvik . Very helpful.

Really like the look of the Feliks, but like you say, perhaps not the best for the LCD2s, which is a shame because they're lovely looking units which seem to be very well reviewed.

The other one I now have my eye on (after a bit of saving up) would be the MicroZOTL MZ2. Some very positive things said about that and some reviews saying it drives planars fine (even though it is effectively an OTL design). I won't get to demo so will need to rely heavily on reviews unfortunately, which is a tough call with so many conflicting views out there. 'Able to drive any headphones' seems to be an annoyingly over-used cliche in reviews and clearly not always accurate.

I'll keep researching.

Thanks again for your help. Really appreciated.
 
Oct 23, 2020 at 7:59 AM Post #14 of 14

techboy

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Project Ember by Garage1217.com is perfect for you. Others have used it with LCD 2 and it has great synergy. It also has a volume controlled pre and is an amp powerful enough for everything including HE6, K1000, AKG K340, etc.

It also costs just shy of 400 bucks. And works really well with both dynamics and planars of all impedances.

It is a hybrid by the way.
 
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