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What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Hi all,

I have 4 pairs of cans. All Beyer Dynamic because I love the sound. I have DT770, DT990, DT1770 and DT1990. The latter 2 being my main music listening pairs.

I usually use them when sat at my PC, which has a USB Soundblaster X7 DAC/HP Amp. It sounds fantastic and has plenty of power. When at the office i also use a FiiO E10K plugged into my macbook, also sounds good.

I am looking for something to sit in my living room next to my Denon AVR-X3300W. I listen to CD's, Vinyl and streaming FLAC via the Denon, but usually through speakers. I am looking for a headphone amp that I can run with a pair of RCA in's from the pre out of the Denon.

Theres so much stuff out there I am lost.... The Beyer Dynamic A20 looks really nice, but is nearly £400. Can anyone make recommendations?

It MUST be analogue input.

Tom

  • dhromed
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #1
Why not use the heaphones jack on your denon?

  • DVDdoug
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #2
That's what I was wondering...   What's wrong with the headphone output? 

Quote
but is nearly £400.
Yeah...   For that price you can get an AVR or a 500W power amp.   Even  £250 is a lot.    You're not paying for the "electronics"...  You're paying for the power supply, case & packaging, low-volume manufacturing & distribution, etc.   And, maybe you're paying a little for "prestige".

Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #3
Theres so much stuff out there I am lost....
I had been in the same impression that you are - until I found out that, most of what is said of headphone amps on headphone communities is just an utter truckload of subjectivism and hot air.

That's when, thanks mostly to Hydrogen Audio, I realised (as I'd initially suspected) an amp's main function is enabling you to pump up the volume with the least distortion possible, period.

Apart from that, most of their sang about voodoo, with each "revolutionary" new model boils down to changing the sound of whatever you're listening to through them - which many a golden-earred reviewer at said communities is usually more than keen to shout about.
Listen to the music, not the media.

  • finphil
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #4

...thanks mostly to Hydrogen Audio, I realised (as I'd initially suspected) an amp's main function is enabling you to pump up the volume with the least distortion possible, period....


Ditto. At the moment I am using DT770 250 ohm plugged into my laptop without any issue.

Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #5
I've got an old-but faithful pair of Sennheiser HD580 which has seen, for the longest part of its life span, the same sort of use (PCs' line-outs) with no SQ issues that a simple EQ'ing + crossfeeding wouldn't resolve.
  • Last Edit: 09 November, 2017, 07:07:39 AM by includemeout
Listen to the music, not the media.

  • Fairy
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #6
I'm quite fond of my FiiO E17k. Works fine.

Edit:

Wait, via the pre-out??
Make sure your pre-out works when the speakers are set to off....
Why would you use an amp if you already have the Denon?

I use my E17k as a DAC and headphone amp. I could theoretically run from the Pre-out if it is line level, but why the heck would you want to use a separate device when your amp is already in the signal path? Is the Denon that bad?
  • Last Edit: 09 November, 2017, 09:59:08 AM by Fairy

Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #7
My only reason for considering a headphone amp rather than the Denon's built in output is due to nothing except reading that dedicated headphone amps being better at driving 250Ohm+ cans.

Nothings wrong with the Denon's headphones out. So based on the reaction from you guys as to why I am not using it... It guess I should stick to it then :-)

And RE the Pre Out, I was planning on using my Zone2 Pre outs and disconnecting my zone2 speakers which I never use.

But I think i'll give the Denon's built in output a chance.

  • saratoga
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #8
My only reason for considering a headphone amp rather than the Denon's built in output is due to nothing except reading that dedicated headphone amps being better at driving 250Ohm+ cans.

You have that backwards generally.  Dedicated amps are better at driving low impedance headphones.  High impedance is a small load, and therefore easier to drive.  Try it and see if you get enough volume out.  If you do, then probably what you're using is as good as anything else.

  • eric.w
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #9
AVR headphone outs can be 470 ohm resistors connected to the speaker outputs, so it's reasonable to be suspicious of them.
See this thread from 2015: https://hydrogenaud.io/index.php/topic,109603.msg902696.html#msg902696

There are a few things you can do:
- check the manufacturer's documentation for info on the headphone output
- measure the output impedance
- listen for hiss or frequency response changes compared to other headphone jacks

My early-2000's Denon AVR has noticeable hiss through my Sennheiser HD-600 headphones, which is ridiculous considering they are low sensitivity headphones, so I am guessing it uses the 470-ohm resistor method. If it is a 470-ohm resistor, then it also messes up the frequency response of my headphones (lots of bass boost in my case.) It could be your Denon has a proper headphone amplifier that won't have these issues.

Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #10
My only reason for considering a headphone amp rather than the Denon's built in output is due to nothing except reading that dedicated headphone amps being better at driving 250Ohm+ cans.
You have that backwards generally.  Dedicated amps are better at driving low impedance headphones.  High impedance is a small load, and therefore easier to drive.  Try it and see if you get enough volume out.  If you do, then probably what you're using is as good as anything else.

Erm... Lower resistance value for example 32ohm in ears would be far easier to drive than 250Ohm cans. I am pretty sure this is what every piece of information out there says? So logically if I plugged 32 ohm DT990's into ANY amp, lets say at volume 50%, they will be louder than the same DT990's in 250Ohm?

  • greynol
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #11
...and you get to be quite wrong.

P=V*I, I=V/R

You're also confusing sensitivity with impedance.

The issue at play (an AVR that simply uses resistors to derive a headphone out vs. a headphone amplifier with low output impedance) that is being overlooked is the frequency response.
  • Last Edit: 10 November, 2017, 10:37:40 AM by greynol
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

  • saratoga
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #12
My only reason for considering a headphone amp rather than the Denon's built in output is due to nothing except reading that dedicated headphone amps being better at driving 250Ohm+ cans.
You have that backwards generally.  Dedicated amps are better at driving low impedance headphones.  High impedance is a small load, and therefore easier to drive.  Try it and see if you get enough volume out.  If you do, then probably what you're using is as good as anything else.

Erm... Lower resistance value for example 32ohm in ears would be far easier to drive than 250Ohm cans. I am pretty sure this is what every piece of information out there says?

Definitely not every piece of information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones#Impedance

This is due to ohm's law.  As you increase impedance, less current is drawn, and therefore less strain is put on the amp.  A good amp may be needed for very low impedance headphones, but may make very little difference for higher impedance headphones because they will not present a large enough load to really test the source.

So logically if I plugged 32 ohm DT990's into ANY amp, lets say at volume 50%, they will be louder than the same DT990's in 250Ohm?

Loudness is determined by sensitivity, not impedance:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones#Sensitivity

At equal sensitivity, all headphones are equally loud.   Usually though lower impedance (larger load) will have higher sensitivity (more power out per voltage in). 

By the way, if you're at the point as an enthusiast where you're thinking about buying amplifiers, that entire wiki page is worth reading.  It explains quite you should know. 

Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #13
My only reason for considering a headphone amp rather than the Denon's built in output is due to nothing except reading that dedicated headphone amps being better at driving 250Ohm+ cans.
You have that backwards generally.  Dedicated amps are better at driving low impedance headphones.  High impedance is a small load, and therefore easier to drive.  Try it and see if you get enough volume out.  If you do, then probably what you're using is as good as anything else.

Erm... Lower resistance value for example 32ohm in ears would be far easier to drive than 250Ohm cans. I am pretty sure this is what every piece of information out there says?

Definitely not every piece of information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones#Impedance

This is due to ohm's law.  As you increase impedance, less current is drawn, and therefore less strain is put on the amp.  A good amp may be needed for very low impedance headphones, but may make very little difference for higher impedance headphones because they will not present a large enough load to really test the source.

So logically if I plugged 32 ohm DT990's into ANY amp, lets say at volume 50%, they will be louder than the same DT990's in 250Ohm?

Loudness is determined by sensitivity, not impedance:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headphones#Sensitivity

At equal sensitivity, all headphones are equally loud.   Usually though lower impedance (larger load) will have higher sensitivity (more power out per voltage in). 

By the way, if you're at the point as an enthusiast where you're thinking about buying amplifiers, that entire wiki page is worth reading.  It explains quite you should know. 

Wow, thanks. Learn new things every day! I am still wondering why a 32ohm set of cans can be driven to good volume levels from say a mobile phone headphone port, when supposedly, 600ohm cans will not?
  • Last Edit: 11 November, 2017, 06:27:55 AM by tomstephens89

Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #14
...and you get to be quite wrong.

P=V*I, I=V/R

You're also confusing sensitivity with impedance.

The issue at play (an AVR that simply uses resistors to derive a headphone out vs. a headphone amplifier with low output impedance) that is being overlooked is the frequency response.

A certain proportion of AVRs have active headphone jack buffers. But that does not necessarily solve the source impedance problem, as many of them have isolating resistors of up to 50 ohms in series with the jack. Particularly if you have low impedance headphones, critical listeners will want to add a headphone amp.  My choice is a Topping NX-1.

  • greynol
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #15
Wow, thanks. Learn new things every day! I am still wondering why a 32ohm set of cans can be driven to good volume levels from say a mobile phone headphone port, when supposedly, 600ohm cans will not?
Not enough voltage.  It also falls out of the equations I provided earlier.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

  • skamp
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #16
Wow, thanks. Learn new things every day! I am still wondering why a 32ohm set of cans can be driven to good volume levels from say a mobile phone headphone port, when supposedly, 600ohm cans will not?
Not enough voltage.  It also falls out of the equations I provided earlier.

Indeed. For the purpose of understanding what's going on, let's simplify things by considering that impedance is pretty much the same as resistance and that we're working with fixed sensitivity (how loud headphones get for a given amount of power).

I = V ÷ R, which means that as R increases (the impedance of the headphones), with a fixed voltage V, the amount of current I decreases.

P = V × I, so as the current I decreases, with a fixed voltage V, the amount of power P decreases too. So, in order to compensate for the loss of power (which translates into volume or loudness), the voltage V needs to be increased.
  • Last Edit: 13 November, 2017, 02:43:35 AM by skamp

  • jjb70
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #17
Hello, this is my first post here so I'll introduce myself by saying I love music, am a marine engineer by profession and that my knowledge of electricity is more power electrics and industrial control systems than audio gear but I understand the basics. I discovered this forum via the nwavguy blog which I found a breath of fresh air for its objectivity and healthy scepticism at some of the florid language and snake oil of some hi-fi magazines but I should add that I do have a foot in the camp of just using ears to decide whether you like something.
This subject is pertinent to my own circumstances. I have had a pair of very old Sennheiser HD580 Ovation II headphones which have served me well for something like 20 years which I use via the headphone jack on an old Arcam Alpha amp, my lap top and my Sony XPeria XZ Premium smart phone. After a couple of decades of faithful service I've decided to change my system, including headphones. I'm thinking whether of not I should buy a headphone amp or not. I use headphones more than speakers so I am willing to spend a bit (within reason) but to be honest I'm really struggling to discern a meaningful difference between headphone jacks on integrated amps and dedicated standalone headphone amplifiers. I've already bought a pair of Sony MDR Z7 headphones, I'm no audiophile so can't offer chapter and verse on why I like them other than to say they just sounded better than any other models I tried to my ears, they are superbly comfortable (again very subjective) and felt beautifully built from nice materials. So far I'm finding they work well enough directly with my lap top and smart phone and as I say so far I'm really struggling to find any reason not to just buy an integrated amp with a headphone jack.
Am I missing something or am I just tone deaf? Headphones, yes I noticed huge differences and did find models I much preferred but when it comes to amps (and DACs) I really struggle.

  • DVDdoug
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #18
Quote
So far I'm finding they work well enough directly with my lap top and smart phone and as I say so far I'm really struggling to find any reason not to just buy an integrated amp with a headphone jack.
If you don't have a problem you don't need a separate headphone amp.  

If you feel like you're hearing different frequency response on different systems (at the same volume), that's a clue that you may have an "impedance issue" and a headphone amp should help.   It seems "typical" for headphones to have an impedance bump in the mid-bass range and that will make a bump in frequency response if the amplifier impedance is too high.   (I didn't find an impedance curve for your headphones on Headphone.com.)

But...   Let's say there is an impedance related mid-bass bump (or something else) and you like they way they sound, you may not like the way they sound with a lower impedance amp.

Quote
to just buy an integrated amp
It's usually more economical to buy a receiver.   Receivers & Home theater receivers (AKA AVRs= Audio Video Receivers) are mass-produced, mass-distributed, and sold at competitive prices, whereas integrated amps, preamps, and power amps are specialty items.     And with an AVR you get digital inputs and "digital features".    (You may not get Aux/Tape outputs on an AVR and if you're still playing records, phono inputs are extremely rare...   I don't know if phono inputs are still standard on integrated amps.)


  • jjb70
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Re: What Headphone Amp sub £250?
Reply #19
Quote
So far I'm finding they work well enough directly with my lap top and smart phone and as I say so far I'm really struggling to find any reason not to just buy an integrated amp with a headphone jack.
If you don't have a problem you don't need a separate headphone amp.  

If you feel like you're hearing different frequency response on different systems (at the same volume), that's a clue that you may have an "impedance issue" and a headphone amp should help.   It seems "typical" for headphones to have an impedance bump in the mid-bass range and that will make a bump in frequency response if the amplifier impedance is too high.   (I didn't find an impedance curve for your headphones on Headphone.com.)

But...   Let's say there is an impedance related mid-bass bump (or something else) and you like they way they sound, you may not like the way they sound with a lower impedance amp.

Quote
to just buy an integrated amp
It's usually more economical to buy a receiver.   Receivers & Home theater receivers (AKA AVRs= Audio Video Receivers) are mass-produced, mass-distributed, and sold at competitive prices, whereas integrated amps, preamps, and power amps are specialty items.     And with an AVR you get digital inputs and "digital features".    (You may not get Aux/Tape outputs on an AVR and if you're still playing records, phono inputs are extremely rare...   I don't know if phono inputs are still standard on integrated amps.)



Thanks for the advice! I think I'm a traditionalist in some ways, not so much out of conservatism but when I bought my last system I applied a buy once, buy right approach with the intention of keeping it for the long term so I'm not really up to speed on the equipment side. To be honest, there isn't really anything wrong with my old system but I decided after 20 years it owed me nothing and these days I listen more and more to digital files on my lap top or smart phone so want a digital amplifier (or a CD player with connectivity, yes I do listen to my old CDs sometimes so still want a CD player). I'll look at receivers, I've been looking at amplifiers with digital inputs.