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Old 11-26-2009, 04:20 AM
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Default Is A Proper Headphone Amp Justified With My Headphones?

Something I'm interested in is a proper portable headphone amp. Not to say the E5 isn't a "proper" amp, but you know what I mean. I've been doing some research and it's quite confusing sometimes.

If you browse headfi it might seem you absolutely need one, but those guys are hard-core, many others will say they make little difference, unless your headphones really need one. I don't think any of mine do, so will it really do much to the sound any of my headphones (see signature)?
I hold my hands up to not knowing much about all this technical stuff, but I'm doing my best to learn; all that is really important to me is making the sound quality on my music collection as good as is possible with the funds I have.

If the answer is yes, it would improve things SQ wise, which of the following would you most recommend, or do you have other reccomendations? There always seem to be headphone amps for sale on head-fi classified so if I knew which amps were good I could probably save some money.

iBasso D2
I really like the look of this, especially as it is also a DAC and most of my music collection is on a harddrive. Also has a two position gain switch, like I said I don't know much about this stuff, but does this mean you can increase/decrease the amplification of current so you get less sibilance with phones that need less power? Or am I getting this wrong? Has a rechargeable battery too. All in all this looks like a pretty good option, and am leaning heavily towards it, it's reasonably priced compared to a lot of the amps out there at £170 odd.

Corda Headsix
Limited edition but the Meier site still lists it so I'm guessing he still has some left. This is a much cheaper option at £130 odd and I've heard a lot of good things about it. It doesn't have a dac though. No gain switch either, but it's what you expect for the price. What I don't like is, if I have it right, this doesn't have a built in rechargable battery.

Corda 3 Move
Meiers model with a DAC comes in at pretty much the highest I'd spend - £205 odd. As far as I can see it has no gain switch but it does have "natural crossfeed" which sounds interesting and makes sense when I read the rundown on it. To be honest the lack of a built in rechargable battery is really turning me off the Corda models.

Pico Amp / Headamp AE-2
Both on the same site, both with gain switches (the pico with 2 positions and the headamp with 3 positions), both the same price, both with rechargeable batteries. Which of these is better? Both are at the limit of what I'd spend - £200 odd - are they worth it when the iBasso D2 offers a DAC as well for £30 less? To get the pico with a DAC included is £300! Why the expense and is it worth it?

The other option is the as-yet-unreleased Pico Slim - very appealing in terms of size, battery life and touted suitability for IEMs as well as cans. Something tells me it's going to cost more than the regular Pico though, so that could push it well over budget.

Finally a wildcard option - this guy in London is an electronics engineer and selling his own version of the cmoy on ebay and claims it performs to the same standard as the sort of amps listed above. A sales pitch or does it sound like the guy knows what he's talking about? Just an amp - no DAC. No gain switch or anything like that but it's clearly very well built and put together from the pictures. Basic model is £58, but he offers a choice of three different opamps the best quality being a AD8620 which brings the cost to £71. That's a big saving on the other options if this is any good:
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/portable-headphone-amplifier-CMoy_W0QQitemZ140357234334QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUK_Au dioTVElectronics_HomeAudioHiFi_Amplifiers?hash=ite m20adf16e9e

EDIT: He also sells a dual op amp option which looks pretty tasty: http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/DUAL-AMP-porta...QQcmdZViewItem

£70 with two OPA134
£85 with two AD8610

Opinions?
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Last edited by EddieE; 11-26-2009 at 05:04 AM.
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Old 11-26-2009, 05:52 AM
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I can’t imagine that the Cowon S9 or the D2 need an amp to improve your phones, ohms wise they seem they work great with those two DAP’s, unless you find one of them overly sensitive. You can take a look at a brief post I wrote: “What Can Portable Amps Accomplish,”

- Phonak Audéo PFE Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Grado SR125i Impedance: 32 Ohm
- ATHM50 Impedance: 38 ohms

I did listen to the Corda, RSA, Pico and a few others but ended up buying the Pico, which I’ve owned over a year now and use a lot. I really like the Pico amp, but I agree with you it’s expensive, click here for my thoughts on it.

If you want feed back in a few weeks/months, I’m going to take the plunge on the Pico Slim next ....
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Old 11-26-2009, 06:18 AM
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Thanks WalkGood, that was a very helpful post.

I do want to get a decent portable amp at some point so the option for higher ohm phones is open to me (have HD650 as a long-term ambition) but will hold out for now I think.

Will look forward to hearing your thoughts on the slim.
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Old 11-26-2009, 06:23 AM
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Grados are known to be hard to drive despite their inconspicuous specs, or at least so the story goes.... As for the PFE and AT, they probably won't need an amp paired with a S9 or D2. The PFE are quiet/inefficient phones indeed, but I never felt the need to amp them with those rather powerful Cowon players - they were always loud enough for me. My Corda Headsix or Minibox-E+ did nothing to improve their sound.
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Old 11-26-2009, 06:36 AM
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dfkt,
Interesting about the Grados. I have always felt that they are the ones that I really do notice a difference with/without the E5 - although I've never been sure if that's placebo.

Maybe I'll buy one of the cheap ones I mentioned at the bottom of my post and see what that throws into the mix as it won't break the bank.
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Old 11-26-2009, 06:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dfkt View Post
Grados are known to be hard to drive despite their inconspicuous specs, or at least so the story goes.... As for the PFE and AT, they probably won't need an amp paired with a S9 or D2. The PFE are quiet/inefficient phones indeed, but I never felt the need to amp them with those rather powerful Cowon players - they were always loud enough for me. My Corda Headsix or Minibox-E+ did nothing to improve their sound.
It's been my understanding that the lower-end models, up through EddieE's SR125i at least, don't need any more than a strong DAP or one with a FiiO. If I'd thought the E5 made a difference with my SR60i's, I wouldn't have sold it with my Clip....but my current players both power it just fine without the E5.

Above that, SR225i, SR325i, RS2, RS1 I have read start scaling up with increased power....of course anyone that can afford an RS model or anything higher probably already has a nice desktop amp.
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Old 11-26-2009, 07:07 AM
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I was just echoing the general opinions I gathered... I wouldn't know personally since I hate Grado phones.
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Old 11-26-2009, 07:15 AM
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I was just echoing the general opinions I gathered... I wouldn't know personally since I hate Grado phones.
That would be your personal hell....being stuck with an ipod, itunes, and Grados.
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Old 11-26-2009, 07:20 AM
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Grados certainly seem to be an opinion divider!

I can understand why as they are very aggressive headphones that pound the music right into your ears, so hardly a neutral experience. But personally I find that quite exhilerating.
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Old 11-26-2009, 07:32 AM
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Grados certainly seem to be an opinion divider!

I can understand why as they are very aggressive headphones that pound the music right into your ears, so hardly a neutral experience. But personally I find that quite exhilerating.
I think I have also lost some high-frequency hearing capability over the years, between the years of ear infections as a child, and throughout my 20's I used to blast headphones loud almost every night when I was drunk. So what may be "ear-piercing highs" to some people sounds great to me.
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Old 11-26-2009, 07:38 AM
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I think the ear-piercing-highs thing is way over-stated, that said there is a good possibility I have damaged hearing too (also had ear infections as a child, and have spent a lot of gigs and club nights way too close to the speakers).

The highs are so detailed and crisp they almost glow so it seems understandable that Grado engineered to make them prominent, almost to show them off. Yeah it is a bit overkill and I do EQ them down a little, but when I was in the position to start spending some money on 'phones some of the things I read about them gave me a totally false perception.

When I actually listened to them I was bowled over as they were nothing like I expected them to be.
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Old 11-26-2009, 07:47 AM
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I think the ear-piercing-highs thing is way over-stated, that said there is a good possibility I have damaged hearing too (also had ear infections as a child, and have spent a lot of gigs and club nights way too close to the speakers).

The highs are so detailed and crisp they almost glow so it seems understandable that Grado engineered to make them prominent, almost to show them off. Yeah it is a bit overkill and I do EQ them down a little, but when I was in the position to start spending some money on 'phones some of the things I read about them gave me a totally false perception.

When I actually listened to them I was bowled over as they were nothing like I expected them to be.
When I got mine they were three times the cost of any headphones I had ever bought, and I had never heard them , so I was wondering the whole time I waited for them if I'd made the right call, or wasted money.

Within the first few minutes, I was floored by how great they sounded to me.....grinning wide, bobbing my head to the music, tapping the foot, etc.

Someday I would like to try out a higher-end Grado, but finances are not in my favor right now for that.
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Old 11-26-2009, 08:08 AM
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Thanks WalkGood, that was a very helpful post.

I do want to get a decent portable amp at some point so the option for higher ohm phones is open to me (have HD650 as a long-term ambition) but will hold out for now I think.

Will look forward to hearing your thoughts on the slim.
Out of all the phones I've listened to over the years, I love the HD650’s the best, IMHO they’re tops and you can't go wrong with them. They are not good for portables, so if you do consider them down the road I would also consider a nice desktop amp rather than a portable, as they really need it (300 ohms).

BTW, No offense but I’m no Grado fan either, but I can understand why some people are; your wine is my venom and my wine is yours
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Old 11-26-2009, 10:14 AM
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^ Ah that sort of changes what I was about to post.

Was thinking maybe I'd buy the iBasso D2 anyway for purpose as a DAC (was going to ask if anyone knew how well it held up as one) and to pave the way for a future HD650 purchase (maybe sooner than planned - just had a pay reveiw and I've got a raise!) but if it's not suitable I might have to re-plan that...
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Old 11-26-2009, 10:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EddieE View Post
... Was thinking maybe I'd buy the iBasso D2 anyway for purpose as a DAC (was going to ask if anyone knew how well it held up as one) and to pave the way for a future HD650 purchase (maybe sooner than planned - just had a pay reveiw and I've got a raise!) but if it's not suitable I might have to re-plan that...
I have not tried the iBasso D2 w/DAC but my Pico/DAC drives them just fine from my laptop, so it too may work, although I prefer the sound quality of tubes over it. I drive mine via the Woo Audio 6, but it's not the lowest cost solution, the Darkvoice 336se tube amp for $285, the Little Dot MK III tube amp $155.00 or Maverick Audio headphone amp which comes with a DAC for $199.00 are low cost solutions.
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Old 11-26-2009, 12:42 PM
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The main benefit that I get from having a headphone amp is still the simplicity of having a knob to turn my volume up to down, or to just dial it to the right level ASAP.

I also tend to listen to music at reeaally low levels when I'm lying in bed just naping. The headphone amp allows me to set it to that really really low level thats comfortable to use with IEMs.

I personally hated adjusting to using digital volume controls. Taking one step was always such a big step that at some time you just felt this is too loud and this is too quiet. Of course that was only with really crappy players, doesn't happen all too much in modern day MP3 players, except cell phones. Still the low volume level problem persists with almost every single MP3 player available.

Dacs aren't generally that usefull in my experiance, YMMV. I just dont use a laptop for music listening, prefer my MP3 player, even when I am using a computer. Then if ever you DO want to get a DAC for a computer, just buy it seperate from the AMP.

Finally I personally dont really see any downside to using 9V batteries, get plenty of battery life with one 9v on my 2Move. Aslong as I dont need to power a demanding set of headphones. In any case, I use an AC charger the most to power my AMP.

Overall portable AMPs are pretty superficial to music enjoyment, mine stays at home. I'd say its defineatly the least important part of a good portable audio setup, so I would really consider your option, concerning price and just generally if you need one before getting one Especially since most good headphones these days do not need an AMP.
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Old 11-27-2009, 03:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WalkGood View Post
I have not tried the iBasso D2 w/DAC but my Pico/DAC drives them just fine from my laptop, so it too may work, although I prefer the sound quality of tubes over it. I drive mine via the Woo Audio 6, but it's not the lowest cost solution, the Darkvoice 336se tube amp for $285, the Little Dot MK III tube amp $155.00 or Maverick Audio headphone amp which comes with a DAC for $199.00 are low cost solutions.
Dude! That Woo amp is seriously hard-core looking, fair play! I bet you love guests reactions to it when they come over your house!

But yeah, I don't think I'll be spending anywhere near that amount! Maybe one day...

I actually found a used Little Dot MK III on UK ebay so have put a bid in. All the new ones included massive shipping costs from China.

If I get it for a decent price maybe I can get the HD650 sooner. :-)
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Old 11-27-2009, 06:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EddieE View Post
Dude! That Woo amp is seriously hard-core looking, fair play! I bet you love guests reactions to it when they come over your house!

But yeah, I don't think I'll be spending anywhere near that amount! Maybe one day...

I actually found a used Little Dot MK III on UK ebay so have put a bid in. All the new ones included massive shipping costs from China.

If I get it for a decent price maybe I can get the HD650 sooner. :-)
Nice and good luck on the bid. You might also want to check the head-fi classified ads, there's plenty of members that live around London, you might be able to test before you buy and occasionally there’s some good deals there.
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Old 11-30-2009, 10:07 AM
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Well I didn't end up getting the used Little Dot MKIII; the price got a bit too close to the price it goes for new for my blood, although I did note the seller had upgraded the tubes, which is probably why other bidders were willing to go that high. While it was tempting to push up my bid a bit as it was still well within budget I felt in the end I could research around a lot more before pulling the trigger so soon.

Re. the Neco Soundlabs guy I mentioned in my leading post, I asked him whether any of his amps could do the HD650 justice and he says hist desk tops will do the job fine.

I like the look of this one:

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/high-spec-Mosfet-headphone-amp_W0QQitemZ140361470393QQihZ004QQcategoryZ122650 QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

I like his simplistic and solid design ethic.

I've asked at headfi, so far to no response, but what do people think of this model for HD650 from the stats?

It's a very good price if it does power them well - £88 with a OPA2134 opamp and £100 with an AD8620 opamp. The price would mean I could just about afford to buy the better version and the HD650 right away as an early Christmas present.

I'm quite sold on it, unless someone thinks it won't do them justice???

Thanks.
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Old 12-01-2009, 03:02 AM
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Ah! I've found the Maverick - funny how you can search on ebay's own search bar and find nothing but search on Google and it comes up with an ebay listing!

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Maverick-Audio-Headphone-Amplifier-DAC-Tube-PreAmp_W0QQitemZ330380926642QQcmdZViewItemQQptZOth er_MP3_Player_Accessories?hash=item4cec3cdeb2

This is a brilliant price for an amp and dac! Going to shop around for the rest of the week in case anything better comes up in classified or ebay and get this unless someone else has a better recommendation.
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