Thought it might be nice to start a headphone amp thread. Lots of knowledge and experience out there I am sure.
I have been investing a bit of cash in a headphone system in the last year. I’ve really been enjoying headphones for the first time in my 35 year HiFi journey.
I thought I’d post here my experience with 3 (well 4 sort of) headphone amps alongside my Quad ERA-1 headphones and a ShawCan headphone cable (a worthwhile upgrade incidentally). All using the same source files and the three amps are used via the NDS/252 . I’m a fairly un-analytical HiFi user so forgive the following for being a bit vague.
UnitiQute headphone output in my office system. Just to provide a baseline if not a direct comparison with what follows. OK all round performance. Bit unexciting. Soundstage slightly constrained but quite natural with female voices and acoustic music for example. Smooth.
Arcam rHead. First one I bought alongside the 'phones. Ridiculously good value for what it does. Generally sounds a bit warm and, compared to what comes later it is a bit lacking detail but it was thoroughly enjoyable. Highs a bit constrained, bass just a bit blurry. Nice dynamics without fatigue. Better than the Qute all round.
Trilogy 931. A bit more invested and a window on the music definitely opened. Much more detail and soundstage and a pacy and lively sound. Takes ages to warm up if you are going to audition it incidentally. Much better definition than the rHead, perhaps especially at the treble end. BUT. The longer I had it the less I seemed to enjoy it. It was interesting rather than enjoyable. Took me ages to put my finger on it but to my ears a bit technical, maybe a bit ‘digital’? Made me curious to upgrade.
Trilogy 933 Taken a while to decide what it does as not out-of-the-box amazing. Very clean, very natural. Has lovely sweet and clear trebles and that little bit of magic with voices due to the transparency I think. Reminds me a bit of my old CDS3 with that almost effortless presentation (praise indeed). Possible smoother than the 931 (or just better balanced?) and less pacy but I actually preferred this. Soundstage is opened up further and it manages to present complex or fast music in a wonderfully balanced and enjoyable way. Some may want a bit more dynamics perhaps depending on the music you like or the style of your 'phones. After a good warm up and some back to back testing this is clearly the keeper for me.
I hope this is interesting to some; I realise all very dependent on your own headphones. The Trilogy 931 was interesting. I think for many it might hit the spot as it is pretty impressive and at £900 vs £2700 the 933 may not be worth the extra to some ears. For me though the 933 is pretty classy and indeed the Quad 'phones have proved to be a really good buy too.