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.
Wonder how a Headline 2 fed with a Supercap DR using a Powerline would compare? Secondhand probably about £3.5k though.
I found the UQ2 headphobe amp really struggles with 300 Ohm headphones. I had a superb low cost Rega Ear from before but there was no way to hook it up to the UQ2. It did a much better job of driving such headphones.
And yes, a Headline2 with something like a HiCapDR is another beast entirely. I use this on the main system.
Olive Headline, Olive Hicap, Sennheiser 650.
Does me very nicely.
I’m using an Arcam rhead amp with my (heavily modded damping wise) sennheiser hd800 phones
I’m also using an NDS as source ( I have a 252 also …but the phones are connected direct to the NDS analogue out…so 252 not used)
The Rhead is REAL value for money…I have tried it with battery feed and linear power supply …and the standard wall wort is virtually as good! (Nice clean output when checked on my oscilloscope)
A nice upgrade was changing to chord signiture phono cables by the way.
I did try the HUGO as a phono amp for a while but didn’t find it an justified expense to upgrade
I’m only using modest kit, as just started on this journey recently. I dont use my Atom as a) too far away to have a cable over the floor, b) was not that impressed with it for headphones, c) it also used for the TV so would not get the whole sound when my partner watching TV.
As I use Roon it gives me the flexibility to use a lot of alternate sources to use as my streamer and I have a separate dac/amp. I was using an Ifi Nano iDSD BL which was good but just upgraded to Dragonfly Cobalt and it’s a cracking device for the money. I will likely upgrade to a small stack in the future and maybe a streamer but for the time being this suits my needs and I am enjoying it a lot.
•Amp: Burson Audio class A,.their best model.
•Headphones: B & W P9 and P7.
•Powercable: Jorma Design Duality.
•Ethernet-Cable: Audioquest Diamond,.Vodka.
•USB-Cables: Northost Heimdahl2,TotalDac D1, Goldnote…forgotten what model.
•Hifi-rack: Mana Acoustics with Soundbase.
•Floor-protection: Naim Fraim Chips.
•Source: LP12,.and a special-built Mac Mini.
•Switch: Cisco WS-C2960-8TC-L.
•Powersupply: Special-built Linear Power Supply for Mac Mini and Cisco switch.
Hope I have not forgotten anything.
And the sound then.?
Yes very dynamic, musically, toe-tapping with timing and great sense of presence.
I can sit and listen for several hours without any feeling being tired.
Very interesting,.I have Audioquest Black and Red,.both are very good.
Have you listened to the Black or Red,.so you can tell me how much improvement an Audioquest Cobalt is.?
I have the black which is itself cracking but the Cobalt is a few leagues up noticed straight away, tighter bass and more detail, feels more musical, something I found the Mojo lacking in. Can’t say how it improves on the Red but some reviews seem to prefer it. One thing it’s quite a bit smaller than the other two as well and comes with the dragontail usbc cable.
Bruce, I have two setups, one is CDX2 into HL/Scap2 and a PC based chord hugo into Trilogy 933. Both are amazing with HD 650 .
Your Quad’s have interested me since they came out but not heard them, clearly good enough to hear differences in the amps,
Nice wite up, thanks.
Hugo which is mentioned in every thread is not here? Both mojo and Hugo are very good headamps as well not the best but very good
I use mostly a DAP for my headphone listening but still enjoy my Bryston
Many thanks @BruceW for kicking off this thread!!
In a few days’ time I will be getting a pair of Sennheiser HD800s – and I am super-excited… My Hugo 2 will drive these beauties…
But I am also wondering about a non-mobile headphone amp with a bit more muscle (but without in-built DAC).
Does anybody have experience with Lehmann or Violectric? Both companies “collect” lots of good reviews, and apparently the HD800 developer uses Violectric…
There is a good review off it on hifi plus. I’d agree with it for the most other than a way prefer it to the Mojo. Although it’s a close run for him.
HeadLine2 + HiCap DR and Schiit Mjolnir 2 quite a few sets of tubes for a bit of variation on sound and to use balanced cables, used with Audeze LCD-XC, Audeze LCDi4, Sennheiser HD 800S, Meze 99 classic and vintage Yamaha HP-1.
I use HD800’s on my SN2 and they are a delight. My UnitiQute2 wouldn’t drive them enough, but my Nova does, though not as well as the SN2. One of the reasons for going with the SN2 was the class A headphone stage and avoiding more boxes with a Headline and Power Supply.
Has anyone already heard the new Astell & Kern Kann Cube? Seems to be an “in between” sort of product. Tempting, for I listen mostly vinyl with speakers, but the Kann Cube could let me dip my toes into Streaming and could be a flexible solution for headphone-listening when abroad…
@jodl,…I added the wrong image in the other post.
That image is on the AMP9 module.
•You have an additional 5 amp-modules to choose from.
This is unique,.and something that only IBasso has.
Above,.you have the picture of the new IBasso DX220.
@jodl,…A tip,.try this instead,IBasso DX220.
It replaces the previous DX200,.as I also have.
It also has a very good price,.and that you can change amp-modules.
•AMP9 has just been released,.see picture.
There is much to read about this DAP,.among other things,on Head-FI there is a very long thread.
Below from a review on Head-Fi…
"As mentioned in my IBasso DX220 review.
I had the chance to test IBasso DX220 against the Sony WM1Z with a variety of IEMs.
I loved the Sony WM1Z,.it’s a thing of beauty and class and sounds terrific.
With my AMP8,.it was basically neck and neck for me in soundquality between the two DAPs, (and damn close with other regular AMP units).
Just my personal subjective observations of course.
But right now I’m feeling very contented,.and lucky to have a DAP that I feel is pretty much second to none in soundquality."
I use a Graham Slee Ultra Linear Diamond Edition this drives the Hd800s beautifully…I also use the Graham Slee interconnect…give it a listen Graham does a money back guarantee…
He also does a no obligation loan scheme…if your a forum member of his!!