Headphone amps question - Atom HE v SN3

Any thoughts on the headphone amp built into SN3 v the Atom Headphone edition please? Has anyone got both or had chance to compare?

I have some delightful Grado RS1e headphones, urgently in need of a closed back option, probably a pair of Sennheiser HD820 (unless anyone has suggestions), so the opportunity arises to look at amplification too. I’ve had my eye on the Headphone edition for a while as it runs Qobuz natively - is it better than the SN3?

Never heard the SN3 for headphone use so can’t comment there. The Atom HE is very good and provides good options in terms of connectivity. XLR 4, 4.4 as well as 6.35.

I guess the main question is whether this will be solely for headphone use or headphone and speakers?

Closed back headphones, as with most, ideally need a demo unless your ok taking a punt buying blind. Options

ZMF Bokeh - new receiving good reviews. Less £ Sennheiser 820

Sennheiser 820 I’ve tried these but while the build quality etc was good, i felt the bass or something was a bit off. Could be just me though.

Focal - Celestee then Radiance which are a similar price to the ZMF Bokeh and also well respected. After that there’s the Stellia but that’s a jump up in price to £2200 mark.

Meze Liric are another popular option and sit between Radiance and Stellia in terms of price.

ZMF have the Verite and Atrium Closed back headphones. Both very good with different tonal presentations for around the £2500 mark.

A brief summary would be detail and pace is more the Verite, organic very open sounding with deep sub bass then its is the Atrium. There’s plenty of info on both out there.

If you’re only going to be using them in the house then all of them would be ok but on the move outside, i’d look more towards the Focal range or the Meze Liric. The style of the Liric won’t draw too much attention outside but still sound very good!

Plenty of choices :+1:t2:


‘Try before you buy’ is more true for headphones than anything else in my opinion. Partly because sound characteristics differ so much between brands but also for comfort. A great sounding headphone you can only wear for 25mins isn’t a good choice. Audeze unwearable for me due to weight!



It all depends what headphones you want to drive. Some headphones can be very demanding on the headphone amp. In which case you may need something with more power.

The Naim Atom HE is an all in one solution including a DAC which is a great value for money option but just check that it has sufficient power to drive your chosen headphones.


You could also consider Focal as they are designed to work with Naim kit.



Thanks to Bruce and @A-Fin for your thoughts. I’m already a Grado fan, so the Bokehs look like an interesting closed back variation on a familiar theme? I managed to try the Sennheiser HD 820, but only with a Cobalt amp stick. Despite the amp, the sound was far more specious than my existing Grado RS1e which are open-backed. I loved the fit and light weight, but less impressed by the lack of isolation - I guess I’m used to Pro audio headphones. I suspect 820s are phones that will need a lot of burn-in. I’m planning to try some Mezes and hopefully the Audeze LCD2 closed-back.

I was also able to try an HE which was illuminating, although only with Focal headphones. The Celestes impressed me, but the colour / finish spoiled the effect. I was very impressed with the HE, but it needs to be compared against the headamp on the SN3 before a decision is made.

Too many choices :slight_smile:


Open Grado RS1’s are going to sound different to any closed-back design (I have some) but in my experience Sennheiser and Focal also have a very different character to Grado, and ZMF (I have Verite Closed). As you say the Sennheiser sound very open and spacious, but I have to say for me they were more impressive than enjoyable. Ditto Focal Stelia. Others disagree if course!



I purchased the Grado GS1000x for use with my SN2 in the late evening hours when my wife went off to bed. I enjoy the the over the ear model vs on ear version of head phones. Great sound and comfort!


…but the OP wants a closed back design now.


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You’re doing the right thing by trying as many as possible. As @BruceW says, even more than most other gear, headphones are a very personal choice with not just sound quality but comfort as a factor.

The more you try, the easier it becomes to narrow down what sound character and fit you like. If you try and Like headphone A and if a lot of people on Head Fi like headphone A and also like headphone D then there is a good chance you’ll like it too. I tend to not look at individual reviews but look at the volume of feedback at places like Head Fi… the more feedback you hear / see, the easier it is to spot outlier reviews.

In terms of comfort, Meze have always come top for me. I’ll happily were them for 7hr working days. ZMF are a very close second. I had the Focal Eligia at one point and while they sounded good, didn’t come close to the Atrium Closed and the headband did cause a few hot spots.

Eventually you’ll be able to whittle down the choices… just remember to enjoy the journey, it can be fun!!

Edit. I forgot to add, companies like ZMF & Meze offer a variety of different pads that are used to fine tune the sound. This is something that is very useful and can help turn a “Not Quite” into the “Perfect” headphone. I’ve heard a few mention that the ZMF Bokeh are a bit like mini Atrium Closed but easier to drive.


Thanks Bruce, yes I agree. I have a bunch of production 'phones and the sound is very different. I read you description

I have to say for me they were more impressive than enjoyable

and know exactly what you mean about Focal. There were no Stelia in stock but the Clear were very underwhelming. Celeste punched above their price, but appearance…

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I’m getting there :slight_smile:
The problem is lack of products in stock to try and the variation in demo amps - I almost need to buy the HE and carry it around with me.


Yeah, i know what you mean. I did actually take my HE and even my Aegis tube amp to some places to help decide :joy:



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I’ve always wondered how good the SN3 headphone out quality is and never really been able to find anything. Seem to remember reading somewhere it was good rather than great but now can’t find it so could have been dreaming.

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Based on my listening SN3 is not so far behind the HE for detail and spaciousness with Celestes. I need to repeat with the tests with own 'phones and regular test tracks. Stupidly I left my 3.5mm adapter behind last week, so I could only test the HE with provided headphones in the NAIM dealer or compare the HD820 v my Grados via the Audioquest Cobalt in Richer Sounds.


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