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bitflipper

Just got my first headphone amp

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I've always been skeptical about what a headphone amplifier could really do for fidelity. When not in the studio, I do my pleasure listening on a high-quality media player driving high-quality headphones, and it's always been pretty good.

However, sometimes when listening on my highest-impedance (300 ohm) cans there'd be some discernible distortion if I turned it up too loud. So I took a chance and bought a well-reviewed portable amplifier, wondering if I'd just spent too much money on yet another soon-forgotten gadget.

Fortunately, I didn't. Holy crap, these cans sound great now! At least, on well-recorded material that is - mediocre recordings still sound mediocre. Funny how that works.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks, I am also considering getting a headphone amplifier, not for volume but for increased clarity at low medium volumes in the phones and to be able to move up to the senny 650's, do you get increased sonic performance/clarity at low levels?

Edited by Tezza

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I don't notice it at low levels, but surprisingly do hear an improvement at moderate levels.

I haven't yet verified this by objective measurement, but to my ear it sounds like when you turn down the ratio on a compressor. I assume that when the output signal approaches the maximum dictated by the voltage rails, transistors are driven into nonlinearity. At moderate levels this could be subtle, not necessarily audible as distortion but rather a loss of clarity caused by the dampening of transients. A headphone amplifier should (if it's designed well) accommodate higher voltages than your phone or media player, and thus a greater swing before the transistors are pushed outside of their linear envelope. This, I suspect, is where anecdotes of increased clarity come from.

BTW, I am also using HD650s.

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https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07P86584R/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

A mere $47 on Amazon.

You can, of course, spend a whole lot more than that. But I trusted the published specs, which claim to drive up to 500 ohms (most inexpensive amps say 150 max). The 500 mw spec, of course, means nothing - that's for a 32 ohm load. I plan to test the amp under load and see what it delivers into 300 ohms, but I'm guessing it's going to be around 50 mw. Which is actually plenty. 

I also didn't need a DAC, since I'm feeding it analog from my device. The $129 version includes a DAC, and can therefore take audio from your computer via USB.

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Just looking for a little clarification, the headphone amps being discussed are mainly to help you mix wearing headphones, right? 

I used to have Behringer's headphone amp (see below), but that was used so that each of my friends that came over at lunch-time could have a "personal" mix with more of them in it if they so wished.  Worked great except for all the cords (this was before decent cordless headphones - I bet those might work great now for the purpose I was using them for)!

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Sorry for the confusion. I've never had any doubts about headphone distribution amps like those pictured above. They are studio essentials. What I'm talking about in this thread is specifically a portable amplifier for a single (sometimes dual) pair of headphones, solely to enhance the personal listening experience.

That said, there's definitely a connection to recording, mixing and mastering. After you've worked on a mix for hours, you lose perspective. You concentrate on specific elements, swim in the cornucopia of processing possibilities (sorry for the mixed metaphor), and you are influenced by onscreen graphics way more than you realize.

I therefore find it very helpful to listen to my mixes offline, away from the computer screen, the carefully shaped acoustics of my room, and the high end speakers. Most importantly, away from any possibility of altering the mix. Suddenly that snare you'd boosted because you thought it weak is now obviously overbearing...I've had many "what was I thinking?" moments while listening to a mix on headphones in the dark.

This week I'm also enjoying the immersive goodness of my favorite reference recordings, some of which I'm now hearing as if they were new. Bouncing around on my player, I happened upon Paul Simon's Graceland. Holy guacamole, that's one well-made record! Not that I'd recommend it as a mix reference - it's too unique - but as a "does my system sound good?" reference it's amazing.  

Some others that I regularly turn to when I want to hear what an especially well-mixed and mastered record is supposed to sound like: Alison Krauss's New Favorite, Steven Wilson's Hand.Cannot.Erase, Taking the Long Way by the Dixie Chicks, Mark Knopfler's Sailing to Philadelphia, pre-Vapor Trails Rush, the remix of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper.

Now I'm out scouring YouTube and Amazon for some new stuff - suggestions welcomed.

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1 hour ago, bitflipper said:

Sorry for the confusion. I've never had any doubts about headphone distribution amps like those pictured above. They are studio essentials. What I'm talking about in this thread is specifically a portable amplifier for a single (sometimes dual) pair of headphones, solely to enhance the personal listening experience.

That said, there's definitely a connection to recording, mixing and mastering. After you've worked on a mix for hours, you lose perspective. You concentrate on specific elements, swim in the cornucopia of processing possibilities (sorry for the mixed metaphor), and you are influenced by onscreen graphics way more than you realize.

I therefore find it very helpful to listen to my mixes offline, away from the computer screen, the carefully shaped acoustics of my room, and the high end speakers. Most importantly, away from any possibility of altering the mix. Suddenly that snare you'd boosted because you thought it weak is now obviously overbearing...I've had many "what was I thinking?" moments while listening to a mix on headphones in the dark.

This week I'm also enjoying the immersive goodness of my favorite reference recordings, some of which I'm now hearing as if they were new. Bouncing around on my player, I happened upon Paul Simon's Graceland. Holy guacamole, that's one well-made record! Not that I'd recommend it as a mix reference - it's too unique - but as a "does my system sound good?" reference it's amazing.  

Some others that I regularly turn to when I want to hear what an especially well-mixed and mastered record is supposed to sound like: Alison Krauss's New Favorite, Steven Wilson's Hand.Cannot.Erase, Taking the Long Way by the Dixie Chicks, Mark Knopfler's Sailing to Philadelphia, pre-Vapor Trails Rush, the remix of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper.

Now I'm out scouring YouTube and Amazon for some new stuff - suggestions welcomed.

I think a "What's your favorite reference album/songs?" thread might be useful!

I like Steely Dan's Aja (usually for live setup) and No Doubt's Return of Saturn (for loud, but well separated stuff).  Others come and go.

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Dave, have you listened to "Lyle Lovett and His Large Band"? The CD, at least back when I bought it, was mastered at a much lower level than most recent recordings and sounds great on a good system. Clever songwriting and fine arrangements too.

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Hey Bit!

Ok, so you use a different headphone amp from your interface and you can hear a difference?

What should we do to check the amp specs on our interface to see if it might help us?

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I haven't tried it from my interface. It has no problem driving 300 ohm cans, although that's not relevant because the headphones I use for editing are 50 ohms. Might be worth experimenting with, though I doubt there'd be much if any improvement.

Most powered (meaning you plug it into the wall) interfaces should have no problem driving high-Z cans, because they'll have at minimum + and - 12V rails if not higher. Where you have issues is with portable devices such as smartphones and dedicated music players whose output voltage range is limited by their batteries.

henkejs: yes, I have the first Large Band album on tap here. It was made in what I consider the Golden Age, that too-short period c. 1986 - 2001 before extreme squashing had become the fad.  Lots of detail in the recording, especially percussion. I'll have to give it another listen with the new amp. I'd expect some benefit, given its high crest factor. Thanks for the suggestion.

Craig: yes, I think a poll of references would be interesting. I've seen such lists in the GS mastering forum. Those have led me to a few discoveries that I wouldn't have thought of, such as Donald Fagan's The Nightfly. I'm not real crazy about the music, but the audio quality is exemplary. May be the same crew that engineeered Aja?

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