Headphone Amp? $250-$350~

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by JKozy88, May 16, 2018.

  1. JKozy88

    JKozy88 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Hey All,

    Time has come for a headphone amp! I picked up the HE-400i cans on sale a week or two ago and i'm running them into my Parasound P5 for late night listening when I don't want to blast my speakers. I find that I need to crank the P5 pretty high to get the volume I want out of them...i'd say close to 3 o'clock. I feel like I hear some "noise" when I go that high? Artifacts...distortion...I'm not sure what the description would be. Or maybe I'm just hearing some of the surface noise of my record that I don't normally observe from my loudspeaker listening?

    Anyways - I'm hoping a headphone amp should increase my sound quality overall.

    -I will also have HD6XXs coming later in the year from a Massdrop I just joined...ideally the amp will be a good choice for both sets of cans
    -I don't think I need a DAC included...the P5 DAC is pretty solid and I listen to mostly vinyl anyways
    -Black chassis would look the best with my rig...but I can make due with the silver look of Schiit as well

    I was looking at:
    -Schiit Asgard, seems like it would be "good" for both sets of cans...but maybe not perfect for the HD6XXs
    -Schiit Valhalla, they have a limited black one which would be sweet...but a lot of comments about being a very bad choice for the planar cans
    -Massdrop Alex Cavalli CTH, although this ends in like...2 hours...so I'd have to make a call pretty quickly

    displayname likes this.
  2. Davey

    Davey very clever with maracas

    SF Bay Area, USA
    I haven't heard it so keep that in mind, but since you are considering one of the Cavalli X drops, there was one earlier for the fully balanced solid state Liquid Carbon at $299, very popular. I only bring it up because one just showed up on Audiogon a few minutes ago for $300 to your door, new in box, may want to read up on it if you have any plans to try balanced operation in the future, either input or output, or both ...
    displayname likes this.
  3. npc210

    npc210 Forum Resident

    I recently got the Massdrop Alex Cavalli CTH and love it with my HD 600s.
  4. JKozy88

    JKozy88 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    @Davey Thank you, I will look into that!

    Good to hear! I have HD598s I use mostly for gaming...love the sound and comfort. Hoping the HD 6xx treats me well :)
    displayname and SandAndGlass like this.
  5. JKozy88

    JKozy88 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    @npc210 How's the heat on the CTH? I have a slot in my rack where there will be maybe...an inch or two clearance above it.
    displayname likes this.
  6. Davey

    Davey very clever with maracas

    SF Bay Area, USA
  7. JKozy88

    JKozy88 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Appreciate that! I've never actually been on USAM...looks like I should be browsing it
    displayname likes this.
  8. newtonty

    newtonty Active Member

    Cincinnati, OH
    I looked at all those that you mentioned mostly via Massdrop. I ended up getting the Emotiva A-100 for $229. I have 600 ohm Beyer's and I also got in on the Massdrop HD6xx(August arrival). The Emotiva headphone output drives the 600 ohm Beyer's just fine, sounds great, and has the added option(with an included jumper) to go strait 50w's to the headphone jack if I choose. Bonus is, they also power a pair of Kef Q100's via included speaker terminals with ease. It's a little big for a dedicated headphone amp but I do not regret this purchase at all.
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  9. The Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid is really nice. Especially for $250. For $250 it is awesome headphone amp sound. The stock tube sounds very good. No need to tube roll. I've only tried the stock tube. I don't hear a reason to try others. The CTH is good with the HD650/HD6xx and LCD-2 Classic. I think it actually sounds better with the Auedeze LCD-2C than the Senns (which doesn't mean it doesn't sound good with the Senns). The Cavalli sound tends to favor planars and Audeze over the Senn HD6xx. I'm actually listening to the CTH with my LCD-2 Classic right now. One of the best (if not the best) sub $300 amp I've heard with the LCD-2C for my preference. I haven't tried the HE-400i headphones with the amp. I'm assuming a good sonic match, but don't know.

    Cavalli amps tend to have a somewhat smoother and laid-back style of sound that allows for a deeper soundstage experience with headphones. The CTH has that, but the bigger and more expensive Cavalli amps have it more. The CTH will give you a good taste of that style of sound. If you're looking for a more forward and aggressive sound you'll likely prefer other amps like Schiit and others. For me though, the Cavalli style of sound is what I'm after with headphones. It's a style of sound that allows me to immerse in the music and enjoy.
  10. The tube itself sticks up about an inch above the amp. Do you have room in the rack for an inch or two above the height of the amp including the tube or just an inch or two above the amp chassis?

    I'm using the CTH amp in a 7 inch shelf with open sides and open back. I don't know how its heat and cooling would be affected in a restricted space. The amp has vent holes one the back and vent holes on the top near the front of the amp. It's designed to have convection currents move air from the back to the front (or front to the back, I'm not sure which way the convection currents want to move the air). It would be best to have a rack that is open in the back since the vents are in the back and will want fresh air to keep the convention currents moving properly. Having it away from other heat sources, like your power amp, would also help. More space above and to the sides will also be better. In my 7 inch high shelf with open sides, front, and back, the amp doesn't get overly warm. My Schiit amps get warmer, but also rely on different cooling.

    I don't have the manual for the CTH handy. I'm not sure if the manual gives info on recommended space above and around the amp for proper cooling.
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  11. cjc

    cjc Forum Resident

    I use the Beyerdynamic A20 for my Sennheiser HD650's and Beyerdynamic Dt880 (600 ohm).
    It's a very well made (German) amp that is powerful enough to drive my whole collection (Sony,AT, Audeze,Grado)
  12. mfidelity

    mfidelity Forum Resident

    San Francisco
    I have the same set-up and am very pleased.
  13. JKozy88

    JKozy88 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Great to hear! Hoping it's a nice match with my 400i's as well
  14. JKozy88

    JKozy88 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    So, my plan was to place the CTH on top of my older CD player in the bottom of my rack unit. I have about 4 inches of clearance above it. If I remember correctly from the specs, the CTH was about 2.2 inches tall? I'm assuming that's not counting the extra inch of the tube, though? If not...it would be prettyyyy tight. If it's counting the tube...i'd have almost 2 inches above it and would be pretty comfortable with that. The rack has breathing room on the backs and sides.

    Possible solution would be buying another shelf for my Pangea rack and adding it on. Only potential downside is that I really like the current "stability"...not sure if increased height would allow it to "sway" more, where my table is resting. I'm on carpet. Another idea is to just get a little "stool" or mini table to rest the amp on, to the side of my rack between it and a speaker. Lastly, I could always just...remove the CD player from the unit. I don't really use it...I'm adding a Chromecast Audio to my rig this weekend and will be streaming pretty much any digital content I play. It's more there for aesthetics and to "complete the rack" at the moment. Here's a picture to help illustrate:

  15. npc210

    npc210 Forum Resident

    I've had this Cavalli amp for the better part of a week and now am having some issues.

    I took out the stock tube, reinserted it and now am getting a hum and no sound in the left channel. But when I put on another pair of headphones, I'm getting the exact same problem ... in the other channel. I don't know if the tube is faulty or this is something of my doing.
  16. You'll be fine with the Pangea rack and putting the headphone amp on top of the CD player. The open sides and back will allow enough ventilation, and putting it on the CD player isn't going to cause heat issues. The Cavalli Tube Hybrid amp is a little under 3.5 inches high with the stock tube fully inserted.
    displayname likes this.
  17. Are you still having issues?

    Some people with the CTH amp have reported noise using the stock tube. It's possible that some stock tubes are not as good and noise free as others.

    The tube socket on the CTH is also really tight. It is difficult to insert the tube. Very tight. More resistance than usual. Care should be taken when aligning the tube pins with the socket before pushing the tube in. And care should be taken while pushing the tube in to do it slowly and not force it. If the tube isn't fully inserted you could end up with more noise and hum. I've also seen reports that tubes have broken during use. That's bad and will very likely damage the amp. My suspicion is that some people have tried to push in the tube more forcefully and quickly in the tight socket and have caused the glass to weaken or crack around the pins. Then as the tube heats up during use the crack grows and causes a failure or loss of vacuum. A tube that fails that way can be devastating to a hybrid amp. A full tube amp with point to point wiring can be more easily repaired because only a few components will be affected. But a hybrid amp with a printed circuit board will take out more components and not be so easily repaired, if it can be repaired at all. So make sure the pins on the tube are aligned and don't force the tube into the socket. If it feels like the glass might crack due to the force necessary then stop. If you think you've been too forcefully inserting the tube then remove it and replace it with a new tube and throw away the old tube. You don't want to risk frying your amp with a tube that may catastrophically fail due to the glass cracking around the pins and losing vacuum.

    I'll attach a photo of my Cavalli Tube Hybrid amp with the stock tube to show how far the tube should be inserted. The plate in the tube should be about even with the top cover of the amp. I've seen many pictures that show the CTH amp with the tube only partially inserted. Unfortunately the cover of the amp and small hole makes it difficut to see how far the tube is inserted and if the pins are full inserted in the socket.

  18. npc210

    npc210 Forum Resident

    Thanks for the reply.

    I did the reverse RCA cable thing suggested by Schiit on its website and the channel imbalance went to the other ear, so the source — not the amp — was apparently the issue. All I did was connect my Modi Multibit to another USB slot in my laptop and the problem was solved. :)

    It's far from an end game setup for me, but this Cavilli-Modi Multibit combo should keep me very happy for a while. I think it's a great audio value for $500 for the two devices, and they still haven't fully been burned in.
    displayname likes this.
  19. Humbuster

    Humbuster Big hat, no cattle

    A few years ago, I picked up the Pangea HP201 (Tube Headphone amp and DAC) from Audio Advisor. This unit and my HD650 cans were my entry into headphone listening for my desktop (FLAC) system. I believe I paid about $299 for the Pangea and it has worked flawlessly and sounded pretty good, at least to my tired ole ears. The only issue was at times Windows 10 had difficulty recognizing the HP201 and would hesitate to find it upon powering up. It eventually would find it and work fine.
    The HP201 was recently retired. However, if you can deal with the intermittent connection issued the HP201 is a great piece.
  20. JKozy88

    JKozy88 Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    @Ham Sandwich I'm glad you mentioned all of that. I did actually jump on that amp...received it and set it up over the weekend. I noticed the exact same with the tube. I didn't have it pressed in all the way at first because of the resistance. Now that I do have it all the way in...I wonder if I compromised it at all during the back and forth process. Maybe I should pick up a new one and insert it just in case.

    Any general "favorite" locations for picking up replacements or tubes in general?
  21. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    I have a pair of the original HE-400's.


    I was away from audio for over twenty years. During this time, I was into HT, rather than stereo. I consider my rebirth largely to listening to digital MP3 music, with earbuds that came with a cheap smartphone accessory kit. That was back in 2011. I went on to IEM's from Monster (Turbine's) and HiFi Man's RE-600's.

    Then I bought the HE-400's

    Before I set up my current audio room. I had intended only a modest but good HT for the motel (that I operate) office and maybe a really nice but not uber expensive head phone amplifier that I could use in my bedroom at night, with the IEM's.

    That never happened but I continued forward along my present path.

    I was driving the HE-400's with the headphone output from both of the Peachree integrated amps that are in the picture. The one on top is a Peachtree musicBox, which is what I ended up buying for the bedroom. It has an iPod docking port on top, that you can plug an iPod directly into. But, unlike most of those analog docking stations, this one contains a digital docking station. Instead of using the DAC inside of the iPod, there is a chip inside that is licensed from Apple, that allows you to have AFLAC files on your iPod and play them directly through the DAC inside of the musicBox, with Peachtree/ERA external speakers.

    In its present incarnation, I use the musicBox to control the volume level of the rear speakers or (and this is something neat), plug the HE-400's into.

    There are three systems in the listening room front, rear, and side vintage horn's, driven by tubes.

    When I listen to the HE-400's, I can either listen using the Peachtree iNova (on the bottom), which cuts out all the speakers, or I can plug them into the musicBox, which cuts out the rear speakers only.

    In doing this, You can hear the stereo in your room through the almost transparent planer diaphragms, and, at the same time, experience your headphones inside of your head. It is a very interesting and immersive experience.

    I'm bringing this up, because I am encouraging you to try this, as you may find the effect to be a new and interesting sensory experience. Besides, once you have your separate headphone amplifier, it doesn't cost a penny more!

    But, the reason for my reply here was to point out that the HE-400's are easy to drive headphones. I have plugged them in to a smartphone, they were not that loud as an IEM would be, but they were easily playable.

    While I completely like the sound of the HE-400's and have wanted to buy a pair of the HD-650's for years. The only reason that I didn't do the Massdrop's HD6XX's is that I really don't like having "cans" on my head.
  22. senseabove

    senseabove Forum Resident

    @Ham Sandwich or anyone else who's heard both? What are your thoughts on the MD CTH vs the MD LCX? I'm loving the LCX, and debating whether to get another for home or to try the CTH. Does the CTH have the same style of path, where the single-ended jack is just for convenience and the balanced jack is what's it's really designed for?
  23. The 4-pin XLR jack on the CTH is just a convenience jack for people who own headphones with balanced cables. The amp is single-ended, not balanced. The 4-pin jack and TRS jack are the same signal.

    The CTH has a fatter sound due to the tube hybrid design. The LCX has a cleaner sound. Both have the trademark smooth and somewhat laid-back sound that Cavalli is known for. I like the CTH with the HD650. The fatter hybrid sound fills in the headphones better and sounds more energetic. The LCX has a cleaner sound. It's not thin, but not as full as the CTH. It's fun to have both amps. They sound different, yet in some ways similar.
  24. That's good news. The Modi Multibit can get into a state where the sound in one channel (or possibly both) gets distorted. The sound will be kinda wavey phasey distortion. Turning the Modi Multibit off and turning it back on will fix that problem. I've had that happen occasionally with my little Modi Multibit. It's a sort of sound that makes me think that the clocks or the DAC chips somehow drift out of sync. A power cycle of the DAC fixes it. That problem has never happened with my Gungnir Multibit. So I think this is something that is specific to the Modi Multibit and possibly the Bifrost Multibit.

    The CTH and Modi Multibit combo is superb audio value. You'd be surprised at how close to how close that setup sounds to end game summit-fi amps and DACs. I've actually been listening to the CTH and Modi Multibit all day today with both my HD650 and LCD-2 Classic headphones. And enjoying every minute of listening. This is good headphone sound. Very enjoyable headphone listening. I also have a Cavalli Liquid Fire and Cavalli Liquid Glass in the same audio rack along with a Gungnir Multibit. It would be trivial for me to switch over to listening to listening to the Fire or Glass with the Gumby DAC. But I don't want to. I'm enjoying the sound with the CTH and Modi MB combo and enjoying exploring what this combo can do. Yes, the Fire or Glass with the Gumby DAC do sound better. Soundstage is bigger, wider, deeper and more nuanced. The center of the headphone imaging is better fleshed out and layered. The big gear does have more micro-detail and nuance and sonic holography. But the little $500 CTH and Modi Multibit combo is surprisingly enjoyable in comparison and while listening to it I don't feel like I'm missing out on much at all. In a direct A/B comparison you'll notice. But if you start the day listening to that little CTH and Modi MB combo you won't care so much. The little gear is $500, the big gear is approaching $5,000 for amp and DAC. That's a 10x difference. Diminishing returns starts to get expensive at this level on the sonic plateau.

    One thing that impresses me with the Cavalli Tube Hybrid and Cavalli Liquid Carbon is that both amps (along with the little Modi Multibit) allow me to hear the benefits of high-res over CD-res. It takes a special quality of gear to make the difference between high-res and CD-res (and lossy) more obvious like that. The little Cavalli amps do. The little Modi Mulitibit does (but only up to 24/96). If you want to play with 24/192 or 24/176.4 at what they're capable of then you should get a Gungnir Multibit or Yggdrasil.

    I'm curious to try the CTH with a good LPS (linear power supply). A good LPS can improve the sound. Measurements and subjective listening of the CTH with a good LPS indicate that it does get better with a good LPS. How much closer does an LPS get the CTH to summit-fi territory sound quality?
    Last edited: May 22, 2018
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  25. I'd only be worried about the tube if you feel you've been overly forceful or clumsy with it when inserting it in that super tight socket or when removing it. Or if the tube has been dropped. It is strange to have reports that the stock tubes with the CTH have cracked and failed. That's unusual. Maybe those people were overly forceful when inserting the tube in that tight socket? Maybe they scored/scratched the side of the tube on the edge of the circular cutout in the top of the amp while inserting or removing the tube? Maybe the tube got dropped at the factory or by the user? If your tube hasn't cracked and failed yet then I'd expect your tube is fine.

    If you do ever see a tube turn white inside that means that oxygen has gotten in and the vacuum is gone. Don't turn any tube amp on if a tube looks like that. You'll kill the amp.

    Buying replacement new production tubes is easy. Buying NOS (new old stock) tubes can be tricky and you need to pay attention to the reputation of who you buy from. But new production is easy. The Electro-Harmonix 6922EH can be found for around $17 to $20. The gold pin version can be found for $28 to $30. The gold pin version is said to have lower noise. If I was to replace the stock tube I'd go with the gold pin version. Just because it might be better and the cost isn't a difference that I would care about. TheTubeStore has both versions. Other tube dealers also carry the Electro-Harmonix tubes. Easy to buy.

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