Headphones & HP Amp - New User Questions

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by WildPhydeaux, Sep 22, 2022 at 2:07 PM.

  1. WildPhydeaux

    WildPhydeaux Picture withheld by The Authorities Thread Starter

    Location:
    A Parade in Dallas
    Looking into getting a headphone amp and headphones. Having had zero experience with HPs, I’m overwhelmed by the options. If I was setting up the HP amp in my audio room I would just interface with my music streamer/DAC (I have no other sources). But if I’m in my audio room I’m thinking why wouldn’t I just listen to my speakers? So really, the idea becomes more of an alternate listening location, laying on the couch or on the bed for instance. Which means additional gear (streamer, DAC) which ends up a stack of stuff I don’t want on the nightstand. Or it means an all-in-one device like the Naim Uniti Atom HE or Gold Note DS-10 or others.


    Trouble is, I don’t know how I’m going to take to headphones at all. If I end up with poor gear I may be turned off, so I want to start at a level that provides quality sound. I certainly don’t consider either the Naim or the Gold Note to be poor gear in any way, but the real question I have is this: How much of a sound quality compromise would one of these systems be vs. a dedicated headphone amp? We’re talking in the range of $2000 HP Amps and $1000-$1500 headphones – I don’t see myself spending more than this, and hopefully less. Used prices, mind you.


    I would love to have a small tube-based HP amp like a Woo WA22 or Feliks Audio Euforia, but then not only do I need to also buy a source but then I’m hampered by them not being happy with low impedance headphones. I don’t see myself ever getting into the high dollar, high impedance headphones and the ones that strike my interest so far are 25-32 ohms.


    Cheers,

    Robert
     
  2. John Buchanan

    John Buchanan I'm just a headphone kind of fellow. Stax Sigma

  3. Swann36

    Swann36 A widower finding solace in music

    Location:
    Lincoln, UK
    In your budget I’d consider some electrostatics such as Stax even the lower end stuff to my ears beats dynamic of much higher price and they hold price reasonably well so trying then moving on shouldn’t cost too much

    Electrostatic Earspeakers
     
    TimB likes this.
  4. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    Location:
    New Braunfels, TX
    I have the Sony MDR V6 headphones and use them as studio monitors for editing music with an EQ.
    has a clean mid bass with detailed mids and highs and a solid separate low end at around 3oHz that doesn't color the bass.

    There's an SHF member I came across who is a professional sound designer who worked on the James Bond movie "Skyfall" posts the Sony's in his SHF gear profile I'm assuming not for use professionally, but for home use.
     
  5. WildPhydeaux

    WildPhydeaux Picture withheld by The Authorities Thread Starter

    Location:
    A Parade in Dallas
    Wow. Ok, I'll restate the question without the background:

    With respect to: Naim Uniti Atom HE / Gold Note D-10 / Matrix Element / similar all-in-one

    How much of a sound quality compromise would one of these systems be vs. a dedicated headphone amp?

    Cheers,
    Robert
     
  6. Swann36

    Swann36 A widower finding solace in music

    Location:
    Lincoln, UK
    i don’t have experience with the particular kit you mention but going separately was a huge step up for my ears and one I’ve never gone back on , hopefully others will add comments based on having used the kit your particularly interested in
     
  7. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    Location:
    New Braunfels, TX
    Well I guess I was no help, so I'll just put it out there since I've never heard the headphone brands you're mentioning. I don't even use a headphone amp so....

    What did you find in a google search? Usually in a search there will people who have used a specific brand/model very few have heard of.
     
  8. rockclassics

    rockclassics Senior Member

    Location:
    Mid-South US
    Have you searched Head-Fi.org Forums to see if there is a thread for the headphones you are considering?
     
    rodentdog likes this.
  9. Ham Sandwich

    Ham Sandwich Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sherwood, OR, USA
    Good headphone amps don't need to be big if you use reasonably easy to drive headphones. You can even do very good amp/DAC combos that are audiophile quality and rival the performance of separates. The moderately compact all-in-ones are also far more convenient for computer desktop use, or end table use, or transportable use.

    Here's an option for headphone system that might fit your needs and preferences:
    Focal Clear headphones. The original Focal Clear is actually discontinued by Focal and replaced with an updated version. But headphones.com bought all the remaining stock and has them on sale for a very good price. The Focal Clear is reasonably easy to drive so doesn't need a big amp. There are many all-in-one amp/DACs that will drive it very well and sound very good.

    Some amp/DAC combos to consider:
    Focal Arche: It has been discontinued by Focal but can be found used for like $1500 or so. It's an amp/DAC combo designed for Focal headphones by Focal.

    Chord Hugo 2: The compact Hugo 2 can drive the Focal headphones and Chord are good DACs. Worth consideration. The Hugo 2 is also battery powered so you could take it outside on the porch, connect your phone as a streaming source and enjoy headphone listening outside. Or go nuts and get the Hugo TT.

    Headphones.com also carries a bunch of amps and DACs and amp/DAC combos and streamers. Including the Naim Uniti Atom. Contact them and ask what they suggest to pair with the Focal Clear headphones. They'll know. Contact them through their support contact form or email.
     
    WildPhydeaux likes this.
  10. WildPhydeaux

    WildPhydeaux Picture withheld by The Authorities Thread Starter

    Location:
    A Parade in Dallas
    I understand folks are trying to be helpful and it is appreciated. I gave perhaps too much background and that may be the reason for answers not being on-point.

    I'm not looking for headphone recommendations at this time. I'll choose from headphones known to work well with whatever amp I end up with.

    The only headphone-specific information I can provide for choosing the amp is that I will probably tend towards fairly efficient and low impedance ones. But this would only have real bearing on tube amps - and since I'm asking about all-in-one (streamer/DAC/amp) components, none of which are tube, there really isn't any reason to choose the headphones first at all.

    So... I'll try to clear up the sole question in this thread once again:

    Do the better quality all-in-one (streamer/DAC/hp-amp) units sound good? Or do similar quality single function headphone amps sound significantly better?

    At the end of the day I think it's only the experienced headphone enthusiasts who have also heard some of these all-in-ones who will be able answer this. Are they 90% as good as separates? 80%? Are they lifestyle devices that sound ok, but you can do better for the same or less by giving up their convenience factor?

    Cheers,
    Robert

    @Ham Sandwich
    I missed your reply while typing this. This is helpful information, thank you.
     
  11. rodentdog

    rodentdog Forum Resident

    @WildPhydeaux...Open or closed back? I'd go with a Audio-GD R2R11 Mk2 DAC/amp combo or it's big brother R28. Excellent deals on discontinued Focal Elegia closed back cans. Node2 streamer and you are good to go. Good luck!
     
  12. NettleBed

    NettleBed Forum Transient

    Location:
    new york city
    It does not necessarily compromise sound, in my experience. Frankly, my amp/dac journey led me to believe that most differences in this gear (solid state) are not all that large, in your price range (a price range for very high quality, IMO). However, what you lose by going this route is the variety of sound you can create. In other words, and all-in-one can sound great, but then that’s it. You can’t continue to swap out one of the three (cans, DAC, amp) to create greater synergy or tweak the sound.
     
    WildPhydeaux likes this.
  13. tIANcI

    tIANcI Wondering when the hifi madness will end

    Location:
    Malaysia
    Try looking for a used Oppo HA-1. It’s a good headphone amp with a built in DAC that’s very decent. Source can be a laptop or a used Node 2i.

    For headphone, with that budget you may try the HiFiMan Arya Stealth. It’s a very nice headphone.
     
    WildPhydeaux likes this.
  14. Humbuster

    Humbuster Big hat, no cattle

    Headphone amp w/ DAC - look at Woo WA7

    Headphone amp- tubes, no DAC - look at Woo WA2

    Headphones that match these perfectly - Sennheiser HD800S
     
    WildPhydeaux likes this.
  15. hifisoup

    hifisoup @hearmoremusic on Instagram

    Location:
    USA
    If you have a smart phone you already have a source. Download Tidal, Qobuz or Deezer HiFi for high rez streaming.
    Buy a quality dongle Dac like the Audioquest Dragonfly with the proper connector to your phone.
    Connect good quality headphones to the DAC.
    Your good to go.
    High quality sound w/o spending a ton of $
    Portable too.
    Enjoy.
     
    WildPhydeaux likes this.
  16. WildPhydeaux

    WildPhydeaux Picture withheld by The Authorities Thread Starter

    Location:
    A Parade in Dallas
    Thanks to all who have provided information for me to consider, I appreciate it and it helps me form a plan.

    This is what I'm beginning to understand, that within a given price range, at least in the SS camp, there are perhaps more similarities in sound than large differences in the amps themselves - notwithstanding the obvious class A vs Class A/B vs Class D. So buying a unit with value-added features like DAC/Streamer will obviously cost more but is not necessarily a trade-off of the quality of the amp portion.

    This I have no interest in. It may be forced upon me if I find aspects I can't live with, but once I hit upon an acceptable level of sound quality I have no interest in swapping gear in and out for alternative character options or to chase my own personal perfection. If I do end up liking the headphone experience much more than I expect, I could see myself having more than one set of headphones (probably two) but I have no interest in component juggling. I mean, if I get an amp and headphone pair that just sounds really nice out of the box, I honestly expect to be done. Tinkering, if any, will happen in my main speaker rig.

    This is a really good point. While I have less than zero interest in headphones on the move, or even for sitting outside on the deck, cutting grass etc, that doesn't mean that my smart phone couldn't be the source streamer. I wouldn't put music on the phone, but I run Roon here so I wouldn't have to. I have no interest in a dangling dongle, but I suppose just a cable to DAC would be fine. Good call, I hadn't considered that.

    FYI, I think I'm unloading my side interest in the amp being tube based. I love my tube two channel gear, past and present, but in this case it brings complication and challenges that are not welcome.

    Cheers,
    Robert
     
    hifisoup likes this.
  17. hifisoup

    hifisoup @hearmoremusic on Instagram

    Location:
    USA
    I learned of this idea from Darko's Youtube channel. He has posted several videos on portable DACs, using your smart phone as a source, headphones, etc. It's well worth watching and very informative IMHO. A long film about portable audio for beginners | Darko.Audio
     
  18. hifisoup

    hifisoup @hearmoremusic on Instagram

    Location:
    USA

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