Are Headphone Amplifiers worth it

Discussion in 'PC Audio' started by crimsonmind, Mar 4, 2017.

  1. crimsonmind

    crimsonmind Member

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    I have been looking at headphone amps and wondering if they are worth the money?

    Do the tube amp versions provide better quality sound over the non-tube amp versions, like with regular Amps?

    Does the price range make a difference?

    Recommendations?

    Cheers guys
    S
     
  2. Bold Eagle

    Bold Eagle Member

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    Depends on your music collection.

    If you only have MP3 there is little to no point in the amp as it will only boost a crap 'limited depth' sound.

    If you have FLACS most definitely but you need to consider a DAC and AMP.

    There are some dedicated threads for this sort of topic and discussion:
    http://forums.overclockers.com.au/showthread.php?t=801514&page=392

    Tube amps will provide a 'warmer' sound but it again comes down to what your listening to and the file quality.

    Pricing can be subjective and you need to review units at dedicated websites/forums like headfi.org,
    http://www.head-fi.org/products/
     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2017
  3. Linkin

    Linkin Member

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    It all comes down to the quality of your source (music/games) and what equipment you have. If your collection is lossless or you want the better sound in games, it's worth getting quality equipment.

    Headphones drivers with higher resistance need a stronger amp to get them loud. Some say higher resistance drivers also tend to filter out some noise. I have a 250ohm set of beyerdynamic dt880's, driven using the built in headphone amp my STX 2 sound card, it's more than enough. But if I had the 600ohm version of the dt880's I might be pushing it to get enough volume out of the card's amp, in which case an external one would be beneficial.
     
  4. dakiller

    dakiller (Oscillating & Impeding)

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    Depends on what headphones you have mostly. It is the 500+ headphones that usually do better with an amp

    Tube amps are subjective, they usually only slap in tubes in them for a bit of wank factor for the most part, they have solid state stuff in there that still does most of the work. A good amp is a good amp, tube or not.

    Good mp3's will still be a good source, you don't have to be all lossless to be high end, but if you have the choice, go lossless when you can.
     
  5. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

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    An amplifier by concept, a product and design is to provide gain to whatever transducers you're powering, it is simply to amplify the frequency to the listener.

    The question you need ask yourself is why do you want to buy an amplifier for your headphones?

    Without complicating circuit design/layout topology's there are 3 types of amplifiers based off its design. Pure valve driven, pure solid state using silicon devices or a hybrid approach/design which generally utilises a solid state output stage with a valve input/preamp/inter-stage.

    There is no such thing as "tube amplifiers sound better than solid states" because they are two completely different things based off its design parameters (for the most part without going into complicated one-offs).

    How a tube/solid state or hybrid designed amplifier sounds massively depends on how it is designed by the engineer/manufacturer, the load (speaker or headphones) the amplifier it is driving and front end components in your setup (source/DAC, preamp's if used, cables [capacitance, inductance, cable length/material] etc...)

    If we are talking about brand new stuff, cheap off the shelf valve amplifiers (excluding DIY), (ones that cost a few hundred bucks) generally have lots of omissions (short-cuts) in its circuit design and/or use generic or cheap parts. They will also in most cases utilise cheaply or poorly wounded output/power transformers and chokes, most of which are undersized for the job in the design.

    This concept also applies to solid states and hybrid amplifiers, usage of cheap parts is generally the case.

    As you head towards the near $1000 and above price bracket, amplifiers of any design tend to have quality parts or better transformers used. Not always the case keep in mind.

    Common misconception to think that automatically tube amplifiers will provide a 'warmer' sound. It all boils down to the design, I've heard tube amplifiers that sound like solid states and solid states that sound warm and dark.

    You have to understand that most valves used as output devices in audio amplifiers are generally triodes (and occasionally pentodes by itself or strapped as triodes).

    Triodes are used for the most part because they are mostly linear when driven within datasheet specifications and easily demonstrated on a curve tracer. Use of triodes date back as far as the early 1930's, remember back then there was no silicon devices or integrated chips so tubes did all the work.

    Not until the 60's and on-wards did we start to see silicon devices replacing what tubes once fulfilled the roles in many machinery and electrical stuff out there.

    Triode tubes for the most part are more linear than most of the linear silicon device we have nowadays. But it is difficult to translate this into amplifier design without the expense of using more and better quality parts which equates to a very expensive amplifier.

    The distortion people generally to perceive with tube amplifiers sounding warm is H2 and H3 harmonic distortion levels and the fact that most tube amplifiers have a missing chunk in the high end of the sound frequency, so the cutoff is early and you're left with a dominating mid range or just below the mids.

    Again, it all boils down to design, if the designer/engineer wants the tube amplifier to sound 'warm' and syrupy or euphonic then that is what the amplifier will achieve. Then we have valve/tube rolling which is a whole different story on its own.
     
  6. Bold Eagle

    Bold Eagle Member

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    Good value add post :thumbup:.
     
  7. ^catalyst

    ^catalyst Member

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    It's interesting, because the best amplifier in the world would do nothing but increase the gain of a signal; so any colouring etc would be considered a flaw not a feature.

    But goddamn sound had to go and be subjective, thanks sound.

    I think it comes down to the response of the headphones altering with power in a non-linear fashion. So while the amp ideally just boosts the signal the headphones response to the boosted signal isn't a uniform increase in gain across the spectrum.

    You could semi-easily test for this with a controlled environment and a microphone set up. Wouldn't be very audiophile that way though :tongue:
     
  8. Cpt.J.Sparrow

    Cpt.J.Sparrow Member

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    High impedance headphones benefit from good amps. However, not all high-end headphones need dedicated amping. I have TH900, which is easy to drive and doesn't really need a separate amp in most situations.

    No snakeoil? No audiophile!
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2017
  9. crimsonmind

    crimsonmind Member

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    Awesome, thanks guys.

    I thought I was bringing a simple answer to the table, but ended up learning more than I expected.

    Seems like it is all very subjective, so I guess its a matter of suck-it-and-see what I think
     
  10. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

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    It is quite subjective when you audition or listen to anything audio but keep in mind you need to also observe things from a objective perspective as well. Monitoring and verifying things such as input/output impedance, headphone sound frequency measurement (the type of sound they will produce translated onto a chart) and the power handling/requirement of the headphone itself and the power output of the amplifier itself.

    There is also something called synergy, use something opposite (subjective/objective) sounding/measuring to couple it with a headphone sounding the complete opposite.

    Most audiophiles will tell you that synergy is generally when you pair a warm, laid back or bassy sounding headphone with an amplifier that has a clear or neutralish to bright sound signature and good detail retrieval to cancel out dominating sound aspects of the headphone. So you get sort of get the best of both 'worlds'.

    You also have to be aware that audio itself is full of snakeoil, hyped marketing, shills (reviewers given freebies/demos or paid by manufacturers/vendors to give a positive review of something potentially a piece of crap) and very subjective. When you get to high end audio its mostly just bling and snakeoil that justifies high 4 to 6 figure price tags of audio components.

    Better off auditioning things before buying and educating yourself a bit about what is good and what is not. Your wallet will thank you.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2017
  11. tree86ers

    tree86ers Member

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    so subjective, this is mainly why so many tech youtubers tend not to do too much in this area and until you listen to it with your own music taste and setup it is hard to relay this information.


    Matthew kane info is impressive and to the point. Awesome info thanks mate.
     
  12. xcessive303

    xcessive303 Member

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    Matthew Kane, very good info especially for anyone starting out in hi-fi or head-fi like myself. I have learnt a lot from this thread already. :thumbup:
     
  13. ^catalyst

    ^catalyst Member

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    The best way to enjoy head-fi is to never, ever, visit it. Ever.
     
  14. schmoove

    schmoove Member

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    Whoa this thread got complex quickly.
    Sticking to the OPs questions:

    1) some are worth the money and some aren't, throw us some models and maybe those who have heard them can say

    2) no tube amps are not 'better', it is simply that different amps can and do sound different

    3) yes price range can make a difference

    4) no specific recommendations from me sorry, as I rarely use cans
    but as an example I have a few decent amps that happen to have headphone sockets and an audinst hud-mx1 dac/head amp/pre-amp.
    The audinst knocks the others out of the park, so yep these things do make a difference.

    As a general recommendation get a DAC (a soundcard)/head amp combo.
    I've used this shop in the past for several purchases, always fast and excellent service:
    https://www.shenzhenaudio.com/

    Personally I'd never get anything with tubes, they do wear out eventually and they degrade over time, so it's always a guessing game when they need changing. They look awesome though :)
     
  15. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

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    Actually tubes don't simply just degrade over time like a pair of tyre on your car unless you run them stupidly past its parameters it is designed for, you'd simply burn them out that way as they will literally just die. A tube that measures 40% on a Hickok tube tester will sound almost exactly the same as a NOS pair that measures 100% provided both have been tested for emission and shorts.

    Most tubes are rated for 5000-8000 hrs of continuous usage, mill-spec or computer designed tubes are rated even higher from anywhere between 10000-25000 hrs.

    Even if you have the amplifier on 24/7/365 with music playing through them you'd still get a good years worth of usage out of them before they completely wear out.

    For the average listener give or take 2-3 hrs a day of listen time, that's a good fair few years of listen time.

    If the tubes do actually end up measuring weak, just buy a new set and plug em in. Tubes aren't something that constantly wears out and needs changing or anything of moderate maintenance like changing car tyres, they last a long time.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  16. Bold Eagle

    Bold Eagle Member

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    I've heard some say they age - like a good wine and can improve over time? This factor could be due to older manufacturing processes building a better quality unit?
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  17. tree86ers

    tree86ers Member

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    the old saying "they don't make them like they use to"
     
  18. danyell

    danyell Member

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    Shortly followed by "I like their old stuff better than their new stuff"
     
  19. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

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    Absolutely true. New modern make tubes and reissues don't hold a candle against NOS stuff from the 40's to 70's. This could be due to better materials used, manufacturing process, quality control or testing process and it would no doubt not surprise me if all the above were true considering everything from those years especially between the 30's to 60's relied on tubes in radios, computers, tubes nowadays are mostly reissues and made for either audio amplifiers or guitar amplifers.

    Absolutely true, too much crap made nowadays in China, Taiwan or Thailand. Old German and US made stuff nowadays can't compare with old German or US stuff.
     
  20. MrSnuffy

    MrSnuffy Member

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    Depends on the headphone (some are difficult to drive without an amp)

    Tube amps don't necessarily provide better (or worse) sound.

    Price doesn't always mean something
     

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