1. OCAU Merchandise is available! Check out our 20th Anniversary Mugs, Classic Logo Shirts and much more! Discussion in this thread.
    Dismiss Notice

Are Headphone Amplifiers worth it

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

  1. Spork!

    Spork! Member

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2009
    Messages:
    2,329
    Location:
    Tasmania

    Worth the money is entirely subjective.
    If you have spare $ and spend a lot of time listening with headphones, then yes, money well spent. If cash is tight and you seldom use HPs, not so much.

    Some amazing amps are available, both tube and SS, and hybrid. SS amps sound the way they sound and only software (assuming the source is good) will alter their sound. There is some excellent EQ software. Tube amps often allow you to swap ("roll") tubes, to give a different sound signature. You might feel like something more dynamic today and something more laid back tomorrow. This also lets you "tune" them to suit your HPs, your musical taste, whatever. It's both a good and a bad thing. Tube rolling can be addictive, and VERY expensive...

    Not all cheaper amps are rubbish, and certainly not all expensive ones sound good - but there is no such thing as a free lunch. While you can buy expensive rubbish, you won't find many cheap amps with good quality components and a great sound.

    Having said all that, my first external DAC/Amp was a cheapy, and it sounded better than my onboard or mid range soundcard.
    Next one was dearer, @ $499 (IIRC) USD and it was a big improvement.
    From there things got a bit silly for a while...

    I've since sold some gear off, and settled on a midrange Stax setup, which to me represents a good value for $ place to be - I listen to music pretty much exclusively with HPs, for upward of 20-30 hours/week.
     
  2. GoneFishin22

    GoneFishin22 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2008
    Messages:
    0
    Another high value post......:thumbup: from someone who loves their music and sound and realises there are indeed significant differences having a DAC and AMP with high quality files.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  3. schmoove

    schmoove Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2006
    Messages:
    757
    Location:
    Asia
    Some very knowledgable people in here. Good posts!
    I'd still recommend the OP not bother with a tube dac/amp for his first piece of gear.
    I've already seen someone talking about 'measuring a tube', and new old stock. How do you measure a tube btw? I had a quick search but couldn't find out.

    Stick with something decent, affordable for you, and solid state for your first buy - run before you can walk. Simply enjoy the music.

    Having said all that I did buy this as a gift for someone once, though it wasn't their first piece of kit, but was their first that uses a tube. I've never heard it, but he says it's nice enough. This was a few years ago - I probably wouldn't buy it today. Tech has moved on a little, so it's not a recommendation.
    https://www.shenzhenaudio.com/racoo...quality-usb-dac-tube-headphone-amplifier.html
    Still using the original tube too.
     
  4. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,147
    You don't measure the tubes in terms of a frequency graph output (though you could demonstrate its behavior on a curve tracer), tubes are generally tested for shorts, grid leakage and its emission as well as other aspects such as the heater, cathode and suppressor if given the option based on the type of tube tester you have.

    These are generally physical aspects of the tube that is tested, a tube itself is electrically characterised by its voltage gain (Mu), transconductance (gm) and resistance plate (rp). When we get to certain transmitting tubes some as such like gas filled thyratrons or mercury vapor filled signal tubes then its not just a simple test you would take with something like an 6sn7 triode on a regular Hickok or Eico tube tester as there are other things to test for.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
  5. schmoove

    schmoove Member

    Joined:
    Oct 13, 2006
    Messages:
    757
    Location:
    Asia
    So how does a humble listener, who doesn't have the technical equipment needed for those kind of tests know when the tube does need changing?
    The boozy pal whom I bought that head amp for will need to know this at some point in the future. From my understanding (as a guy who has never owned a valve amp) of various internet forum trawls, things just start to sound a bit 'off'. Problem is that our perception of sound is subjective and if the degradation occurs slowly over time it's going to be more difficult to pick up on.
    Are there any specific issues or sound characteristics to listen out for? Or visual cues from the light emitted?
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2017
  6. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,147
    A faulty tube will most times show physical problems i.e arcing within the vacuum glass or the filament not lighting up even when a heater voltage is present. A weak tube will generally sound easily distorted at low or high levels or simply very low audio output to no audio output.
     
  7. Spork!

    Spork! Member

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2009
    Messages:
    2,329
    Location:
    Tasmania
    A quick observation on tube lifespan:
    Often tubes used in a headphone amp are not working anywhere near their limit, significantly extending their life.

    My T1 amp is an 80's model - still going strong, still with original tubes.
    (It also had original caps, but I have sent it away to have caps replaced, and will also whack some new tubes in it just to be sure. A pair orf decent quality NOS tubes for it only cost me $35)
     
  8. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,147
    Speaking of your T1 (still waiting for 1 damn E14 order to process through), your amplifier actually doesn't have the original tubes in it. The original tubes in all Stax amplifiers that use the 6FQ7/6CG7 triodes are Toshiba 6FQ7. The 6FQ7 in your T1 have been replaced at some time either through a distributor or previous owner to GE (General Electric) late 80's 6CG7's.
     
  9. Spork!

    Spork! Member

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2009
    Messages:
    2,329
    Location:
    Tasmania
    Hahaha. Oops.
    Spritzer reckons the Toshiba are the best tube for the T1, unless it's modified to use ECC33. I have a pair of NOS Toshibas waiting here for their amp to come home.
     
  10. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,147
    So do I, I've tried all the 6CG7/6FQ7's out there and I too reckon the original Toshiba's are the best for what it does.

    The Stax SRM-T1 can be modified to take ECC99 tubes like the SRM-600LTD does but the modification will mean you can't roll 6CG7/6FQ7's. If you want to get creative, you can use a tube adapter on the 6CG7 to some other triode but you would need to remove the top panel exposing the amplifier innards.
     
  11. regressor

    regressor Member

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2008
    Messages:
    32
    Location:
    Canberra
    I recently got into the world of head-fi / hifi about six months ago (rip wallet). Some great info here already - I guess being a computer forum there aren't too many snakeoil salesmen around.

    As per recommendations I can say I have been very happy with my SMSL M3 as a starting point. For me it represents very good value, I have a few dearer things which I like but I have never been unhappy with that bad boy.

    If you are interested in getting an amp, based on value to you personally, I would also suggest waiting out until something nice comes up second hand here or on stereonet. Do what makes you happy and while you may not need one having a dedicated amp is nice in my opinion - even though I listen to music on fairly low volume (never push it past 30% or so even with hard to drive 600/300ohm headphones) it is nice having the physical item to sit there and turn the knob.

    On board DACs on pcs these days mostly seem pretty good, so in order of importance for spending: headphones > amp > DAC. I would say maybe 70/20/10% - dunno others opinions.
     
  12. ysu

    ysu Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2005
    Messages:
    1,111
    Location:
    Central Coast
    Maybe late to the discussion, but I strongly advise you to talk to Headphonic. ( http://headphones.com.au/ ). Professional, helpful advice to be had w/o the bs. Lay out what you want, buy, test, and if you're not happy, upgrade. (they will exchange stuff!)

    That's what I've done, and ended up instead of a $400 chinese headphone with a Beyer T90 (german made, much more expensive) headphone and a Mayflower O2 (odac?) dac+amp.
    It sounds better than my way-way back Auzentech x-fi forte (and that one did sound really good) and it's usb connected so no need for a sound card, no need for drivers installed, and I've a proper volume control right in front of me on the desk. Love it.

    All in all, their service is what I'm recommending here. They'll help you find the best depending on your budget & expectations.

    Audio is extremely subjective.

    Edit: just read the previous poster and it has raised one point in my mind: don't go for partial upgrades if you can help it. You will regret having mis-matched components, they don't sound good while waiting for the full upgrade, and you may end up with slightly mis-matched components in the end, that again, won't sound as good. Get the whole chain in one. Wait if you must, you'll be better off in the end. my 2c (I've done both!)
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2017
  13. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,147
    Marc's headphonics is in Perth, WA though. OP is in Sydney and I advise OP to visit the A2A (not called A2A, but its backed up by A2A owner George) as they have the largest range of headphone gear out there.

    The $400 Chinese headphone debate vs the German Beyer T90 is a stupid one, if we are talking about planars from Oppo and Hifiman the T90 doesn't compare unless you're talking about build quality where Hifiman lacks in comparison and Oppo quite ok. That doesn't mean the Beyer's don't come with flaws, Beyerdynamic have some of the worst driver matching since the Tesla transducer in the T1, the variance in sound and measured sound frequency between pairs and batches is astonishing

    Also expensive /= != quality.
     
  14. Aratahu

    Aratahu Member

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2004
    Messages:
    564
    Location:
    Melbourne VIC
    On the old vs new debate: My HTPC system features a Rotel RB 985 + RSP-980 / Infinity Kappa 6.1 5ch, which is over 20 years old now, and still going strong. I leave the amp + pre-amp on all the time, so might cost me a bit of bucket, but still.

    Speaker baffles got refurbished at Speakerbits in Melbourne a few years ago; also, I chucked out their DD decoder and hooked it up to an Asus Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe through a special DB25 to RCA cable, and have been enjoying really great audio for a long time including DTS-HD MA. Not upgrading until it breaks. And before that I'll try to fix it. A Samsung 65" SUHD complements the setup; only source used is the Win10 HTPC.

    Anyway, for headphones I have a Soundblaster ZxR with ATH-ADG1X at home (the desktop, not the HTPC), and their E5 at work - with the ATH-ANC9 (waiting for ATH-MSR7NC).

    For me good sound cards definitely makes a difference. The ZxR feels better than the E5, but as a mobile unit the E5 handles itself well. I've not tried proper high end stuff, and I don't intend to either. ;-)
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2017
  15. kaotickelly

    kaotickelly Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2007
    Messages:
    236
    Location:
    Sydney
    If you can't heard the different between 192kbps MP3 and 320Kbps MP3, or FLACs, then don't spend more than $400 for the headphone and AMP.

    If you can, then be prepared to keep spending.
     
  16. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,147
    192k and 320k not much of a difference assuming you're comparing both files ripped and encoded from the same original source/mastering. A better argument is comparing 128k to 320k or FLAC.

    FLAC, ALAC, WAVE a bit different as they are uncompressed formats where as anything else is compressed. The mastering of the source has some effect as well, if its a shit mastered album on redbook then ripping it to high res 320k mp3 and high res FLAC it would be harder to differentiate a difference between both, though FLAC generally sounds louder and has cleaner background noise with no grain to the other frequencies (uncompressed).

    There are way too many variables at play comparing both. The end result to achieve is rip/encode to the format suitable for what the equipment/headphone/playback device is max capable of.

    No point ripping your entire redbook collection to high res FLAC's when all you have is some 1980's 14 bit DAC hooked up to your PC or a smartphone for plug and play.
     
  17. Kookooburra

    Kookooburra Member

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2004
    Messages:
    5,361
    Location:
    Brisbane
    So i plugged my headphones into my never say die acer notebook from 2010....i was greeted with strong amplification but horrible sound quality.

    Obviously the sound chip on a old notebook isn't very good, but it highlights the need for good quality from the dac/amp and headphone.

    I would say that the amp is the LEAST important factor based on my simple experiences....
     
  18. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    3,147
    The chain setup approach from most important to least important is headphones/speakers > amplifier > dac/playback source > cables.
     
  19. Kookooburra

    Kookooburra Member

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2004
    Messages:
    5,361
    Location:
    Brisbane
    When i plug my headphones into my desktop PC, its impossible to use 100% volume, i usually drop it to approx 55%...so in that example the amplification is excessive.

    I consider the dac on my mobo to be decent as FLACS sound fairly good, so in this instance an upgrade would come via better headphones...once again the amp (at least in terms of volume) is the least important factor.
     
  20. dakiller

    dakiller (Oscillating & Impeding)

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2001
    Messages:
    8,480
    Location:
    3844
    For good headphones, an amp provides sound quality improvements, not volume amplification.
     

Share This Page

Advertisement: