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Best headphone option?

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Does anybody have a recommendation for a reasonably priced, not too large, DAC/headphone amp? Ideally small enough to be tossed into a laptop bag for travel.


Preferred connections would be toslink, USB, or wifi.


MacBook Pro -> AppleTV ->Rotel RSP-1570 -> Martin Logan Electromotion[br]MacBook Pro -> Icon HDP -> AKG K701[br]Apple Lossless all the way

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Firstly there is another thread very similar to this in the speaker section (umm. not sure how to link it)


I owned a HeadAmp Pico for a while & is a great little unit very neautral sounding & Has probably got the best Dac of the portable Amp/Dac's (I have only owned the Dac in the Pico & the Dac in my ADM9's, but if you check across at Head-fi.org people also use the Dac as a stand alone into a bigger form headphone amps & rave about its quility)

I've listened through but not owened a Predator, I only listened through the amp not the Dac. Also a great sounding amp a little warmer than the Pico IMO.


There is however a few more that should be taken into consideration the iBasso D2 Boa and the newer iBasso D3 Python. Meier-Audio Corda2move & Corda3move (basically the same Dac/Amp but with crossfeed filter added to the 3move) are all very well regarded units.


Most of these are very hard to get a demo of & different Headphone Amp - headphone combinations will sound different. So again another recommendation for Head-fi, a great place to read LOTS of info & find which may match your headphones. These little amps hold there price very well (if looked after) & there is a great 2nd hand market over at head-fi. Box swappers delight.





www.TurnMeUp.org - Bringing Dynamics Back To Music.

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What is "reasonably priced?" And what will you be plugging into it? Portable CD player? iPod (lossless files or compressed?). How about the other end? High-end, full sized cans? Earbuds? High-end ear canal phones?


I will offer an opposing point of view on Head-fi. I think it is a fabulous place to get far too much varying and contradictory information and pick up a ton of voodoo and fanboy flavor of the month nonsense in the process. If you really want to make a solid, practical decision on a portable headphone amp, avoid the place. If you want to enter into an endless, tweaky audiophile discussion that never concludes and will leave you perpetually in gear acquisition syndrome, call it home. :) In other words, it's a typical audiophile board.




I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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"What is "reasonably priced?" And what will you be plugging into it? Portable CD player? iPod (lossless files or compressed?). How about the other end? High-end, full sized cans? Earbuds? High-end ear canal phones?"


To answer the questions:



MacBook Pro -> AppleTV ->Rotel RSP-1570 -> Martin Logan Electromotion[br]MacBook Pro -> Icon HDP -> AKG K701[br]Apple Lossless all the way

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I’m with Tim on this one. I would say pick your cans, then DAC, then headphone amps. As much as I appreciate all that Linn has done for audio, I’ve always felt a preferrence to start with the speakers rather than the source.


I have excellent headphones from AKG, Grado and Sennheiser. Beyerdynamics and Stax are also excellent headphone companies. I’m not into earbuds or ear canal phones, but many people like the Shure products.


Make your choice based on your budget. I would highly recommend the top products from any of these companies. I love my AKG 701 but I also enjoy my Grados and Senns. Each one is different with different strengths and very few weaknesses. Each one lets me hear a different presentation to let me know what is possible in any playback chain.


I have used some excellent DACs with built-in headphone outputs including the Benchmark USB DAC1 at the more expensive range and the Zhaolu 2.5 DAC with a headphone uppgrade in the low budget category. I rarely use a headphone amp, though I have several. I have on my wish list one of the Woo Audio headphone amps with full mods whenever my budget will allow.



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Sorry, a couple more questions: What full sized, sealed cans and what is their impedance, if you know? (if you don't, I might). You are looking for portable use or home?


The adapters you seek for the iPod are readily available, but it still just gives you a line out, not digital out.


I'm off to work, but it sounds like you're in good hands with the masked man. I'll check back in tonight. I love headphone audio, love the subject for discussion and have, surprise, some pretty strong views. Especially if you're building a home system for headphone listening.






I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Can anyone give me a rundown of the IBasso D2 Boa. THe pricing and features look like great value. I have wanted something for my Senn HD555 for the pc for awhile, but didn't want to go much over 200 bucks. I am in Canada unfortunately and it seems headphone amps are REALLY HARD to find here. Ray Samuals stuff looks awesome as well, but too costly for me to get with the usb dac part. I just want usb input and headphone output basically. Maybe an ipod in too.


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I'm just beginning to scout out full-size headphones, and possibly

a small DAC/Amp combo unit.


What headphones do you currently use, and what gear to feed them?


( BTW, I have 'reference' ( or so Mr. Moulton describes them )

Shure 'in-ear' headphones, and took delivery of the new Apple 'in-ears'

a few days ago. Like them both a lot, but unfortunately I won't be able to use either regularly,

because of their propensity to instigate ear infections. Just passing this

along to you 'in-ear' folks ... don't fall asleep with them in, like I did,

or use them for long periods of time without an 'airing out', or you do risk

infection because of protracted warmth/humidity in outer ear --

so my ear/nose/throat MD explained. Not that it would kill you, but

I guarantee, no fun, kinda painful, and a big old hassle. )


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This is just my preference, but for portability I just use my full sized cans and my iPhone, iPod or MacBook Pro. I rip my CDs to AIFF and my DVDs to MP4 to my laptop and sync to the other devices. If I wanted to use a portable DAC with my MacBook Pro, I would probably buy the Apogee Duet. If battery playback is not a requirement, then I would just use my Benchmark USB DAC1. I used to have an Apogee FW Mini-DAC that was even smaller and lighter than the DAC1.


My apologies for recommending the Woo Audio headphone amps, they are excellent but not transportable. Anyway, my preference is for buying the best headphones you can reasonably afford and then add a headphone amp later as opposed to splitting your budget between headphones, DACs and headphone amps. All the DACs that I owned had built-in headphone outputs. In fact, my Oppo 970HD universal player may be the only digital player that I ever owned that did not have headphone outputs.


The Amazon price for the AKG 701 is less than $260, the Sennheiser HD-595 is less than $190, and the Grado RS-1 is a tad expensive at just under $700. The Apogee Duet is $495, the Apogee FW Mini-DAC is $1095, and the Benchmark USB DAC1 is $1275. The headphone amp sections in all these DACs are very good to excellent but if you want to take things to a higher level try one of the Woo Audio headphone amps ranging from just under $500 to just over $3000. I believe these are all excellent choices so let your comfort and budget be your guide.



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... AKG 701 is less than $260, the Sennheiser HD-595 is less than $190, and the Grado RS-1 is a tad expensive at just under $700. ...


Audiozorro, have you had opportunity to listen to all of the above?

If yes, any characterizations or impressions you would share about them?




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I own the AKG 701 and feel they offer the best clarity, detail and resolution of any headphones I ever heard with the possible exception of the very best Stax electrostatics. I feel the AKG 701 weakness may be the bass, which is pure but not like the boom-boom that many people enjoy in other cans.


I don’t own the Sennheiser HD-595 but I do own the HD-580, which is pretty close to the HD-595. I have heard the Senn HD-595, HD-600 and HD-650. If you like deep bass then these are your cans, though I find the HD-580 a little too dark for my tastes. I was inclined to recommend the HD-650 but the price of the HD-595 was hard to ignore.


I believe the Grado headphones are some of the best all around performers and I feel they excel in the midrange. The problem with Grados is that they are very uncomfortable for long listening sessions. The exception is the Grado GS-1000, which is comfortable on your ears but not on your pocket. I do have Grad headphones but not the RS-1. I have heard the RS-1 and they sound excellent but again they are not comfortable.


The Beyerdynamic DT 880 is another can I can recommend for excellent sound and comfort.


The HeadRoom, Stereophile, Enjoy the Music, and 6moons website probably have more thorough and detailed evaluations. The AKG 701 is definitely a keeper, but if I ever get around to selling my other cans on Audiogon, I will be replacing the others with the Sennheiser HD-650 and the Grado GS-1000. I am somewhat predisposed to rank the Grado GS-1000 as #1, the AKG-701 as #2 and the Sennheiser HD-650 as #3. I believe the Beyerdynamic DT 880 is close to the AKG 701, but the AKG has superior sonics and the Beyerdynamic has superior comfort.


That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.




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Maybe folks would comment on suitable USB amp/dac unit for Sennheiser HD650 headphones. I wish to use iMac, iTunes lossless files via the USB port, when working on computer. As well, I would like to use same lossless files on an ipod, connected to same amp/dac, to listen in another room. No other portability required.

I play mainly classical music.

At present, the ipod or iMac via headphone port seems somewhat thin.


So far the Lehmann USB headphone amp seems the best but the price is a little high.


I have dispensed with my Rega CD, Rega amp and Dyneaudio speakers as I do not use them enough.

My son-in-law and daughter have these!

I wish to replace with the above system.


Many thanks,




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They're AKG 701s, the very same mentioned above. To be more accurate, they're more circumaural than truly sealed (they're not nearly as sealed as my AKG K271S studio headphones).


62 ohm impedance at 1kHz. I'm not sure what the sensitivity is.


Obviously, these aren't my travel phones, but they are the ones I want to use for serious listening. For traveling, I typically use the Ultimate Ears in-ears phones that work with my iPhone as it has a built-in mic for phone calls. Not good for serious listening, but they're not horrible and they're better than the stock iPhone buds.


But the amp/DAC would be mainly to drive the 701s while listening at home during times when my wife is monopolizing the main home theater.




MacBook Pro -> AppleTV ->Rotel RSP-1570 -> Martin Logan Electromotion[br]MacBook Pro -> Icon HDP -> AKG K701[br]Apple Lossless all the way

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The conventional wisdom says that high-impedance phones or those with uneven impedance curves can't be driven "properly" by by low-voltage amps, ie, battery operated portables and the op-amp based circuits added on to most cd players, DACs, computers, etc. By not properly driven, we're not talking about a lack of volume but, rather, a lack of bass control and slow transient response, resulting in a "dark" or "veiled" sound signature. On the list of high impedance and/or hard to drive phones are AKG 501/601/701, Sennheiser 580/600/650, most Beyers and more I'm sure I'm missing. Low impedance/easy to drive would include Denons and Grados.


The conventional wisdom, over on head fi, anyway, also disses the headphone sections of almost all integrated amps and receivers. This is probably complete nonsense. The overwhelming majority of these are simply the amp's mains, stepped down through resistors. This creates a high output impedance that some low-impedance phones don't like, but high-impedance phones like the aforementioned Senns and AKGs don't care, and a good quality integrated amp or receiver will do them justice.


Personally, I listen to Sennheiser HD580s (functionally identical to the current 600s) and Etymotic ER6s. I've had a few pretty nice headphone amps through the house, including tubes, and they only sounded very slightly different from the headphone out of my vintage Harman Kardon integrated amp or my very modern digital receiver. They were not worth either the money or the desk space, in my view.


The conventional wisdom is not always right.


What I would do, if I had it to do, is first define my purpose. If I wanted a portable, battery-operated rig, I'd start with efficient, low-impedance cans like the Denons or Grados. Then I'd look for a competent, but not esoteric portable amp, knowing that it's the phones that are going to define my sound, not the small differences between a Headroom and a Ray Sammuels. If I wanted a rig for home, I'd find high-impedance cans with the sound sig I like (Senns will be big and lush and warm, AKGs bright and airy and revealing), then I'd look for a more powerful ac-powered amp to drive them. If I had any need, or thought I might ever have any need for the versatility of multiple inputs, speakers outs, tone controls, surround sound simulation, etc, I'd look at integrateds and receivers. Pretty common, inexpensive Yamaha receivers have pretty stunning headphone sections, but don't trust me, take your new phones to any Best Buy and listen. The recently-released Cambridge Audio 640A v2 is getting great reviews as an integrated amp and has a discrete, class-A headphone section that is getting equally great reviews. They're selling on some internet outlets for $400, which is the cost of many portable headphone amps. I haven't heard it, but I'd take the bet that, driving Senns or AKGs (and they ARE worth the trouble), it'll eat most portables for lunch.


If I wanted to minimize the footprint, dabble in tubes or simply get a dedicated headphone amp "because" I'd look in neighborhoods like Darkvoice, Woo, Glow (tubes)...Channel Islands, Headroom and Headamp (ss)...and, personally, I'd look at the first couple of levels, because the returns diminish very, very rapidly.


That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Oh and a plug. Sennheiser HD600s are wonderful. Forward and aggressive enough for rock. Detailed enough for acoustic music. Big enough for classical. All with a warm, lush sound that is easy to listen to for hours. AKGs are lean and revealing and lightning quick. And they just wear me out. YMMV.




I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Yeah, but Tim...


While I agree with much of what you said as it relates to conventional headphone amplification, in my particular case I'm looking for an amp/DAC combo that will accept straight digital input. So fancy pants tube-based headphone amps aren't even really in the picture.


What I'd really like is something like the Wadia pod dock, but with a few additional digital inputs (optical, USB) and a decent headphone amp.


The Nuforce Icon might be really interesting if it had a more exciting DAC inside:





MacBook Pro -> AppleTV ->Rotel RSP-1570 -> Martin Logan Electromotion[br]MacBook Pro -> Icon HDP -> AKG K701[br]Apple Lossless all the way

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Personally, the last thing I want from a DAC is a sonic personality, much less excitement, but if you need multiple digital inputs, you're probably looking at devices that put DAC first, with a little op amp-based headphone amp tagging along. That being the case, the safe thing to do (there goes that conventional wisdom again) would be to choose an easy load at the other end -- low impedance headphones. But now you've got the DAC choosing the amp, which is choosing the headphones. The cart is way ahead of the horse. Not that it can't turn out right, but it's a convoluted path.




I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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What I was referring to excitement, I wasn't referring to the sonic signature, but the fact that the NuForce uses just a 16bit/44.1/48 DAC.




MacBook Pro -> AppleTV ->Rotel RSP-1570 -> Martin Logan Electromotion[br]MacBook Pro -> Icon HDP -> AKG K701[br]Apple Lossless all the way

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x2 for the Sennheiser HD600s, I love mine.


I also agree with the majority of what you've said through this thread.

First define the purpose. then select the right headphone for this purpose with the right sound sig for yourself. Then on to Amps. All great advice!


However i think you were a little harsh towards 'Head-Fi'.

Again i agree "I think it is a fabulous place to get far too much varying and contradictory information and pick up a ton of voodoo and fanboy flavor of the month nonsense in the process"

But i think we all agree that audio boards give us a fun read with lots of subjective information. But then go on to buy gear after suitable demo's.

Head-fi opened up to me all kinds of products i didn't even know existed. I had no knowledge of RSA, HeadAmp, Woo, Darkvoice, Little Dot etc etc the list goes on! Therefore i think its a good place to find out just what is in the market place.

But that produces it own problems, trying to get a demo of alot of these products here in the UK is next to impossible. But through Head-fi i have listened to some of these products through mini-meets arranged by head-fi members. CAN JAM 2009 is going to be a big meet where alot of Headphones, Amps etc can be demo'd this again is being set up by Head-fi members (these events already run in the US). Also there are loaner programmes (OK not many) where amps etc are mailed to you for a week or so. You can then evaluate the product as a home demo,before mailing on to the next person on the list.

Yes Head-fi is another typical audiophile board but its not all voodoo & snake oil


www.TurnMeUp.org - Bringing Dynamics Back To Music.

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I remembered today that I owned Sennheiser 570s.

Then I remembered that I had forgotten where I had stored them.

Then I tore the house apart to find them. Older age will do this to you.

I have no idea how this model compares to those some of you

are using. These are around 5-7 yrs old -- assuming I have

anything like accurate memory of anything anymore. ;-)


Just for fun, I used a two-bit Radio Shack adaptor,

and plugged them into my Mac directly, and did the same with my iPhone 3G,

both playing the same Apple lossless files. I fired up my best recordings.


My 2 cents ...


Takes max volume on both machines for acceptable levels.


Compared to my Bel Canto DAC3 > Bel Canto S300s >

Emerald Physics CS2 speaker system ... the 570s sound awfully darn good

without external dac/amp -- with just the crappy little Mac DAC

( how crappy could it be BTW? ), and hardly any headroom --

from whatever the Macs have for amplification.

Possibly a little 'thin', but very close to the big stuff.


Brian, are you doing the same connections with your current headphones?





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Alphie -- you're probably right. Head-fi is undoubtedly a great source of information. I suppose if you could go there, soak up some of that information than go off and actually hear some of the amps discussed there, it would even be useful information. As it is, there is almost no place to go do that, so there is no effective way to separate the information from the misinformation, of which there is plenty. As an example, I spent months on head fi hearing, believing and even unknowingly passing on the myth that almost all integrated amps and receiver use cheap, afterthough, opamp-based headphone sections that are not up to the task of driving high-impedance phones, but that there were some really good headphone sections to be found in the receivers of the golden age (the 70s), when headphone sections were the speaker amps, stepped down through resistors.


This was repeated daily on Head fi, whenever anyone dared to suggest that he thought his cans actually sounded pretty good without a dedicated amp.


As it turned out, the myth was not only wrong, it was off by 180 degrees. Most modern receivers and integrateds use the resistor method of old, which is best for high impedance, hard to drive phones. A few use separate, op amp-based circuits but, hardly an afterthought, they are usually the more expensive products, more thought is put into the headphone section, and the primary reason is so it will drive low impedance phones as well as high.


You're right. Head fi is a great resource to learn about everything that is available in the world of audiophile headphone listening. If someone wants to spend a lot of time there and soak it up, cool. A beginner looking for solid information upon which to make purchasing decisions? I can hardly recommend it.


Brian -- No you can't go USB to RCA as USB is digital and RCA is analog. You'll need a DAC in the middle on the way to the Cambridge or a similar all analog amp. Most AV receivers (the aforementioned Yamahas) have very competent DACs built in, but won't take USB. You'll need optical. Or some kind of USB to whatever transporter. I don't know much about iPod line out cables, but I don't recall seeing one terminated in 2 RCAs. It will probably terminate in a mini phono plug, which can easily be split into 2 RCAs though.




I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Just Senn 650 into headphone on iMac is a little thin. Bass not bad.


I also found my old Senn Hd414X's. So old the foam disintegrated.

Bought new pads. These are now used as a connection to my TV.


What about the ProJect Headphone amp SE?




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You've got Senn 650s? You would definitely benefit from an amp with some serious grunt. The headphone section of a serious integrated or receiver would do. A dedicated headphone amp might add a bit. But while they won't sound bad at all out of your iMac or a portable amp, they'll open up and breathe with a little power and voltage.




I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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My aim is to use the iMac as source to integrated amp/dac (as you suggest) to Senn 650.

I also what to keep the footprint as small as possible (my desk is already too crowded).

The USB out from the iMac gives a better signal than headphone slot (is this true?).

Given this, if the amp has a built in DAC, can it accept the digital signal from the iMac and, if so, what type of cable?


If I still have this all wrong, what are my options so as to use iMac+amp/dac+Senn650?


Also ipod to integrated amp to Senn 650. (Don't mind carrying amp tp another room.

The dock port gives better signal than the headphone slot.

Would the dock/RCA cable be appropriate here?


I have given all my equipment (CD,amp and speakers) away to replace with headphones + computer/ipod for around the house.


Thanks for you patience and help.




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