Recommended headphone amp to match higher end headphones

Bushey Vinyl

Active member
Feb 27, 2021
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Hi, I was interested to buy some higher end open backed headphones, just as example Grado reference series one consideration, but interested to get some comment/recommendations on matching headphone amp.
In the past had Stax404 which came with its own tube amp that sounded nice but wanted to move away from electrostatic this time
 
Hi, I was interested to buy some higher end open backed headphones, just as example Grado reference series one consideration, but interested to get some comment/recommendations on matching headphone amp.
In the past had Stax404 which came with its own tube amp that sounded nice but wanted to move away from electrostatic this time
obviously the amp is going to depend on the sensitivity of the headphones you are going to get. As we don't know what these are and what your budget might be we will have some difficulty advising
 

Bushey Vinyl

Active member
Feb 27, 2021
15
6
25
obviously the amp is going to depend on the sensitivity of the headphones you are going to get. As we don't know what these are and what your budget might be we will have some difficulty advising
Understood, could be a little premature to ask, but I quite liked the sound of Grado 325 in the past, but felt probably Grado P500e to give more comfortable over ear rather than on ear.
May look at Seinheiser HD800/820.

I was wondering if there is a usual practice of paying similar for amp as the phones themselves, just as typically they vaguely recommend your phone stage should be around the same price as your cartridge being used.

Perhaps an idea of recommendations of headphone amps that have worked to draw the best performance from headphones in the £500-1000 range.

Hope that adds a little more detail. Currently I have Bryston pre-amp with a headphone jack, but usually far greater performance from dedicated headphone amp
 
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Deleted member 188533

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It really depends on the headphone. Some like the HD 800 are notoriously picky about amplification. Others like most of the Focal line are not.

The last 5 years or so has seen a great deal of competition in the headphone space which has made amps ( and DACs ) come way down in price. You can get something today for say $500 that would have cost $5000 a few years ago.

RME, Matrix Audio, iFi, SPL Phonitor, SMSL, Topping, Aune, Benchmark ..... there are quite a few brands with very, very good products that would pair nicely with good headphones.

Personally I find Grado to be too bright but I haven't heard the expensive ones. Also not a fan of the HD800. It's a great classical music headphone and it does soundstage like no other but it doesn't fit my musical tastes.

For me personally in that price range I'd look at the Focal Clear Mg, The HiFiMan Arya and the ZMF Eikon as a closed back choice.
 

Bushey Vinyl

Active member
Feb 27, 2021
15
6
25
It really depends on the headphone. Some like the HD 800 are notoriously picky about amplification. Others like most of the Focal line are not.

The last 5 years or so has seen a great deal of competition in the headphone space which has made amps ( and DACs ) come way down in price. You can get something today for say $500 that would have cost $5000 a few years ago.

RME, Matrix Audio, iFi, SPL Phonitor, SMSL, Topping, Aune, Benchmark ..... there are quite a few brands with very, very good products that would pair nicely with good headphones.

Personally I find Grado to be too bright but I haven't heard the expensive ones. Also not a fan of the HD800. It's a great classical music headphone and it does soundstage like no other but it doesn't fit my musical tastes.

For me personally in that price range I'd look at the Focal Clear Mg, The HiFiMan Arya and the ZMF Eikon as a closed back choice.
Thanks for your detailed reply. Issue I will find is no chance to demo half the headphone choices in one place, and the list of headphone amps I have mostly not heard of so their distributors in London will be few and far between sadly. That said some good information to search a few reviews so thanks for that.
I was only looking for open backed as its for my music room so no concerns for noise leakage in or out.
Will look into your considerations, and see if I can peel back some of the fog of options available now.
 

Jeff Watts

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Feb 4, 2021
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If you want something that's transparent to a fault, and has lots of power get the Topping A30 Pro. Fyi, the balanced output isn't truly balanced on this one.
 

Bushey Vinyl

Active member
Feb 27, 2021
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If you want something that's transparent to a fault, and has lots of power get the Topping A30 Pro. Fyi, the balanced output isn't truly balanced on this one.
Thanks for the advice. Looked at that and seems not even arrived in UK yet as so new.
I have now bought a set of Focal Clear headphones which I managed to pick up at a very good price 2nd hand, so will be looking for an amp to suit these, which could well fall under the same recommendation.
 

Friesiansam

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Feb 3, 2015
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Thanks for the advice. Looked at that and seems not even arrived in UK yet as so new.
I have now bought a set of Focal Clear headphones which I managed to pick up at a very good price 2nd hand, so will be looking for an amp to suit these, which could well fall under the same recommendation.
In my opinion, if you want to make the most of Focal Clears, you need to aim much higher for DAC/amp than a Topping A30 pro. When I bought my Elegias I had an Audiolab M-DAC, it worked quite well but, seemed not to be making the most of the Elegia's potential. I upgraded to a Pathos Converto Mk2 and the difference was clear, suddenly they came alive. £1295 well spent.
 
D

Deleted member 188533

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That M-DAC may have been a fine DAC and had a terrible headphone amp section. It's not a product I've ever seen recommended as an all in one. With no balanced output the amp seems an afterthought. I think you're underestimating the newer crop of cheaper headphone amps based on that one device.

The Pathos seems to be a similar device but with a class A amp section which can change the sound signature quite a bit. Output power is still quite anemic at 1w into 16ohms. The A30 Pro, like my SMSL SP-200 outputs 6 watts into 16 ohms with almost no measurable distortion.



Your Pathos for comparison-

 

Friesiansam

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Feb 3, 2015
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I'm not trying to suggest that my choice is for everyone, just recounting my experience. What HiFi gave the M-DAC a good review and it did a good job of driving my Shure SRH1540s. As for the Converto's modest output power, it's more than adequate for the Elegias as they are easy to drive also, I'm unlikely to upgrade from them, unless Focal launch a new closed-back with the magnesium drivers. Stellias cost too much for me.
 
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Deleted member 188533

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Right and I wasn't trying to be critical of your choices I'm just saying that if you're looking for a true 'wire with gain', uncolored, high power/low distortion amp something like the D30 Pro is almost unbeatable until you start adding 0s to the price.
 
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Roger_A

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Mar 31, 2010
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As the OP originally asked about just a headphone amp rather than a DAC/amp, it may be worth considering njc-audio.co.uk who make amps to order in the UK and provide long term support and a 3 year warranty. If a DAC is needed then there is a matching unit that is designed to be upgradeable if improved DAC chips become available. It seems a better solution than far east units that may become disposable if any problems occur.

Note that I am only bringing this to the OP's attention and I haven't used any of these products but do recall forum posts recommending them though can't now remember which forum.
 
D

Deleted member 188533

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I'd suggest keeping it to the thread you already started and not hijack this one where the OP already bought a Focal Clear.

( Edit: This post was in response to a spammer who is now banned and the post is no longer visible )
 
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ThisIsJimmy

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Nov 11, 2020
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For the details that these headphones can showcase, i'm with anort on this one, and would head Linear which Topping excel at, so the headphones do the talking.

The E30/L30 have better/comparable measurements to the D90 and A90 when browsing Audio Science Review. In essence they use the same chips, but don't have the balanced circuitry, inputs and outputs. If you don't need this then their isn't much need to go further, and the Focal Clear at 35 ohms should be easy to drive.

If you want balanced on the cheap, then you wont go wrong with the D30 and A30.

Whilst the D90 and A90 are considered the primium of Toppings Range, they have a price tag to boot, and you can get that level of performance now for cheaper with abit of research.
 

Bushey Vinyl

Active member
Feb 27, 2021
15
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25
For the details that these headphones can showcase, i'm with anort on this one, and would head Linear which Topping excel at, so the headphones do the talking.

The E30/L30 have better/comparable measurements to the D90 and A90 when browsing Audio Science Review. In essence they use the same chips, but don't have the balanced circuitry, inputs and outputs. If you don't need this then their isn't much need to go further, and the Focal Clear at 35 ohms should be easy to drive.

If you want balanced on the cheap, then you wont go wrong with the D30 and A30.

Whilst the D90 and A90 are considered the primium of Toppings Range, they have a price tag to boot, and you can get that level of performance now for cheaper with abit of research.
I have been making some research and had some discussions. Seems that for Focal Clear they work well with tube amps, possibly due to a reputation of sounding a little metallic which I assume means bright.
I question whether a good DAC may work as well?
Following the comments above I have found an ex-demo Pathos Aurium tube amp for £840 which is testing the top of my preferred budget, but having owned Stax Lamda with its own tube energiser in the past leaning towards this.
 

ThisIsJimmy

Well-known member
Nov 11, 2020
155
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170
I have been making some research and had some discussions. Seems that for Focal Clear they work well with tube amps, possibly due to a reputation of sounding a little metallic which I assume means bright.
I question whether a good DAC may work as well?
Following the comments above I have found an ex-demo Pathos Aurium tube amp for £840 which is testing the top of my preferred budget, but having owned Stax Lamda with its own tube energiser in the past leaning towards this.
hmmmmm i've not really ventured down tube amp that much as of yet. For me tube's start to colour the music and audio output, but that's my personal preference. Watching Zeos change sources between different types of AMPs with the Clear MGs, and Focal Elegia without issue, I don't think it would matter on the type of amplification on these headphones so long as it's a good amplifier, and the source music stream it's fed is good.

A good DAC (measurements are important here. Some here will disagree but I suggest ASR for this) will give your AMP a clean and detailed source to amplify. Distortion in the DAC would generate undesirable noise during amplification audio playback.
 

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