I'm loving my Woo WA6SE (maxed out). It's got plenty of drive and should easily handle the cans you have, but if you need a preamp out you'd need to go to one of his other amps (I think the WA2 is a pre as well, while the WA5 doubles as an amp to high-efficiency speakers). I think the Zana Deux from Eddie Current has pre-outs and is highly respected as well. There's a few reviews online. Designed by Craig Uthus of Moth fame. Along with Ray Samuels, the GS-1 and GS-X from Headamp seems to also have garnered some respect. Cary also has several possibilities in both preamp and integrated amp offerings with respected headphone outputs. I only have direct experience with the Woo I mentioned, but if I were looking, these would be the prime suspects for me. You said bedside. I can tell you that the Woo I use is large enough that it takes up a typical bedside table, as would most of the suggestions here with few exceptions (perhaps headamp offerings would be the most compact). If you are looking for one that doubles as a preamp does that mean you're building a full system around it in your bedroom?
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Any thoughts on tube vs ss?
Sure. I used to have a more myopic viewpoint on that topic, but the more I hear great implementation of both topologies, the more I believe both have tremendous potential. There's no right answer there. I'd stress that your three different cans are going to mesh differently with any choice you make. I don't know that you're going to find one single amp that makes all three sound their best, but it will certainly offer some choices when listening to various types of music. Tubes are definitely more high-maintenance (also more tweakable), whereas SS is set-it-forget-it friendly. Tubes are more friendly when pressed to clipping. Of the favored HP amps I mentioned there are representatives of both topologies. I'd suggest, if possible, try to listen to a few options and see where your preference lies. You can go over to Headfi.org and see if there may be meets in your area. I know it's more difficult to find a dealer that carries many options. There's one in Portland, OR called 320 Ohm that is all about headphone products. With the speaker right at your ear, you definitely do not want an amp that is going to distort or run out of headroom (clip) or you will find yourself investing heavily in Advil. If I were going to put together a little system like you are, I might shift my focus from headphonecentric choices to more conventional choices, like a Cary SLI80 integrated (tubes) or a Portal Panache (SS), both of which have respected headphone sections. I have a Portal in my office and can tell you the headphone output is excellent, though not quite up to the dedicated Woo, it certainly is about 80% there. My bedroom is headphone only, so that's why I went that direction there.
I've had a Blue Circle HPT in my system for about a month now, I absolutely love it. It is solid state, can accept 2 sources, and has pre out. The power supply is also user upgradable. The headphone output sounds great and really drives my Grados and AKG very well. A definite level or two above my previous amp, Channel Islands VHP1. I'm in the process of finding a power amp to go with it so I can't vouch for the quality of the pre-outs yet but I have owned several blue circle pieces over the years and would be very surprised if it weren't also excellent. Gilbert at Blue Circle is very approachable and often frequents the Blue Circle Forums to answer any questions.
I haven't heard the other pre/headamp combos mentioned above, but I can recommend the Ray Samuels B-52 without hesitation. It can be used with balanced or unbalanced cans. He also offers some other models at different price points. If you're ever inclined to move to Sony MDR-R10 cans, the R10/B-52 combo is amazing. I believe Ray voiced the B-52 with the R10s. Since I've been using the B-52 as a preamp in my main rig, I haven't felt the urge to move to a more expensive dedicated pre. I used to use an EmmLabs DCC2se pre and the B-52 in the same league but with the added tube magic; and it beats the Krell KCT that I had previously in pretty much every department. Different strokes for different folks, so I recommend listening with your headphones before you buy.
If you were solely interested in headphones, CanJam 2010 is in Chicago, June 5-6. RMAF is definitely worth attending if you are in the market for new gear, or just want to socialize with like-minded folks on an Audiophile tangent. I don't know what kind of HP presence is at RMAF compared to the Chicago event - I wasn't looking for any the year I attended.
I just bought a Berning Micro Zotl which is both a tube headphone amp and a personal 1W amp. These can be modified by Berning to also be a preamp with 2 inputs and 1 output. Mine has been modified and really surprised me with it's sound.
CanJam 2009 was bundled with RMAF, but appears to be going off on its own next year. That would be a great way to learn about headphone set-ups. Also, try the HeadFi forum and Moon Audio, who advertises on Audiogon and carries a good selection of headphone gear.
Canjam was indeed what i meant to say!
Glad to hear that it will be on it's own as i've heard it's "end user" friendly...
Should mention that i have 1 headphone amp/pre/dac now...The Grace 902.
That said, it is single end only and comes off a little too sterile for me.
That prompted my questions...Tube for more musicality? Balanced for greater recovery and detail?
What would be a realistic budget as i now have several k'stied up in great headphones and do not know if re-cabling them is all that necessary.
Once again, thanks to all!
I don't think any of the DAC/headphone combo's (Grace, Benchmark, TADAC, Apogee, etc.) are going to equal the output of a top-flight headphone amp...or even the HP output on the conventional amps I mentioned (those where attention is actually paid to the HP output (not many). I can tell you for certain having heard them, Benchmark and TADAC, though adequate, are not in the same league as the amp I currently use for HP use. I've never liked Benchmark's sound, BTW, so that kind of ruins it for headphones too. TADAC (2007-2009 model) is an excellent DAC, IMHO, and has a decent headphone output too. But I don't think any of those dual-use units are meant to compete with dedicated amps. They are most certainly convenient, being a one-box solution. Have not heard the Grace and Apogee first hand, to be fair - I am speculating there. Read what others have to say, listen yourself and make your own judgment. I also owned a Micro-ZOTL for about a year - Loved it with Sony MDR3000 cans. Excellent HP amp!
Benchmark headphone amp is good quality - it will drive some difficult load studio type headphones really well. My old Studio AKG 240's really sing with H1 amp (originals bought the year after they came out). These headphones do not really like typical cheap hi-fi headphone amps like you get with hi-end consumer gear.