I have a 'phone amp. It has rca inputs-- I would just guess this is why they make HP amps. I'm curious to see what others say.
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The jack ain't the issue; it's what's driving the jack. You preamp has a relatively low output impedance and does a fair job of driving the phones. However, the fact that you have to set the VC at 12 o'clock suggests that there's not much power output available.
A dedicated phone stage, regardless of the output jack, will have more power and a lower impedance. The result will probably be lower distortion.
I am also interested in finding out more on the topic....lately I find myself browsing through the for-sale ads for headphones, but my current setup (pre, cdp or amp) does not have a headphone jack. It would be great if I could avoid buying a separate HD amp. I'll be keeping an eye on this thread...
I have plenty of volume at 12:00 - that is not the really what I am interested in here.
What about the quality of the sound? What if I compare my headphones on the pre, to my headphones on a headphone amp RCA, to my headphones on a pre with a headphone jack? Sure, the answer will depend on the specific units compared, but how do they compare in general? What are the pros and cons? If I wanted to get the best sound, which direction would I go? Or are all three just as capable?
If I already own a fantastic pre (RCA out only), would there by any reason to add a headphone amp?
1. In general, a well constructed purpose-designed device, like a headphone amp, will be superior, for driving headphones. Note, they have a much lower input impedance than that of the average amp. Of course, such a general statement is irrelevant when you get to real-world specifics.
2. Just because it's loud enough does not mean that it has enough power to work into that load without distortion. A 12 o'clock setting is pretty high (in general and without knowledge of your preamp or the gain curve of the pot). Is that where you set it to feed the amp/speakers?
3. Why not just try a decent headphone amp and see for yourself if it is better? Surely, there are web dealers with a useful return policy.