Headphone amp and headphones... ?


I'm thinking about buying a headphone amp and headphones... will i hear a noticable difference if i 'm in the 1500.00 headphone range and around 700.00 for the amp? I have Rouge audio 180 mono blocks and the 99 preamp. The way it is now i can't get any sound / volume out of it with just the headphones
bobmclean
In that price range a pair of Sennheiser HD800 phones driven by a PS Audio GCHA amp would yield world-class performance.
Headphones, like speakers, are a very subjective, individual type decision. If you can, go to some dealers that have headphones and try them out and see what you like. It's the only way.
There's a world of options out there in that price range and certainly some very good cans in the $1K range. The synergy between cans and amp is paramount and you should probably pick your amp to suit the headphones you choose. There is a VERY intimate connection to the kind of sound signature the headphones will yield, so screwing that up will mean the difference between potentially profound enjoyment, to flipping the entire investment when you discover you can only listen for about ten minutes before developing a headache because the cans you chose don't pair well with the amp and or just don't have a sound signature that suits your preferences. Headphones in that bracket can sound entirely different from each other and may suit different types of music better by design. I use the best all-around performer I've found in that price range; the Audeze LCD-2's. Other obvious candidates would include the HD-800's already mentioned, which are soundstaging champions but have a bit more of an airy sound to them, with a high-frequency spike that can really annoy some folks. Beyer T1's are also very popular, and Grado PS1000's are yet another in that range. Stax puts you into a different price bracket and are best suited by their own amps (or a more powerful amp in general) - they also have a unique sound presentation and signature and are also champions of soundstaging. You can find way more than you ever thought you'd want to know about this stuff on the headphone forums like Head-fi.org. Listening to headphones and listening to speakers are entirely different ways of experiencing music. You might also find you like one much better than the other. Have fun!
I've said it before, let me say it again. Buy a used pair of Stax electrostatics with it's dedicated driver unit. I
heartily recommend the tube driver units. For $1500 you can
find a pair on Audiogon. You will never regret it. The Stax phones create an ambient space and it sounds like you are there. Avoid the magazine hype that the dynamic phones
can sound just as good-they can't. No, I'm not selling a pair, I'm just trying to save you a lot of trial and error.
Stax certainly have a unique sound, but they are definitely not for everyone. You should certainly listen before you buy if possible. I agree that headphones can be very subjective and also add very distinctive from each other. The only problem suggesting dealers is that there are not many who put any kind of emphasis on headphones at all. Dealers like 32 Ohm in Portland are the exception to the rule, but I can't say I know any other (brick and mortar dealer) like them. You might check to see if there are any headphone meets in your area. Head-Fi has a "meet" section of the forums where meets are listed as threads, and or you could inquire about meets in your area. You might be able to hear some very thoughtfully assembled systems at a meet and narrow down some of your options further.
wish I still had my old Stax headphones... Grado's have nice tonal color but no where near the transparency of electrostatics. But oh how electrostatics will drill your ears if you don't have a sweet amp to drive them.
First - go to headfi.org to get the best feedback on this subject - its all they talk about and there are some very versed people on that site. There are also classifieds if you want to buy used.

Headphones are a great approach and one can far exceed the performance of an outloud system at a fraction of the cost/price. First thing you need to figure out is what type of sound you are looking for from the "cans". You may be best off hitting a store than sells a variety of brands and listening - at least getting an idea of which brands produce a sound that is most conducive to your tastes - then going to Headfi with that info for further suggestions.

What part of the country do you live? You should post that so others who have "phone" systems could allow you an audition of theirs - garnering you some experience for likes and dislikes and helping you get started in the right direction.
Jax 2, did you have a chance to upgrade the cable on your Audeze? And what kind of amplification do you use with good results? Thank you
Jax 2, did you have a chance to upgrade the cable on your Audeze? And what kind of amplification do you use with good results? Thank you

Hey Brano - Yes, I'm currently using a 4-pin balanced cable from Norse Audio (TigzStudio on Head-fi - Trevor). Mine is the 8-conductor version. I'm generally happy with it, but I don't have another balanced cable to compare it directly to. It does best the earlier stock cable (I initially had it as a single-ended cable and later had it changed by Trevor to a balanced when I changed amps). The Norse is beautifully built and customer service from Trevor is top notch. I did get to compare it directly with a much more expensive ALO 8-conductor cable that someone brought over to my house when it was still single-ended, and the latter was a clear winner to my ears, but you'd have to decide whether it is worth the difference in price. Trevor's cable is around $179 while the ALO is around $500. As I said, I found the ALO to be definitively superior in my brief audition, while the Norse is marginally better than the stock cable, and I've been quite happy with it (I personally would not be willing to almost triple the price to gain the improvements the ALO offered, but you might feel differently). Audeze just recently changed their stock cable design and I have not tried the new one. They, of course say it is improved over the earlier version. I have not read any reports to confirm or deny this. New LCD-2's will come stock with this newer cord. The older cord had some unfortunate problems with microphonics.

Amplification is tricky with the LCD-2. I've found they do like some headroom. I initially was using a Woo WA6SEm that I found to be a great amp with other cans, but with the LCD-2 it could not bring much to the frequency extremes and I found the highs to be too recessed and rounded off and the lows also be lacking in control. Vocals were beautiful though. The two amps I would highly recommend that I have heard extensively with the LCD-2 are the Apex Peak Volcano (a Pete Millet design available from Todd the Vinyl Junkie), and my current amp, a Violectric V181 in fully balanced mode. Those two amps are a world away from the Woo in making the LCD-2's shine brightly and meet their potential. They bring the extremes back in line with the mids with authority and grace. The Apex Peak does just a bit better in the mids with its hybrid design (the V181 is a SS amp). They both put out about 2 amps into the 50ohm load if I recall correctly. The other usual suspects for the LCD-2 are the Leben 300XS and the Meier Concerto. I'm not sure if Kingwa is still building the Audio GD Phoenix, or the ROC SA, but both of those would also offer ample headroom, though no direct experience to share there. I'd also be interested to hear what a Beta 22 might do with the LCD-2.

Hope that helps!
Thank you for your detailed answer. I have another question regarding their ability to play at lower volume...which is what I do most of the time...I've heard they are not particularly good at that. Would you agree with that statement? I heard that AKG K702 are pretty good at lower volume.
Thank you for your detailed answer. I have another question regarding their ability to play at lower volume...which is what I do most of the time...I've heard they are not particularly good at that. Would you agree with that statement? I heard that AKG K702 are pretty good at lower volume.

Yes, I'd agree they are quite good at low volume. The only other cans that I've heard that are better at low-volume listening are Grado GS1000's, but in every other respect the Grado is an idiosyncratic headphone and not up to the level of the LCD-2's for general listening. The other iffy issue around the LCD-2's will be comfort. Being an ortho they are large and a bit heavy and you become very aware of them as they do tend to squeeze a bit more than other cans (Audeze did improve this from the very early version which were even tighter). For some folks it doesn't matter, and some actually find them comfortable. I do not, but I also don't find them very uncomfortable either. They sure are not HD800's, which are one of the most comfortable cans I've owned. I don't remember AKG702's being that great at low volume, but honestly I did not give them much of a chance and I don't think I had the best amp for them. I heard them later on at a headphone meet using a Woo WA6SE amp and they sounded much better than I'd ever heard them sounding. I did not own them with the Woo I had so that was the first time I'd heard the combination. They do not have the tonal richness that the LCD-2's offer, nor the lower end extension or flat mid response....a different sound...more akin to the HD800's you used to have, but falling short there, even optimally amplified...IMHO. If you listen to music at low volumes most of the time you might want to try to take a listen to the GS1000's, but be aware that they are really tailored for classical music and don't seem to serve vocals nearly as well (at low volume this does not seem to make as much of a difference - not sure why - could have something to do with the impedance curve, but someone who knows better would have to confirm).
I liked the sound of Grado PS1000 but I couldn't wear them because they kept falling off my head when in laying in my bed. I don't have such issues with my T1's. Will the LCD stay on your head in a horizontal position?
The LCD-2's clamp pretty tightly but I have not tried them myself while laying down. I also probably don't have the same head you do (that'd be quite a coincidence) so even if I had tried it I don't think the information would necessarily apply to everyone. Just tilting my head back with mine on they start to slide off so I'd say that I'd have the same problem you did with your Grados FWIW.
Everything you need to know about headphones is at www.headphone.com
Hardly... no info on Audeze whatsoever...
Everything you need to know about headphones is at www.headphone.com

It's certainly a useful resource, but this statement is far from accurate IMO. Not only is there zero info on LCD-2's there, as Branislav points out, but there's an entire world of headphone gear that is is outside what they happen to sell and support.
Here's my opinion and it's only worth anything to me, but I'm going to share it with you anyway. Where do you come up with this monetary value? Do you even know if you like listening to headphones? I'm not trying to let you down, but that's way too much money to devote to headphones / amp. Anyone that openly tells you to buy a pair of $1500 Stax hasn't met anyone who owns a pair of $1500 Stax and likes their $400 Beyerdynamics better. For the music I listen too, I can't buy a better set of cans than the AKG-702's. Pair them up with a $300 Little Dot MKiii or a Darkvoice headphone amp, and it will make you want to upgrade your Rogue, and I own Rogue amps. $1500 headphones are the equivelant of $20,000+ speakers paired with $15,000 worth of monoblocks. If you're going to spend the big bucks on this set up, buy a Cary SLI-80 and some Sennheisers, but don't waste your money. What's your music preference? I can blow your mind for $800 - $1000 total. Save the rest of your money for some other type of upgrade. Did you read the Stereophile review of the Little Dot MKiii? Did you know that most serious audiophiles that listen to jazz, classical, and heavy vocals prefer the AKG-702's over ANY other headphone, or that Sennheisers are the preferred headphone for rock? I can point you to so many Stax reviews where the owners like their much cheaper headphones better, and do the same for $1500 headphone amps. Also, check out Sam Tellig's review of the Music Fidelity M1HPA in this months issue of Stereophile. It sounds like a real winner.
$1500 headphones are the equivelant of $20,000+ speakers paired with $15,000 worth of monoblocks. If you're going to spend the big bucks on this set up, buy a Cary SLI-80 and some Sennheisers, but don't waste your money. What's your music preference? I can blow your mind for $800 - $1000 total.

I'm quite positive you cannot blow my mind for $1000, or any amount on headphone gear for that matter. I've listened to quite a few different, very impressive rigs at that pricepoint, and some far more expensive. Altough they are impressive for what they are, I can say without one moment of hesitation that I've not enjoyed any as much as I do listening to an equally well assembled speaker rig. Comparing the experience is an apples vs oranges scenario - they are an entirely different way of experiencing reproduced music. I do not doubt you in any way that you are as impressed as you say you are by headphones - just don't assume that everyone else should/would be. Same goes for AKG-702's, or AKG1000, HD800's, T1's etc....different strokes for different folks. Just because you are satisfied with strawberry doesn't mean others may not like chocolate better. No Beyers I've ever heard have sounded remotely like a pair of Stax, so preference of one over the other simply shows a preference for a very different sort of presentation. I would not draw any further conclusions from that, and would suggest anyone who is interested listen for themselves and make their own choice. That, by the way, is one excellent question you brought up: Do you even know if you like listening to headphones? One big advantage to headphone gear is that prices are more down-to-earth compared to speaker rigs, and resale prices on this stuff are excellent, ESPECIALLY with the cans in the price range the OP is considering. So if you try something and don't like it, you can run a free ad on Head-Fi and likely have it sold in a few days time and minimal loss.

Did you know that most serious audiophiles that listen to jazz, classical, and heavy vocals prefer the AKG-702's over ANY other headphone, or that Sennheisers are the preferred headphone for rock?

...and I hear 9/10 dentists who recommend gum, prefer Trident Sugarless Gum over all others. Choosy mothers choose Jiff. I find there are famous movie critics who love films I despise, and some that can't stand some of my own favorite films.

Not sure what source you are quoting has isolated and qualified "serious audiophiles". What exactly is a "serious audiophile"? Sennheiser makes quite a few different headphones. I can tell you that and HD-600 sounds entirely different from an HD-800. Which is the one preferred for Rock (and why?)... and no I had not heard that. Grado makes some headphones that suit rock music quite well - the RS1 and HF2 are two great ones for rock music.

Do you even know if you like listening to headphones? I'm not trying to let you down, but that's way too much money to devote to headphones / amp. Anyone that openly tells you to buy a pair of $1500 Stax hasn't met anyone who owns a pair of $1500 Stax and likes their $400 Beyerdynamics better. For the music I listen too, I can't buy a better set of cans than the AKG-702's. Pair them up with a $300 Little Dot MKiii or a Darkvoice headphone amp, and it will make you want to upgrade your Rogue, and I own Rogue amps. $1500 headphones are the equivelant of $20,000+ speakers paired with $15,000 worth of monoblocks. If you're going to spend the big bucks on this set up, buy a Cary SLI-80 and some Sennheisers, but don't waste your money.


If headphones make you want to upgrade your speaker rig you should either reconsider your speaker rig, or give it up for headphone listening (if you have not already) since there's obviously something better there for you. Again, I would not assume that was the rule, nor that everyone would agree with you (and that's the tone I get from your post). I by far prefer listening to a good speaker rig.

I enjoy headphones for some of the qualities they bring to the table, primarily privacy and intimacy. Given the choice I'll choose my speaker rig every single time, and I have a damn good headphone rig.

I can point you to so many Stax reviews where the owners like their much cheaper headphones better, and do the same for $1500 headphone amps.


From my own limited experience with listening to various STAX rigs, I would say they are a very polarizing and unique headphone, and are among those headphones that seem to strive to emulate having a pair of speakers on your head...kind of an out-of-head experience, if you will. AKG1000's are similar in that respect, and of the dynamic cans, HD800's do a bit of that dance as well. Some folks don't like that slant on headphone listening. It does not surprise me in the least that someone would prefer a less expensive, dynamic option. To each their own. Again, all it tells me is different people have different preferences.
Its been a nice read so far, but where is Bobmclean?

Would you be so kind to let us more about your preferences please.

Anyway, I use ear speakers AKG K1000, and to me, they are what one should expect from an good rig, but, they are NOT what you can call "general headphones" and there for they need some differ amplification than, say Sehnnheiser HD650 or LCD2, however, at the same time, this is not a totally true, cos each of these need an matched amp to work with and I think within an budget of USD2200 must be possible to build a system, even with a nice DAC in between, imo.

On the other hand, you already have an speaker amp, which can be tried with LCD2 or another highly regarded on http://www.head-fi.org/ HiFiMAN HE6, so, why not started from there? You need an custom build cable for it, but thats not a problem at all, just look around.

So far, nobody offered any closed back hp's. For example, Audio Technica W5000 and HA5000 combo may rock your socks out, so, why not trying? I own W5000 and had HA5000 amp on loan and this amp is simply made for W5000, but also can be easy called as one of the best around. With this combo, practicaly, you can listen to any kind of music, especially vocals, and I tried every possible genre through them, cos in this combination they are very flexible.

I dont want to go in to details, where already mentioned head fi org may be a good place to search, but be prepared to read a lot of noncense and hype between as well.
Burson HD-160 amp: $700 new. Senheisser 650 cans: $600 new.
Obviously, this thread produced many opinions. My response
about the Stax headphones was motivated by a desire to save you a lot of time, expense, and maybe some regret. Try any of the dynamic phones listed above before you listen to the Stax. Then hear the Stax, which have a unique
presentation. Then, YOU decide! Notice how many brands of headphones some responders name in their response. If they
were happy with any of them they would likely have stopped searching. Are there better headphones? Probably! I prefer
the AKG 1000 phones to any other dynamic phone. Try finding
a pair that is not selling above original price and is not sold by the time you see it. So, in conclusion, give some used Stax phones (particularly the higher end tube models)
before you buy or you may spend a lot of money for phones
that you will be hoping to replace soon.
I dont want to go in to details, where already mentioned head fi org may be a good place to search, but be prepared to read a lot of noncense and hype between as well.

Good advice. I concur, be prepared and bring the hip waders. There are some good folks over there who know what they're talking about, but there is far more noise and B.S. then you'll find here. In general, it is a much younger crowd. That's not always a bad thing at all, but I find there are fewer folks there that I share general musical tastes with, and many seem to be after entirely different qualities from a system than I am. Also there are lots of folks there just entering the hobby who are otherwise easily impressed and have limited experience (not that there isn't that here, but headphones are a far ea$ier entry point so I'd say it is far more prevalent in that world). As anywhere on the Internet, take what you read with a bag of salt.

On closed-back phones; I owned W5000's for a few months and ultimately felt they were quite colored, though I don't think I had an optimal amp for them (the Yamamoto HA02 or ATH's own amp are supposed to match those cans very well).

Notice how many brands of headphones some responders name in their response. If they
were happy with any of them they would likely have stopped searching. Are there better headphones? Probably!

I can only speak for myself - I mention many options because I have experience with many options and I don't believe there is any single solution that will satisfy anyone including STAX. I'm guessing that would be helpful input to the OP as well as knowing that there are many options in that price range that yield very different presentations. I'm not particularly a fan of any of the STAX I've heard, which includes the 02 (best of the bunch that I've heard). They occur to me as too airy and without grounding...lacking a certain tonal density that makes them seem a bit unnatural to my ears. They soundstage like nobody's business so if you like that kind of effect in headphones you'll love Stax (also try HD800, or, sure AKG 1000 if you want to go obscure since they are no longer made which is probably just as much to the point of why they don't last long on the used market as well as being quite unique). I stopped searching at LCD-2's but I do not assume they'd make everyone stop. For me they have a tonal rightness that is utterly effortless and presents the recording as it was laid down. You'd be hard pressed to fault their acoustic presentation, but they are certainly not beyond reproach. I'd say they lag behind many others in soundstaging abilities. They are amazingly detailed cans, like STAX, and yet entirely non-fatiguing. I find LCD-2's very grounded, while STAX are very airy. If you like the out-of-head, speaker-like experience you will not like LCD-2's as the sound pretty much stops at each ear. Some find the out-of-head sounds a bit disorienting and fatiguing in long-term. You should listen for yourself and see if it suits you, but I would advise that taking a short listen vs. sitting down and listening as you might for a few hours will likely be a very different experience. One of the reasons you will find that headphone junkies have tried so many different options is that it's much easier, both financially and physically, to try half a dozen different headphones over time, than it might be to try that many different speakers. I'm not discouraging the previous advice to try STAX - most certainly they are excellent and unique cans - I would temper those posts, once again to point out that you'll find folks who've stopped at all different conclusions as well as those who are not satisfied with any single rig (including STAX). Listen for yourself and find out what works for you. No one here, and no critic that's paid by a magazine, can tell you for certain what you'll enjoy most.
I said "all you need to know". If you can't be very pleased with what's there, you will just confuse yourself further by scrounging around in the underbrush.
I said "all you need to know". If you can't be very pleased with what's there, you will just confuse yourself further by scrounging around in the underbrush.

I suppose if you cared to limit yourself to their selection and their opinions then you could limit your resources to just one. You'd be missing out on some of the finest options in amps and headphones though. Some of the most respected names in headphone options are entirely missing from the Headroom roster. Just from the top of my head the 'AWOL list' includes such luminaries as Eddie Current, Leben, Luxman, Woo Audio, RSA, Meier, Yamamoto, EAR, Apex Peak, Audeze, STAX, virtually all pro IEM solutions like JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, Westone... I'm sure there are lots more I'm missing, as well as a very healthy and impressive DIY scene that has very serious contenders in amplification for headphones (Cavalli,Stacker, AMB b22 m-3, and others). Don't get me wrong, I think Headroom is a good general resource, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice to think the world of headphone listening is contained within those narrow boundaries of what they sell and support. The alternatives are no more "confusing" than what is offered there, and I've got no clue why you'd suggest that offerings beyond that one dealer represents "the underbrush". That's a very myopic view of headphone listening. It's like suggesting that someone interested in high-end audio limit themselves to the resources of a single dealer who happens to stock a broad selection of good examples and suggesting that that is all you need to know about the high end - it's all right there at, say, Underwood Hifi (actually Walter has a great cross section of good gear - but so do a lot of dealers), and one need not confuse oneself with the rest of the options out there. Granted, the headphone world is even smaller than the world of high-end and options are more limited, but its a whole lot bigger than Headroom's offerings.
I can't believe how long this thread continues. Lots of good information here. I doubt that someone who asks for
headphone advice on an Audiogon Forum is interested in DIY solutions. I only added my two cents about STAX as I have lived happily with them for over twenty years and never regretted it. STAX headphones don't have to be the only phones you try, just make sure they are on the list. Then
YOU decide.
I doubt that someone who asks for
headphone advice on an Audiogon Forum is interested in DIY solutions.

Yeah, you're probably right. The only reason I mention them is that DIY plays a much bigger role in the mainstream world of Headphones than it does in the world of speaker-based high-end. Some of the DIY offerings are certainly right up there with anything any of the larger manufacturers offer and sometimes excel any of them when paired with certain cans. I also mention it because DIY builds are often available on the used market, and there are some folks who make commissioned builds as well as those who build kits and sell them (like Rockhopper). One of my impressions of headphone addicts is that they are a more tweaky bunch, in general, than the speaker-based group you might find here.

Which Stax are you using now, Tonykay? I was very impressed with the O2, but other examples have not really impressed me nearly as much.
The Stax seem of course worth checking out, but they don't make it too easy with their peculiar cable ending and their apparent need for a high dollar headphone amps.
Has anyone tried the combination of the benchmark 1 DAC with the LCD-2? I am interested in hearing opinions.
I too am very interested in opinions from experienced a'goner's who have tried various headphone/amp combos over the years and settled in on a particular combo for some particular reason.

I have been doing some experimenting of late with some of teh better and older phones I have, a pair of Stax SR-80s, and a pair of Realistic Nova 45s, which are virtually unknown it seems these days and I always thought were not half bad phones back in the day compared to others.

There are some high tech and expensive in-ear phones out there these days. I've always thought the in-ear approach done really well might be the optimal way to get the best headphone sound for lowest cost, but have not tried any of these yet.
Listen to the Sennheisers, Grados, AkG's. Go to Heaphone.com and get their amp. The resulting sound will be much better than your current system....actually, better than almost any speaker system.
Madman, I have custom IEM's, the JH Audio JH16s, and they are really excellent. However, I think the Audeze LCD-2's are even better. The reviews of the LCD-2s are pretty glowing and accurate in my experience.

I would look for a tube headphone amp as well. I use a Woo WA22, which I am happy with. But if I had to do it over again, would probably have bought a Decware or Woo WA2, as OTL amps are really magical as long as the headphones have a reasonably high impedance (at least 50 Ohms).

I would stay away from solid state amps...I have not found them to be as good as tube amps at the same price level. If you absolutely need solid state, I would recommend Blue Circle. Their least expensive headphone amp at $750 was almost as good as the $3000 Luxman P1-u solid state amp I used to own.
Jax2- The Stax headphones I'm using today are the Lambda Signatures with an SRM-T1S driver unit. I'm sure that I'm
biased, but if anyone heard these they couldn't be happy
with anything less. They're that good! They truly sound
like you're listening through a window on the soundstage.