I'm driving Focal Elears with a used Schiit Jotunheim..
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You might look at the Dennise Had ( of Cary fame ) Inspire headphone amp available thru Moon Audio as the Dragon, have had mine for 4 months and really love it. As soon as things get back to normal I will be selling off three amps that it has replaced, one being the Yamamoto H03, which is no slouch. My Inspire is driving Hifiman HE1000v2 most the time. Enjoy the music
The Simaudio 430HA is the best headphone amp I've owned, and I've had many. The Sony TA-ZH1ES is also very nice and includes a really good DAC if that matter. There's a DAC available for the 430HA, but I don't have it so can't comment on it.
Both amps have a lot of power (not that you need that much with the Focals), lots of connection options, hi/lo gain switches, and very black backgrounds.
I have no experience with the other two you mentioned.
I have Focal Clears, as well as LCD3’s. My favorite amp is the Woo WA5 - it is magic with every headphone. I also have a Woo WA22 which does great on the Focal but prefers balanced sources.
I am not a fan of pairing the Utopia with Sim - you need a warmer sounding amp as the Utopia can have a slight bite in the upper treble region.
One other amp to consider is the Violetric V281 - lots of people with Focals like that pairing.
I use Focal Elex with the Simaudio 430 HA and it sounds wonderful. I've only listened to the Utopia briefly, and not with this amp. Definitely take into consideration what type of sound signature you prefer and find something complementary. I've actually heard the 430 HA described as being "soft", a description which I don't agree with. We all hear things a little differently. I find it to be very detailed and neutral and a good match with all the headphones I've used with it including LCD-4, HD800, and Sony MDR-Z1R.
I am thinking of getting a preamp with a good headphone amp even though I do not have any headphones yet. I am thinking of getting headphones to listen late at night when the kid is sleeping.
Does anyone have any feedback on the synergy between the Focal Utopia or Focal Stella and the Benchmark HPA4 2 channel preamp + headphone amp?
I was planning on getting the Benchmark LA4 preamp (without headphone amp) but recently I have started to realize that a headphone could be more enjoyable late at night than the very low volume I currently use on my 2 channel speakers.
I am looking at the Benchmark preamps because I like the clear neutral sound signature.
Just bought a new Benchmark HPA4 preamp + headphone amp today. I am considering getting a used Focal Utopia to use with the HPA4.
I don't want to explain why I am asking the following question. Can Focal headphone owners here chime in about the reliability of the headphones. Did you have to use the warranty service?
I have no clue about headphones. I am only buying them because I want something for late night listening while I work (after midnight). The dealer that I am buying the headphones from advised me to buy the Meze over the Focal due to quality control issues. He sells both lines and was not happy with Focal warranty issues. That is why I asked here but since no one replied I looked at Amazon reviews and those supported what the dealer told me. The Meze is actually $250 cheaper than the Focal with this dealer.
I should add that I know the sound of the Benchmark HPA4 since I have owned the AHB2 before and will be buying 2 more of them maybe this month. I wanted to buy the LA4 initially for my 2 channel office setup but decided to pay the extra $500 so I can waste more money buying high end headphones, which I know nothing about
Another thing in the favor of the Meze, paired with the neutral and transparent HPA4, is that the Meze is being described as a warmish sounding HP. Unlike the Focal which is described as being neutral and very detailed.
I was curious about that also yyz. I have the Focal Elex from Massdrop and they seem to be very well made. I would expect the Utopia to be better. I have a lot of headphones, so the Elex haven't been used on a regular enough basis for me to say they're "dependable" or not.
I've heard of the Meze brand, mostly due to an offering they have on Massdrop. The Empyrean looks nice. Keep in mind that an open back design may annoy others if they are nearby while you're listening. A closed back design will keep most of the sound in your ears and not in anybody else's. Other than that, they look light, like they should be comfortable, have a number of cable choices, and are easy to drive. All good things.
I should not be making any comments about HP's since I am clueless. I did own some Sienhieser (sp?) HD600 models long ago. I gave those away since I did not use them back in the day. However, now I have a family to consider and headphones make more sense than working without music late at night.
The issue I was told with the Focal was related to the failure rate of the drivers. Like I mentioned earlier I maybe wrong since I have never owned them.
I was surprised to see how popular HP's are right now with so many owners and reviews. The general perception I got is that the Meze is one of the most comfortable (even on a big head). It is also rather coherent in sound with a nice mid range (and some warmth). I was thinking the Focal would be better because it would be different than the speakers I expect to use in my room (variety the spice of life). However, reading comments by HP users gave me a feeling that the HPA4 and the Focal Utopia maybe a little bright. I could have overlooked that if I had not been advised to buy the lower cost Meze due to QC issues. I will likely have a lot of fun with the Meze. A few reviewers have used the HPA4 with the Meze and they loved that combo.
A good chance I will now have a HP and a DAC from 2 Romanian companies. Never expected that.
@arafiq That is something I also thought could be the case. A lot of reading on the Meze has also led me to believe that in the class of TOTL HP’s the Meze is one of the best built.
Today, I ended up buying the Benchmark DAC3B to pair with the HPA4. I owned the DAC3 HGC before and know the DAC3 sound well. It is a very good DAC but I have heard better for a lot more money. However, some reviews of the HPA4 (or LA4) are saying that that preamp makes even lower end DAC’s sound way better. The DAC3B is not a low end DAC.
I decided against the AudioByte VOX stack after doing some research. Based only on specs the DAC3B is a better match because it is much quieter and the XLR out put is at a professional-grade level of 24 dBu. The HPA4 + DACB3 + AHB2 (amp) are all running at the same professional-grade level. The AudioByte VOX stack is running at 12 dBu output level. So there is a little synergy issue that I did not want to bug me. Not saying I made the right decision but that synergy thing would have bugged me.
I buy the Meze on Tuesday. I will try to chime in with some coherent observations once I get above 200 hours on the Meze. I will actually try to avoid listening until that 200 number is passed.
I will actually try to avoid listening until that 200 number is passed.Ha! Good one. Seriously though, congrats and welcome to the headphone world. I’m also a recent ‘phone adopter after being a 2-channel guy for a long time, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s different, especially the soundstage thing IME, but still very enjoyable and satisfying in its own way. The Benchmark/Meze sounds like a very good, complimentary pairing and looking forward to your impressions — after 200 hours of course. Ehem.
I have the Focal Utopias, and have used them solely with a Benchmark HPA4 and DAC3 B combination. The sound is AMAZING! As far as I'm concerned, this is as good as it gets, at any price point! The Utopias blow away any other headphone I've listened to, including the top-of-the-line Audeze and Meze products! As for the Benchmark products, a completely black background, and the customer support is absolute first-rate! I use the Utopias and HPA4/DAC3 B along with a Mac Mini as my server using Audirvana Plus.
Quad makes some really fierce headphone amps that can sound great and they're reasonable prices too. Nothing like hifiman or t+a prices but definitely quality amps. Even not as bad as Focal's very own Arche at $2.4k, since you're driving Utopias. Check out the VA-One+, PA-One+, and the Venas. They're great headphone amps, the One+'s for tubes, and the Venas for solid state. T+A put out that HA200 recently and it is a serious little integrated headphone amp too. Costs ya a pretty penny tho.
Best of luck!