I use the Grado headphone amp with my Senn 600's, works great and is reasonably priced at ~$200
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Don't have a comparison to offer, but the Senn 580 sounds really good being driven by my Linn Majik. I'm curious about the special circuitry in Headroom's amps that supposedly get the voices outside of your head, but I'm not willing to spend the $4-500 I'm guessing it would take to improve on the Majik's sonics. Haven't heard the surround-processor/amp that's being sold with the 580 now. IMO, the packaging of the DSP with the 580 has a gimmicky feel to it that belies how fine of a headphone the 580 is. But of course, Sennheiser would want serious listeners to spend 75% more on the 600. Can you turn the processor circuits off so it's just a straight headphone amp? Do you have any gripes about how the 580 sounds through the DSP?
Can't compare to a good linestage preamp with a headphone output, but according to Headroom itself, they consider the best tube headphone amp the Cary, which really is such a preamp, just happens to have a headphone jack. I can comment on the MF, though -- sounds great! My favorite! I've only compared it to the Creeks, though. I have the Audio Valve on order...
Ramstl, I should have been more specific, cuz I did get a good deal on it. I got mine from Kevin at Upscale Audio, a customer of his brought it in on trade, it's as new and the price was right. He advertised it on Audioshopper, I grabbed it while I was buying some tubes from him. Not sure he has any more, you may want to get in touch with him
I am a headphone fanatic. I've used/owned headphones like Grad 80, Sennheiser 580 & 600, and Etymotic 4S and headphone amps like MF X-Can w/ X-PSU, EarMax, Audio Alchemy HPA 1.0, Mccormack Micro Integrated Drive, and Headroom Supreme. If you have Sennheiser 580s and you like classical music and/or small jazz essemble, the best amp is the EarMax for $575. Sennheiser 580 is not really for rock or big band jazz, no matter which amp you use. The McCormack MID is also a good choice for small jazz essemble or vocals, but costs $800, retail. Please keep in mind that the MID is more than a headphone amp -- it is a 3Wpc integrated amp, and a two-source preamp. And if you beefup the powersupply, you can sequeez about 4-5Wpc out of it -- enough to drive super effecient speakers (91+db) in a small room. If you want portability, the Supreme is the way to go. Although that image processor works only on certain material.
I've got the Headroom Home and have been very pleased with how well the image processor really works (driving some Sennheiser HD 600's). Or, if you find a piece on which it doesn't float your boat, you can turn it off -- although I haven't been tempted yet. Tried it many times, but I always switch it back on. Makes one wonder why more folks aren't doing this sort of stuff. At the risk of sounding like some glaze-eyed testimonial, I never really enjoyed listening to headphones (headaches and such) until I came by this amp. Would it (or another good headphone amp, although I'd swear by headroom) sound better than the little DSP jobbie they're giving away with the 580's? Yes. Expect real improvements. There are also a few preamps that devote adequate time and resources to putting in the right gear to drive headphones. However, most either skimp or, more frequently on the good ones, just don't bother. Ugh, I ramble. Yes, you can expect real improvements. I recomend looking into the headroom line. They can be a wee bit pricy, but I think they're really very good. Would I listen to the headphones over the speakers and the full system? Never, given the choice.
I use headphones alot for late night listening. I have tried most of what set300b lists above, except for the McCormack and I agree completely, especially about the Earmax. I personally use Grado's (RS-2 and SR80), but that is a personal choice-I also like the Sennheiser 580 and 600. There is a website entitled headwize.com that is totally devoted to headphones, including amps. You may want to check out their forums for more info. I recommend using their search function to save time.