Headphone Tutorial


I'm looking to get into headphones but know little about them and could use some assistance. Some questions: Do I need a separate head amp? Maybe they are old school since I do not see any for sale with a separate amplification unit. Are they offered with and without? If so, is one approach better than another? Do I need a separate headphone jack on my linestage or can I connect to one of the "out" jacks on the rear panel of my LS36.5? Do they make "noise canceling" versions like the Bose? Do the non-noise canceling versions block out environmental noise? I'd like to use them while my wife is watching TV in the next room and do not want to have to turn them up to block out the tube. Next, I see some are available with higher quality connecting wire--worthwhile? What models should I be looking at--the Sennheiser 650 looks like it is the default high quality set from what I can tell.

Thanks for the help!
Here we go again. For my money, be sure you check out a pair of STAX headphones with it's dedicated tube driver unit. Used ones make perfect sense. Expensive,yes, but worth it.
Swampwalker's 12 step plan to headphone bliss ;~)
1. You will need a separate headphone amp, unless you have one of a limited # of line stage/integrateds like the Melos SHA pre or the Cary 300 sei integrated (neither of which is listed on your system page.).
2. To access all of your sources, it would have to take the line level signal from an output on your Modwright LS
3. THis could be be main out or HT pass-thru or tape loop if available.
4. If main out, you would probably want to approximate the unity gain setting to get an unattenuated signal.
5. Sennheisser (at least) makes a noise cancelling unit but I have not read anything but their promotional info on the sound.
6. A good initial option might be closed back, around the ear models OR in-ear-monitors (IEMs). The IEMs are extraordinarily effective for noise isolation in both directions.
7. Comfort is a HUGE factor in headphone listening. If possible, try to get to a "mmet" nearby which you can find listed at head-fi.org.
8. Senn 600 or 650, AKG 701/702 and Grados (not sure models) are the default high quality units.
9. Stax are very good, but not to everyone's taste or comfort.
10. I'd look for some used w wire upgrade O(as long as you're not a germaphobe) OR start w new unit w/o wire upgrade until you are sure that headphone listening is for you.
11. I'd definitely go for a used amp. Head-fi will give you lots of info on amp/headphone matching, which focuses first on proper impedance matching. There are lots of DIY/garage operations so be careful to check out reliability/service issues.
12. The crowd at head-fi is quite a bit different than audiogon but there is some overlap. Head-fi has lots of chatter about which design topology or op-amp or volume pot is best w/o as much consideration of implementation. You will have to sort through the noise, but there is lots of good signal there, as well!
13. Have fun!!!
OK, OK, so I can't count. Sue me!
The website for The Absolute Sound (AV Guide dot com) has a downloadable guide to headphones...a decent starting point.
First, go to headfi.org for the best information on headphone systems. Second, you need a preamp, source device or something that has a headphone jack.

As to active noise canceling headphones, if you are seeking maximum performance you want to avoid these. The concept really doesn't work as one would think - they do a decent job of addressing airplane noise and such, but not variable real-world noises. Besides, even the active noise canceling phones don't really do any better of a job vs. in ear (preferably custom fit) or closed cans.

I have a few pair of phones (4), 2 in-ear and two on-ear. Of the two on-ear one is a closed design and the other an open back design.

If you are planning on taking you listening with you, you may want to consider some of the many excellent portable headphone amps. If you travel for business these are really nice to have.
Very helpful guys--thanks. How does the listening experience compare via good quality headphones versus via good quality loudspeakers? Do you still get all the spatial cues that are part of a good two channel setup? What about bass response--constrained? I've never listened to a good set of headphones before--will I be missing my loudspeakers and bumming out with uncomfortable phones on my head?
I was in your boat a while back and decided to invest in my first high-end headphone setup. I decided that it would never replace my speaker rig but here's what I learned.

A headphone rig uses a true full range single driver that usually provides more details, good dynamic contrast, and a purity of sound harder to find in a lot of speakers. It is these qualities that make the listening experience of headphones superior to speakers for some people. Headphones are nice for late night listening when I do not feel like firing up the main rig.

On the other hand a speaker rig can do a lot of the things headphones can (maybe not quite as well or cheaply) but is also able to project an image into your room, fill that room with sound and even small monitors provide at least some dynamic impact. Headphones cannot do any of this and it is these qualities that make the listening experience of speakers far superior to headphones for me.

You will have to decide if the tradeoffs are worth it to you, but no one says you can't have both systems!
Just stay away from bose, beats by dre and skullcandies and you will be fine. :P