Improving Headphone Sound

Hi; We’ve recently moved to a MUCH smaller house and I now find myself pretty well restricted to the use of headphones for most listening. I use a PC source out to a Benchmark DAC1 USB and directly from the DAC to a pair of Sennheiser 650’s equipped with a 10’ Cardas cable.

Given that I have no alternative to using the ‘phones, can anyone suggest ways that the sound might be improved. It’s already “pretty darn good” (at least to these 63 year old ears), but I’m guessing that there might be room for improvement.

As a start, I’m considering replacing the Cardas cable with a Moon Silver Dragon (Version 2), but any and all suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks & Regards,

Bob Holmes
How about a dedicated headphone amplifier connected to some decent source gear.

If you can find a used Anthem Pre2L tube preamp, it has a decent headphone amplifier built in. It is the real thing, not just a headphone jack.

Here is a review of the new Blue Circle headphone amplifier.

Upgrade to AKG 701s and a headroom max amp.
Excellent advice Sugarbrie. I would advise heading over to, regerstring and posting there this same OP!

I know many of my fellow Headfiers match the DAC1 to many different types of head amps then driving the HD-650s sucessfully. The DAC1 is a fairly aggressive source which does mate well with the warm 650s , although the DAC1s headphone jack is usually found to be only fair and is easily bettered by many popular mid level headamps. One of the better headamps, which I own is the Meier Audio Corda Opera, with crossfeed, which also is offered without its DAC section sold as the Opera Analogue @ $700. Highly recommended! The Blue circle is heard to be a notch better @ about 35% higher $.$$ invested...

Good luck and happy listening~
I have a PC based system now with an empirical audio modified Benchmark Dac-1 (full mods) and have compared it to many setups. Empirical Audio does a headphone mod to the DAC-1 that you may want to look into. It is excellent.

However, even without that headphone mod the empirical audio modified DAC-1 w/ sen 650s sounded excellent. A melos sha-1 headphone amp beat it a bit but it didn't beat the dac 1 with the headphone mod. I tried a cary 300sei with great NOS tubes with the AKG 1000 and the 650 and still the DAC-1 (EA modified with also the EA headphone mod) and the 650 was close.

The rig that really beat it was a Stax Omega 007TII amp and cans and then that amp with a pair of Sennheiser HE60 beat that by a small margin but you are talking about a $3000-4000 rig to get only a bit more resolution and depth. It may be worth it depending on your financial situation. It was worth it for me.

I think i would first do the empirical audio dac 1 headphone mod and try it with the 650 and maybe the ultrasone 9 which i haven't heard but have read that others are abandoning big rigs for that dynamic can.

Also, i got the stephan audioart 650 headphone cable and it was a small but certain improvement. I think this is the replacement cable of choice right now.

Ask this question at
by the way, how much are you prepared to spend? I can answer your question better if i knew. i've been down your road with the benchmark..seriously. i haven't even mentioned half the options i explored. For me, anything over $3k is a waste on headphones. I was prepared to buy the sennheiser HE90 and singlepower es-1 fully modded (total of around $12k used) until I heard it. NO WAY. The Stax Omega rig for $3k was in some ways better and the HE90/ES-1 was in no way worth the extra money.
BTW, Steerpike... buying used over on the Head-Fi ForSale subforum is a great way to audition headamp prospects, with depretiation already taken off the price and turning it over again if not satisfied, with S&P.P. being the low cost loss.

Also, do research there for "Iron_dreamer"'s review of the Benchmark DAC1 vs. Meier Corda Opera , Stello & other competitive DAC/Headamps...I'm sure you would find that useful reading...

Thanks everyone for your very helpful responses. I have now registered at Head-Fi and am beginning to discover how little I really know about Headphone listening. Thanks Finthen for the heads-up about "Iron_Dreamer"'s review(s), they'll take some time to digest but initially are truly impressive & valuable.

Kublakhan, I'm not sure what "She Who Must Be Obeyed" has decided that my budget will be, but would guess in the $2,500-$3,500 range.

Again, thanks everyone and I'm off to do my homework.


Is She Who Must Be Obeyed possibly going to be listening with you? In that case you should keep an eye out for amps with two jacks...although even with an external headphone amp connected to your DAC1 you can listen from the DAC1 and from the headphone amp at the same time (which, btw, is a great way to decide whether the amp is better than your dac1 jacks.)

If you budget is that high I can recommend w/o hesitation the Stax Omega II system for around $3k new. Very satisfying for audiophiles relegated to cans.
If you haven't already invested in power conditioning then this is a must. I've used various devices which all had some good results. The cheapest was a Brickwall audiophile surge suppressor ($240). I wasn't expecting much power conditioning since I bought it because I lived near the top of a mountain in North Carolina and wanted to leave my equipment on all the time since this improves performance significantly. The Brickwall was pretty good at cleaning the noise from the power supply.
Better was a PS-Audio Ultimate Outlet (about $200). Unfortunately the two outlets on it are not isolated from each other so often digital gear will put noise back into the power line which can feed into your amplifier.
Other options which are still not too expensive include power strips built by Bolder Cable which include Bybee Quantum Purifiers to isolate some of the outlets from each other while at the same time as filtering the power as it comes into the strip by the use of the Bybees. I'm currently using separate power cables which have Bybees on both sides of the line.
The first time I used the Ultimate Outlet I was stunned with the increased clarity cause by cleaning up the power.
I agree that the DAC-1 is a better DAC than a headphone amplifier. And I found the Grace Design m902 a better headphone amplifier than a DAC. So I run the DAC-1's XLR output to the m902's balanced input with a pair of PS Audio Xstream Statement cables, and the results are better than either of them used alone. BTW I use Audio Technica ATH-W1000 Sovereign headphones. Cheers!