Incorporating headphones into my pc audio system


  I already have a good computer audio setup for playback through my speakers but would like the option of using a high quality headphone when I need to keep things quiet.

    My current system consists of a laptop running JRiver, a Synology 2 TB NAS and an Oppo 105 as a preamp and DAC.  Even though I managed to construct a fairly solid system for ripped CDs and downloaded 24/96 flac files recorded direct to digital, I still consider myself somewhat of a newcomer to computer audio that  still has a lot to learn. 
   My current need is to learn how to best incorporate a yet to be purchased pair of high quality headphones into my system.  My confusion centers around the way my system is currently setup;  my Synology storage device is hard wired into my Comcast wi-fi router. My laptop running JRiver and my Oppo 105 serving as my DAC are both connected to my wi-fi and operating wirelessly.  The Synology, router and Oppo are all located between my speakers in my rack along the 14' short wall of my 23' x14' room.  My listening chair is along the opposite short wall where I also have my laptop.
     I know I could plug headphones into the 1/4" headphone jack of the Oppo but the chord would need to run the entire length of the room.  I was hoping someone had a better solution.  I also know wired is generally considered better than wireless for sound quality but I'm open to a wireless solution since I haven't noticed any sound degragation using wireless connectivity in other areas of my system.
     Just curious what solutions others here use and  would also appreciate any good over-ear headphone  recommendations in the $200-600 range.  
Thanks,
 Tim
noble100
Many headphone amps have dacs built into them.  Redundant yes, as you have a dac, but By connecting one to your laptop directly, you can get away with a shorter headphone cable.  You may even decide to buy a portable dac/amp,  should you ever want to listen to your headphones outside of your home. 

There is a special 2018 addition of the absolute sound/ hifi plus called the ultimate guide to headphones and personal audio. Is currently on the newsstand  and has information on different price ranges Of headphones and a lot of information on amps and players. Very good purchase for your situation!


I’ve been exploring options for connecting headphones to my Oppo 105 and found out that both sets of dedicated stereo outputs on the 105. regular single ended RCA outputs and balanced XLR outputs, are continually operational.  Since I'm already using the XLR outputs for connection to my mono-block amps,  this means I could utilize the l+r RCA outputs for headphone use, either for connecting a separate headphone amp or some sort of wireless headphone system. Just thought this info might expand suggestions.

Tim
I think one question to answer first is are you willing to have a long cable in the room, or do you want a listening station in the immediate area of the computer?
Hi marktomaras,

I'd rather not have a long cable in my room but I think it would give me the very good sound quality I'm wanting if I choose the right headphones.  I've read the Oppo 105 has a very good headphone section and I know it operates great as a DAC.  
     I'd prefer a listening station by my listening chair and computer.  I do have an end table next to my listening chair but I'm not sure what I'd need and how to set it up.  Any suggestions?

Tim
Try Oppo HA-2SE headphone amp ($299).  Has all sorts of inputs including analog, S/Pdif and USB.  I have earlier version (HA-2) and use it as stationary amplifier with my Mac Mini via USB and also as portable amp with my Samsung phone - also via USB. Sound is wonderful and build quality is top notch.

https://www.oppodigital.com/headphone-amplifier-ha-2SE/
     I think the ideal product for my purposes would be a unit that takes the output signals from my Oppo 105's 1/4" headphone jack and then accurately and wirelessly transmits them to headphones I would wear at my listening chair about 12-14' away, or to a module (with a headphone jack) I could place on the end table next to my chair .  Does anyone know of such a product?

Tim
Noble100, that would be the easiest for you but you will get two extra conversions: A/D + D/A, three conversions total when you play digital:  D/A + A/D + D/A
Hi Kijanki,

   It's my understanding that the Oppo's internal DAC would have already converted the digital music file's signal stream from digital to analog so that the signal outputted from its 1/4" headphone jack would be purely analog. There would be no further conversions required from this point onward.  Do you agree or am I missing something?
  Thanks,
     Tim
Yes, Oppo converted signal from digital to analog, but you wan't to send it over WiFi to the headphones.  Such transmission is digital hence signal will have to be converted again to digital and back to analog.
Kijanki,

   Ah, your comments make more sense to me now.  I definitely agree that  D/A and A/D conversions are best kept to a minimum.  I was assuming an analog headphone signal could be transmitted wirelessly like those wireless sound bars, subs and surround channel systems function.  But I still need to research available products.  I think Audioengine makes something like this for under $200.  

 Thanks,
  Tim
Noble100, I assume that you want to avoid long headphone extension cord.  I have Benchmark DAC with headphone output but don't want to run cable across the room so I bought portable headphone amp.

I've never heard of direct analog wireless transmission in audio.  Some kind of modulation would have to be involved.  Even if the signal stays in analog domain it will still be altered twice (modulation, demodulation etc.)  I found that Audioengine sound bars work wirelessly with W3 adapter ($150) over 100'.  They call it "Best sounding 16-bit wireless adaptor" suggesting digital transmission.
Hi kijanki,

     I think you understand my situation and goal very well.  Yes, I'd like to avoid running a long headphone cable from the Oppo's headphone jack to my listening seat about 14-16' away.  I know this would give me what I'm after: the ability to listen via headphones to my hi-res flac music files once they've been converted to analog by the Oppo's very good internal DAC.  I was hoping for a wireless solution but the technology may not exist so I've been thinking of a few ways to accommodate  a wired solution:

     I have 2 identical leather chairs in my room, 1 along my back wall that is my current listening position with a wireless laptop and the other near the back of the room's left 23' wall with a fairly large end table next to it.     I could utilize this as a dedicated headphone station and choose to hook it up in 2 ways I been able to think of thus far:

Method#1: Run a long headphone cable from the Oppo's front 1/4" headphone jack to the end table next to my extra chair.  I could run this cable in back of my rack along the bottom of the front wall (running about 8' -half the distance of front 16' wall) and the along the bottom of my left longer wall to the end table (running about 16' back from the front wall on this 23' left wall).  I would buy a good set of headphones and just plug them into the female 1/4" jack on the end of this cable.  I'd select what to play the same way I do now for music I play through my speakers(a wireless laptop running JRiver with a Synology storage unit and the Oppo all connected via my wi-fi).

Method#2:  Run l+r rca cables from the Oppo's rear panel dedicated l+r stereo outputs (I'm using the other XLR outputs to my mono-blocks but both sets of outputs are active whenever source material is playing).  My thought is I could experiment with headphone amps with this method. I  also may need a boost in power depending on the headphones I buy.

     The Oppo also has an optical audio output but I need to research possibilities using this.
      I'm also interested in the W3 adapter you mentioned and in how you utilize a portable headphone amp in your setup even though you have the excellent Benchmark DAC.  Could you elaborate a bit on both?  I'm currently open to all suggestions and just looking for the best solution.

Thanks for your assistance,
   Tim 
" I found that Audioengine sound bars work wirelessly with W3 adapter ($150) over 100'. They call it "Best sounding 16-bit wireless adaptor" suggesting digital transmission."

Hi kijanki,

     Yes, the W3 adapter and anything utilizing Bluetooth don't seem acceptable since they require additional A/D and D/A conversions.  I visited a couple of electronics stores today and  all their suggestions were Bluetooth based, too.  If a wireless solution that doesn't involve additional conversions does not surface, it looks like a wired solution may be required.

Thanks,
   Tim

Hi Tim,  My situation might be different, since I don't use CDP.  I transfer music from computer/server located next to my armchair over WiFi to Airport Express and then thru optical to DAC.  Headphone amp is next to me plugged into computer's (Mac Mini) USB.  Sound quality of this amp is fantastic.  New "SE" version uses ESS Sabre ES9028-Q2M  D/A converter and discrete output stage.  It also has strong lithium battery (charged thru USB) allowing me to used it with my phone's USB.  In case you wonder - No, I don't work for Oppo  :)

Longer cable should work and I also like idea of separate place/armchair for headphone listening.  People replace headphone cables with better quality ones, often longer.  For instance Cardas makes quality cables for Sennheiser HD600 family headphones.  I'm not sure how long.  They don't specify so perhaps it can be made to order.
Hey kijanki,

     I've been researching and  thinking more about what I'd really like, what you said about  using a portable Oppo  HA-2 headphone amp/dac and that marktomaras had also suggested using a portable amp/dac.  Well, it's taken longer than it should have, but both of your very good advice has finally sunken in and I'm thinking this may be the best method.

     I could set this all up on the rather large end table next to my current listening chair through one of my laptop's USB ports.  I would just need to run a usb cord from the laptop to the amp/dac, install any necessary drivers and plug my headphones into it. ... and wallah, instant semi-wireless headphones that give me access to my entire collection of flac files on my Synology storage device.  This is a little different than I originally envisioned it since my music files would be converted to analog via a different dac, which may not sound as good as the Oppo's excellent internal dac, and it still wouldn't allow listening to movies or tv through the headphones but I think this still may be the best solution thus far. 
      I could still run a quality 25' headphone extension cord to my other chair for the times I'd like to to have cable tv, blurays or even my music files converted to analog via the Oppo's internal dacs and listen through headphones.

        After reading and watching numerous reviews on the portable and desktop amp/dac products currently available at reasonable prices, however,  I think the better choice for myself would be a desktop unit preferably combined in a single case but also acceptable as separate amp and dac. I've discovered 2 desktop headphone amps from Aune (pronounced "ow-knee") I'm considering buying:

One is the Aune X1s a desktop amp and dac combo in a single case. www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlXW20ptu7E  

The other is the Aune X7s  pure class A headphone amp only, so I'd need to add a dac.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLpI5Ui7TsY  

Both run about $300 on Amazon and I'm leaning toward the X1s because it's a combo but I'd buy the X7s if it included a dac.

OR

I may just buy a pair of Sony headphones (MDR-1A or MDR-Z7) and use the small and inexpensive Audioquest Dragonfly usb dac.  No headphone amp but unlikely it's needed with either of the efficient Sony headphones.

Tim

 
       

   
which may not sound as good as the Oppo's excellent internal dac,

Tim, It happens that Oppo HA-2SE has better DAC.  Oppo 105 uses ES9018 while HA-2SE uses ES9028, not to mention that HA-2SE incorporates discrete output stage (matched transistors) while Oppo 105 has chip.
I've never had occasion to test 105, but suspect that HA-2SE sounds better, since it was reported that HA-2SE sounds better than HA-2 (mine), that has the same DAC ( ES9018) as Oppo 105.
Hey Kijanki,

     I have no doubt that the HA-2SE would sound great in my soon to be improved system.   I just read a review on the Oppo PM-3 headphones that paired the HA-2 (not sure if it was regular or SE version) with these headphones for the review.  He mentions that the HA-2 is a very good match with the PM-3 since they make up for some of their cons, subdued deep bass impact and rolled off treble in his opinion,and make them sound much better.

     I'm very close to deciding  to buy the Aune X7s class A amp since I'm fairly certain it'll sound better than the X1s combo dac/amp because it's class A. 
     Now I just need to choose a good usb DAC and headphones to go with it.  I just started another thread here asking for advice on DAC, headphones and amp.  
     I'm currently leaning towards the JDS Labs Standalone ODAC RevB  with rca outputs($150) but haven't ruled out the HA-2SE.  The ODAC has the advantages of using Sabre dac chips and being an 'in-line' type of DAC that I could stash out of sight under my end table.

      I'm much less convinced about which headphones to choose since I have no means locally of hearing most of the higher end pairs and need to base my opinions on reviews.  If I could afford it, I'd probably buy a set of Stax.  I think I'd really enjoy a pair of Audeze or Monoprice planars but they leak too much sound from their open backs.  My wife is usually watching tv or on her tablet on our couch only a few feet away from my listening chair.  In order to avoid an inevitable firm smack on my head from a frying pan, I've decided to restrict my headphone search to over-ear, wired and closed back models that leak little to no sound.

     I'm looking for an accurate and detailed sound that covers the entire frequency range, good bass and treble extension, a smooth and natural mid-range that provides a solid sound stage illusion and the ability to convey the life-like dynamics present on well engineered direct to digital recordings. Not asking for much, right?
     I've only identified 3 good candidates so far:  Sony MHR-1A  and MHR-Z7 and Oppo PM-3.  I'm thinking the Sony Z7 would likely match my preferences best but I'm still open to closed back suggestions.

Thanks,
  Tim
I'm currently leaning towards the JDS Labs Standalone ODAC RevB with rca outputs($150) but haven't ruled out the HA-2SE. The ODAC has the advantages of using Sabre dac chips and being an 'in-line' type of DAC that I could stash out of sight under my end table.

Both use Sabre DAC chips.
You have two ways to do this:
1 use a good wireless headphone. See here, e.g.: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/wireless-headphones There really is no reason to worry about the AD/DA conversion. Avoid analogue wireless transmission - that was only good for babyphones, and even then.
2 get a small and light usb DAC+headphone amp like the ODAC/O2 combination. I have an ODAC as an usb DAC to use with my desktop computer, and it is excellent and very small. Make sure the headphone amp has a low output impedance.
Hi willemj,

Do you have the Senn HD-1 wireless headphones, the ones for $399? I checked them out online and they look very nice, could be a good option. I think I could actually audition these at a local Best Buy, which would be a big plus.
I’m a little confused about exactly how I would install them in my system. Do you have the time to explain how you have them hooked up and your general thoughts on how they sound? It would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Tim

@noble100

I recently did a headphone system, picked up a pair of Sony Z7 saw what the modders where doing to them, medical tape in the cups.

I came up with a permanent solution, takes 5 hours to do, but the transformation is stunning, just sent them to oregonpapa to scrutinize.

Sure he wouldn't mind, send him a pm and see what he thinks.

I am thinking of offering the mod specifically for this headphone.
Hi perfectpathtech,

     Very interesting but I'm estimating a 5 hr mod on these would likely cost $500 or more (5hrs x $100 plus profit margin added).  I love the way these look but I'm getting quickly scared off from a $700 headphone that immediately requires an extensive mod.
      Can anyone suggest an over-ear and closed back headphone in this price range that has a solid  frequency response from top to bottom without any suck-outs or softening, is dynamic, detailed, comfortable, looks good and sounds good right out of the box?
Maybe I'm naive but I don't think that's too much to ask for $700.


willemj,

 You stated: " make sure the headphone amp has a low output impedance."

      The output impedance of the Aune X7s amp is 10 ohms and the Sony 7Z headphonesimpedance is 70 ohms @ 1kHz. 
      As I understand matching impedances of amps to phones, the impedance of the phones should be about 8 times the amp's output impedance.So 10 ohms X 8 equals 80 ohms, which  makes the Sony 7Z phones  10 ohms under this calculation.  However, I believe this '8 times' figure is more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule, so the Sony 7Z phones' 70 ohm impedance  are a relatively good match with the Aune X7 amp's 10 ohm output and the pairing is unlikely to produce any negative safety or sound quality issues. 
     Can you please confirm and offer a good alternative headphone to buy?
     I'm considering the Audeze EL-8C might be a good option.

Thanks,
  Tim 
Update:

     I decided a few days ago to just setup a separate headphone system at my listening seat and bought a JDS Labs OL Dac, Aune X7s amp and an 'open box as new' pair of Sony MDR-7z headphones.

     I also started a new thread on this:  Best USB DAC to pair with the Aune X7s Class A headphone amp 

     I included more details on this thread if anyone's interested.  I still may run a long headphone extension cord to my other seating position in my room, as we previously discussed, to have the option of using phones for ht and listening to music through the Oppo's dac .    

     The components should start arriving this Friday.  Once I have my new headphone system up and running for a couple weeks, I'll post my impressions on that new thread.

     I just wanted to let everyone know about this new thread and thank you all for your assistance on helping me decide on the good solution to setup a separate headphone system.  

Thanks again,
    Tim