Preamp for headphone use

First of all, I am a newbie who knows just enough to get myself in trouble.

I recently purchased a set of Sennheiser HD 800 headphones. The wife doesn't care for "loud" music, so for now I want to pursue the audiophile hobby via cans. I wish to drastically upgrade my gear here, and am looking for suggestions.

Does anyone have any strong recommendations regarding a preamp with a superior headphone output section? I must admit I have a soft spot for McIntosh, and have contemplated their C2300 preamp. I like the "tube sound" and for whatever reason I find their gear attractive. I'm open to any suggestions though. Almost 100% of my listening to music is via vinyl records.

I'm currently using an Integra line of Onkyo as my "reciever", I wish to upgrade from Old Milwaukee. Thanks in advice for any thoughts!
If your budget will accommodate things like McIntosh equipment, perhaps it has room for you to consider getting a dedicated headphone amp that you can either pair with a good preamp or even, in the short run, plug into the tape monitor output of your receiver. The tricky part is that HD 800s are supposed to be sort of hard to drive, so I'm not sure what headphone amp to suggest. Schiit (pronounced just like you'd think -- if you go to their website you'll see they have a pronounced sense of humor) offers a range of excellent headphone amps for different applications -- you might call them and ask which one they would recommend for the 800s. I have a pair of the 700s paired with the Schiit Valhalla and the combination works beautifully.

Other possibilities that come immediately to mind include Fosgate's new headphone amp, which is supposed to be exemplary, and Bryston's, which is supposed to be able to handle any load and has outputs for both balanced and single-ended connections.

Others might be able to offer up their specific experience with the 800s and a particular headphone amp.
Go to , you'll get TONS of options and opinions...

I think a small but noticable upgrade from "Old Milwaukee" would be "Meister Brau"...
If you can locate one, a Melos Sha-1 or Sha-Gold might suffice. I had a Sha-Gold and it's the best preamp/headphone amp I have heard.
I think the opposite. "Old Milwaukee" is a step up from "Meister Brau".
As for preamps with a quality headphone section, find a Audible Illusions L1 linestage.
I'll second a Schiit headphone amp. I have the Lyr and it has no problem with AKG 702's. Another avenue would be the Cary SLI-80 which is very popular with headphone fans and also is a great integrated to run speakers with. You get the beautiful glowing tubes that you can use with speakers when your wife is not home. Some people buy the Cary strictly to use as a headphone amp. It's a beautiful looking tube integrated IMHO. In most cases, the headphone aspect of anything but a dedicated headphone amp is an after thought. From what I've read that's not the case with the Cary. They appear used occasionally on this website.
TYVM all for the replies. I really appreciate it. What I am learning is that a headphone amp will be in order no matter which preamp I were to buy. My OP was hoping that a high-end preamp is available to circumvent that need. Thanks to you all, I have learned otherwise. So thanks again, and I will check out the "Schiit's". :)

(I love that name!)
If you like tubed amps that sound very organic and have lifelike music aspects, I would highly recommend the HE-6 EL34 headphone amp from Audio Note Kits in Canada. That is the best headphone amp I have ever heard, plus it will also serve as a pre-amp.

Call Brian to talk about it. It is a kit (easy to assemble) but has serious SQ on offer for three times the money it is selling at.
You may want to consider the Melos SHA-1 pre-amp which is considered an excellent hp amp and also of course can be used as a pre-amp.
The Atma-Sphere MP-1 line stage can drive headphones like that directly from its main outputs.
Schiit amps sound fine with headphones, but the preamp section was a later add-on (not an original feature)

Do consider the Burson Soloist (headamp/preamp) the headphone output is very powerful, it drives even the HE-6
Ray Samuels Audio. I used the B52 with 800s for a while. Sounded great.
I sent McIntosh an e-mail regarding the output stage of the C2300, as I really have an interest in that preamp. Below is their response.

I have decided (for now) to audition it at my local Mac dealer, with my HD 800s with me to make a better determination of things.......


300 ohms is kind of the sweet spot of the headphone amp in C2300 so it will work fine with the HD800s as far as sound quality and balance. If you listen loudly then you may want to use a more powerful dedicated headphone amplifier and I would recommend the latest from Sennhesier.

Thank you,
Ron Cornelius
I suggest having a look at the Decware CSP2+.

It is a SE OTL preamp with a fantastic headphone output for high impedance cans.
Uses many commonly available tubes such as 1x 5Y3GT rectifier and 3x 6DJ8 tubes.

It was also rated very highly by Skylab of Head-fi.