I am looking for suggestions for a new to me headphone amp with a budget around $200, maybe a little more for the right unit. I do NOT need a headphone/dac, it will be fed by RCA analog from the line out of my BAT integrated. One requirement is that it also has RCA analog outputs, so a pass through if you like, my present el cheapo Monolith head amp has this and it is near essential in my set up right now. My present cans are HiFiman 4xx purchased from Drop. I may be looking at better cans for Xmas so there is that to bear in mind for the new head amp. Thanks and stay safe!
uber, given the level of the rest of your system, I'd suggest treating the headphone amp with the same level of importance, especially if you're planning to upgrade or add more headphones in the near future. You should probably be adding a 0 to your budget.
Headphones have been an odd rabbit hole for me. For a while, I was listening to them a lot and bought a few different ones as well as a few amps. They are cool in a lot of ways because it's like being able to swap out speakers and there's no room to deal with and even the upper tier headphones don't cost as much as many speakers do.
But... you have to wear them, and they can be uncomfortable, and you have cables, and... blah blah blah.
The main thing that happened with me is that I kept improving my systems to the point that my speakers sounded as good or better than the headphones and headphones don't really have a "soundstage" or image like speakers do. I still listen to them on a regular basis, but not as much and I have way more stuff than I need.
First, let me say I am brand new to the whole audiophile world. I've owned the HifiMan 400i's for a long time and have always simply used them with the jack on my iPhone or computer. But recently, for some reason (lockdown fever?), the HiFi bug has got me under its spell and I've been buying stuff like crazy. Most of it isn't here yet and even if it was I'm not sure if my ears are keen enough to be a real judge. Having said that, and being fully prepared to get flamed as an ignorant newbie, here are some thoughts that might be a little out of the box.
1) Just got the HifiMan Ananda's yesterday and they blow the 400i's out of the water. I wish I had the Sundara's to compare the two.
2) The FiiO BTR5 headphone DAC/Amp/Bluetooth receiver makes quite a bit of difference streaming bluetooth from an iPhone vs playing from an iPhone jack. That difference is even larger if you use the USB DAC with a PC. I haven't been able to make the DAC work with the iPhone or an old Kindle Fire 8. Buying a Fire 10 HD to see if that works. Nice purchase for $100. I've been using Amazon Music HD as my source.
3) Just for yucks I bought the Douk P1 for $100. It came today. That little device actually checks all your boxes. Bluetooth, USB, and RCA inputs and headphone and RCA outputs.
So far all I can say is that all the functions work and it sounds at least OK, but there is a low level of hiss in quiet passages like Perfume Genius's Moonbend. Not noticeable unless the music is dead quiet. It could be that goes away with burn in or a better DC power supply. The stock tubes aren't supposed to be the best so I bought two others that I get to play with over time. Honestly, just for entertainment value testing the tubes it might be worth the $100. I haven't done a comparison yet with the BTR5.
Probably you are better off sticking with the Schitt Vali or similar and paying more but I like playing with new toys as much as listening to the highest quality music.
I looked at the Aune X7. At 11 ohms output it is only suitable for high impedance cans. The Drop is not available for at least 8 months. They are suspect anyway. When the sold Grados, the Grado company said they didn’t front them any. Where the hell did they get ’em? Much stuff NO warranty. The S.M.S.L. amp I have doesn't sound as good as either Schiit I am using.
Check into the Valhalla model. Reasonably Priced. Feature Packed. Description, Spec, And FAQ all contain useful information. OTL, Pre Output, Rollable, and adjustable Gain. Separates / Component Type Use. Schiit says: "Valhalla 2 is exceptionally accurate, neutral, and resolving, without being strident or etched. " My V2 sounds as good as the Mjolnir. A little more expense ($350 new).
Look at Schiit I don’t know off the top of my head but they do have a headphone amp that is the same class A circuit as their Aegir amp. I think the Aegir sounds great and would expect the headphone amp to be on par.
Following on the Darko reviews I’ll suggest the DROP + THX AAA™ 789 Linear Amp. Yeah, it’s $299, but you said “maybe a little more” and what’s 100 bucks among audiophiles? The review puts this unit in another league from the very good Asgard 3, so for only $100 more I know what I’d do. And given its ability to scale with better gear it covers you more for when you upgrade your ‘phones. Just my $0.02 FWIW, and best of luck in your search.
Just an update. I did find a package deal that was an excellent price so went with it.
Beyerdynamic A20 head amp matched with Beyerdynamic T90 cans, both designed to work together and the cans are 250ohm.
First play was last night and a world of difference from my old setup. A lot clearer and pinpoint imaging, bass although maybe not quite as deep was much clearer and tunefull whereas old rig was more thud, thud on the bass.
For the money I am very happy, a hair more than $200 for the head amp if I split the prices up but way less than $300 so I got what I was looking for. Many thanks for all the kind suggestions along the way!
Really grown to like and appreciate the strengths of the Beyer combo. While bass is not ear pounding, it is tight and tuneful and plentiful. Imaging is glorious and mids and highs are sharp and very well detailed.
Obviously still lower rung stuff compared to what some people have for headphone setups but quite a way elevated from my previous setup.