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Which headphone amp?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Mascodagama Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 30 2020 at 01:03
Originally posted by Davesax1965 Davesax1965 wrote:

I'm vaguely considering building some valve based headphone amps for sale. Time's taken up building the modular, though ! 
Don't forget to sell them for £2,000 each so people know they are high end.
Soldato of the Pan Head Mafia. We'll make you an offer you can't listen to.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 14 2020 at 12:19
Originally posted by Davesax1965 Davesax1965 wrote:

What you're essentially paying for is a mere handful of inexpensive components which cost less than two dollars, if that. I've changed capacitors in microphones and made them sound utterly different for virtually nothing. 

Two dollars? Are we talking about those amps with 3-4 figures to their price now?

Originally posted by Davesax1965 Davesax1965 wrote:

Electronics, as I mentioned, is a black box subject ... and in very, very many cases, an utter rip off. Forget specs. Forget frequency response charts. Forget cosmetics. Don't think you have a technical understanding because you've read a review in What Hi Fi ? - go off. Listen to it. Do you like it ? Buy it.  

I feel let down. Perhaps I should spend five dollars on components down in some electro shack and do my own building? Except I'd have to learn how to do that ...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 02:13
Hi Solan, I notice you're new to the forum.

I sort of "build the odd bit of electronics". 



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 02:20
I built most of this, still cost a fortune, but not an excessive fortune.

Incidentally, electronic prices are a complete rip off. 

Regarding headphone amps. Listen to a load *in real life*, choose the one you like. Price is not much of an indicator of quality. A lot of the manufacturers speak pure gobbledegook and produce all kinds of interesting response charts. These are to part the foolish from their money. Unless you have an exceptionally well trained musical ear, you can't hear differences in electronic components. (Actually, I vaguely can, long story.) What you hear is not what the original recording sounds like, a lot of which are crap and badly recorded, but what the amp does to it in terms of frequency response. 

So in summary

Money doesn't necessarily buy quality
You'll get ripped off, so it's "are you happy to be ripped off and at what price point ?
All the talk in the world is meaningless, you have to listen to something and decide if you like it in the real world
You will absolutely never get "an authentic sound" and you probably wouldn't like it if you did.





Edited by Davesax1965 - December 20 2020 at 02:21

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 02:55
Incidentally, the little blue box to the right of my shiny head (with the big light on it) is a valve preamp. Didn't build it. ;-) It's a Studio Art V3, uses a 12AU7 valve at low voltage levels. Theoretically not very good, then again, I'm not distorting it or expecting high gain so it does the job. 

With thousands of pounds of electronics there, that, going into a very old Lexicon audio interface is what I use for professional audio recording. The modular - all 13 oscillators - goes into a vintage 1990's Alesis Quadraverb effects unit. 

That's the level of technology I use and I've been around recording audio since the very early days. If you're trying to replicate a sound, then the absolute best reproduction you'll get out of it is dependent on the original quality of the recorded sound itself. (Admittedly, I fiddle around with EQ and post production effects a lot.) 

A lot of prog rock from the seventies was recorded on tin boxes and sounds crap. You won't get any more out of it by spending thousands on a headphone amp and expensive headphones. You may THINK you do and you may THINK you can hear a difference, it's just confirmation bias. "I've spent this much so it must sound good." Wrong. 

A non power amp is a very simple thing to produce nowadays, essentially using a jack, two resistors, one chip and a couple of capacitors - and an output jack. The rest of the amp can be made slightly more complicated to boost certain frequency ranges but essentially, it's very simple electronics. That one TL072 chip, which costs less than $1, contains more electronics of better quality than anything non solid state produced in the 1970's. You might think that old stuff, full of dodgy carbon resistors, leaky electrolytic capacitors and components with values all over the place, had "character" - what it had was "distortion" but if you're desperate, you could pay through the nose for old oil in film or tropical fish caps, knackered NOS capacitors and the like and produce something "vintage" - and charge a fortune for it, as a lot of amp makers do. It'd sound rubbish. 

But this is what happens. Rubbish sounding kit using "authentic" components is snapped up by people who then decide "it sounds great because I've spent a fortune on it." Example. The capacitors in Gibson guitars on the tone control go for hundreds of dollars for an original. 10, 22 or 47 microfarads, I can't remember which, now. Put any old 22uf cap in and it'll sound much the same, but purveyors of old caps will tell you it sounds "darker" or "vintage" whilst removing $200 from your wallet. 

Actually, the cap doesn't come into play unless you switch the tone off, but..... ;-) 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 02:59
PS Spent $2000 ? Happy ? Good. It's your money. 

Male equivalent of your girlfriend spending money on a Prada handbag or a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes. 

I'd spend it on something else, but - personal choice. 

Edited by Davesax1965 - December 20 2020 at 03:14

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Guldbamsen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 05:10
Headphone amps have become so ridiculous by this point. When we some 25 years ago were making amps with distortion numbers well below the threshold of human hearing...we funnily enough couldn’t discern a difference between that and another amp with similar performance....even when one was blue and the other black!
Nowadays we’ve bettered those numbers 10 fold or in some cases well above that...yet there are no brownie points for making the inaudible even more inaudible.
The fact of the matter remains, almost all amps sound the same if they’re matched with the right gear aka don’t hook up a 20 ohm dynamic driver headphone to an amp with an output impedance of say 10 ohm if you are looking for transparency. You’ll most likely experience an impedance hump in the bass plus some added distortions.
I also have a few tech interested friends who vehemently herald pricey components and special wires as being paramount for obtaining the best sound quality possible...yet when I hid their amps behind a big box and levelmatched the buggers they couldn’t discern any sort of difference between the insanely pricey Frankenstein they’d been working on and a cheap Magni 2.

Before anyone out there goes on to get him or herself a headphone amp, please do yourself a favour and read up on the important bits. Output impedance of the amp is personally where I’d start. Power is a long way down the list simply because most headphone amps on the market today will drive just about any headphone to perfection...unless you are getting an HE-6 or a Susvara.
Then again..a headphone amp is only really needed if you are missing volume.

Edited by Guldbamsen - December 20 2020 at 05:10
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 06:51
I'v never listened to a tube amp, but I've seen videos. They remind me of lava lamps. So I am wondering if I should buy myself a lava lamp for when I want a "warm" sound.

No, I am not kidding!

I made the awesome discovery some years ago that LPs sounded better than CDs by playing some picture printed vinyl. Tangerine Dream's Poland concert with a picture of the band on the vinyl itself. When I played the LP, it sounded much more "filled out" than the same music on CD. But funnily enough, only when I saw the LP spinning and knew the sound came from it! Without the visuals, I could not tell!

Nevertheless, the effect persisted afterwards. Put on the LP and watch it, and the sound was still fuller.

I suspect the same goes for lava lamps. That warm glow. Surely the sound must be warm too! So ... lava lamp, here I come!


Edited by Solan - December 20 2020 at 06:52
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 09:39
Any post which starts "I've not listened to a tube amp" can safely be ignored in a discussion about amps. ;-)

If crappy picture disk vinyl sounds the same as a CD to you and you somehow work a lava lamp into this, have you considered that your hat may be too tight ? ;-)

Or, Svein, is this just somewhat of a wind up ? ;-)))))))))

Edited by Davesax1965 - December 20 2020 at 10:01

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 10:44
I'm in here simply to learn from you guys, not to impart my own wisdom. So I am sorry to still say I have not listened to tube amps. Perhaps a bit of coincidence, in that none of my audiophile friends happen to have one. Solid staters the whole way.

As for the picture disk, I meant it as an illustration of how our senses influence one another and how we can actually convince ourselves that something is different from what it is, simply due to input from a different sense. And THAT is from a field where I feel more safe in imparting some wisdom. Perceptory psychology. But you have mentioned this yourself, in how people fail to tell any difference when they can no longer see the amps.

But don't take my word for it. Check out this article, for instance, and you may start to understand why seeing a spinning vinyl may affect the way we perceive sound (well, this is about taste, but same same): https://www.baristainstitute.com/blog/gediminas-sereika/december-2018/how-do-different-senses-affect-way-we-taste


Edited by Solan - December 20 2020 at 10:59
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 10:47
Another one, just to make Davesax take me seriously even though I have never listened to a tube amp: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/making-sense-world-sveral-senses-at-time/

Edited by Solan - December 20 2020 at 11:00
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 10:58
A few more for Davesax, until he figures out that he really loves me!



Try for yourself!



Edited by Solan - December 20 2020 at 11:01
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 20 2020 at 11:02
Now, back to that lava lamp. Put one on, and look at it while you listen to a Solid State amp. Doesn't it sound warmer?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Catcher10 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 21 2020 at 15:01
From an audio gear view, I've been an SS fan over Tube based amps and preamps. Some of the hybrid SS/Tube integrated amps are pretty nice, but the Tube section is usually in the preamp section.....You can get the best of both worlds. Although the sound character of an all tube based amp is not something I care for, those were fine back in the day before SS electronics just got better.

My main issue is you really need to tube roll and that becomes tedious, expensive and endless tweaking to find the sound you might like. Unless you spend money its rare you find an amp/preamp with tubes you really like as stock.
Today the stability of SS power sections just gives you almost bottomless noise floor, it's not even a concern anymore.......Watts are cheap so buying a power amp in the 200wpc range is more than affordable, giving you a lot of headroom. An all tube amp at 200wpc is spendy, you can't touch a McIntosh power amp for less than $5K. Like I said the hybrids are less expensive........

For analog instrument amps, tubes are the way to go it seems, I don't recall seeing a guitar stack that was not tubes on stage..

Alex Lifeson amps...:

[al-amps[3].jpg]

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 22 2020 at 05:20
Originally posted by Catcher10 Catcher10 wrote:

For analog instrument amps, tubes are the way to go it seems, I don't recall seeing a guitar stack that was not tubes on stage..

There's an essential difference between the input and output, I wager. If the input stage is sh*tty, then no amount of makeup will make the cow look like a lady! A sh*tty recording still sounds sh*tty on a $100k audiophile system. 

Or as a friend of mine said it, «So you paid $100k to get better sound out of a recording of an artist who boasts of never having had a singing lesson, accompanied by a $100 guitar, recorded on the nearest microphone they could find?»

Anyway, I guess tube amping a guitar to create a specific sound in the sound creation stage makes more sense than using tubes to colour a recorded sound that's already been mixed as well as could be.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 22 2020 at 09:47
Solan, you're somewhat agreeing with what I was saying. ;-)

You can never get out of a recording what wasn't there in the first place. I use valve amps to record analogue synths as I like the sound. 

I listen back to it on solid state. Without a lava lamp. ;-)

Thanks for the advice about perception of music, you might notice I mentioned "confirmation bias". I've been recording audio for a very long time and playing musical instruments for 45 years, this isn't news to me. ;-) All said nicely, no criticism, no harm meant or implied. It sometimes comes across wrong on the internet without visual clues. 

I understand you have a lot of expertise in the area of psychology, too, by the way. The basis of an interesting conversation ? A holistic way of appreciating music - based on surroundings ? Yes, it's interesting, but all very 1960's, don't you think ? ;-)

Edited by Davesax1965 - December 22 2020 at 09:50

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Davesax1965 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 22 2020 at 09:54
Regarding noise floor. 

I switch on a Korg MS synth I had (used to have the original, now I have the reissue, which is SMD and not TTL, I can hear the difference) and because of the inherent filter design, I can hear noise. Or. I pick up one of my guitars with P90 pickups in it, there's noise as well. Inherent noise.

If you listen to a 70's recording, there's inherent noise in it. Valve amps, old pickups, bad electronics. 

So how, can I ask, can you tell "original recording noise" from "modern hi fi amp noise" ?

And why oh why oh why does it matter if you can or not ? Given the cost of reducing it. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 22 2020 at 10:35
Yes, mostly agreeing with you, and I follow this thread because I like to hear what you and Guldbamsen have to say. 

Your advice to listen to the equipment is sound, since it's easy to read about ‰‰‰‰ of ‰ that nobody is able to discern. But where I might disagree with you, then, is about the need to listen to equipment. I don't have golden ears. Maybe silver, but not golden. All I want is an amp which is past the threshold where the ‰‰‰ and ‰‰ are indiscernible. And maybe one that looks good in the process. Yeah, there's a premium for that, but I buy my books hardcover too, so ...

And I don't think that threshold of indiscernible differences goes into the thousands of $$$. You probably hit it quite nicely with many sub-thousand dollar units. And at that point, my silver (or would that be bronze) ears don't need to listen. If some golden ear or measurer has been unable to discern a difference from a $10k unit, that suffices for me.

I hope you understand where I am coming from. How it sounds to me is of utmost importance. I just don't believe I can "hear the grass grow" as Youtuber oluv puts it. So since self-listening and testing is far between these days, I am happy to just take advice, and then buy based on that. 

It's a different thing for headphones, though. But amps? If I understand you and Guldbamsen right, anything neutral (flat frequency response) with sufficient power is essentially equivalent, right?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Solan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 22 2020 at 10:42
Holistics ... he he, yes, we can end up very late 60ies with that one, and if we truly work on it, we'll end up with profundities like that the "The best music is no music", with no music meant as some mystical something you can only understand when on LSD.

But maybe this could be used to make a sh*tload of money. Just make a good enough amp, and then put in some tubes (they don't even have to do any work! Just make them visible!), make the amp look and be heavy. Like, a 2lb bar of lead under the circuitry. Paint it all in vantablack, and sell it at 50x what it's worth, and you have a success! Handshake


Edited by Solan - December 22 2020 at 10:42
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Catcher10 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: December 22 2020 at 12:50
Originally posted by Solan Solan wrote:

Originally posted by Catcher10 Catcher10 wrote:

For analog instrument amps, tubes are the way to go it seems, I don't recall seeing a guitar stack that was not tubes on stage..

There's an essential difference between the input and output, I wager. If the input stage is sh*tty, then no amount of makeup will make the cow look like a lady! A sh*tty recording still sounds sh*tty on a $100k audiophile system. 

Or as a friend of mine said it, «So you paid $100k to get better sound out of a recording of an artist who boasts of never having had a singing lesson, accompanied by a $100 guitar, recorded on the nearest microphone they could find?»

Anyway, I guess tube amping a guitar to create a specific sound in the sound creation stage makes more sense than using tubes to colour a recorded sound that's already been mixed as well as could be.
I prefer to say "bad mix and mastering" is what we as music fans and buyers of media (LPs, Cassettes, CDs, Digital Files) complain about. As was stated, what we hear is generally not what it sounds like in the studio....For sure a krappy singer, a band that does not play well will never "play" better on an audio system that costs $50K vs one that is $5K, that's not how it works.
But....it might sound better, so what your friend says has some truth both ways. I have tons of krappy albums that sound better on my current system than what they did on my system from 5yrs ago say, that happens all the time. But my system, nor anyone else's will make a bad singer sound like Pavarotti, that's really dumb to even think that.

Take what you consider a bad recording, meaning it simply sounds bad has little dynamics, no separation, little soundstage minimal bass or lacks some shimmer in the highs and play it on a high end expensive system then on a lower priced system and you should hear a difference in what one might describe or say..."it sounds better on the system with better electronics..." You can't know the difference till you audition such a scenario. 
When I audition audio gear I always take a crappy mastered pressed CD with me, something full of compression brick walled to hell, as well one that is mastered very well.
Pay attention to your ears, that's all.
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