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Just wanted to report in after having had a week with the m9XX. Before getting the m9XX, I had spent some time with the Creative Sound Blaster E5. I've been doing a lot of my testing with the AKG K7XX, which arrived a day after the m9XX arrived.
I don't have high impedance headphones to test both with, but my experience has been that the direct signal (no EQ or fancy effects) on the E5 emphasizes more high-end frequencies, while the m9XX is darker, has recessed highs, and is overall more relaxed.
That being said, I really enjoy using both. Given that the E5 has EQ built in, you can definitely fine-tune your sound without much hassle. But the relaxed nature of the m9XX is definitely more pleasant to my ears, out of the box.
I've listened to a lot of J-Rock and Progressive Metal/Rock on these, and sometimes the snare and cymbals can be overwhelming and can fatigue your ears quicker on the E5.
Do I think that the ~$340 more dollars I paid for the m9XX is worth it? I have no idea right now. I think there is a point of diminishing returns when purchasing DACs and Amps compared to purchasing a pair of quality cans. Most people entering the audiophile space would be satisfied with the E5 and all the features it provides. That being said, I am using a fairly easy to drive set of cans for testing.
Given some HD800's, would there be an exorbitant difference between the E5 and the m9XX? I'd sure as hell love to know! And that's why I'm a part of this audiophile community :-)
Actually, in my experience, people confuse "low impedance" with "easy to drive." It's actually the opposite. A low impedance headphone presents little resistance to the amp, meaning it sucks up the current. It takes a pretty beefy amp to provide a lot of current, especially at low voltage levels.
High impedance headphones need more voltage. A lot of cheaper amps like high impedance headphones because they don't draw a lot of current, meaning voltage is the main thing the amp needs to provide. The problem with cheap amps is that most of them have a low voltage rail meaning the headphones can't get very loud before clipping.
I guess what I'm saying is that overall, my high impedance Senn's and beyers sound better on cheap amps at low volume levels (with obvious clipping distortion if I try to turn the volume up too high). However, my low impedance Denons and Grados sound louder, but never good, on cheaper amps (like a Cmoy).
I've tried them all on this Grace. No need to worry -- with the 2 amp power supply attached (you can run it without if you don't need it) it has handled all of my headphones with aplomb.
grace has big current ;-) sound is very full even on my planars whereas my cheaper amp the bass sounds MUCH worse.