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View Full Discussion As per their spec-sheet (http://www.fiio.net/en/products/27), the E10K does 200mW at 32 Ohms, and is recommended for headphones 16-150 Ohms. The HD 6XXs are 300 Ohms normal impedance. Now as an external DAC, the E10K isn't a waste, its amp just won't be strong enough to make the most of these headphones.
If you're looking to buy a cheap DAC/AMP and don't have one already, which it sounds like you are, maybe take a look at the Schiit Fulla 2 which some people were discussing below. It's not the strongest, but it's a solid start for higher impedance headphones!
If you want more power, there are several solid options here on Massdrop, or you could pick up something like the Magni 3 from Schiit. That goes up to 430mW at 300 Ohms, and should have no problem driving these headphones. Keep in mind though that the Magni is just an amp, so you'll still need a DAC (Something like the Modi perhaps.)
I would skip the (relatively old model) FiiO E10K and get the new CEntrance DACportable ($199) currently being offered here on Massdrop. An impressive amount of power on tap... and excellent price-to-performance ratio. Any DAC/amp that is less expensive and/or less powerful will probably yield noticeably inferior sound with the 6XX, which scales (improves more noticeably) more than most headphones with better DACs and amps.
I have the E10K and it drives the 6XX well, even on low gain I find it gets uncomfortably loud past 3/8 on the dial. No obvious distortion or clipping and is fine for casual or background listening, and plenty of headroom for EQ.
I don't have access to any other amps (other than a crappy laptop which it handily beats) so I can't actually make any comparisons against amps with a higher output, so honestly my anecdotal report is meaningless.
If you are buying a dac/amp for your 6XX I'd probably go with some of the recommendations the other guys have already made - they probably only cost a little bit more and you're guaranteed to get a good result.
Sufficient volume output is not a sign of an amp to drive your headphones "well". And a DAC's digital-to-analog conversion method/process is very important to the overall sound of the resulting signal. Whole books have been written on these topics.
While the E10K will provide significantly better sound than most laptops and phones, it cannot drive the 6XX anywhere near its full potential. For that, you need to get an amp with more voltage and wattage... and preferably a balanced-out.
I've heard that many times before, but until I manage to save up enough money to buy an amp I won't be able to experience the difference for myself. That being said, despite hearing it so many times all that's really said about the improvements are rarely backed up by a sound explanation or objective evidence (such as FR or square wave measurements with the same headphone, then swapping out the amp, volume matching and measuring again). If you've come across any, please please send me a link because I am dying to know.
I have however seen good solid evidence and an excellent explanation from an electrical engineer point of view for the benefit of balanced outputs! But like I said, until I save up enough money for an amp with balanced out and some balanced cables, I'll never be able to experience it for myself.
Differences among various amplifiers can be heard with almost every headphone. Among DACs, the differences are more difficult to discern, especially with lower-end (standard) delta-sigma DACs. Conversely, R2R DACs use a different convertion method.
With higher-impedance and/or low sensitivity headphones, more power on tap will always yield superior sound. With the Senheisser HD6XX/650, I heard the difference is more noticeable that with most other headphones. Though I will admit, I have never heard for myself.
When you have the money, the currently-available Massdrop Liquid Carbon X + SDAC DAC/Amp would be a good choice. Then, you can hear for yourself.
Incidentally, I'm looking into getting a balanced cable for my HE4XX. It will be my first balanced experience!
" With higher-impedance and/or low sensitivity headphones, more power on tap will always yield superior sound "
But why? Have you come across any explanations of this phenomenon, or measurements to show what sort of objective difference you get between "loud enough" amps and "plenty on tap" amps? Sure, more power will let the headphones easily hit 120dB+, but if my average listening volume is 85dB (and even with tracks with a dynamic range of 15dB or so it would only hit peaks of 100dB) what difference would it make? For example, even factoring in the 500 ohm impedance bump, the e10k can push enough voltage to reach 105dB with room to spare. Most solid state amplifiers act as near constant voltage sources given their near 0 output impedance, meaning voltage output does not swing wildly, and higher headphone impedance means that it takes less current to drive so if anything it would be easier to drive. The issue with my argument is that it assumes sensitivity is similar across the entire frequency range, at 103dB/Vrms or 97dB/mW. Since these sensitivity measurements are (from what I've read) generally taken at 1kHz, it gives us no information about its sensitivity at other frequencies. However, we do know that FR measurements are done with a tone sweep at a constant amplitude i.e. voltage, so given headphone amps act as near constant voltage sources, wouldn't the FR remain relatively unchanged?
Anyway, rant aside, I've been using my e10k for years with other lower end headphones, and I'd rather not shell out hundreds of dollars to buy an amp that costs more than the headphone itself if it would only bring a placebo benefit. That being said, I would certainly like to try out balanced amps/cables though, because I know for certain they do make a significant, measurable difference.
asking the exact same question
It's like this stuff doesn't make any sense
Here's what I understand:
As you noted, sensitivity (and impedance) measurements are generally taken at 1kHz. But a headphone's impedance/sensitivity is dependent on the frequencies being played through it. Bass and sudden amplitude increases are especially difficult to deliver properly - without distortion - and require considerable power to due so. More available power from the amp will mitigate the affect of these variances on the resulting sound.
Without doing any research, I suspect that the HD6XX/650 scales so noticeably with more powerful amps is because their impedance/sensitivity varies widely.
A more-transparent DAC and more-powerful amplifier than your FiiO E10K would only be a "placebo benefit" if you truly couldn't hear a difference... but trust me, it would be there. (The better the headphones, the easier it would be to hear the sound improvement when upgrading equipment.) But if you have good hearing and/or listening discernment abilities, I would be surprised if you paired your 6XX with a 'step-up' DAC/amp - such as the Massdrop Liquid Carbon X + SDAC DAC/Amp - and didn't hear a significant difference... especially with its balanced-out. This particular unit is quite likely the best overall <$400 DAC/amp currently on the market... and Massdrop has them in-stock now!
Thanks for the explanation! I was under the impression that higher impedance allowed for "tighter" control of the diaphragm (more coils = more magnetic force), but didn't even consider the impact that the amp's output power might have. I assume this sort of difference would be easily measurable on a square wave response graph, as it measures response to near instantaneous shifts. I'll continue to read into the matter, as well as have a look at that DAC/amp you're singing praise about.
Yeah, an amp's power, output impedance, and sound signature are the three most important things to consider when pairing with any specific pair of headphones.
I have my eye on two upcoming DAC/amp's from Monoprice with THX AAA Technology and Dirac Sensaround processing. Desktop and portable models:
They could be game-changers if they live up to their promise.
It's been nice chatting with you. I gave you a few 'likes'. If you would return the gesture, I'd appreciate it.