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Is there any point having headphone amplifiers more than $400 when THX 789 is available?
Unfortunately, the THX gets a lot of hype with phrases such as so much power than it will be the last amp you will ever need.
Just because it can power your headphone, doesn't it make it necessarily good or what you are looking for. You may want an amp that is more musical, dynamic, or natural sounding. As an analogy, just think about your PC or a sound card able to power your headphone. Just because it can, doesn’t make it good.
The 789 or 887 is fine with more mid range tier headphones, but once you get to the more high end headphones, it kinda falls apart. It’s got too many flaws that become apparent with higher end gear.
Objectively speaking 789 reaches level of THD that are well beyond human perception even at best possible scenario. It has some of the lowest impedances making it suitable to match with any headphone. If only power is the concern, it’s justified. But I use 789 with Hifiman HE 560 and it can handle is quite comfortably. Other than HE6 I don’t know any headphone that needs more juice. Also most newer headphones are more efficient and need less power including ultra high end like Focal Utopia or Sennheiser HD820 etc. I have another high end amp Aune S7. It’s also rated for slightly higher power and is highly regarded. I got it for much less than it’s retail price, so I went with it. I like it a lot too, but I would still not call it better than 789. But spending hundreds more on any amp just does not make sense to me, unless one just want to spend for the sake of spending.
In regards to this, can you elaborate more on how 789 falls apart on more high end headphones? Which specific headphones are you thinking?
From all I've read, hear and see, the differences are down to power, build quality and presentation. The V280 is stupendously powerful, built with top-tier components and tilts to a more "musical" (slightly warm, relaxed) presentation.
The 789 supplies ample power for most headphone users, uses fewer and standard quality components (This, paired with the excellent THX circuitry, helps distinguish the amp for it's fantastic price to performance ratio). The presentation leans more towards analytical and, according to one Youtube reviewer, provides just a touch more "sparkle" in the highs.
It's sort of a compact sedan vs. luxury car comparison. Both are highly competent, but have different aims, strengths and weaknesses.
I believe it’s like a history of watch: mechanical, quartz then radio wave/GPS. Which is the best? Depends on owners. For me? It’s a tough question. ^_^
Well, its a good comparison. Continuing this thought train, from the metric of time keeping accuracy, quartz was better than mechanical, for much less money and then atomic / radio clocks are even better for similar money. After that it just amounts to quality of material / brand etc. But watch is also like a jewellery, where appearance would make a difference. I don't know how much difference looks would make in case of amplifiers. 789 is a very simplistic / albeit nice design. It cannot probably match the beauty of tube amps, or other solid state amps like this one, but my question is would you care for that?
Also, as @Antlion mentioned about compact sedan v/s luxury, if you care about comfort, then luxury would win. If I am traveling, I would choose Mercedes over a Honda, but if I want to transport some bag, I would not care. From that perspective, how much aesthetics matter for an amp, is a whole different question. Also, one needs to be careful when it comes to subjective comparison as one can quickly go into the rabbit hole leading to snake oil.
Don't get me wrong, I am all about experimentation / research to improve the products. However, In this case, I see a product that reaches the limits of human perception, at a very affordable price point.
Interesting question. Being as I have just ordered this, and have a 789 among other amps I’ll try to quantify.
When listening on the 789 I get what I would call a flat to bright response. Many refer to the “sparkle” quality of this amp. This has to do with how it presents higher frequencies in a very forward manner. This amp is often considered analytical, it was been called flat. I don’t see it as flat since highs become so pronounced.
Maybe this can be illustrated by comparing to something like the Rupert Neve RNHP, or Liquid Platinum. The detail of the THX remains with these two amps, however the thin and forward highs behave differently. Warmth is what some would describe these amps tendency to elevate bass and mid bass. The RNHP in particular displays highs as fuller, and not as forward. This results in less fatiguing sound in my experience. The Liquid Platinum “opens up” the soundstage a bit, this is vague, I know, but making direct comparisons to the 789 this is apparent.
my understanding is that the Violectric is a warmer amplifier. I’m essentially hoping it’s an RNHP with more power and a balanced output. If it’s that, it’s worth every penny.
none of this takes away from the fact that the THX amps are great amps that punch above their price point in power. They’re just a sound signature that for my ears goes too far in the bright direction.
Good explanation. I kind of felt similar differences when I compared 789 with Aune S7 amp, although I could not so much put it in words :).
I don't care about the aesthetics of amps. I'm attracted to the craftsmanship to pursue both accuracy and beauty of sound based on analog technologies. From the point of technical specs, the sound of THX amps might be perfect. But I feel it is natural that the sound from the latest digital amp chip is perfect. There isn't anything more than my expectation.
As for THX amp, I would go for Panda headphones. I think it's very interesting and unique headphones as it uses the nature of THX amp perfectly.
All the replies have covered the answer pretty well already, but I wanted to just add my 2 cents. An amp is an analog device by design which means it affects the sound in more ways than just technical specs. What I mean is two amps can both low distortion numbers and high power output, yet have a different sound signature from each other. Some amps can pair with any headphone and others only sound best with specific headphones. Numbers very rarely tell you the whole story of how the amp sounds and functions. Unless you go into some very detailed testing using expensive audio measurement equipment to get into the details.
One difference between violectric amps and most other amps that can affect the sound of certain headphones is the higher voltage output at higher impedances. Even though wattage output is similar between 789 and violectric, the 280 has much higher voltage output. This means it will send that power to high impedance headphones differently than a 789 will, which in turn changes how that headphone driver moves. Which is how the sound changes. Also different internal components all have different effects on the power ultimately being sent to the headphone drivers, and if you know what you are doing, that's how you can design a sound signature into your amp. So really the numbers only tell part of the story. With higher end headphones they are resolving enough to usually be able to hear these signature differences and for you as a listener to develop a preference.
Personally I never bought the 789 because of all the reviews about it's neutral/analytical sound signature. I like neutral/warmish instead which is what most violectric gear basically is. 95% neutral with a little dash of smooth warmth to make it sound pleasant while still retaining all the details. On a lower end headphone you'd hardly notice the difference unless you really are looking for it. On a higher end headphone that can be the make it or break it for the 789 or violectric depending on the sound you're going for. Personally I own a v281 and love it, I've tried other amps as I worked my way up to it which let me hear how amps change the sound depending on their design. The violectric ended up being the closest to perfect for my ears, it stopped feeling like I was listening to the amp for a change. Every other amp I've tried I always noticed something was off with the sound I was looking for, which once you spend money on high end headphones starts to bother you once you notice it. I wanted to hear my headphones not the amp they were plugged into.
What a load of crap, I have the 887 and it works great with my LCD-3, HE560, Clear, T1 2nd Gen, Amiron Home, etc....... Falls apart, lolololol.
If you owned higher end gear you would realize you aren't getting everything out of those cans, especially the LCD-3's. Just because an Amp can power and run a headphone, doesn't mean you are getting the best sound out of it. But if you are happy with them and what you got then that is great, as the audio hobby is subjective to each person, and if you have never heard higher end gear you don't know what you are missing. :D
I personally owned the THX 887 when I initially heard all the hype, thought it was great, then decided to dip my toes further, ended up with a Pass HPA-1 and a Lampizator DAC, and everything sounded soo much better. I went back to my 887 to test it out after 2 weeks and it sounded downright terrible to my ears, hollow, dry, and bright. Granted I was using the "Diana Phi" headphones with it and that headphone needs something a lot better than the 887 anyways.
You also have to take into consideration what DAC you have paired with it as well. You have a cheap bright DAC like the SMSL SU-8 mixed with the 887 and you are in for ear piercing highs. The higher you go up in audio the more a better DAC can make a huge difference. So everything depends on your chain, and if you have ever experienced anything beyond what you have.
I am what you call a gear slut, too many purchases, lol. I have tried more than a few DACs and amps, and my current main set up is the Topping A90 with the RME ADI-2 DAC, and only switched from the 887 to the A90 mainly for the pre amp function for my active speakers. I like this set up because it is about as clear and transparent as it gets, no distortion, so you hear exactly what the recording gives you, and the true color of each headphone I own.
My iCan Pro, iDSD Micro, and other amps were mighty powerful, but colored the sound on everything, even is solid state. But if that's what you like, that's cool.
I just can't agree with you stating that the THX amps fall apart, whatever that means.
It has been on my list to hear a Lampizator,, but now I also want a set of cans with a Fibonacci pattern... are they as well crafted as they write them up? Brief review on sq?
I'm assuming you are asking about a sound quality review on the Lampizator.
There is a void of DAC's that don't make much of a difference in the $200-$700 range. I have been through plenty of side upgrade DAC's anywhere from $200-$1,500, and some of the higher priced ones in there did make a huge difference but none hit the sound goals I was looking for.
The Lamp sounds lush, organic and full bodied, with bass that goes very deep and punches hard. It is the most musical DAC I have ever heard, it is making everything I listen to sound more engaging and fun, whereas other DAC's have sounded harsh in certain songs.
It does all of this and punches above its price, as there isn't another DAC that matches it until you hit a much higher price tag.
The Lamp can easily be a lot of people's theoretical "End Game". If you ever want to go past it you are going to be spending $8k or more on each piece of equipment.
Audio is subjective to everyone so if you don't see a difference in what you hear and enjoy something else that is fine and I respect your opinion fully.
If you can't agree with what I said on the THX then that is fine as well, that is what makes the audio hobby so interesting, everyone's different takes and opinions on equipment and how they perceive it. Cheers. :D
I agree up to certain levels that amps can be more subjective than DACs. Also agree to the point of voltage range. I have Aune S7Pro amp (listed for $600+) as well. Got for a good deal on Drop warehouse, as I was not ready to get it for full price. To my surprise, I like it better than 789. It’s just as quiet and dark but the sound signature is warmer and somehow more relaxed and pleasant. They don’t mention about voltage output though.
I have also heard that tube amps provide higher voltages. How would this amp compare to tube amps? I have DarkVoice as well. But it does not beat Aune by any means. Also tube amps work only with high impedance dynamic headphones.