Nov 13, 2018242 views

Tube Amp for Planars - what’s your setup?

What are you running now and what have you auditioned? What do you love about your tube amps? What’s the crappiest amp or tubes you’ve heard? Background: I’m a tube noob and I’m always lurking forums and seeking knowledge and anecdotes, Learning about the science and tech of tubes while also taking into account listener’s tastes and first-hand experience. I also produce music, but I’m looking to flavor my listening experience in a meaningful way. I literally listen to everything- country music, ambient, classical, folk, EDM, experimental, mo-town, funk, classic rock, big band/swing, etc. I’m seriously open-minded about music. I listen to polka and Celtic too. I’m an expat in Japan and have access to some great equipment, but those import and customs fees can be killer sometimes. Now: I’m looking at the Schiit Vali 2 and xDuoo TA-02 and a handmade JBH Chi-fi amp. I also found a Triode Ruby. It’ll be my first tube. I hear OTL don’t play nice with planars, but I’d like to hear your personal opinions and impressions. Hybrid or single end triode tube amp for planar mag? DAC: Topping D30 amp: MD O2 planar cans: HE4XX and Oppo-Pm3 dynamic cans: HD58X

I highly recommend something like a hybrid tube amp if you want tubes for your planars. I've borrowed a friend's Woo Audio WA7 and it seemed okay for the LCD-2s. Not sure if they were underdriven, but I liked the sound (don't ask me to describe it though; I'm pretty bad at the flowery descriptions). Worst pairing by far was the Valhalla 2. The LCD-2 (figuratively) decided that it would rather sleep on my head than play music. However, from the looks of it the Schiit Lyr 3 can deliver a LOT of power for a tube hybrid at a good price (4 watts RMS at 50 ohms, 900 milliwatts at 300 ohms). I'm personally looking into trying this amp out. I'm not a big tube roller, so I'm not sure. I can tell you though that the Schiit amps sound better with the Tung-Sol upgrade tubes vs stock.
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That's generally correct. Amperage is important to planar magnetics, electrostatics need voltage, and dynamics need a mix of both. Unfortunately I don't think most companies list the amperage or the voltage of their amps. The wattage into ohms is your best guideline to figuring this out, but it really is just a guideline. What I try to do is to find an amp that can deliver more watts into ___ ohms that I'm looking for. Generally speaking, that amp will have the current to drive a planar to their full potential
Use another iteration of Ohm's Law. E = sqrt(P * R) You know rated power into a specific load. You have P and R, so find your E. Then use that I = P/E you mentioned to find current.
This depends on the planars you want to drive. As many others have noted planar drivers typically demand significant current from your headphone amplifier. OTL amps struggle to deliver current into low impedances (which most planars have). I would recommend a hybrid based amp if you want to dip your toe in. I bought a Lyr years ago to drive my hifiman he-500's. Something from Garage 1217 , Schiit or or the Pathos Atrium should treat your planars right.
Hot damn, thanks. I’m surfin the Garage website now
If you can get a deal on the Triode Ruby,, go for it, you will have no regrets. It is Japanese quality, and especially for the transformers, so important. You will be introduced to tubes properly for cans. With a pair of small efficient speakers, it will also pull your heart strings with the right recording. The numerous options for tube rolling in the EL84 & 12AX7 families, will well fill that need. If money is no object, then definitely as Rhamnetin is noting, Audio Note and nothing less than Takatsuki Tubes;) For the Ruby, a top set of EL84's could be something like these NOS, just sold for $213USD on the bay, almost went for them myself:

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Curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back... what did you end up getting?
It’s weird, I found myself enjoying the Triode and Cayin sound. I go to Yodabashi camera and listen to the Triode at least once a week. I ended up with a CTH, linear power supply, and Genalex Gold Lions used for a good price. They sound very smoothed over in the treble and not as euphonic as a fully tube set up with dynamic HPs, but I enjoy them. I had a spat where I was buying HPs and selling them left and right: Meze Neo, LCD2C, Blue Sadie and Ella, Sundara, and settled on my Elex and Ananda. Then, I went on a portable binge with IEMs and DAPs. I was exploring like a shotgun blast in several different directions. I’ve been expanding my portable gear recently since I’m at work and my commutes more often than home.
You're in Japan? Audio Note. I repeat: Audio Note (Kondo). Forget everyone else. And Takatsuki tubes. Even if you can't afford it, try to demo some Audio Note systems (their AN-E speakers with their amps). Just because. You'll be blown away. But yes OTL is for high impedance headphones only, so only the LCD-4 would play nice with them really, and I wouldn't recommend that headphone if it was $1,000. Ultimately your main question is entirely subjective at the end of the day. My favorite headphone amp for every planar I have ever used is a balanced Dynalo build; either the HeadAmp GS-X Mk2 or Mjolnir Audio Pure BiPolar (and now there's the HeadAmp GS-X Mini). Most tube headphone gear cheap out on the transformers which are crucial in the design, so rarely do I recommend tube headphone amps. One of the advantages planars have over dynamic drivers is faster decay due to the design, which is further enhanced by excellent solid state gear while tubes can slow this down. Never heard of 2/3 of the amps you listed, but I doubt any of those will be "better" than the Objective2.
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I’m kicking myself now because I was on the fence when I saw Sundaras in an unopened box on Yahoo Auc for about $380USD after JPY conversion. I went for days without a bid while I scoured the net reading about it. After your comment, I went back to drop a bid. I completed my research too late before pulling the trigger and someone snagged them with free shipping. I’m checking out the Aragon and ZMF online now. I might got my finger on the buy button for the ZMF, but I’m holding out just in case I see something this weekend at e-earphone in Akihabara. Have you heard of the Blue Sadie (dynamic) or Ella(planar)? I heard they’re warm too, a bit heavy, and come powered with analog amps or can be run passively. I checked out a review by Zeos on YouTube for the Sadie and he seemed to like it. But for both headphones, I keep seeing mixed reviews about sound quality. Also, I had the Meze Neo and loved the warmth, but the bass was a bit muddy so I sold them. I heard the Meze Classics have a better sound signature even though they have the same driver. I guess the ear pads made a noticeable difference?
Never heard of either of those to be honest, so I'm not sure what to expect from them. Ear pads can completely change sound for better or worse.