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ElectronicVices
2837
May 18, 2018
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I've spent a little over a decade in the headphone hobby and here is my personal advice to newcomers:
1) Welcome, you're going to enjoy this... but your wallet won't!
2) Everybody's ears are different and there are far more factors in audio reproduction than any set of measurements will ever convey. Remember this when you see wildly varying accounts of how something sounds. Best thing to do is find a point of reference (i.e. a well known headphone) and find reviews that compare something new with that headphone.
3) It's also good overtime to read/watch different reviews from the same reviewer to understand their biases. Even if it's something you wouldn't necessarily be into, it helps build an understanding of the reference points that reviewer has. Sadly my point of reference just retired (Tyll).
4) Only compare frequency response graphs from the SAME source. Measuring setups vary significantly and even various runs on the same rig can yield noticeable variances. Try to focus on the changes from your "reference point" more than the overall look of the curve.
5) Does more expensive gear offer an improvement?... generally speaking the answer is yes. Where it gets messy is whether or not that improvement is noticeable to YOU and are YOU willing to pay for it. After about $500 "all in" on a headphone setup I feel you are chasing that last 5-10% performance increase. To some this difference is worth thousands, to others it is not worth it.
6) Spend on headphones first, quality source material second, amps/DAC's tie for third depending on your situation and cables/accessories last. There are exceptions but this works for most.
7) Don't let anyone tell you that you NEED an amplifier or DAC to "get what you paid for". Extremely hard to drive headphones like the HE-6 or K1000's and very low impedance very sensitive earphones like the SE846 or Andromeda do require the proper amplification matching but everything else is less picky. If you already have a quality source the DAC's improvement won't be as noticeable. Both of the headphones you're eyeing fall in the "an amp will make them better" front. One is low sensitivity with middling impedance (AKG) and the other is moderately sensitive but 300 ohms. Neither require additional gear to make acceptable music but they will be enhanced by nicer chains.
After that ramble here are some answers to the questions you actually asked:
AKG or Senn - Both are based on headphones that sold for $500 but I would have to choose Senn, for me they sound more natural. AKG K7 series always had a bit of oddity in the vocal regions.
Cheaper stacks or chains: 1) AudioQuest dragonfly black/red or used 1.2 black - Both a friend and I have the HD650/6XX and the Dragonfly 1.2. My friend uses it as his primary source for the 6XX 2) Micca Origin - well rounded entry to desktop audio 3) Magni 3 + Modi2 Uber - most flexibility, a big fan of separate components myself. 4) O2 + SDAC from MD - Similar to above, less power and flexibility
A couple of side notes: 1) If you have a noisey HP out of an older system the DAC could make a huge difference, if you already have a clean source like a digital audio player the amp is more vital. 2) I don't recommend the Multi-bit from Schiit until you get to the Gungnir level. The way this technology works and the limited options for DAC chips to use makes it difficult to do well AND cheaply.
May 18, 2018
Bluergbswitch
13
May 20, 2018
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Wow, what an answer. Thank you for putting the time in! I will make sure to look into this! Also, I did some research on your cheaper stacks and chains and they all look good. I'm still deciding! :)
May 20, 2018
ElectronicVices
2837
May 31, 2018
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You are most welcome! I have to say those getting into headphones should count themselves lucky that headphones are as popular as they are today. Soooo many more sources for information and options to buy. When I started it was pretty much just head-fi , HeadRoom/Headphone.com and innerfidelity, other people touched on headphones once in a while but no one really focused on them. I was a long time lurker on various sites so thought it was time to share what I've picked up over the years. Feel free to ask away if you have questions.
May 31, 2018
Josepfe
49
Mar 2, 2019
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Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a concise, useful tip for newbies like me. I have always enjoyed music a lot but since I started with the "audiophile" poison I think that I focused more on the sound quality than in the music itself. I own or have own good headphones such as Grado SR80e, ATH-MSR7 and Beyer DT770 pro, all of them are easy to drive. Then I joined the audiophile forums and started with the perfectionist approach "it could still be better" instead of being happy with what I had. Next step: I purchased the Hifiman 4xx and I was a little bit disappointed (I "expected" more). As people said that planar HP are quite hungry, next step was the amplifier. I bought the SMSL sap II which is cheap but powerful enough to drive them (1W at 32 ohm, 150 mw at 300 ohm). My most recent (and I hope last) move has been the Sennheiser 6xxs. I have not received them yet, but I'm not sure if I should buy amplifier or not. Some people say that they don't need amp at all while some others said they do (for example there is an interesting review by clavinetjunkey where he proves that there is no difference between using the HD600s with an iPhone 6 directly or when using an amp. And the HD650 seems to be less demanding than the HD600... Definitely I would not want to spend a lot of additional money in amplifiers, specially if I'm not going to get any real improvement in the performance of my headphones. I have thought about two different options: desktop and portable amplifiers:
  • For desktop my main doubt is whether it is worth to spend more money than I did for SMSL (only €60), as probably the 6xxs are easier to drive than the Hifimans.
  • For portable I doubt between Topping Nx3s (50 mw at 300 ohms and bass boost, battery life close to 20 hours) or dragonfly black 1.5 but some reviews state that Dragonfly is not good for the 650s.
I wanted to ask your opinion about the amplifiers above. I don't know if you have any experience with the SMSL sap II. Will it be worth to spend almost double to get the O2 or the Magni 3?. As regards your experience with the dragonfly and the 650s, do you think that it really makes a difference?. I mainly listen to my music with iPhone 6, Fiio X1 II via line out and Sony NWA35. Sometimes also with Mac Book Air/ipad. Thank you very much in advance, Kind regards.
Mar 2, 2019
ElectronicVices
2837
Mar 5, 2019
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I've owned an HD650 for over a decade at this point and it's been around for every one of my amp and DAC purchases. Of all the headphones I own this one continues to get better as my signal chain has improved, something not true of all 31 pairs I currently have in my collection. Did it sound good directly out of my old Denon AVR's headphone output... yes. Did it get better with the FiiO E9... also a yes. All told I've tried it with a half dozen or so different amps. I currently use it with a TEAC UD-501>Cayin iHA-6 and it is the best it's ever sounded. That setup cost me 11x what a Dragonfly 1.2 cost me and it most certainly doesn't provide an 11x improvement, more in the 5% range. The changes are not dramatic but I continue to notice refinements, firmer bass, expanded soundstage,etc. To me that extra performance was worth the cost but I doubt if I would have picked it up solely for the HD650. There are a lot of factors that come in to play with "easy or hard to drive" headphones. Heapphone nominal impedance + sensitivity is only half the battle. Most people assume that low impedance/high sensitivity is "easy to drive"... not so much for Samsung phones whose distortion climbs dramatically below 32 ohms. The interaction that a headphone load has with the amplifier design/output is what will determine whether or not an amp is suited for any particular headphone. I didn't like the pairing of 02 and HD650 but I already had a few amps at that point, I bought an O2 out of curiosity. I preferred the Lyr to the O2 but with the NOS tubes I have in my Lyr the price difference is dramatic. In the end you're going to have to try some things for yourself to determine if you care to invest more. Personally I would start out with a FiiO A5 or one of the Topping portable amps if you need portability. Otherwise a Magni 3 is pretty damn versatile headphone amp for the price.
Mar 5, 2019
Josepfe
49
Mar 6, 2019
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Thanks for your prompt and detailed response. What I will do is first try the 6xxs with my current gear, and in case that I decide to purchase a new amplifier I will definitely take your advice into account. Kind regards. Update 1 April (no jokes related :-)). I'm enjoying my 6xxs since last Friday, I have tried them out of my iPhone 6, my Fiio X1 II and my Mac Book Air, with no amplification at all and using the Fiio A1, the Topping NX1s and the desktop amplifier SMSL Sap II. My conclusion is that the 6xxs DO NOT NEED any amplification at all. When using the SMSL and Fiio the volume was simply too loud when passing the 40% volume (in both the player and the amplifier). Kind regards.
(Edited)
Mar 6, 2019
ElectronicVices
2837
Aug 22, 2019
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Totally missed your edit, glad to hear you found your happy place with your new gear. Out of curiosity are you still with just the 6xx or have you been hit with a bout of upgraditis? Hope you are still enjoying those tunes!
Aug 22, 2019
Josepfe
49
Aug 22, 2019
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Hi ElectronicVices, Indeed I have been tempted and gave up to the temptation of upgraditis! :-). First I purchased a FiiO K5-dock amplifier, which is quite versatile as it can be used as a DAC (with Fiio players with USB DAC function) or as an amplifier (Fiio players on its dock and any other players via RCA line in). I purchased it based on some good reviews (e.g. audiosciencereviews) and I am overall happy with it. However, the biggest improvement in my listening experience have come with the use of dedicated DAC. I recently purchased a Topping D10 and now listen more from lossless files from my PC/Macbook with Foobar2000 than from my DAP players, which I mainly use while on the go and at the office with my Grado SR80e (I also love them). During the summer I have also purchased a DAC tube/SS amplifier (Aune T1 MK3) and enlarged my Headphones collection by purchasing the AKG 702 and Beyerdynamic DT 990 pros, both of which I like a lot. The AKGs for the transparency and detail and the Beyers for its bass and for being more lively and dynamic (and wonderfully comfortable). However, while I'm writing this post I'm listening to my 6xxs, which I found to be the more pleasant to listen to. There is nothing in excess, nothing that they lack of either. Like velvet, clean sound which caresses your ears... I forgot to mention that, in the middle of my euphoric summer period, I also bought a Burson HA-160, which was described in the reviews as a perfect amplifier for the 6xxs. Although I didn't have the opportunity to test it with the 6xxs (but only with the AKGs and the DT 990s), the differences with the other amplifiers (SMSL sap II and Aune T1) were so minimal that I didn't want to take the risk to keep it and returned it. Another knowledgeable (and kind) member of this Drop community also advised to return it and purchased either the TXH-AAA-789 or the Labs ATOM. However, for the moment I'm happy with my current gear and I don't foresee more investments in the medium term. But, you know that the poison of audiophile never fades away entirely...so who knows! :-). Kind regards Jose Pedro
Aug 22, 2019
ElectronicVices
2837
Aug 22, 2019
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Awesome to hear... those are a couple of good alternatives to the 6xx. I bought the DT990 myself after the HD650. Never did pickup aAKG K7 series but looked for quite sometime before splurging on an HE500. The AAA 789 is a bit overkill unless you need the power for planar headphones or want to explore balanced configuration down the road.
Aug 22, 2019
Josepfe
49
Oct 16, 2019
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A quick update: I finally purchased the JDS Labs ATOM as well. I think that it is a good amplifier which provides enough power to drive my Sennhaiser 6xxs and my Beyerdynamic DT 990s. But I had already achieved this with other amplifiers such as the Fiio K5, Aune T1 MK3 or the SMLS Sap II (which costs €65). Honestly I do not find audible differences between the amplifiers. If anything, the ATOM adds a little bit of warmth but it is a very subtle thing (but it could be a placebo issue as I read it somewhere). So to me, there are many good amplifiers which will do the work well, without need of spendings hundreds of euros, unless you have very demanding, power-hungry hedphones (e.g. planar magnetic, or 600 ohms headphones). I´m really surprised that people continue buying amplifiers that cost twice the price of the headphones. In my experience, of the four links in the audio chain that you mention in the point 6 of your first post in the thread, the amplification is the less important. I would advice people to spend money in good headphones (if possible easy to drive) and then on a good DAC and play good-quality files (not even flac, but mp3 at 320 kbs can suffice if the original master was good). Kind regards and thanks for the exchange. Jose Pedro
(Edited)
Oct 16, 2019
ElectronicVices
2837
Oct 16, 2019
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I agree that most solid state amplifiers are not dramatically different until you present them with a difficult load. The Atom is enough amp for most of the headphones in popular rotation. Since my original post I've also added an HE6se to my headphone collection and the Cayin iHA-6 definitely sounds better with those than my other amplification options. I never got the obsession with buying expensive amps to go with cheaper headphones. I tend to run 1:1 on my amplification cost relative to my drivers (be they headphones or speakers).
Oct 16, 2019
Bednaar
0
Nov 15, 2019
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ElectronicVices you wrote "Senns sound more natural than AKG". For me it is completely conversely - I tried many models of both brands and I prefer AKG. I had owned Senns for 7 years, currently using AKG for 10 years and I don't mind to change them - just love them: K530LTD - cheap model, but they are perfectly driven by SMSL sAp-II. I just focus in music and forget about technology - it was impossible with Senns :) But everyone has different taste of sound - the only way is to check the headphones by yourself. Reading the opinios in the net is useless without hearing the actual models.
(Edited)
Nov 15, 2019
ElectronicVices
2837
Nov 18, 2019
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I think interpreting reviews and buying "unheard" gear gets easier the longer you've been around the hobby/interest but as you indicated there is just no substitute for one's own ears/brain.
Nov 18, 2019
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