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cesturrock
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Amp for Headphones

Hello.

I'm looking for an integrated amplifier that has a very high quality headphone output. I'll be driving a pair of AKG 701s and I have looked into the Benchmark and Grace headphone specific amps, but I'm not 100% sold on the physical size of them. The price range of the m902 is what I'm looking at as well.

Thank you in advance

linden518
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Re: Amp for Headphones

The Marantz PM series of integrated amps get high praise for having a good headphone-out, so look into those. If you're saving up and are looking to upgrade later, Cary 300SEI is very well known to have an awesome headphone out, and Leben integrateds. Plus, you get the tube sound, if you like that stuff. Good luck!

judicata
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Re: Amp for Headphones

The only integrated I've experienced with a headphone out with my AKG K701s is a Marantz PM series. It sounds darn good. I have a headphone amp now as well, but I'd be perfectly happy listening to them through the Marantz if I couldn't swing a headphone amp.

I'm sure some of those others are great, too, and perhaps even better. I just haven't heard them.

mrlowry
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Re: Amp for Headphones

The Bryston B-60 has a very nice built-in headphone amp.

Demondog
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Re: Amp for Headphones


Quote:
I have looked into the Benchmark and Grace headphone specific amps, but I'm not 100% sold on the physical size of them.


What is it about the size of these that has you concerned? I'm becoming very fond of the compact size myself.

I have the Grace m902 which I use with AKG K701's. I also use it as my system pre-amp.

I'm now looking at adding the just announced Benchmark DAC1 HDR to my collection. It adds the remote control volume missing from the previous DAC1 Pre, and besides being curious about the DAC1 sound, it would solve the problem I have with the Grace's under achieving USB input (In lieu of a Bel Canto USB Link 24/96). Currently 16/44.1 sounds good to me via the Grace's USB input, but I'm starting to download some 24/96 audio files, and want to be able to take full advantage of them.

I plan on keeping the Grace, as it's such a nice piece of equipment, and reputed to be warmer sounding than the Benchmarks so may be better matched to the K701's.

BTW- As I've said on another thread, The AKG K701's sound great from headphone out of my NAD C372. Nearly indistinguishable from the Grace with my ears. I'm only using the NAD's power amp section now, because the Grace fills all my pre-amp and headphone needs, except for hi-rez USB input.

cesturrock
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Re: Amp for Headphones

Hello Again,

First I want to thank you all for your responses. Keep them coming as it's giving me a good insight into trying to build my first true audiophile system by seeing what you guys have.

My "physical size" problem I'm starting to realize was a real newbie thing to say. As I've been looking around more at some of the gear people have recommended to me and what I've found in surfing around all the other sites and links, it seems that all these pieces of equipment come in all sorts of sizes. I was out to make everything look uniform but I don't think that's the way to go or even possible at my price range to get all the feature that I want to get (i.e. a DAC).

I'm starting to lean toward the Grace m902 as I like the style of it and I can always add an amplifier later on.

Demondog
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Re: Amp for Headphones


Quote:
My "physical size" problem I'm starting to realize was real newbie thing to say.

Not really. I thought the small size looked odd at first look myself. But it has a certain beauty in person.


Quote:
I'm starting to lean toward the Grace m902 as I like the style of it and I can always add an amplifier later on.


I haven't heard of too many people that regret getting one, certainly not me. It's a very versatile piece, which I think sounds excellent, and I won't be giving it up. I am curious though about the difference in sound that the Benchmark has, that I've read so much about. But if I add a Benchmark and I don't like it, I think it wouldn't be hard to resell, or I might be able to use the 30 day home trial. Anyway, I'm in no rush, due to the great sound I already enjoy, and it's my own personal problem.

Good luck. There are many nice choices out there, but I love the Grace as a pre-amp, with separate power amp.

edit: Here's another view of its beauty if you like SMD's (surface mount devices), an internal shot of my Grace m902.

cesturrock
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Re: Amp for Headphones

Wow...Thank you very much for that shot! I think you just sold me. Any recommendations for a CD player?

Demondog
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Re: Amp for Headphones

Using the Grace as a DAC, just about any CD player with a digital out will sound pretty good! That's one advantage of using an outboard DAC.

It really depends on how much you want to spend, but the Cambridge Audio 840C up-sampling CDP gets a lot of good reviews at the $1700 price point, and seems to be one of the more popular choices I've seen right now. I've taken a look at it myself as an upgrade, but I'm not convinced it would sound better than using my NAD C542 player ($450) feeding the Grace's DAC. I started a thread about this subject Here

With using an outboard DAC like the Grace, you could probably get away with spending even less on a CDP.

Sorry, I don't mean to monopolize your thread There are many other good options, it's just that I'm pretty happy with the choices I've made.

linden518
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Re: Amp for Headphones

I agree with denydog. You don't need a fancy CDP if you're going to use a quality DAC like that! Or you can think about getting a CD transport sans internal DAC. Or go the server route. You have a LOT of options.

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Re: Amp for Headphones

I drive my headphones(akg 701s) with my Mytek Digital Stereo 96 D/A headphone amp(very high bandwidth /high current amp, great). Amazing, amazing sound! before settling on this piece, I had others for varying amounts of time to tryout. (Grace, Lavry, DAD, Prism, EMM, DcS, etc) the mytek won it for me by a long shot as it had the perfect combination of open-ness/detail and euphonic sound.
http://mytekdigital.com/products/stereo96dac.htm

judicata
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Re: Amp for Headphones


Quote:
I drive my headphones(akg 701s) with my Mytek Digital Stereo 96 D/A headphone amp(very high bandwidth /high current amp, great). Amazing, amazing sound! before settling on this piece, I had others for varying amounts of time to tryout. (Grace, Lavry, DAD, Prism, EMM, DcS, etc) the mytek won it for me by a long shot as it had the perfect combination of open-ness/detail and euphonic sound.
http://mytekdigital.com/products/stereo96dac.htm

Yeah, but, boy that thing is ugly.

bifcake
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Re: Amp for Headphones

Grace m902 is a very good choice. You may also consider M-Audio Fast Track Pro It's a DAC and a headphone amp. It can be driven with a computer via USB or as a standalone DAC through a regular digital coaxial input. For $200, it kicks some serious ass.

If you need firewire or 24/192 capabilities, consider the M-Audio Profire 610 For $500, it's a steal.

Note that neither of these choices provide preamp switching, so you would need a separate preamp/amp combo or an integrated to play your speakers.

Any of these DACs, including the Grace m902 can be driven by a cheap CD or DVD player with very good results.

Good luck and let us know what you decide and how you like your setup.

struts
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Re: Amp for Headphones

+1 for the Grace m902, denydog is far from the only fan.

I have not been able to compare the DAC section with any CDPs because I haven't owned one as long as I've had the Grace but I can say that in a back-to-back comparison I found it indistinguishable from a Lynx L22 soundcard which is high praise indeed. Try as I might I was completely unable to identify any difference in the sound. I too would be interested to know how much one needs to spend on a CDP these days to get this level of SQ, maybe JM can comment?

As a headphone amp it is pretty good too. I have now had a Rudistor RPX-33 in my main headphone system for a couple of months and although it betters the Grace in some areas the differences, such as more detail at the frequency extremes and better soundstaging, are pretty slight in the whole scheme of things. Mostly, they are just different, the Grace sounding slightly more 'up-front' and putting you closer to the orchestra than the Rudi, which presents a more 'mid-hall' aesthetic.

When you combine the SQ of the Grace with the flexibility of the built-in DAC, balanced and S-E inputs, the optional remote control and the absolutely bullet-proof build quality you end up with a pretty compelling proposition.

Instead of selling the Grace when I bought the Rudi I kept it and built a small bedroom system around it. I have become very attached to it, it is one of those pieces I expect to keep for a very long time.

ncdrawl
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Re: Amp for Headphones

yes, it is rather homely, but the designers wanted to focus on the SQ, looks being an afterthought.

Quote:

Quote:
I drive my headphones(akg 701s) with my Mytek Digital Stereo 96 D/A headphone amp(very high bandwidth /high current amp, great). Amazing, amazing sound! before settling on this piece, I had others for varying amounts of time to tryout. (Grace, Lavry, DAD, Prism, EMM, DcS, etc) the mytek won it for me by a long shot as it had the perfect combination of open-ness/detail and euphonic sound.
http://mytekdigital.com/products/stereo96dac.htm

Yeah, but, boy that thing is ugly.

cesturrock
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Re: Amp for Headphones

Good Afternoon.

Again, thank you all for your advice and help. It's really giving me a lot to think about for sure. The one thing I'd like to clear up is about the CDP. I've noticed a couple of people mention cheap and just want to confirm what cheap means here I'm hoping and assuming that cheap doesn't mean a budget CD player from Walmart. I've been looking at the Marantz SA8003 mostly because of the SACD support because I've built a bit of a library of those titles and don't want to lose use of them (I was using my Playstation 3 before through HDMI). Is that over kill because of the m902?

Btw denydog, you're not monopolizing at all. Thank you for all your help!

Demondog
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Re: Amp for Headphones

Hi BC C Guy

What I meant by cheap is probably around $300 or so. You do want decent mechanicals, transport, laser system, and basic digital electronics even if the digital to analog conversion will be done elsewhere. It's the CDP's DAC and analog sections that become less important.

One point though, if you're going to play SACD, HDCD or other codings, the DAC in the Grace won't be any use playing these. It doesn't decode these formats. My player has HDCD decoding and I have a few discs, but if I want to take advantage of the HDCD coding on these discs, I switch the Grace's input selector to the analog input, and use the analog output of my player. I have both the digital and analog cables hooked up full time from the CDP. In this case, the Grace is only used as a pre-amp. When I play standard CD's, I switch the Grace's input selector back to the digital coax input which puts the Grace's DAC back in play.

The Marantz SA8003 is a fine player from what I've read. I guess the only issue is if you spend a lot for a CDP to get a quality DAC section, it is a slight waste if you're going to be using an outboard DAC, But of course this wouldn't appy in the case of SACD/HDCD or other program material that the outboard DAC doesn't handle, and you may want to spend more for an appropriate player.

There are some reasonably priced multi-format Oppo players that seem quite popular for this kind of thing. Other people would know more about these.

btw- I also run a digital optical from my Sony flat screen through the TosLink connection to the DAC in the Grace for watching TV/movies. I also listen to Internet radio, and high resolution music downloads from my netbook PC via USB cable to the Grace. The Grace is so versatile I don't know how I ever got along without it!

Demondog
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Re: Amp for Headphones


Quote:
When you combine the SQ of the Grace with the flexibility of the built-in DAC, balanced and S-E inputs, the optional remote control and the absolutely bullet-proof build quality you end up with a pretty compelling proposition.


I think you nailed it! I don't want to imply that the m902 has the best DAC in the world, and its USB implementation may be a little behind the curve, but its feature set is just great for meeting a lot of needs. I'm having a difficult time finding another product that will offer better sound at some reasonable price limit, while not losing the functionality of the m902.

Benchmark's new DAC1 HDR might be stronger competition to the Grace as far as I'm concerned, now that they've added remote control, and I'm anxious to hear one. But it will probably come down to my own sound preference as to which one sounds better.

Your Rudistor RPX-33 must sound fantastic with headphones.

struts
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Re: Amp for Headphones

Hey denydog,

The USB input on the Grace is the only one I've never used - despite the fact I have driven it directly from a PC most of the time I have had it. However the S/PDIF (M-Audio 2496, Sonos ZP90), Toslink (ESI MAYA44) and AES (Lynx L22) inputs all sound great. That it holds up so well in comparison to a thoroughbred like the Rudi is really a tribute to the quality of its design and engineering. For me it embodies all that is good about pro audio - great sound without the fuss. It just works, works well and keeps on working. I love it!!

Yes, the Rudi is a gem (although it's more like a Maserati or an Alfa to the Grace's Landcruiser). And the match with the Lawton LA2000 headphones (modded Denons, see my review down in the Headphone section) is truly made in heaven. In fact the Lawtons sound soooooo damn good through the Rudi that I am starting to have weird dreams about going all-out and adding a top-of-the-line RP010-B and a pair of LA7000s to the bigrig

DBZ
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Re: Amp for Headphones

I'm using a Creek 5350SE integrated. It has a very nice headphone output. Creek says it's essentially the same circuitry as in their dedicated headphone amps. I prefer it to a Headroom Home headphone amp I used to own. Also prefer it to the headphone output from my Marantz SA 7001 CD/SACD player.

I also got a chance to audition a borrowed Benchmark DAC about two years ago. I thought it sounded great as a digital source and as a headphone amp. Didn't get a chance to compare the headphone output to the Creek, but my sense was that the quality was similar.

The Benchmark could be a great choice if you don't already have a high quality CD player, or if you use your computer as a source. When I auditioned it, my only CD player was an old Rotel. I A/B'd the analog output from the Rotel with the analog output from the Benchmark (with the digital out of the Rotel feeding the digital input of the Benchmark) and the difference was dramatic.
(And yes, I did do some very non-scientific blind comparisons with the same result.)

In case this matters, my headphones are Sennheiser HD600. Can't say whether the AKGs would mate better with different amps.

USAudio
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Re: Amp for Headphones

I've read the Portal Panache has a very nice headphone output. Rumor is that the topology was designed by Nelson Pass, but they won't say for sure. http://www.portalaudio.com/panache.html

If you're considering the Grace m902 or Benchmark DAC1 HDR then maybe you should also take a look at the Lavry DA11:
http://www.lavryengineering.com/productspage_pro_da11.html

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