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BirdManOfCT
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Headphone Amp and USB/DAC and iMac

I sold my high-end system a long time ago to make room for a home office. Anyhow, I'm thinking about getting a good pair of headphones, again. Probably the Sennheiser HD 800. This would be using my iMac as a source. I'd likely get a headphone amp, which I'm currently looking at so any advice is welcomed on that as well.

Finally, my question: for the USB/DAC/amp combinations, can I just plug in a USB cable between the two and the amp will pick up (digital/USB) audio output? I'm thinking that's the case, but not sure. I probably have to worry about Mac drivers, too, right?

I know it's a simple question, but googling isn't helping much. Thanks!

dalethorn
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BirdManOfCT wrote:
BirdManOfCT wrote:

I sold my high-end system a long time ago to make room for a home office. Anyhow, I'm thinking about getting a good pair of headphones, again. Probably the Sennheiser HD 800. This would be using my iMac as a source. I'd likely get a headphone amp, which I'm currently looking at so any advice is welcomed on that as well. Finally, my question: for the USB/DAC/amp combinations, can I just plug in a USB cable between the two and the amp will pick up (digital/USB) audio output? I'm thinking that's the case, but not sure. I probably have to worry about Mac drivers, too, right? I know it's a simple question, but googling isn't helping much. Thanks!

The Sennheiser HD800 is very fine for musical detail, but that detail can be smeared by an amp that's insufficient in quality, and especially reserve power for dynamic overhead. The small DAC/amp combinations like the Dragonfly or Microstreamer won't be sufficient, since they get all of their power from the USB line alone. Some people will recommend separate DAC and amplifier, on the theory that with separates you get the best of both. But consider that a DAC and amp in one enclosure designed for best quality in sync with each other may be best, since it eliminates the 1) Output jacks and wiring from the DAC, 2) Input jacks and wiring into the amp, and 3) The interconnect cables.

Socially_Inept
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Head-fi nutcase incoming

I've been doing a ton of research on headphone oriented music listening, and I've found that quite a few companies make good amps and DACs. However, I'd like to know if you're going for exact media replication, or if you want to add in a little tube flavor, or go all out and use balanced audio.
Schiit audio, a great company run by just a few cool dudes, has just about the best bang for the buck for any kind of headphone amps and DACs. You can look at their site for a bit, but almost all of their amps can easily drive 600 ohm cans like the HD800.

geoffkait
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Headphone amps

I suspect it all depends like a lot of things what you're trying to achieve. While many relatively low power headphone amps with output power circa 1/2 Watt can drive high impedance phones or are advertised as such, the horrible fact is that one really need more power on hand than is available with most if not all of the inexpensive headphone amps. Now, some Headohone. amps get around this by adding a solid state output stage, which actually isn't a bad idea, if it can be done transparently. My BADA headphone hybrid amp produced one Watt output power which drove the Sennheiser HD600 very well. I think it all comes down to whether you must have more oomph from your music. I do. When I went to a lower powered WOO AUDIO WA6 pure tube amp at 1/2 Watt this oomph was MIA, relatively speaking, although the WOO Audio is a very good sounding amp in other respects. But that extra 1/2 Watt sure can get expensive, no? Without even broaching the subject of tweaking and modding the headphone amps.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

dalethorn
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Indeed more power is better

Indeed more power is better with the HD800, and while the low-cost Schiit amps may be OK, something like the Lehmann desktop amps or Sennheiser's own $2000 DAC/amp will give the best results. I owned the HD800 for 3-1/2 years, and can tell you that its advantage over most headphones for resolution and musical detail can be heard on most low-cost amps, but you'll find eventually that there's a lot more to hear with the better amps.

geoffkait
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More power
dalethorn wrote:

Indeed more power is better with the HD800, and while the low-cost Schiit amps may be OK, something like the Lehmann desktop amps or Sennheiser's own $2000 DAC/amp will give the best results. I owned the HD800 for 3-1/2 years, and can tell you that its advantage over most headphones for resolution and musical detail can be heard on most low-cost amps, but you'll find eventually that there's a lot more to hear with the better amps.

It's interesting, but my earphone system with portable CD Player develops as much perceived power as my previous Woo Audio SET headphone amp Sennheiser 600HD combo, and with noticeably better detail and as much if not more clarity. Power arriving at the ear depends on not only amplifier power but headphone/earphone efficiency.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

dalethorn
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geoffkait wrote:
geoffkait wrote:
dalethorn wrote:

Indeed more power is better with the HD800, and while the low-cost Schiit amps may be OK, something like the Lehmann desktop amps or Sennheiser's own $2000 DAC/amp will give the best results. I owned the HD800 for 3-1/2 years, and can tell you that its advantage over most headphones for resolution and musical detail can be heard on most low-cost amps, but you'll find eventually that there's a lot more to hear with the better amps.

It's interesting, but my earphone system with portable CD Player develops as much perceived power as my previous Woo Audio SET headphone amp Sennheiser 600HD combo, and with noticeably better detail and as much if not more clarity. Power arriving at the ear depends on not only amplifier power but headphone/earphone efficiency.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

Detail and clarity are tricky things. If you're really lucky (or very savvy about hi-fi matters) you might have a playback system that's free of resonances or other sonic distractions that can rob you of soundstage and clarity. I read most of the Stereophile speaker reviews, where much discussion of resonances and other problems ensues, and I can almost hear the teeth grinding and see the hands wringing in their efforts to schlep the boxes from place to place to address those issues. But most headphone-philes consider the box (the headphone) to be a done deal, except in the rare case where they modify the earcups. The irony as I understand it is that in spite of how much smaller the headphone is compared to the speakers, it's also much more difficult to wring a smoother sound out of it since you can't "move the box around the room".

geoffkait
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I concur
dalethorn wrote:
geoffkait wrote:
dalethorn wrote:

Indeed more power is better with the HD800, and while the low-cost Schiit amps may be OK, something like the Lehmann desktop amps or Sennheiser's own $2000 DAC/amp will give the best results. I owned the HD800 for 3-1/2 years, and can tell you that its advantage over most headphones for resolution and musical detail can be heard on most low-cost amps, but you'll find eventually that there's a lot more to hear with the better amps.

It's interesting, but my earphone system with portable CD Player develops as much perceived power as my previous Woo Audio SET headphone amp Sennheiser 600HD combo, and with noticeably better detail and as much if not more clarity. Power arriving at the ear depends on not only amplifier power but headphone/earphone efficiency.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

Detail and clarity are tricky things. If you're really lucky (or very savvy about hi-fi matters) you might have a playback system that's free of resonances or other sonic distractions that can rob you of soundstage and clarity. I read most of the Stereophile speaker reviews, where much discussion of resonances and other problems ensues, and I can almost hear the teeth grinding and see the hands wringing in their efforts to schlep the boxes from place to place to address those issues. But most headphone-philes consider the box (the headphone) to be a done deal, except in the rare case where they modify the earcups. The irony as I understand it is that in spite of how much smaller the headphone is compared to the speakers, it's also much more difficult to wring a smoother sound out of it since you can't "move the box around the room".

>>>The great thing about these tiny portable players is there's really not that much in there to vibrate. Not to mention the Walkman style players all have some sort of G force protection, shock protection, even oil dampers in some cases. I used sub 2 Hz isolation among other precautions for my previous headphone set up.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

shp
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Bird man,

Bird man,

You could buy separates - a DAC and a headphone amp - but there are so many good integrated ones with USB inputs.

As others have mentioned the smaller ones, $150-$450, might not have enough juice but trying through sites like audioadvisor.com is pretty easy. Some more powerful ones price out at around $1,500. That include Mytek Benchmark, Chord, NAD... The list goes on.

geoffkait
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The irony

Dalethorn wrote,

"The irony as understand it is that in spite of how much smaller the headphone is compared to the speakers, it's also much more difficult to wring a smoother sound out of it since you can't "move the box around the room".

If I understand what you wrote correctly I suspect the reality is actually the opposite - that headphones sound smoother than speakers, all things being equal. The primary reason is because of room anomalies. No matter where you move the speakers in the room there will always be comb filter effects, echo, reflected waves, corner pressure peaks, standing waves, etc. That's kind of the whole point about headphones. Subjectively I can tell you headphones and earphones are very smooth, inherently very smooth. Then there's the issues I've been harping on for the past six months - the ones related to AC power and magnetic fields inherent in all cables and transformers - that probably help explain the INHERENT superiority of headphones, at least in terms of smoothness, sweetness, resolution, rhythm, treble performance, transparency and plain old musicality.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

dalethorn
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geoffkait wrote:
geoffkait wrote:

Dalethorn wrote,

"The irony as understand it is that in spite of how much smaller the headphone is compared to the speakers, it's also much more difficult to wring a smoother sound out of it since you can't "move the box around the room".

If I understand what you wrote correctly I suspect the reality is actually the opposite - that headphones sound smoother than speakers, all things being equal. The primary reason is because of room anomalies. No matter where you move the speakers in the room there will always be comb filter effects, echo, reflected waves, corner pressure peaks, standing waves, etc. That's kind of the whole point about headphones. Subjectively I can tell you headphones and earphones are very smooth, inherently very smooth. Then there's the issues I've been harping on for the past six months - the ones related to AC power and magnetic fields inherent in all cables and transformers - that probably help explain the INHERENT superiority of headphones, at least in terms of smoothness, sweetness, resolution, rhythm, treble performance, transparency and plain old musicality.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

Funny thing - I assumed smoother for speakers because of that comb filtering. BTW, the room resonances should mostly be in the bass, particularly the deep bass, but headphones have their issues mainly in the treble it seems. I would agree right off that most decent headphones have a good midrange.

geoffkait
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That's a lot of variables
dalethorn wrote:
geoffkait wrote:

Dalethorn wrote,

"The irony as understand it is that in spite of how much smaller the headphone is compared to the speakers, it's also much more difficult to wring a smoother sound out of it since you can't "move the box around the room".

If I understand what you wrote correctly I suspect the reality is actually the opposite - that headphones sound smoother than speakers, all things being equal. The primary reason is because of room anomalies. No matter where you move the speakers in the room there will always be comb filter effects, echo, reflected waves, corner pressure peaks, standing waves, etc. That's kind of the whole point about headphones. Subjectively I can tell you headphones and earphones are very smooth, inherently very smooth. Then there's the issues I've been harping on for the past six months - the ones related to AC power and magnetic fields inherent in all cables and transformers - that probably help explain the INHERENT superiority of headphones, at least in terms of smoothness, sweetness, resolution, rhythm, treble performance, transparency and plain old musicality.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

Funny thing - I assumed smoother for speakers because of that comb filtering. BTW, the room resonances should mostly be in the bass, particularly the deep bass, but headphones have their issues mainly in the treble it seems. I would agree right off that most decent headphones have a good midrange.

If comb filtering made the sound smoother I kind of doubt there would be quite so many products designed to tame comb filtering effects. Are we talking about the same thing? To these ears headphones are inherently cleaner and more musical and perhaps more extended than speaker systems. That's kind of the whole point to getting headphones. Even my el cheapo vintage earphones, the ones I use everyday, have a very sweet and airy and coherent sound. As I've been rambling on about lo these past six months on various threads here there are MANY reasons why earphones or headphones outperform speaker systems, especially when the earphones are used in portable CD or cassette systems.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

dalethorn
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In general, headphones will

In general, headphones will be clearer than speakers, and IEMs even clearer than headphones. But while I don't have a scientific survey at hand, or current review experience in speakers, I'd guess that audiophile speakers are much more alike in sound than most headphones. My headphone collection shows disparities of as much as 20 db at any given frequency above 1 khz and below 10 khz, for example. Some are peaked by 10 or more db at a given frequency, and others recessed as much at the same frequency. Shure for example sells the 1540 and 1840 to consumers, and they're total opposites in sound, albeit having equal detail.

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