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  1. #1
    Romanticist Philosopher
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    Aug 2001
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    Long Island NY
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    Thumbs up Inexpensive Headphone Amps: A Journey

    Lately I've started a journey to discover the best quality auditory experience with my $35 Newegg shellshocker 32ohm Creative Labs MK II headphones for a very low price. First I tried the output on my two receivers, the Pioneer VSX-1016TXV-K and the Kenwood VR-7070. I just can't part with my old gear. That was okay I guess but I really set out to save as much as I can on power consumption and having the receivers on at all can't be as power efficient as getting a dedicated headphone amp. So far I have tried two products from Behringer. One has been a positive experience while the other has been quite a disappointment. I'll start with the negative. The application I'm using is being output from my PC that has a really groovy Asus Xonar DS. I'm using the front audio headphone output.

    Behringer MA400 Monitor Headphone Amplifier

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...ef=oss_product

    In short this product might have an adequate amp for $25 but it just has horrible input gain and oddly as soon as the Xonar DS output is set to 50% the MA400 no longer gets any louder at all. The input gain on the MA400 is set as high as 100% and simply distortion becomes audible and the volume on the headphones has to be set way higher than just using the native output of the Xonar DS. (The MK II has a volume dial) Now you would be think then why the hell did you buy a cheap headphone amp when the DS already has a powerful output? I didn't buy it for that app. I bought it to improve the output of the X-Fi Xtreme Audio in my other PC. It was so terrible for that app I gave up right away as the Xtreme Audio killed it by a lot especially in bass output. For a headphone amp the MA400 is a disaster for PC use. Now if you want to sing into a MIc and do the Glee thing then maybe it is a good purchase but for my experiment it gets a vey high rating on the turn that shiite off scale.

    The much better

    Behringer HA400 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amp

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...ef=oss_product

    Right now I'm blasting some 80s metal that sounds really great. "Bang you head!!!! Metal Health with drive you mad!!!!!"

    The gain is enormously better that the MA400 and even though the headphone amp is rated 50% weaker than the MA400(40mw into 100 ohms compared to 60mw into 100 ohms) the HA400 plays WAY LOUDER and does not exhibit the distortion heard with the MA400. I have the HA400 set at 50% and the Xonar DS at 40% and loud and clear is the story. My conclusion is that the MA400 is crap for headphone use compared to the HA400 that can output 4 discrete headphone outputs all for just $21.40 and shipped for free. I 've been gaming as well as Dragon Age Origins sounds awesome and it is quite immersive. While I am happy with the HA400 and will continue using that I just ordered another Behringer product to replace the MA400.

    Here is a link to the headphones I'm using

    http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Labs-...sr=8-1-catcorr

    Here is a link to the soundcard I'm using

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16829132013

    The Behringer AMP800 Four Channel Headphone Amp

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...ef=oss_product

    I'll report back when I test it out. My mission is to find a great headphone amp that can be used with a good PC audio setup and just add more richness and soundstage for a price close to $50. It seems that if you spend over $100 when you are only using 32 ohm headphones you will more than likely either blow up the headphones or your ears or both. The Fiio E9 is just over $100 and that outputs 1000mw into 32 ohms. That is dangerous and crazy. Maybe I'll get one when I get my tax return.

  2. #2
    Retro Modernist 02audionoob's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
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    Dallas, TX
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    2,908
    Check out the NuForce website. I'm intrigued by their Icon uDAC-2.

  3. #3
    music whore Happy Camper's Avatar
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    Aug 2009
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    Greater Cincinnati area
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    I've not experienced a lot of listening from low priced amps but in general, amps won't make a big difference with IEMs and buds. The cmoy kits are a novelty and gets you into the hobby but don't really make a "woah" difference. The subtle differences of an amp are a more firm bass, the soundstage stays coherent with a complex signal, and you don't need as much volume to hear the quiet passages. Desk top amps with a well built power supply do have more impact on sound with full sized headphones. The response of the bigger driver will be faster as well as the damping. This tightens the bass and keeps the music focused better. In general, the solid state amps will be more efficient. Tube amps will not perform as well unless you get a strong power supply. Tubes are very inefficient because of the heat loss but again, a well built power supply will overcome that issue. Tube rolling will fine tune a sound for a particular set of headphones. I felt disappointed when I went from a $350 portable amp to a $2000 tube amp. But over time, the tube amp broke in and when I got used to the sound, went back to the portable and was able to tell the differences quite clearly. Whether the price was worth the difference is debatable but that's why it's a hobby. It's up to the individual.

    Bottom line is don't expect a difference like a different set of headphones. But once you find a set of headphones you like, an amp matched properly will bring a more rewarding listening experience once you are used to the sound. Different cables, tubes, power cords are just very fine tuning the rig and should be the last thing done (if ever).
    d HC b

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