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  1. #1

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    Default >200 dollar headphone amp

    So I am still probably going to end up with a vintage stereo reciever, but I wanted to see what folks are using in the sub 200 dollar range for driving headphones. I dont need this to be super portable since it will mostly sit on my desk and be used with my iPhone.

    I am curious about some tube options as well as SS, but also curious as to how long those tubes need to warm up before they start to sound their best. I kinda want something I can flip on and get good sound out of pretty quick as I wont be listening for lots of time often (maybe a couple hours here or there)...

    I am planning on driving either a set of BeyerDynamic DT-770 80ohms or Ultrasone HFI-780's. I am leaning toward the Ultrasone HFI's as I read they have better bass than the Beyer's. Note I am not looking for super hi-fidelity while listening to my headphones as I know my source is already only 256 bitrate files off my iPhone (though using a LOD adaptor).

    I would prefer if it had both 3.5mm input as well as RCA inputs for flexibility sake, but if it only has 1 thats ok too. I really want some sort of tone controls so I can play with the sound (once again looking for the ability to tweak the sound if needed)

    I am totally fine with a unit that needs to be plugged in and cant run on battery power so dont worry about that.

    Please dont recommend me anything over 200 as really I would prefer to keep it under 150 and have it be something that could compete with say a older vintage Kenwood, Marantz, etc stereo reciever.

    I am aware of the JDSLabs CMOY and their 200 dollar portable but want to see what else is out there.

    There might not be a unit out there with what I am looking for in my price range and thats ok, I just wanted to check back in here. I am planning on making a trip to a local guy with a bunch of vintage recievers on Sunday and if I dont see anything headphone amp wise I want will probably pick up something there.

    Thoughts appreciated...
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  2. #2

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    So the only ones I am seeing that are in my price range tube wise seem to be the Little Dot's. Any thoughts on those units? These are all used but right around 150 shipped give or take...
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  3. #3

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    I'll make a suggestion then throw a wrinkle your way.

    As far as tube amps below $200, the Millet Hybrid is about the best design I've seen in that price range. You won't find one now, but will likely find one over in the FS section on Head-Fi. It's a hybrid design, and tube warmup isn't a big factor. Some of the LD stuff is okay, but you're going to be hard pressed to beat the Millet design in your price range.

    Now for the wrinkle...

    I would highly recommend you explore the PSB headphones (M4U 2). I'm a fan of Beyer and have owned the DT770 and have a pair of the Ultrasone that I'm reviewing right now for another comparison thread I'm working on, the PSBs are significantly better than both of those cans. I'm not splitting hairs here, they're a noticeable step up. And the best thing about the PSB? They sound best in their 'amped' mode when using a portable device like the iPod, and since they have a built in amp you don't need an external amp. They have 3 modes: In passive mode they're very good and draw their power from your device, In Amped mode they use their built in amp and give you the best sound when driven from a portable device, and finally they have an amped mode with noise cancelling mode which I don't use. And since they're amped they're also less of a drain on your ipod battery. Because of the added circuitry, they did take some time to break in, more than almost every other headphone I've heard.

    They are a SUPERB headphone! If you have $400 to spend on a headphone setup (amp and cans) I don't think you can do better at this price point.
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  4. #4

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    I take that back, I found 3 different possible models (though none have tone controls of any kind ). They are listed from least to most expensive.

    Little Dot I+, Schiit Asgard, Millett Hybrid MiniMAX

    The Little Dot and Millet are kits so I have to assume the person making it knew what they were doing.... this bit me in the rear with a recent O2 portable headphone amp I got so I am somewhat tenative about those two.

    They all require a LOD to RCA cable and the only other thing I can see is that the Millett looks like you can tube roll and be able to adjust the bias externally (no idea how to do so, but the plugs are there)...

    Anyone have any thoughts on these units?

    Otherwise I may either go with a stereo reciever, or maybe a small tube amp (and get the ALO adaptor Zingo linked to)
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  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    As far as tube amps below $200, the Millet Hybrid is about the best design I've seen in that price range. You won't find one now, but will likely find one over in the FS section on Head-Fi. It's a hybrid design, and tube warmup isn't a big factor. Some of the LD stuff is okay, but you're going to be hard pressed to beat the Millet design in your price range.
    Well I see your recommendation lol. Can you or should you roll tubes in it?

    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    Now for the wrinkle...

    I would highly recommend you explore the PSB headphones (M4U 2). I'm a fan of Beyer and have owned the DT770 and have a pair of the Ultrasone that I'm reviewing right now for another comparison thread I'm working on, the PSBs are significantly better than both of those cans. I'm not splitting hairs here, they're a noticeable step up. And the best thing about the PSB? They sound best in their 'amped' mode when using a portable device like the iPod, and since they have a built in amp you don't need an external amp. They have 3 modes: In passive mode they're very good and draw their power from your device, In Amped mode they use their built in amp and give you the best sound when driven from a portable device, and finally they have an amped mode with noise cancelling mode which I don't use. And since they're amped they're also less of a drain on your ipod battery. Because of the added circuitry, they did take some time to break in, more than almost every other headphone I've heard.

    They are a SUPERB headphone! If you have $400 to spend on a headphone setup (amp and cans) I don't think you can do better at this price point.
    You just had to go and do that .....

    Time to start reading up again lol....

    To give you an idea of what I am looking for headphone wise (and as a result why I picked the two models I did) I am looking for something to listen to mostly electronic, trance and heavy metal/alternative music. Those tend to be what I listen to most at work (Skrillex, Tiesto, Deadmau5, Skillet, Thousand Foot Krutch, etc). Given that the Ultrasones were said to sound better than the Beyers and have a much better bass response.

    I am not necessarily looking for tonal accuracy as when I am listening to headphones normally I want the a engaging experience even if its a bit at the expense of accuracy since I am normally deep in writing/troubleshooting computer code and the music helps keep me focused. That and honestly I dont use headphones outside work. Dont use anything at the gym, dont use them on the road so having a desktop source unit isnt a big deal.

    Given that still recommend the PSB's?
    Last edited by EndersShadow; 08-03-2012 at 11:52 AM.
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  6. #6

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    Here's an initial early review of the PSB that I posted over on Head_fi:

    I can't comment on the M-100 since I haven't heard it, but will comment on what I've compared these with. What I am (was) after is a pair of headphones that sound good, can be driven from an iPod and have a sealed design. I don't need noise cancellation, I just want to be able to wear these in the office without everyone hearing what I'm listening to.

    So based on those criteria I tried out a whole bunch of smaller on ear headphones (I'll spare you all those details) and then when comfort became an issue I decided to try out some over the ear designs. At the end of the day, I ended up with 4 headphones that I was deciding between: Sennheiser HD25-II, V-Moda M80, Polk UltraSonic 8000 and the PSB M4U. Note that I've listened to many other cans including the AKG K550, Focal Spirit, Shure, Audio Technica M50 and didn't really like the overall sound of any of them, they each had strengths but the overall sound didn't work for me.

    In terms of overall sound, I'd rate the PSB close to neutral, the Polk and V-Moda as more laid back and the HD25 as brighter. Really, the HD25 is out because at times it's just to shrill, and I'll very likely be sending that one back to Amazon. It has a good shape to the sound overall, but the highs can just be a bit much at times.

    So that leaves just the 3. IMO the V-Moda is fairly easily outclassed by the other two. It's probably not really a fair comparison since the V-Moda is so much smaller and more portable and sits on the ear. Honestly, before I bought the other two I was pretty satisfied with the V-Moda, but sitting on the ears wasn't comfortable and it just won't work in longer durations for me. The V-Moda lacks a bit of sparkle on the top end, but is overall pleasing.

    I would actually characterize the Polk as having a similar sound but just bigger and more immersive since it's over the ear. The Polk may be slightly more refined, but has the same overall laid back sound of the V-Moda. The Polk also has a lot more bass than the V-Moda, and not sloppy bass either, it's very well controlled and still has low extension. It's not bloated, but on some types of music can actually be a bit much. The deal breaker for me though was the active noise canceling only restriction. I don't mind carrying spare batteries around with me, but actually don't like noise canceling and so needing it on all the time doesn't work for me.

    So the search continued...enter the PSB M4U. These are truly a superb sounding headphone, the best of the bunch. These have a very natural sound to me. I've seen the FR curve on these and it's flat, and that's how accurate they sound. I say they're neutral, but in reality if there were a definitive line for neutral, these would probably be just to the right on the bright sound of that. They're not bright at all, but their presentation is more forward than the other cans I've heard. I've found that I actually prefer this with every type of music, so it works for me. I don't want to give the impression that these are bright because they're not, they just bring you a little closer to the stage. They're more detailed than the other cans as well, more resolving I guess you'd say, they have that sparkle that is missing in the Polks and V-Moda but without the glare of the HD25.

    Their overall sound signature is perfect for me, it just fits my liking. They're not perfect cans of course, but they sound great.

    I'm going to sit down tonight and do some comparisons with my desktop setup. I expect them to be easily outclassed by that setup (they better be, or I spent all that money for thing), but want to see how they hold up nonetheless.
    And here's the followup comparison to my desktop rig that I reference:
    I finally had some time to sit down and compare these with m desktop setup, and the results are shocking.

    Let me start by saying that out of my desktop cans (Senn HD600, HD700, HD800, Beyer DT880) the oldest and cheapest HD600 are actually my favorite. They're not 'the best' of the bunch, that award would probably go to the HD800, but they're my favorite. They're not as refined as the other cans (except maybe the 650) but I really like their general disposition, very smooth yet engaging and with enough of the detail to suit me. The Beyers have a much better soundstage and the other 700 and 800 both have better clarity while the 650 has better bass, but none of those cans SOUND as good to me. I would like an upgrade to the 600 someday - really all I want is the overall sound signature of the 600 with the soundstage of the Beyer, that would be my ultimate headphone.

    I say all that not because I think the PSB are it (because they're not), but rather to provide an overall idea of what I'm looking for and put the below into some context. And since the 600 are my favorite of the bunch, that's what I compared the PSB directly to. The PSB, like the 600, have an overall sound that I find very pleasing, yet they don't sound like the 600. Here are some impressions from my notes:

    First, the 600s were tested on my main headphone rig (Mac running Amarra Hifi > Peachtree Dac-IT > Schiit Valhalla > HD600), I consider this setup (while not super high end) to be a fairly respectable system. The PSB were run in Active mode (meaning I used the built in amp) straight off a 7th ten iPod classic (that's it, no LOD or DAC, just straight off the iPod because that's why I purchased these). So the setups aren't exactly a fair comparison, but that's how each can is to be used so that how I did the comparison. Lossless files were used on both setups.

    Bass:
    The Senns have adequate bass, actually I'd say they have very good bass and I've never felt it lacking. The PSB, however, kicks it up another notch. And I don't just mean that they have more bass (although they do), I mean that the overall bass response is more pleasing on the PSB. I don't find it boomy or bloated, these are not a 'bass' can ala the Beats or even the Polk UltraFocus 800, it's just a very natural sounding bas response. One of my favorite tests is about 3 minutes into the track Why So Serious from TDK score, and these passed even that with flying colors. The PSB are the best headphones I've ever heard at reproducing bass faithfully.

    Mids and Highs
    I don't know if there is a FR curve for these posted somewhere online, but if there is I'd guess it's relatively flat (with maybe a small hump in the bass to create what Barton calls the 'room feel'). These just sound very smooth and still accurate and detailed enough in the miss and highs. it's hard for me to describe the sound as anything other than damn near perfect. These headphones are not going to be the final word on detail, but they're not far off. I get more detail out of the 600, but not ALOT. One thing the 600 does well is make lesser recordings tolerable to listen to, since they're not the final word in clarity either they ten to smooth over some of the edges on bad recordings, and this is one of the reasons I like them so much. The PSB are even better at that. Muse is actually listenable on the PSB nd on the 600 it's borderline tolerable depending on which album. I

    Soundstage
    The PSB are a closed design, but they sound bigger and less 'in your head' than any other closed design I've tried (I don't count Denon because they don't seal for sh!t). They have a surprisingly large soundstage and open sound for closed headphones, but that being said they still give up ground here to even the 600 which I already content lack a good soundstage. This particularly affects me because I listen to a lot of classical and orchestral movie scores and those types of music benefit from a more open sound. So the soundstage isn't the strong suit of the PSB, but it's quite acceptable and I go so far as to call it very good. Although not 'great' in the grand scheme of headphones, it's very good for this type of headphone. The closed design gives the PSBs greater impact, but you lose some of the air. Playing the two side by side it's obvious, but when I'm out and about with the PSB I don't feel like I'm missing much.

    If there were a line in the center of the universe that designated a purely neutral sound, these would be just a tad to the right but they are by no means bright or overly forward sounding.

    Overall my desktop rig is better and sounds better, but only marginally better on most material and actually worse on some material. So the desktop rig isn't going anywhere, but the PSB performs MUCH better than I though it would in comparison.

    I honestly don't know why this headphone isn't a bigger deal.
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  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by EndersShadow View Post
    Well I see your recommendation lol. Can you or should you roll tubes in it?



    You just had to go and do that .....

    Time to start reading up again lol....

    To give you an idea of what I am looking for headphone wise (and as a result why I picked the two models I did) I am looking for something to listen to mostly electronic, trance and heavy metal/alternative music. Those tend to be what I listen to most at work (Skrillex, Tiesto, Deadmau5, Skillet, Thousand Foot Krutch, etc). Given that the Ultrasones were said to sound better than the Beyers and have a much better bass response.

    I am not necessarily looking for tonal accuracy as when I am listening to headphones normally I want the a engaging experience even if its a bit at the expense of accuracy since I am normally deep in writing/troubleshooting computer code and the music helps keep me focused. That and honestly I dont use headphones outside work. Dont use anything at the gym, dont use them on the road so having a desktop source unit isnt a big deal.

    Given that still recommend the PSB's?
    Absolutely. Electronic music is easy to reproduce for the most part, and the PSB are easily up to the task. The PSB are not a basshead can, but the bass is bumped up a bit to create what Paul Barton calls the 'room feel'. I'm not a basshead, but I do like a bit more bass than something like the Beyers typically offer.

    Tell you what, point me to a couple of your reference tracks and I've give them a listen and give you an honest assessment of what I hear.
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  8. #8

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    I will give you a couple I have been listening to for the past couple weeks straight

    Skrillex - Bangarang EP

    1. Right In
    2. Bangarang (Feat. Sirah)
    3. Breakn' A Sweat Skrillex & The Doors
    4. The Devil's Den

    AWOLNATION - AWOLNATION
    1. Megalithic Symphony

    ATREYU - Lead Sails Paper Anchor
    1. Doomsday

    Nelly - Nellyville
    16. #1
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  9. #9

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    I had a quick listen to the PSB cans at a local dealer, and found them to be better than I expected.
    They should be selling like hotcakes. But most of the world is stuck in Bose/Beats.

    You already know what I thing of the Millett amps. Good stuff. He has a lot of designs, and all of them
    do their job well. There are other DIY designs that aren't bad, either. PPA comes to mind.
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  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by sucks2beme View Post
    I had a quick listen to the PSB cans at a local dealer, and found them to be better than I expected.
    They should be selling like hotcakes. But most of the world is stuck in Bose/Beats.

    You already know what I thing of the Millett amps. Good stuff. He has a lot of designs, and all of them
    do their job well. There are other DIY designs that aren't bad, either. PPA comes to mind.
    Yeah.... I dont know, I just keep coming back to thinking a stereo reciever would be a better option (for me).

    Browsing through the US AudioMart finds me looking at these two puppies...

    Harmon Kardon Citation 17 Pre-Amp

    And the model that "got away"
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  11. #11

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    I've never heard an AVR with a headphone amp that's as good as something like the Millett/ If you have other needs then by all means go ahead, but as a headphone amp I've not had much success there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    I've never heard an AVR with a headphone amp that's as good as something like the Millett/ If you have other needs then by all means go ahead, but as a headphone amp I've not had much success there.
    True, but I havent found any low priced headphone amps that have any kind of tone controls and the iPhone doesnt exactly have good EQ abilities built in...
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    If you want a <200 tube headphone amp, here's your baby, and portability isn't important:

    http://littledot.net/forum/viewtopic...3bb4e584718f58
    Good music, a good source, and good power can make SDA's sing. Tubes make them dance.

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    OK, first if you're using tone controls then that's likely pointing to a deficiency somewhere else in the chain. It's better to address the root cause if practical rather than try to mask or adjust the sound. The PSB are the first can I've heard driven straight from my iPhone where I never even thought of touching the EQ, they're really that good.

    Second, yes the EQ in the default music app is not any good as it doesn't let you do custom EQs. Get something like EQu or Equalizer and use that instead, they're both much better. Remember the using any EQ reduces your battery life though.
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  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by nspindel View Post
    If you want a <200 tube headphone amp, here's your baby, and portability isn't important:

    http://littledot.net/forum/viewtopic...3bb4e584718f58
    Do you have any thoughts on it v the Millett Hybrid MiniMAX which I found for basically the same price (although used)
    Advice is free, the Flea Market is earned - F1Nut

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    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    OK, first if you're using tone controls then that's likely pointing to a deficiency somewhere else in the chain. It's better to address the root cause if practical rather than try to mask or adjust the sound. The PSB are the first can I've heard driven straight from my iPhone where I never even thought of touching the EQ, they're really that good.
    Agreed. I think the deficiency right now is the entire setup 256 bitrate files from iPhone 3.5mm to RCA monoprice cable, Yamaha R-300 in need of a de-oxit, 6+ year old 50 dollar Sony headphones.

    I might just take a shot in the dark on the Millet Hybrid MiniMax and get the Ultrasone HFI-780's and start with that setup. I plan to de-oxit the Yamaha this weekend and then I could test it v the Millet and see which I prefer on the Ultrasones and if I dont like those then I might end up with the Beyers and do the same....

    Shooting you a PM on something as well...
    Advice is free, the Flea Market is earned - F1Nut

    Main HT: APC H15 | Pio 51FD | Uverse DVR | Xbox 360 | Squeezebox Classic | Integra DTR 5.9 | Carver AV-705x & M1.0t MKII Opt002 | LSi 15 | LSiC | LSi F/x | Kimber Hero IC & 8VS SC

    Office Rig: Win 7 -> DacMagic w/ Pangea PSU | Pro-ject Debut III | Sunfire TGP-II | Parasound HCA-750ii | Polk RTA 11TL | Cables TBA

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    The Maverick Audio A1 and D1 also have pretty decent headphone amplifiers built into them, considering it isn't their main focus. They both have a line in on the front panel(1/4" for some reason), and the D1 is a DAC if you want to use it in with a computer or something other than your phone. Both have been well-reviewed over on Head-Fi.

    The Little Dot MKIII is great for the money, and people very rarely have problems with them. You will typically get a higher quality for a similar price out of a DIY product - that is their entire appeal. But like you've said, you are then taking responsibility for somebody else's handiwork. If you are looking at used DIY products, consider the Millett Hybrid, the SOHA II, and the AMB M^3.
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
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    I just got the Indeed G3 on a ebay auction for $66 shipped.....5814a NOS tube included,nice amp will take 6 and 12 series tubes.....will use it as a tube buffer,also....peter

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    Yeah, I think if I get a headphone amp I will probably end up with the Schitt Asgard. I am debating buying new so its here around the same time the Polk UltraFocus 8000's arrive ...

    Plus if I buy new and I end up not liking it I have 15 days to return it....
    Advice is free, the Flea Market is earned - F1Nut

    Main HT: APC H15 | Pio 51FD | Uverse DVR | Xbox 360 | Squeezebox Classic | Integra DTR 5.9 | Carver AV-705x & M1.0t MKII Opt002 | LSi 15 | LSiC | LSi F/x | Kimber Hero IC & 8VS SC

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    Quote Originally Posted by EndersShadow View Post
    Yeah, I think if I get a headphone amp I will probably end up with the Schitt Asgard. I am debating buying new so its here around the same time the Polk UltraFocus 8000's arrive ...

    Plus if I buy new and I end up not liking it I have 15 days to return it....
    +1. Give it a shot! I've been happy with mine, but would be curious to get your thoughts on it as well.
    ALL BOXED UP for a while until I save up for a new place :(

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    2 Channel:
    Polk LSi9 (xo mods), Polk DSW MicroPro 2000 sub | NAD c375BEE | W4S DAC1 | SB Touch | Marantz SA-8001 | MIT AVt 2 | Kimber Hero / AQ / Signal ICs | Shunyata / Signal PCs

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