headphones and the amps that love them

Discussion in 'AV Receivers' started by Wayde_R, May 12, 2005.

  1. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Hey all. Long time browser of this forum, equal time troublemaker.

    I am no better versed in the way of the amp and speaker than any hobbyist who likes to read. But you change up the technology a bit and I feel totally unqualified to comment.

    Say you have an Ipod or other mp3 player, you hook headphones to it. Aren't the same laws applied to mini-device/headphones as amps/speakers? You still have an amp, pushing sound through speakers, only smaller. Is this correct? The Ipod for instance, must have an amplifier in it, because it has its own volume control and power un-powered headphones. Wouldn't users of an expensive mp3 player really want to know the impedance of the speakers they're hooking up? Is there a potential to blow the player if you just jury rigged a pair of speakers to the headphone jack?

    Now from what I've been reading on msg boards the Achilles heel of the Ipod is the battery since they're built in they're not easily replaced. Keeping the lifespan of the battery up, using fewer precious recharge cycles is important to users. Wouldn't the headphones you're using be paramount to this? Wouldn't the consumer be interested in efficiency ratings of their headphones? What about their impedance? Wouldn't Ipods have recommended impedance for headphones?

    Sorry if this post doesn't quite fit the recievers board. Upon second look I stand behind my initial impulse to post this line of questioning here.
     
  2. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Producer

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    Wayde,

    Yes, you're completely correct. If you're serious about your portable system, then you will need to have each component complement each other. Some headphones sound good amp-ed and some don't. Like a speaker-based system, it comes down to synergy within the system. I would suggest you check out head-fi.org for information.

    BTW, just because it is a portable system doesn't mean it can't be tweaked to the max. Check out these systems (and do a search on part I of this thread).

    Here's a pic of an iPod with custom cable connected to a potable headphone amp, which powers a pair of Shure earbuds.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Danny, looks like some good sites and good reading.
     
  4. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Producer

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    Wayde,

    To be honest, I am not even sure I know the answer to your question. However, I would imagine the battery of an iPod will probably be used more to spin that hard drive. On the other hand, at head-fi.org, there was talk of European Sony Discman not generating enough output at its headphone jack due to Euro safety regulations. I am talking about 5 milli-watts here, so you can pretty much forget about using the headphone jack of a portable device to power speakers.
     
  5. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    I wasn't even sure what my question was really. I was just wondering if the same amp/speaker rules apply to headphone/player. Which I guess they would have to but I assume since mobile devices run on so little power there is a smaller total range of power requirements so it's much less of an issue than home stuff where you can go from filling a closet to a stadium with sound.

    Having done some reading there are all the stats available for headphones you would expect for speakers, they have sensitivity ratings, freq range etc, I don't know if I saw any with an impedance rating but maybe there is one standard impedance for all headphones.

    What's funny is even Bose headphones are ... well... Bose. They price their headphones up to 2X that of the nearest competitor for no apparent reason and don't publish complete stats on their capability. Gotta love Bose.

    I am not too much into the mobile stuff myself but my wife really wants an ipod so I've been looking into it. My experience has always been that all headphones to me just sound like crap, but then I use crappy headphones to work out and I expect nothing different. I am considering the strength of having some "nice" headphones for walks and less sweaty outdoor activities. I hesitate to slap $150 down on some over the ear full range headsets like Grado and others that are highly recommended. I fear a porta unit has not the power to light up large headphones.

    Your links however offer alternatives. I like the tin mint box outboard amp, if I understand correctly (and I'm still reading) it's used by the "serious" mobile music mavins.
     
  6. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Producer

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    Like with speakers, there is not one standard impedance for all headphones. Some headphones are for portable usage (although you can certainly use them at home) and are designed to be powered by the headphone output of a portable music playback device. Others are strictly home-based headphones, like the Sennheiser HD series, and will perform best when powered by a dedicated headphone amp. I guess I should've post this link for a better overview of head-fi.

    You don't have to slap down serious bucks for serious headphones. The Grado SR60 is one serious pair of headphones that retails for only $69.00. These don't requite a headphone amp to sound good, but I think they quite bulky to be portable. If you want portable some good sounding portable headphones, the Sennheiser PX series is very good. I currently own both the PX100 and PX200....the PX100 has better bass response but is an open design, meaning they will allow external sound to leak in. The PX200 is a closed design, so they will offer a certain amount of isolation from external noise. However, due to the small size of its earcup, a perfect seal between the earcup and your ear needs to be achieve in order for it to sound good. Since headphone is the only component you actually wear, comfort should be a major consideration when buying any headphones. Both PX-series model can be folded up and each should be purchased for $40.00 or under.

    The tin mint can is merely a container for an economical headphone amp. These should be an improvement over most headphone outputs of portable music devices. These tin mint can amps are generally available for $100.00 or under, dependent of the quality of parts used. They are build on a per order basis.
     
  7. Wayde_R

    Wayde_R Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for all the info Danny. Funny, I just bought a set of Grado SR60s yesterday before I read your last post. They seemed highly recommended at the Head-Fi site and I read reviews that said the ipod powers them up just fine.

    In fact I am so taken by all this mobile music that my wife and I now both have our own Ipods. We may have to get a second pair of Grado's becaus my wife loves the sound too. She had thought her PC's Koss headphones were the end all (and I probably agreed with her at that time). I am surprized to learn so much hi-fi goes into headphones. The Grados sound more "lively" than the Sony (so called DJ headphones) at the local Future Shop (Canada's Best Buy)that sell for the exact same price. Before I knew anything I thought they were "good" headphones.

    I'll read the overview pages you linked with interest, since browsing the message boards I'm a bit confused about all this pre-amp, amp stuff. I am not sure why or if people need a mobile pre amp, but then maybe it's not mobile. I was surprized to learn of this whole dedicated headphone hi-fi system "scene". It's interesting. The mini headset tube amp units look cool as hell, if not complete overkill.

    Funny, I've been an audio/home theater fan for years and I suddenly learn of a whole sub-scene.

    Thanks again Danny.
     
  8. Danny Tse

    Danny Tse Producer

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    Here's a thread on the Grado SR60 in the Music section of HTF....with links to mods to make the SR60 more comfortable and sounding better.

    Regarding mobile amps for headphones, there're different schools of thinking on that. Some say if any headphones requiring an amp to sound good in a portable system, then the purpose of such system has been defeated. Others say why not push the envelope with an amp. Only your ears can tell whether such an amp is worth the $$$.

    As for using an amp, whether it's tube or solid state, in a home-based headphone system, that depends on how serious you want to be. Tube headphone amps starts at about $200.00.

    And just to throw in another method of amplification, Panasonic has been powering its portable CD player's headphone output with digital amps (Sharp has been doing this with their portable MiniDisc player/recorders in Japan) and they sound very good. Given all the attention the digital amped Panasonic HT receivers have been receiving (sorry for the pun), this is not unexpected.
     

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