Headphone amp recommendations

Hi all,

My friend John, who may pop into this thread, is looking for recommendations for a headphone amp for his son, who uses Audeze cans (not sure which model).

I’ve never been a ‘phones guy, so wasn’t much help. But I said I might know some folks who could help.

John and his son are not currently Roon users so any tips about Roon preset DSP also appreciated.

No price point specified, so feel free to run the gamut from introductory to eye-watering. Links to specs and reviews much appreciated.

Thanks for your help !

I love my Rogue RH-5 with my LCD-3s.

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Get the HeadAmp GS-X mini and never look back :slight_smile:

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@AndersVinberg has more than once enthused about his THX AAA 789 headphone amp.

Does he just need an amp, or DAC+amp? I have a Topping DX3 Pro which works awfully well for me.

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I have several headphone amps. If your friend is looking for a Solid amp state in the $2K range, I highly recommend the Headamp GSX-mini. Some great faceplate colors. Do they need a DAC incorporated? Benchmark DAC3 HGC rocks…

Also suggest they visit headphones.com, which is a great forum for headphone related products. Which model of Audeze? that info would be useful.

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Yes, I got the THX AAA 789 amp and was very impressed.
But I didn’t have a top quality DAC to go with it.
I had a Chord Hugo 2 but it was used elsewhere.
I tried a few DACs in what I thought was a reasonable price range to go with the 789 but wasn’t impressed. Price shouldn’t be a determinant, call me irrational.

So i did three things.

  1. I got the Benchmark HPA4, which is based on the same THX technology as the 789 but with significant investment in other parts (e.g. volume control). With that I got the Benchmark DAC3 B which doesn’t include a headphone amp (so I can’t comment on the one built into their other DACs). They work well together. A fabulous combination. I mostly use it with Audeze cans.
  2. I got the Chord Hugo TT2 + M-Scaler, which is a fabulous DAC and integrated headphone amp. Also very impressive. I use it mostly with the Hifiman Susvara which are extremely demanding, neither of these amps break a sweat driving it, but the Chord + Susvara combo is sublime.
  3. I still wanted a good DAC with the 789 that started all this, so I got the SMSL SU-8 (from Massdrop, now Drop), which was priced appropriately and did very well.

These three solutions are all very satisfactory and cover several price points:
789 + SU-8: $600
Benchmark DAC3 + HPA4: $5,000
Chord M-Scaler + TT2: $10,000

And with the Susvara added to the Chord combo, the price is nosebleed territory.

Why did I get all three at these prices? Because I had reasons I wanted to set up three rooms, and because I was curious and wanted to evaluate those, and because I could.

I am very satisfied with all three. When I do a careful systematic evaluation, it’s difficult to tell the difference. When I just sit back and enjoy the music, my preference aligns with the cost.

(All other headphone amps have been discarded, except the Hugo 2 which is battery powered and is used outdoors and in other special circumstances.)

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I’d suggest doing a good bit of research on ASR - there’s been a load of reviews of headphone amps in the past 6 months and good performers at very reasonable price points (as well as the two which Anders mentions above). The budget JDS Labs Atom has been a favourite over there for quite a while and amps like the Schiff Magni Heresy faired well too.

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I’m happy with my Chord Mojo (or Poly/Mojo combination).

Note: As there are absolutely no specific constraints/use cases given in the original post, this is just asking “What headphone amplifiers do exist?”

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More what have you used and recommend.

I am very happy about my LCD-XC’s in combination with my Chord Poly/Mojo and Hugo2. The Hugo2 has more options for sound tinkering (no EQ, but filters, for instance) and input. Hugo2 is more expensive.

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I have an Audiolab M DAC which these days is my hi fi

Sounds great through hd800 sennheisers

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Chord TT2 with Focal Utopias

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Thanks everyone for your responses. Andrew was enquiring on my behalf - and I on my son’s behalf… alas I was incorrect about his headphones - they are Verum 1 which I believe are similar to the Audeze but no doubt have special considerations of their own.

My son is into some very interesting music which is especially focussed on harmonics such as Roscoe Holcomb, but is also concerned about ‘value’ and feels that the DAC which I had been looking at (the Holo Spring 2) is excessive for his purposes. Ah but the technology sounds so awesome with the amazing R2R etc. I have read through all you responses and doing further research.

Andrew mentioned Qobuz as a streaming source - this is tricky because my son is deeply into the avant garde and it is all a foreign language to me and of course subscribing from Australia is technically blocked to I am not sure how to go about examining their catalog to see if it is a good match for my son.

Thanks again for your replies and to Andrew for introducing me into this forum

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I don’t think you can see the Qobuz catalogue without subscribing. Even then, it’s not simple to find a particular type of music.

Roon makes it easier to find Compositions across streaming services but not without some significant issues.

Use a VPN to sign up to Qobuz in France, UK or USA and check it out with the trial period. You can login after signup and stream without a VPN.

Qobuz has better Classical and Jazz coverage than Tidal imo.

I use my B&W XT4s sitting 4ft away from them😎 So that would mean I use an Auralic pre amp. The head phone jack is optional.

Hello Anders thanks for the detailed analysis of your setup(s)(!)

The 789 / SU-8 combo sounds like it might be in the sweet spot of my sons price range and performance. I think ideally my son would use his MacBook as the digital source. He likes to be mobile with that - so perhaps bluetooth -> DAC -> headphone amp might provide him with the greatest flexibility? Elsewhere I have used the AudioEngine B1 which seems like it could be hooked into the 789 via an optical connection. Any thoughts?

Thanks for the info!

If he is going to sit next to his laptop maybe try a USB DAC like the Audioquest Red or Cobalt

Very good and quite low cost, i use a Red with my iPad

I think Archimago found the Red was better than the Cobalt.

I gave a Red to my partner’s son about 2 years ago and he likes it a lot. I think it’s an excellent mobile solution for the price point, but not necessarily for a serious “home base” headphones rig.

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The 789 is an amp only, you need a DAC too.
For that reason the 789 doesn’t do Bluetooth by itself.
I don’t know which DACs do Bluetooth, I don’t use it.

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