Amp Help Needed


#1

I have been doing a lot of research and readong impressions about headphones and I want to make a big step up. After all the looking I have decided upon either the ZMF Atticus or Eikon. My mind is set more so on the Atticus based on what music I maily listen to. So with that said I have a hard time with reading amp reviews and trying to get impressions since to be honest 75% of the time I dont understand the language. I mean that both in terms of headphone slang (I am slowly picking it up though) and when reading actual tech specs. To get to my point I know I want to start off with a solid state amp at around 500 US. My current picks based off looks mostly to be honest are…

Lake People G109
Rupert Neve Designs RNPH
Meier Corda Jazz or Jazz FF
Beyerdynamic A20

Now if I am understanding it correctly the Lake People has much more power than the other three. Although the Jazz does not have much information from what I could find. An the Beyerdynamic A20 is my least favorite as a looker out of the four but it was reccommended specificaly with the Atticis by Zach ZMF himself which probably carries weight, but agian he has differant ears than me or you. All the reccommendations on Head Fi or reddit say “go tube” and for a while I was looking at the Woo WA6 SE. Then I had to research the differancw between SET and OTL tube amps. I decided to not go down that rabbit hole so for now while I am still a novice I then going solid state is my best bet.

What are the benefits of having more power like the Lake People say V.s. the RNPH? Do I actually need a certian amount and if I excede that amount will it do me any good? Lots of questions to be asked, thanks for everyones patiets as I become more acustomed to headphones, amps and all that goea into it.


#2

I know @I_want_all_the_tacos as a fair amount of experience with ZMF and different amps. I’m a pretty big fan of the Eikon myself.

I personally don’t have experience with any of the amps outside of the Beyerdynamic A20 which would definitely work just fine.

Everything you have mentioned here is strictly a headphone amplifier though which are great but do you already have a DAC?
@Torq gives a pretty good little rundown of amps and DACs in his response in this thread and what more power can mean to certain headphones.


#3

Have you considered the Schiit Jotunheim? It has a good deal of power and versatility being modular and all. You can get the amp and an integrated balanced DAC module for $499.


#4

If you are new to amps or haven’t used tubes before, I would definitely recommend starting small, figuring out your preferences, and then building from there. One thing that most experienced people in this hobby will emphasize is “synergy”.

I’m an electrical engineer and I could spend all day explaining the different topologies for both solid states (e.g. discrete vs chip, Class A vs D, etc) and tube amps (e.g. OTL vs OTC vs SET, hybrids, etc). Those thing definitely matter when considering pairings, but ultimately, often times there are certain characteristics about a given amp that TENDS to pair well with some headphones over others. That’s what I mean by synergy. And these characteristics can range from drastic (solid state vs tube) to subtle (output impedance of 1 Ohm vs 10 Ohms) differences. If you are interested in the actual electronics of amps I have plenty of resources I could point you toward.

But let’s start with “more power” as you mentioned. Typically, people love to recommend “more power” in general because it is usually a good rule of thumb that more power is better for headphones. However, really, at some point more power isn’t going to add anything extra and becomes overkill. There are very few headphones that truly keep scaling with more and more power, the Hifiman HE-6 is one that does. That is why it is common for people to run that headphone off of speaker amps. But a headphones like ZMF Atticus (which I own) does like a good amount of power, but that isn’t nearly as important as what kind of amp is powering it. The reason Zach himself recommends Beyer A20 is because that amp has a higher than normal output impedance (OI) for a solid state amp. That amps has an OI of 100 Ohms compared to say Magni 3 which has an OI of 0.3 Ohms. Why does output impedance matter? Damping factor. There is a common 1/8th rule used that states a given amp should have an output impedance 1/8th that of the headphone impedance. Read that source for the reasons why. Atticus’ impedance is 300 Ohm. So technically, the A20 violates this rule. But from a synergy standpoint, higher output impedance amps bring a special flavor or characteristic to Atticus. This is similar as to why the 120 Ohm output impedance Bottlehead Crack is known to pair well with 300 Ohm HD650. I haven’t heard the A20 myself, but I trust Zach so I do think that could be a great solid state pairing. Another option you may want to consider is Cayin iHA-6. That amp usually goes for about $650 new, but can be had used in the $500 range. It also has a higher than normal output impedance and I believe Zach has also noted it is a good Atticus pairing. Grizzlybeast wrote a great review for it.

Now, the reason you hear people recommend tubes for Atticus, and I also heartily recommend tubes as well, is because Atticus’ character lends itself to playing well and benefiting from what tube amps can bring. Atticus is naturally a warm, thick, rich, and meaty sound. If not paired well with amps I find it can sometimes feel a little too overbearing and congested, and not open enough. It isn’t terrible by any means, but Atticus can scale well with different gear. So I personally like tube amp pairing that emphasize a fast, clean, and airy sound. That is why I use Valhalla 2 with Atticus. That synergy makes Atticus feel a bit more lively, spacious, and clear. But that is my preference and how I like to hear Atticus. You could be looking for something completely different. That is why if you don’t know what you like, you should just start small and give yourself time to understand what you do and don’t like. You can always scale up gear later once you figure that out.

For tube recommendations, I would probably say Valhalla 2, Massdrop CTH, and Lyr 3 are very good under $500 option. I have the Massdrop EC ZDT Jr. on order myself as Zach also liked that amp with Atticus, but I haven’t heard it myself. It might be replacing my Valhalla 2 once I get it.

I’m less familiar with solid state amps. If you need a starting point I think Magni 3 represents a great entry level value. I have no idea what headphones or other amps you currently have, so that could be important to consider too. And as @taronlissimore mentioned, factoring in a DAC is important too.


Sub- Bass Headphone
#5

I have a Ol Dac from JDS Labs as well as my Asus Xonar DX. I will most likely stick with these first then upgrade to something later. I was looking at the Jot as well but it may be to big for my left over desk space. I should have stated that size was a bit of an issue. I have an Aune X1s which is around the size in width I was looking for.


#6

I do have a Little Dot 1+ hybrid and Little Dot 2, was looking at the Night Blues Mini as an option as well. But have no real experiance with real tube amps or hifi gear. I have had some conversations about the AmpAndSound Kenzie and based off of reading reviews something like that is the goal. But rather then diving off the deep end I will work my way up to that level and figure out what sound is for me. Hence why I figure get a good mid tier solid state first. I have the MSR7’s right now and they really dont need any amping but was curious about what can make them sound differant and how they are affected by each device. I found I enjoy them most out of the Little Dot 1+ even though I can only turn the dial to about 10 o’clock before my ears melt. There is something about the tubes I do like, such as how they take the highs and reduce some of the sharpness off with higher notes and letters like the sssssss sound at the end of a word. As well as bring in some more low end, goes deeper.

Would you say the synergy aspect just happens? Or is there some type of evidance to support that heaphone X will play nice with Amp X?


#7

One more question. Just doing a quick google search and winding up on NwAvGuy’s old blog to learn a small amout about output impedance it seems like most solid state headphone amps are designed around a very low sub 5 ohm impedance output. I never really paid much attention to what headphones were how many ohms. I knew for example some Sennheisers were 300 ohm and the two ZMF’s were 300 ohm but would you say higher impedance headphones are not as common? An if they are or of the ones that are tubes a more common reccomendation? A quick search provided that all except the A20 I asked about were very low output impedance which kills that 1/8 rule.


#8

The synergy aspect comes from understanding the headphone design/tech and sonic characteristics and also knowing where to start with good pairings. The rest is picking sources that make good sense and then actually listening. So with Atticus, we know from specs that it is 300 Ohms impedance. We know from measurements that it is heavily mid-bass emphasized with warmth that bleeds into the mids, which are quite forward, and then a gentle rolled off treble. We also know it is using a dynamic driver. Unlike planar drivers, dynamic drivers typically have an impedance that varies with frequency. If you take a look at the impedance measurements you can see that impedance will actually swing up to 400 Ohm or so at different frequencies. So that typically means that higher output impedance amps can pair just fine. We also know that high impedance headphones like the ZMFs and Sennheisers tend to benefit from more voltage control to help adjust to the changing impedance. Tube amps specialize in high voltage control. Solid states typically specialize in current control, which happens to work well with planars that don’t care as much about high voltage, but moreso about high current. So that is why we know based on technology and specs that Atticus would be a good candidate for tube amps. So that is a good starting point. Then from actual listening like I said before it is clear that Atticus has that warmer, richer tone. Finding good synergy is considering what would enhance that tone and bring out the strengths and minimize the weaknesses. For me, I want it to feel faster, more dynamic, and have more space with better staging. Knowing that, it makes sense that Valhalla 2 checks all those boxes as it s an OTL tube amp with higher output impedance that is characterized by those traits. You can watch Aornic’s review here and he speaks directly about this synergy I describe between Atticus and Valhalla 2.

Here is my advice to you. First, it isn’t clear if you have even heard Atticus or Eikon yet yourself. If you have’t, and are planning on buying blind, I am very hesitant to recommend people already plan on building a system around a headphone. You already have a competent DAC and amp in the Aune. Why don’t you get the headphone first and then make sure you like its base character and be sure you want to build a system around it. From there, you can spend time with Atticus and start to figure out what you do and don’t like about it. Look at the list of things you don’t like about it and decide if those things are sound changes you could remedy with a different amp pairing. If not, you might be better off getting a different headphone. But if so, start to read impressions on specific amps and see which ones have the characteristics that would suit your needs. Then search around and see if anyone has tried that specific pairing and what their impressions are.


#9

I specifically said this:

The A20 is more of an outlier in NOT having low output impedance like most solid states, but it is that very reason that Zach likes it. You have to know that Zach specifically loves tube amps. He has a lot of different ones and uses them all the time. He designed his headphones specifically to play well and benefit from tube amps. By choosing a 300 Ohm impedance for the headphones, that offers more flexibility in what it can pair with due to the 1/8th rule. Tube amps for the most part tend to have higher output impedances than solid states. Like I said, Bottlehead Crack has OI of 120 Ohms. There are definitely exceptions to this rule, particularly in hybrid tube amps, but for the most part many tube amps have higher OI than typical solid states. Most headphones have impedances and therefore don’t always synergize well with high OI tube amps. It is mostly Beyerdyanmic, Sennheiser, and ZMF that make headphones with impedances over 250 Ohm. So those tend to benefit the most from higher output impedance tube amps.


#10

“Here is my advice to you. First, it isn’t clear if you have even heard Atticus or Eikon yet yourself. If you have’t, and are planning on buying blind, I am very hesitant to recommend people already plan on building a system around a headphone. You already have a competent DAC and amp in the Aune. Why don’t you get the headphone first and then make sure you like its base character and be sure you want to build a system around it. From there, you can spend time with Atticus and start to figure out what you do and don’t like about it. Look at the list of things you don’t like about it and decide if those things are sound changes you could remedy with a different amp pairing. If not, you might be better off getting a different headphone. But if so, start to read impressions on specific amps and see which ones have the characteristics that would suit your needs. Then search around and see if anyone has tried that specific pairing and what their impressions are.”

I am on a phone so don’t know how to pull this paragraph out specificaly with this interface.

I agree with all of this. What I did not know was not so much as what would work with the ZMF but if something would work. As you pointed out the said amps I suggested apart from the A20 may not be a good match talking output impedance. This was not something I put into account when looking at amps. Thanks for a little education.

Have not heard either headphones yet. Based off of impressions like you mentioned Aornic, your reddit posts all the Head Fi pages the Atticus sound like the headphone I am looking for. Will try it out on the Aune for sure. Probably ditch the solid state idea and think about an entry level tube like the ones you mentioned in the future. Apreciate the help.


#11

I haven’t heard those solid state amps so I really can’t say for sure how they will sound with Atticus. I don’t necessarily have any reason to believe any of them will be particularly “bad” with Atticus. I also wouldn’t be surprised if none of them (except A20) sound all that different from your Aune. But going to tubes definitely makes the biggest difference. And I just think if you are going for Atticus, that is a headphone well primed for pairing with a good tube amp. If you didn’t already have a solid state, I would maybe recommend going that route first, but at this point when you get to TOTL headphones I tend to want to get specific gear to provide the optimal pairing with that headphone.

Atticus is an absolute joy if it fits your tastes. It isn’t for everyone though because it is so far from neutral and that thick, warm, and bassy sound can sometimes be too much. But if you want a headphone that has character and owns what it does, that is it.


#12

It’s a little harder to do on your phone but basically you just select what you want to quote and then hit copy and it will show up as a quote reply.


#13

Speaking of which, any plans to make a phone app for this forum?


#14

Since this forum is running on the Discourse platform, you should be able to use their iPhone or Android applications as-is.


#15

I did the little bot tutoral. Everything works okay on mobile it just takes an extra 30 seconds. The lack of ad’s helps with keeping it organized.


#16

Help! I have a question for an EE. One of my favorite headphones is a vintage pair of STAX, the SR5N that was sold with the SRD-6SB energizer. Back when I used a 60 watt per channel amp, I didn’t think much about it. I even used a Sansui AU-919 amp with the energizer. It’s rated for 8W continuous input with a 30W maximum. As I don’t usually try to listen very loudly, I figure it won’t be a problem.

Well about two or so years ago, I went to Class D ICE Amplification - The Wyred4Sound STI-1000. Again, I know that I don’t PLAN to turn up the gain, but I have not yet had the nerve to wire the STAX to those substantial output posts, and have only listened to them occasionally on a secondary rig with less power (and no vinyl)

The STI-100 does have a pre-amp out (they call it AUX OUT). Would I be smarter to use that to run something less potent to drive the STAX?
image


Stax amplification and computer
#17

Another neat feature with quotes is that you can click the Username for the quote and it will expose the entire post the quote came from for context


#18

It SHOULD be fine. I haven’t used the Stax SRD transformers myself, but they are pretty simple systems for stepping up voltage and biasing to the correct voltage that the Stax earspeakers need. I believe the max input recommendation on those are mainly as caution for not overdriving the earspeakers. If you do use that amp you mentioned, I would be absolutely sure you are always keeping the volume at 0 to start and increase slowly. If you mess up and have the volume set too high upon plugging in the earspeakers that could possibly damage them. There was a similar discussion about this idea on head-fi.


#19

Thank you. The other concern is that in standard configuration, with the power going as pass through the adapter, I’m not at all sure that’s beneficial for the sound quality. I don’t have $$$ expensive speaker cords - Not running Superconducting NORDOST VALLHALLA Cryogenic Unicorn Infinite Negative Bias Quantum Perfect cables from amp to speaker, but I question the propriety of running serious power through the energizer’s lightweight connectors. I wish the STI had more than one set of output posts, but it does not.


#20

I have a bit of experience with those adapters. Like with any amp, what you’re using won’t be delivering the full amount of power unless you turn it to max (which probably would kill the headphones). But if you start from zero like taco said, you’ll only be using a small fraction and you’ll be totally fine. But with regard to sound quality, the amount of power you’re providing won’t be as important as the quality of the amp. Your STI-1000 looks pretty decent and I’d be surprised if it didn’t sound better than your Sansui, even considering how great those vintage amps seem to be. Your headphones will probably sound even better when driven with the STI-1000. If you’re concerned about outputting too much power, you can always stick a preamp between your DAC and the amp to further attenuate signal.