Desktop amp recommendations in the $500 to $1000 category

headphone-amp

#1

What would you guys recommend for a desktop headphone amp newb within the stated price range? It will be paired with a set of HD 800S headphones and be fed lossless CD rips and hi-res files from my MacBook through a Chord Mojo in line level mode.

I had been happily using the Senns with the Mojo in DAC/amp mode and then, on a whim, decided to run them through an old iQube V1 portable amp that I’ve had for a decade or more. The difference was profound, particularly at the bottom end where the bass retained all its reference like clarity and precision, but became noticeably more profound and three dimensional. That experience got me to wondering what might be possible with a dedicated desktop amp - especially one with an output impedence better suited for my 300 ohm cans.

I was able to audition the HD 800Ss against Focals, Audezes and many other top brands prior to making my purchase. Given my strong preference for the more technical proficiency and open sound of the Senns, I suspect I might be better served by a solid state amp (but am certainly willing to be disabused of this notion if it’s based on a misconception).


#2

At the low end of your price range, either the Lyr 3 or HeadAmp Gilmore Lite Mk2 look like interesting options. I haven’t tried them myself though.


#3

I second the Gilmore Lite mk 2 recommendation. There’s also the Squarewave or Dynalo from Mjolnir Audio.


#4

I would use a better amp.
I use a violectric 220 with my Send 800.
Lake People mmake a range of amps that would fit your needs.
I also have a Burson unit that is good but not great.
You should plan on spending more than your stated range to get the best of the 800S


#5

Thanks to all for the suggestions thus far.

“I would use a better amp.
I use a violectric 220 with my Send 800.
Lake People mmake a range of amps that would fit your needs.
I also have a Burson unit that is good but not great.”

Jbwojcik, I had a chance today to try out the Queststyle CMA 601 balanced amp (which is admittedly above my previously stated price range). For 95% of what I listened to, it paired extremely well with the DAC portion of the Chord Mojo and my HD 800Ss. The only exception was that in a very limited number of cases, it tended to exacerbate rather than smooth the flaws inherent in some poorly produced recordings.

I’m thinking specifically here of some heightened sibillance in certain tracks of Stevie Nicks’ Timespace album and an intermittent bit of right channel bass distortion in a lossless rip of Born to Run that, while detectable in my regular set up, was actually bordering on painful with the CMA 601. At the same time, it greatly improved the complex treble arrangement in Rush’s Subdivision, which is no small feat. So I don’t know that it’s fair to characterize any of these shortcomings as a flaw of the amp.

For the sake of context, would you regard the Queststyle as in the same class as the sub $2K Lake/Violectric amps?


#6

I think that has more to do with your headphones. You could look for a warm/smooth sounding amp, or you might try using EQ to smooth over the rough edges. I’m not sure which approach is better to be honest.


#7

Good amps unfortunately do tend to expose the ugly side of poor recordings.
Since the final choice is personal and subjective, I would say that if the Questyle otherwise meets your desires, that it is a appropriate choice.


#8

Woo Audio WA6. It has a switch for high impedance, which you absolutely need for getting the most from the HD800S. Also in your price range. Also from from one of the best, if not the best, makers of headphone amps. Plus, you can upgrade later if you want with Woo’s optional tubes. Plus it also handles all low impedance phones and efficient planars (except some HIFIMan, which are exceptionally power hungry). I have both the 800S and WA6 and they’re a great combination!! They’ll get rid of the high frequency problem too.


#9

There are some excellent options these days for headphone amplifiers below $1000. Some of my suggestions will require a linear power supply that is easily acquired via eBay for under $150.

Your personal preferences will come into play, but I’ll base these recommendations on your paired cans and desire to tame the treble a bit.

  • Schiit Vali 2: This might still be my favorite Schiit amp. It’s quite good and is the best option I know of below $200.
  • Garage1217 Project Sunrise III with linear power supply. Amazing tube hybrid that is much better than most options for pretty cheap, even with an LPSU. The Horizon is an alternative if you’re only using high impedance headphones.
  • Massdrop x Eddie Current ZDT Jr. (aka Laconic Night Blues Mini). Not my personal favorite with my headphones, but would do well with the HD800(S)
  • Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid with linear power supply. It’s good with the standard SMPS, great with an LPSU. Hard to beat for less than $1000.

#10

I wrote earlier and recommended the Woo Audio WA6. A lesser, but still strong recommendation, would be the Schiit Valhalla 2–another amp that I own and use with my HD800S. Being an OTL amp, it works especially well with high impedance headphones. It sells for $349, but plays well above that price (as does almost all Schiit gear). I bought upgraded Telefunkin and cryo tubes for mine, and like the sound a lot. But the WA6 gives quite a bit more detail with the HD800S, which of course is one of the big reasons for buying the 800’s in the first place. Another notable difference is that there’s much more punch with the WA6…approaching what you’d get with a good solid state amp. If you can afford the Woo, I’d go with it. But for about half the price, you’ll get pretty good sound and a great dollar-for-dollar value from the Valhalla 2. A final, and big deal factor to consider, is this. If you intend buying other headphones in the future, get the WA6. It has a low impedance switch and does a really, really good job with other phones–even including most planars. At $649, I don’t know of a better all around amp. Also, it’s built like a tank and will likely last forever.


#11

I’m interested to see how the Monoprice Cavalli Liquid Platinum, also under $1K, will stack up against the MCTH.

Looking forward to comparisons upon its release as I am in the market for a new office stack.


#12

I push my HD800 with JDS Labs The Element, while using the El DAC as well the DAC lol. I really enjoy it, and it powers all my headphones from High impedance HD800 to my lower impedance Fostexs/M1060s. But I haven’t had a ton of experience with amps at this stage. So someone with more experience can give their color to this discussion. Also it is one of the best looking desktop amps I’ve seen, and the knob is a joy to use. I plan on sending it in to get etched once I get either my BottleheadCrack (ordered now waiting on it) or another amp in (looking at the monolith THX desktop amp that is releasing in July). I might also order up the CTH.


#13

That’s a decent budget, I think the Cayin iha-6 would be a good addition.


#14

the Schiit Lyr 3 is a very good choice in this price range.


#15

A couple options I can think of off the top of my head that no ones mentioned yet are the arcam rHead and RNHP.


#16

What is the difference between Violectric and Lake People? I know it’s the same company, and their designs are similar, but is Lake People Violectic’s “budget”-brand?


#17

Lake People is the parent company that focuses on professional products for the audio industry while violectric is their high brand.

Their stuff is well made regardless of whether you are audio engineer or a hifi nerd.

They stand behind their products and I feel that Violectric products are more for the audiophile home use.

JW


#18

Oh, okay. I kind of thought it might be the other way around. I personally prefer the looks of Lake People products.

But thanks for clearing that up! :slight_smile:


#19

I also own a pair of Senn HD800S myself. They require decent power and low distortion, good DACs. I use Schitt Audio Jotunheim which has mega power and great sound @ around the $500 price point. Its american made, built like a tank and has never let me down… oh BTW, sounds fantastic too!