A headphone amplifier recommendation, please.

I'm working on a project to adapt a tube line level preamp to a Dolby B noise reduction unit and as part of the final testing I'd like a fairly small, reasonably priced ($100.00 to $200.00) headphone amplifier so I can listen to changes I make in the tube amplifier's negative feedback setup. It doesn't need a built in DAC (most seem to come with this) and I need RCA left/right inputs and 1/4" headphone jack (only one is necessary). Selectable headphone impedance (high/low) would be nice.
Your suggestions are welcome and appreciated.


  • msg
    msg Posts: 8,811
    edited July 2020
    Might have a look at the Schiit Magni 3.
    I don't think it does variable impedance, but it does offer Lo and Hi gain selection.

    They're $100 new, and not uncommon finds in the used market for $80 or so.
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  • tonyp063
    tonyp063 Posts: 1,022
    even better.

    $60-$90 for various Magni flavors. Full warranty
  • I've been using the Magni 3 headphone amp and except for a little issue with the volume control (the knob might be binding against the faceplate opening) it is fine. Very clear sounding and seems well balanced and I can easily hear differences in the solid state and tube output stages. Great value, certainly!
    Now it makes me think about better headphones, of course.
  • msg
    msg Posts: 8,811
    Hey Ken, glad it's working out for you. That knob issue you describe is not uncommon with these units. I noticed it as well, and I've seen other comments about it.

    I thought about removing the cover and widening or smoothing case opening a bit, but seems to have resolved itself. But yeah, a little uncomfortable, that scratchy feeling of metal on metal.

    You can pull the knob out a bit to clear the case, too.
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  • DaveHo
    DaveHo Posts: 3,439
    Based on other Schitt gear I've owned, the circuit board mounting may have some wiggle room. Open it up and see if you can move it slightly to alleviate the issue.
  • Good idea, thanks! What headphones are you using with success?
  • msg
    msg Posts: 8,811
    edited August 2020
    I'm still early in my headphones testing, since I've only been messing with headphones for maybe 3 or 4 yrs? Ha.

    Everything I've tried with the Magni 3 has been pleasing, each pair of headphones having their own strengths. The Magni 3 with its Lo and Hi gain options makes it relatively versatile with the headphones I've tried with it, ranging from 32Ω to 250Ω.

    All of the following sound good to me with some time to readjust after a move from any one of the others. Just takes a little time to get used to each's signature.

    This became my general go-to until recently. Good all around, but not very detailed compared to the others in this list. Closed back, good bass. A good office headphone for ambient isolation. Note that with all the plastic and articulating joints, they're creaky, and you'll hear it with micro movements while listening. I found this annoying and distracting. I addressed this with a few drops of Tri-flo Teflon drylube at these joints. Tri-flo is a lube for bicycles. There are two kinds, and the dry version goes on wet, but dries like a wax. Works great, lasts months. The M50x are the most comfortable headphones I have, but feel the cheapest.

    Philips Fidelio X1 and Fidelio L1
    I really like the Philips sound a lot. Both of these are smooth and comfortable, but the X1 offer a bit more liquid-y sound. The X1s are open back, and were/are my favorite for overall sound, being relatively well balanced across genres I listen to - electronic, rock, classical, and mellow chick singer stuff, folksy, jazzy, and otherwise.

    The L1s are smaller, some complaining that the earcups are too small for some ears. Semi-open design.

    These are discontinued but available as refurb, new old stock, or used. The X2 has replaced the X1.

    Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro
    I just recently had a chance to try these after reading about Beyerdynamic for years (thanks @Clipdat ) The BeyerDs are a semi-open headphone, and I found them thin in the lows with all but the most bass accentuated pieces. Initially this was a disappointment. The only headphones I've ever found more lacking in bass were some version of Grado, but the BDs reminded me of that experience, though nowhere near as anemic nor as uncomfortable.

    The mids and upper frequencies are beautiful, though. I had a couple startling moments trying them with familiar pieces and hearing sublime little details like guitar strums I've never heard before. The stereo channel detail and stereo channel play caught me a few times, too, so far, again with details I never noticed before. Somehow more accentuated with these.

    To address the low end with the BDs, I added a Schiit Loki EQ I had sitting around. This is a 4-band EQ. For the DT-880s, I bumped controls 1, 2, and 4 to my liking, with a good amount of increase on the bass control. Schiit markets the Loki as "bringing back tone controls" in a sense, but in a good way.

    The Schiit mini footprint pieces make a nice stack for a little desktop or something nearby that you can reach out and adjust as needed. One can also integrate these pieces with a larger system as well. For me, the Schiit minis on a desktop and the coiled cable of the DT-800 Pro are a great combination for listening while I'm working at the desk or reading online.

    According to Beyerdynamic, the standard DT-880 offers the same sound as the Pro, but with lighter clamping force and a straight cable.

    Heres's some more information on the Loki that might interest you.

    Others seem to enjoy the Sennheiser HD650.

    @ALL212 Aaron has tried some others I've not heard of. I think they were made of coconut 🥥 shells and horse hooves.
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  • Thank you! I've always been a Sennheser fan since the classic HD414. I wish I'd bought a pair of Stax headphones when I was a dealer.
  • msg
    msg Posts: 8,811
    Wow, I didn't know you used to be a dealer, Ken.
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  • I remember selling a pair of SR Series "earspeakers" and power supply along with a Janis W1 subwoofer to a middle aged guy. His idea was to wear the headphones and sit on the subwoofer, no kidding, he thought the bass vibrations would travel up his spine and he would feel the bass and hear the rest through the headphones.
  • msg
    msg Posts: 8,811
    Haha! That sounds... not very relaxing.

    The SR series you mentioned - those were/are by STAX?
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  • Yes, it's impossible to keep track of their model numbers. For a while they had an electret style headphone called the SR44 I think. For the money they were excellent. Somewhere along the line I believe Stax made a tonearm.
  • After a quick search on Google I found the Stax UA-7 tonearm and I believe I had one installed on a Sony TTS-3000 turntable way back in the pleistocene era of my audio journey.
  • pitdogg2
    pitdogg2 Posts: 23,745
    Did it use a wooden needle?
  • msg
    msg Posts: 8,811
    After a quick search on Google I found the Stax UA-7 tonearm and I believe I had one installed on a Sony TTS-3000 turntable way back in the pleistocene era of my audio journey.
    I had to look that up...

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  • Didn't Soundsmith have a cartridge that used a cactus needle?
  • pitdogg2
    pitdogg2 Posts: 23,745
    Didn't Soundsmith have a cartridge that used a cactus needle?

    That would be cool if they did. BTW I was not being facetious. I actually ran across an old turntable that did use wooden needles. It was really a cool set up. Early 1920's maybe reminded me of early victrola or something.
  • ALL212
    ALL212 Posts: 1,525
    msg wrote: »

    Others seem to enjoy the Sennheiser HD650.

    @ALL212 Aaron has tried some others I've not heard of. I think they were made of coconut 🥥 shells and horse hooves.

    With cables made from the entrails of dodo birds. Hard to find a good dodo this time of year...

    None of the HP amps I have fall into the budget requirements and all are Bottlehead (I don't count those connections on amps that call themselves headphone connectors...).

    HD650's - cannot go wrong with a pair of those. The HD6xx's from Massdrop are the same. A good used pair is better as the HD650 is a head clamper for those of us with swelled up big heads.
    Enabler Extraordinaire
  • skrol
    skrol Posts: 3,313
    i have the Schiit Magni 3 too and like it much. I think they have upgraded since mine.

    Main 2ch:
    Polk LSi15 (DB840 upgrade), Parasound: P/LD-1100, HCA-1000A; Denon: DVD-2910, DRM-800A; Benchmark DAC1, Monster HTS3600-MKII, Grado SR-225i; Technics SL-J2, Parasound PPH-100.

    Marantz SR7010, Polk: RTA11TL (RDO198-1, XO and Damping Upgrades), S4, CS250, PSW110 , Marantz UD5005, Pioneer PL-530, Panasonic TC-P42S60

    Other stuff:
    Denon: DRA-835R, AVR-888, DCD-660, DRM-700A, DRR-780; Polk: S8, Monitor 5A, 5B, TSi100, RM7, PSW10 (DXi104 upgrade); Pioneer: CT-6R; Onkyo CP-1046F; Ortofon OM5E, Marantz: PM5004, CD5004, CDR-615; Parasound C/PT-600, HCA-800ii, Sony CDP-650ESD, Technics SA 5070, B&W DM601