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Are headphone amps worth it for me? Watch

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    What it says in the title really. The reason I ask is because I don't listen to high quality music files, but rather just search for my music on youtube and creating a playlist from there. Is the music quality so bad that good quality headphones and amps aren't worth it?
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    (Original post by EWSW104)
    What it says in the title really. The reason I ask is because I don't listen to high quality music files, but rather just search for my music on youtube and creating a playlist from there. Is the music quality so bad that good quality headphones and amps aren't worth it?
    What headphones are you using? Whether or not the headphones can utilise the additional juice an amp provides is the most relevant thing here.
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    (Original post by Gofre)
    What headphones are you using? Whether or not the headphones can utilise the additional juice an amp provides is the most relevant thing here.
    I am currently using the Audio Technica ATH-M50x, but I'm more than willing to upgrade if need be. I would rather use headphones that DON'T solely rely on an amp for decent output, just headphones that don't require an amp but sound much better with an amp.

    However if I buy an amp I wouldn't mind buying another set of headphones that requires an amp if the performance is MUCH greater than the former. Thanks for your help.
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    (Original post by EWSW104)
    I am currently using the Audio Technica ATH-M50x, but I'm more than willing to upgrade if need be. I would rather use headphones that DON'T solely rely on an amp for decent output, just headphones that don't require an amp but sound much better with an amp.

    However if I buy an amp I wouldn't mind buying another set of headphones that requires an amp if the performance is MUCH greater than the former. Thanks for your help.
    The M50X are a relatively efficient headphone, amping them won't yield an enormous amount of benefit but can still offer an improvement.

    Are you looking to use the amp at home or as part of a portable setup?
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    (Original post by EWSW104)
    I am currently using the Audio Technica ATH-M50x, but I'm more than willing to upgrade if need be. I would rather use headphones that DON'T solely rely on an amp for decent output, just headphones that don't require an amp but sound much better with an amp.

    However if I buy an amp I wouldn't mind buying another set of headphones that requires an amp if the performance is MUCH greater than the former. Thanks for your help.
    If you've built your own PC, I would recommend a decent soundcard, to the likes of the Xonar Essense STX / STX II

    But yes. Get one. I have the Fidelio X1s. If you have good headphones, you'll love them even more when you listen to them through something that's worth plugging in.
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    (Original post by TrojanH)
    If you've built your own PC, I would recommend a decent soundcard, to the likes of the Xonar Essense STX / STX II
    Sound cards are generally better suited for people who need a lot of (or certain specialised) outputs or inputs, or for specific features like surround sound. When it comes to just getting an improvement to audio quality with headphones external, amplifiers are almost always the better choice :yep:
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    (Original post by Gofre)
    The M50X are a relatively efficient headphone, amping them won't yield an enormous amount of benefit but can still offer an improvement.

    Are you looking to use the amp at home or as part of a portable setup?
    Sorry I guess I should have mentioned that. My main priority is a portable set up as I travel around a lot, so I'll get most use from that.
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    (Original post by Gofre)
    Sound cards are generally better suited for people who need a lot of (or certain specialised) outputs or inputs, or for specific features like surround sound. When it comes to just getting an improvement to audio quality with headphones external, amplifiers are almost always the better choice :yep:
    Better for future-proofing. OP may want to play games later on. Less of a bulk as you don't ever see the sound card as well. There are pros and cons to both.
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    (Original post by EWSW104)
    Sorry I guess I should have mentioned that. My main priority is a portable set up as I travel around a lot, so I'll get most use from that.
    Cool. And for one last question, how much are you looking to spend overall?

    (Original post by TrojanH)
    Better for future-proofing. OP may want to play games later on. Less of a bulk as you don't ever see the sound card as well. There are pros and cons to both.
    Good points, there's definitely situations where internal components may be preferred. However it looks like the OP wants a portable product, so external amps sorta win by default :ahee:
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    (Original post by Gofre)
    Cool. And for one last question, how much are you looking to spend overall?
    I'm looking to spend a maximum of £500 overall for a set of headphones and an amp. If headphones that specifically require an amp to drive them will sound much better, then I will consider it in the future but this is not included in my budget.
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    (Original post by EWSW104)
    I'm looking to spend a maximum of £500 overall for a set of headphones and an amp. If headphones that specifically require an amp to drive them will sound much better, then I will consider it in the future but this is not included in my budget.
    If I were going for a maximum quality portable setup incorporating an amp, I would go for a pair of either the Oppo PM-3 or NAD VISO HP50, costing approximately £350 and £200 respectively (although the HP50s are currently a cracking deal at £180 on Amazon). They're probably the two best sounding portable headphones on the market and have the ability to leverage an improvement from a decent amplifier, but don't always need it. The HP50s sound almost as good as the PM-3s, the price gap comes from a combination of the PM-3's higher quality components and they use a more expensive type of driver, as well as being about a year newer (the HP50s are coming up on 3 years old now and have dropped from ~£299 over the last few years). Of the two I would say the PM-3 scales better with amplification, and will sound quite a bit better than the HP50s when used with an amp.

    In terms of an amp to use with them, my vote would go to the Oppo HA-2. Portable amps are normally a case of choosing what to compromise, but this one ticks a hell of a lot of boxes. Firstly it's not just an amp, but an amp/DAC combination. A DAC takes a digital signal from the source and converts it into an analogue signal for the amplifier. While DACs can improve sound quality in their own right, the big advantage here is that it can pull an untouched digital signal from a phone or tablet, rather than having to use the headphone jack to connect the amp to which would mean using all of the phone's mediocre internal sound components. The number of portable DACs that can do this is fairly limited, but the HA-2 can connect digitally to iPhones, iPads and the majority of newer Android devices. The sound quality is solid and it provides plenty of power for virtually any portable headphone, it's really slim for a portable amp and stacks nicely with most smartphones, and it's really nicely built. For £259 there's very little not to like. For under half that price there's the FiiO E18, which offers a very similar featureset in a very similar size and shape, but doesn't sound quite as good and will not connect digitally to iOS devices.

    So yeah, there's a few different setups you could go for. My top choices would be the two Oppos, the PM-3 and HA-2. At the going rate at retail that would come to £610, but if you sold your M50X's for around £80 then it will come to within about £30 of your original budget. My next choice would be the PM-3 and the FiiO E18 for around £480, provided you have a newer Android phone so that you can get the idea setup and not have to use the phones' headphone jack. If you're using an iPhone, I would say the HP50/HA-2 combo is also well worth considering for the more idea audio pathway the HA-2 provides, or alternatively use the PM-3s straight out of your phone while you save for the HA-2 to buy at a later date. Finally if you would rather prioritise saving a bit of cash and use an Android phone, the HP50 and E18 are a cracking combo and could cost as little as £280 while the HP50s are so cheap on Amazon.

    As a final note, if you're at all near Birmingham or Brighton, there are two excellent audio stores I can recommend that have all four of the products I've mentioned available to demo in their showrooms so you can try them- Audio Affair in Birmingham and HifiHeadphones in Lancing (just outside of Brighton) :yep:

    Hope that helps, let me know if you have any other questions!
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    (Original post by Gofre)
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    Wow, that's a very nice write-up thanks. So this will considerably upgrade the sound quality even if I'm using youtube for music? I know to get the most of it I would probably have to getting some decent files for my music but I want to stick with youtube for now.

    Also are whathifi reviews trustworthy? It seems that NAD HP50 isn't even reviewed at all and the Oppo PM-3 has 4 stars, that's far from bad but if they have excellent sound quality I find it strange that's it's "only" a 4 star product.
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    (Original post by EWSW104)
    Wow, that's a very nice write-up thanks. So this will considerably upgrade the sound quality even if I'm using youtube for music? I know to get the most of it I would probably have to getting some decent files for my music but I want to stick with youtube for now.
    It's not a listening scenario I have personally put them through, but provided they aren't really poor quality files or being streamed at a low bit rate there should be a discernible difference. Both of those pairs of headphones inherently benefit from having a more powerful source, the question is whether the quality of the files you're listening to is poor enough to become a bottleneck to the system. The best course of action would be to buy the amp from somewhere with a reasonable returns policy, so if you don't feel the difference is justified, you can always send it back.

    That being said, I would recommend taking out a trial subscription to a decent streaming music service- if you're dropping half a grand on an audio setup, which is way more than a lot of people will spend, then it's worth having a source of tracks that you know will be of consistently good enough quality to justify the purchase. Plus even a high bitrate audio file will use less data per song than a 720p video will, saving you data if you're streaming over your mobile network. Deeper, Tidal, Spotify Premium and Google Play Music all offer 320kbps files, with Apple Music and Amazon Prime Music offering 256kbps. Almost all of these sites offer free trials of their paid services, so you can try them to see if you can tell the difference first and foremost, and then also assess if the quality/convenience/features would justify the cost in your opinion.

    (Tidal also offer a fully lossless streaming service, but this isn't really necessary for portable listening imo)

    Also are whathifi reviews trustworthy? It seems that NAD HP50 isn't even reviewed at all and the Oppo PM-3 has 4 stars, that's far from bad but if they have excellent sound quality I find it strange that's it's "only" a 4 star product.
    I personally don't like Whathifi as a source for headphone reviews, their rating system is a bit all over the place and very inconsistent and their descriptions often read like someone has just got a book of audio terminology and a thesaurus and really wants to put both to good use. There's a lot of flowery language that gets thrown around in the headphone community, but whathifi often seem to have their own special language for it. As a couple of examples as to why I don't like them, the legendary Sennheiser HD800 is a four star headphone, the open backed Grado PS5000 is criticised for "leaking" despite being designed specifically to do so, and the superb Sennheiser Amperior is only given 3 stars in part for being poorly finished, despite being an improved metal version of the Sennheiser HD25s which they gave five stars and literally wrote "nothing" for the negatives. On the flip side, the utterly mediocre Bose Soundlink On-Ear and AE2W, and the universally reviled original Beats Studio, were all also given four stars.

    In contrast, the Oppo and NADs feature on the buyer's guide and "wall of fame" of two of the most prominent audio sites on the internet, Head Fi and Innerfidelity. Inner fidelity's wall is particularly selective, and the writer has a knack for finding a way of making fairly harsh sounding criticisms of headphones while simultaneously giving them his top accolade.

    http://www.head-fi.org/a/head-fi-buy...ear-headphones
    http://www.innerfidelity.com/content...SUgWeBgT0zT.97
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    (Original post by Gofre)
    ...
    Oh I almost forgot, when you mentioned the amp it seemed slightly geared towards Apple products. Does it make a difference if I have the HTC One M9?
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    (Original post by EWSW104)
    Oh I almost forgot, when you mentioned the amp it seemed slightly geared towards Apple products. Does it make a difference if I have the HTC One M9?
    No. I just made the distinction between Apple and Android products because the number of DACs that can connect digitally to iPhones is more limited than with Android. If you use a One M9 then either of the products I mentioned should work fine with it.
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    Oh, c'mon, people. Invest in proper stereo systems. Possibly cheaper if you go for vintage, and - yes, hackneyed phrase approaching - excepting originally-digital releases, when you listen to a CD or a vinyl record, you're hearing what's much closer to what the artist intended you to hear. Computer audio can only do so much. In addition, less sweepingly - headphone amps... don't you want the music to be in your space, rather than between your ears? Headphones are for public transport, radio broadcasting, and production, not day-to-day listening. :P
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    (Original post by Hols W)
    don't you want the music to be in your space, rather than between your ears? Headphones are for public transport, radio broadcasting, and production, not day-to-day listening. :P
    Sounds like somebody's never heard a proper set of well driven open-backs

    But seriously, I personally own a high quality speaker amp that I was gifted by my father that cost him £1000+ when he bought his HiFi stack about a decade ago, and a very respectable set of bookshelf monitors. At the same time I own a pair of Sennheiser HD600s with a good quality headphone-oriented amp, I also use them with the speaker amp regularly. I move between the speakers and the headphones very regularly, and have preferred applications for both. However if, gun to head, I could only keep one, the Sennheisers would win for me, as I prefer their presentation better. The idea that vinyl is somehow inherently better is also debatable, but I don't want to get into that can of worms :ahee:

    Besides, the OP has already said he wants a primariky portable setup anyway, making this a bit of a moot point.
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    (Original post by Gofre)
    Sounds like somebody's never heard a proper set of well driven open-backs

    But seriously, I personally own a high quality speaker amp that I was gifted by my father that cost him £1000+ when he bought his HiFi stack about a decade ago, and a very respectable set of bookshelf monitors. At the same time I own a pair of Sennheiser HD600s with a good quality headphone-oriented amp, I also use them with the speaker amp regularly. I move between the speakers and the headphones very regularly, and have preferred applications for both. However if, gun to head, I could only keep one, the Sennheisers would win for me, as I prefer their presentation better. The idea that vinyl is somehow inherently better is also debatable, but I don't want to get into that can of worms :ahee:

    Besides, the OP has already said he wants a primariky portable setup anyway, making this a bit of a moot point.
    I'll duck out of this one - I'm very much fresh to audiophilia, and my opinions are perhaps a little sophomoric. Besides, I didn't read the OP properly... "portable setup" - silly me!
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    (Original post by Hols W)
    I'll duck out of this one - I'm very much fresh to audiophilia, and my opinions are perhaps a little sophomoric. Besides, I didn't read the OP properly... "portable setup" - silly me!
    No worries In case you weren't aware, the primary reason we have open back headphones (headphones that aren't sealed earcups, allowing for the free flow of air) is because they offer drastically better soundstage and imaging properties than conventional sealed headphones (premium closed backs will also offer better than average imaging, albeit in a more limited capacity). In some ways headphones can be advantageous to speakers as high quality drivers can be built on a significantly smaller scale, which is obviously offset by the close proximity to the ear. They can also be tuned with their set positioning in mind to a point that's optimal. It definitely isn't a case of one medium of listening being automatically better than the other, headphones are capable of delivering an excellent listening experience on par with similarly priced speaker setups :yep:
 
 
 
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