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Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
#2616329 02/20/17 12:58 PM
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Here's my problem. I have a dedicated always-on VAIO laptop in a drawer that runs Garritan CFX Lite, receiving MIDI input from my ES7. I listen through Sennheiser HD-595 headphones connected directly to the laptop's headphone-out (I use the embedded audio with ASIO4ALL). The audio quality is excellent, the latency is very low, however it's not loud enough. I've used the CFX's gain slider and while it works great, it also naturally clips on very loud passages frown

I tried three USB audio interfaces I own:

M-Audio Transit USB: still quiet, not supported in Windows 10 => hangs often, can't run in low latency without clicks

Alesis Control Hub: slightly louder, however it has a subpar audio quality (hiss), better latency that the M-Audio but still slow

Apogee Groove: this is a dac/amp that I use with my HD-650 for listening to music, not exactly an audio interface, Nevertheless, I've experimented with it to see whether it will help because it can drive high-impedance headphones. On max amplification level the sound volume is just right, however the lowest supported latency without clicks is still slow frown I've specifically configured it to work in "very low latency" USB mode in its ASIO control panel, buffer is of size 128, but it's still perceptibly slower than the motherboard audio with ASIO4ALL at the same 128 buffer size.
-----

In conclusion: all three external USB interfaces suffer with latency issues which I attribute to the slow USB bus compared to the embedded audio that probably works on a much faster internal (PCI?) bus.

So, my only solution seems to be to somehow amplify my embedded audio. After recently spending some cache on other projects I am on a tight budget and am after a simple and cheap audio amplifier that can boost a headphone out a little without degrading quality too much.

What would you suggest?

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/20/17 01:07 PM.

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Previously: NU1X, ES7, MP6, CA63, RD-700SX, CDP-100, FP-5, P90, SP-200
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616330 02/20/17 01:04 PM
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Last edited by Goss; 02/20/17 01:05 PM.

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Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
Goss #2616338 02/20/17 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Goss


Looking at that peppermint box at first I thought this was a joke smile Then I thought this was the stupidest idea ever, but just after a moment I actually realized it was a really cool (like minty cool) idea, and 50 bucks for something that might actually work would be great! Thanks for the suggestion. I need to check if it's available in Europe though.

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/20/17 01:15 PM.

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Currently: Yamaha N1X, DIY hybrid controller -> Garritan CFX
Previously: NU1X, ES7, MP6, CA63, RD-700SX, CDP-100, FP-5, P90, SP-200
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616345 02/20/17 01:34 PM
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Anyone tested this one:
Behringer HA400

Seems like a very good amp for €22.90 judging by the rave reviews but what bothers me is output impedance of 80 Ohm which seems higher than HD-595's 50 Ohms. I'm very surprised by this really high impedance though. My understanding is amplifier output impedance should be 1/8th or less that of headphones which would mean this amp can drive headphones with more than 640 Ohm impedance and that's just ridiculous. So either I got it entirely wrong or that's not the real amp impedance...

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/20/17 01:35 PM.

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Currently: Yamaha N1X, DIY hybrid controller -> Garritan CFX
Previously: NU1X, ES7, MP6, CA63, RD-700SX, CDP-100, FP-5, P90, SP-200
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616357 02/20/17 02:24 PM
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I have two of the Behringer HA400 headphone amps, and they work and sound great.
These things have all metal construction and four inputs, for a little over 20 bucks.
They do use an average sized wall wort, and they have no
power switch, but still a great little amp for the price.

Last edited by DonZon; 02/20/17 02:25 PM.

Kawai CA67- Kawai ES8 MIDI'ed to a Korg Kronos 61
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616365 02/20/17 02:58 PM
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CyberGene,

I should add that Im using the Behringer HA400 with my Shure SRH840, which have 44 ohms impedance.
And my Grado SR80's with 32 ohms impedance.
Ive had no problems with this set up and have been using it for years.
If Behringer was selling their headphone amps that were either in-compatible with some headphones, or could cause damage, I would think they would have fixed it or discontinued them at some point.
Could the amp be adjusting impedance dependent on what headphones you use?
Or is impedance not critical up to a certain point?


Kawai CA67- Kawai ES8 MIDI'ed to a Korg Kronos 61
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616373 02/20/17 03:08 PM
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That HA400 is CHEAP!

It makes me wonder, though. Most headphone amps are much more expensive. The Altoids-box versions cost 3x as much, and that's the low-end of the market. So what is to be expected of a $20 Behringer box?

CyberGene: DonZon talks about his Grado SR80 at only 32 ohms. Easy to drive.
Your HD-595 phones are also low-impedance. At 50 ohms they're easy to drive.
But your HD-650 phones are 300 ohms. Will the HA400 drive those adequately?

Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616378 02/20/17 03:28 PM
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I don't care about compatibility with the HD-650 because they are strictly for listening to music. The HD-595 will be dedicated to the CFX entirely.

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/20/17 03:29 PM.

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Currently: Yamaha N1X, DIY hybrid controller -> Garritan CFX
Previously: NU1X, ES7, MP6, CA63, RD-700SX, CDP-100, FP-5, P90, SP-200
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616397 02/20/17 04:31 PM
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I have 2 HA400 too and am very happy with them, lots of power and zero noise at any volume, I use them with my HD598 (50 ohms) and all my other headphones so that they all have the same volume, and above all they allow me to lower the volume on both my babyface and my m-track plus, and on the virtual instruments, which allows me to avoid any glitches (I could have enough volume with the soundcard alone but when I play fortissimo I have glitches if the volume is too high (I think the new babyface pro has improved this however). Anyway, for the the price, couldn't be happier, I have no loss of sound quality from my babyface and m-audio. My only doubt is if they can adequately power something like the HD600 (which I am considering buying).


Roland FP-4F, Korg Kross 61, iRig Keys Pro, HD58X, HD598, Focal Spirit Pro, Shure SRH240A, RME Babyface, M-Track Plus, Roland DuoCapture, Presonus Eris E5, iLoud micro monitors, iPad Pro, HP Elite X2, Ivory II ACD, Korg Module for iPad, Vienna Imperial, Galaxy Vintage D, Ravenscroft, Kawai-Ex Pro
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616513 02/20/17 11:41 PM
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I'm not sure if the notion of "output impedance" is really useful, for the op-amp circuits (using a 4580 chip) that the HA400 depends on.

The unit runs on 12 volts DC, and its maximum signal output voltage might be around 10 volts. That's more than enough for high-impedance phones. The maximum output voltage (for most amp circuits) is limited by the supply voltage; that's why battery-powered devices have such trouble with high-impedance phones.

The 4580's have maximum output current of 100 milliamps, more than enough for low-impedance phones.

The user reports I can find (which aren't always reliable) are mostly quite positive. There's this note on the "Head-fi" website:

Quote

The HA400 has plenty of power. Using my Ipod Nano 7G as the source, it drives my 250 ohm DT880s plenty loud with the volume at 75%; I have my Q701 playing simultaneously with its knob slightly past 50%.


IMHO, for $30, it's worth buying "on spec". You'll either like it, or not.

EDIT:

Another possibility is to get a small Behringer Xenyx 502 or 802 mixer. Ignore the mixing possibilities. Plug the instrument stereo output into two "line-level" channels, pan one right, pan the other one left, and plug headphones into the "Phones" output jack.

That mixer has _lots_ of headphone output. It'll drive my AKG K240 Studio headphones (not easy to drive) to uncomfortably-loud levels. And it'll cost less than many "headphone amps".

If you're interested, I can measure the headphone output voltage, but the information would be useless without something to compare it to.




Last edited by Charles Cohen; 02/20/17 11:53 PM.

. Charles
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PX-350 / microKorg XL+ / Pianoteq / Lounge Lizard / EV ZXA1 speaker
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616548 02/21/17 02:52 AM
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The peppermint tin can be powered by an adaptor btw ^^


Roland HP605|Senheiser HD558|MSFT Surface Pro 4|coffee
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616578 02/21/17 06:13 AM
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Just grabbed a HA400. I'll test it this evening and will report if it works for what I need it.

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/21/17 06:15 AM.

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Currently: Yamaha N1X, DIY hybrid controller -> Garritan CFX
Previously: NU1X, ES7, MP6, CA63, RD-700SX, CDP-100, FP-5, P90, SP-200
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616580 02/21/17 06:17 AM
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Another possibility is to get a small Behringer Xenyx 502 or 802 mixer. Ignore the mixing possibilities. Plug the instrument stereo output into two "line-level" channels, pan one right, pan the other one left, and plug headphones into the "Phones" output jack.

This is exactly what I'm doing now as a second headphone source (my Focusrite Saffire interface has only one phone out). It works fine and, as Charles Cohen says, has plenty of headroom. However, the signal is spoiled by ground loop noise. It's a sort of 'digital noise', not mains hum. I've tried various ways to plug in the items and even bought a ground loop isolator which goes in line with between the Focusrite and the Xynex, but it doesn't make any difference. The noise is still there.

The point is that, if I were to get high impedance phones one day (hd650 for example) I would have the same problem and this would defeat the whole point of getting such reference quality phones.


Roland HP 302 / Samson Graphite 49 / Akai EWI

Reaper / Native Instruments K9 ult / ESQL MOR2 Symph Orchestra & Choirs / Lucato & Parravicini , trumpets & saxes / Garritan CFX lite / Production Voices C7 & Steinway D compact

Focusrite Saffire 24 / W7, i7 4770, 16GB / MXL V67g / Yamaha HS7s / HD598
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616583 02/21/17 06:28 AM
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BTW, I've read your recommendation about the Behringer mixer and I really considered it (especially since I'm planning to use monitor speakers in addition to the headophones in future) but it was three times more expensive and was huge so can't fit in the drawer with the laptop and all the cables... Besides, I got 10% off the price of the already dirt cheap HA400, it's the price of a meal smile So, I can still buy the mixer in future.


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Currently: Yamaha N1X, DIY hybrid controller -> Garritan CFX
Previously: NU1X, ES7, MP6, CA63, RD-700SX, CDP-100, FP-5, P90, SP-200
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616592 02/21/17 07:23 AM
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Quote
However, the signal is spoiled by ground loop noise. It's a sort of 'digital noise', not mains hum.


Just a test:

. . . If you unplug the USB cable between the soundcard (focusrite) and computer (Xynex),
. . . does the noise disappear?

And a question:

. . . Is everything plugged into one AC outlet?



. Charles
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PX-350 / microKorg XL+ / Pianoteq / Lounge Lizard / EV ZXA1 speaker
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
Charles Cohen #2616597 02/21/17 07:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
I'm not sure if the notion of "output impedance" is really useful, for the op-amp circuits (using a 4580 chip) that the HA400 depends on.


It's not just about volume level. Refer the following:
Output Impedance: A Show and Tell
EDIT: There appears to be something wrong - I can't read past page 1. I've reported it to them.

The "0-Ohm" Headphone Amplifier

Greg.

Last edited by sullivang; 02/21/17 08:19 AM.
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616606 02/21/17 08:19 AM
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Charles Cohen asked:

Just a test:

. . . If you unplug the USB cable between the soundcard (focusrite) and computer (Xynex),
. . . does the noise disappear?

And a question:

. . . Is everything plugged into one AC outlet?


Yes, everything is connected to the same AC board.

There is no USB. But there is Firewire between the Focusrite and the computer. The xenyx is acting as a headphone preamp only and has no digital connections at all.

When I do your experiment, the noise does indeed disappear from the xenyx. However, all signals are also lost, of course, since the Focusrite depends on its FireWire connection to function. Whatever the cause, it makes the Xynex pretty useless as a headphone preamp, except for utility things like monitoring for two people and mix sound comparisons, which is what I do use it for.

PS it wasn't my intention to divert the conversation, so I apologize to Cybergene. But if this happens when I attach a mixer solely as an extra headphone preamp, and I get this noise, probably other people could have the same problems.

Last edited by toddy; 02/21/17 09:57 AM.

Roland HP 302 / Samson Graphite 49 / Akai EWI

Reaper / Native Instruments K9 ult / ESQL MOR2 Symph Orchestra & Choirs / Lucato & Parravicini , trumpets & saxes / Garritan CFX lite / Production Voices C7 & Steinway D compact

Focusrite Saffire 24 / W7, i7 4770, 16GB / MXL V67g / Yamaha HS7s / HD598
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
sullivang #2616699 02/21/17 02:09 PM
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I use a home-theater receiver as my amp. I plug the phones into the front. Been that way for 8 years.

So I just looked up the service manual, and I found that this box has a 560 ohm resistor between each power amp channel and the headphone jack. I never thought it would be that high! (And that as a result the damping would be so low.)

Now I'm wondering whether I should try a headphone amp.
Originally Posted by sullivang
It's not just about volume level.
The "0-Ohm" Headphone Amplifier

Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
CyberGene #2616732 02/21/17 04:16 PM
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I need to report on the Behringer HA400. This thing is a little gem! I hope it won't be exaggerated if I say this is the best spent 20 bucks I've done recently.

It works EXACTLY as I needed it! It has zero noise and the audio quality is exactly the same as input - no coloration, no distortion, no frequency changes. And it has a lot of power, it can literally blow my ears before even reaching the max level. Plus, it is built like a tank, all metal sturdy construction, knobs feel smooth and tight. And the included adapter doesn't look like cr*p, it's actually a small smartphone-type adapter. That's a great little product I would wholeheartedly recommend smile

Last edited by CyberGene; 02/21/17 04:19 PM.

My YouTube, My Soundcloud
Currently: Yamaha N1X, DIY hybrid controller -> Garritan CFX
Previously: NU1X, ES7, MP6, CA63, RD-700SX, CDP-100, FP-5, P90, SP-200
Re: Cheap headphone amp recommendation?
toddy #2616739 02/21/17 04:34 PM
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Originally Posted by toddy


Yes, everything is connected to the same AC board.

There is no USB. But there is Firewire between the Focusrite and the computer. The xenyx is acting as a headphone preamp only and has no digital connections at all.

When I do your experiment, the noise does indeed disappear from the xenyx. However, all signals are also lost, of course, since the Focusrite depends on its FireWire connection to function. Whatever the cause, it makes the Xynex pretty useless as a headphone preamp, except for utility things like monitoring for two people and mix sound comparisons, which is what I do use it for.

PS it wasn't my intention to divert the conversation, so I apologize to Cybergene. But if this happens when I attach a mixer solely as an extra headphone preamp, and I get this noise, probably other people could have the same problems.


Ahh -- I didn't understand your setup.

I've had two problems (both in the past):

. . . Noise from USB connections;

. . . Noise from computer power supplies.

I don't know if a Firewire connection could be a noise source. I think the Focusrite uses its own power supply.

So:

. . . If you disconnect the Firewire connection, between the
. . . Focusrite and the computer, does the noise stop?

That will make the system go quiet -- no audio feed from the computer into the Focusrite. If the noise stops also, it suggests that some hash from the Firewire connection is getting into the audio wiring, somehow.

In that case, I'd try putting some ferrite cores around the Firewire cable. That has sometimes helped me with USB cables.

And:

. . . If you're using a laptop computer with its own battery,
. . . and you unplug its power supply and run it off its battery,
. . . . . does the noise stop?

I know this sounds like a blind man trying to find the elephant.<g>

Thanks --



. Charles
---------------------------
PX-350 / microKorg XL+ / Pianoteq / Lounge Lizard / EV ZXA1 speaker
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