Best Amps For the Sennheiser HD800 - 2017 Edition

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Dec 2, 2016.

  1. Sonorus

    Sonorus Facebook Friend

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    Thank you.
    I own this recording and i am going to perform some tests on low and high gain with my amp and HD800S.
     
  2. Thenewerguy009

    Thenewerguy009 Friend

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    The added option of switching between the two is something I would think people would like & would probably pay a extra premium to have in their amps.
     
  3. Claud

    Claud Almost "Made"

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    Considering a Bryston BHA-1 Want something simple and SS to go with my HD 800 & HD 800S and Matrix Pro MQA DAC. Already have CD based DNA Stratus System. BHA-1 will be for my computer digital HiRez system. Is this amp the best I can do within reason? Think I will buy the DAC first. Also have preordered THX 789 amp from MassDrop. Have my eye on used BHA-1.
     
  4. Royaume

    Royaume Rando

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    Hi @purr1n,

    Thanks for the 2019 update. I will add however that I am a little confused. I'm not sure what you meant when you said that none of the suggested amps are "for the HD800". I was curious about the younger amps that have been very popular with community members, each of which has been recommended for the HD800 by at least one reputable member of this site.
    I would understand if your 2019 update was personal preference (towards tubes, sound sig, etc.), however in the first post of this thread you said physical mods are the preferred method of taming the HD800 sound sig, and you included SS amps, praising many. Could you please help me to understand your reply. I am simply trying to understand and I am sure there are others seeking clarification too. I am particularly confused about the Phonitor not being recognised and placed on this list. @Torq declared it the single most uncoloured and transparent amplifier as compared to the direct HP out of his Dave, period. The HD800 soundstage is the perfect candidate to showcase the Phonitor crossfeed implementation too, which @Torq and @gbeast both called the best crossfeed implementation they have ever heard. My personal taste possibly biases me towards it, since I am a soundstage buff.

    I would like to add a second separate query with respect to the HD800 series headphones. As you are aware they were in production for an unprecedentedly long time and were commissioned in many batches. I believe it is established that while driver matching in any given batch was excellent, batches were not all identical. As such, it is not entirely accurate to speak about the tonal balance of an HD800. We must either be aware that we are guessing, or be more precise: HD800 49XXX for example. My personal query is as following: Are the above recommendations an attempt to achieve a certain tonal balance or is your comment about "good transformers" purely related to technical performance of the system.
    I am really just trying to understand. Perhaps you could point to me to a more in depth discussion of the merits of certain amplifier topologies? I appreciate detalied discussion. I do not have easy access to any method of audition of any range of amplifiers and even then I would have to spend many hours to learn what you know. I'm just another dude trying to anticipate bad investments before they happen.

    Thanks for all the help. I would love if I could ask for advice about my particular rig.
    Love you all!
     
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  5. Claud

    Claud Almost "Made"

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    Please ignore post #563. I ended up buying a SPL Phonitor E and am very happy with it. It even sounds good with my HD 800s. I canceled my order on Drop for the THX 789 because the phonitor and the THX age both somewhat neutral sounding amps from what I have read and the Phonitor was a discounted factory refurb.
     
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  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Just making it simple for 2019. Already a stretch that I included SS amps in 2017, but that was because I wanted to give people some options. You know, throw people a bone.

    Screw that in 2019. Too many goobers highly recommending SS amps I'd rather not listen to with HD800, modded or not, or with any another headphone for that matter. Poor value gear is also disqualified. Too many goobers without sufficient experience making recommendations that couldn't describe the differences among the amps if their lives depended on it.

    The "preference" for tubes or the tube+MOSFET (in the case of the Horizon) is not preference. It's performance, particularly mid-range resolution and microdynamics. If you want to run solid state, fine. Wallow in the inferiority of your rig knowing that you are getting 50-70% of what the HD800 can really do at that price point. If you are scared of tubes or want SS for convenience, go home. Read another thread here or on HF about the synergies of your SS amp with your HD800, and give yourself a pat on the back.

    As for "none of the above", I really did mean none of the above, either for poor performance or shit value. Many of the younger amps popular with community members are shit in respect to building a serious system with the HD800. A few of them are just flat out bad.

    Note that OOP gear is not included in the recommended list. Again, keeping the list short and simple. Now if you want to talk about used gear, don't be lame and compare used gear with new gear prices. I find that people make lame excuses for themselves when they have already decided and want confirmation.

    There will be an addition of a DNA amp at the $2000 price point when the amp comes out. This region will no longer be no-man's land.

    Sorry for sounding like a pompous ass like during the CS days, but you asked and that is my unadulterated answer. Feel free to name a amp and I will tell you the reasons I don't like it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
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  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Oh yeah, as far as the Phonitor, it does nothing out-and-out wrong except it's a little on flat and boring side and it's insufficiently resolving and it lacks immediacy. When people disagree, it's because they haven't experienced anything better near the same price point. The Phonitor is not good enough to top out (or even get close to) any attribute of the HD800.

    I don't give a shit about what other people say. I'm sure Torq uses his dicked-out Woo WA234 with his HD800s. If gbeast were still active, I'd suspect he'd be running a EC Studio Jr. 300B. Reviews are reviews. You get around that shit when you ask people what they actually use for themselves.

    The Phonitor lacks immediacy and commits sins of omission. People mistake this for transparency when it isn't. When something's missing, the fine fine fine plankton and tiny instantaneous volume changes on an almost infinite scale of level gradations that give "life" to the music, then it ain't transparent.

    Also, the value of the Phonitor or any other big name German gear is shit, unless you live in Europe where you have no choice. I'd rather get a Meier Audio amp for the same performance at 1/4 the price. Or a Magni 3 for 96% of the performance for $99.

    Finally, a neutral amp, or an amp without any sort of harmonic richness is bad for HD800 unless you are deaf, insensitive to treble fuckery, or just like dry nasty bright shit. And a modded HD800 can only go so far.

    --

    As far as variance with HD800. This was well documented at Changstar where we measured and listened to six HD800 samples from low serial number to around 30000. The conclusion was that there were audible differences, some more tolerable than others but that they were still HD800s. That is we didn't happen upon an HD800 that sounded like an HD600. Any notion that we must discuss HD800 in terms of serial #13 or serial #46732 is utter nonsense and cray-cray talk that belongs on HF.

    --

    Ultimately, anyone should feel free to make a Phonitor / HD800 appreciation thread on SBAF to offer a different perspective. I won't crap on it there. It's never been my practice to crash appreciation threads, even when I was on HF.
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
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  8. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    I do not have experience with tube amps but I was not entirely happy with Bryston BHA-1 and HD800S until it was moded to lower the gain by -12dB in both low and high gain. After the mode, I have HD800S exactly when I wanted it.
    This mode is really DIY and Mike from the Bryston support can tell you how to do it, I sent my amp to Brsyton because I live close to their shop and they charged just for one hour work.
    So yes I believe BHA-1 IMO is very good with HD800S but I would try to lower the gain. More of my impressions of BHA-1 with HD800S here
    https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...r-hd800-2017-edition.3408/page-28#post-266998
     
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  9. Claud

    Claud Almost "Made"

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    Mr. Purrin. Please understand that I am not advocating that Phonitor amps be added to the HD 800 recommended list. Ain't nothing sounds as good with my stock HD 800 as my tube rolled/adjusted DNA Stratus. I have heard my HD 800 with my Schiit Ragg, my Cavalli LC, My tube rolled/adjusted Schiit Vali 2 and my Phonitor E. I have no other experience than that.
    But, the Cavalli LC and Phonitor E do sound nice and warm with the LC and a bit more dynamic and resolving with the Phonitor. It is your list and I somewhat agree with it. I am also looking forward to Donald's new entry level amp. Might have to sell the Phonitor.
     
  10. Sonorus

    Sonorus Facebook Friend

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    Amps aside I have to admit that this headphone needs EQ.
    Yesterday I used the free EQ APO to apply the Oratory 1990 EQ curve based on the Harman 2018 over ear target.
    Well I was astonished.
    They sound perfect without a single negative.
    When you turn the EQ on / off then you realize that HD800S are bad tuned and need correction.
    With correction though are magnificent and easily amongst the best.
    The problem is how to EQ my CD player.
    The 4 band Loki may not be sufficient enough.
     
  11. zonto

    zonto Friend

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    I think ECP Audio Torpedo 4 should be considered for the 2019 list, based solely on my experience with the now OOP Torpedo 3 with my old HD800 (SDR).
     
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  12. Royaume

    Royaume Rando

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    Thanks for a little more explanation @purrin.
    Yesterday I did feel a little deflated at your brief response.

    This... makes sense I guess. I am more familiar with your advocacy of tube gear, but with the caveat of "omission vs commission". I am going to be bold now, and ask are there any circumstances at all where you would recommend the Phonitor. Really I am just playing devils advocate, but I still feel strongly inclined towards this amp for the following reasons:
    1) I listen almost exclusively to complex hybrid-orchestral works (TSFH, film soundtracks, videogame soundtracks, etc.)
    2) the way I listen to music is very spatial. I love instrument separation and placement. Textures come next.
    3) I live in Europe and cannot find any American tube gear mentioned here.

    I guess I'm on a personal quest to fix my current dissatisfaction with my MCTH. It sounds congested, narrow and muddy to me. Furthermore, the natural presentation of headphone listening, while familiar, is unengaging, especially combined with a strange frequency response. Much of the time I revert to listening from an akg k553 with swapped pads for a little less bass and more low treble than the Harman target.
    To summarise: In light of my preferences would it be better that I get an amp that I may "mistake for transparency", than something that adds to already complex and turbulent music? I strongly dislike congestion and "one-noise" when there are supposed to be many voices. Often, music I know is good all gets mushed together through the MCTH. Am I wrong to associate this with tubes? Are tubes better for simpler arrangements?

    Thanks again for your patience and advice. I'll donate sometime for sure. I am heavily endebted to you all, though it hasn't come together for me personally just yet.
    Merci beaucoup.
     
  13. Claud

    Claud Almost "Made"

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    Dear Mr. purr1n,
    Why did my DNA Stratus not make the 2019 list? It's a SET tube amp and at $3000 it is not cheap. Stock, it sounds very nice. Properly tube rolled, it is all the headphone amp most people need. If you have not heard one in the last 5 or so years, you need to do so, because Donald has been quietly improving it as years have gone by. Owners can send their old amps in to DNA for upgrading. Maybe SBAF can get a current Stratus to compare with DNA's new entry level amp.
     
  14. songmic

    songmic Gear cycler East Asia edition

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    You’re sounding like one of those people who comment “why isn’t this or that on the list?” on every “top 10 sth” video on YouTube. @purr1n may be have more experience than most but that doesn’t mean his “lists” are the absolute golden standard, nor that his sonic preferences will fall in line with those of yours. I strongly disagree with the Sennheiser Orpheus 1 put in the first place among his top 5 headphones, but didn’t bitch to him that Susvara should’ve been on the list instead. I also feel that over half of all headphones put up on Innerfidelity WoF by Tyll don’t deserve to be there, though Tyll was another very well-respected member too.

    He may have considered value into consideration when he made that list; maybe he felt that while Stellaris delivered $6K+ worth of performance, it’s no longer worthwhile to grab a Stratus for $3K when you can invest a little more to get a noticeably better sounding EC amp. Maybe he felt that the upcoming $2K mini-Stratus is the better value and decided to leave room for it.

    Just to add my 2 cents: I had also owned the latest revision of Stratus (so-called v3), probably the same version as the one you currently own sans very minor, silent changes that happened in the last year or so. I don’t know if Marv has heard the latest one, I only had bought it because he and others have praised the Stratus v2 (post-choke upgrade years ago) as being warm and liquid sounding enough to take the edge off the HD800. I’m not sure if it’s because the v3 was tuned to be less warm than v2, but I didn’t feel the v3 to be a tonally ideal match with HD800 even with rug liner & SDR mods and warm power tubes. Tonality-wise, I preferred ZDS to Stratus v3 for HD800. Doesn’t matter anymore, since I’ve pretty much given up trying to make the HD800 listenable for me.

    Oh, and if you really want to convince others that the Stratus v3 deserves to be on the list, then by all means, feel free to contribute to the community by leasing out your own Stratus as a loaner program. The money in SBAF’s war chest doesn’t grow on trees, and while there are frequent loaners for cheaper and lighter gears, a loaner for a boutique $3K amp is a completely different story. Shouldn’t be much of a problem for you since you’re lucky enough to be living in the States, and not in a remote country in Asia where accessibility to loaners are virtually nonexistent.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
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  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    DNA Stratus should be on there, but only the version with latest tweaks. Actually, everything Donald makes should be on the list. His gear tends to work with headphones that are bright up top: Beyer, HD800, Utopia, TH900, Elex. I was trying to keep things simple. I figured people would figure it out since the Super-Stratus, aka Stellaris was already listed. There is the caveat that the Stratus a bit too bloomy, but I think it might be his customers wanting to run tubes which are "bloom-city" more than the amp itself. I like the tighter bloom-minimized sounding EML tubes on the Stratus.

    Phonitor is recommended if you like the hardware controls for headphone crossfeed, and prefer the HD800 how it is with all its warts, and don't mind that you are missing the last 40% of emotional connection to music. If you are an listener to orchestra music, the HD800's 5-6kHz hardness and overall brightness up top shouldn't be an issue. With some exceptions, most orchestra is mastered badly with too much emphasis in the mids. My listening to recorded orchestral works never seems to align to what have heard at live the concert halls (good seats and bad seats) of SF and LA where there always seemed to be more bass and more highs. As such, the HD800 with its slight broad midbass bump and bright highs provides an EQ of sorts for orchestra works. The slight mid-high midrange depression of the HD800 also does wonders for naturally miked orchestra music which usually ends up with too much of the the diffuse-field thing going on. (There's a reason why Linkwitz advocated a 3kHz cut switch and for the BBC dip). So tonally, the Phonitor should work.

    I'm just cheap. I'd rather get a Meier Corda Jazz FF and use software crossfeed. Some software crossfeed plug-ins are better than others. I actually like the built-in one with JRiver Media Center. With the money left over, I can buy a hitch, a bike rack, and decent mountain bike. Or three large UCS Star Wars Lego kits with minifigures that I can play with and go pew pew pew with them. Or five hot springs/off-roading/kayaking trips to Pismo, Oceano, Morro Bay with visits to Jocko's steakhouse each time.

    ---

    The Harmon Target is for a consumer preference target for losers. As for your with swapping pads on the AKG553 to get less bass than the Harmon target, that is applauded here by many. SBAF Friends don't let their SBAF Friends use the Harmon Target. I violently detest what Sean Olive did here. Listening to gear EQ'd to the Olive Harmon curve makes me want to punch somebody.

    ---

    MTCH is great for a bargain amp. It's tubes and SS. This means compromises compared to TOTL stuff. Same thing applies to the much heralded (in some circles) Monoprice LP. THX 789 is different sound, again great for bargain amp. All great entry level stuff. None of them are giant killers or even greatly outperform their price (LP might even perform for less than price). This stuff is good in the context that it isn't garbage. It wasn't that many years ago where decent entry level $100-$300 gear was nowhere to be found.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
  16. JustAnotherRando

    JustAnotherRando My other bike is a Ferrari

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    It's right there in the first post.

    It's also discussed at length at multiple points in the thread.

    Who cares if it's on a 2019 list or a list created 2 years ago? It's not like everything magically changes every year with this stuff and that 12 month old equipment suddenly becomes garbage. Also, it's... just a list.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
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  17. I_want_all_the_tacos

    I_want_all_the_tacos Friend

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    I am getting ready to put out a review I wrote for the Phonitor X. I have HD800 (SDR modded) and basically what @purr1n said mirrors my opinions on that amp. But I also agree with Torq's review that it is very clean, powerful, and neutral. It is also built really well, beefy, and visually attractive with its VU meters. There's not really anything to fault (e.g. no commission errors). I understand why people love it and it is a very safe bet if you prefer solid states, especially ones that implement good crossfeed. That being said, I didn't personally love it. It didn't do anything for me regarding emotional engagement. Of all the headphones I tested with it, I probably preferred it the most with Utopia because it complements that "reference" type of sound and emphasizes dynamics and clarity. But with HD800, I always prefer my EC ZDT Jr. That amp just has some tube magic that draws you in. I feel the same about EC ZDT Jr. > Phonitor with the other high impedance dynamics I own or am reviewing...Verite, Auteur, Aeolus, Atticus, and HD650. In fact, I would say I prefer my old Valhalla 2 over Phonitor X with HD800 as well. Really, I only preferred Phonitor X over EC ZDT Jr for planars. And that amp is accessible for Europeans as well as the original, Night Blues Mini.
     
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  18. Claud

    Claud Almost "Made"

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    Thank you gentlemen and Purr1n. For the record, my Stratus is October 2018 version. With my tube complement of PsVane Acme Supreme 2A3s (not cheap, but Chinese) EML 5U4G and Ruby Tiger select 6N1P , it is not wet or tube sounding. There is still a hint of rounding off notes, but it sounds more like my Phonitor E than my Cary V12 speaker system. I worked very hard and spent some money on tubes trying to make the Cary system sound less tube bloomy and really jacked up its dynamics, but it will never sound like my Stratus.
    No, I do not need a Stellaris. As revealed in another thread here, I am 71 and my hearing has got a pretty steep drop out due to my high powered rifle shooting . I am just an old man that likes a good midrange with emotion. I think I will just keep my Stratus snd Phonitor E.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
  19. Sonorus

    Sonorus Facebook Friend

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    @purr1n

    What is considered for you a good target response for classical music be it headphones or speakers?
     
  20. Royaume

    Royaume Rando

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    Thanks all, I am enlightened.
    Purr1n, that makes much more sense to me. That puts midrange amps in perspective quite well, balances EQ and quality of amplification as sometimes conflicting priorities (same goes for DSP crossfeed and resolution), and confirms my distaste for the Harmon target.

    I was never quite sure how strong the law of diminishing returns is, and wondered about this for the longest time. The second greatest source of confusion for me was the "objectivist - subjectivist" divide. I have spent many hours wondering about how strongly measurements correlate to even some particular facets of heard experience. I decided to search for some answers yesterday and read through the Tubes VS Solid State thread. The linked theses there are excellent and should be in much wider circulation. Special thanks to Psalmanazar and Ultrabike for their contribution of scholarly materials and measurements.
    I have been dissuaded from buying an SPL Phonitor, or at least will reconsider, and have you all to thank. Often it seems that even after a couple years investigating these issues, I have far to go.
     
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