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Amp recommendation

Aud99

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Feb 24, 2024
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Looking for advice, as I’ve spent days reading about headphones amplifiers.

My current setup is as follows:
- Headphones: Focal Stellia
- Streamer / DAC: Eversolo Master Edition
- Amplifier: Yamaha A-S2000 (has a built-in headphones amp, not sure what it’s worth)

I might also try other headphones down the road.

I suppose that having a dedicated headphones amplifier unit would provide a significant upgrade.

Going through the past few years of discussions on this website, I get the feeling that the most recommended options would be Benchmark HPA-4 (pricey and reliable) or Topping A70 Pro or A90D (cheap and unreliable, also a risk of damaging headphones).

Would like to hear thoughts about this. I don’t mind paying way more than for the Topping to get a product that’s more reliable and doesn’t risk blowing up my headphones. But going to the HPA-4 costs 7x higher!…

Are there any good alternatives I should consider between these extremes?
 
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You don't risk damage keeping in low or medium gain more, even on a powerful amp it's safe. A Topping A30Pro has all the performance you'll ever need, I use one daily. The A70 Pro is excellent, and has a volume limiter you can set for even more safety like the A90D discrete.
The Topping L50 is the value for money winner along with the Sabaj A20h. The HPA4 runs really warm, and it's huge compared to something like an L50.
 
You don't risk damage keeping in low or medium gain more, even on a powerful amp it's safe. A Topping A30Pro has all the performance you'll ever need, I use one daily. The A70 Pro is excellent, and has a volume limiter you can set for even more safety like the A90D discrete.
The Topping L50 is the value for money winner along with the Sabaj A20h. The HPA4 runs really warm, and it's huge compared to something like an L50.
There were reports about some Topping units damaging headphones as they were defective: https://www.reddit.com/r/headphones/s/pnJ3kkQH1q
 
There were reports about some Topping units damaging headphones as they were defective: https://www.reddit.com/r/headphones/s/pnJ3kkQH1q
I've had three so far, the early one from the first production run and a static crackling only on the balanced side, and others reported issues even with a firmware update. The two new ones from after they fixed it were flawless, so I'm not worried as long as it's a current model. If you buy new from Hifi-College they've got the current ones on Amazon. Using a credit card that doubles the warranty can give even more peace of mind. They have great warranty coverage also, they're like Apos where you don't have to ship it back to China. I don't like buying the first production run of anything for that reason, usually wait 6 months at least on a new product.
 
You can also get the same amplifiers as the Benchmark HPA-4 in the SMSL SH-9 for $290. Less power in this one though, but there's really no benefit in spending thousands on a headphone amp. You can get just as good performance and also good reliability for much less (there's minimal price to performance correlation, as with DACs). With that said, I went with and recommend Topping since the A70 Pro and L70 are just so dominant in performance and value, there's no better than them in those metrics.

But if you don't trust Topping (I don't blame you) and by extension SMSL, there's always the JDS Labs Atom Amp 2 which has a surprising amount of power for its price and measures superbly all around. Their more expensive El Amp 2+ isn't even more powerful. Considering the performance of this amp, the only logical reasons to go beyond this are more power and/or preamp functionality.

If you want more power than that (not at all needed for the efficient Stellia of course, nor for many other headphones), there's the Schiit Midgard. This brand doesn't have a good reputation for customer service though.
 
Looking for advice, as I’ve spent days reading about headphones amplifiers.

My current setup is as follows:
- Headphones: Focal Stellia
- Streamer / DAC: Eversolo Master Edition
- Amplifier: Yamaha A-S2000 (has a built-in headphones amp, not sure what it’s worth)

I might also try other headphones down the road.

I suppose that having a dedicated headphones amplifier unit would provide a significant upgrade.

Going through the past few years of discussions on this website, I get the feeling that the most recommended options would be Benchmark HPA-4 (pricey and reliable) or Topping A70 Pro or A90D (cheap and unreliable, also a risk of damaging headphones).

Would like to hear thoughts about this. I don’t mind paying way more than for the Topping to get a product that’s more reliable and doesn’t risk blowing up my headphones. But going to the HPA-4 costs 7x higher!…

Are there any good alternatives I should consider between these extremes?
I can not comment on Topping. However, two amps that I have tested are Violectric V-222 and Ferrum OOR. IMO, both perform very well in balanced XLR from the DAC plus pull/push connection to the headphones. My final choice was OOR since like you I may buy some other headphones in the future. What I like about OOR, and it is common opinion among reviewers, it can drive everything very well. From low sensitivity, low impedance (Dan Clarks) to HFM Susvara - example of very difficult headphones. OOR may be not outstanding in any particular area but very rounded in it's capabilities. Also, less expensive than HPA-4.
 
The obvious RME ADI 2. You will love the PEQ, the cross feed, the pitch black silence without a signal and the amount of power it can deliver. It comes at a cost, but I can't imagine a more versatile and reliable top performer when it comes to HP ( or pre amp functionality in my case).
 
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The obvious RME ADI 2. You will love the PEQ, the cross feed, the pitch black silence without a signal and the amount of power it can deliver. It comes at a cost, but I can't imagine a more versatile and reliable top performer when it comes to HP ( or pre amp functionality in my case).
"the amount of power it can deliver" - I would be careful here. I have own RME ADI-2 DAC FS for 20 months now and have tried many different headphones. The DAC and DSP functionality is really great - I agree with you. However, the amp section does not deliver across all low sensitivity and impedance loads. I have tested many headphones - Audeze LCD-2 and XC - very good match. But Dan Clarks - not that great (low sensitivity). You can find more details in this review:

 
"the amount of power it can deliver" - I would be careful here. I have own RME ADI-2 DAC FS for 20 months now and have tried many different headphones. The DAC and DSP functionality is really great - I agree with you. However, the amp section does not deliver across all low sensitivity and impedance loads. I have tested many headphones - Audeze LCD-2 and XC - very good match. But Dan Clarks - not that great (low sensitivity). You can find more details in this review:

As far as I remember Amir uses a RME for all his subjective evaluations on headphones including Dan Clarkes and I can't remember him complaining. I don't deny that there are HP with very low efficiency out there, which would be hard to drive to deafening levels with the RME. But for all normal use cases, the RME provides sufficient power.
 
As far as I remember Amir uses a RME for all his subjective evaluations on headphones including Dan Clarkes and I can't remember him complaining. I don't deny that there are HP with very low efficiency out there, which would be hard to drive to deafening levels with the RME. But for all normal use cases, the RME provides sufficient power.
Yes, but as far as I remember Amir uses PRO FS (upgraded) version, mine is regular DAC FS. Supposedly PRO has "double Extreme Power headphone outputs" - whatever it means, so the amp section is deferent. "which would be hard to drive to deafening levels with the RME" - I have never complained about the loudness on RME with Dan Clark. Yes, it can drive them to deafening levels, but not with high quality to my ears (subjectively).
 
Yes, but as far as I remember Amir uses PRO FS (upgraded) version, mine is regular DAC FS. Supposedly PRO has "double Extreme Power headphone outputs" - whatever it means, so the amp section is deferent. "which would be hard to drive to deafening levels with the RME" - I have never complained about the loudness on RME with Dan Clark. Yes, it can drive them to deafening levels, but not with high quality to my ears (subjectively).
I own the ADI 2 Pro FS BE myself and have obviously skipped the part with "double the power": my fault. But in practice this only means 3dB more headroom....But i can't hardly argue with your subjective experience.
 
I've got the HPA4 + DAC3. They're bulletproof. You don't have to buy them new. Once I knew what I wanted, I just watched the classifieds patiently and was able to get mine at a 40% discount. A lot of audiophiles have upgraditis at a clinical level, so it's easy to find stuff that's pretty much "open box" quality at huge discounts if you know what you want and are willing to hunt a little.
 
I've got the HPA4 + DAC3. They're bulletproof. You don't have to buy them new. Once I knew what I wanted, I just watched the classifieds patiently and was able to get mine at a 40% discount. A lot of audiophiles have upgraditis at a clinical level, so it's easy to find stuff that's pretty much "open box" quality at huge discounts if you know what you want and are willing to hunt a little.
I also have the DAC3 +HPA4 combo. I have seven other DACs, OPPO HA-1, Cambridge DACMAGIC 200M, SMSL M500, Pro-ject etc. etc. The HPA4 blows all of them out of the water. At the present time I am using mainly Sennheiser HD 800s and Grado GS 3000x.
 
Can recommend the topping l30ii,I'm using it with gustard x16 dac /ifi zen stream and hifiman sundara,shit load of clean power
 
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