Best Amps for the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones

Are you using a system that you don't think is giving you the best sound with your Sennheiser HD 800 headphones? Are you looking to upgrade your Sennheiser HD800's and looking for new headphone amp?  Here is a great question and answer series from a customer and Drew Baird, P.E., President and Owner of Moon Audio on some advice about this hifi subject.

Customer: I am currently using Channel Island's DAC and headphone amp with a special USB converter. I am listening on my Mac and using Sennheiser HD 800 headphones. When I purchased the DAC and amp I was using Sennheiser 600 headphone and it sounded fine. I also had an upgraded cable on the 600s from Stephan Audio Art cables. I have heard the Fostex TH900 and it is clearly an improvement. But I live in Toronto and there is no way I can find a dealer so that I can hear the April Music Eximus DP1 DAC or even the Bryston audio equipment. I wonder if you have some suggestions?

Drew Baird, P.E.: What kind of music do you listen to? The HD 800 headphone has a pretty large impedance swing, thus to control the drivers a good amount of power/voltage is required to drive them effectively.  Any amp that is powered by a WallWart just is not going to have the power. The Eximus is a much better choice if you want to stick with the Sennheiser HD 800 headphones.  The Channel Island's Amp will work better with Fostex TH900 if that is the direction you wish to go. The TH900 is my favorite headphone at the moment. The Fostex TH900 is linear from top to bottom, very transparent and clean.  No coloration, just a tried and true headphone and a reference headphone for sure. So I guess the ultimate question is, do you want to upgrade everything or simply upgrade amp or headphones?  How do you like the current tonality of the HD800 cans?

Customer: Hi, WOW, thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly. At first, I thought the problem might be the headphones, so I found a small dealer in Toronto who carries some other high-end headphone including HiFiMan, Audeze, and so on. He did have the Fostex headphones but they were not available for demo. Then, I brought my HD800 in and paired them with the Fostex (and one other amp he had that did not really do very much) and the 800's took on a new tonal quality that felt much more alive and engaging. But I heard your interview online and wondered about the Eximus and I am Canadian so I always wonder about Bryston products?

I listen to all kinds of music from classical to a lot of vocal to some jazz. Very little rock though but it does creep in from time to time. My partner listens to some country. My own tastes are quite eclectic including world music, particularly Indian music, and some Bollywood. I teach Indian philosophy at a university in Canada so music is often what I go to for inspiration. I also listen to piano music, chamber music, and R and B so I am not limited to one type of music.

I would love to upgrade everything but that would get a bit too pricey at the moment (in the middle of renovating a bathroom). But I am about to start on a new book and music, as I said, music is where I go for inspiration. I was hoping a new DAC/AMP might just pick things up a notch or two and make me fall in love with my music again. I have 2 homes and in my second house I listen on Mark Levinson equipment that is not many years old and B&W speakers. When I commute I use Shure in ear phones. Does that give you some idea? I would love nothing more than to change stereos and audition sound systems, but $$$ is always an issue.  I forgot to say that I listen to opera too.

Drew Baird, P.E.: Well, I cannot say enough good things about either the April Eximus DP-1 or the RAL DSDHA2.

Both are wonderful headphone amps with the Sennheiser HD800 and both have the power to control the drivers. The RAL is a Balanced Headphone Amp & USB Dac, but it only has a USB input. So if computer audio will be the only connection option then this piece will save you a couple of dollars.  The Eximus is the best match for the HD800 and has more options than the RAL but the RAL DSDHA2 is a very nice piece. It all just depends on whether you need anything other than just a USB input as that is all the RAL has and whether you also want to do DSD playback which the RAL has but the DP-1 does not.  You will definitely want to get our Black Dragon V2 Headphone cable with balanced connectors in order to reap the benefit of a balanced circuit.

The April Music Eximus DP-1 is the better sounding piece (not night and day difference, just a little more resolute) and it is more flexible with all of its input and output options.  I mean not only USB input but also digital inputs for other digital sources.  Both headphone amps do 24/193 resolution audio. The RAL DSDHA2 will also do DSD files if that is a concern or desire. There are not many DSD audio files at the moment but it won't be long. The DP-1 is the better Preamp if that option is important to you but you can also build a speaker system around it.  I like these 2 better with the HD800 over the Fostex.  But if you switch to the Fostex TH900 headphone then the Fostex Hp-A8 amp was voiced with these phones so it is the logical choice.

There is a 3rd headphone amplifier that also just arrived called the B.M.C. PureDAC which is a reference level balanced headphone amplifier, a balanced preamp and is a phenomenal deal for the price.  It's an incredible piece, only $1690 and in my opinion it should be more like $2700-$3000 for the performance, dynamics, and imaging.  It easily drives most headphones and the price does not reflect its performance at all. I really like it with the Sennheiser HD800 headphones too.

 "The PureDAC combines its DAC with a balanced preamplifier, a reference-level balanced headphone amplifier, and B.M.C.'s exclusive Digital Intelligent Gain Management (DIGM), a volume and amplification control system that calibrates gain without dividing or downgrading the input signal."

Did this help? Any other questions/concerns?

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