Headphone amp recommendations

If you want to keep “all things equal” but assess the effect of tubes in a balanced preamp, a good solution would be trying a Schiit Freya+. While not particularly cheap compared to Douk stuff, it lets you try 4 different configurations and see what you like best. You can run it passive, with a JFET differential unity-gain buffer, with the tube differential 4 dB gain, and with LISST tubes which give you a differential MOSFET 5 dB gain. You can also try turning up the volume on the Schiit and using the Topping to do the level control or vice-versa.

The benefit of that is you get to try several different things. The downside is that you’re still running the signal through 2 preamp stages, as the preamp stage of the Topping can’t be bypassed.

It can be done. You could use a switch like this:

And if you want “balanced all the way,” use an XLR splitter cable, something like this:

It would eliminate the signal altogether. You can’t turn off the tube influence that way. You can turn off the tube influence by running the Schiit Freya+ in one of its non-tube modes.

Let me suggest a different tack, assuming you’re just trying to dabble a little bit with tubes to see what all the fuss is about without spending a ton of money. Run the single-ended outputs of your Bifrost to a Schiit Vali 3 and compare tube hybrid to the solid-state Topping. You might decide you like both for different reasons, you might decide you prefer some headphones with one amp and other headphones with the other, who knows? In any case, you haven’t spent that much, and it’s a much cleaner comparison than the options above. Even if you don’t like it at all, you can return it and only be out about $20.

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Lou

Thanks for all the input. I have looked at the Freya and would love to have one but the footprint is way too big for my desktop.

When you use one of the XLR splitter cables would you only get one half of the signal strength in each output?

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Hi Lou - Thanks for mentioning the Freya+, Now you’ve got me thinking again. I’ve been using the cheapest Musical Fidelity phono stage in my main system (speakers).
Musical Fidelity | V90-LPS Phono Stage
I think it’s the same as this one, but may be an earlier revision.

Last year I had been considering the Freya+ when my office system needed some work, then I ended up getting things back before I finished dithering.

But it looks like the Freya+ is a very nice piece. Do you have one, or have you used it? And does it look like it’s reasonable or just goofy to upgrade?

I’ve had no problem with the Musical Fidelity, and the system is presently mating my VPI Prime Scout to a Wyred4Sound STI-1000 and the old modified Rectilinear III highboys. Eventually they will go, and that might force a re-think of the rest of my system. One issue is that I have very limited headphone out capability in the main setup.

Appreciate your thoughts. And if @Torq wants to comment, his too. And any other speaker guys.
Don’t know when the Rec III’s will go, but when I don’t know. Considering Harbeth 40.3, as a likely replacement. Or Egglestonworks Kiva, or something else in that category,

Yes indeed. That’s why the switch might be a better option. I have one, it works just fine with no detectable impact on sound quality.

Headphones.com has a writeup on that switch (I think @resolve authored).

Correction, I have the 1 in/3 out XLR one, for single DAC 2 amps in my case. I would imagine the one @Lou_Ford mentioned is equally fine.

Technicality – the Schiit “Multibit” converters are in fact R-2R. From the TI DAC8812 Datasheet (the chip used in the Bifrost 2/64):

So, it’s just that the R-2R ladders are implemented within the chip (2 per chip x 4 chips = 8 ladders in the Bifrost 2/64) rather than in a bunch of individual resistors. IC versus discrete implementation. Whether and how this makes a difference in the sound is for others to debate.

Totally agree with @Lothar_Wolf 's suggestion that @switzer145 decide whether to upgrade on the R-2R side or within the AKM family and go for it (but enjoy some time with the new amp first).

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I don’t have one. It stays on my radar because I’m intrigued by some of the new GanFET class D amps. Some of those are reported to be notably better on their balanced connections (some are XLR-only), so I’ll possibly need a balanced preamp at some point, and I really like the flexibility of the Freya.

With your STI-1000 and candidate speakers that are not difficult loads, I can’t see the Freya being that useful for you. If you’re itching to upgrade, you might want to think about the V90-LPS. The Scout is a really nice table, easily justifying a fancier phono stage. Maybe something in the Lehman Audio Black Cube range, or a Rogue Triton ii, and I bet the Schiit Skoll punches well above its $400 price as well. Of course, you’ll notice it more after the speakers get upgraded.

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Thanks. Appreciated.

I’d avoid that price tier myself. In my experience products in that class do sound “tubey”, but often suffer from ringing or buzzing and RF interference.

Be aware that a balanced tube amp can clean up / cancel out stereotypical tube effects. See past threads (e.g., Woo Audio) on what happens when you go balanced.

I very strongly recommend a hard switch of this type. You can fully cut out the other circuit and avoid potential volume loss / noise. I stopped using non-switching splitters a very long time ago – they can be awful.

My main setup is:

1 . Bifrost 2/64 DAC with XLR 3 and RCA outputs (both are always live)
2a. XLR 3 to Schiit Lokius EQ (Balanced)
2b. RCA to Schiit Lokius EQ (Single-ended)
3a. Lokius XLR 3 to Decware Zen Taboo Mk 4 XLR 3 inputs (it’s single-ended inside)
3b. Lokius RCA to a 4-way hard wired switch
4a, b, c, d: Various random amps with RCA inputs, including an optional tube buffer stage that goes to the solid state RebelAmp’s input.

I can play simultaneously from the XLR 3 and RCA lines, and toggle between the 4 RCA outputs with a click. I can compare different tube amps and compare SS versus tube. Not with the same headphones though.

I hear no differences between the BF2/Lokius chain with XLR 3 versus RCA on any amp – to include technical SS amps.

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I just pulled the trigger and decided to go with the Schiit Vali 2++. Schitt has them aggressively priced since the rollout of the Vali 3 (new and warranted is less than most eBay used) and reviews seem to indicate this amp is the “tubiest” of the Schiit family. With a single tube it will make tube rolling easier and less expensive but it does lack the balanced connection I was looking for.

Since it is also a preamp, I should be able to run in the 3 configurations below without pulling wires, just toggling switches on my amps…

(1) Totally Solid State - Schitt Bifrost XLR to Topping A90 to Headphones or RCA to Speakers

(2) Solid State with Tube Flavor - Schitt Bifrost RCA to Vali 2++, RCA to Topping A90 to Headphones or RCA to Speakers

(3) Totally Tube - Schitt Bifrost RCA to Vali 2++ to Headphones, Won’t be able to go to speakers yet as my preamp outs on the Vali 2++ will be connected to the Topping

I like this setup (in theory) as it keeps me from having to deal with any switches or splitters though I might consider RCA splitters from preouts on the Vali 2++ later on to open up the third path for my Active speakers.

I decided to deal with any EQ issues within my music manager / player software, Musicbee. The included EQ works but is pretty rudimentary but they have a bunch of plugins that I will explore once I figure out how to load and install them.

Thanks to everyone for all of the help and input. Once the Vali 2++ arrives from Schiit I will update with my impressions.

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One of the experiences I have had over the years is to research which partners the various headphone manufacturers work with.

When the Meze Emphy OG came out, I couldn’t understand the, in some cases, extremely good reviews of these headphones, as they sounded woolly, bass-heavy and dull to my ears, no matter which of my sound chains I had connected them to.

At the time, for €3000, an absolute no-go.

I couldn’t even begin to understand the reviews from Darko, Churrawong and Passion for Sound.

Until I noticed that all three use the same amp/DAC combination, namely the Chord Hugo2 and the Chord TT2 & M-Scaler, and when I asked, I found out that Meze uses both Chord and Feliks Audio to use their headphones.

So I connected the Emphy to a Hugo2 and hey presto, it sounded very good, still a bit on the “dark side” of the force, but definitely structured.

These days I have an updated version on the go.

Focal is the same for me, I could never really feel anything positive about these headphones until I found out that they work with Naim and/or Feliks Audio, so I got a Feliks tube amplifier and felt happy.

The same goes for Questyle and Sennheiser,

for a long time for Cayin & ZMF,

Sony Dap‘s + Audioquest & Campfire Audio,

Goldenwave/Hifiman & HiFiman,

more specifically the Nitsch Pietus Maximus & Sennheiser HD650 (here even the color scheme is synchronized),

and (in my case) last but not least the collaboration between Schiit Audio & Dan Clark.

Since I absolutely see the potential of the E3,

but I’m not 100% satisfied yet,
I’ve now pulled the trigger to see if this combination is also a hit.

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Great observations!

I also noticed that Focals sound magically and well controlled with Feliks Audio.

What would you say about Focal Clear + Aune S17 Pro pairing? IIRC you own that amp too. I am not yet ready to embark on the tube journey, so I’m thinking of getting an Aune S17 for my Clear.

As for DCA E3, I first listened to it on a Weiss DAC + Cayin Amp combo and it sounded to me dead neutral. Or just dead. Then I listened to it on a Zähl HM1, and that combo was great. I liked E3 on HM1 more than HEDDphone2 and Susvara.

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Naim claim that the Uniti Atom HE was designed with the Focal Clear Mg in mind, I can say I tend to agree they work together brilliantly.