What's the best way for me to use a headphone amp with my receiver for my current setup? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 05-09-2013, 06:12 PM - Thread Starter
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My current Denon receiver is taking all my sources (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, DirecTV, Roku 3, and Dune HD) over HDMI, and my Squeexbox Touch over Coaxial. It then outputs the audio to my speakers and passes through the video to my TV.

However, I'd like to add a headphone amp to better drive my headphones and I'd like it to work with all of my media sources if possible. I thought I could just output the RCA of Zone 2 to my headphone amp and I'd be good to go, but it appears that converting a digital signal such as all my HDMI inputs to RCA over Zone 2 isn't possible.

This leaves me with a few options.

1.) I can add RCA connections from all of my devices to the Denon receiver and basically send HDMI and RCA audio at the same time. This would have me the full audio of HDMI for my 5.1 speakers, but since I'm also passing analog audio over RCA, I can use the Zone 2 on my receiver to send that audio to my headphone amp. The problem here is not all of my devices support RCA, such as the Roku 3. I may also need to re-configure certain devices each time I use them to output the audio over RCA instead of HDMI (which would be a pain).

I believe this would offer the best sound quality possible since there wouldn't be any Digital/Analog conversion (the sources would be sending analog directly, and the receiver would simply pass through that analog signal through Zone 2 to my headphone amp). Would I need to re-configure my Denon receiver when switching between the speakers and the headphone amp? Or would I just turn down the receiver volume to 0 and the audio would pass through to my Zone 2 headphone amp? Basically, would the receiver play the audio through my speakers from the HDMI source and pass through the analog RCA through to Zone 2 automatically?

2.) My TV supports RCA audio out. Meaning, I can configure the Denon receiver to output audio over HDMI instead of using the speakers out of the receiver, and then I can take the RCA audio out from my TV and output that to the headphone amp. This would simplify the entire setup because I wouldn't need to add any additional cables or re-configure any devices except for the receiver when I want to switch between the TV or Receiver for audio). My worry here would be the sound quality the TV outputs over RCA (since the TV would be doing the digital to analog conversion... and I'm unsure if that would degrade the quality). If it matters, my TV is a 2011 Panasonic ST30.

3.) I can add an HDMI audio stripper between the receiver and the TV. It's similar to #2, except the device would strip out the audio from the HDMI source and output that over RCA.

What would you guys recommend?

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post #2 of 17 Old 05-09-2013, 10:47 PM
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Just a couple of possibly dumb questions (I may be missing something here) –

(1) Specifically, what problem are you trying to solve? Doesn't your Denon's phone jack output enough power to drive your phones, or is there some other problem with it?
(2) If not, what's wrong with just plugging the headphone amp into the headphone jack and leaving your connections as they are?

My reasoning –

In your current setup, your Denon does the D/A conversion and amplification and switches between the sources. Adding RCA connections would simply move the D/A conversion lower down the signal chain, i.e., the sources would do it rather than the Denon. I find it extremely unlikely that any of the D/A converters in your devices sound any different. On the other hand, the more cable there is in your system, the bigger the chance of picking up EMI which might make an audible difference.

So I would recommend simply plugging your phones into the Denon's phone jack. If, for some reason, the Denon can't drive them well enough, I would add a 'phone amp between the Denon and the headphones.

My Onkyo A/V receiver mutes the speakers automatically when I plug in the headphones; I don't know if your Denon does that too, but if not, you'd just have to switch the speakers off manually.
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post #3 of 17 Old 05-09-2013, 11:04 PM - Thread Starter
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From what I've read, the Denon headphone jack will likely not have enough power to properly drive the headphones. I'll A/B test it once I get it to confirm, but the higher end (and higher ohm) headphones can usually be powered by the receiver... but they don't really shine until a more powerful amp is in place that can drive them.

That's an interesting idea on the headphone jack to the amp. I could connect the amp that way, which automatically mutes the speaker outputs, and then turn the receiver's volume up to 100% and control the volume through the headphone amp right?

Wouldn't I be double amping in this case though, which would probably cause some distortion?

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post #4 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 12:42 AM
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Yeah, you would be double amping. I very much doubt any added distortion would be in the audible range though.

I use a phone amp with my computer. I've set that to max, and control the volume with my computer's volume control. Easier that way. I didn't notice any difference in sound quality the other way around.

If your Denon has a pre out, you could also connect the 'phone amp to that. You'd have to mute the speakers manually, but it would eliminate the double amping. Could be worth comparing at least.
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post #5 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 02:42 AM
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Preouts would be the way to go if your reciever has them.

I have a pair of Steinheiser 650HDs and my denon reciever drives them fine. They are 300 ohms. Unless you are using electrostatics you'd probably be fine just using the reciever. For TV, movies, xbox, etc I'd just use the Denon headphone jack. For musc from your squeezebox, I'd use it's RCAs with the headphone amp for more critical listening, assuming of course you are using losless files. If they are compressed then just use the Denon too.
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post #6 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 04:31 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by glangford View Post

Preouts would be the way to go if your reciever has them.

I have a pair of Steinheiser 650HDs and my denon reciever drives them fine. They are 300 ohms. Unless you are using electrostatics you'd probably be fine just using the reciever. For TV, movies, xbox, etc I'd just use the Denon headphone jack. For musc from your squeezebox, I'd use it's RCAs with the headphone amp for more critical listening, assuming of course you are using losless files. If they are compressed then just use the Denon too.

My receiver doesn't have pre-outs our tape outs. The only out I have are for Zone 2 RCA.

I recently got the HE-400's which are planar magnetic (sort of a combination of electrostatic and dynamic). I'm sure the Denon will be able to power them... I'm just not sure if the headphone amp will help drive them a bit better. I guess testing myself will be the only way to tell. I'd love it if my Denon could fully power them though because that makes things super simple. Just plug them in, the speakers shut off, and all my HDMI sources are converted for the headphones.

That's a good idea on the Squeezebox to run that direct to the headphone amp. If I don't end up using the amp for all my other sources, I'll definitely run it that way.

Your 650's are very high ohm headphones... so if your Denon can power those fine I feel a bit better. The HE-400's are lower ohm then your 650's, but they are planar magnetic.

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post #7 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 06:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guitarlp View Post

From what I've read, the Denon headphone jack will likely not have enough power to properly drive the headphones. I'll A/B test it once I get it to confirm, but the higher end (and higher ohm) headphones can usually be powered by the receiver... but they don't really shine until a more powerful amp is in place that can drive them.

That's an interesting idea on the headphone jack to the amp. I could connect the amp that way, which automatically mutes the speaker outputs,

Right.
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and then turn the receiver's volume up to 100% and control the volume through the headphone amp right?

Not necessarily.
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Wouldn't I be double amping in this case though, which would probably cause some distortion?

If you count all of the stages of amplification through the whole recording and playback process, there are so many stages of amplification that one more or less shouldn't make a difference, providing that stage has reasonably high quality.

Let's review your problem.

(1) You want good quality sound via your headphones. As a long term and heavy user of headphones, I can get that!

(2) You actually don't know how well your headphones will work with your AVR - right now you are just speculating.

(3) The HE 400 headphones have a rated impedance of 35 ohms and are said to have high efficiency:

http://www.head-direct.com/Products/?act=detail&id=115

"It is 92.5DB efficient so it can be driven by virtually anything including an iPod."

You haven't specified exactly what AVR you have except that it is one of the dozens of different models made by Denon. From a very limited review of Denon AVR schematics I find the most simplistic and most possibly problematical implementation of a headphone jack - simply just a simple series resistor (in the schematic I have of an AVR 1907) from power amp output. This is especially concerning with headphones whose impedance is as low as yours (ca. 35 ohms).

(a) Try it an see how it works.

(b) If you don't like the results in step (a), obtain the necessary adapters and use a good but inexpensive headphone amplifier such as the FIIO E5 to buffer and amplify the output of the AVR's headphone jack to better suit the needs of your high quality headphones. I expect that you will need a 1/4" to 3.5 mm headphone jack adaptor to hook up the E5 to the AVR, and also a common universal outboard USB power supply to keep it powered.
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post #8 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 12:10 PM
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I agree with some of the other posters. Just start with the headphone jack on the Denon, you may find that's all you need.

I have the BeyerDynamic DT880, 600ohms headphones and my Denon AVR can power them just fine. However, I do also have a small tubed headphone amp which I perfer to the Denon.

I use the dedicated stereo outs on my Oppo 83 to power the amp for watching movies or listening to music. If I'm just watching TV or playing video games I use the Denon headphone jack.

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post #9 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 02:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guitarlp View Post

My receiver doesn't have pre-outs our tape outs. The only out I have are for Zone 2 RCA.

I recently got the HE-400's which are planar magnetic (sort of a combination of electrostatic and dynamic). I'm sure the Denon will be able to power them... I'm just not sure if the headphone amp will help drive them a bit better. I guess testing myself will be the only way to tell. I'd love it if my Denon could fully power them though because that makes things super simple. Just plug them in, the speakers shut off, and all my HDMI sources are converted for the headphones.

That's a good idea on the Squeezebox to run that direct to the headphone amp. If I don't end up using the amp for all my other sources, I'll definitely run it that way.

Your 650's are very high ohm headphones... so if your Denon can power those fine I feel a bit better. The HE-400's are lower ohm then your 650's, but they are planar magnetic.

That's kind of what I do. I use my oppo 95 analog outs to my headphone amp. I use it exclusively for music. Everything else, movies, TV, I use the headphone output on my denon.
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post #10 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 02:51 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the replies guys. I'll definitely need to test out a few different setups and see what sounds best, but it sounds like the Denon headphone out may be the best way to go for all non critical music stuff.

For those of you that have a dedicated amp, why do you play movies/games through the Denon and not through the headphone amp? Does it sound better through the Denon with the virtual surround? Or is it not worth the effort to get everything playing through the amp?

@ Weekendtoy - Why do you play movies through the amp and not games?

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post #11 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 04:12 PM
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i could do movies via the headphone amp. You don't get virtual surround out of the denon jack, it's strictly a 2 channel stereo output.
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post #12 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 04:12 PM
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i could do movies via the headphone amp. You don't get virtual surround out of the denon jack, it's strictly a 2 channel stereo output.
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post #13 of 17 Old 05-10-2013, 04:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by glangford View Post

i could do movies via the headphone amp. You don't get virtual surround out of the denon jack, it's strictly a 2 channel stereo output.

Doesn't it though? When I plug in headphones into my Denon, I can switch between different audio settings like Movies, Music, Games, and change them from Stereo, Mono, Dolby Digital, Multi Ch Stereo, and Virtual Surround.

I have a Denon 2112CI if that matters.

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post #14 of 17 Old 05-11-2013, 02:58 AM
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Originally Posted by guitarlp View Post

Doesn't it though? When I plug in headphones into my Denon, I can switch between different audio settings like Movies, Music, Games, and change them from Stereo, Mono, Dolby Digital, Multi Ch Stereo, and Virtual Surround.

I have a Denon 2112CI if that matters.

Yes, those are all two channel modes, virtual surround as well. I've never tried. I just leave mine on stereo.
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post #15 of 17 Old 05-13-2013, 04:01 AM - Thread Starter
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I received my amp and got to play around with everything over the weekend. I was surprised that the Denon receiver headphone out actually did very well with my headphones. Side by side compared to a dedicated amp however, the dedicated amp did sound a little better. It provided better clarity and a bit more focus on the low end (when listening to lossless music anyways). From the volume side of things, the amp can push the headphones louder... but the receiver was able to play things fine at my preferred listening levels.

So for music, I definitely want to go Squeezebox to dedicated headphone amp. But for other sources, I'd be OK with the headphone outs. I haven't listened to any movies yet with HD audio, so I'm not sure if that's going to make a difference and I'll need to test.

That being said, I did try running from the source (squeezebox) through the Denon AVR via RCA, and then out to the dedicated amp. On my amp, the zone 2 is a pre out and it allows me to mute the speakers from the AVR and control the levels with my dedicated headphone amp. This would appear to be a much better method then using the headphone out of the receiver going to the amp so I can avoid double amping. The downside here, is that I have more cabling (which could lead to more noise interference).

But other then the potential interference that the RCA cables can pickup, that's going to give me the best quality audio from all my sources right? I've already determined a dedicated headphone amp does have a noticeable improvement over my AVR (although it's not blowing the AVR out of the water). But as long as my sources support RCA out, I can use the dedicated amp. And for all the sources that don't support RCA out (like the Roku which isn't going to have great audio anyways), I can simply use the headphone out from the receiver.

I'm thinking about connecting the Squeezebox, Dune HD (for movie rips), and game consoles via RCA to the receiver so I can use the headphone amp to get the best sound quality I can, and then leave the other devices that aren't as important for me (DirecTV, Roku) as is and use the headphone out from the receiver.

Are there any downsides or concerns with running things that way?

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post #16 of 17 Old 05-13-2013, 05:17 AM
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Personally, I wouldn't worry about double amping nor the cables. If your cables do pick up enough EMI for you to hear it, well, you'll hear it. It's a hum or a hiss. If you want to check, crank up the volume to max with no music on; if there's more hiss or hum with the extra cables than without them, then that's what you're hearing. (Don't forget to turn the volume back down afterwards!)

Amps are so good these days that one more or less in the chain won't make a noticeable difference unless it's defective, malfunctioning, or being pushed into clipping. And those kinds of problems are usually pretty obvious if they occur: hiss, hum, crackle, no sound at all, sound like it's coming through a heavy metal guitarist's amp. Or if something goes wrong exactly the right way, you might, say, lose bass. But I don't think hard-to-discern problems are all that common!

So unless something is actually and fairly obviously wrong, the chain from your (digital) source right up to the point the cable reaches your 'phones or your speakers is very robust; the signal will come through as good as undistorted, unless you intentionally apply distortion to it (e.g. with an equalizer or surround sound processor). The most likely potential problem is at that interface, e.g. if your amp can't handle the impendance of your 'phones or speakers. As @arnyk pointed out, this might actually happen with some Denon A/V receivers and some 'phones; if this is what's happening in your case it would explain the difference you're hearing. (It's also possible that it's just autosuggestion, of course; we humans are extremely good at hearing what we expect or want to hear.)

FWIW, I learned most of what I think I understand about this stuff from this thread plus some related reading I did inspired by it. It was also an extremely entertaining read.
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post #17 of 17 Old 05-13-2013, 10:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guitarlp View Post

Thanks for the replies guys. I'll definitely need to test out a few different setups and see what sounds best, but it sounds like the Denon headphone out may be the best way to go for all non critical music stuff.

For those of you that have a dedicated amp, why do you play movies/games through the Denon and not through the headphone amp? Does it sound better through the Denon with the virtual surround? Or is it not worth the effort to get everything playing through the amp?

@ Weekendtoy - Why do you play movies through the amp and not games?


For music and movies I want to get the best possible sound I can get, or think I can get. So for those sources I use stereo outs from the source (Oppo) into the tube amp, keeping it in the analog world as much as possible.

For TV, Netflix (I don't have cable), and Xbox I don't really care about the sound quality.

The tube amp only has one set of line in's so either it's all going to come from the AVR or a couple of pieces coming from the Oppo.

It may not make a difference, perhaps you can pass the signal from the Oppo to the AVR and back to the amp using the pre-outs without a degradation of quality. I'd like to think it matters skipping the middle man. I could be wrong but they say ignorance is bliss.

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