Hooking Up A Balanced Headphone Amp
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  1. #1
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    Hooking Up A Balanced Headphone Amp

    I'm looking to upgrade my headphone amp and was thinking about going balanced. How can I hook up a balanced headphone amp if I only have one set of balanced outputs on my preamp?
    Speakers- Dynaudio Contour 1.8 Mk II, Amp - Pass Labs X150.5, Preamp - Cary SLP-03, Turntable - Music Hall MMF-9.3, Cartridge - Goldring Eroica LX, Phono PreAmp - Sutherland Insight, Digital Playback - Rotel RCD-1072, DAC - Bryston BDA-1, Headphones - Sennheiser HD-600, Headphone Amp - Musical Fidelity Xcan V3.

  2. #2
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    Re: Hooking Up A Balanced Headphone Amp

    My headphone amp is the HeadAmp GS-X Mk2. It includes a loop output, which mirrors it's input straight through to its output. Other amps may have a similar feature. You could run the output of your pre-amp into the headphone amp, and then carry on with the loop output of the headphone amp on to your speaker amp.



    There is a drawback to this approach -- unlike speaker amps, most headphone amps include a volume control. Since the volume of your pre-amp output is already volume controlled you don't want to attenuate the volume twice. To mitigate this approach, you can set the headphone amp's volume for unity gain and leave it at that setting, using only our preamp volume control.

    Some pre-amps include a record out -- this is generally not volume attenuated and is a great way to connect your headphone amp into your system.

    If you only want to listen to one source, you could run the source to the headamp input and carry on from the loop output to your preamp -- this would skip the volume control on your preamp but only connects one source to the headphone amp.
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  3. #3
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    Re: Hooking Up A Balanced Headphone Amp

    Hello Jack,

    The following thoughts are considering you have one system to listen to both speakers and headphones...

    If you want to keep this all in one system, a thought is eventually upgrading your preamp to one that also has a nice headphone output (as opposed to a new separate headphone amp). This would streamline and upgrade the whole system while also upgrading the headphone output and eliminate your connection concerns. Companies such as Woo Audio, Apex Audio, Manley, PS Audio, McIntosh, Bryston, Cary/Dennis Had and a number of others are worth considering.

    (If you are flush with money and have room in your equipment rack, the new Woo Audio WA33 is pretty special...)

    On a separate note, I personally would not worry too much about getting a balanced headphone amp (as opposed to unbalanced). In my comparisons of balanced-to-unbalanced (using identical cables, amps and volume level matching), the difference between balanced and unbalanced is minimal-to-none. That comparison was using Sennheiser HD600's and HD580's. Bottom line, if you do want a separate headphone amp, get the best quality you can and upgrade the headphone cable. If this means the amp is balanced, then terrific. But don't disregard great amplifiers just because they are only single ended.
    Kevin

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  4. #4
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    Re: Hooking Up A Balanced Headphone Amp

    Quote Originally Posted by 4N6 View Post
    Hello Jack,

    The following thoughts are considering you have one system to listen to both speakers and headphones...

    If you want to keep this all in one system, a thought is eventually upgrading your preamp to one that also has a nice headphone output (as opposed to a new separate headphone amp). This would streamline and upgrade the whole system while also upgrading the headphone output and eliminate your connection concerns. Companies such as Woo Audio, Apex Audio, Manley, PS Audio, McIntosh, Bryston, Cary/Dennis Had and a number of others are worth considering.

    (If you are flush with money and have room in your equipment rack, the new Woo Audio WA33 is pretty special...)

    On a separate note, I personally would not worry too much about getting a balanced headphone amp (as opposed to unbalanced). In my comparisons of balanced-to-unbalanced (using identical cables, amps and volume level matching), the difference between balanced and unbalanced is minimal-to-none. That comparison was using Sennheiser HD600's and HD580's. Bottom line, if you do want a separate headphone amp, get the best quality you can and upgrade the headphone cable. If this means the amp is balanced, then terrific. But don't disregard great amplifiers just because they are only single ended.
    Thanks Kevin. I'm using a headphone amp now and I have ungraded the cable on my Sennheiser HD-600's, so I think I'll take your advice and stand pat for now. I also have to consider that I'll have to upgrade my headphone cable to have XLR connections and that won't be cheap.
    Speakers- Dynaudio Contour 1.8 Mk II, Amp - Pass Labs X150.5, Preamp - Cary SLP-03, Turntable - Music Hall MMF-9.3, Cartridge - Goldring Eroica LX, Phono PreAmp - Sutherland Insight, Digital Playback - Rotel RCD-1072, DAC - Bryston BDA-1, Headphones - Sennheiser HD-600, Headphone Amp - Musical Fidelity Xcan V3.