Why you might not need a better headphone amplifier.

g103-front-1f
Lake People G103-S my reference headphone amplifier.

When I first jumped to the portable audio enthusiast train, my first pairs of headphones didn’t need a portable amplifier to sound great. I don’t say this in jest, it’s the truth.
Sure, my music players were mostly Sony Walkman’s at the time, so they had a decent sounding inbuilt amplifiers, this was in 90’s so you can imagine the quality of a mainstream amplifier these days.
My need for a better audio amplifier happened very late in the game when I purchased more demanding headphones that were not built to be driven by a standard consumer amplifier .

Given my experience with budget dynamic and balanced armature headphones I often dislike the idea of purchasing a amplifier if the one at hand is good enough to drive the gear.
I watch many newcomers worrying about what amplifiers should they buy to drive cheap and Mid-Fi headphones, when they should really worry about finding the best headphones they can possible buy with their current budget.
The community is often at fault here, new enthusiasts giving advice to newer enthusiasts, with opinions taken from Hi-End forums where people actually have headphones that need a better amplification.
Uninformed enthusiasts often give space to hype, snake oil sellers and more uniformed opinions being shared around, the very same happens with the need for better audio amplifiers.

Don’t get me wrong a good audio amplifier is very important if you have a headphone that can extract every ounce of quality, that is not the case with budget headphones that are limited by design and specs.
What I want to make clear is that the most important piece of the audio chain are the headphones, doesn’t really matter the money you spend on the amplifier, if you have shitty headphones no amplifier will solve that, so spend money were it really matters.

I don’t have a High-End amplifier so my Lake People G103-S is my reference when comparing mainstream amplifiers on motherboards, portable players, smartphones and Hi-Fi decks.
I only truly notice a true improvement when the headphones being tested have more demanding needs specially in terms of higher impedance and less sensitivity, that’s is not the case with cheap or Mid-Fi headphones with very low impedance and good sensitivity that can be driven by most mainstream amplifiers on the market today.
Some desktop motherboards are now claiming to drive up to 600 Ohms headphones, if thats your case, try them before follow the hype train.

I will be probably frown upon by most enthusiasts who read this, but this is my opinion based on experience, so deal with it. I’m not here to sell gear by making reviews like: “This great amplifier really made my cheap ass headphones sound amazing”. If you are in to that, go visit the so called biggest headphone forum in the world and be amazed at so much colors of bullshit!  🙂

JRC4556, shipment prices and other rants.

Sometimes I really hate living in Portugal, If I want to buy some JRC4556 for my low impedance headphone amp I must pay 18€ of shipment doesn’t matter if it’s 1 or 30 op-amps, if the purchase doesn’t go above 65€ the shipment must be paid.

I get people must get paid to make my shipment but 18€ for some ICs sent via UPS airmail, what about normal mail these days?
I’m not in a good mood because I can’t find that JRC chip locally.
Requested 10 samples to the JRC factory but I really don’t believe they send them to me. Grado uses that 4556 op-amp for a reason, it drives low impedance loads like a marvel even if audiophiles say it’s a piece of shit.

Curious note is the fact many audio companies use it for their headphone stage…yea engineers know better as usual.
I have lots of JRC op-amps but none of them beats the 4556 specs for the low impedance applications.

On a side note I had cold feet about two of my favorite diy headphone amp websites and downloaded both using Wget, I know its wrong to mirror a website but I have a feeling those sites will go down the drain one of these days.

I also download manually some important Korean forum topics made by the amazing Sijosae, about 120Mb of data safely stored for future reference.
Sijosae made amps from 2002 to 2006 and they are really amazing things layout wise. These days I think he enjoys cycling more than headphone amps and I understand him because they guy build almost all diy headphone amps there was to build and also designed some more, so yea I’m sure he got tired of diy.

I must admit one thing, building audio gear isn’t a good idea on the long run, because I don’t want to have tons of gear stored at home, I must think about what I’m gonna do with old projects. Electronic gear is a bit futile, it’s different than building a wood box, a chair, table or any other type of long term projects. Even so it’s really fun to do on my free time so I don’t want to stop now.

Believe or not I didn’t have resources to do this kind of stuff when I was a teen, stores on my area were expensive and I didn’t have the internet to help.

Anyone has some JRC4556AD chips to sell for a decent price? I shall sit down on this one. lol it will be a long wait.