Plugging your headphones into your computer or receiver's headphone jack won't produce the best possible sound. Why? The embedded headphone "amp" is probably just a good-enough chip amp. It may sound acceptable, but nothing like what you'd hear from a properly designed dedicated headphone amplifier.
Sure, if you have a set of $50 or $100 headphones, it doesn't make a lot of sense to drop $400 on a dedicated headphone amplifier.
But if you have something closer to the sort of world-class headphones I write about from time to time, you'd be foolish not to take the plunge. You've already made a substantial investment in headphones, but you're not getting all the sound quality you paid for.
Head-Direct's EF5 Desktop Tube Hybrid Amp ($399) is a two-box affair; one chassis is the power supply, the other is the amp itself. Each unit is solidly built and fairly compact: just 4.33 inches wide, 1.97 inches high, and 10.63 inches deep.
The amp uses a single (RCA 12AU7) vacuum tube. The amp takes about a minute to come to life after turning it on, and when the top panel's blue LEDs light up you know it's ready to play. Plug the headphones into the 6.3mm jack, adjust the volume, and you're good to go.
I listened to the EF5 with a lot of headphones, everything from my Grado RS-1, Sennheiser HD-580, Monster Turbines, Jerry Harvey JH13s, and Head-Direct's very own HE-5.
The Drive-By Truckers' excellent "Live From Austin TX" CD had tremendous presence and impact. Patterson Hood's straight from the heart vocals really cut through, and ditto for the raucous guitars. Sweet!… Read more