Headphone amp vs speaker amp

I am looking for an over the top amp for headphones to be my end game. I know that many use AHB-2 and for more money you can get a Luxman 509 or Yamaha S3200, with a few more features and a little more power. My question is since one of those is around 6-7k Euros and offer more power and features then a Nimbus US5 at the same price, is there a difference in speaker vs headphone amps that will make speaker amp perform slightly worse with headphones?
yes I am talking about powering headphones out of speaker output
yes I know I am playing with fire plugging my headphones in to a 2 x120w amp

Out of the curiosity.
What it the actual benefit for running speaker amp for headphones?
And for what headphones you want this setup?

If you can have something like 7000 mW Pmax into 50 Ohm and 32 V RMS into 600 Ohm from a non-speaker amp that’s actually for headphones with noiseless performance.
How much more is the need… or is it just “i want more than my friend has” type situation.

:smile: none of my friends ever heard sounding anything better then phone out until I gave them my starting gear.
I have my non-stealth Arya that are pretty difficult to drive properly, not even mention at their best, and I want something that will allow me to get something like Susvara. If I am to spend 6-7k for my end game amp (because my aim to literally buy my system and not bother with gear for the rest of my life), I would like nice VU meters, tone balance, phono just in case. If for the money I get 30W in to 32 ohm instead of 7w at the same sound quality, I see that a bonus and a reassuring that whatever I will buy, I will not have to worry.

Well the amp they (kinda recommend) with Susvara would be the EF1000 Valve Headphone Amplifier.
It’s 35Ω Load : 20w. pure Class A.
Probably with the headphones it’s near 10w
(since it’s China wats… it probably has 70% less than mentioned so truly 3W tops… :smiley: )

You really aiming high if something.

the headphone circuit on most stereo amps are no good as they come as an after thought for a sense of convenience. they work, but when you use headphones that need power like what you get from a stereo amp (HE-650, electrostatic etc) it’s coming off the actual speaker output, which should be a quality circuit as that’s why you bought it in the first place.

I run my HE6 off of a Parasound A21+ every single day that cranks out almost double their advertised specs at some 600wpc into 4 ohm. Not a single other speaker amp I’ve tried was even remotely worthwhile, they all sounded as good as a good, powerful headphone amp. The Parasound was transformative on the HE6.

All that being said, it’s going to come down to the headphones you’re trying to drive, their capabilities, the amps capabilities, and to a small degree personal preference, but there are definitely some speaker amps out there that are just objectively shit. Measurements don’t tell you everything, but there’s a lot of speaker amps out there that cost $10,000 with around 60db of SINAD and that’s just straight up going to hold back almost any headphone worth it’s weight in salt.

What headphones are you planning on using with the speaker amp?

Right now my most power hungry headphones are non-stealth Arya, but I am thinking about Susvara in the future. Anyway I most likely try to power everything with it, from HD600 to Susvara. I am aiming for 1 solid state and 1 tube amp in my final system.

there are plenty of over the top headphone amps. 120 wattsx2 at what impedance? most likely 8 ohms. unless specifically designed to do so, most amps will loose about half their power as you double impedance. meaning, most likely, by 64ohms, most planers rough area, you will about 15 watts on tap. there are numerous headphone amps that will do that. for much less then 7k.

ultimately, buy what makes you happy, but for sheer power purposes, there is no need. now, sound quality, thats a different topic.

edit: also use a pre-amp if you want less worry about damaging headphones.

I am aware that on 32 Ohms I will get around 30 W and going down as the impedance increases, but as I said before we hot 30w vs 7w at similar priced amplifiers, plus quite a few extra options, and that is the point of my post. Both amps are very well regarded hi-end gear, with one offering quite a few extra and wanted to know what the drawback would be in terms of sound.

none really. juice is juice. quality juice is quality juice. there are a few headphones that are hard to drive, that the budget options are usually speaker amps. headphones amps are no different then speaker amps in function. they are just geared for higher impedance. as long as the amp isnt struggle busing to handle the load, its good to go.


Honestly in the mass majority of cases I wouldn’t really suggest getting a speaker amp to power headphones, not because of any safety or usability concerns, but rather just often they aren’t great value, and typically you get more sq for your dollar with a headphone amp of equal cost, if you’re going to drive headphones at least.

You simply don’t really need the level of power speaker amps output the mass majority of the time, so being able to get higher quality power but lower quantity from a headphone amp is typically a bigger win. Speaker amps might carry issues with noise floor depending on the amp, some speaker amps don’t take well to higher impedance of some headphones and either freak out or sound worse, it’s just a case of most designers not really designing a speaker amp for a headphone load, and the tradeoffs and decisions they make try to optimize and make more sense for speakers rather than powering headphones.

I think it would really come down to the headphones you plan to power, your sonic goals, and the rest of your chain (dac, digital source, preamp if you do end up going a power amp route, etc)

A bit hypocritical coming from me since I actually do use speaker amps at this point to power some of my headphones lol, but that’s for a few reasons that I don’t think you’ll encounter given your set budget imo. There’s a point where if you want to take the next step in your setup you might be forced to move to a higher end speaker amp because there’s not really a headphone amp that’s a step above what you have already, but you have to go really high for that to make sense, and by then you really aren’t getting as much value from an upgrade like that either, so it’s a hard sell for most.

Edit: when you factor in used value, sometimes you can find a really really nice speaker power amp or better integrated at a really good price, better than any deals you can find on comparable headphone amps that can sway decisions on value, but I’d say it’s somewhat uncommon to find that easily. You also need to make sure it will actually have decent synergy with your headphones, which can be really hard to find since most people aren’t hooking their headphones up to speaker amps lol, so it makes it a challenge to know if it’s actually worth going for or not.

The susvara is a weird case, it doesn’t really need the power of a speaker amp (although could be argued it benefits from it for sure), that headphone is just a pain in the ass when it comes to driving it to where at some points you do enter a price range where there aren’t many headphone amps that drive it well and a speaker amp makes more sense, but imo that’s sorta more on the lower end of things (let’s say <6k usd new sort of range, I think past that you start to get into some solid headphone amps for that headphone)

I currently drive my susvara on a fm acoustics fm155mkiir preamp and 108 mkii power amps, and while that’s great, it’s hard to argue the value prop there in comparison to some headphone amps I had in the past like the riviera aic 10, trafomatic primavera, woo wa33ee, viva egoista 845 mkii, oji special bdi dc 44b gt, etc which I think make more sense really value wise. It’s not apples to apples comparison as the fm stuff is a step ahead of any of those amps in price and same with performance but I have compared some speaker amps in a similar price range to the aforementioned headphone amps, and found that in most cases the headphone amps provided a better value to me sq wise, in order to really eclipse those amps in performance you basically had to 1.5-2x what you spent. Another consideration is the level of dac/source as well, as that’s also going to dictate how much sense things make as the amp can only really amplify what it’s given lol.

Trying some other headphones on that speaker amp chain do work well and sound awesome, but that being said there’s other headphones that I think I enjoy on headphone amps more even if the fm chain is a bit more technically superior such as the utopia on an ec studio t as I find that suits the headphone more and has some aspects to it as it doesn’t really seem to take advantage of the fm as much as something like the susvara (I do actually use the fm preamp to bypass the volume of the studio t which is a great improvement, but only because I already have it, and the studio t’s volume pot really isn’t the greatest for the price class lol).

I’ve not tried the S3200 with headphones, or the 509 but I did used to have a 590AXII, and while that was good with the susvara, it wasn’t really to my taste sonically with that headphone, but also I don’t think it really provided that great of technical ability for the price with the headphone. I do think the 509 given the limited time I have with it might be a better pairing at least voicing wise (I personally prefer something not overly rich and something a bit more energetic and direct with the susvara), but imo the 509 while having better control and punch and more defined edges than the 590 felt more dimensionally and dynamically flat in lower level information than the 590, but the 590 has a bit more smoothness and richness in the midrange and some extra softness and roundness in the bass that I didn’t really appreciate with the susvara. Not tried the 509 with the susvara though so who knows, only can make the comparison based off speakers, which aren’t really representative of how headphones will react lol. Both would likely be pretty nice though depending on what sound you’d be after, I wouldn’t have called the 590 a bad experience by any means lol. After that I upgraded to an accuphase e800 and that really wasn’t a great idea price wise for a susvara lol as it kinda was even more rich than the 590 which I wanted to get away from (and value wise while better sounding than the 590 for the speakers I was running with it, it absolutely wasn’t worth basically double the cost of the 590, there are much better value amps in that segment than the accuphase, price is way inflated in the US vs japan iirc, but anyways). For how much the 590 was, I’d rather have something like a bakoon amp13r since it’s something that despite having a more relaxed and warmer and sweeter signature didn’t seem to have the issues with being too much or being too soft either, and offered an almost comparable level of technical ability imo. Or a woo wa33, which would offer greater technical ability and take a more cleaner and dryer approach also without being overdone. Or if I could find a viva egoista 845 used for a good price, outdo the wa33 in technical ability while being a lot more engaging to boot lol, or so on.

The AHB-2, I’m personally not a fan of, I can see the appeal, especially with the susvara, but imo it’s a very surface level amp. It’s great control is pretty enjoyable, cleaner signature helps to keep things fairly neutral with the susvara, and it’s more sharp and bitey approach offsets the susvaras more smooth and slightly laid back approach, but imo it’s an amp that rides on wow factor initially but isn’t that satisfying long term, it’s not really dynamically capable specially in microdynamics, tries to make up for it in macro but it isn’t enough, spatially it’s not really that deep, and while sharp, it just doesn’t feel convincing, timbre is only alright, and tonal density/weighting wise it feels lackluster there as well (it is on the leaner side of things, but it’s just that the weighting doesn’t feel all that organic imo). There’s just a lot of aspects to me that make it feel sterile and mechanical which imo diminishes why you want to use the susvara, it’s an excellent headphone for recreating and accurately portraying the small nuances of music, and the ahb2 trades that for a more upfront and macro focus that the susvara just doesn’t excel at compared to other headphones. This all being said, there really aren’t many speaker amps in this price range that pull off the susvara all that well, and this does do a better job than some others out there, but I do think it’s worth going a fair bit higher for a susvara, and I’d likely be more inclined to try and find a great used deal on a higher end power amp than shooting for an ahb2. I think in order to make the ahb2 to sound pleasing you really end up needing a dac that leans a lot into the more exaggerated sense of space and dynamics to balance things out like a holo may or something which can offset some of the downsides, but imo 2 wrongs don’t make a right (closer to a right than with some other dacs though), and I’d rather just get something different altogether than a combo such as that lol. I guess that’s another aspect that the ahb2 bothers me with now that I bring it up lol, it really doesn’t scale with better sources, that being said it’s not all that picky with the dac either, but really I personally prefer something that will allow me to take better advantage of nicer sources down the line, even if it makes it a bit more picky and hassle to pair at first.

The niimbus, while I’ve not heard the US5, I did have a US4, and it was good, although didn’t really wow me for the price, and I thought that the newer (for me) Vio V590/550 Pro ended up actually having a signature/voicing that was more to my taste (the niimbus goes for a lot more refined, delicate, and almost a bit laid back and dryer focus, whereas the newer vio get a bit more energy and punch although take a bit of a step back in delicacy and refinement, and have a bit more warmth), and honestly technically not too far off (but still a step up over the vio for sure), and considering how much cheaper you can get those used, makes the niimbus look like a more lackluster value for some headphones (unless used niimbus prices have come down to something more reasonable). But with a susvara, I think it takes advantage of the niimbus more than some other cans, and would be justifiable to me over the vio for a susvara. Not heard the US5 though, could be another step over the US4+ for all I know lol