I bought the Beyerdynamic DT880 600Ω and the Emotiva BasX A-100 speaker amp a few months ago to find out for myself what all the fuss was about from ZeosPantera, an audio reviewer I enjoy following on YouTube.
I have two pair of DT880’s, a 250Ω and a 600Ω version. I’m going to be talking about the 600Ω only here and I did some testing with the Emotiva amp, and two other amps to see the differences first-hand.
The deal was that you could buy this Emotiva speaker amp for just over $200 and with it, run some high impedance headphones on them by doing what is known as a ‘page 11 mod.’ On page 11 of the owners manual they tell you that you can use the included pin jumper to bypass the headphone protection circuit and divert the full power of the amp to the headphone circuit. That’s 50 watts per channel into 8 ohms or 80 watts per channel into 4 ohms.
That’s not something that is recommended to anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing with headphones, amplifiers and raw power like that. The vast majority of headphones, and IEM’s, on the market are high efficiency, low impedance, ones. The DT880’s, 600Ω, are an exception to this rule. They are high impedance and hard to drive headphones that require a good bit of power to get good sound out of them.
After I received the headphones I let them burn in for 72 hours. Playing them right away, out of the box, they didn’t sound that good at all. But after such a long burn in, they sounded much better.
Now, the Emotiva amp delivers on the power as Zeos said in his video review. But that comes at a sacrifice. That sacrifice is noise on the circuit. Remember this is a speaker amp, and not purposefully designed to run headphones like other dedicated amps are doing. So the noise floor is quite high. I can hear a hiss when the amp is turned on. That’s with no music playing and the volume knob turned completely down to nothing. The hiss is less noticeable when music is playing loud enough and you’re not trying to hear it.
I did plug in a pair of 64Ω headphones into it for a few seconds with the volume all the way down and no music playing and the hiss was incredibly loud. Again, this is not a dedicated headphone amp but a speaker amp first.
Some people I’ve seen say you need this Emotiva amp, or other high-powered amp to drive these headphones properly. Well I have a few other dedicated headphone amps, both solid state and tube, that I can do some testing on to see how true that sentiment is.
The other amps I used were the Drop THX 789 (solid state) and a Darkvoice 336 SE (tube). I chose some songs that I know well and enjoy which had a decent amount of bass and mids in them to try this testing with. The only things I was looking to check on were power and noise. I wasn’t looking for sound-stage, dynamic range or clarity. I just wanted to see if these other amps could power the DT880’s well enough to enjoy music without distortion and the least amount of noise as possible.
I found something interesting in my testing. But first, I’ll say that all of the amps I used, the Emotiva BasX A-100, Drop THX 789, and the Darkvoice 336 SE all powered the DT880’s just fine. Not once did I hear any distortion at all. I think overall, the Emotiva performed the worst in one out of the two area’s I was checking on.
As for power, yes, it has the power to drive these just fine. But, the noise floor was high compared to the other two amps. In fact, I heard no noise at all in the THX 789 or the Darkvoice.
On the Emotiva I had the volume knob at probably 50% to get a real good volume that I wanted to listen at. With the THX 789 I had to put it on high gain (level 3) and turn the knob all the way to 75% to match the volume level of the Emotiva. The same went with the Darkvoice, 75% on the volume knob (there are no gain switches).
Now the interesting thing I mentioned which I found is that the bass response of the DT880’s was best felt on the THX 789 over the Emotiva which has far more power to drive these. The THX 789 just performed better in every way over the Emotiva with these headphones. The Darkvoice’s bass response seemed to match the Emotiva. Both were good and acceptable, but the THX 789 sounded so much better.
Also, the DAC I used was the Geshelli Labs Enog with the optical input and the source files were FLAC played through my Linux PC and the terminal music player CMUS. I did do a pad swap using the Dekoni Choice Suede pads instead of the stock pads.
Overall, yes, the Emotiva can easily drive these headphones, but in my opinion, it’s not the best choice to pair with them. The noise floor is very high and the bass response was a touch lower than on the THX 789. I honestly did not expect the THX 789 to outperform the Emotiva in this area, but there it is.
Of course, all of this is subjective and based on my ears, and how I perceived the sound. YMMV.
This morning I did another test using the Schiit Jotunheim on high gain. I was too tired last night to turn on my Windows PC or get behind the desk again to swap some cables around.
The differences in this test compared to the other three amps are I am using the Schiit multibit DAC module inside the Jotunheim and while playing the same tracks as yesterday, they are on my Windows box and through Foobar.
Still looking at the same things as before, noise floor and power here. With the Jotunheim I found that it had more power, or headroom, than the THX 789 and Darkvoice. Getting the volume level about the same was better at 55% to 60% on the knob compared to the 75% on the other two. There was no noticeable noise floor at all. That is unless I had no music playing, the amp on, and I turned the knob to 100%. Only then I could detect a faint hint of hiss. But for any practical sense of the measurement, there is no noise with the Jotunheim. The other thing was that the bass response was comparable to what I experienced with the THX 789.
So now with four amps tested on the DT880 600Ω I can, in my opinion, say that any decent amp on the market can power these headphones respectably. One doesn’t need a ‘page 11’ mod to enjoy these headphones. In fact, the Emotiva BasX A-100 is probably the poorest choice to pair with these headphones.
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Last Updated 27 December 2020