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Headphone Amp for Vinyl Record listening

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Hi guys (& gals),

As I work arvo shift, most of my late night Vinyl Record listening sessions are thru Headphones.

I know integrating a HP Amp into an existing AV System can be complicated and confusing (for those with limited knowledge like me).


Im not satisfied with the sound coming out of my early 2000's ONKYO Receiver through the Headphone jack, though it sounds great coming out of the speakers.

Therefore, I wish to add a Headphone Amp into the mix.

Im thinking the most appropriate placement in the pathway to be between my Tube Box S2 phono stage, and my ONKYO AV Receiver.

The unit I'm looking at is the Topping A90 (no DAC required),then using a well shielded 15cm bridge cable from phono stage to HP Amp, then 1-2 foot cable to my ONKYO.


The distributor of the Topping in China informed me that the line level pass through will only work with the unit turned on in PreAmp mode, which is no problem as long as it does NOT degrade the sound.

Obviously, I am adding a link in the chain, but the RCA cables will be very short and of high quality.


For context, I am looking at driving Sennheiser HD650's, or possibly Mr Speakers Dan Clark EON's from Drop.

Will this configuration work ?


Not sure if relevant or useful, but here are my ONKYO Amp's specs...




Edited by bltn
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I'm not one for relying strictly on measurements, especially those provided in PR material.:)


I've been very happy with my Meier-Audio Corda Jazz ff.  He has a wide range of products, and seemed quite happy to modify this to suit my headphones. I especially like the cross-feed circuit he employs.


If you can't actually audition, then reviews are your only guide.

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I am thrilled with my Little Dot Mk 4 SE headphone amp running Sennheiser 650s. Tremendous quality sound. Likewise the Schiit headphone amps sound very good to me. I use the TAPE LOOP of my Leben preamplifier to listen to vinyl.


I notice your Onkyo amp has a tape loop, so you might just need cables to join the in and out (Headphone amp) to the out and in (Onkyo tape RCAs) respectively. I daresay most headphone amps are configured like this too.


Just my 2c worth

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25 minutes ago, doogie44 said:

Little Dot Mk 4 SE


Very smart looking unit.

Have you Tube rolled, or are you satisfied with the stock tubes ?


I have come across the "tape loop" method mentioned in other threads, and other forums.

What advantages does this have ?


Thanks for contributing.


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Ah, the Little Dot Mk4. A wonderful OTL valve amp. Some of the best sound I (as a tube fanatic) have ever experienced. Top quality indeed. If you paid for a fully-configured amp exactly like this to drive speakers I think it would cost many thousands...


My son-in-law uses his Mk2 as a preamplifier.


Yes--I have rolled! Guided by the Little Dot Forum:


Driver: Mullard CV 4010/M8100

"The Mullard house sound is much warmer compared to the GE tubes reviewed above. The warm tone is especially complimentary to female vocals where sultry voices such as Norah Jones and Dianna Krell’s come across as positively seductive. With rock music, the full body bass has a visceral impact.  These tubes don’t have the sweetest treble of the EF95 family (that title goes to the 6ZH1P-EV), but they nevertheless manage to give the music a sense of presence and body. Trumpets and strings unfortunately don’t have the most prat or the most natural decay but these are sins of omission that I could happily live with."


Power: 6H30Pi

Exemplary clear and atmospheric sound.


The Tape Loop is merely a direct signal from the amp's output (used typically for recording) with a return signal from the device (eg a tape recorder) in the loop. But it's also there for monitoring, via headphones, of a recording or signal, or sometimes for a fixed input for comparisons with other inputs. You could also place a tube buffer 'in the tape loop' using IC cables. It 'bypasses' the preamp section when in use. When it's connected to the Headphone amp, the headphone amp's volume control does the rest for your input signal to the phones.


As such you don't need to worry about connecting, say, a phono signal or FM tuner direct to a headphone amp--sometimes a tricky proposition. Your system's normal signals are ready for use in the tape loop.


Hope this helps




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7 minutes ago, doogie44 said:

Hope this helps


Yes it does. 👍


Seems to be a superior way to connect to my ONKYO Amp which has no shortage of connection options...




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My sources have described you both as "Headphone Gods".


Any advice appreciated, particularly with regards to connection options on an existing all in one system, which caters equally towards music and home theatre.



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The A90 is very very clean, like all the recent flood of opamp based chifi. Plenty of clean nuetral power. It *may* work well in your system, given you aren't feeding it digital files. You already have some character/flavour in your signal path from the Vinyl and Tube Phono.


If you were going digital > A90 > HD650 I personally wouldn't. It'll drive them easily, but I can't get around the sound, personally. Bit dry.


I guess if you were to use it as a preamp/pass through you would want it to have a remote too? Or you don't mind getting up, switching outputs on the unit from pass through (speakers) to HP out (heapdhone)?


I've had fine results splitting RCA singals from a source too. You may too depending on the output of the Phono. Either two splitter direct to back of Phono, or a quality 1 to 2 RCA cable. Opens up the headphone amp selection to anything with RCA input, no need for quality pass through/preamping.


That's my 2c.


@BlueOceanBoy Will chime in with the actual answer.

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Provided the S2 can provide a decent output voltage of 1-2V then the A90 should work. Can't really comment on the SQ with that chain. A90 is a nice crisp HP amp as people have outlined. Will drive the HD650 with plenty of power and tame some of the excesses. You may wish to think about the genres you prefer and the "sound" you like but I feel this is a good all around starting point into HeadFi.

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