The Linear Tube Audio MZ2 or MZ3 get great reviews, but you need to add their linear power supply to get best performance.
For a little less than the price range you're looking in check the Headamp GS-X mini. Auditioned the Pass and Benchmark but liked the Headamp more so bought one :-). Check out what's being said on Headfi about the Headamp. Also don't shoot the messinger but you really should read the ASR review on the Pass before pulling the trigger on that one.
I have both the Quicksilver headphone and integrated amps - both of which delivery excellent sonics at a very competitive price point. As stated, build quality is also top notch. My end game headphone amp may be the Pass Labs HPA-1 (at 3x the price), but frankly, I'm in no hurry to get there.
I listened to the earlier Phonitor and it like all SPL gear is great. It was a while back but you should try to demo one. I bought my RME DAC from a local professional sound dealer and they had many SPL products there. They are nice.
Luxman is great too. I like their new stuff.
So is Benchmark. Another great company. I remember back in 06 or 07 I did a tradeshow and everyone was crowded around the new Benchmark DAC 1 trying to listen through phones. I credit Benchmark with more or less igniting the Headphone /DAC craze. Not sure if they were the "first" but in my opinion it was the first headphone amp / DAC worth buying
Audition if possible or at least have a return priviledge , it's really a matter of taste with headphones.
The Benchmark is a great 2 channel preamp if the definition of great is not adding to the signal. The HPA4 was also excellent with my warmish Meze Empy headphones, both now sold.
The best rock and roll headphone I have heard is the new RAAL CA-1a ($2K). I have heard it only with the top end VM-1a tube amp, but it can also be connected to any of the headphone amps that are listed on this thread. The guys on Head-fi are saying it kills also with other amps, though the VM-1a is the king.
I read that the HPA4 sounded good with the CA-1a, though that surprises me a bit, must have been using a warmish DAC.
The Benchmark gear is the one to go to for high quality accurate reproduction. Does that mean it will sound best? No. What sounds best is a purely subjective determination….a matter of personal opinion. It’s quite possible that a highly accurate sound is not what one is looking for. But if you don’t know what it is you are looking for, it’s the logical place to start.
Benchmark is known for “highly accurate” sound… which I think many find to be “too accurate”. I run in the opposite direction when I hear these descriptions. I want to be drawn in to the music and emotionally connected… which is what my systems do. Others prefer something else.
The Topping pre90 preamp is nowhere as good as the HPA4 and LA4 preamps from Benchmark. I have had all 3. Even ASR folks agree about the short comings of the pre90 with certain amps. Though, one of the Stereophile reviewers uses the pre90 has his reference preamp over the LA4.
The Topping D90LE DAC is also not as good as the Benchmark DAC3B to my ears.
Here is an observation I had with 4 DACs and my RAAL VM-1a headphone amp. I tried the following DACs with everything else being the same:
1) Benchmark DAC3B
2) Lumin X1
3) Topping D90LE
4) Musetec 005
The DAC that stays in with the VM-1a is the DAC3B. The X1 was also excellent but there is something about the DAC3B and how it syncs with those VM-1a tubes that makes it my choice.
This weekend I was testing out the Lumin X1 direct to amp (LEEDH volume control) vs the Benchmark LA4 preamp connect to the X1. The LA4 was still a bit better. You could tell at low volume, and I even preferred it a louder volume. However, I decided to give the X1 a go over a second LA4 because I want to minimize boxes.
If I wanted the very best sound for the X1 system, I buy a second LA4 preamp over ANY other preamp at any price. At the moment the best sound is of secondary importance on the X1 system. I hated preamps that colored the sound. It irritated the heck out of me, don’t get me going on the noise from those preamps.
I have a Benchmark HPA4 and use it to power Kennerton Rognir Planar, RAAL SR-1b, and JM Audio Editions XTC-Closed phones. I previously had a Quicksilver headphone amp but found it just a little too warm and bass-prominent with these phones so the BM is just right for me--fast, detailed, transparent, and spacious. I tend to like that type of sound versus phones these days that are entirely too bass-prominent and dark. Maybe that is because I grew up when phones and speakers didn't have the overhyped bass that are everywhere nowadays. I posit that we have become conditioned to bass-heavy music. The BM also has a line stage that can power other amps.
@shtr74sims, since you’re considering solid state amps in the $3K price range, I recommend also considering the Holo Bliss KTE. Check out the thread on Headfi on the Holo Bliss KTE. It’s more powerful than the other amps on your list but more importantly is its sound quality.
I own 6 amps that I can use to drive headphones including the Woo WA23, Auris Nirvana, Enleum 23R, Benchmark AHB2 (using banana plug to 4 pin XLR adapter), Holo Audio Serene KTE, and Holo Bliss KTE. The Bliss is my latest purchase and I think it represents one of best values in high end headphone amps in this price range. It’s quiet enough to drive high sensitivity headphones with no noise while being powerful enough to drive the hard to drive Susvara. Added benefits are that it’s an excellent preamp and it comes with a nice metal remote control.
I cannot listen to solid state anything anymore. Has to be R2R DAC and tube amplification. Maybe I am used to that tone.
I have a few setups for headphones. The main system is Lumin U1 Mini with linear power supply, Denafrips Pontus II R2R DAC (latest firmware) going fully balanced into a Woo Audio WA22 tube amp to balanced cables on Focal Utopia, Meze Elite and a few other nice headphones.
A second system somewhat portable is a Raspberry Pi 4 with linear power supply into a Denafrips Aries 12th Anv R2R DAC single ended into a few different amps depending on the headphones....Icon Audio HP8 mkII (will run pretty much anything - surprised how good it is for under $800 used from TMR) also Feliks Euphoria for ZMF or other high impedance headphones, AmpsandSound Forge (runs about anything and will blow out your eardrums if turned up with kicking bass) and a Dragon Inspire IHA-1 (beautiful sounding but finicky about tubes and headphones - need to tube roll to match the particular headphone).
If you must buy solid state then Naim Uniti Atom HE is nice all in one (selling mine). Great tone but a little weak headphone amp for high impedance. Fine for most mid to low impedance headphones.
It’s been almost 4 months since you started this thread and haven’t heard a word from you, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume you may have just ignored it as this does happen quite a bit. People are taking valuable time out of their own lives to make helpful suggestions for you, so the least you could do is spend a few seconds to just acknowledge their efforts and let them know you’re listening. NOBODY is too busy to just do that. I find it rather sad that you can all of a sudden find time to respond to my last post yet you still haven’t bothered to respond to any of the many helpful and thoughtful recommendations above. Why is that? Rude.