While doing my research into decent headphones, I stumbled upon quite a few references to “Headphone Amplifiers”. Curiosity got the better of me and I started to dig a little deeper. I was impressed with the cheap DIY CMoy amps people were making and pretty shocked at the sight of desktop amps costing over £500.
As with anything “technological”, there’s always a lot more to things then you ever think possible. One of those things was the need for properly driving a set of headphones. I had assumed (reminder to self; never assume anything) that headphones and their connections were a set standard; that there would be no real difference between the headphone socket on my computer, my mp3 player or my TV or the level of input expected by the headphones themselves. It would seem that there is and that headphones all want/expect differing levels of drive to perform to the best of their abilities (this becomes more and more true the higher up the headphone quality ladder you go). This is where headphone amplifiers come into play. By increasing the amount of power available to headphones, especiallly those with higher ohm ratings, they really start to shine and the music starts to come alive.
Even with the piles and piles and piles of positive ratings of most amps, I was still skeptical about spending too much on one and as so many people swore by the cheap CMoy amp setups, that fit snuggly inside an altoids tine, that seemed like the logical place to start. I’m too lazy to assemble one myself so I scoured EBay and found a seller who made them to order. I paid my £25 and waited for it to arrive. Five days later my homemade CMoy amp arrived, encased in nice silver Altoids tin. I didn’t hold my breath for anything spectacular but just like the moment I first tried on my SR80s, I was again floored. Everything sounded so much more well defined. Everything felt ever more crisper and the bass felt a hell of a lot more tighter. I was sold on headphone amps for sure. Nothing had ever sounded so good.
My initial plan had been to try out the CMoy at home first and then look into getting another or something better as its replacement so that I could use the CMoy at work. One of the things, I consider a flaw (while some will disagree) of my CMoy amp is that you take a signal from the existing headphone output, pipe it into the amp and then pipe it out to your headphones. What you want is a digital input, so that you don’t lose any quality between the source and the amplifier. When I had been first doing my research into amps, a lot had been said about the Headroom Total Bithead, which has it’s own built in DAC. Connect it up to your PC via USB and comes up as it’s own soundcard, allowing you to bypass the internal soundcard completely and get a “purer” signal. On top of that, it powers itself through the USB connection, no need for a batteries or an extra power adaptor. I sent a couple of emails to headphones.com asking about shipping to the UK but received no reply, and soon resigned myself to the idea that I wasn’t going to get one. Then I came across the Corda 2Move, made by Meier Audio in Germany. It was about the double the price of the Bithead alone, but that included shipping, and seeing as I had no way of finding out how much shipping of the Bithead would be, I fired off an email to check on availability. I received a reply pretty much straight away, so I paid my money, and a few days later it was sitting on my desk at work.
The Corda 2Move is a beautiful piece of kit and sounds absolutly stunning. I gave it it’s initial test run with my Etymotics 4ps and the difference was huge. Even with the Grados at home there was a big difference between it and the CMoy amp. The in-built crossfeed also goes a way to giving a better impression of sounds. It smooths out the channel seperation just enough to take of the harshness on really far mixed tracks.
I can’t recommend either of these two amps enough. If you’re willing to spend the money, then the Corda is the way to go, but the CMoy is still phenomenal considering what it costs. If you’re serious about your listening pleasure, you’ll want an amp to go with your headphones. Turn ’em up and rock on.