Secrets Q & A

Sennheiser HD 800 Headphones: Receiver or Headphone Amp?

Question:
Do I need to add a headphone amp to my 4 yr. old AVR Denon 4310 to add power to my Sennheiser HD 800 headphones? If so, what kind? In addition to listening to music I watch a lot of movies with the headphones. Can I connect the amp directly to the Denon with an optical or different cord?
- Troy C
Boyceville

Answer:
Only you can decide for certain if you need to add a separate headphone amp to your Denon 4310 to power your Sennheiser HD 800 headphones. However, that model Sennheiser headphone has a reputation for being hard to power and also very picky about which amp, even among separate headphone amps, it plays well with.

You could connect the amp to the Denon using either of the two RCA pairs (out) on the rear labeled "VCR" or "DVR". You don't need to use the optical output of the Denon, unless you intend to buy a headphone amp/DAC combination and the digital connection from the Denon will limit which types/sources you can use (see p. 80 of the OM), so you are better off just using the Denon's internal DAC's which are good quality. 

If you go the route of buying a separate headphone amplifier, if at all possible, take your headphones and try them with the amps you are considering, because some very good amps just don't work well with the Sennheiser HD 800's. There are many excellent headphone amplifiers available from manufacturers such as Burson, Schiit Audio, Woo Audio, Carey Audio, Grado, Graham Slee and the new amp from Nuforce which reportedly sounds great with these phones. 

Lastly, you might try searching the internet for headphone amplifier reviews as often these reviews utilize top quality headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 800 in testing these amps and reviewers will often comment as to how well the headphones paired with that particular amp. Some have suggested that tube headphone amps work better with these headphones as they often add warmth to the somewhat sterile and analytical sound of the HD 800's.

However, the foregoing is not to say that all tube headphone amps will sound better with the HD 800's than all solid state amps. The previously mentioned Nuforce (HAP-100) is just one example of a solid state amp that works well with these phones. The Woo Audio tube amps are very nice, but expensive, the Schiit Audio tube amps are more moderately priced and are American made