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Headphones sound harsh with Reflex-M, suggestions?

Printed From: Graham Slee at Hifi System Components
Category: Headphone Audio
Forum Name: High Fidelity Headphone User
Forum Description: Technical Q&A, hints and tips
URL: https://www.hifisystemcomponents.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=4895
Printed Date: 11 Jul 2020 at 5:18am
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 12.01 - http://www.webwizforums.com


Topic: Headphones sound harsh with Reflex-M, suggestions?
Posted By: DT999
Subject: Headphones sound harsh with Reflex-M, suggestions?
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 5:26am
Hi everyone,

I have been enjoying my new Reflex-M for several weeks now, and it is sounding superb in my system, so much so that I am looking at another or even Accession for my 2nd TT.

I usually listen via speakers, but I also have headphones for listening at night so as not to disturb the household, particularly our child sleeping near to my listening area. 

By necessity my headphones are closed back to prevent sound leakage. I primarily use Oppo PM-3 but also have some AKG K550. 

I use my Rega P3 with 2M Bronze into the Reflex into a Rega Elex-R and have a Rega ear headphone amp.

Prior to getting the Reflex, The headphones sounded OK, but since using the Reflex I now find the sound through the phones somewhat harsh or bright and more fatiguing. Totally at odds with the sound I get through speakers, which is full and rich.

May be the Reflex is flatter or less coloured than the Rega phono amp? I don't have the same issue listening through headphones using my Thorens TD160 with Denon DL110. But it is this TT I was looking to get another GSE phono for.

Anyway, there are many experienced people on this forum, so looking for thoughts, comments and suggestions.

Cheers 
Derek



-------------
Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500



Replies:
Posted By: CageyH
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 7:04am
Derek,

Is the Reflex still relatively new?
Do you leave it switched on all of the time?

If it is just the 2M Bronze that does. It sound right, try adjusting the arm set up. It may not be correct. If I remember correctly, the 2M Bronze is a fine line diamond, so will be very sensitive to any changes in VTA.


-------------
Kevin

European loan coordinator


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 8:14am
Originally posted by CageyH CageyH wrote:

Derek,

Is the Reflex still relatively new?
Do you leave it switched on all of the time?

If it is just the 2M Bronze that does. It sound right, try adjusting the arm set up. It may not be correct. If I remember correctly, the 2M Bronze is a fine line diamond, so will be very sensitive to any changes in VTA.

Hi Cagey, thanks for the quick response.

The Reflex is a couple of months old now, it is left powered on the whole time and I listen to at least 1 or 2 albums every day, so should be well burnt in.

As I indicated, it sounds very good through speakers. I know the 2M Bronze can be very revealing and some consider it analytical tending on bright, I have it well set up and it really does sing through my speakers. the Reflex has made a real improvement.

That is what is kind of mystifying, as it is only through my headphones that it sounds harsh. 

Now it could be the headphone amp or the headphones I am using, I'm not really knowledgeable about Head-fi as I only tend to use it for convenience so as not to disturb the better half.

Cheers
Derek 


-------------
Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: CageyH
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 8:26am
If it only sounds bad through the headphones, then as you suggest it has to be the headphones or the amp. What headphone amp are you using?

Ah, I see it is the Rega Ear.


-------------
Kevin

European loan coordinator


Posted By: CageyH
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 8:32am
I am not familiar with the headphone amp you have.
Have you tried connecting the Reflex directly to the Rega Ear?
Have you tried a different cable between the amp and the headphone amp?

My thoughts (and I am no expert on this) is that if it sounds ok through the speakers, then the issue has to be between the amp, headphone amp and headphones.


-------------
Kevin

European loan coordinator


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 9:38am
Originally posted by CageyH CageyH wrote:

I am not familiar with the headphone amp you have.
Have you tried connecting the Reflex directly to the Rega Ear?
Have you tried a different cable between the amp and the headphone amp?

My thoughts (and I am no expert on this) is that if it sounds ok through the speakers, then the issue has to be between the amp, headphone amp and headphones.

Yes that's my thought also but It didn't sound as harsh previously when using a Rega fono, and my other TT run through the Rega fono also is not as harsh. 

I can only assume the Reflex is showing up something that the Fono hid or coloured.


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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 9:59am
I should try and be a bit clearer by what I mean when I say harsh. It is not that the sound is bad, if anything it is extremely detailed, the mids and base are good, but the highs are what is causing the problem, they are more forward and overpower the other frequencies. 
The highs almost hurt my ears with the headphones channeling sound directly into my ears, definitely would not want to do extended listening with headphones.



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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: Graham Slee
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 1:27pm
Unfortunately, the answer is quite technical, and can only be solved by those who make headphone amplifiers.

All I can say is that my early attempts at headphone amplifiers (20 plus years ago) sounded harsh using a vinyl source - admittedly I always used a phono preamp of my own making - but some of them were generic designs one can find nowadays on the internet.

I would always choose a specialist manufacturer than one "who also makes" ;-)

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Not simple enough for Google-Bot to understand...


Posted By: Graham Slee
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 2:02pm
In addition to the above, and from a technical point of view, the grounding regime of a headphone amplifier can have undesirable effects depending on the headphones being used. In particular, the long-forgotten "stereo-loop distortion" which plagues op-amp headphone amplifiers which use separate chips. This causes annoying asymmetrical distortion in the input grounds, but can be cured by the designer if power amplifier techniques are used.

And, I did note that everything is alright with your speaker amp.

Most of us designers fall into the trap of looking at a headphone amp as a preamp, simply because that was the original intention of headphones (back when Noah was a lad). However, things change, and rather than headphones being high impedance, they can range from 5 ohms to 2000 ohms, for what reason, I do not know.

A high impedance headphone will not exhibit the same harshness as a low impedance headphone should there be a stereo-loop in the ground distribution.

The above might well be the reason for the mania for balanced headphone outputs, which might effect a "half cure."

One might ask, then why only with a particular phono stage? The answer to that is where the stereo grounds meet. If they meet at the output, which is incidentally wrong, then the possibility is that any stereo-loop distortion is minimised, because it is referenced to a larger signal. If the stereo grounds meet at the input, as on the Reflex and all our phono stages (the correct way), then it is referenced to a much smaller signal. Therefore the stereo-loop distortion becomes more prominent.

Your speaker amp, simply because it is much more current hungry, and grounding errors exhibit themselves more aggressively, and as such the designer understands the grounding much better, will be grounded correctly such that the source ground will be expected to be at the input of whatever that source is.



Another reason for a different phono preamp enabling lower stereo-loop distortion would be its use of tree-trunk grounding, which, for good reason, the Reflex doesn't do.


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Not simple enough for Google-Bot to understand...


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2020 at 10:30pm
Hi Graham,

firstly can I say thank you for your comprehensive reply; to me it speaks volumes when the designer and manufacturer of a product takes the time to answer questions on a forum.

Unfortunately I am not that technical when it comes to understanding electronics, however I think I get the gist of what you are saying.

Both my headphones are low impedance (Oppo PM-3 is 26 Ohms, AGK K550 is 36 Ohms); I guess being more modern closed back types they are designed to work with a portable source such as a tablet or smart phone; hence the more prominent harshness. 

I do only listen through headphones through necessity and need them to be closed back; there may be other higher impedance quality headphones that might be better suited.

However, I get the impression that it is my headphone amp that might be the issue. As this does not seem to manifest itself when using my other phono stage, I am surmising it is designed and built differently to the Reflex and where the grounds meet. 

Do you think this would be addressed with a different headphone amp? Specifically I presume you have designed your headphone amps to match and complement the design of your phono stages.

thanks again
Derek






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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: Graham Slee
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 2:29am
Then again, it might be none of the above, just that the Reflex M is (if you don't mind me blowing my own trumpet) a bloody superior design, showing the limitations of any vinyl front end.

I also do not buy into the whole Ortofon 2M thing. I'm sorry, but it's an OM with a fairing. It doesn't need it because it doesn't require streamlining because it doesn't travel anywhere. It is neither a stealth bomber. I have the bronze and the black and sufficient turntable stock, to have found that they are both coloured, with the black stylus being the better of the two (and rightly so given the price).

Also, didn't want to say anything yet, but developing a further headphone amplifier which exposes even more (and tackles the technical issues in my previous post), and I have to accept the limitations of what a micro vibrating fishing rod can do. I had never heard the groove contact aberrations and surface noise details of Bob's YT channel recordings to such a degree until now, and those are incredibly good cartridges he uses, but it just goes to show how good Youtube and its type of digitization can be.

To wrap up my contribution to this topic, it must be said that you will always find niggling things like this when mixing and matching amplifier circuits designed by different people. Nobody knows everything (no not even I), and to quote one much more extremely experienced industry designer: "Although solid-state amplifiers have been around for some 40 years, it would be a great mistake to assume that everything possible is known about them." (Doug Self).


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Not simple enough for Google-Bot to understand...


Posted By: Graham Slee
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 2:42am
Originally posted by DT999 DT999 wrote:

Do you think this would be addressed with a different headphone amp? Specifically I presume you have designed your headphone amps to match and complement the design of your phono stages.


Yes, but I would try and wait until I develop the next one. There is also the issue of whether I should try and "smooth the corners" or let it tell the truth. The latter is far easier and I have to take my hat off to those who have the ability to "smooth the corners". They never seem to publish the way it's done!

If you are unable to wait, I suggest you try the Solo ULDE via the loaner program.


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Not simple enough for Google-Bot to understand...


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 3:03am
Thanks again Graham

I will probably try the Solo ULDE on the loaner program to see how it goes, but may well wait until you develop your next one as well. (that will give me time to get an Accession in the mean time Big smile)


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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 4:19am
Out of interest, and in reference to Graham's comment above about higher impedance headphones potentially not exhibiting the same harshness as low impedance, can anyone tell me what is considered high impedance?

For example, would it be something like BEYERDYNAMIC DT770 PRO 250 OHM 


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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: CageyH
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 4:43am
I would say they are “medium” impedance. Some headphones are around 600 ohm.
I had a Reflex M with a Solo UL and it sounded really good with my Sennheiser HD650.


-------------
Kevin

European loan coordinator


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 6:03am
Originally posted by CageyH CageyH wrote:

I would say they are “medium” impedance. Some headphones are around 600 ohm.
I had a Reflex M with a Solo UL and it sounded really good with my Sennheiser HD650.

Thanks, I see there are a few open and semi-open back headphones with 600 Ohms, but I can't find anything like that with closed back.


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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: CageyH
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 7:14am
The headphones you mention may be fine. The HD650 are 300 ohm.
I also run HiFiMan Sundara with are around 27 ohm. They also work well with the Solo UL.

Can you get a loan of the headphones?


-------------
Kevin

European loan coordinator


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2020 at 7:57am
I don't know anyone with the headphones to try, I was just looking at various reviews on line and see that they come in various impedence.

I think the way to go is trial a GSP amp and see how it does with the phones I have, especially if your HiFi Man low impedance work.

Thanks again.


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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: patientot
Date Posted: 31 Mar 2020 at 9:38pm
I have a Reflex M and have tried headphones with it, simply using the cheapo built in headphone jack that is a feature on my integrated amp. No harshness that I could detect using several different cartridges. Now, I'm no expert on headphones, or headphone amps, but I would wager the problem is with the headphones or your amplification source, and has nothing at all to do with the Reflex M. 

One thing to keep in mind is that most headphones are not flat. Some have some unpleasant peaks in the frequency response. This is the reason I use EQ when using headphones to listen to digital audio files at my desk. The EQ is built into my software player and I have other EQ programs as well to experiment with. 

If I were a headphone nut, I'd probably trial one of the GS amps and try to get a pair of headphones that are reputed to match well with them. I'd probably avoid headphones that have a lot of extreme nasty peaks in the audible band. 


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Reflex M + PSU-1 used with AT VM95ML, Stanton 680mkII + Ogura, and Shure M35X cartridges.


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 01 Apr 2020 at 6:39am
I agree that it is not the Reflex-M causing the problem, but it is showing up the problem, as you say with either the headphones or amp.

I don't know much about headphones as I only use them as I have to to not disturb the household, I much prefer my speakers.
Having said that my speakers cost considerably more than the headphones so maybe to be expected.

I do have 2 pairs of headphones, one is planar magnetic and one dynamic and I chose both based on multiple positive reviews in numerous forums so hope they are reasonable - but I accept there will be better and they will have limitations.

My headphone amp was chosen to match my amp and for synergy but that may be the problem as alluded to by Graham in his earlier post, that the synergy is not right between the Reflex and my current headphone amp; my original phono stage was also from the same manufacturer as the amp and headphone amp.

The Reflex-M still is a VAST improvement over my other phono stage when listening through speakers, which tends to show the main amp is not the issue, but it is the headphone amp.


-------------
Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 01 Apr 2020 at 7:24am
I would substitute the headphone amp with a Solo. Would probably solve the problem. The Rega electronics is probably adding distortion. I once used the AKG K550. It was okay but nothing outstanding. Quite flat and undynamic if I recall correctly. Sennheiser HD540II or HD560II are a good place to start if you want to hear an involving flat frequency response. Or possibly try that K240 Studio praised in another topic, which may be better value for money.


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 01 Apr 2020 at 9:47am
Originally posted by Ash Ash wrote:

I would substitute the headphone amp with a Solo. Would probably solve the problem. The Rega electronics is probably adding distortion. I once used the AKG K550. It was okay but nothing outstanding. Quite flat and undynamic if I recall correctly. Sennheiser HD540II or HD560II are a good place to start if you want to hear an involving flat frequency response. Or possibly try that K240 Studio praised in another topic, which may be better value for money.

Thanks Ash

I have read through a lot of your posts and know you have a lot of knowledge regarding headphones so I appreciate your input.

I think I will definitely be starting by trying a GSP headphone amp on the loaner program to see how that works.


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Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 01 Apr 2020 at 9:20pm
Depending on your budget, choice of headphone and on the practicality, I would recommend the Proprius monoblocks as a dual-purpose amplifier for your speakers or headphone. Some headphones can be adapted to be a suitable load for driving from these speakers amps, either by considering their standard impedance/sensitivity ratings or a change of cable terminations/impedance. Maybe a good investment as you can get more out of less. I use my Proprius for driving speakers or headphones. If you are sensible with dial positions, no problems with noise floor or equipment damage. Can't have them them connected at the same time though.


Posted By: CageyH
Date Posted: 01 Apr 2020 at 9:32pm
surely a headphone amp is more than suited to the headphones Derek has?

-------------
Kevin

European loan coordinator


Posted By: DT999
Date Posted: 01 Apr 2020 at 10:47pm
Thanks both, I don't want to go down the path of changing my main amp, which I am happy with after much auditioning and which is improved with the Reflex phono stage. 

As I do only use headphones occasionally I don't really want to mess around with switching amps over between speakers and headphones etc.

The ULDE seems to be the way to go as it appears to drive a range of headphones and is purported to have a 'tubey' sound which may well help tame the highs causing the problem.




-------------
Rega Planar 3; Ortorfon 2M Bronze; Accession MM / Thorens TD160; Denon DL-110; Reflex M > Rega Elex-R > Monitor Audio Silver 500


Posted By: Ash
Date Posted: 01 Apr 2020 at 11:30pm
The Solo ULDE is a very competent headphone amplifier and allows simple unbalanced/single-ended connection of a very wide range of headphone impedances and sensitivities. At half the price of my above suggestion/consideration, it probably makes more sense both ergonomically and economically to select the Solo.

AKG K1000 from Solo UL vs K1000 from Proprius pair and I could not tell the amplification quality apart (when the headphone drivers were only half opened out so power availability was not a limiting factor). Both Slee products were equally capable and unsignatured in that application and I could not recommend either of them more highly.

My current headphone is 15 Ohms and 96 dB/mW. I have a resistive cable that increases impedance to 110 Ohms with a slight drop in sensitivity. I also have a resistive/potential-divider cable I use with it that alters it to roughly 120 Ohms and 74 dB/mW (equivalent load to K1000) so I can adjust it to whatever amplifier I have available to drive it with.



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