Sound Advice: Will new headphones need an amplifier to work?
Published in Tech Advice
Q. After reading your recommendation I ordered the Hifiman HE400se headphones from headphones.com for $109. Now that my order is placed I am reading that a headphone port is insufficient and you really must use a headphone amplifier with these planar magnetic models in order to get adequate loudness. Is this true and if so, what do you recommend?
—K.T., Atlantic City, New Jersey
A. I received quite a few emails similar to yours. The answer depends on what kind of headphone port. If it is the headphone port on a component receiver, amplifier or preamplifier you will get more loudness than you will ever need. A dedicated headphone amplifier might have better sound quality depending on the specific products compared, but when it comes to having adequate volume you will be fine. I do think these headphones are at their very best in this scenario, connected to a component system at home playing a high-quality uncompressed source like a record or CD as you relax and enjoy the performance.
The answer for a portable device headphone port is a bit more nuanced, especially with these particular headphones. There are many planar magnetic headphones that do require more power than a headphone port or USB output provides, but in my testing the HE400se worked fine with a direct connection to a portable device. I also found it to be dependent on the track played from my iTunes library. With some songs anything above 75% volume was too loud to be comfortable, and with others (typically older recordings) I had to go up to maximum or a click below to get the volume right where I wanted it. Even then, I never wanted for more volume and was satisfied.
While a good headphone amplifier might improve the performance of these headphones, it is important to keep things in perspective. The Hifiman HE400se headphones are uncommonly good for the money and provide a low-cost entry into the world of exotic planar-magnetic technology, but they are still $149 headphones on sale for $109. It does not make sense to start down the rabbit hole of upgrades by buying an expensive amplifier for them unless you plan on getting deeper into the hobby and buying even better headphones in the future.
Q. I read your gift guide and saw the Bosch Compact Stand Mixer for $139. I went to boschmixers.com but the it is nowhere to be found. I can find accessories for it, but not the mixer itself. Is it discontinued now?
—T.O., San Francisco Bay Area, California
A. Unfortunately they sold out and when I contacted the company to ask when it would be available again, I was informed the Bosch Compact Mixer is now retired and will not be stocked again. I am disappointed that I was not informed of this when I contacted their PR department to obtain an image for publication. Typically a vendor will extend the courtesy of informing the writer if a product is on the way out and availability might be a problem, but that was not done in this case.
Fortunately, you may still be able to get one. As of the last week of December refurbished units are available from nutrimill.com for $99. Just go to the website and look for the “Refurbished” link on the bottom of the site. The warranty is identical to a brand-new unit so it looks to be an exceptional buy on this product. The YouTube videos of the Bosch Compact Stand Mixer in action are quite impressive and are worth checking them out if you are thinking of picking one up.
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