Q I just moved to a one-bedroom apartment and I'm interested in options for music listening aside from using speakers. I was thinking about a turntable into a phono preamp, then into a headphone amp powering good headphones. Do you recommend a setup like this, and if so, do you have any inexpensive product recommendations to get me started?
-- M.B., Columbus, Ohio
A You are on to a great idea. For those on a budget or with space limitations, headphones are the gateway to true high-fidelity listening. You can get fantastic sound without spending a fortune or dedicating room space for speakers.
A perfect choice exists for your phono preamp/headphone amplifier. The $275 Bellari VP130 is a highly regarded phono preamp that includes a headphone amplifier, so this one product will serve both requirements. The VP130 uses a vacuum tube in its circuitry so you get a touch of the exotic in your system as well. Just connect your turntable and plug in your headphones and you are ready to go. If you don't need a phono preamp the $169 HiFiMAN EF2A is a good choice.
As for the headphones, I have a wonderful recommendation that should make you very, very happy, whether you use them with a portable device or your headphone amplifier.
Grado Labs of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been making excellent phono cartridges since 1953. They also make a line of high-quality headphones and recently introduced the new Prestige "e" series, which start at only $79. I tested the Grado SR60e and was blown away with what these $79 headphones can do.
The SR60e comes with an adapter for use with a standard headphone jack or the miniplug output found on portable devices. I listened mostly with my iPad.
The SR60e headphones are manufactured in the United States and the fit, finish and materials seem improved from previous SR60 models. They are very comfortable and easy to fit. The soft foam earpads don't completely isolate you from the outside world, while providing an incredible listening experience. Grado has absolutely nailed it on the sound quality. The SR60e is rich, dynamic, detailed, open, transparent and accurate. When you put them on, you do not want to take them off! There is a more detailed review under the headphones tab on my new www.donsdealfinder.com website. The website is still under construction so there are many unfinished sections, but the review is complete with pictures.
When I was listening I kept thinking to myself, "These are a real treat, and far and away the best headphones I have heard selling for under $100," thinking of a $99 retail price point. Then I realized that I was testing the entry-level models, and double-checked the price, which was $79. That Grado can produce this kind of absolutely phenomenal sound quality for under $80 while producing the product in the U.S. with American labor is simply amazing. I can only wonder what their more expensive headphones must sound like!
The SR60e headphones have earned a permanent place at my bedside, and I truly look forward to listening to them every night. I smile when I see them on the nightstand, knowing what musical enjoyment they bring every evening. They are that good! You can learn more at www.gradolabs.com.
Contact Don Lindich at www.soundadviceblog.com and use the "submit question" link on that site.