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 connecting a turntable into a phono preamp, then into a headphone amp powering good headphones. Do you recommend a setup like this? If so, do you have any inexpensive product recommendations to get me started?
A: You're 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 extremely happy, whether you use them with a portable device or your headphone amplifier.
Grado Labs (www.gradolabs.com) has been making excellent phono cartridges since 1953. It also makes a line of high-quality headphones and recently introduced its Prestige "e" series, which starts at $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 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 the headphones on, you don't want to take them off.
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. Then I realized that I was testing the entry-level models. That Grado can achieve such phenomenal sound quality for under $80 while producing the product in the United States is simply amazing.
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 are about to bring. They are that good.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.