Massdrop CTH + SDAC DAC/Ampsearch
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Massdrop CTH + SDAC DAC/Amp

Massdrop CTH + SDAC DAC/Amp

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(36 reviews)
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Verified Purchaser
I don’t think I’m qualified enough to give this a serious review, but just offering up my two cents. I enjoy the sound paired with my HD6xx, however have not blind tested with my other amps/DACs. It definitely is a keeper. It delivers on sound. One thing that really annoys me, however, is the inclusion of the XLR input, when it doesn’t serve any purpose other than convenience. This is not a balanced amp. I find this somewhat disingenuous and extraneous. It may serve some people well, but to me it is a blemish in an otherwise nice amp. That said, I’m keeping it. One other issue is that I couldn’t use it with my iPhone X/ powered camera USB adapter. Doesn’t register for some reason. Massdrop was also of now help when I queried them. No biggie as I’m using it at work through my PC.
e-Dawg
Hey e-Dawg, I took this pic to help someone in Customer Service...not sure if it was you. This pic shows how to use your iPhone > USB Splitter Cable > External Battery + SDAC:
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-So, you need a splitter USB cable that has one connector to external battery (like Anker or other). -Then you need to use some electrical tape to cover a power pin in the USB connector that connects to iPhone (this prevents cable from drawing too much power from iPhone and triggering "not compatible" message). This system uses the external battery to power the SDAC and not draw power from iPhone. In case you ever need again...
e-Dawg
Oh- a few reasons for the 4-pin XLR connector... -We're working on more balanced cable options and more headphones that come with 4-pin XLR as standard. -When you start with a balanced cable, you can add an adapter to use non-balanced but you can't go the other way around. (If you don't need to use an extra adapter, it is convenient.) -The solid state Liquid Carbon amp is really a balanced amp with just a single-ended output for convenience that does not sound as good as the balanced output. Some people will stack the CTH on the Liquid Carbon or THX amp and then it is easy to go back and forth if you have a balanced cable and "The Stack". -The actual design of the 4-pin XLR connector is better electrically. All four pins are separate and only connect with their exact counterpart in the outlet. Versus when the amp is on and you plug in a 1/4" stereo plug ("Tip-Ring-Sleeve" or "TRS") you actually short the outlet when you plug it in- we have to have a protective circuit on the single-ended output. (You will notice that the amp temporarily goes into Red LED protection when you plug/unplug the 1/4" jack. That's why we recommend turning volume to off or the amp off when plugging/unplugging 1/4" headphones.) Hope that helps! Happy Listening! :)
(Edited)
Verified Purchaser
I got this the other day. I had to pay $33CAD(~25USD) for import taxes. I’m a noob that is trying to get into the audiophile world. I’m using this amp for my HD6XX. I can't really tell the difference from using my Sound BlasterX AE-5(SB) which already made my headphones sound great. Instructions said to use it for 50-100hrs so the tube burns and gets its sound signature. I'm currently doing that by leaving it on and playing a repeated playlist without headphones plugged in. Tube gets really hot. 80C or 176F. Hopefully, my cat won't get burnt. I mostly listen to rock, punk, and kpop(those girls…). Day 1: 0hrs burnt-in Sound is great but similar as my SB. I used it to play games(Overwatch) and it didn't sound that great. This is probably because I'm used to the equalization setting of my SB. There was some burning smell after a few hours but it went away after an hour or so Day 2: 24hrs burnt-in I can tell some difference between my SB and the amp. Mostly distortion. Paying close attention when the volume is up, my SB has some sort of distortion that is only there if you pay close attention to it. Day 3: 48hrs burnt-in I started to hear more notable differences. The music I listen to is more… rounded? If it was an image I would describe it as my SB is a bit washed off while this amp is fully colored. I listened to the Superman Return OST, the main Superman song, and that is the biggest difference I heard. It’s like the instruments were there where I was. I thought it was just the volume so I turned the volume up in my SB but it just made it sound louder. Nothing compared to this amp. I believe this is called soundstage? Day 4: I didn’t use it Day 5: 96hrs burnt-in Not much differences from day 3. I’m hoping to get the HD800S this year and compare with other amps. Overwall, happy with this amp.
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Verified Purchaser
I won't claim to be an audiophile and frankly, I don't even want to know how the sausage is made because every time I pull those kinds of covers back, whatever it is, it's ruined for me and I just want to enjoy my music. I love the warmth a tube amp adds to todays digital music which seems so sterile. So I've been using xDuop TA-01 for a while now which sound fine through my AKG k553 Pro headphones but the hiss in between songs and how muddy the sound got when it was turned up always bothered me. The CTH + SDAC has none of these problems. I can't hear any hiss even with the volume up and the range seems pretty flat. I add a little base boost with the EQ but I'd rather be able to do that there than have too much bass forced on me. I also happen to like a volume knob, so now I think I'm all set.
Verified Purchaser
Had this for a few weeks now and love it. Looks great on my office desk beside my Surface Pro in dock feeding the SDAC via USB and Tidal high-fi. Works great with my with my HD6XX. I find I'm at 9-10:30 on the volume dial (computer and app turned up to 100%). Just upgraded the cables to the fanmusic C6 to take advantage of the XLR connection. This is an upgrade from a Fulla2 and I can definitely tell the difference. This one is much louder! - which to my ears accounts for much of the "improvement" in amps/dacs. Regardless, I'm really enjoying the entire set of Massdrop audio gear. Its helped me "rediscover" my enjoyment of quality audio (and it makes my desk look good to boot.)
Verified Purchaser
An excellent headphone amp, price is decent, excellent in sound. Wish the amp had a little more oomph to drive my HD6XX. (Using my Little Dot Mk2 as a benchmark) Edit: Added another star, other than I have to turn it up louder it sounds so full and warm compared to my Fiio E10K + Little Dot Mk2. Much happier with this CTH+SDAC.
(Edited)
Verified Purchaser
I've purchased one about a month ago, burned in for about 160 hours, 80 hours through digital SDAC then another 80 or so staright analog input. I've purchased this to work with a HFM Sundara, maybe i did get a faulty unit, but it felt very underpowered to be able to properly drive the fairly efficient 37 Ohm 94dB/mW of the Sundara, the sound was very smooth, very good S/N ratio, contrast felt very good, i just felt the amp was very underpowered. One thing i noticed that the 6922 tube which shold be running fairly hot at normal operating temperature range, (180 to 210 degrees), in tis amp the 6922 seemed like it was running continuosly cold, never over 130 degrees. The plate voltage in this tubes can reach from 90 to 135 volts, some amps drivem very hard to 200V i sincerely don't believe this tube was being properly driven to within normal operating point. I was able to return the amp with no issues, i've repalced it with a iFi iDSD Micro BL, which of course for almost double the $ sounds considerable better. I believe this to be a fair deal, and works beatiful with an IEM or an extremely easy load around 30 ohm and 98dB/mW and up should be the target in my view. I can't see this working in any Sennheiser or other power hungry pair of cans, i've read reviews of people that swear by the combination, if this is the case, i think my unit was faulty, but wasn't willing to give another unit another couple hundred hours to find out. Recommended for high efficiency IEM, or same efficiency cans, not for big medium efficiency cans. Caveat, maybe this deserves a 5 star rating and my unit was faulty. i will never know.
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Maybe the amp is designed to be able to better run highish impedance cans with higher impedance, so maybe designed with higher output impedance and lower gain. one thing i'm sure of the 6922 family of tubes operating parameters are plate voltage from 1bout 85 V. to 120 V . . ish wihtout too much problem the heater filamente must be the required 6.3 volts. i think in this amp all parameters are off by a wide margin, usually if run at lowest point of the parameters the tube will probably run aprox around 150 to 180 degrees F, that will give a nice burn upon a 1 second touch. also manufacturers of equipment in the higher quality realm try not to use both sides of the tube to amplifi different channels for the crosstalk and other phenomenon of interference. maybe the inut tube is only used as a buffer stage and not a real amplification part, a shame since the 6922 along with the 6SN7 types are sonically my favorite low signal tubes. But . . they must be run properly at operating levels and voltages.
I've run my HD6xx, HE4xx and Elex thru this amp...no problems. However, I do prefer to bypass the SDAC and feed the CTH w/ my Dragonfly Red. The Red's preamping helps with the bass in my opinion. So the standalone CTH may have been a better choice for me. With the Elex I don't have to turn the dial past midway, usually 10/11 o'clock is sufficient. The HE & HD, 2/3 o'clock is optimal.
Verified Purchaser
A terrific headphone amp, modest in cost, excellent in sound.
Verified Purchaser
This DAC and amp is very good. I used just the amp section to drive a pair of Hifiman cans (HE560) using my Pioneer XDP-300R as the DAC, and also the DAC + amp from my mac. Surprisingly both DAC's sound quite close, and am very pleased as the soundstage is huge with the planar magnetic cans. The amp section have more than enough power to drive my headphones - although at decent volume the treble peak on the HE560 are at times too bright but that is a 'problem' with the headphones and not the DAC/amp. Do yourself a favor and dump the EH 6922 tube, it sounds lifeless. I am currently using an Amperex 'Globe' 6DJ8. Any of the Amperex 6DJ8/6922/7308 family of tubes will be much better sonically than stuff like EH. The improvements over the stock EH tube are not subtle. The DAC/amp, however, doesn't make it easy to tube roll as the tube (when seated correctly in the base) can't be removed w/out difficulty. With older tubes like the Amperex, the printing/logos are already easy to remove, and so having to grip the top of the tube to pull it out is not good design - people who are tube fanatics want to keep as much of the print/logo as possible. Since the tube is already sticking out of the chassis, having the tube base flush with the top would be much better - and one can get to see the whole tube as opposed to just the top, not to mention easier to remove at the base. With the sonics with the Amperex tube, I guess it's not going anywhere.
azhang13
Please don't recommend my favorite tubes, there's few left. :D
azhang13
In this amp i noticed that the tube socket was extremely tight, too much at the point that i was concerned about braking a tube while taking out or putting it in. the insertion and extraction force was excessive. I also found the volume of the amp similar to the iPad 4 mini i used to drive it with in analog, with digital the SDac was unable to run from the 5V output of my iPad or iPhone, i had to use an iFi iUSB 3.0 the it drove it properly. I noticed the volume not quite enough to open up the HifiMan Sundara i own now. Great cans, underwhelming performance form the amp i thought . . . : (
Verified Purchaser
I am no expert but I am very happy listening to my music through this. Very happy.
Verified Purchaser
After 30 hours of burn-in it sounds just awesome. Sounded very veiled out of the box and there was too little treble, but burn-in made wonders.
Verified Purchaser
Tremendous sound, especially for the price. Great mix of being nice, warm, tubey sound without being flat, detail-less, or unresolving.
Verified Purchaser
revising my old review. Currently using this with my newer hd600 which convinced me to sell the hd700 :D. I was using it with my Mimby/Eitr but after getting a periapt XLR cable the CTH/hd600 sounds so much better with the built in Sdac. So, what am I hearing. Some sweet dynamics come through on this thing. Bass is big, warm and gives good impact, Mid/Vocals have just enough detail to have me just enjoying the presentation of them rather than wanting more clarity. Wouldn't say CTH/SDAC is revealing everything though. Treble is alright you definitely get a sense of air and space, usually not too hot but sometimes it's still the thing keeping me from turning the volume up, so it's not the warmest hybrid amp you'll ever find especially considering it doesn't take well to tube rolling. Honestly like many other people have described this amp, I will be keeping this around simply because I enjoy how it makes my music sound. I hope to acquire the THX someday soon and that way I'll have an accurate amp and one for enjoyment regardless of mood. Definitely give it time to burn in, but I feel the cable change made the most different in my experience with my hd600. It's an easy listen, but if I give the music my attention I can connect with it and the energy that the CTH translates so well. If you are looking for resolution that will make you swear you're in the booth or at the concert, this is not the system for you (a better dac will yield even better results), however if you want a cheap box to hook up your Over ear headphones while you lay back and listen to music I can easily recommend the CTH/SDAC. Also, this is yet another endorsement of the synergy with the hd600, however per my experience, I would say dump your stock cable and invest in a good replacement for maximum enjoyment. P.S. from my experience with the mD+ I would not get this to run your low impedance IEM's. The Magni 3 was a better match for the MD+, but if you're thinking about that price range for an amp, look into the jds Atom which is making it's rounds right now.
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Verified Purchaser
I am by no means a professional audiophile or anything. Most I can do is give a review from a beginner or normal consumer perspective. I have this paired with the senheiser 6xx here on massdrop.
Imagine this his as a vanilla of audio amps. It’s nice and clean. Doesn’t have anything amazing that will shock you but it will leave you with a clean sound just as it was meant to be. The other reviews from people more qualified and experienced than me are to be trusted. This lacks bass that you would expect from consumer products like the beats by dre. other than that, I do not think I will grow sick of this sound. Even if someday I do I would probably switch out the tube for another one to try out.
Solid choice choice for a first amp
Teddy-Bear
My thoughts exactly. My go to suggestion for entry level enthusiasts.
Verified Purchaser
Amazing DAC/AMP !!!
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Verified Purchaser
Sounds great
Verified Purchaser
When I first received the unit, it had the common issue with the scratchy volume knob. Whenever I turned the knob it produced a horrible scratching sound in the left channel of my headphones. I decided to live with it, since it was only happening while the knob was being turned, and shipping the unit back to the US and waiting for a replacement would be very inconvenient for me.
After a couple weeks, I had a thought that maybe the contacts of the potentiometer just got a little dust on them when the unit was being assembled. I unplugged my headphones and quickly turned the volume knob "lock to lock" several times. This completely and immediately fixed the issue! Would recommend this as a first measure before you send your unit back for replacement if you have a scratchy volume knob.
Aside from this, the sound does pan toward the left channel as the volume decreases into the very low range. I am using this to drive a fairly sensitive pair of headphones (Oppo PM-2) and the volume at which the panning begins is ever so slightly above the minimum volume I might hypothetically want to listen at (although it should be noted that I have never, in practice, wanted to listen at that volume, even though I generally like to listen at quiet levels). For this reason I wouldn't recommend this amp for use with super sensitive equipment like IEMs. Anyone using high impedance headphones likely won't notice this panning at all.
The sound, though, is just lovely. I have been listening to my PM-2s with a Fiio E07K for about a year now, and this is a significant upgrade. I always thought the Fiio sounded a bit fuzzy, not quite up to the level of when I demoed the PM-2s on a Chord Mojo before I purchased them. This bridges the gap; cymbal crashes has noticeably more definition and texture, and kick drums hit with more distinctive thwack than boom. Imaging characteristics seem to also be improved. I might say that I detect the slightest touch of tube "warmth" and "prescence", but these are fluff terms and I must admit that I have no real frame of reference for "tube sound".
Overall I'm very satisfied. The balance quirk above does not bother me at all in usual listening, but would be a nusciance for someone intending to use this amp with IEMs. I am also lucky enough to have found an easy fix for my scratchy volume knob, although for others ymmv.
Verified Purchaser
This isn't my first experience with a hybrid tube amp, but definitely my best. I have an older Peachtree Decco that cost three times as much and this without a doubt sounds better. I also have a Monoprice Monolith USB stick DAC/amp and a Fiio e10k. This is my new favorite thing to listen to anything through. I'm honestly surprised how much better I like the sound than anything else I own. Really I was just wanting a new hybrid amp with an integrated DAC for my desk. This is even more than I wanted. Great buy.
I've been using this with mostly TH-X00 and HD58X, also tried with my DT770s and stupid stuff like VE Monks and various cheapish IEMs. The amps qualities are most noticeable with the TH-X00, but even the 58X feels better on the lowend if nothing else.
edit: Gotta drop a star unfortunately. Still sounds great, but I had an accident with a dog yanking it off my desk. It still works great thru USB, but the RCA jacks are messed up. Massdrop said it's impossible to get parts to repair. Really unfortunate because now I can't use this with any analog sources or my other DACs.
duhrick
Wow lucky you didn't get the amp only version. They have it in stock again now. Wonder if they may have parts now? This is problematic on the warranty end for sure.
Verified Purchaser
Fantastic DAC/Amp combo. My setup is this DAC/Amp and a pair of HiFiMAN HE-5LEs, using the 4-pin XLR cable.
Normally tube amps barely power these cans, so a hybrid or digital is pretty necessary. My last hybrid amp didn't really give me enough juice (a Schiit amp), so I couldn't really crank it up to the point where it was uncomfortably loud.
This amp not only serves more than enough power for these fairly inefficient planar magnetic cans, it sounds great. Particularly for the price, this is a fantastic combo.
Verified Purchaser
Great dac / amp combo. On some songs I like the dac section better than my old trusted Metrum Octave Mk1. CTH + SDAC is certainly much better than Dragonfly Red (with HD6xx), especially in the bass, but also in "ease of flow", if you know what I mean.
What I do not like: that I got power supply with US type plug. Surely MD could have included at least an adapter for European customers.
Verified Purchaser
Originally it sounded a bit flat and sterile, but after 50 or so hours of break in time on the tube it's starting to open up. The DAC is comparable to other schiit I've used in the past...it's not going to blow your mind but it's going to be much better than your phone or computer if that's what you are used to listening to music through. Been primarily using it with my Beyerdynamic DT 990's (600ohm) which are hard to drive. When I get it to about 1 or 2 o'clock it hits the sweet spot and really makes these cans start to shine - detailed, lush and a spacious sound stage. Listening to a varied mix of stuff (last night it was Tortoise, Dragonforce, Mos Def, Bad Plus, Peter Gabriel) and it sounds enjoyable across the board, whether it's sparse and airy or dense and bombastic. With so many options at this price point it makes decisions tough but I feel for roughly 300 bucks for an all in one solution this is a decent deal.
Verified Purchaser
Only had it for about a day but i will say that so far I'm impressed, I'm sure it will sound even better after some burn in! using it with HE4XX and HD700, i love how it makes the HE4XX sound!
EDIT: I have now had the amp/dac for about two weeks and wanted to provide an update. I got Telefunken tube and i will say this thing an absolute joy to listen to, i like it more than my Woo Wa7... however i don't have two matched Telefunken tubes... so that's that. I would recommend this amp/dac to anyone.
Verified Purchaser
Started out meh but after full break in period passed, sound really changed. Overall, very happy with the setup. I have not heard anything better than this yet - and I am not sure why I would need to. I am using it with Massdrop JBL monitors as a setup on my work desk at home, mostly streaming music from Spotify (with maxed out quality) and Digitally Imported. I can't find any fault with the sound this combo produces - I can clearly hear all individual instruments, sound is balanced, vocals are lively, present, and up front, bass is tight, sound stage is wide and there's enough details there for me to want to re-listen to all my favorite music all over again. One thing to mention though - now when I stream lower quality music I can immediately hear it. Just sounds flat and dimension - less, but that's expected. Build quality is great, have not had any issues with volume knob, tube, or anything else, really.