Oct 17, 2017

What's a good headphone/Amp/DAC combo for a budget audiophile?

Current setup:
Bose QuietComfort35s, plugged directly into front panel (I'll still probably use these headphones elsewhere)
ModMic 4 Uni-directional, plugged into back of motherboard. Hopefully I'll still be able to use it.

My budget is hopefully at/under $300. I produce music in FL Studio and generally enjoy all kinds of music.
What I'm looking for in a pair of headphones:
Comfortable, and over-the-ear. I can use earbuds, but they screw with my horrid ear canals when I have them in for a long time.
Rich, clear bass. I don't like overpowering bass, but most of the headphones I use seem to not have enough of it.
Good mids. I play around with vocal synthesis.
Clear highs.

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Desktop/Laptop>Ifi Nano iUSB3.0>OL Dac/Odac revB/Sdac>Objective o2>HE4XX
This is an easy one, if 350$ USD is still an adequate budget level for you, 50$ over your original budget, I suggest Massdrop products which provide many times the value of this 350$ budget. This is not very original, but it is I think the very best bang for the buck combo: the Massdrop/Sennheiser HD6xx headphones at 199$ and the Massdrop/ Grace O2/SDAC combo at 149$. I just hope that Massdrop will be able to propose both of these products in the future. Sennheiser moving on with the HS660S, and We don’t know yet for sure if the HD650 will be discontinued or not. So it is not certain that Massdrop will be able to convince Sennheiser to continue on the production of the HD6xx (which is a rebranded HD650) in 2018 after the current production batch. The same can be said with the O2/SDAC combo. But in this latter case, I can only guess that the O2 may be easily produced in China under the original Specs which are freely available to all including Massdrop so the decision is relying on the willing of Grace and Massdrop to continue on.

if you prefer a more portable solution, an extra 50$ in your budget would swap the O2/SDAC combo for the Audioquest Dragonfly Red, at 199$. But we are now 100$ over your original 300$ budget, I know. This unit is far less powerful than the O2/SDAC combo, but far more portable, in the form factor of an USB key. Apple IOS fans will have to add the CCK lightning to usb adapter, which is another 50$, which brings the whole package to 450$ for iOS fans. But for computer users the Dragonfly Red can be used with any headphone and can be directly plugged from an USB in/out on your computer without any adapters
oliver_oil I'm likely going to get shot for this, but as a budding audiophile I listened to the guy at my local audio store, who said really good audio is like fine wine. Unless you develop the taste for it first, you're not going to notice much difference between a $30 bottle and a $100 bottle. Two-buck chuck is always dreadful though.

In less metaphorical terms (here's where I get in trouble) I like my Sennheiser HD598Cs for work and think open headphones are a "down the road" investment. A decent DAC definitely makes a difference, as my Dragonfly Black can attest. That combo comes out to about $250 ($130 for the 598 Cs and $99 for the Dragonfly, plus tax) and when run through any amp from Goodwill I don't need to spend much more.

That said, it's a start and not a powerhouse.
This is a nice combo proposition, less expensive than my proposed 350$ O2/SDAC + HD6xx combo. I support your proposition at 230$.
Get a SMSL M7 or get a Topping DX7 (if you can find it close to $300).
If you want a stack that is cheaper the D30/A30 stack is a good option.
if you need to buy a good pair of headphones at the same time... well its going to be somewhat of a challenge but I have heard good things about the BossHifi B8 or you could maybe find an Open Box Denon Ah-MM400 on ebay for around $200-220.
I'd go for either a Schiit Magni / Modi (Uber) Stack - Best bang for the buck, just sayin' ...
You said $300 or close (at/under~flexible interpretation;) this is @ $330 for DAC/amp/cans/software, and just as close to the music, as you will ever get at that price or even much, much higher. Korg DS-DAC-100m & Phonon SMB-02 DS-DAC edition matched cans & Audiogate software.
You just supply the PC, some files, and your ears. This is using software designed to work in concert with a specific DAC/circuitry; with headphones designed for that specific DAC/amp; all made by people immersed in music... and yes DSD fluidity... play it as it was meant to be heard by us, as the artists wanted, from true native DSD studio masters...

""Comments from Shinichi Akagawa:
Some trustful work colleagues of mine asked me “do you want to listen to these headphones?” and as always I replied “Yes, I would like to listen to them” and I listened to them. Usually as a big fan and user of the CD900ST, I use my headphones for “super low frequencies and noise check”, and I have been avoiding to use and listen to them for a long time.The reason is that ears do get fatigued, and it takes some time then to get used to get back to speakers.When I listened to the “phonon SMB-02” which wasn’t familiar a brand to me, there was there a wide hi quality world. A wide sound field, a clear orientation, a great range from natural mid-hi stretching to super low range frequencies. A sound that is thought to meet all the conditions required for a headphone, and I wouldn’t feel any fatigue. Immediately I said to myself “I am buying these”, and since I got hold of them they are one of my reference tools.I have been using them all the time since then, if any musician/performer would suffer to monitor their sound I would tell them “do you want to use these?” and I would hand them to them. The ratio of the people who has once listened to them and bought them is high, more than anything else when you have your SMB-02 on, your playing performance gets better. The mid hi range is not dense, it is said that the pitch of the sound is easy to catch.So as I have been loving them this way, I ended up helping the development of a project. After spending a couple of hours with Isao Kumano of phonon, discussing and selecting parts, we created the special headphone model “SMB-02 DS-DAC edition” for the KORG DAC-10.The main change from the original SMB-02 is the cabling, and thanks to this the resolution is better. Without having to stop its development, we have succeeded in taking over the good points of the original SMB-02. And now, it is about how it will reach everybody’s ears. I really would like all of you to experience this amazing world! ""




Personally, I bought the Micca Origen+ for the convenience of having a switch to run my monitors without unplugging anything.
I use Philips SHP9500, paired with the amp and plenty of equalization through Peace, and I must say I love it! Crystal clear vocals and instruments, nice bass tones. However, I will say that bass is not very tight (expected for a pair of open cans I guess) but I enjoy it nevertheless.
Newegg still has the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium All Black Headphones 250 Ohms for $129 with good bass, good headphone. https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA29P4GR6273
I think I'd like the more detailed 880s a lot better, thanks.
inb4 "you need a 20,000 dollar amp to drive them though"
I bought some, they are nice.
If you plan to use this setup to produce music, you want as close to reference as you can get. If it it is colored by any point in the chain, you're not going to hear it as it is actually being produced. With that said, the Schiit stack is a good starting point at $200. If you can swing an extra hundred grab the K7xx here on massdrop. They're the k702 anniversary edition with a massdrop badge.
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Schiit DAC is not a good way to swing at $200.
IT has a flawed USB interface and it is bright and needs USB power. Really you need a Modi 2U and then a SMSL xUSB or equiv to get the most out of it. Basically destroying its value proposition, where you could get something like a SMSL M7 or a D30/A30 stack.
K7XX isn't really that close to reference, dt880's are a better option imo
get 2 of these and a roll of ductape;

you won't need to worry over dac/amps complicating the deal, and you can mod your rig later
with simple coat-hanger wire, should that strike your fancy.

even cable-free.
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It's a bluetooth speaker offered as a drop here on the Massdrop site.
Samsung Radius 360.
Cool. Thank you
Get an Aune T1 as DAC/Amp, it will have that rich clear bass you like and a lot of warm mid-range goodness that similar priced DAC/Amps don't have (i.e. Schiit stack or ODAC+O2 that's really popular around here) - you can find it on MD for $200 from time to time.

This leaves you with $100 for headphones, yeah an Audio Technica M50x/M40x is a great entry headphone, after spending $50k+ on audio gear, it's still one of my favorite, but they are not very comfortable. Alternatively a Fisher Audio FA-003 will be more refined and comfortable. It's a $200 headphone, but it's really just a rebadge of a Yoga CD-880, you should be able to find a cheaper rebadge, like this one for only $70: https://www.amazon.com/Perfect10-Over-Ear-Headphones-ComfortMax®-XPT100/dp/B0093PVTPS/

Do keep your QC35, it's an amazing headphone for those long flights :)
With that budget, I would spend it all on the headphones. Save up for amp/dac later (or not, they don't make a huge difference). I'm not a basshead, though, so I'm not sure what to suggest. Ath-m50x? meze classic 99? I'm sure other people have better suggestions.
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Ok, well you confused me by bringing the Fulla into a conversation where it didn't belong. I mean, the Fulla that Nwavguy mentioned isn't even a thing anymore, not that the Fulla 2 is entirely up to snuff either. Nonetheless, it's a perfectly acceptable choice for those headphones and that budget, as long as the user gets enough volume out of it, which depends on volume of source material and desired output volume.

Yes, I'm familiar with Carver's challenge, and no, it's not a curve ball. Clark's challenge is for properly functioning amps. Carver's challenge was that he could make SS amps sound like broken tube amps. This is trivial. Mostly it amounts to increasing output impedance and adding a bit of rolloff with caps. Clark's challenge is for people to hear non-FR differences between amps. He allows the right to EQ one of the amps precisely because there are broken amps with non-flat FR (ie, broken). The vast majority of amps these days have flat FR. The rest (usuallly OTL tube amps) are broken by design. If that's what you like, fine. My opinion is that DAC and amp should function properly and then we can color the sound via either headphone choice or DSP.

The most audible aspect of DACs is in the noise-shaping (which is a bit voodoo anyway). When done properly, there should not be a difference between redbook and oversampled, but you are right that sometimes a manufacturer chooses a broken design. There is a long discussion on the usefulness of high bit rates and oversampling on the Head-fi sound science forum which is actually not terrible (for once). The short of it is: 1) redbook is fine, provided that AA is handled properly, and 2) spend money on amps and headphones, since dac technology is a solved problem.

In any case, we seem to agree that FR differences in dacs and amps are clearly audible. Output impedance differences are clearly audible, depending on the transducer. Noise shaping choices can change the signal in audible ways. I consider these designs broken, you think it's a valid difference between products. That's fine, but I'm not going to argue about it anymore.
If the HD6xx don’t redrop in the future you may find them on Amazon at 315$ (HD650) from time to time (however at 375$ right now) or else get the HD600 presently at 286$. Or wait for the HD660s which will not be priced as low yet however.
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