Feb 13, 2018606 views

DAC/amp guidance/recommendation

Looking for guidance from the nice community I've found here. Very excited about finding this site and I feel like I want to buy everything here, lol.
My specific question though is regarding a headphone amplifier. Most probably there are many threads on this already maybe a link to one of them will help (from those here longer that remember such discussions). I currently have a pair of Klipsch X11 IEMs (hopefully no one laughs) and will be getting a Fostex T40RPmk3 (closed back; everything I have or will buy will be that way given where I'm listening). Also, I predominantly listen to music on my computer at work or Apple laptop at home or from my phone.
Do I need a DAC/amplifier or just an amplifier and, if I'm new to the amp world, am I best off with an "intro" amp? What do you guys recommend?
Thanks in advance and looking forward to working more to support all the purchases I'll want to make here, lol.
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Like Eli35, I would suggest starting with small expenditures and working your way up if you aren't satisfied, this rabbit hole is extremely deep. Plug your IEM's into your sources, do you hear any hiss/static/hum? Make sure to move about the system without having music playing (open programs/apps, navigate through web browsers, etc... You will typically expose any "noise" within your source in this manner. If you have no issues then I would suggest just an amp (O2, Magni, FiiO). If you have a noisy source then look at getting an outboard DAC/Amp or DAC + AMP stack (preferably driven by wall power, not USB). I started small and now have 20+ pairs of headphones, three amps, one usb amp/dac, an outboard rack sized DAC and another on the way. It took me over a decade to build my collection, as I identified "flaws" in my chain I updated it.
Hi AK770,
I would also suggest is to DEMO as much audio gear as you can YOU ARE INTERESTED IN in with music you know well or at least familiar with recorded at minimun CD quality, this means 320 kbps which is the highest one can record mp3 as a standard common format.
If you do this, you can form your own opinion on what you like & appeals to you & which also sounds good to you, no one else. A common reccuring theme in the audio community is many people are swayed by those supposedly in the know & are sometimes convinced not to trust their own judgement or more importantly, their own ears.
Hope this helps.
PaganD
Very helpful! In fact I was just playing w/ the EQ settings on my phone last night (I didn't even know it had it until recently actually) and changed it to a "V" sound and realized that's not to my taste (though I'm struggling to find what really is and maybe my hearing is worse than I thought, lol).
I was trying to see if there were any "audiophiles" where I live or at least go to a store (Best Buy?) to sample. I guess the good thing is that there are SOOOO many headphones out in the market someone surely makes something I will like. Actually, guilty pleasure, I have a pair of Klipsch R6 on ear that I rather enjoy that I got for under $30 on Amazon over the summer :)
My typical advice I give people (and follow myself) is to "start cheap". Now, I am not meaning dollar store cheap, but don't break the bank either. If you decide you like some equipment and want to upgrade later on you can budget for it and get nicer things as you become certain it is worth it to you (and that is the key word - make sure _you_ find it worthwhile instead of just following the advice of others, everyone is different and has different tastes).
Since you are listening primarily on a computer, having even a decent DAC would likely be a large boost. I always suggest starting out there the DAC/AMP side with "decent" so you can actually tell the improvement with better headphones/ headset.
As far as a "decent" DAC/AMP goes, the Sound Blaster E5 (https://www.massdrop.com/buy/creative-sound-blaster-e5-usb-dac-amp-combo) isn't too bad. It is basically an external sound card with some profiles... and a bluetooth connection for your phone. It should be able to support IEMs and up to 600Ohm headphones (I haven't tried the hi-gain on my G5 yet, so I can't say for certain how well it works, but the lo-gain can easily drive 32Ohm up to uncomfortable levels).
I wound up going with the Sound Blaster G5 (has a headset input instead of the second headphone jack, no bluetooth, and other than that seems to be basically the same) for my home PC until I eventually move to a Schiit stack. But considering the price difference, it is good enough to last for a while, and a large step better than integrated sound.
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I can't currently because I don't own/ have never listened to one. However, I can tell you that based on my research (reading forums and watching reviews), my planned upgrade path is to go with the Magni 3 and Modi 2 Multibit for a Schiit stack in the next month or two (hopefully coinciding with the arrival of my HD6XX or Focal Elex headphones, like the HD6XX since they _should_ ship first). So in about 2 months (hopefully) I'll be able to give you my insights on the Magni 3.
I am also relatively new to hi(er)-fi so I am learning as much as I can and purchasing gear as budget allows.
BetaWar
Ah, so you're going the route I thought of going as well (eventually and as budget allows).
Use your whole budget on headphones first, it will save u money in the long run. I highly recommend the E-MU Teak or Fostex TH-X00, then buy the Magni 3 amp once u can afford a bit more, after that if u want icing on the cake buy the modi multibit dac and u got a solid system! The Cavalli LCX + SDAC is also terrific. U won’t ever have to upgrade cause its at the very limit of diminishing returns.
DenonFanboy
No upgrade needed if I got the Cavalli or none needed if I got the Modi multibit?
The E-MUs seem like a great value from what people are saying.
AK770
Correct! The performance ratio is way up there.
If you can, just get the current TEAC 501 deal on MD: https://www.massdrop.com/buy/teac-ud-501-dual-monaural-dac-amp?utm_source=linkshare&referer=HBCVS7 . You will have an excellently Japanese made unit with 32 bit PCM & DSD capable dual DAC's working with dual MUSES8920 Opamps. It will be a purchase that will not leave you behind with any IEM, Cans or recording format for a long, long time. You can roll opamps too MUSES02...;) never ends...
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It's funny, I've been seeing a decent amount of stuff there. i thought there would be a dedicated site for the audiophile community. I have had good enough experience on eBay to be comfortable though and should know what to stay away from.
Thanks!
AK770
There are the dedicated Audiophile sites, but they always seem to demand higher prices, waiting for the right buyer. On eBay you see many folks moving stuff, not waiting necessarily for the best price.
And ones like this, who must be a reviewer of audio hardware, "tried once stuff", nothing now but put on your seller watch list: https://www.ebay.com/usr/alphaphoenix
Okay I read some of your comments @AK770, and there's some info I'd like to share with you & the world: - a DAC processes a digital signal to generate an analog one, like a CD player or your PC when reading audio files. An amp takes an analog signal and amplifies it, giving it more voltage and current (power = voltage x current, basic Ohm's law). Most "decent" DACs produce a clean uncolored sound, so as long as you pick a well-known model you'll be good to go and I'll work with any amp. It's in the amp where the big sonic differences can be heard, because they usually add some coloration and affect a lot to the final sound. - The amount of voltage and current an amp has to output depends on the headphones' impedance, and every amp has different capabilities. Typically, solid state amps are capable of providing much more current than voltage, thus output more power when driving low impedance headphones. On the other hand, tube amps, specially OTL, are much capable of generating voltage than current, that's why they output more power under higher impedance loads. Hybrid amps are nothing more than a solid state amp with a tube preamp attached, so power-wise they're about the same than a fully solid state amp. - what determines how much power headphones will need to be heard at a reasonable volume is the sensitivity, not the impedance, but solid state amps provide more power under low impedance loads, so expect lower power output the higher the headphones' impedance. This power calculator can be helpful: http://www.digizoid.com/headphones-power.html. - for low-impedance high-sensitivity budget IEMs (like your Klipsch) you don't need a dedicated amp, they're easy enough to drive and unless your PC/laptop audio chipset sucks you won't notice much of a difference. - moving up to not-so-easy to drive full size headphones, like the Fostex T40RP, the amp makes much more sense. I own the Massdrop x Fostex T-X0 (a slightly modified version of the T50RP MKII) and they need some serious power, much more than my HD6XX. - unless you plan to buy some seriously power hungry headphones, like the T50RP, - your headphones' choice depends a lot on the kind of music you hear and your personal preferences. There's no "best headphone" because everyone hears differently. Some very well-known "staples" are the HD600 or HD650/6XX (HD600 neutral, HD650 musical, warm, bass rich) for almost everything (specially rock), AKG K701/K7XX/K702 (huge soundstage, great detail but lacking bass impact) for classical/instrumental (Superlux HD668b, a AKG K240 clone, are amazing for the price and will work great with classical too), Audio Technica ATH-M50x and Beyerdynamic DT770 (v-shaped sound, budget all-rounders) for hip-hop and EDM (they sound ok with almost anything, but great with bass heavy genres). - like @RojasTKD said, I suggest you to get the T50RP MKIII over the T40RP. And I said the MKIII because MKII sounds worse (stock, without mods). But both models have a mid-centric dark and analytical sound, they do not sound "good" to most people ears, and they require some modding to sound really good. If you're looking for some musical sounding headphones with good isolation, I suggest you to check some well known closed-back headphones like Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7, or Beyerdynamic DT 770 (250 ohm if planning to buy an amp, 32 or 80 ohm if not). - I suggest you to don't stretch your budget too much, specially when buying your first headphones, for a simple reason: you'll want to have more than one pair, specially if you listen to a different range of music on different environments. An example: for relaxed classical music listening at home, you might look for open-back bright headphones, something like AKG K7XX (or Superlux HD668b if you're on a tight budget); for rock listening while working at the office, closed-back headphones like the ATH-MSR7 (or M50x on a budget) will work wonders. - If you really wanna get isolated from the noise at work, maybe you should check for some Noise Cancelling (NC) headphones. I know almost nothing on the subject, but I heard the Sennheiser Momentum over-ear have a great sound and there's a noise cancelling wireless version. I listened to some cheap Sony's at a local store recently, and they sounded bad but the noise cancelling was amazing, it almost blew my mind when I couldn't hear people talking around me without any music playing on background. Most IEMs also isolate very good, it's a different experience but for the same price of an average full size headphone you can get some seriously good IEMs.
Oh man, I think I wrote too much, but still could write for a looong time... Sorry? Hahaha
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I'm glad to help! Yeah, I think you're looking in the right places. And yes, most of the headphones listed above are good "references" that will work great as starting points, and while eventually you'll look for something different/better you won't regret buying them (if you know what you're buying). Don't be one of these fools that buys a HD6XX and sells it straight after because "they have no bass, dull sound, boring, low volume from smartphone and laptop, my $20 Sony/Philips headphones sound better".
I won't recommend first getting an amp, unless you already have (or will have really soon) at least one headphones that really benefit from proper amplification. Otherwise, you're just wasting money, because it won't make a big difference in sound and you'll do better buying better headphones with the money you spent on the amp. So, first of all, buy some good headphones. Ideally, you'll figure out your desired headphones based on your preferences and the kind of music you listen the most, forgetting about if they need amplification; once you know what will your first headphones be, if they're not easy to drive, buy a proper amp for them.
If you're 100% sure you wanna get into the audiophile world, I'd suggest you to save at least $250 (plus your headphones budget), so you can buy dedicated source (like a DAC, or a CD player, or a turntable, or...) and amp. Why? Because later on you'll probably want to upgrade your setup, and having discrete DAC and amp allows you to upgrade one without having to replace the another. A less risky approach is buy a cheap DAC/amp combo (like the Schiit Fulla 2, Audioquest Dragonfly or Hifime Sabre 9018) and use it later as a DAC; this won't be as good as a dedicated DAC, but It'll be better than the typical headphone/line out that you can find on most devices like PCs or smartphones.
To sum thing up, let's finish with a case study. Based on the opinions and reviews, you decided that the HD6XX are good for you. Since the HD6XX have high impedance, and knowing that your actual sources (let's say an average laptop and smartphone) won't deliver enough power under such load, you have to buy an amp: you can go easy and buy a DAC/amp combo, which will be close to the "full package" but cheaper, or go big and buy separate DAC and amp (usually called "stack" because they're usually meant to be placed one on top of the other, like a Schiit Modi 2 DAC & Magni 3 amp on top). The decision is yours, but if you can afford it, the stack will eventually prove worthwile when you decide to upgrade the DAC or amp.
I started with a DAC/amp combo, the Hifime Sabre 9018, later bought a Little Dot I+ hybrid amp with some upgrade tubes, and finally a Topping D30 DAC. This is my actual stack, and works great with almost anything: from low-impedance low-sensitivity planars like my T-X0 to high-impedance high-sensitivity HD6XX. For IEMs I prefer the Sabre, because it has absolutely zero background noise or hiss and has more than enough power to drive most of them, but for the rest the stack is way better. Actually it's been like three months since last time I used the Sabre, because when I listen IEMs on-the-go I plug them straight to my phone and it sounds ok and has just enought power with most of them (S7). But I'm not you, so YMMV.
Wow, long post again hahaha. I should start a blog or something! Well, good luck and feel free to ask anything else. I hope my experience is useful for you, and helps you build a good starting setup :)
Eli35
I second this. Another reason to start with a discrete (not amplified) DAC is that most computers have absolutely awful built in DACs. And I mean really awful. There are a few exceptions, for instance most Apple products have pretty good DACs out of the box, but most of the time, if you are listening from a computer, a reputable DAC can make a huge difference.
On my experience an amp is just that, an amp, it amplifies sound and they differ a bit but really is just an amp, the difference I have found on the DAC side, not all DAC convert the files as nice as others, you can test them and come to your own conclusions, I have tested a few and read a lot on others but I'm inclined to the JDSlabs C5D. Before I get any haters on me, I speak out of my personal experience, I do not claim to be a sound expert or pretend to be one like many do, I just say what I have found out on my own. Anyways, that is just my two cents, good luck on your quest for the perfect amp/dac for you.
mamucas
Thank you. I know even if I "know the lingo" my own experience will be just that, an experience to relate to others but I'm for sure not an expert. I do like to hear recommendations though and perhaps see some consistency. And I like your point about the amp.
Mentioning you budget would be very helpful.
First I recommended the T50RP MKIII over the T40RP MKIII. It is generally considered the better sounding of the three (of course not everyone agrees with the consensus) and despite being Semi-open is doesn't leak a lot of sound. Unless someone is sitting right next to you and you listen at really high volumes, it should be much an issue. First them I'd recommend is getting replacement pads, I recommended the HM5 flat sheepskin or the Dekoni Sheepskin pads. After that a few simple mods give some good improvements.
Another alternative is the Massdrop TX0 which are basically factory modded T50RP MKIIs. I'd still recommend the Sheepskin pads mentioned above.
They do require a decent amount of power. So am Amp with some power is important. I DAC will help but you budget will have to dictate if that something you can do now or maybe later.
On a budget I'd consider the Topping D30 (DAC) and A30 (AMP) as a decent combo to get you started. I hear it a decent combo and a good value for a little over $200 (under $200 if there's a drop here on Massdrop). The Amp is capable of delivering 1.5W at 32 ohms, and a little less at the T50PR's 50ohms, which is a decent amount of power for the T50RP. I plan to grab the Topping unites at the next drop, or on Amazon, to see how how they compare to my other gear.
To give you an idea, my NFB-11 delivers about 3.5Watts @32ohms and 1.8W at 50ohms. I don't generally listen to them at max volume, but I can. At Max volume it's loud but not unbearable. Many of my headphone, including the M1060 are unbearable near max on my NFB-11.
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It depends on the person. Some people will get into the hobby and buy a good number of headphones and various DACs and Amps and upgrade several times. They enjoy the hobby and invest into it.
Others will pick something decent and sick with that.
I personally am curious and want to hear for my self the differences. I might may start making some videos to share my experience and opinions on the gear I have and have had (and what I will undoubtedly he getting).
I'd say get a decent pair of closed and open headphones maybe some speakers if your into that. Some nice sounding gear and just enjoy it.
Once I get into a space big South I can set up my projector again I'll get three desire to upgrade the home theater setup. Heheheeee!
RojasTKD
Our house is loud enough w/o me cluttering it up w/ more audio gear. I do still have a pair of hand made speakers from my earlier childhood days of attempted audiofilehood that I could dig up if needed (nice solid wood cabinets from a manufacturer in NJ).
I have had entry level headphones like m50x and hd598se in the past. I figured I liked the openness of the 598 so bought the K7xx followed by 6xx. Both were fantastic; k7xx with SS amp and 6xx with my friend's hifi system (Yggy + Black Widow). Sold the K7xx and am planning a bigger system around the 6XX. Bought a 600 though that's similar to the 6XX. Also bought the HE560 for the heck of it.
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the 6XX doesn't leak as badly as the HEs.
trybeingarun
There is an extremely small difference, open backs are open backs and leak a ton of sound. Anyone looking for isolation or to prevent (some)sound leakage should explore semi-open or fully closed headphones.
The T40RPmk3 I think is pretty hard to drive, so you will need an amp. However that headphone is generally not considered endgame material. So don't plan around that headphone. Get a good headphone amp like the magni3 and you can even skip the dac for now and add one later when you think you need one (as long as you don't have an extremely crappy headphone out).
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It's generally better to go with a SS amp as the first amp as it's the safest in terms of matching with headphones. Once you get a good idea of what a SS amp provides then you can go with tubes / hybrids which do a few things much better than a typical SS amp but do some things a lot worse. In other words a SS amp can be a good reference point, without doing anything exceptionally bad. If you have already identified the headphone you're going to use for the next year or so (which means you already know what you want, it's time to go specific) and you're going to build the best system for your money then start looking at other types of amps for better pairing.
trybeingarun
Very helpful, thanks. It's amazing how quickly the desire to spend money grows once one starts shopping for all of this, lol.