Aug 23, 2016

Headphone amplifier with XLR output for monitors

I've been reading a lot about headphone amplifiers and tried very few so far. I narrowed it down to a few options that match my setup and I would welcome any feedback on this.
Setup: AKG K701 headphones + Macbook pro (latest model, which some say has a good DAC) + Tannoy Reveal 501A active studio monitors (so they have built-in amps) .
My main requirement besides improving the sound quality (the volume is fine, I just care about the quality). I would like to be able to easily switch between headphones and the monitors.
The DAC is optional, AFAIU the Macbook pro's DAC is pretty good and it's unlikely Spotify or Apple Music will start playing DSD files. I also don't like that with an external DAC I cannot control volume with my keyboard ...
Budget: I would not like to spend more than $400 for my first amplifier.
I've narrowed it down to a few choices:
  • TEAC UD-301

  • Palmer PHDA 02
  • Schiit Magni 2 Uber
There are a few others like Fostex HP-A3 and Korg DS-DAC-100 and the very expensive Cambridge Audio Dacmagic 100 or Dacmagic Plus.
I really appreciate your feedback or suggestions for alternatives. Without trying these, it is really hard to make an informed decision. Thanks!


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Emotiva stealth
You really might want to also look at the entry level Lake People G 103. LP make Violectric. It doesn't have a DAC but there have been plenty of great DAC suggestions. Also, the O2 + ODAC is a good first amp and. Packs a lot of value.
If you just want a decent DAC that is also something that you can take with you on the go and use with your phone, I would go for the AudioQuest Dragonfly Black or Red. They are getting great reviews and can power most headphones.

If you are not a serious audiophile listening to lossless files then I do not see the need to invest a lot of money in an expensive DAC. A DAC can only enhance an MP3s and Spotify streams so much. However if you think you will start to invest in lossless files, or subscribe to Tidal Hi-FI streaming than I would say invest whatever amount you are comfortable with on a DAC. They do make a world of difference compared to the built in DAC in Macbook.

Massdrop just dropped the TEAC UD-301 for $349, which would connect well with your Tannoys via Balanced XLR. It's is a decent deal, but you can get it cheaper on Amazon. This is a decent entry level DAC
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agreed. For someone that is not a serious Audiophile I always recommend the Dragonfly Red or Black. It is so versatile. I use it from my MacbookPro to my Studio monitors, and then use it on the go with my phone and PSB headphones. It really is very versatile.
Here is a great setup for the casual listener that doesn't want to break the bank. http://www.audiostream.com/content/computer-audio-101-turn-your-desktop-and-iphone-concert-hall-under-500#lkomfiqwmotTqXgf.97
Can you rise the budget a littler more? I have the Grace design M920 and love it. You don't have to switch between headphones and monitor. Also each output has its own volume preset.
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This thing has so many outputs.
JeffHu
The m920 is a little beyond the price-class of the options the OP was looking at. They were also referencing the M9XX rather than the m920. Adding in another option for OP: http://emotiva.com/products/dacs/electronics/dacs/stealth-dc-1 They offer a line-in expansion kit as well if more analog inputs are needed. I've seen favorable comparisons to the Schiit Bifrost/Bimby and I do love my previous purchases from Emotiva.
I figured out that the Teac is 50% cheaper in US than in Europe. Moreover, the power input is not compatible, I would need a transformer. Now thinking about getting the Schiit. Does anyone know if volume knob also adjusts the volume for line out?
zamf
From there website description of the Magni Uber:
Preamp Output: Yes, controlled by volume pot and switched via headphone jack
ElectronicVices
yeeey, thanks a bunch!
Say, isn't the power switch on that Palmer backwards from what one usually sees?
doug-jensen
It's made in Germany AFAIK ;)
I don't know how I feel about this post.. And I don't want to be critical at all as I'm sure a keyboard warrior will roll straight in after me and tell everyone he is a PhD astronaught from the planet superior and tell me I'm downright wrong. But. Anywho.

You state quality yet you're listening to the potatoes in the other thread who claim an isolated dac (which is still integrated with the main motherboard derp derp computer engineering 101 hello) on a Mac Pro is even on the playing field (yes I slowly backed away from that thread). Because if you're honestly happy with that and don't care about volume then just don't bother going further. When it comes to quality you have to deal with it at the source +every step after that.

The best tip I can give you here is use a usb dac (I believe audiotechnica make a cheap good quality one).
If you don't care about volume then leave it at that you're done. If you do then pick up a little dot tube amp, for that earthy audiophile flavour. Then spend the rest of your money on something useful, like better headphones than the AKG (they're mediocre). The headphone itself is what will make the most difference and is not something worth skimping on. Choose high end dynamic or dive into the realms of planar magnetic, the worlds sounds are yours to indulge in. I personally enjoy comfort while gaming so I own Beyerdynamic T1's (and many others). But the choice is purely yours.

Good luck
Pays_in_Bitcoin
Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it. I guess there is a debate on the DAC quality. I am pretty sure that a dedicated DAC is better, but I am not sure if I can tell the difference. Since I live in Switzerland, it's harder to try out hardware and return it if I don't like it than in the US. In this case I am inclined to get the TEAC UD-301, which has everything I want, including a good DAC. I will also save some money to get new headphones, that's a great point!

Do people have better alternatives to the TEAC UD-301 that have the same features?
zamf
Good choice on the TEAC. Personally it's a toss up between that and the shiit, those are solidly built. But feature wise TEAC wins, features always win
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