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What's with these two trends: Everything portable and DAC + AMP in one box these days?!

post #1 of 106
Thread Starter 
So I've been following new headphone amps releases and it seems like everybody is releasing portable amps and DAC+Amp in one?!

To get this straight right at beginning, there are two things that I'm a firm believer of and have seen (well, technically HEARD) enough examples for myself to base my opinion on my own experience and not speculation.

1) Just because it's NEW doesn't mean it's BETTER than something that was already there. I have recently compared my seriously maxed Pimeta and firmly stand by this belief.

2) Good portable amps have nothing on good home amps, PERIOD!

Please note, that I will NOT use any product amp names in my post because I do not want to offend any manufacturers or businesses even if I personally think they are just "Fad of the Month" or more politically correct, as the "New amp which people seem to like but haven't bothered to compare to what's already out there".



Sure, we're living in the day and age of everybody loving small gadgets, hence the portable amps marketing spree, but come on, what's with all the portable amps out there? I haven't seen a lot of new designs out there, but there are so many amps that all use almost the dame design, and mostly the same opamps, just different packaging.

Tons of amps out there, all based on the established design of 3 channels, high output current output driven by opamps (look to Mini^3 with AD8397 and OPA690). Sure, some are opamp+buffers (and these I like more), but these for some reason cost even more (4x parts cost at my count). I just don't get why so many people get the "newest and smallest" device out there and claim it to be the "be all and end all" of portable audio without even comparing it to existing designs.


On to the AMP+DAC phenomenon. So this has been bothering me for a while. Do people not realize that almost no portable DAPs (digital audio players, not DAC) have digital output, why are you getting the DAC in a portable amp?!

I can understand that everybody wants to have a nice source as well as a nice amp, but in my experience I haven't seen ANY DAC+Amp combinations that rival similarly priced separate DAC and Amp combinations. As I said above, I will not single any product out, but I barely have to, at least half of the newest released amps come with DACs!

Is the audiophile Head-Fi world really losing their touch of "fine audio" and selling out to "Ooh, look, it's small and cute AND it has a everything you need in a tiny little bundle" of the non-audiophile world of the audio salesman that say that Bose TriPods really are the best thing you can blow $150 on?
post #2 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by FallenAngel View Post

On to the AMP+DAC phenomenon. So this has been bothering me for a while. Do people not realize that almost no portable DAPs (digital audio players, not DAC) have digital output, why are you getting the DAC in a portable amp?!
A portable Amp/DAC device such as a Pico or Predator would be useful if traveling for work, or the like, and using in combination with a laptop. I will purchase one for this reason sooner or later.

Otherwise I am inclined to agree.

cheers
Simon
post #3 of 106
Exactly. I bought my D2 primary as a portable amp. But with the built in DAC I can use my Laptop on the go as source (and it's definately better then my DAP). As a student I also am most of the week in my students apartment. At the weekend I am at home or at my girlfriends home... everywhere I need acceptable audio hardware. So there is nothing wrong with a Pico, Predator or D2. The amps themselves are great for their size and the DACs on these small devices got better and better.
post #4 of 106
I can't give you specific reasons why portables amps and amp/DAC combo's have become so popular here, I can only relate my personal reasons for owning one.

Awhile back, for financial reasons, I downsized to an iPod and the Shure E500's. At the time I felt was the best compromise because this gave me decent sound that I could use in just about any situation. I also felt it gave me a basis to rebuild around when funds permitted. That rebuilding started with a Go-Vibe5 which wasn't anything spectacular but did help with the noise issues between sensitive IEM's and the iPod. Then, as funds permitted, I upgraded the Go-Vibe5 to a HeadAmp AE-2.

The AE-2 brought my portable setup to a level I was happy with so my next step was to purchase a cheap, yet decent DAC to hook up to my DVD player and the AE-2 at home. I was looking at things like a Monica 2 or something else in that range when Justin announced the Pico. At first the Pico didn't really interest me because it was USB only but as I thought further about it the idea seemed to make a lot of sense for me. Since my budget was limited, around $200-250 for a DAC, it seemed like given the Pico's DAC design, selling my AE-2 and using those funds in addition to buy a Pico instead of a standalone DAC made sense.

I'm so glad I went this route, now at work where I do the bulk of my listening, instead of using an iPod as my source I use my computer to the Pico's DAC which is much, much better. When I don't have access to a computer the amp can still be used with my iPod. At home I have easier access to all my music on my computer and it's in a smaller, easier and probably much better setup than my budget would have permitted otherwise. As an upgrade path the Pico has proven that it can also act as a decent standalone DAC to separate amp so that option is open to me down the road as well.

In the end I think you have to realize that people have varying needs, you may not have a use or need for a portable amp/DAC combo unit but for someone who listens predominately at work or on the go, via a laptop something like the Pico can be a godsend. I've been around the block a bit so I have no illusions about the Pico, it's not the be all and end all of amps or DAC's but it does offer a heck of a lot of value in one small package that makes having a decent, easily transportable setup a reality for many.
post #5 of 106
My thoughts exactly. I use my iBasso D2 4-8 hours a day at my work hooked up to my work laptop. When I travel, I take my iPod with my D2 (using as an amp).

It makes much more sense for me to spend my money on something portable when I am rarely home. But, then again, I do want something better for the few times I'm at home. Thus, I have been looking for a cheap DAC/AMP combo for home (TNS sweet-2 maybe).
post #6 of 106
I actually want a 100Gb music player included too.
post #7 of 106
If you have a good source, even played on a simple system or rig, you will hear the difference.
post #8 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by elnero View Post
In the end I think you have to realize that people have varying needs, you may not have a use or need for a portable amp/DAC combo unit but for someone who listens predominately at work or on the go, via a laptop something like the Pico can be a godsend.
Well said, elnero.
post #9 of 106
I agree with most of the comments in this thread. A lot of it is good marketing and filling a niche for the "ipod generation" but there isn't anything really wrong with that, it just opens up more options for people. It seems like any of these usb dac/amp portables would be great to pair with a laptop as an office/mobile solution, though I would hope that nobody really thinks they are the be all end all of head-fi when compared to dedicated home rigs.. there surely must be a price paid for their portability.
post #10 of 106
I don't think all of the devices being made are entirely useless. Headroom's Micro Line is definitely the exception to the rule here. They sound fantastic, but they're quite portable, and they fulfill their role. I'll probably be exploring them as an option to upgrade my laptop setup someday since that is what they are ideally used for. Many of these products have laptops in mind, so don't leave that out of the equation.

As for the next product I'd like to see? I want a 30GB hard drive interfaced to an MP3 and digital audio decoder with a color LCD screen. Then, I want a DAC to decode the music, and an amp to amplify the signal coming from the DAC. Oops, I just described my iAudio X5L... in conclusion, I would say that I do agree that things are going a little too far lately and the stress on individual components needs to be seen more.
post #11 of 106
End of all? Maybe not entirely -- but end of all in our application? May very well be at this moment.

Here is my list of quirks:
Most of the time is spent on campus (thus I have to carry my gear, want small things).
Most of the time is spent on battery power (thus I need ~12 hours battery life).
I could care less about the little advantages of better and better amp designs over one-another - I am studying most of the time and not paying attention to sound. Paying attention to sound happens when I am at home, with speakers.
Thus items on the tier of portable amp/dac hybrid are very acceptable (although I would like a solution similar to Headroom Micro-Stack, but more neutral).

Also, Pimeta might be good...but it also is big. Add a USB DAC and you got a serious pile of equipment on your hands, not backpack friendly.
post #12 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by FallenAngel View Post
On to the AMP+DAC phenomenon. So this has been bothering me for a while. Do people not realize that almost no portable DAPs (digital audio players, not DAC) have digital output, why are you getting the DAC in a portable amp?!
No there's not many...but any H1xx owner will tell you this is where it's at. Unfortunately, none of these new offerings offer optical in (which has been a major dissappointment to me).

Quote:
Originally Posted by FallenAngel View Post
I can understand that everybody wants to have a nice source as well as a nice amp, but in my experience I haven't seen ANY DAC+Amp combinations that rival similarly priced separate DAC and Amp combinations.
I've heard three of the new DAC/amp combo units (owned two), and I agree that none of them held a candle to a MicroDAC--->SR71. FWIW, I'm convinced (in my own head) that that combo is the only portable/transportable rig that even approaches dedicated desktop equipment.
post #13 of 106
I think you've got your answers: Convenience, laptops, fashion. The latter having much to do with hanging around places like this. But hey, I'll bite -- I don't need a portable; I have one. But I've been looking at amp/dac combos because they are self-contained and seem like good solutions. My attention has been drawn by:

Apogee Duet - Apogee's latest DAC (how bad can that be) packaged with a headphone amp that run off my Mac's fire wire port, with lots of extras, $500.

Meier Corda Cantate -- AC-powered desktop DAC/Amp, $570

Glow Audio Amp One -- Tube amp with built-in 16-bit DAC, $488.

These kinds of things just seem like an obvious solution within my budget, to go between my Mac laptop and my Senns. But I'm open. What individual DAC and amp in that price neighborhood would do better? Seems like most of the mid-priced amp-only solutions cost nearly as much as these. What am I missing? I'm even willing to look up a bit for better performance.

Tim
post #14 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by tfarney View Post
I think you've got your answers: Convenience, laptops, fashion. The latter having much to do with hanging around places like this. But hey, I'll bite -- I don't need a portable; I have one. But I've been looking at amp/dac combos because they are self-contained and seem like good solutions. My attention has been drawn by:

Apogee Duet - Apogee's latest DAC (how bad can that be) packaged with a headphone amp that run off my Mac's fire wire port, with lots of extras, $500.

Meier Corda Cantate -- AC-powered desktop DAC/Amp, $570

Glow Audio Amp One -- Tube amp with built-in 16-bit DAC, $488.

These kinds of things just seem like an obvious solution within my budget, to go between my Mac laptop and my Senns. But I'm open. What individual DAC and amp in that price neighborhood would do better? I'm even willing to look up a bit for better performance.

Tim
I think his main gripe is with portable DAC/Amps that are coming out lately.
post #15 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by souperman View Post
I think his main gripe is with portable DAC/Amps that are coming out lately.
Yeah I get that, but the question still stands. Should I expect a $200 USB DAC and a $300 home amp to deliver better performance than, say, a Corda Cantate or Apogee Duet? Perhaps more to the point, is something like the $1275 DAC1 superior to the DACs in amps like the Duet, or is it more a matter of features (connections, etc) and taste (lush vs. neutral?). I know I've been hanging around asking a lot of questions, but a) I'm waiting for the funds b) I don't intend to upgrade my upgrades. I intend to do this once and make it last for years.

Tim
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