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Frustrated and Desperate: An Amp/Dac for the Grado 325is / 325i up to $400

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 
UPDATE: Preferably, I'm looking for an amp/dac combo; dac=optical/coax



Throughout the months I have been trying out different amps in an effort to find the perfect suitor for my Grado 325is. Since then, I have been able to better describe each time, what sound I am looking for. The 325is have a bit of a stinging shrill sound that I like from each time an acoustic guitar is strum, that I feel adds to the realism and gives life to the rock music that I listen to. It also brings vocals so close to your ears, that you can hear them breathe in before reciting each lyric. That is what I love about the Grado signature.

I recently tried the iBasso D10 and the Grado RA1, which were both wonderful amps, but ill suited for what I was looking for. The D10 stock, I felt had good bass and wide soundstage, but it definitely diluted some of the detail, and pushed the vocals back, giving it a bit of a concert hall sound, instead of the upfront sound that I like. I tried many different opamp rolling variations with the provided kit as well as kits by HiFlight. With the provided kit I was able to come up with a combination that I liked, but after over 200 hours of burn-in the sound just changed, and I was never able to get it back to that one climactic point.

Then came the RA1 which added more transparent volume, which I expected, but it made those shrilly guitar sounds that I like, silky smooth.

What I want:

I do not want the shrilly guitar sounds to be made silky smooth. I want them untamed, or tamed the slightest, barely noticeable pinch so that they may be heard at a higher volume with less fatigue.

I want vocals upfront and personal with such clarity and detail that I can notice the artist's breathing before or as they recite each lyric. Not slightly pushed back, as the D10 did.

I would like a larger soundstage, a better separation of instruments, but I still want that upfront and personal sound, but I don't want the vocals to be compromised as a result. I would like to feel the dimension of front to back as well. Believe it or not, on some John Mayer tracks I was able to achieve this on the D10 for a short period of time, until the sound of the amp changed. It was very engaging, and I would like to get that feeling again. But again, I don't want that concert hall feeling. I want to be standing right in front of the band, or be playing in the band.

Let me stress this again, the D10, provided a great soundstage and bass, but there was something unrealistic about it. And the vocals were pushed back somewhat, and the realistic shrill sound I like was compromised.

Many people don't like that acoustic guitar shrill sound, but that's what gives it realism. When I play the acoustic guitar myself or hear someone play it right in front of me, I hear that shrill sound with each strum. I'm looking for an amp that "DOES NOT" give me a balanced or neutral sound, because when you hear a live performance, the sound is anything but balanced or neutral. I want realism. So far the Grado unamped gives me that, on a much smaller scale. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Believe it or not, I thought the bass was perfect on the 325is when there is no amp at all. It's not overbearing and it's not inadequate. But some amps, either give too much bass, or take it away too much but give you more detail.

I'd prefer to spend $350 or less, but perhaps $400 is a possibility. I have an optical out or ministereo on my Mac Pro tower, which will be my primary source. and my iPhone 3GS will be my secondary source via LOD cable. I would prefer to achieve this with a portable amp, but I will go desktop if the sound improvement is that much better. This is primarily for the my Grado 325is and that is the only headphone that should be considered with this amp, although I will mostly likely use it for my Shure SRH840's, as well as possibly the Shure SE530 or the Westone 3's.

So far, I have to honestly say, that I prefer my Grado's unamped coming from my Apple Mac Pro tower compared to the D10 and the RA1.I'm growing tired of all this amp experimenting. I'm frustrated with the stress of having to return or sell amps back. I want that perfect amp, and the price point that I am looking for. Please, if you think you can relate to the sound that I am looking for, then give me your suggestions. I'm tired and of these postings Oh yes, one more important thing, although I want insane detail, I DO NOT WANT to experience HISS. Please give me your suggestions. I'm desperate!
post #2 of 38
Try and get a used Pico DAC/Amp? It is pretty transparent.
post #3 of 38
Wow, you're one of the few people who actually like their 325is to be shrill, most tend to "tame the highs". Just a question- do you need them to be portable? How many full-size amps have you tried? Have you tried Headroom amps? I really like my 325i/micro stack combo, which gives "crazy detail". For portables, the Bithead is pretty decent- I spent labour day weekend listening with this combo at my family's cottage by the lake and it sounded pretty decent with an iPod and LOD, however compared to the Micros the bithead does get a tad harsh, especially on sibilance-causing vocals.

Also, if you like how they sound straight out of a headphone port (which many do!), just listen to 'em that way and enjoy them
post #4 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott_Tarlow View Post
Try and get a used Pico DAC/Amp? It is pretty transparent.
That is exactly the amp that I'm eyeing next. If I can find a used on here. I heard it's a good compliment to the 325is. But I just want to know if it will meet the specific criteria I mentioned in this thread.


Quote:
Originally Posted by moogoob View Post
Wow, you're one of the few people who actually like their 325is to be shrill, most tend to "tame the highs". Just a question- do you need them to be portable? How many full-size amps have you tried? Have you tried Headroom amps? I really like my 325i/micro stack combo, which gives "crazy detail". For portables, the Bithead is pretty decent- I spent labour day weekend listening with this combo at my family's cottage by the lake and it sounded pretty decent with an iPod and LOD, however compared to the Micros the bithead does get a tad harsh, especially on sibilance-causing vocals.

Also, if you like how they sound straight out of a headphone port (which many do!), just listen to 'em that way and enjoy them
1. The amp does not have to be portable, it was just a preference, because I may decide to go jogging with my se530's (if i ever open them). or I if I sell the new se530s and go with westone 3's.

2. I have never tried a full sized amp before, or headroom amps.

3. I'm guessing your microstack combo includes the amp and the dac? That seems a bit costly for me $666 (magic number).

4. I do like the 325is unamped, but I still want more. There has to be better. It is mere satisfactory, but I'm looking to exceed satisfactory. unamped, the 325is suits my criteria but at a minimal level.

Does the micro setup suit my needs? does it tame the shrill?
post #5 of 38
I think the worst thing that will happen is you will be out shipping costs if you dont like the Pico. I think its a good choice. I haven't used them with grados, but I love it with my IEMs.
post #6 of 38
I used a Headamp AE2 when I had my 325i's. I enjoyed the combo quite a bit. Listened to mostly Blues and Rock (lots of guitar - SRV, Monte Montgomery, Kenny Wayne Sheppard,...). Got rid of the 325i's but still have the AE2. A very nice portable amp IMO.
post #7 of 38
f00fighters, with Grado cans I am very partial to transformer coupled tube amps. One great possibility are the Mapletree Ear HD amps, specially those who use the 12B4A as an output tube.

As an alternative you could explore the Head Direct EF1 or EF2 which do sound very nice w/ the Grado cans. Another possibility would be the Musical Fidelity X-Can V1 or V2 w/ the PinkFloyd mods.

Why don't you contact Raffy and the two of you can host a mini-meet in the Orlando area. A few of us would then bring amps that you could try/test w/ no risk in buying them. Cheers.
post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrarroyo View Post
f00fighters, with Grado cans I am very partial to transformer coupled tube amps. One great possibility are the Mapletree Ear HD amps, specially those who use the 12B4A as an output tube.

As an alternative you could explore the Head Direct EF1 or EF2 which do sound very nice w/ the Grado cans. Another possibility would be the Musical Fidelity X-Can V1 or V2 w/ the PinkFloyd mods.

Why don't you contact Raffy and the two of you can host a mini-meet in the Orlando area. A few of us would then bring amps that you could try/test w/ no risk in buying them. Cheers.
I think Mapletree amps are out of my price range, Miguel The EF2 is on my list of prospects, along with the pico amp/dac. But I've read more positive reviews on the pico with the 325i vs. ef2 with the 325is. I'm all mixed up, LOL.

I was looking into renting out a hall near my house to host a meet, but I have to see the available dates. I'll call them tomorrow, and send you a PM. I'm not sure who Raffy is, but give me his SN, and I'll send him a PM. I'm definitely down for a meet. I might have something at my house, but I have to talk to my wife

I heard from Ron Kerling, that your equipment is amazing; but really expensive. I'm scared, because I'm guessing, listening to your equipment, will make me hate mine.
post #9 of 38
Thread Starter 
I'm thinking maybe just "F" all these amps for now, and sell my 325is's for an RS1i or RS2i? Would that be a step backwards, or sideways, or foward? I heard the RS1's have a larger stage, but have a bit of an airy sound, instead of the upfront.
post #10 of 38
Did you try the Naim Headline? Not sure about the price, but I think you can find it within your budget.

Naim and Grado really complement eachother imho.
post #11 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by VDM View Post
Did you try the Naim Headline? Not sure about the price, but I think you can find it within your budget.

Naim and Grado really complement eachother imho.


From what I'm finding online, it looks like it is way out of my price range
post #12 of 38
If ur still looking for a portable, be patient and get in on the OEM batch in november.
post #13 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gbjerke View Post
If ur still looking for a portable, be patient and get in on the OEM batch in november.
Get in on the OEM batch of what? I'm not sure what you're referring to.
post #14 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by f00fighters View Post
I'm thinking maybe just "F" all these amps for now, and sell my 325is's for an RS1i or RS2i? Would that be a step backwards, or sideways, or foward? I heard the RS1's have a larger stage, but have a bit of an airy sound, instead of the upfront.
don't do it. if you like that shrill acoustic sound from the SR325i, you won't find it in the Reference series. The only other Grado headphone that I know of that does acoustic just as well is the HF2. If you can find one, put bagels on them and you'll be in for a real treat.
post #15 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SemiAudiophile View Post
don't do it. if you like that shrill acoustic sound from the SR325i, you won't find it in the Reference series. The only other Grado headphone that I know of that does acoustic just as well is the HF2. If you can find one, put bagels on them and you'll be in for a real treat.
Thanks for the feedback Semi, your responses are always welcome. Do you have any ideas as to what amp would suit my needs? The D10 didn't cut it.
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