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Best Bang for Buck with Grados

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I'm currently rocking at work with an iPhone 3GS -> LOD -> PA2V2 -> Grado SR-60. Very happy, have been for the past 3 years since I first researched amps & cans here on Head-Fi! $120 sure went a long way to making my music really swing!

Now I'm ready to add to my collection with a home office rig. I listen to mostly digital files (256+ kps MP3 and AAC of rock, jazz, hip-hop) on my Macbook Pro. I'm going to stick with Grados, probably 225i to begin (and step my way up the Grado line if I'm not satisfied, so perhaps 325i, RS-2, HF-1, etc).

Value is king for me. If someone has an unbeatable argument that some $1500 rig will give me guaranteed daily eargasms and the eternal worship of fellow Head-Fians, then I'll dutifully save my pennies. I doubt that, though, so satisfaction/$ is my key ratio.

With that background, it seems there's a sweet spot for powerful, integrated, desktop DAC/tube amps around the $200-400 mark. Beresford TC-7520, Mini Millett Max Tube, NuForce Icon, hifiman EF2, iBasso D10, Creek Audio OBH-11, Gilmore GS-1, Head-Direct EF1, Corda Swing, Audio-gd Compass, and of course the Little Dot Mk II - IV. Whew. [a]

All the above have been mentioned on various Head-Fi threads for pairing well with Grados, whether 225, 325, RS-x, whatever.

I have four questions for the amp/dac heads here. [b]
  1. Benefits of Macbook Pro -> DAC -> Amp -> Grado versus MBP -> builtin 1/8" out -> Amp -> Grado?
  2. Are integrated DAC/amp combos good value?
  3. Tube vs Solid State for Grados?
  4. Any specific recommendations for my home office rig give the above?

Thanks, and keep rocking!

[a] I know a couple of those may not have the DAC (Corda, I believe), and I think a couple may be solid-state not tube (Gilmore GS-1?).
[b] found the following threads partially helpful: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/tub...-combo-443935/, http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/rec...i-325i-444060/, and http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/new...16/index2.html
post #2 of 17
The TC7520+Grado SR225i is an awesome combo, but not eargasmic. For that, I think at least an amp in between would be needed. Also, I'd look at the issues regarding Beresford- in short, he's a piss-poor businessman.

EDIT: I would look more into amps than DACs right now. Current is king with Grados. The Gilmore Lite, Millett Minimax, Eddie Current ECSS, and Little Dot I+ are recommended a lot for the SR225i.
post #3 of 17
IME, I would get the MS-2(i) over the 225 and get a cheaper amp and get a better dac.
post #4 of 17
I'm almost reluctant to comment, as I haven't owned Grados for a year or more, and may not choose to ever own Grados again. That said, I have a couple of comments:

I auditioned the 60/80/125 and 225, all pre "i". I purchased the 125, and I really wish I'd ponied the extra $100 or so for the 225's. The 225's are the best bang for the buck IMHO.

As to question 1, without Grados, but with Ultrasone 750's, HFI 780's, AT ESW10's and Shure SE530's - The DAC/Amp in the chain (Apogee Duet, then a Pico in my case, I'll admit to being a borderline fanboy of the Pico, by the way) greatly increases bass control, overall dynamics, eliminates hiss and background noise (to my ears) and generally makes the listening experience far more pleasant than HP out of the macbook pro. I will admit to never bypassing the dac and going HP out to amp on the Pico. It never really occurred to me as something I should try...
post #5 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by noelweichbrodt View Post
Now I'm ready to add to my collection with a home office rig. I listen to mostly digital files (256+ kps MP3 and AAC of rock, jazz, hip-hop) on my Macbook Pro. I'm going to stick with Grados, probably 225i to begin (and step my way up the Grado line if I'm not satisfied, so perhaps 325i, RS-2, HF-1, etc).

Value is king for me. If someone has an unbeatable argument that some $1500 rig will give me guaranteed daily eargasms and the eternal worship of fellow Head-Fians, then I'll dutifully save my pennies. I doubt that, though, so satisfaction/$ is my key ratio.

With that background, it seems there's a sweet spot for powerful, integrated, desktop DAC/tube amps around the $200-400 mark. Beresford TC-7520, Mini Millett Max Tube, NuForce Icon, hifiman EF2, iBasso D10, Creek Audio OBH-11, Gilmore GS-1, Head-Direct EF1, Corda Swing, Audio-gd Compass, and of course the Little Dot Mk II - IV. Whew. [a]

All the above have been mentioned on various Head-Fi threads for pairing well with Grados, whether 225, 325, RS-x, whatever.

I have four questions for the amp/dac heads here. [b]
  1. Benefits of Macbook Pro -> DAC -> Amp -> Grado versus MBP -> builtin 1/8" out -> Amp -> Grado?
  2. Are integrated DAC/amp combos good value?
  3. Tube vs Solid State for Grados?
  4. Any specific recommendations for my home office rig give the above
coming from SR60's, the SR225i or SR325i would be a nice upgade. i had the SR80's, and IMO the SR225 while is nice wasn't a significant upgrade for me. the sound signature is the same but there was of course better resolution, detail. the 225i might be different though. it looks like it would have a better soundstage (which the SR225 lacked) with those bigger cups. i would personally go for the 325i because it's a bit different than the rest in the prestige line.

1. you can think of a DAC as a sound card. with a DAC in between you will be able to hear better details, etc. in your music. without the dac, you will be using your mbp built-in one.

2. yes, they are extremely good value if you look for the right ones. i highlighted the ones i would personally pick and believe have excellent value.

3, solid state isn't bad. tubes are better. this is preference of course, but most will agree that grado's sound best with tubes.

4. aside from the ones in bold, as suggested the Little Dot I+ is also a nice choice. don't know much about the millet mini max, but i hear it's good too. you could start off with EF2 first using it's built-in usb dac, then upgrade your dac later or you could also get the pico or d10 to use as a dac and feed it to the little dot or EF2 and it should sound excellent. otherwise, just get one of those amp/dac combo's. i personally use the TC7520 and the D10 with my grado's and i like them very much.
post #6 of 17
For the music you listen to, do the MBP with a 325i(s). Don't get fancy with the amps and dacs, unless you get a pretty pricey one, it will be a downgrade from the integrated one in the laptop.

I would skip the rest of the Grado line for the music you listen to, I have owned most of them (225, 325i, MS2i, HF-1, and RS-1).
post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies, everyone! Great information, and I enjoyed hearing the recommendations & opinions so far.

Regarding an external DAC vs the MBP internal DAC, a couple of you (coco, jinp6301, aamefford) seem to suggest (or actually said) that anything less than a Pico external DAC (at $359 w/o amp) would be a downgrade from the MBP internal. Is that correct?

Regarding 325i (recommended by several) vs my stated plan of 225i, I'm planning on getting the cheapest I think *could* work and upgrading if I feel necessary. Since I haven't auditioned any other Grados, I want to find what suits my taste.

Quote:
Current is king with Grados.
I hear that, so would something like a Little Dot I+ pushing 800mW @ 32 ohms for the 225is nominal impedance be preferable, (the HiFiMan HF2 seems respectable in this regard, 320 mw @ 32 Ohm)? I am of course just assuming that MORE POWER = better, so a nice-sounding dac/amp combo like the iBasso D10 which only pushes 100mw @32 ohm should fall down the depth chart?

Curious as to the lack of defenders of SS amps. I guess tubes have won over all Grado listeners?

Based on some of the above, I'm thinking either a HiFiMan EF2 (if I want to play with an external DAC, and if I don't then I just have a nice powerful tube amp) or a Little Dot I+ for a cheapish tube amp with gobs of power.

Finally, special thanks to SemiAudiophile who tackled all 4 of my questions!
post #8 of 17
Regarding the 325 vs 225, I recommend the 325 because of the sound signature. It is a very crisp compared to the rolled and warm feeling of the others in the Grado line. The warmth is good with most types of rock, but does not tend to do well with newer rock (which I dont care for), but really does poorly with hiphop (some of which I like).

As for the amp situation, more power does not mean better. It just means that it can drive headphones that are harder to drive. Grados are very easy to drive, so you do not need too much power. What you really need to look for is a clean signal (ie low distortion). Tubes can either be a big yes or a big no. It really depends on what kind of sound you are looking for. Tubes tend to do some "pretty" sound distortion for some music, but can potentially just sound bad with other music. Generally, tubes will give an even more smooth, warm, and rolled off sound. (This is a blanket statement, all tubes sound different, but generally this is the case.) If this is what you are looking for, than go for it. Solid state amps tend to be more neutral in that sense. Grado people tend to like the tubey sound, which is why they go Grado in the first place.
post #9 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by jinp6301 View Post
IME, I would get the MS-2(i) over the 225 and get a cheaper amp and get a better dac.
x2, For MS2i we believe in value
post #10 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by .coco View Post
For the music you listen to, do the MBP with a 325i(s). Don't get fancy with the amps and dacs, unless you get a pretty pricey one, it will be a downgrade from the integrated one in the laptop.

I would skip the rest of the Grado line for the music you listen to, I have owned most of them (225, 325i, MS2i, HF-1, and RS-1).
I totally disagree with you on the integrated dac/amp on the MBP. I've heard the headphone out repeatedly and it cannot even come close to a modest gamma 1/xp portable amp combo.

As usual, this is all imo and the OP should really go to a store and hear all the grados. Trust your ears and all that
post #11 of 17
Just curious, which generation did you listen to? Also, are you sure it was not a power issue opposed to a sound quality issue? The headphone out is not going to power a hefty headphone, but does handle the 325i and TF10 quite well for me. I have the newest generation MBP.
post #12 of 17
I think the built in DAC for macbooks are sufficient, but I wouldn't go as to far as saying anything "less" than a Pico is not worth it. I've heard both the Beresford and Fubar DACs and they sounded great and gave the sound a different signature.

For others at or above that price point (Keces, DacMagic, etc.), improvements were very noticeable. This thread almost sounded like a veiled promotion for Pico.
post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by .coco View Post
Just curious, which generation did you listen to? Also, are you sure it was not a power issue opposed to a sound quality issue? The headphone out is not going to power a hefty headphone, but does handle the 325i and TF10 quite well for me. I have the newest generation MBP.
I used 225s and the difference in the detail of the highs and more prominent and tighter bass was very easy to pick out.

I'm not sure which generation I listened to. I know it wasnt the newest one.
post #14 of 17
I love my Little Dot I+. The extra juice really helps, plus it also plays well with my Senn HD595s. The Senns are also low Z cans (50 ohm).
post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
This thread almost sounded like a veiled promotion for Pico.
lol. If they would comp me a review unit, then I guess this would count as ex post facto astroturf for them

I am curious for details now on the DAC make/model on MBPs. Google didn't help, and I'm sure it changes at least each revision, if not during revs as well. I have a 2.3Ghz 15" from Summer 2008.

Also, I didn't realize that MBPs had optical audio out through the headphone jack. Interesting, so you actually can go USB -> DAC, Optical -> DAC, or Firewire -> DAC. I wasn't paying attention to which inputs the dacs we've been discussing accept.

Did find a relevant thread, but they didn't get into specifics beyond comparing various external dacs. http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/wor...acbook-291869/
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