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Best Amp/DAC combo unit for under $400

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
I'm trying to figure out what options I should be looking at right now -- I just purchased a pair of DENON AH-D2000s (my first pair of serious phones), and I'm looking to get as much out of them as possible. I'm also considering getting a pair of HD 650s in the immediate future as well, for at-home-only listening (the D2000s would then be my out-and-about phones, as they are actually fairly portable. Pretty sensitive and not too bulky).

I currently just have a little Nu Force Icon Mobile, which is actually pretty nice. Definitely an improvement on my computer or iPhone's output -- noticeably warmer, with less sibilance and some improvement on detail.

However, I want more. I listen to a fair mix of music -- lots of indie pop and rock (my mainstay), which includes plenty of acoustic stuff; some electronic stuff; and plenty of hip-hop. Since I got the D2000s I've also begun listening to classical.

The things that really get me excited are detail, separation, and soundstage. I love hearing new details I never noticed before, and a convincing soundstage is tons of fun. I'm also a fan of warmth, powerful bass, and smoothness, but clear, articulate detail and an expansive soundstage are most important to me.

With that in mind, I'm looking to spend between $200 and $400 on an amp/DAC combo that I'll mostly be using at home, but ideally would be portable (or if not battery-powered, at least small enough to take with me easily).

So far I've looked at the D10 (slightly hesitant), and the HeadRoom Portable Micro Amp/DAC, which I'm leaning towards. However, I'm very open to recommendations. Price-point is slightly flexible, but I don't want to go too far over $400 -- I do want to save up for those HD 650s after all.
post #2 of 22
Just so you're aware, the headroom portable micro w/dac is $600 (without the dac is $400).
post #3 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Armaegis View Post
Just so you're aware, the headroom portable micro w/dac is $600 (without the dac is $400).
Yikes! Is it worth it?

What else is in the $400 range that I should look at?
post #4 of 22
Maybe look at the Heed Canamp?
post #5 of 22
Thread Starter 
Is the portable Headroom Micro Amp/DAC in any way superior or inferior to grabbing the DAC and the amp separately?
post #6 of 22
By 'grabbing' the DAC and amp separately, you give yourself more options in future. You also increase the possibility of mismatching one with the other, although a good amp should be sufficiently neutral that this isnt an issue. Everything I have read about the HeadRoom Micro combination you are considering suggests that it is an excellent product, and I believe most of the better DAC/amp combinations allow you to use the unit as one or the other : do your homework and it will make a decision a lot easier. There are reviews of various HeadRoom amps all over the net - Google is your friend.
post #7 of 22
Hi backwardsname. There are names which tend to get mentioned around here, like your Headroom for one, Meier-Audio (Corda Cantate is a combo I think), Audio-gd Compass, Graham Slee, Ray Samuels, Pico amp/dac, DIY commissioned (like gamma and beta22) etc. In case you missed some. Search around those names and you'll pass by even more recommendations.
post #8 of 22
The Head Direct EF2 Dac/Amp is my #1 recommendation for all of the Denon line but if you are serious about the Senns, I would recommend against the EF's. Not enough power to drive the HD650's I've been trying out a Maverick Tube Magic Dac/Amp. (50/50 right now) The Zero, and Audio GD compass would have more power for the HD's. The Zero is on eBay right now for like 147.00 USD shipped and another 45.00 USD for " the Earth" OPamp upgrade.
post #9 of 22
Either an used Pico or a new Compass.
post #10 of 22
Thread Starter 
Well, I ended up getting the HeadRoom Micro Amp and DAC separately. I went $300 over budget, but I'm really happy with it so far. I've only received the DAC (the amp arrives tomorrow), but it's made a huge improvement over both my sound card and my Icon Mobile. The clarity and imaging are significantly improved, and everything sounds just a bit warmer. Bass is more powerful, but no less controlled.

Ultimately, I looked around and nearly everything else was going to be a much more complicated ordering process -- I'm sure there are plenty of nice amps and DACs made by individuals and more obscure shops, but there's something to be said for the professionalism and ease-of-use that HeadRoom offers. Big enough to have things in stock ahead of time, take credit cards, and offer reasonable shipping rates, but small enough to take my calls during the ordering process and get back to my emails within minutes, often times. The quality of service was really great.

I'm very excited to hear what happens tomorrow when I can pair it with the Micro amp.

A quick question: do DACs have burn-in? I know amps do, and obviously headphones, so I sort of assumed that DACs also experience burn-in, but I'm not entirely sure.
post #11 of 22
DACs usually require very little if any burn in. Headroom is a top notch product and thier customer service is remarkable. I think you'll be very happy. But don't be too surprised if you end up getting a tube pre-amp for the "Flavour" and the fun of "Tube Rolling".
The Denons really love good a Tube/Solid State combo
post #12 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by boomy3555 View Post
DACs usually require very little if any burn in. Headroom is a top notch product and thier customer service is remarkable. I think you'll be very happy. But don't be too surprised if you end up getting a tube pre-amp for the "Flavour" and the fun of "Tube Rolling".
The Denons really love good a Tube/Solid State combo
Oh, I'm sure I'll get into tubes someday (when I make more money. I really can't afford everything I just bought, but who needs food or shelter when you have great sound, right?); I've completely fallen down the rabbit hole of high-end audio equipment. First I was just going to buy some ATH-ES7s, then it became D2000s, then I needed a mobile amp, then I needed a DAC and a desktop amp, etc.

I assume I'll probably just be broke from now on, but with great audio equipment.
post #13 of 22
Dac's with Capacitors in the signal path can take 200+ hrs to burn in. Especially if they use output coupling capacitors.
post #14 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeW View Post
Dac's with Capacitors in the signal path can take 200+ hrs to burn in. Especially if they use output coupling capacitors.
What are some DACs that don't use caps in the signal path?
post #15 of 22
Hi all!

I have a low-impedance (32ohm) Grado SR225 headphone and I would like to buy a DAC for it, because my soundcard isn't pretty good, but has digital output. Which DAC should I choose under 200 USD?

I wonder whether I buy DAC+Amp or a simple Tube-Amplifier.

What's your reccomendation?
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