source is auzentech forte sound card, FLAC audio files
i do not have an external DAC. the auzentech forte has a built-in dedicated headphone amp. i have 3 options:
- use the forte DAC and amp (buy nothing)
- use the forte line-out and buy a headphone amp
- buy a dac/amp combo (or one of each)
of the 3 options, i'm leaning towards #2 because i doubt i can tell the difference between the soundcard dac and an external dac, but i might be able to tell the difference between the small amp on the soundcard and a real amp. so with that, here's what i'm considering:
schiit asgard $250, because they have a 2-week guarantee
matrix m-stage $275, based on recommendations on this site
nuforce icon HDP $450, because it is a dac+amp so i could try an external dac
goldpoint headphone pro, $620 (with tax/s&h) because of recommendations here
woo audio 6 $650, i don't really want to deal with tubes but it looks beautiful and has strong recommendations
lehmann audio black cube $1100, because that's what sennheiser uses to demo the hd800s so it must be good
i've considered some cheap chinese stuff like audio-gd Fun or Sparrow, but i don't trust chinese electronics. i'd rather pay extra for american or german manufacturing and support.
my budget is somewhat tight - the $1100 for the black cube isn't really realistic. $750 is really the most i could afford to spend. I've spent a couple weeks reading every single HD800 related post and there are a lot of people with a lot of different amp suggestions so i thought if i made a short list like this it would help me get a clearer answer than just asking a vague open-ended question.
thanks for your help!