I wanted to start out by thanking all those here on the forums. Its amazing how much information is on here - I've spent a VERY LONG TIME reading through it. You guys are great and I just haven't been a part of the discussion so here goes...
First off a couple bullets to keep in mind for suggestons:
Budget: preference for between $300 - $400 for this purchase but want to be future proof hardware.
Upgrades: I have an interest in messing with rolling tubes and opamps, I think that would be fun and make it cheaper to try out different sounds without having to buy 100% different full products.
Future: I have a decent budget for years to come (no kids and low bills). But I'd like to stay under $1000 for my final setup (source/dac/amp/headphone). I'm looking to have a final setup and not a bunch of various sets that I switch between. So I'm ok with buying something and then selling it to upgrade. Which is why I started with the nuforce icon mobile
Musical interest: Classical (old school / final fantasy sound tracks / movie soundtracks), prog rock (Dream Theater / Ayreon / Neal Morse), 90's rock (smashing pumpkins, sound garden), scottish folk, bluegrass, acoustic - pretty much everything except R&B + Rap...
Sound preference: I like bass but not drowning out everything, I like the idea of a wide sound stage (why I got K702's), I like the sound of tube amps for guitar - smoothness? Not sure what channeling all the music (not just the guitar) through a tube amp would sound like yet.
Source: I am a programmer and sitting at my comptuer all day. I've ripped my music lossless wma but I'm willing to switch to any software codec (flac etc) if need be. I usually buy my cd's on ebay / half / amazon and then rip them myself since itunes / markets are always low bitrate and it lets me re-rip to my hearts content into whatever I need to.
Location: Charlotte NC USA. I wish there was a meet somewhere close to home - someday maybe someone will have one in Raleigh for instance.
I'm ready to make my next purchase, I'm planning on upgrading the DAC (nuforce) I'm willing to upgrade in the future again as well (maybe another $300 purchase?)
Tiny bit of background about me and my preferences:
I used to be a Bose lover - I have gone through 3 Bose Triport Cups (not the in ear variation) and I used to pair it with everything I owned from my Roland Concert V-Drum Set to my guitar amp and obviously my laptop listening to music. I've liked the idea of tube amps for guitar (like the sound) and thought I might like tube amps for headphones as well (although I've never had an oppurtunity to listen first hand to anything)
My Deeper History (for those who love to really dive deep otherwise just skim):
When I was younger I enjoyed playing guitar, and I was lucky that my uncle had been playing for many many years prior. He had so much hardware to play with. I found that I loved the sound of the tube amps he had (mostly marshal). solid state to me just didn't have that smooth sound that I enjoyed. I've since stopped playing and have kind of ignored my old love of music but recently got back into it with a much more thorough musical interest (classical, prog rock, movie sound tracks etc).
I bought a pair of AKG K702's after reading a ton of reviews on how much they open up after a ton of burn in and for me $250 for perfection is well worth it. I also basically wanted to start out with something (amp/dac) cheap and versatile to introduce me into hi-end audio. So I bought a nuForce Icon Mobile ($79 ebay) - specifically because it had a built in amp/dac/ and even a battery not to mention aux inputs! My laptops had the crappiest sound card (lots of hissing) and I needed a cheap Dac to start me off and it had the ability to be portable (home to work or just outside). So after a couple months I just didn't feel that the bass was apparent in the music proper so I decided to stay the route of portable but get something that had some bass to go along. So I picked up a cMoyBB (about $60 ebay) that had a bass boost switch. So now I'm still in the same boat where stuff just doesn't sound like its where it should be - I need more immersion!!
Here are my selections sorted by my preference from reading peoples reviews and recommendations on here but I'm torn:
$169 - HiFiMAN EF2 + DAC
Read that it will not power the K702's proper but headphoneaddict gave it great reviews for a lot of other cans and he seems to be a good reviewer - said he'd recommend it if it was in the 300-$400 range (wow). Thought it could also replace the nuforce that I could resell and move up a bit in the process. I like the idea that it is a tube amp and has a built in Dac and obviously like the price. Maybe use it as a preamp for say the Matrix and get the best of both worlds (can it work this way using the ef2 tube/dac as a preamp to the matrix m-stage that is powerful enough to power my K701's?) It would cost me about $369 total if I did this though (I did do it - trying it out anyway).
$200 used - Matrix m-stage:
Read that it is an affordable great copy of the German Lehmann Black Cube Linear and that it pairs very well with the K701/K702's. I'm not sure if it meets my "I like bass and smoothness of tubes" preference though.
I think all three of these have the same insides:
$225 - Grant Fidelity Tube DAC-09 (lots of options)
$234 - Maverick/Xheng Sheng (possibly Maverick A1 Tube Hybrid Power Amp?):
$158 - Xiang Pheng Dac-01A (seems to be the same exact internals (except I haven't found the power section image yet):
Also recommended by Boom3555 - I like the idea of multiple options such as with this one. The insides look interesting but I don't really know whats going on under the hood so to speak. I'm also very confused of the various uses. Like I would like to use it as a dac/tube and amp but seems to say you pick one or the other (not very helpful). It does say on ebay for the Xiang Pheng that you can pre-amp with tube so I imagine you can Dac to tube preamp, then pop say the Matrix between the headphones. (total $420) However I'm not sure how grand this thing is - also I'm confused that boom3555 recommended this as an alternative to the EF2 (hybrid tube) since the tube portion of the dac-01 is only a preamp (I'm assuming the opamp isn't in the same path?) I wish I understood more...
$51 - MUSE mini Tube Amp:
MODDED Similar Bravo:
Read a review on the Bravo unit and for $50 I figured I could use this as my first tube amp soldering project upgrading components without much worry for destroying something expensive. Everything about it is just begging to be upgraded - including the casing or lack thereof.
$250 - Schiit asgard ss
$350 - Schiit valhalla tube:
GOING TO BUY
Have not read reviews for this one but liked the idea of tube and read that the asgard is nice but have not read anything specific to the K702 combo. I also like it cosmetically (not that important) and like that it is made in the USA.
$250 - HiFiMan EF5 tube / no dac
Someone has it listed for $250 on the forums and it looks like a good combo (seperate power / tube etc) But I have not read to much about K702/K701 with it.
$160 - Qinpu A3
HeadphoneAddict recommended here:
Budget friendly recommended here:
Quote from stang: Get the Little Dot MKIII, or the Qinpu A-3. You already have a DAC, so no point bying the EF2 really, as it has a built in DAC as well as a hp amp. The Qinpu A-3 is preferred over the LD MKIII by headphone addict and a few more, forgot their names though. It's $169 right now and the tubes can be upgraded easily and they are cheap
$150 Zero Dac
Recommended by boomy3555 specifically for the K702 and against the EF2:
Quote: I tried out the 702's with the EF1 and EF 2 and although the EF1 is more pwoerful that it's little brother, I found them both lacking the power the 702's were crying for. The AKG's are a sort of a pickle. Although they are not a high impedence can they really need to be amped. There are two amps in this range that seem to have enough power for the AKG's. The Maverick/Xheng Sheng,Grant Fidelity which has a tube pre-amp section. ( Headphone out is Solid state only) and the Zero DacAmp which is all solid state although my Zero with the "earth" HDAM comes pretty close to the EF2's "Flavour". They can be upgraded in many ways and configured differently including OPamps and HDAM's. I have not had experiences with the Little Dots or Darkvoices so someone else would have to chime in with opinions of those as a tube aternative.
After reading about the Zero Dac - it has a bunch of options going on with this unit dac/toslink, amp. He mentioned a 'earth' hdam coming close to EF2's flavor (making me think its smooth tubey. I don't know what 'earth' hdam is but I like that idea. I'm assuming it could go into anything that you can roll the hdam's though so that would be something I'd be interested in knowing which it is. Also I like the idea of having the option of a toslink source but not sure 100% what that can do for me (believe its optical binary data at that point but so is DAC right? I haven't researched this enough to understand the what the use is.
$250 Darkvoices 336SE:
Someone mentioned that they liked these paired with the K702 / K701 in another thread where they listened to them at a meet - I can't seem to find the thread though.
$240 - Little Dot MKIII
Since Headphoneaddict apparently prefers the Qinpu A-3 over the MK III I figured why bother paying the extra $100. for it but including it in the list anyway.
Quote from stang: Get the Little Dot MKIII, or the Qinpu A-3. You already have a DAC, so no point bying the EF2 really, as it has a built in DAC as well as a hp amp. The Qinpu A-3 is preferred over the LD MKIII by headphone addict and a few more, forgot their names though.
$400 - Woo Audio 3:
Recommended on here at various threads for the K70X 's. Its a wee bit over my price range for being only an amp. Would prefer DAC included. But it does have 3 tubes rather than 2 or four like most of the cheaper modeled units that are low budget.
$60 Bravo Hybrid Tube Amp:
I can't find this for cheap ($60) anymore so I went with a lower quality one up top (MUSE)
Could I use this as a cheap tube preamp for the matrix m-stage? (Total $320) Or am I crazy?
$150-350 - Audio GD Sparrow / Fun:
I really like the idea of the modular components. Also built in DAC, I like the idea of their discrete opamps such as the tube sounding opa-moon (starting a new thread about this)
$350 - Audio-GD C-2:
Per suggestion in this thread from volume who mentioned he uses it with K701's:
$??? - Heed CanAmp:
Can't believe I forgot this guy.
Quote by Volume:
I use it in my setup with K701,very nice and neutral with ample power, therefore doesn't emphasise any single department.There is enough bass for anyone's liking,future upgradable with the audio-gd line of DACs benefit to use their ACSS connection.
The internal opamps can be rolled, could also upgrade to their discrete opamps Earth,Moon or the Sun.Much to play with.
Whoa that was a long post but I need to stop researching and start buying something so my OCD can reside...
Edit: forgot to include Darkvoices
Edited by timwillhack - 10/4/10 at 6:28pm