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Best Headphone Amp/DAC combos for ~$200

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

Now that I'm finally pretty happy with my headphones, and I've finally upped all my source MP3s to 256kbps or better, so now I'm looking for advice on a nice little amp to sit next to my MacBook Pro. I'd like something in the $100 - $200 range. I've looked at the Hifiman EF2A and the Maverick Audio D1 so far, and both of those SEEM pretty ideal for me. I'd lead towards something a little smaller than the D1, so maybe the hifiman is a better bet.

 

My only real requirements are that it's not huge. It needs to fit on a small side-table alongside some headphones and my MacBook Pro. It also just has to have a built-in DAC that'll accept USB. If it also accepts a line-in, that's a nice bonus. I also like the idea of tubes, but if something non-tube is better/cheaper, that's cool too. I don't need anything portable, as the only time I listen to my iPod/iPhone is when I'm in the car. If it looks good too, that's a plus, since it'll be in full view in my living room. I like sleek, semi-retro designs, and exposed tubes look pretty hot. =]

 

Anything in my price range, similar to the two I've mentioned that I should look into? How do they stack up? Should I save up for something in a slightly higher price range?

 

For reference, my headphones are AKG K240s, and I also often use assorted IEMs - UE Triple.fi 10s, Ety HF5s, Shure SE425s, and Monster Turbine Pro Golds.

post #2 of 18

Check out the NuForce μDAC-2.  Great bang for buck.  Meets your form factor and budgetary requirements.

 

http://www.nuforce.com/hp/products/iconudac2/index.php

 

http://www.aloaudio.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2_60&products_id=488

 

uDAC2_sm2.jpg

post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 

That looks pretty interesting. I hadn't noticed that model from Nuforce before. I love that it's USB-powered. How's the sound? Is it a real, noticeable step above a laptop soundcard, unamped? The price is certainly enticing. 

post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 

Oh, and I just noticed the μDAC-2-HP which ditches the RCA/coax. It looks like it's the exact same DAC and amp otherwise, and it's only $99. Should I be wary of it for any reason, or is it really the same quality if I don't need to output to speakers?

post #5 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by jakevance View Post

Oh, and I just noticed the μDAC-2-HP which ditches the RCA/coax. It looks like it's the exact same DAC and amp otherwise, and it's only $99. Should I be wary of it for any reason, or is it really the same quality if I don't need to output to speakers?

I've never heard that one.  I've seen it in the catalog, but I think it's based upon their older generation μDAC.  I would steer clear of it and spend the extra 30 bux.
 

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by jakevance View Post

That looks pretty interesting. I hadn't noticed that model from Nuforce before. I love that it's USB-powered. How's the sound? Is it a real, noticeable step above a laptop soundcard, unamped? The price is certainly enticing. 


The sound is awesome compared to any laptop soundcard I've ever heard...no contest.

post #6 of 18

Considering he tends to review high-end equipment, Skylab recently gave the $125 MP-302 amp a generally encouraging review. (Haven't heard it myself)

post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 

Hmm, both of those look good. Looks like I can get what I need for under $130, so with that extra cash, what does everyone think of the Nuforce Icon Mobile? Since I've got a lot of room left in the budget, and I do _sometimes_ use the iPod/iPhone, maybe I should spring for a portable amp too.

 

Is it a nice improvement over the iPhone/iPod's built-in amp, for the 100 bucks it costs?

post #8 of 18

Another amp/dac combo you may want to check out is the Audio-gd nfb12. It might go a tiny bit over your budget with shipping and paypal fees, but since its on special for 200 bucks it seems like a great value. Apparently its pretty small too.

 

Edit: 

 

If you're set on the nuforce though and still have some money left over for a portable amp for ipod listening, I'd check out the fiio e7. You can pick it up for around 80 bucks and it really helps out with the ipod. 

post #9 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by jakevance View Post

Hmm, both of those look good. Looks like I can get what I need for under $130, so with that extra cash, what does everyone think of the Nuforce Icon Mobile? Since I've got a lot of room left in the budget, and I do _sometimes_ use the iPod/iPhone, maybe I should spring for a portable amp too.

 

Is it a nice improvement over the iPhone/iPod's built-in amp, for the 100 bucks it costs?


It's a cool box, and if it sounded any good, it would be a steal.  Much to my dismay, it sounds awful to these ears.  I wouldn't give you a plug nickel for one.  To me, it sounds as bad as the μDAC-2 sounds good.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  

post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 

Alright guys, I think I'm set on the Nuforce uDAC-2. After scouring the net, I can't find anything less that dozens and dozens of glowing reviews. Plus, I found it on Crutchfield.com with free 2-day shipping and a $20 coupon code ("3A825" if anyone's interested. It's $20 off $100 or more), so I'm looking at $109, total, which seems like a steal.

 

Thanks for all the input, and I'll also probably read up a bit more about the Fiio e7 if I decide to get a portable amp for my iPhone.

post #11 of 18

Well if u change ur mind,u could get the e7 and e9 combo =D

 

post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by NoKTurNal View Post

Well if u change ur mind,u could get the e7 and e9 combo =D

 



I thought about that too, but it seemed like a bit of a clunky setup for what I'd mainly be using it for (usb dac / headphone amp for laptop). Hopefully the Nuforce turns out to be what I'm hoping for.

post #13 of 18

I'm liking mine~

 

noticed uDAC-2 for sale $70 in sales section, might get it if you hurry

post #14 of 18

Audinst HUD-MX1 has tons of power and sounds pretty decent and neutral for the price. Likewise, people have said the Hifiman EF2 is nice, although I haven't heard it myself.

post #15 of 18

Since you're only listening to IEMs, I wouldn't go over-board.  uDac made my IEMs (re-262 at the time) quite sick.

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