Originally Posted by codeninja
Would I be able to tell the difference between iPad's DAC to FiiO E7's DAC? How about from E7 to Pico USB DAC to V-DAC to DACMagic?
Everyone hears (or claims to hear) different things; so here's my 2 cents: I had a DACMagic and for the life of me I couldn't heard the difference between it and the line out on my iPad or Macbook Pro. The sound coming from Apple today is pretty darn good. People sometimes forget- it's 2011, not 1987. It's really not hard these days to make a neutral DAC.
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik
I'm in the camp that doesn't think digital sources make that much difference. The quality of the recording is much more important. Headphones are second most important.
By quality of the recording both bitrate and music choice dictate this. You may even find your musical taste shifting towards things like jazz or classical once you hear how nice they sound when played back on a decent system. Keep the mp3/AAC bitrate high (224/320/Lossless).
Originally Posted by juman231
To add my two cents, I don't think getting a new dac to improve the bass is a good idea... I think a better and simpler solution would be buying a headphone known for stronger bass.
The biggest difference you will hear will be in your headphones (or speakers). Actually, the biggest difference will be between recordings. When I listen to The Eagles I wear my AKGs. If it's Rihanna I'm listening to it's the TripleFis all the way! Unless you are stuck on one artist or genre there's no way you can only have one flavor of headphone sound.
Originally Posted by khaos974
I would say say entry level "pro" DACs provide an excellent value, brands such as Behringer, E-MU, Edirol have excellent gear at very low costs.
At much higher costs, Lavry and Benchmark have engineered DACs with 0 distortion, an imperceptible noise floor even extreme conditions, matched channels at 0.05 dB... But you are paying more for peace of mind than additional audible quality.
That has to be one of the best quotes I've read here. To beat a dead horse: Listen with your ears. And MAKE SURE whatever you buy has a reasonable return policy. I like Amazon myself; and you can get most of the DACs mentioned here on there- usually with 30 days to try. Speaking of Behringer and Benchmark, check out this test: http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://matrixhifi.com/pc_dac1_behringer.htm&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dhttp://www.matrixhifi.com/marco_directazul.htm%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG&rurl=translate.google.com&twu=1&usg=ALkJrhhDUbl4nct6gaVSRp1EZVvSIsBMug. It is translated from Spanish via Google. Of course half of this forum will say, "Yeah, but... yeah, but," in regards to the outcome or methods of that test. But at the very least what it tells you is how little a difference there is between DACs. And I'm being nice in saying that.
Originally Posted by codeninja
Probably, I'm going to have to buy a few more headphones to cover different music (or, recording as not all rock music sounds the same for example) for my needs or expectations.
That's exactly where your money should go, after you get a decent (cheap) outboard DAC.
Regarding DAC, I really want not to use headphone out of iPad, but with line out having bad case of hissing, I have no choice but to go for USB connection.
I noticed that hissing on my iPad too (the headphone out is actually quite good!). I can't recommend enough the AirPort Express. With AirPlay, you can stream your music to the AE and use the mini-Toslink digital out on it to send bit perfect digital to the DAC of your choice. Even the guys at Stereophile like it. The only downside is that it's limited to 44.1khz sample rate, so no 24-bit hirez here (no big deal for me). You can get these refurbished at the Apple Store or on ebay. I got two of them recently- they're like new and work fantastic. You can even have multiple AEs running and pick which one to send music to. On a Mac you can send to multiple AEs at once!