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Holy Grail of Head-fi Amps - Isabellina HPA?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Hey all,

 

I spend a lot of time on the headphones section, I don't make it over here very often - so I'd like your opinion.

 

I have a nice little collection of headphones (see sig). Looking to add in a pair of high-end open cans in the future (probably HD800 for classical). My two primary genres are Classical and Electronic. Yeah I know.... that gets tricky.

 

I'm tired of shortchanging myself on source/amp. I don't want to worry about matching headphone synergy to source/amp anymore. I want something that I know is going to be rockin' solid for years to come no matter what I plug in to the amp.

 

I'm not looking to spend a fortune. But I do want something very solid and fantastic by any means. Right now, I have my eyes on the Red Wine Audio Isabellina HPA DAC/amp combo. I've heard nothing but fantastic stuff about it.

 

What do you think of it, or other alternatives?

 

 


Edited by SoundFreaq - 10/27/11 at 8:14pm
post #2 of 22

Objective2. Won't cost you an arm and leg, either.

post #3 of 22
Thread Starter 

Any current builders for it?

post #4 of 22

I got a fully upgraded Isabellina (ProDAC, Balanced and 12v output) for $3150 recently and I'm very happy with it. Previously I was using the Meier Concerto and StageDAC combo and to me it's a big jump up with the LCD-2's. I also received the Mullard I bought from eBay and rolled it yesterday which was another big jump.

 

Anywho, if you have any questions I'll try my best to answer.

post #5 of 22

You won't regret it, although it is a bit pricey. The best thing is you'll have an awesome DAC forever (if you like the NOS dac that is, lol. Think more analog, rich sound). I've since gone on to upgrade my amplification as the built in amp isn't up to snuff with the LCDs IMO. Don't get me wrong, it drives them fine, I just feel the Schiit and my Marantz receiver make them crackle to life even more.

 

If I had to do it again I'd just buy the DAC and get separate amplification.

post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by zyth3x View Post

I got a fully upgraded Isabellina (ProDAC, Balanced and 12v output) for $3150 recently and I'm very happy with it. Previously I was using the Meier Concerto and StageDAC combo and to me it's a big jump up with the LCD-2's. I also received the Mullard I bought from eBay and rolled it yesterday which was another big jump.

 

Anywho, if you have any questions I'll try my best to answer.


Thanks for your comment, it was helpful. $3150 for that combo is a great deal. I assume you got that slightly used. 

It's interesting you went with the Pro and thought it was worth it. Have you heard of any comparisons with the standard vs. Pro DAC option? I've heard the Mullard is a fine upgrade - I'll be sure to do that. And interestingly, I was looking at that exact Meier combo as an alternative. Glad to hear the RWA trumps.

 



Quote:
Originally Posted by Paganini Alfredo View Post

You won't regret it, although it is a bit pricey. The best thing is you'll have an awesome DAC forever (if you like the NOS dac that is, lol. Think more analog, rich sound). I've since gone on to upgrade my amplification as the built in amp isn't up to snuff with the LCDs IMO. Don't get me wrong, it drives them fine, I just feel the Schiit and my Marantz receiver make them crackle to life even more.

 

If I had to do it again I'd just buy the DAC and get separate amplification.

 

Good to know. You think the DAC is better than the amp, huh? I wonder how the Isabellina DAC stacks up to the best DAC's on the market by itself. What model numbers are you rocking with your Schiit / Marantz?
 

 

post #7 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoundFreaq View Post


Thanks for your comment, it was helpful. $3150 for that combo is a great deal. I assume you got that slightly used. 

It's interesting you went with the Pro and thought it was worth it. Have you heard of any comparisons with the standard vs. Pro DAC option? I've heard the Mullard is a fine upgrade - I'll be sure to do that. And interestingly, I was looking at that exact Meier combo as an alternative. Glad to hear the RWA trumps.

 

 


Actually, I got it brand new with the 10% discount during September. You can definitely hear the difference switching between the DAC's, the HRZ having more sparkle and the NOS smoothing things out which is handy for harsh recordings. The balanced upgrade isn't necessary so if you went with the Isabellina you could save yourself the $500.

post #8 of 22

RWA amp is not bad but overpriced.  You should try the Balanced Beta 22...

post #9 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoundFreaq View Post

 

Good to know. You think the DAC is better than the amp, huh? I wonder how the Isabellina DAC stacks up to the best DAC's on the market by itself. What model numbers are you rocking with your Schiit / Marantz?

I really have no idea how it compares to other DACs, but everyone either hates or loves the sound so there it is.

 

Model number? You mean my LCDs? If so the first version.
 

 

post #10 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by zyth3x View Post


Actually, I got it brand new with the 10% discount during September. You can definitely hear the difference switching between the DAC's, the HRZ having more sparkle and the NOS smoothing things out which is handy for harsh recordings. The balanced upgrade isn't necessary so if you went with the Isabellina you could save yourself the $500.

Jeez, looks like another $500 for me if I pull the trigger. 10% off would have been really nice! That's awesome you got that. 
 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wenwong View Post

RWA amp is not bad but overpriced.  You should try the Balanced Beta 22...

I'll check that out right now...

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paganini Alfredo View Post

I really have no idea how it compares to other DACs, but everyone either hates or loves the sound so there it is.

 

Model number? You mean my LCDs? If so the first version.
 

 

I actually meant your Schiit and your Marantz Receiver... that you say makes the LCD crackle to life a bit more. 
 

 

post #11 of 22
Thread Starter 

Also, do you mind if I ask you guys kind of a beginner question? I have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of headphones, amps less so, but DAC's not so much. This is my first foray into high-end DAC's. Why are DAC's so expensive? They are just as much or more than amps. I'm very familiar with the impact a good amp can have on sound. Is a good DAC parallel to that level of impact? Or are we just fine-tuning at this point? Why would someone want to spend $1500+ on a DAC when his headphones sound great out of an iPod with a great amp on it. Is a great DAC really going to melt ears?

post #12 of 22

Don't know how much your knowledge extends on DACs, but, it's an acronym for digital to analog converter. So the analog signal starts there and ends in your ear... so if that analog signal is crap, the signal that reaches your ear will be crap also. So I guess you or we can assume that the more a DAC is the better the end result would be... Well I really don't know but it should be. I just know I like tubes and the Isabellina DAC is the only known DAC to have a tube stage besides the Havana. And I know I like the sound of a NOS (non oversampling) DAC better than a techno wizkid 148google bit DAC that's popular right now.

 

Best advice I can give you is is that if you think your music sounds awesome out of your ipod and whatever amp, stick with it and enjoy. Don't get caught up with impressions, comments, nitpicking, and overall general BS that saturates the forum from day to day. People here exaggerate differences between amps and dacs. Once you get some nice gear just enjoy your music... that's what the gear's for!!!

post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 

I do understand the function and technology of a DAC, but I don't know the details like NOS vs others. 

 

I pursue the greatest. So if I think my Ultrasone Ed8 sounds good via LOD and a P-51, how much more awesome could it be with a fantastic DAC and amp? I'm happy, but I know I can be happier. Yeah, the iPod out sounds good, but with an amp sounds better... And if I can have better than that, I MUST TRY.

post #14 of 22
For that kind of money, pick up a Zana Deux. It's a real tube amp front to back. Read the owner's thread - you'll notice that it is usually the final step for most owners. Mine has been around for almost three years and I am still in love. It makes a fine preamp for driving speakers, as well.

If you're interested in solid state, go with the flat-out best: the Beta22.

I'd recommend going with a separate DAC.

DAC chipsets change every 12-18 months. If you buy a combined DAC/Amp, resale gets hurt when people don't want to buy the old chipset.

Also, I'm not sold on batteries. A well-filtered power supply is excellent and will last for decades. When it needs a refurb, you just replace the capacitors. Maybe $20-$30 of parts. Batteries degrade and need to be replaced every few years. You might have to drop a few hundred for new ones, assuming that they're available. I'd rather spend $30 every ten years than a few hundred every four or five.
post #15 of 22

As an owner of ZDse, I highly recommend it over the rwa amp.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Uncle Erik View Post

For that kind of money, pick up a Zana Deux. It's a real tube amp front to back. Read the owner's thread - you'll notice that it is usually the final step for most owners. Mine has been around for almost three years and I am still in love. It makes a fine preamp for driving speakers, as well.
If you're interested in solid state, go with the flat-out best: the Beta22.
I'd recommend going with a separate DAC.
DAC chipsets change every 12-18 months. If you buy a combined DAC/Amp, resale gets hurt when people don't want to buy the old chipset.
Also, I'm not sold on batteries. A well-filtered power supply is excellent and will last for decades. When it needs a refurb, you just replace the capacitors. Maybe $20-$30 of parts. Batteries degrade and need to be replaced every few years. You might have to drop a few hundred for new ones, assuming that they're available. I'd rather spend $30 every ten years than a few hundred every four or five.


 

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