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Looking for comments/suggestions on 7 HP/DAC/Amp 'bundles' around $800 US

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 


   Been reading around, doing my research, and I've finally decided on signing up to the forum and post my question(s)... So... first things first, what I have right now:
Sources: iPod Touch 3rd Gen, iPod Classic (160GB), Asus Xonar DG on my home PC, 4-year old MacBookPro, Pioneer V610av-K (DVD/SACD player), PS3 (audio streaming through PS3 Media Server from PC). The 'brainz' of my operation is a Pioneer VSX-32 to which the PS3 (HDMI), iPod Classic (USB) and DV610 (HDMI) are connected, and it outputs to either my 7.1 Onkyo SKSHT750 speakers or directly to my SR80i through the headphone output (any clue to headphone output impedance on the VSX-32?).
Most of this was bought last year during Black Friday / Cyber Monday deals... and I've since then added Etymotic hf2's to my list so the SR80i can stay home and the others are used for travel to and from work. I've also got my electric guitar (finger-noob) hooked up to my PS3 to use with Rocksmith (trying to learn on whatever 'free' time I stumble upon).
My listening habits depend much on what I'm in the mood for... if I'm working at home, on the road, or just feel like zoning-out. I like detailed, clear reproduction... haven't had enough experience to know much about coloration. I'd like to experience a different kind of headphone to learn more about the different flavors out there, so complementing the SR80i would be a good choice while
I decide on either keeping them (the Grados I mean) or replacing them with something else further down the line.
I've chosen the headphone over the speaker 'kung-fu' because I share the two bottom floors of a house and might not have my own place for a while... so room treatments, nailing stuff on walls and such, are things I'd rather not get into (for now), and keeping my music to myself is a must (again... for now).
In regards to music sources, I've got a couple of SACDs, some CDs and mainly A LOT of mp3s (from a while ago) and for the last three years I've been building up my hi-res collection from reputable online sources. In case I can actually go around and test some headphones (which I doubt I can do before Thanksgiving).
When it comes to owning things, I'm not used to selling used stuff... I mainly give my old hardware (pc's, laptops) away to close friends or family, but that's also because I don't put much coin on material belongings... still... I'm thinking about spending around $800 US into a new headphone-DAC-amp combo. I'll be sticking with it for a while, or invest in it to expand from there (DIY kits are acceptable). I don't have a lot of free time, so tinkering with components might be limited to tube/op-amp rolling at the most.
Since I tend to stick with what I buy, warranty is a big plus, especially if it's a US-based company. And also, I'm planning on staying at a comfortable spending level, so no future plans to acquire more expensive gear, unless I win the lottery of course... but there is room to wiggle depending on time frame. 
   So, after that slight intro... here are the sets I've given some thought into:
1 - Beyerdynamic DT880 (600 Ohms version) with
  • a. Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Little Dot MK III or Asgard ~$750
  • b. Bifrost (w/o USB) and Project Sunrise (unassembled) ~$850


2 - AKG K702 with 

  • a. Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Valhalla ~$830
  • b. Bifrost (w/o USB) and Project Sunrise (unassembled) ~$830


3 - Grado SR325i with Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Valhalla
  • a. Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Valhalla ~$850
  • b. Bifrost (w/o USB) and Project Sunrise (unassembled) ~$850


4 - HiFiMan HE-300 with 
  • a. Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Asgard ~$750
  • b. Bifrost and Project Sunrise (unassembled) ~$850


5 - Denon AH-D2000 with Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Asgard ~$800
6 - Shure SRH940 with
  • a. Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Valhalla ~$810
  • b. Bifrost (w/o USB) and Project Sunrise (unassembled) ~$810


7 - Sennheiser HD650 with Maverick TubeMagic D1 and Asgard ~$810
... or... get sub-$200 combo (e7/e9) for my current headphones and save towards a future (at least 6 months) Burson Audio HA-160D? Spending more than $200 now would defeat the purpose of trying to save. 
So... given the above (lenghty first post I know...), here are the questions:
 a. Would you suggest I go for a low-priced combo for now (E7/E9,CMOY,PA2V2,...) and learn to appreciate the differences that a DAC/amp combo gives the Grados? Or go for a mid-term investment from the start?
 b. Which of the sets mentioned above would you think preferable for mid-long term ownership, or would you suggest a different set in that price range?
 c. Are there (historically) good offers on Black Friday / Cyber Monday I should take advantage of, or should I buy the different components throuhghout the next couple of months?
 d. Are there any hints that the above models might be replaced soon with a newer version?
 e. Do you have any tips on getting a good price on equipment (when possible)?
 I do believe, that's what I've been able to research for now... I know the amount of components out there is larger... but I'm mainly looking for comments and suggestions.
 So thanks for reading this, and all comments will be appreciated!
post #2 of 13

"I like detailed, clear reproduction..."


Fortunately, $800 is plenty for an electrostatic system, and electrostatics excel at that quoted bit. It's not quite enough for getting a Stax SRS-2170 combo (SR-202 + SRM-252S) from Audio Cubes II, but plenty of second-hand deals on vintage Stax equipment and new Koss ESP/950 systems can be had at that budget while still leaving some room for a DAC (though you might have to save up a bit more to get a competent DAC if it's more than $200, depending on what you get in the end).


"Since I tend to stick with what I buy, warranty is a big plus, especially if it's a US-based company."


The ESP/950 has a lifetime warranty, and Koss is US-based. That's something to think about.


I wish I could say the same for Stax, but they're said to be more reliable, not to mention that they have far more of a selection than just one headphone and amp.

post #3 of 13



I think you should spend the majority of that $800 on a great headphone, and worry less about spending the majority of your budget on the DAC/AMP. I would suggest you actually listen to some higher "quality" DAC's on the same AMP to get an idea of what you think is worth the price tag if you can. As for warranty, Schiit has a great deal (5 year) for that. The Asgard is an excellent AMP. I have it and the Lyr. And I prefer the Asgard. I've grown away from tube amps though (Lyr & Little Dot MK III).


Without knowing much about your tastes other than what you said you want (clear, detail), I would go with the Beyer DT880.


As for the DAC/AMP kit, that depends on what you really want. Personally, I'd get the 250ohm DT880 and get a decent $200 DAC/AMP combo and call it a day (Matrix Cube, TubeMagic D1, FiiO E7+E9, etc). But if you're a sucker for sleek looks, warranty, future proofing, etc, check out the Schiit Bifrost & potentially the Valhalla or Asgard depending on whether you want solid state or tube. They'll power pretty much any headphone you get very well, even if you go high-end one day.


I will say this though, I can plug my Hifhman HE-500 or Denon D5000 into a $200 source and enjoy it immensely more than plugging a $200 mid-tier headphone into a $500 source. If you get what I'm saying.


Very best,

post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 

Guys, thanks for the comments! Really, I love hearing other people's opinions and checking other points of views.



I really never gave any thoughts to electrostatics since I thought price range was prohibitive for my budget... although I had seen someone on another thread suggest just spending everything you have on some Audez'e LCD-2 and buy a cheap DAC while you get the 'moollah' to afford higher grade source and amp. Yours is an interesting suggestion and I'll be doing some research. Thanks for the comment!



I fully understand your point... which also complements the comment about the Audez'e cans... this would mean spending about +2k mid-term, which, most probably, would be the end result of this expedition into audiophile territory either way.



     I have a tendency to think that most people ask advice to be able to 'blame' someone else for their bad choices in case they're not happy with what they went with, but, I guess there are no bad choices in life as long as you learn from them. Which brings me to the point... music appreciation has become a big part of my life, but it has to share it with other passions I have (bare with me... I switch among a definite number of them throughout time), some of them include, but are not limited to: photography, interactive design, visual arts, traveling, among others... so I will go into number-crunching mode again and check what the next 6 months look like in terms of income, projects, expenses and sacrifices that would need be made in order to afford this new option you've both presented.


Music wise... I tried to create a short list of music that would somehow represent stuff I like... but that list came down to about 100+ songs... this does not mean many of them share 'sonic' similarities and that the list could be WAY shorter, but taking them off the list would represent compromising on what, I believe, is an altogether changing character that I have. I can post the list as an attachment if any of you would like to take a 'quick' look. I always find it interesting to see what other people listen to.


Again, thanks for the time and the words!



post #5 of 13



Post what you listen to. It helps a lot to know what you're mostly listening to.


Also, let us know the kind of characteristic you look for in music. Do you want a super expansive sound stage (one that is inaccurate to the recording, but an effect some find pleasing)? Do you want bass to be authoritative, hit low and hard, rumble, or would you rather it just be neutral (don't let someone tell you that the recording had the bass neutral, it's not true, most music is made with 30hz beats because today's culture puts emphasis on bass and it's represented heavily in a lot of music, scores, etc; they wanted you to feel bass, not have it be hidden for the sake of some dude with a 10k headphone setup that thinks over stated bass isn't what was intended, yea, maybe for flute music.... *rant over*).


Really, I would bump your budget up a tad. Get yourself a nice high-end headphone that does everything well. Like the LCD2, or HE500, or T1. But get a high-end that doesn't require high-end source components to really do their leg work. I like the LCD2 and HE500 due to that. A little source & amping go a long way. No need to have $3k source setups. A $200 amp will do it just fine. The headphone is 99% what you're hearing in my book. You can get a used high end for under your budget. Just expand budget to allow for a DAC & AMP that are mid-tier, basically. I say this because ultimately it's cheaper to go straight to high end rather than crawl to it from inexpensive, entry, and mid-tier headphones over time and eventually just springing on a high-end anyways. Save yourself a lot of money, time, and go straight for what you know you'll end up with. Spend it all on a great high-end headphone now. I look back and wish I never spent money on all the headphones I got, after I finally went high-end and realized... I knew I was going there anyways, why didn't I just do it first?


Very best,

Edited by MalVeauX - 11/3/11 at 11:33pm
post #6 of 13

Burson 160D is reasonable for the price ~ all that sweet amping with a competent DAC section.


The DAC inside is not as refined or capable in my opinion as some of the better stand-alones

but as a packaged unit it does offer pretty stellar value.

post #7 of 13
AKG K70Xs are great for a wide range of stuff, given its amped properly. So are the 880s where the 880s are a lot easier to amp.

For clarity the K701/2, 880s and SRH940 are going to win by a fair margin compared to the others (not sure about the HE-300 as I haven't heard it personally).

If you are only using it at home, I would pick the 880/600 myself. Where the SRH940 does offer some modest isolation for on the go usage. K701/2 have some slight comfort issues and more picky with amps than the 880s and 940s but do have a massive soundstage that you might like.

Best thing is to listen first hand, buying them used and reselling them if you don't like them is always better than going blind into a brand new phone.

Audio Technica AD2000, are great fun phone, similar to the Grados but with far better soundstaging and detail. Great for faster music.
post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 

     Song list has grown... but I can easily say that at least 50% of what I listen to started somehow through music I hear on KCRW's Sounds Eclectic, British Council's The Selector, Radio Ibero 90.9 (radio station at my Alma Mater), Putumayo collections, Buddha Bar collections, and of course, rock (all kinds), with bits of pop in between. I do enjoy Blues, Jazz and other more 'serious' musical genres... which is why I didn't want to get into song-listing hehehe... but to clarify some of this stuff, you could probably find the following list more useful, a small selection of things I listen to (again, depending on mood).


1. Jacques Brel - Amsterdam http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95k556aQLUU&feature=related

2. Beck - Paper Tiger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VoJMUpzAyI

3. Teddybears - Cobrastyle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBTSG_Tryhc

4. Melody Gardot - Worrysome Heart http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMyP-ojqdHk

5. Café Tacuba - Ojalá Que Llueva Café http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6px7pDCmEA

6. Ali Farka Touré - Savane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcmdiS1ahlQ

7. Bitter:Sweet - Get What I Want http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iez0KrNv3nw

8. Federico Aubele - En El Desierto http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXEwl-bGSy0

9. Nana Mouskouri - Je Chante Avec Toi Liberté http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H34sUemjuw4

10. Royal Crown Revue - Something's Gotta Give http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tqSoSQN43s

11. Tan Dun - From the Hero soundtrack http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FafII9qqd_4

12. Yann Tiersen - La Valse D'Amélie (Piano Version) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO209GwYCr8

13. Led Zeppelin - In My Time Of Dying (Jimmy Page is probably the reason I first bought an electric guitar)

       a. Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65Ebs8K9TjI

       b. Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rb6pJlrS9DA


     I love a nice clean execution... as much as I love Jack White's scratchy guitar playing... if you love guitar playing you can't miss 'It Might Get Loud' (http://www.sonyclassics.com/itmightgetloud/)... especially the part when all three (Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White) play a part of In My Time Of Dying, each adding his own flavor to the song.


     So... getting back to MalVeauX's questions (thanks for the interest man!)... I haven't had a lot of experience with sound stage, but I'd rather hear things as they were 'meant' to be heard when recorded. I believe producers and directors (both in film and music) add their own touch to each recording/film, and I'd rather hear what was meant to be there from the start, so I guess transparency is key, expansive sound stage is not. Bass... I love a good bass line when it's well defined and not loose all over, and you're able to discern the plucking of a string on a bass, the brass on a sax, the humming of a didjeridoo, or the rumble of a drum on the Kodo albums (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSi7PyJMj3A). Something else that comes to mind is Lenny Kravitz' 'If You Can't Say No' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsP05MHH_G4).


     Guess this makes me take more of an analytical approach to music... even though, I can lose myself on a well played piece (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBelSZAx4ro)... this one particularly makes me want to close my eyes and just smile... got the SACD version at home... simply marvelous.



I guess if do decide on getting a 'top-tier' set of headphones, the Burson will be left out of the picture for at least a year, which I don't mind, it'll give me a chance to learn to appreciate whatever I end up getting, before adding something to the mix. Thanks for the comment!



The 880's where on the top three options I had considered, and still are. As you say, the AKG's seem to bring a slight discomfort issue when worn for extended periods of time, and I do prefer an open can to a closed one.


Guys, thanks for the comments! 

Have a great weekend!





post #9 of 13

The component that will most change the quality of the sound is the headphones (providing it's sufficiently well powered). That is exactly where the majority of your money should be going, if you want the best possible sound for your money. Upgrading from a low-end DAC/AMP to a high end one in combination with a mid-fi headphone is going to give you significantly less difference than moving to a top end headphone with a budget dac/amp.


Buy the best headphone you can, and go with a budget DAC/AMP combo like the Fiio E10, or something else depending on your exact needs. Rather than letting head-fi members with their own tastes and preferences dictate which headphones you should get (you've listed a really broad range - from heavily coloured to more neutral, open and closed), try to get an audition - via stores/meets etc. There is just no substitute for actually hearing something for yourself.


Bear in mind how close your budget is to high end stuff like the Hifiman HE-500 (and you can already afford the HE-5LE, though that is a tricky headphone to drive). You'd essentially be in a completely different league when it comes to sound.

Edited by syn_fx - 11/4/11 at 12:24pm
post #10 of 13

Just as a heads-up, if you don't want to go the Koss ESP/950 route for electrostatic, someone's selling a Stax SR-303 + SRM-313 for $600 + shipping. It would be worth considering. Worry about the DAC later, when you have $300-500 or so to dedicate to it; your sound card and receiver should suffice for now. (If only you could just audition this stuff before purchase...)


Still, some good points have been made in this thread already. One thing to know is that people making recommendations are more likely to recommend stuff closer to their tastes; I've obviously become enamored with electrostatics and their particular way of delivering sound, while bassheads might favor sheer bass impact/slam over anything else.


I'd audition your linked songs if I was at home, but I'm not, and all I have with me are cheap HTF600s, not my Lambda. That'll have to wait for a few hours.

post #11 of 13

My comments on what I have heard out of your list (headphones, not combo):


Given your wide range of tastes, I would tell you to go for the Beyer DT880 option A since its the best all-rounder of the group.


You may also find that you enjoy Senn HD650 combo. Its a bit darker and more laid back. For its price though, the Senn HD650 isn't necessarily better than a Beyer DT880 in "detailed, clear production."


The Shure SRH940 will also give you a similar experience to the Beyer DT880. But in a world where there is a Beyer DT880, why settle for something like a Beyer DT880? Also the Shure SRH940 will make any song being fed to it straight out of an iPod sound lifeless and dull, not in the sense that its analytical and cold, but that the original performers energy is almost completely removed from the song. To be fair, if you plug in the Beyer DT880 straight into an iPod you'll hear squat but that might actually be better than how the SRH940 presents the music (hyperbolic? Yes. Extremely so? Surprising, no.).


I've also auditioned the Grado SR325i. I'm not a big fan of its small head stage or the fact that its too trigger happen with highs and heavily colors whatever song I listen to.


The AKG K702 is more detailed and clear than the Beyer DT880 but its head stage is so large that I'd place it in a niche category definitely not for everyone. Some people have claimed to hear a plasticky mid and that the head stage is unnaturally large. The latter I have experienced (not that its a bad thing), but the former I have not.


The rest I have not heard so I cannot comment on.


Okay, that's the headphone part, not onto your questions.


For the question of saving your dough. In this hobby, there will always be more, not only more but better, and if not better - different. Get what you want and what you like today because any time spent saving is time spent not listening the best experience you can get.
a. Would you suggest I go for a low-priced combo for now (E7/E9,CMOY,PA2V2,...) and learn to appreciate the differences that a DAC/amp combo gives the Grados? Or go for a mid-term investment from the start?
Invest now (see above).
b. Which of the sets mentioned above would you think preferable for mid-long term ownership, or would you suggest a different set in that price range?
Fortunately you don't have to look at your headphones while you're listening to them. As far as construction goes, I'd actually pick the Senn HD650 because it looks and for me, feels the most durable out of the bunch. The sound is good for long listening sessions (the AKG K702 gets tiring real quick for most people around me that listen to them) and the Beyer DT880 can create the same experience.
c. Are there (historically) good offers on Black Friday / Cyber Monday I should take advantage of, or should I buy the different components throuhghout the next couple of months?
Sorry, I have no idea.
d. Are there any hints that the above models might be replaced soon with a newer version?
Again, no idea but it wouldn't matter anyways because the next model up may not necessarily be better and if it is not necessarily so much better that you'd regret your current purchase.
e. Do you have any tips on getting a good price on equipment (when possible)?
Check out the Trade section of the forum. Most people have good feedbacks and are honest, well-meaning people. Used equipment is cheaper, most of the time in good condition if not great condition, and is already burnt in which is better unless you have a fetish for listening to burn in, or in the case of the AKG K702, for a minimal of 350 hours before you hear what it actually sounds like.
P.S. There is a suit on a dead donkey thing going on with the DAC/Amp thing. I agree with MalVeauX's general that you shouldn't spend more on the chain than the headphones but I think there's a serious point of bottleneck when there's a dramatic difference between the quality of the chain (i.e. would you want to listen to a really revealing headphone straight out of an iPod?). So spend a reasonable amount on your headphones and use the left overs for the DAC/Amp, just make sure the quality of the products do not vary drastically.

Edited by NinjaSquirt - 11/4/11 at 2:06pm
post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the input people! 

I'll be looking then into the next tier for my new headphones... just need a place to test out the LCD-2 and the HE-500s... another friend did comment on electrostatics, but unless I have a shot at trying them out for an hour or so with the other two options, it'll be a hard sell. So I guess I'll wait 'til January to save some $$$ (XMas kills my wallet between trips and gifts for the family). 



Thanks for the great amount of info and taking the time to listen! I'll be looking for opportunities to test out some gear in the following weeks before I pull the trigger by the end of January, since there's probably no rush in getting something this month. Meanwhile, I'll stick to my sr80i's. I'll be keeping a close watch on the For Sale threads in case anything of notice pops up.




post #13 of 13

That's a very smart strategy. Good luck!

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