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Advice on a DAC and amp for an open-plan office

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hi, I'm looking at improving my listening station at work and was hoping that some people here may have experiences that can help me out. I've had a read through the forums and most of the office threads are for home offices, or people with large private offices at work.

 

A little back ground:

I work in an open plan office with a fair amount of background noise. I need to be able to get up/stop listening at short notice and not disturb others with my music. The onboard sound from a Dell Optiplex is dire, with no digital out-put, and we are not permitted to open, or install unauthorised software on the work computers. Therefore I need something external that takes a USB source and runs on the standard Windows drivers. I will be listening from CD-ripped, FLAC files, through Foobar on an external hard drive. I work for an engineering contractor and people bringing in smallish USB devices is common, but head phone amplifiers are not so common. I'm not too worried about the security at work, but if it is small I will lock it away at night so I would prefer a combined amp/dac.

 

I did try using an old Creek OBH-11 with an HRT MSII a little while ago and that drew a few comments. The MSII is now back in use at home and I am listening to a limited selection of music from an iPod while at work. I would like a discrete amp/dac for work, the Creek is currently unused. I might think about placing it under the desk, but on the desk would be my preferred position. I've not got a massive amount of desk space free after what I need for work. 

 

I listen to a wide range of music and will be using Westone 2's and Grado 325i - I know they leak, but I've been doing 60-hour weeks and there aren't many people in the office after 4 in the afternoon. I will look into adding a set of closed cans in the future (probably from AT/Beyer/Denon/Phiaton?) - feel free to make any recommendations.

 

I've listed my main requirements below:

  • USB input
  • No custom drivers for use in Windows XP and 7
  • All SS. No tubes.
  • Works with IEMs and full size cans
  • Good low-level channel balance
  • Front panel volume dial
  • Quickly installed and removed
  • Moderately sized (preferable), if not it must be large enough to support a monitor (this wouldn't need to be removed).
  • Discrete appearance, nothing too flashy
  • Small plug size if it has a wall-wart power supply.
  • CE Marked power supply (or an external, easily replaced one)
  • around £350 all in - I could go higher, but would need a reason.

 

I've had a good read through threads, even looking through the pictures of computer rigs thread for inspiration, and have the following list. Please feel free to add suggestions. One of the reasons I'm asking is that none of these have ticked all the boxes.  

 

  • Teac UD-H01
  • Matrix Cube, Mini
  • Matrix M-Stage USB - showing on Ampcity's website, I've not heard anything else about it
  • AudioGD NFB-5, Fun, NFB-12
  • Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus
  • HRT Headstreamer

 

Currently I'm most interested in the M-Stage USB, but I've found no information on it.

The ones listed are all full-sized, combined amp/dac units, but in principle I have nothing against seperate amp/dac (I'd probably use the Creek to save some money), or against a good portable unit. I've tried the Fiio e7 and NuForce Icon Mobile briefly, and thought they were missing something.

 

Thank you for reading all of that, and for any advice you can offer.

post #2 of 14

DACport LX and O2 reference amp. Great combo with excellent sound.

 

http://www.jdslabs.com/item.php?fetchitem=O2Full

http://www.centrance.com/store/cart.php?target=product&product_id=16163

 

Edit: Epiphany Acoustics also has their version of the O2 reference amp and it may be a better option to get the amp from there as its in Europe so shipping should be cheaper.

 

http://epiphany-acoustics.co.uk/our-products/ehp-o2-portable-audio-headphone-amplifier/

Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoin View Post

Hi, I'm looking at improving my listening station at work and was hoping that some people here may have experiences that can help me out. I've had a read through the forums and most of the office threads are for home offices, or people with large private offices at work.

 

A little back ground:

I work in an open plan office with a fair amount of background noise. I need to be able to get up/stop listening at short notice and not disturb others with my music. The onboard sound from a Dell Optiplex is dire, with no digital out-put, and we are not permitted to open, or install unauthorised software on the work computers. Therefore I need something external that takes a USB source and runs on the standard Windows drivers. I will be listening from CD-ripped, FLAC files, through Foobar on an external hard drive. I work for an engineering contractor and people bringing in smallish USB devices is common, but head phone amplifiers are not so common. I'm not too worried about the security at work, but if it is small I will lock it away at night so I would prefer a combined amp/dac.

 

I did try using an old Creek OBH-11 with an HRT MSII a little while ago and that drew a few comments. The MSII is now back in use at home and I am listening to a limited selection of music from an iPod while at work. I would like a discrete amp/dac for work, the Creek is currently unused. I might think about placing it under the desk, but on the desk would be my preferred position. I've not got a massive amount of desk space free after what I need for work. 

 

I listen to a wide range of music and will be using Westone 2's and Grado 325i - I know they leak, but I've been doing 60-hour weeks and there aren't many people in the office after 4 in the afternoon. I will look into adding a set of closed cans in the future (probably from AT/Beyer/Denon/Phiaton?) - feel free to make any recommendations.

 

I've listed my main requirements below:

  • USB input
  • No custom drivers for use in Windows XP and 7
  • All SS. No tubes.
  • Works with IEMs and full size cans
  • Good low-level channel balance
  • Front panel volume dial
  • Quickly installed and removed
  • Moderately sized (preferable), if not it must be large enough to support a monitor (this wouldn't need to be removed).
  • Discrete appearance, nothing too flashy
  • Small plug size if it has a wall-wart power supply.
  • CE Marked power supply (or an external, easily replaced one)
  • around £350 all in - I could go higher, but would need a reason.

 

I've had a good read through threads, even looking through the pictures of computer rigs thread for inspiration, and have the following list. Please feel free to add suggestions. One of the reasons I'm asking is that none of these have ticked all the boxes.  

 

  • Teac UD-H01
  • Matrix Cube, Mini
  • Matrix M-Stage USB - showing on Ampcity's website, I've not heard anything else about it
  • AudioGD NFB-5, Fun, NFB-12
  • Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus
  • HRT Headstreamer

 

Currently I'm most interested in the M-Stage USB, but I've found no information on it.

The ones listed are all full-sized, combined amp/dac units, but in principle I have nothing against seperate amp/dac (I'd probably use the Creek to save some money), or against a good portable unit. I've tried the Fiio e7 and NuForce Icon Mobile briefly, and thought they were missing something.

 

Thank you for reading all of that, and for any advice you can offer.



 


Edited by lee730 - 2/11/12 at 3:30am
post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by lee730 View Post

DACport LX and O2 reference amp. Great combo with excellent sound.

 

http://www.jdslabs.com/item.php?fetchitem=O2Full

http://www.centrance.com/store/cart.php?target=product&product_id=16163

 

Edit: Epiphany Acoustics also has their version of the O2 reference amp and it may be a better option to get the amp from there as its in Europe so shipping should be cheaper.

 

http://epiphany-acoustics.co.uk/our-products/ehp-o2-portable-audio-headphone-amplifier/


Thanks for those. I remember reading something about Epiphany-Acoustics when they brought out the EHP-1 amplifier, the O2 amp is very cheap. I might need to have a listen to one anyway.

That Centrace dac is about £350 in the UK. The MSII+ is around £290, do you have any idea how the two compare?

post #4 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stoin View Post


 


Thanks for those. I remember reading something about Epiphany-Acoustics when they brought out the EHP-1 amplifier, the O2 amp is very cheap. I might need to have a listen to one anyway.

That Centrace dac is about £350 in the UK. The MSII+ is around £290, do you have any idea how the two compare?


Wow so you can't order it directly from the US store? Try and see if you can. They may be willing as long as you pay the shipping. $299.00 USA dollar is much cheaper than £290. Also keep in mind the DACport LX is different from the DACport. The DACport LX is a pure DAC while the DACport has an amp and a DAC. So you get better sound quality with the LX due to the DACports amp being a weak point when compared to better amp (the O2 would be a better amp). I recommend you contact them via email and see if they can work something out with you.

 

BTW the DACport LX is superior to the music streamer+.

 

post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 

So, totally ignoring my own plan, I went and bought a pair of Denon AH-D2000 cans, which I am currently having a first listen to. Pretty impressed by them in the first few minutes with Leonard Cohen. The cable has already struck me as being a potential issue at some point - it's pretty thick and chunky and is still a bit coiled-up from the box, but we'll see how that goes with time.

 

As for the DAC and amp idea I'm currently leaning towards something like an iBasso D12. I've read reports of them suffering from interference from other devices, mainly mobile phones it seems. I was wondering if anyone has another suggestion of something similar to the D12, or has experience of using it with the Denon D2000.

 

I'm drawn to the iBasso because it is pretty small and discrete, is a DAC/amp combo, and will power itself off USB. This makes it very quick and easy to disconnect and take with me if I need to go away for a few days.

post #6 of 14

Maybe consider the UHA6 amp. I think it also has a DAC section in it like the UHA4. You won't find much better than that in its price range and from what I hear it rapes many amps in its price range.

 

I still think the O2 amp and LX are an even better value if you take into account the sound you'll get from the pair.


Edited by lee730 - 2/15/12 at 10:48am
post #7 of 14

Headamp Pico.

post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 

The HeadAmp Pico is pretty expensive here once you factor in currency conversion fees, shipping, etc.

 

I don't think I really need the power that the Pico seems to offer. My Senn 600's are the only 'phones I've got that need much power and they get very little use compared to my Grados'.

 

For this reason, and that I've deiced that a USB powered combo is what would be best for me, I've just bought the D12. The price was pretty good, and it should be pretty well suited to the uses I'm likely to have for it over the next few years.

 

I'll try and post some opinions on how this system performs once it's all in place.

 

The only problem now is that I'm still thinking about the M-Stage. It gets great reviews and is really cheap. Let's hope the D12 keeps me distracted for a little while until I forget about it...

post #9 of 14

The problem with powering an amp from USB is that it has very little voltage or current available.  You're much better off powering it from mains power if possible.

post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 

I understand the technical issues with powering an amp from usb. The voltage isn't an absolute killer because you can always increase that through the power supply design. The real problem is that it only offers a very limited maximum power draw within the limits of the spec. From memory, I think USB 2 specifies that the host provides more power than USB 1, and the newer USB 3 increases that even further. The issue is that a lot of these devices are USB 1.1 compatible so they have only a very limited maximum power. This becomes even more of an issue in combo units where the USB interface, DAC, and amplifier all have to fit within the power envelope.

 

Voltage ultimately limits the maximum volume that a headphone can reach. The cans I'm intending on using are all pretty sensitive and I normally listen at quite low levels so I'm not too worried about this limitation. The added ease of use from having a single connection to make when I arrive at work in the morning and not having to send the power supply for testing so that I can use it in the office more than outweigh the limitations of using USB for the power supply.

 

 

With that said I would consider the Pico, but for it's high price. Thank you for suggesting it as it was one that had slipped past my research and one that I may consider in the future if I am wrong about the volume limitations from the D12.

post #11 of 14

I don't think you'll have a volume problem, and for easy to drive cans like the Denon's it will probably be fine.  One other issue is that the USB bus is often noisy, and when using it for powering the amplifier, some designs end up being noisy as a result.  I can't speak to the iBasso in that regard.

 

FWIW, there are typically a few Pico's per month that pass through the classifieds here.  Their high price, and how quick they sell, is truly a testament to its design, especially when you consider that it hasn't been changed in over 5 years.

post #12 of 14

I use a Yulong d100 for exactly this same use. Fits neatly underneath my laptop (which is up on a short monitor stand). Great DAC, and decent head-amp section to drive everything you've listed. 

 

A bit spendy, but a great unit. 

 

It has good line level outs, if you want to still use the creek. 


Edited by liamstrain - 2/17/12 at 10:18am
post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 

Noise from the usb interface, in my experience, depends on the power supply design. I'm not sure how food the D12 fares in this regard, but I'll find out soon enough. The small case means a clever design is needed.

 

The Creek is being sold. It no longer fits my needs. It was a nice little unit when I got it, but now it is starting to be shown up by newer amps that offer performance far in excess of the Creek's at a similar price. This doesn't mean that the Creek is bad, just that now is the time for me to get rid of it. The only problem I ever had with it was the stepped volume control which didn't allow for fine enough contol.


Edited by Stoin - 2/17/12 at 11:02am
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 

So, I've had the Denon D2000 and the iBasso D12 for a few days and I thought I'd post some early impressions. This is not intended as a comprehensive review. Most of my listening has been done at work rather than dedicated listening.

 

Firstly they sound very good together, although I've spent much more time using my Westone 2's than the Denons.

 

iBasso D12

 

I bought my D12 direct from iBasso and it arrived very quickly from China. Not much communication from iBasso, but they handled my order well. It arrived safely and was well packed with a few extras like USB and optical cables, OPamps, and pouch. The feet that are mentioned on the website were missing from my pack, but I wasn't going to use them so it's not a problem for me.

 

Before I bought the D12 I had read some reports of it suffering from EMI and I can confirm that my one does too. It isn't bad and I think it's only the phone of the chap sitting opposite because I don't hear it when he isn't in. The D12 hooked up very quickly to my PC and was instantly recognised. I've not experienced any drop-outs or other glitches to the sound, which is as it should be. I'm using it at 44.1 kHz, 16-bit because almost all of my music is FLAC rips from CDs. The unit stays cool even after 10+ hours on, it gets warm when charging but I normally have this off (there's a little switch at the back for this). I have a slight channel imbalance at the lowest volume setting but this is not an issue because by the time the volume is turned up to a properly audible level the channels are well balanced.

 

Sound wise I find the iBasso to be a very good sounding unit. I'm not going to give detailed comparisons between it and other units I own because I use it in an open plan office so I don't think it would be fair.It has good detail and a cohesive sound. When I was doing some researching I found reports of iBasso units sounding bright. I do not find the D12 to be bright sounding. Instead I find it well balanced with no frequencies too forward and no obvious roll off at either end of the spectrum.

 

For office use the iBasso is perfect. It's small, discrete, and easy to connect. I've only had a couple of people notice it and this was more out of interest at what it was than surprise. When I was using an MSII and Creek amp I got a few bemused glances and some teasing for having them on my desk, but this little unit gets none of that.

 

I can't compare the D12 to other similar units, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good quality, highly portable combined DAC/Amp. With the qualifier that it is affected by mobile phones so if you intend on using it in a pocket near your phone you're best to look elsewhere. If you're after something for work it comes highly recommended. I'm not sure if it's the best, but I don't think you'll be disappointed by it.

 

Denon AH-D2000

 

The Denon has been an interesting purchase. I really rate it as a headphone, but I'm not sure it's really suited for work.

 

The Denon is very detailed but I've not yet heard it sound at all bright - I've yet to try it with any particularly rough recordings. The bass is very good but doesn't sound over emphasised or forced. It also manages to stay sounding very controlled even at the bottom of the frequency range. As a former bass player I love how it plays the low end. Deep, full, but nice and controlled.

 

I've actually used the Denon more at home than at work since I got it. At work it does not isolate as much as I had been hoping and did draw a few odd looks from those around me. I'll still take it in on days when I'm going to be staying late, but I'll also take my SR325i's in sometimes. They sound very different, but both sound great.

 

I've only got three concerns with the D2000. Firstly, I find myself listening at higher levels than I do through Grados. Also, the cable is cloth wrapped and very hefty. It's not too flexible and even after a few days out of the packing it still has some of the shape from when it was packed away. Finally, the D2000 does not come with a case that is easy to put the headphones back into for moving around or for storing. The Senn 600s come in a decent, sturdy box and the Grado pizza box is very easy to pack the headphones back into. The D2000 box is just for showing the headphones off in shops. Nothing more.

 

I really like the D2000, but it isn't well suited to my office. Too big and poor isolation are the main problems. Sounds great, but really for home use where I've used it quite a lot especially as all my other cans are open backed and I don't feel comfortable using them when my girlfriend is trying to sleep. For work I'm going to stick to portable 'phones...for the time being.

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