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Upgrade help, DAC or AMP?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

My current set-up is begging for an upgrade, I can't decide if I should go with an Amp or DAC. I need to stay right around $200 range as I am a student, and books don't pay for themselves. My current setup is as follows.

 

Kenwood CD-323M> Denon AVR-1611> Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro 250 Ohm

 

I am not sure if I need an amp or a DAC, or both. I am currently using the Coaxial out on my CD player, it also has optical out and a "1 bit" DAC in it for analog out. The DAC in the Denon sounds better than the CD player DAC, so if an amplifier is the way to go, I would also need a decent DAC with either a optical or coaxial input. As far as amps, the Denon is pretty powerful for speakers, but I don't know if that carries over to headphones. At half volume, it is at the top of my enjoyable range, but I know that volume isn't the only thing that amplifiers affect.

 

So what component needs an upgrade more, DAC or amplifier?

 

I have considered the following options so far...

 

Little Dot MKII+Fiio D3

 

Audioengine D1

 

All replies are appreciated! Thanks

post #2 of 21

I don't think you need an upgrade. The Denon has an amp I presume? If it cannot power your headphones I wonder what will.

The DAC is already good as you say. What are you looking for?

post #3 of 21

If you'll use the Denon as a DAC and getting an amp, you sure it has analog line outs at the rear? In any case if the DT880's get to a useful level on the Denons and you gotta buy books first (or maintain your car, if you have one), I suggest you just save your cash, and get better gear in the future. Adding about $5-10 a week to that $200 will get you something really, really good within a year, or dig you out of a hole if you need it to.

post #4 of 21
Thread Starter 
I'm looking for better sound, what I have does the job, but I can tell it is lacking a bit in SQ. So my question is, will an amp or DAC give me a more significant SQ increase in this specific setup?

The follow up question being, which DAC or amplifier+DAC would give me the best sound for around $200?

As for your comment about the Denon, I paid $300 for the receiver and it has many functions other than being a headphone amplifier. Using logic I figured the amplifier in the Denon would be equivilant to a stand-alone headphone amplifier priced around $70. I suppose that may not be true, though.

Lastly, what I meant when I said the Denon DAC sounded better than that of the CD player was not that it was really good, but just in comparing the two the Denon's DAC was more pleasing to me.

Edit: in response to the most recent question, in the original post I said if an amplifier is the better choice I would also need a DAC. The money for free spending is in a seperate fund than my "everything I actually need" fund so that isn't an issue. I assumed my unorthodox setup could easily be improved by more typical equipment.
Edited by Stouty447 - 5/15/12 at 6:58pm
post #5 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stouty447 View Post

I'm looking for better sound, what I have does the job, but I can tell it is lacking a bit in SQ. So my question is, will an amp or DAC give me a more significant SQ increase in this specific setup?

Not in your case. Not significant. You stand to gain most by spending on headphones. And most of the time, volume is what amps affect, given they are neutral (most receiver amps tend to be).

I agree with ProtegeManiac.

post #6 of 21
Thread Starter 
Wow, I was under the impression that headphone amps contributed to the sound significantly. So a DAC upgrade wouldn't be significant either?

Also, this is a bit off topic but, is there a sound quality difference between a RCA stereo connection an a 3.5mm stereo connection?

Thanks, you have been a great help to me!
post #7 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stouty447 View Post

Wow, I was under the impression that headphone amps contributed to the sound significantly. So a DAC upgrade wouldn't be significant either?
Also, this is a bit off topic but, is there a sound quality difference between a RCA stereo connection an a 3.5mm stereo connection?
Thanks, you have been a great help to me!

 

It goes like this: Headphone/Speakers > Amp > DAC.

You gain the most by keeping your spending priorities in the same order.

And RCA / 3.5 mm should not make any audio difference, its just the form factor that is different. RCA is usually preferred to connect the audio chain, and offer better shielding (thats a matter of design though). 

post #8 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stouty447 View Post

1) I'm looking for better sound, what I have does the job, but I can tell it is lacking a bit in SQ. So my question is, will an amp or DAC give me a more significant SQ increase in this specific setup?
 
2) As for your comment about the Denon, I paid $300 for the receiver and it has many functions other than being a headphone amplifier. Using logic I figured the amplifier in the Denon would be equivilant to a stand-alone headphone amplifier priced around $70. I suppose that may not be true, though.
Lastly, what I meant when I said the Denon DAC sounded better than that of the CD player was not that it was really good, but just in comparing the two the Denon's DAC was more pleasing to me.
Edit: in response to the most recent question, in the original post I said if an amplifier is the better choice I would also need a DAC.
 
3) The money for free spending is in a seperate fund than my "everything I actually need" fund so that isn't an issue. I assumed my unorthodox setup could easily be improved by more typical equipment.

 

1) For those headphones I'd bet on an amplifier benefiting you more - at 250ohms that's kind of too high. Your receiver's headphone amp isn't too stressed, since they're normally at 120ohms, but probably not making enough power and/or could use a little more headroom.

 

2) I searched for it on Google and got the PDF manual, it's kinda weird though as I can't confirm what I was asking - some of the jacks that I'd expect should be labelled "Input" are labelled as "Output." Normally I'd assume the optical jacks are a digital pass-through, though it's kinda weird there aren't any SPDIF input apart from HDMI, but even the front panel jacks are labelled as "Ouput" jacks. So I can't be sure the analog RCA audio jacks labelled "Output" at the rear really are outputs, if there is some sort of error in the manual; more so, they were highlighted in the section about "Connecting BluRay Players," not about connecting external amps. Which input are you using for the CDPlayer?

 

In any case, IF

a. the Optical terminal turns out to be a pass-through, you can use a one-box DAC with a powerful enough amp, and use this to send it digital signal from any source through the receiver

b. the Analog RCA jacks turn out to be an output from the receiver's DAC, then you can just hook up a powerful amp here.

 

3) Reason why I suggest holding on to the cash and adding to it is also because you probably won't get far enough over your receiver with $200. Consider that at the very least shipping would be part of the acquisition cost, plus for about at least $350 you could get a really decent DAC-Amp. The cheapest amp I'd bet on is the Schiit Asgard and it's already at $249+tax+shipping. There's the O2 but I haven't listened to it; reviews seem great though.

post #9 of 21

As your Denon 1611 has no analog output, you really have no choice, but to buy a DAC to go with a new headphone amplifier

and it looks like the only digital output on the Kenwood is coaxial.

The Fiio D5 is only $30.

There might be better DACs sold on eBay (ships from China), say for $50 to $65, but I have no idea which one.

On eBay you can get single tube headphone amplifiers from $50 to $130, ships from China, takes 10 days

They will easily power 250-Ohm headphones most will go up to 600-Ohm headphones.

The brand "Indeed", model "MKII" to me is a good amplifier.

Just do a search for "tube headphone amplifier" on eBay. it will list lots of brands and models.

post #10 of 21
Thread Starter 
My Denon does not have the correct outputs for an amp, that is why the first post listed the Little Dot and a D3 as an option.

So a thicker more high quality 3.5mm cable would sound just as good as RCA?

Thank you for the tip on upgrade order, although I did most recently upgrade my headphones, making the next step an amp, I see that the Denon is a more viable amp than I previously thought.

I have seen some of those Chinese made amplifiers on EBay, I just have no clue which ones are good, so I think I'll get some RE0's to go with my E6 and LOD and start saving for a WA6. wink.gif
post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stouty447 View Post

My Denon does not have the correct outputs for an amp, that is why the first post listed the Little Dot and a D3 as an option.
So a thicker more high quality 3.5mm cable would sound just as good as RCA?
Thank you for the tip on upgrade order, although I did most recently upgrade my headphones, making the next step an amp, I see that the Denon is a more viable amp than I previously thought.
I have seen some of those Chinese made amplifiers on EBay, I just have no clue which ones are good, so I think I'll get some RE0's to go with my E6 and LOD and start saving for a WA6. wink.gif

 

No amp is better than a bad amp. You can go through a series of incremental upgrades, or wait for a while and buy a good amp. Guess which one will cost more.

And thicker/high quality cables make a difference is debatable (as long as the guage is small enough to carry the load current). Just go for some durable ones. (1-5% of your total spend). No need to spend too much on them.

post #12 of 21

The AKM4358VQ DAC chip inside the Denon should be fine and not the limit of your system.  To me the improvements you are seeking are most likely going to be found in a more fun sounding headphone like the Denon AH-D2000.  What prompts you to upgrade?  Does your music sound too bland?  Give us a list of your top 5 CDs please.

 

Sure you can spend more, but unless you are going to do a direct comparison you may be wasting a ton of cash.

 

I was unable to find the complete spec sheet for the Kenwood CD-323M, but I imagine it has a low signal to noise ratio and perhaps a narrow frequency response.  If it were my system I would first go with a higher quality CD player and then replace my headphones or use speakers.

 

Things to test your system with:

 

1.)  Go here and see if your current system allows you to hear the difference between mp3 or not

http://mp3ornot.com/

 

2.)  Listen to this track and report back with that you hear.  Can you hear the nice kick drum?  Does it sound like it is moving air in your head?  Can you hear the nice metallic sound of the guitar strings?  Do the vocals sound level with everything else or are the distant or muddled?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjATZYHs4Tc

 

3.)  With nothing playing, but all of your components plugged in, and the volume set to 70% what do you hear?  Any hiss or noise?  With the volume knob all of the way down to zero what do you hear?  Any hiss or noise?

 

4.)  Do you hear skipping that is not caused by a CD scratch?

 

I know Headroom ( headphone.com ) gives this statement which holds true to me.

 

"As mentioned above, the source is generally (keep reading!) the most important aspect of an audio system. We build a variety of digital to analog converters (DACs) to further improve your audio source. HeadRoom amps with internal DACs, and our stand-alone DACs, both contain high quality DAC chips in our designs; and, these contemporary high-end digital recievers and DACs are extremely good at reducing or virtually eliminating jitter from the digital bit-stream. Now, here's the exception to our rule about sources being so critical: when constructing a front-end for your stereo system, it is much less important where the digital signal is coming from when a very high-quality DAC is used. We've even found, in fact, that sometimes very expensive CD transports sound only slightly better than the digital output of inexpensive CD players or USB audio outputs from computers when using a good DAC. So, keep that in mind when putting together your rig!"

post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
I mostly listen to classic rock, such as U2, Nickleback, Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, and Phil Collins. I'll run your tests when I get back to my dorm.

Based on your quote and other info I think a CD player would benefit me quite a bit. The pioneer is a 200 disc changer, which I am guessing means it wasn't built for SQ. I looked into some Denon CD players on Ebay and found a couple older reference series players well under my budget. I don't know if a better CD player will make my music more realistic or not, which is what I'm looking for. The one I was looking at had an equalizer, which could help get music more geared toward the genre I'm listening to.

Another pair of headphones is also another option.

Which would you recommend? A CD player or headphones, I am leaning towards the CD player a bit because it would improve the quality for all future upgrades. The headphones I feel would just be sweeping the lack of SQ in my CD player under the rug.

Thanks again, you both have been a HUGE help.
post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stouty447 View Post

I mostly listen to classic rock, such as U2, Nickleback, Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, and Phil Collins. I'll run your tests when I get back to my dorm.
Based on your quote and other info I think a CD player would benefit me quite a bit. The pioneer is a 200 disc changer, which I am guessing means it wasn't built for SQ. I looked into some Denon CD players on Ebay and found a couple older reference series players well under my budget. I don't know if a better CD player will make my music more realistic or not, which is what I'm looking for. The one I was looking at had an equalizer, which could help get music more geared toward the genre I'm listening to.
Another pair of headphones is also another option.
Which would you recommend? A CD player or headphones, I am leaning towards the CD player a bit because it would improve the quality for all future upgrades. The headphones I feel would just be sweeping the lack of SQ in my CD player under the rug.
Thanks again, you both have been a HUGE help.

Would a modern Blu-ray player or a used HD DVD player come with a better built in DAC?

Then you could just use the RCA outputs to go straight to an external headphone amplifier.

Or a player with a USB output would give you more options for an external add-on DAC.

DAC Destroyer, USB DAC, $50 off eBay, ships from Canada.

You can run RCAs from the DAC Destoyer into the Denon's RCA inputs.

 

I'm going to guess you will need to spend way over $250 to find headphones that sound better then the DT880 Pro 250-Ohm.

(The Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro currently sells new for $240.

post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

Would a modern Blu-ray player or a used HD DVD player come with a better built in DAC?

Then you could just use the RCA outputs to go straight to an external headphone amplifier.

Or a player with a USB output would give you more options for an external add-on DAC.

DAC Destroyer, USB DAC, $50 off eBay, ships from Canada.

You can run RCAs from the DAC Destoyer into the Denon's RCA inputs.

 

I'm going to guess you will need to spend way over $250 to find headphones that sound better then the DT880 Pro 250-Ohm.

(The Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro currently sells new for $240.


I think what it is down to is either a DAC or a new CD player, and I don't think a DAC will be a big improvement for around $200. I think a CD player is the way to go, but your point is interesting about blu-ray or HD DVD. Would both of these players play CD's as well as DVD/blu-ray? Is it common for them to have very good sound quality? (Any suggestions on a brand?)

 

I think a used CD player from a reputable company is my best bet right now, Ebay is full of used CD players for cheap.

 

When you say plugged in you mean that everything is on but the song is paused, correct? There isn't any noise when the track is paused, no matter what the volume is.

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