Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict
This is what I wrote about 4 weeks ago as initial impressions, starting here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/426508/sennheiser-hd800-appreciation-thread/5040#post_8601885
For the past 2 weeks I've been listening to nothing but my HE-500 and HD800 full size phones, while evaluating a new Nuforce DAC100 DAC/amp. Highly recommended! This is a an absolute match made in heaven with my HD800, but still pretty good with my low impedance HE-500 which are pretty demanding on an amp for current delivery. I understand that the DAC100 can swing 10+ volts into 300 ohm, but drops closer to 2 volts into "low impedance" loads (and I think output impedance is close to 15 ohm).
I have compared it to several other SS DAC/amp combos and the DAC100 has a bit more of an open and deeper soundstage than my DACmini, Apogee mini-DAC, or Nuforce HDP with S11 PSU. In comparison the DACmini is slightly more forward and brighter sounding, the HDP is kinda in the middle with soundstage and slightly more aggressive, and the mini-DAC has a more shallow depth of presentation with a little edge to it when used with HD800.
The DAC100 is also a bit more refined sounding, not aggressive or grainy in any way, and offers a pretty nice kick in the low end with HD800. It also goes way louder than I could ever stand, without distortion. Note - I am using a Locus-Design Hyperion Cable I got from Lee about a year before he passed way. And I have HD800 serial number #660 that I picked up at the 2009 CanJam, as one of the first pairs sold when they were released.
Prior to the DAC100 the only solid state amp I have throughly enjoyed with the HD800 was the Luxman P-1u, which sounds a lot like my Eddie Current ZDT with partial silver transformers and Tung Sol 5751 tube. I don't have the Luxman to compare now (was a TTVJ loaner), but I'd say the DAC100 comes very close to what I recall. I'll compare it to my ZDT eventually, but since the DAC100 doesn't have analog inputs I'll have to use it as the source for the ZDT. Usually I only listen to the HD800 with my PS Audio Perfectwave DAC > ZDT amp, because they sound a little aggressive with my other amps. If I tune my Woo WA6 to sound best with the HD800, then the amp lacks sparkle and soundstage with my other phones.
Originally Posted by Agarvaen
Have you listened to V200 as well and could compare the two paired with HD800?
No, sorry. I've only tried a few solid state desktop amps with the HD800.
SS amps I've tried with the HD800 that were great with them were Luxman P-1u, Nuforce DAC100, and HiFiMan EF-6. I enjoy these with the HD800 about as much as my Eddie Current ZDT. Can't say they are all on the same level, but they all have good synergy with the HD800.
SS amps that were fairly good with HD800 were Grahm Slee Solo SRG II (but not the original SRG yuck) and ALO Amphora. I tried a B22 and Lavry DA11 with them at a meet and it was fairly good, but in meet conditions and can't say I liked the pairing as much as the above. These were all about as good in synergy as the Schitt Valhalla tube amp with HD800.
SS amps that are not bad but not optimal with HD800 are DACmini and SR-71b in balanced mode (which pair with them better than EF5 or EF2 hybrids).
SS amps that are a little fatiguing with HD800 are the Apogee mini-DAC with 12v Sigma 11 PSU, Nuforce HDP with 15v Sigma 11 PSU, and SAC KH1000 via APogee XLR out. (the HDP is much more refined with S11 PSU than Std PSU)
Of the portables that sounded good with HD800, I like the balanced SR-71b the most followed by the Meier 3MOVE (using Pico DAC as source). The Stepdance prototype was slightly grainy with HD800, the final version less so but I had less time with it, but still not as good as the other two. The HM-801 is better with HD800 than the Meier amps, and almost as good as the SR-71b but a little darker and less powerful. The Pico Slim has great tonal balance with HD800 but is fairly underpowered with them - good for low volume listening at night.
So far I am absolutely thrilled with the DAC100, only wishing for an analog input for "just in case". But when I want to listen to music with my iPod or iPad I simply connect my Nuforce iDo digital dock coax out into the DAC100, so lack of analog isn't a deal breaker. It wasn't a deal breaker with the Apogee mini-DAC either, which has now been sold.
Since I got my HD800 in 2009 I'm not sure I've listened to them as many days-in-a-row as I have in the past 6 weeks. I haven't been down to my basement rig in over a month to listen to my electrostatic headphone rig! Instead I get to be up on the main floor of the house where all the action is, and enjoy my HD800 in my bedroom rig again. Previously I spent most of my listening time in the bedroom rig with my HE-500 via DACmini, or KGSS/Stax O2, but I missed the huge soundstage of the HD800 (and HE-60 or SR-009) which I've kept paired with the bigger amps in the basement set up. (too big or run hot to set up in the bedroom)
Now that the kids are back in school, and my daughter is safely off at college, I'm hoping that I'll soon have the time to take the DAC100 down to my basement rig and hook it up to the ZDT amp and compare the amps with phones like the HD800, HE-500, LCD-2, HF-2 and LA7000. I suspect, based upon what I've heard so far, that it will pair nicely in tone with the low impedance cans but will not have nearly the power of the ZDT into low impedance, which can output nearly 3-watts into 32 ohms and drives an HE-6 or K1000 fairly well. Still, the DAC100 plays the inefficient HE-500 louder than I would normally listen, so not being able to replicate night-club volume levels isn't really a bad thing. The ZDT is too tempting sometimes, where I just want to feel the bass rattle my ears off occasionally.
The DAC100 class-A amp does run warm, but from what I've read of the descriptions of the Schiit Asgard it doesn't seem to be nearly that hot. I can keep a hand on the DAC100 for a long time without having to remove it. It's also much cooler than my ZDT, KGSS, or KGBH amps which can become painful if touched for too long. In comparison my DACmini and Woo WA6 don't seem to get warm at all.
I like not having to deal with a power brick, and just like with my maxed Woo WA6 I can plug an IEC cable directly into the amp itself. The remote is about the size of those old white Apple remotes, and works nicely - you can turn it on or off, mute the audio, change sources, and adjust the volume with it.
Overall I'd say this is an excellent value, especially for someone looking for the right DAC/amp to pair with their HD800 and not spend an arm and a leg on it. I'll post more impressions as I have them.
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict
From what I am experiencing here with the DAC100 and HDP side by side, using a Sigma 11 PSU with the HDP, I am finding that the DAC100 is a better match for the HD800, and the HDP is a better match for my LCD-2.
The LCD-2 are low impedance phones and the DAC100 is optimized to give a higher voltage swing for higher impedance phones, hence the voltage swing and power drops at the lower impedances. So the LCD-2 sound very nice tonally with the DAC100 but don't have the levels of impact that I can get from the HDP, which seems to drive low impedance phones pretty well.
But with the DAC-100 and HD800 I get a better sense of the deep bass extension vs using the HDP, and DAC100 gives the HD800 a fast, taught and punchy bass. It's also not as fatiguing when I turn up the volume. When I use the HD800 on the HDP there is no problem with playing quite loud, but the combination sounds a little more aggressive and so I have to limit the volume before I get to the point of feeling the bass impact as well as I would like. If I use an EQ to tone down the upper mids and treble, the HDP can give the HD800 better bass impact because I can tolerate having the volume knob cranked up higher. Typically, if I have to use the HDP I much prefer the HD600 with it - I daresay that's a perfect combination for a budget rig right there. But I'd pick the DAC-100/HD800 over the HDP/HD600 every day if price didn't matter.
So give the DAC-100 a shot, and I'm betting you'll prefer it with your HD800. It's also a great DAC, and feeding it into a better amp like the Eddie Current ZDT doesn't leave me feeling like I'm missing anything. I previously used an Apogee mini-DAC to feed the ZDT, and currently use a PS Audio Perfectwave DAC, but I think the DAC100 fills a niche right between those two DACs to the point where I didn't need the Apogee any more. So, if the DAC section is perfect for you and you want more power, you can feed the DAC-100 into something like an HAP-100 or a Liquid Fire, ZDT, B22, Balancing Act, etc etc...
UPDATE TO MINI-REVIEW 09 17 2012
So, I went through a dozen or so genre last night and today with the Macbook Pro USB > DAC-100 and HD800 combo, and was extremely pleased. I wouldn't change my posted impressions one bit after more listening. Previously I was using a 6th Gen Nano with lossless ALAC > Nuforce iDo digital dock > DAC-100 coax input.
I listened to many different lossless albums, including Eva Cassidy "Simply Eva" and Josefine Cronholm "Wild Garden" and Loreena McKennitt "Wind that Shakes the Barley" which are all vocals with acoustic instruments, Diana Krall "Live in Paris" female vocal jazz, Bill Evans "Waltz for Debby" piano string bass jazz, Bob James Trio "Straight Up" jazz piano, Tineke Postma jazz sax, Pink Floyd "The Wall" classic rock and REM "Automatic for the people" in 24/96, Young American Primitive and Infected Mushroom electronic, Santana "Shapeshifter" rock, Amanda Palmer "Goes Down Under" and "Songs of Radiohead" rock, Paladian Ensemble "trios for 4" string classical, Keith Jarrett "Koln Concert" in 24/96, I-Ching "Of the Marsh and the Moon" new age 24/96, Jack Johnson "Better Together" male vocal and acoustic, Neil Young "Greatest Hits" classic rock, Ryan Adams "Ashes and Fire" laid back rock, Cowboy Junkies "Sing in my Meadow" rock, Oceanlab "Sirens of the Sea", Chris Jones "Roadhouses and Automobiles", Taylor Swift "Speak Now", Wiz Khalifa "Rolling Papers", Kenny Chesney "Welcome to the Fishbowl", Norah Jones "Little Broken Hearts", and more, AND IT ALL SOUNDED GREAT.
The only thing I ran into today that this combo fatiguing and irritating was Kathleen Edwards "Back to Me" which is just a poor recording and I don't like the audio quality with much of my gear except the HD600 which smooth over the sibilance. I'd actually be disappointed if the DAC-100/HD800 smoothed over this raw recording. I've always had the same complaint about 3Oh3! "Want". Eminem "Recovery" is also a little raw sounding at times even in lossless, but not nearly as bad as the Kathleen Edwards or 3Oh3! ones. I did pull out some lower bit rate music and was still quite pleased with a lot of it. I was actually blown away by Lauryn Hill "MTV Unplugged No. 2 Live" in 256K AAC. How the heck can 256K sound this good?!? The audio engineers did a fantastic job on this one.
I want to make it clear that I usually prefer my HD800 over most of my other dynamic phones except the HE-6 on a strong amp. I just don't think the LCD-2 r1 or HE-500 are on the same level of transparency, detail, speed, extension, and soundstage. The reason I use inferior headphones in my bedroom rig the most was because they paired better with my DACmini, EF5, or WA6 amps in that room. I'd usually leave the HD800 in the basement rig because I could only really appreciate their greatness with my ZDT or EF6 amps down there. In the past I've felt the HD800 + DACmini was a little to bright or aggressive for my tastes, and the WA6 with the current tubes was too bright for the HD800 as well.
Going back to the LCD-2 and HE-500, I think I could be happier with the DAC-100 + LCD-2 combo than with the HE-500 + DAC-100 combo. This combo offers better bass foundation and weight than the HE-500 which still need more power. Normally I prefer the HE-500 over the LCD-2 with most amps, but not in this case. A similar situation is with the HiFiMan HM-801 where it's low power amp drives the LCD-2 better than the HE-500, but still performs best with the HD800.
So, while the DAC-100 is better with LCD-2 than HE-500, it's still not optimal with the LCD-2 in terms of power delivery - but Nuforce doesn't recommend using it with phones less than 120 ohm and this is why. Voltage swing into 300 ohms is over 10v, and drops to 2v into low impedance phones. So it doesn't kick as hard as other amps optimized for low impedance phones, but it's actually very respectable sounding at normal to moderate volumes with LCD-2. At higher volumes the sound of the LCD-2 starts to sound a little thin and strained. The DAC-100 can drive the LCD-2 pretty loud, but it's not giving them the power to perform like they should. It's even worse with the HE-500 - not terrible or anything, but when you've heard better you know what you're missing. I probably get an extra 3-5 dB of clean volume from the DACmini with the LCD-2, with better bass impact at the same time. But the SR-71b and EF5 probably offer an additional 3-4 dB over that.
I don't often use these orthodynamic phones with my maxed Woo WA6 anymore, because it still doesn't give me enough bass impact with them. Tonal balance is pretty good with the right tubes, but 380mw of power from the WA6 into 32 ohm just isn't enough to do them justice. For this reason I didn't bother to feed the DAC-100 into the WA6. Feeding the DAC-100 into the more powerful SR-71b balanced amp or the EF5 really kicks up the LCD-2 and HE-500 a notch, and with these stronger amps the DAC-100 as source seems to easily equal my DACmini as source. Also, with a stronger amp the HE-500 pass up the LCD-2 again. I have to say the SR-71b is still a bit more detailed and transparent than the EF5 with a similar amount of power, and it's closer to the clarity of the DAC-100 and DACmini built-in amps. I also forgot to try feeding the DAC-100 into the DACmini using the DACmini as an amp only, but that is just silly anyway and I see no point to it - their DACs are comparable, while it's the amp sections that perform best with different headphones.
The next thing I tried was comparing the DAC-100 + HD-800 vs my Stello DA-100 Signature + maxed Woo WA6 + HD800. I found the WA6 rig was slightly bright with the Sylvania VT-231 tubes + Sophia Princess 274b rectifier, but it became much more refined and less fatiguing going to a pair of RCA 6DE7 tubes. At that point, I though the DAC-100 with HD800 was pretty comparable to the Stello/WA6 rig, except the DAC-100 bass impact and extension was slightly better to me, and I preferred it for low volume and high volume listening.
Switching to the LCD-2 the WA6 drove them to a similar level of performance as the DAC-100, but was slightly darker than I prefer when the tubes were optimized for the HD800. When the VT-231 tubes went back in the LCD-2 didn't sound dark, but became more grainy than with the DAC-100 and still not optimal sounding with either rig. For HE-500 with either set of tubes I thought the WA6 rig was slightly better than the DAC-100, but it's still not optimal for HE-500 either. In the end, neither LCD-2 nor HE-500 could pass up the HD800, whether listening with the WA6 or DAC-100. Only with the DACmini did I prefer the LCD-2 and HE-500 over the HD800.
Sure, with the EF5 or balanced SR-71b the orthodynamics could sometimes be more fun and punchy to party to, but just not as realistic as the HD800. Note - the Stello DA100 Signature + maxed WA6 costs over $2200 with Vcap and Blackgate upgrade, upgraded tubes and interconnects. It's not really any more powerful than the DAC-100, or much more detailed, but offers the benefit of tube rolling to tune it to the headphones being used.
So, what's next? I need to try my HD25-1 II, Shure SRH-840, modded ATH-A900, Grado HF-2 and Denon LA7000. These are all low impedance phones, but with much better efficiency than the LCD-2 and HE-500. They are usually not very demanding on any amp I try them with. I'm pretty sure it's not worth trying my original HE-5 or HE-5 LE, since the HE-500 are more efficient and less demanding than those.
At this point, I think the DAC-100 is a great value, especially for HD800 owners or those in need of a very detailed and refined sounding DAC.
Edited by HeadphoneAddict - 9/17/12 at 2:20am