Originally Posted by whereas
Thanks for the great advice (and for not calling me crazy to have suggested that a HT receiver sounds better than a dedicated DAC/headphone amp).
Would it make sense to use my D1 as the DAC and then just use either an HK or another Onkyo as a headphone amp? Would be overkill, sure, but if the sound is there and it's physically possible...?
It might, it might not. Depends on what the receiver can do. For example, the RX-797 doesn't take digital in, so if your option for DtoA is the D1, then I guess that's your answer. But in the case of something like the HK3490, which does take S/PDIF in, it's more up to your preference for having equipment sitting around, complexity, etc. You could argue that one sounds better than the other, and I'm not disinclined to buy that, but IME differences between DtoA converters (especially that are very similar) are extremely small - I "hear" a difference between my NOS, dual mono, etc CPD (from 1987) versus my very modern Blu-ray player, but it's nothing that makes one better than other, just very slightly different. I like the CDP because I restored it and it looks cool. But if I didn't have the space on the shelf, the Blu-ray player makes more sense because it can do more than just play CDs, and it has a remote. Those kinds of considerations.
Also, if such receivers sound this much better than headphone amps, I have to ask a natural question: why do people buy headphone amps? Is it just the culture and novelty of it, the smaller formfactor...?
There's a historic advertising movement (We're talking back to the late 1990s) pushing that "the headphone jacks on hi-fi equipment are an afterthought and unsuitable for driving headphones" that contributed originally to the hype. But at that time, an expensive headphone amplifier was around $200 (and still a horrible value), and they'd usually be competing with receivers that cost $500-$1000 or better. So in a sick way, it was a better value for plugging in a pair of HD 580s or something. However with the rise of the "computer audiophile" things like form factor and so on are becoming relevant to consider, and there's plenty of those people who have absolutely no clue about "full-size" hi-fi equipment, and are scared off by it.
I'm not saying ALL full-size equipment is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but generally speaking, it's a cut above. For example the CDP I mentioned - it has a variable headphone out, and it's just as good as any dedicated amp I've played around with. But nobody builds CDPs anymore, let alone with that feature. You also can't lug that machine around with your laptop. There are some practical considerations, but for the most part, I think it's the result of some aggressive marketing in the 1990s that created a new "accessories" segment that has taken off.
And it's not even that all dedicated amps are "bad" - they just usually represent a godawful value (most of them are only a few bucks of parts and some of them can push up on a grand for that...it's like the worst possible price-to-performance equation ever), and you usually get better consistency with hi-fi stuff (because when Yamaha or Onkyo or Sony go through an design a product and it's manufacturing process, they figure out a way to build five million of them that are identical from start to finish, versus some guy putting things together in his garage on the weekends (not to disparage those guys, but it's like the difference between weekend hobbyist car modders and Williams or Ford SVT)).
My first suggestion would be to look for used gear, unless cost is no object, in which case I'd look at a stereo device (again, more robust amps and less crap you won't use (and with modern AVRs vs stereo components, this means it will use less power and get less hot)).