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Please suggest a DAC + Amp for my brand new HE-400

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

I'm starting to like my new HE-400 - bought last week after much discussion on Head-Fi.

 

Now I need a DAC and Amp - either integrated or separate - both are acceptable to me.

 

I'm quite aware that hundreds of options exist. Since the HE-400 is my ONLY audiophile headphone, and will be my only audiophile headphone for some time, I'm looking for the DAC/Amp combination that has best synergy with the HE-400, even if it's not a good general-purpose choice.

 

The HE-400 of course is a planar magnetic headphone with 32 ohm impedance - much less than any other planar magnetic headphone out there. I hear that some amps work best with high-impedance-low-efficiency cans, and some with low-impedance-high-efficiency cans - this factor must play a role in my choice. I also hear that some amps work best with dynamic headphones, and some with planar magnetics - this factor must play a role too.

 

Budget is only $300ish. I believe the HE-400 weren't designed to scale with high-end gear, and should reach 90%+ of their potential with DAC/Amps in this price bracket?

 

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

 

Some combinations I'm considering:

 

Audinst Mini (~$130) DAC+Amp combo

ODAC (DAC) + O2 (AMP) for ~$285

Music Streamer II (DAC) for ~$150 + Schiit Asgard ~$250 = $400 overshoots my budget - would only go for it if REALLY worth it.

 

The above are just blind ideas - I haven't tried out any of them, and don't know if they have synergy with the HE-400.

 

That's why I need you folks to help me!

post #2 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Atriya View Post

I'm starting to like my new HE-400 - bought last week after much discussion on Head-Fi.

Now I need a DAC and Amp - either integrated or separate - both are acceptable to me.

I'm quite aware that hundreds of options exist. Since the HE-400 is my ONLY audiophile headphone, and will be my only audiophile headphone for some time, I'm looking for the DAC/Amp combination that has best synergy with the HE-400, even if it's not a good general-purpose choice.

The HE-400 of course is a planar magnetic headphone with 32 ohm impedance - much less than any other planar magnetic headphone out there. I hear that some amps work best with high-impedance-low-efficiency cans, and some with low-impedance-high-efficiency cans - this factor must play a role in my choice. I also hear that some amps work best with dynamic headphones, and some with planar magnetics - this factor must play a role too.

Budget is only $300ish. I believe the HE-400 weren't designed to scale with high-end gear, and should reach 90%+ of their potential with DAC/Amps in this price bracket?

Some combinations I'm considering:

Audinst Mini (~$130) DAC+Amp combo

ODAC (DAC) + O2 (AMP) for ~$285

Music Streamer II (DAC) for ~$150 + Schiit Asgard ~$250 = $400 overshoots my budget - would only go for it if REALLY worth it.

What source(s) are the DAC and headphone amplifier going to be plugged into?

post #3 of 25

Actually your sitiuation is similar with me. 

 

The question is : Is it necessary to buy a DAC immediately ? IMO first I will buy an amp and connect to my ipod or phone for home usage. And next budget term :) I will spend another 150-200 to buy a DAC.  

post #4 of 25
CEntrance Dacport. Done and Done
post #5 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

What source(s) are the DAC and headphone amplifier going to be plugged into?

 

The DAC and Amp will be plugged into my HP Envy 15 laptop. It has the infamous Beats Audio, but thankfully the USB DAC should bypass that.

post #6 of 25

Personally I find the O2+ODAC a nice neutral combo that can power pretty much anything decently to superbly well. I wouldn't use it for a TOTL headphone system but for a mid range headphone like the HE-400 it should be fine. Can't vouch for any other combo since I haven't had much experience outside of the O2 but the e7+e9 might be another nice, albeit entry level setup.

 

Edit: Keep an eye out for amps with a high output impedance. 32 ohms is pretty low for a full size headphone, and since ideal dampening is 1/8 you'll need an amp with an output impedance below 4 ohms to get adequate dampening.


Edited by iamthem - 11/5/12 at 6:19am
post #7 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Makaan View Post

Actually your sitiuation is similar with me. 

 

The question is : Is it necessary to buy a DAC immediately ? IMO first I will buy an amp and connect to my iPod or phone for home usage. And next budget term :) I will spend another 150-200 to buy a DAC.  

Your iPod and phone already come with with a built in DAC, so you can connect your headphone amplifier directly to them.

Recommend you get a LOD to 3.5mm cable for use with the iPod.

The cheapest external DAC that can connect to the iPod is the HRT iStreamer, $155, but it's not really a "portable" DAC, for on the go.

You can carry it in your pocket and plug it in when you sit down at a table or desk.

post #8 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

Your iPod and phone already come with with a built in DAC, so you can connect your headphone amplifier directly to them.

Recommend you get a LOD to 3.5mm cable for use with the iPod.

The cheapest external DAC that can connect to the iPod is the HRT iStreamer, $155, but it's not really a "portable" DAC, for on the go.

You can carry it in your pocket and plug it in when you sit down at a table or desk.

 

Yes, but aren't phone and laptop DACs supposed to be of terrible quality, and won't amplifying that signal just amplify its defects?

post #9 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Atriya View Post

Yes, but aren't phone and laptop DACs supposed to be of terrible quality, and won't amplifying that signal just amplify its defects?

Correct, cell phones and laptops are not know for coming with high costing DACs.

I know laptops usually come with low cost DACs.

I would "assume" the same for cell phones, but a $400 or $500 cell phone might be a different story.

Apple portable products seem to come with better DACs then (Android type) cell phones and PC laptops.

 

Low cost DACs are more likely to leave out audio details, then add defects.

A cheap DAC might add "coloring" to the audio signal.

 

Quality headphones are more likely to show defects in poor quality audio signals or files.


Edited by PurpleAngel - 11/5/12 at 1:30pm
post #10 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Atriya View Post

 

Yes, but aren't phone and laptop DACs supposed to be of terrible quality, and won't amplifying that signal just amplify its defects?

Even the best DAC chips are quite cheap. It's more about how the circuitry has been designed to prevent interference and such. Although most laptops have low quality DACs, Apple players (e.g. iPhone, iPod) and some androids such as the SGS1 and S3 have very good DACs that IMO are comparable to dedicated DACs. To me, an iPhone or iPad giving a line level signal via lod to a dedicated amp is comparable in SQ to a dedicated medium priced DAC.

post #11 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by iamthem View Post

Even the best DAC chips are quite cheap. It's more about how the circuitry has been designed to prevent interference and such. Although most laptops have low quality DACs, Apple players (e.g. iPhone, iPod) and some androids such as the SGS1 and S3 have very good DACs that IMO are comparable to dedicated DACs. To me, an iPhone or iPad giving a line level signal via lod to a dedicated amp is comparable in SQ to a dedicated medium priced DAC.

 

Thanks; that was informative.

 

I have neither the iPhone nor iPod, but I use an HP Envy 15 laptop which has the infamous 'Beats Audio'. Now there are two aspects of this:

  1. The Beats software, which comes preinstalled on the machine, and
  2. The audio hardware i.e. the DAC, circuits, etc which they use.

 

Regarding the software, the verdict is clear - it's terrible. It uses all sorts of EQing/artificial spatialization, and ends up giving the music a harsh treble, anaemic mids and boomy bloated bass. I have the software permanently disabled on my system.

 

The hardware, however is more interesting. Here are some opinions of it:

 

---------------------------------------------------

"HP has taken special care in the design of the system to shield the audio codec 
from interference, while providing especially clean (and higher-power) audio output 
to the headphone jack"

(PC World)

"HP's also teamed up with Beats Audio to provide a high end hardware and software-based audio-out experience. 
When we plugged our Sony MDR7506 headphones into the audio jack we could immediately hear the difference 
between listening to Eminem's "Not Afraid" on the Envy and our MacBook Pro. 
The fuller and more detailed sound was also obvious when we turned off the Beats option in the software 
controller"

(Engadget)

 HP audio engineers collaborated with Interscope records to deliver the

best available audio experience through digital headphones or an external

speaker system. HP ENVY’s internal audio signal routing uses HP-patented

signal integrity techniques to eliminate low-level noise typically experienced

with PC audio.

(HP)

---------------------------------------------------

 

It is perhaps worth nothing that the Envy is HP's 'premium' laptop - and significantly more expensive than the regular 'Pavilion' multimedia laptops. I also have the latest (2012) model of the Envy 15.

 

What do you make of all this? Do you think it's likely that the Beats hardware is equivalent to a low/medium priced external DAC? This would save me some money, since I'd then just get an amp, not a DAC, and could thus afford a better amp.


Edited by Atriya - 11/6/12 at 5:18am
post #12 of 25

Anyone who manufacturers laptops is not going to spend anymore then they have to on the audio hardware.

I think "Beats Audio" is more of a marketing tool, then something of true quality.

I vote to get an external DAC with the external headphone amplifier, as 2 separate add-ons or an all in one combo.

Here is a thread were you should be able to get good advice for headphone amplifiers that work with the HE-400.

http://www.head-fi.org/t/604583/hifiman-he-400-review

DAC, wise, the Hifimediy Sabre USB DAC is only $52 on eBay.


Edited by PurpleAngel - 11/6/12 at 8:01am
post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post

Anyone who manufacturers laptops is not going to spend anymore then they have to on the audio hardware.

I think "Beats Audio" is more of a marketing tool, then something of true quality.

I vote to get an external DAC with the external headphone amplifier, as 2 separate add-ons or an all in one combo.

Here is a thread were you should be able to get good advice for headphone amplifiers that work with the HE-400.

http://www.head-fi.org/t/604583/hifiman-he-400-review

DAC, wise, the Hifiman Sabre USB DAC is only $52 on eBay.

 

Thanks.

 

That's the Hifimediy Sabre - no relation to Hifiman. It's actually $45 now and probably won't be very good.

 

Rather, I am eyeing the HRT MSII for $160 and the JDSLabs ODAC for $150.

 

Thinking of pairing these with the $60 JDSLabs MCoy for now, with the goal of buying a Schiit Lyr sometime in the future.

 

I have no idea though if the HE-400 + MSII/ODAC + MCoy combination has good synergy. :(


Edited by Atriya - 11/6/12 at 7:52am
post #14 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Atriya View Post

That's the Hifimediy Sabre - no relation to Hifiman. It's actually $45 now and probably won't be very good.

Oops, I get confused in my old ago.

but the $45 Hifimediy Sabre uses some of the same chips as the ODAC and has been getting good reviews.

But I'm not forcing anyone to buy it.


Edited by PurpleAngel - 11/6/12 at 1:03pm
post #15 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by iamthem View Post

Even the best DAC chips are quite cheap. It's more about how the circuitry has been designed to prevent interference and such. Although most laptops have low quality DACs, Apple players (e.g. iPhone, iPod) and some androids such as the SGS1 and S3 have very good DACs that IMO are comparable to dedicated DACs. To me, an iPhone or iPad giving a line level signal via lod to a dedicated amp is comparable in SQ to a dedicated medium priced DAC.

 

TI BB PCM1704UK or Sabre ESS 9018 aren't that cheap tongue_smile.gif

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