A long time subscriber, I really benefitted from the experience back when I joined while researching my first pair of good headphones. I love the Audio Technica ATH-A500's I got after much research. Later I upgraded to the ATH-A900 (which I absolutely love). I later augmented with a total bithead which definitely made things better.
Now I'm looking to upgrade a bit. I'm looking keep the ATH-A900's and upgrade my DAC+amp. Max budget of $500, but cost effectiveness is important. Looking to keep things solid state. I'll be running this rig at work attached to a MacBook Air, direct via USB or optical out. A few candidates setups that have caught my fancy (prices are my estimation shipped)
- ODAC ($150): Might be a good option with a good price/performance ratio.
- Schiit Modi ($100): A new comer with a great reputation and might be the best price/performance ratio.
- FiiO E17 ($140): Fancier DAC with portable usage. Might be all I need to step up from the BitHead.
- Audioengine D1 ($170): Possibly the most "commercial" of the 4 DAC units; dunno much about it. Includes a built in headphone amp which could probably drive my low impedance headphones pretty easily.
I think the Modi might hit the best price performance ratio for a pure DAC, but I can't connect headphones to it.
Vendor matched Amp+DAC options
- O2 + ODAC (~$270-300): Looks like a good mid range option. Kind of a DIY without the D :-).
- FiiO E17 + E09K (~$260): Another possibility. Seems like a sensible popular choice.
- Schiit Modi + Magni (~$220) : Supposedly punches way above its weight class. Looks cool.
- Schiit Modi + Asgard 2|Valhalla ($370-470) : Getting into welterweight territory here. I kinda feel like I'd need to upgrade my headphones if I'm going to take advantage of this kind of a setup.
- Headroom Micro Amp + DAC ($480): On sale right now. My impression is that the DAC unit's USB chip might be a bit long in the tooth. However, I prefer to listen to the bithead with the crossfeed circuit engaged and this combo offers a built in cross feed circuit. And driving the DAC off of TOS link would bypass the USB chip.
- Headroom Desktop Amp + DAC ($600): On sale right now. Given enough *encouragement* I could be convinced that it might be worth it. But if I consider $600, then...
- Schiit Bifrost + Asgard 2 ($620): this combo comes into play also with a mini->tos cable from the MacBook Air.
- Schiit Modi + Meier Rock or Jazz ($350-$500): The Modi + Jazz would probably blow my budget a bit. But this combo might be the ticket, especially when (uhm, I mean IF) I decide to upgrade my cans. The crossfeed option puts this a bit ahead of the other options except for the Headroom Amp combo.
- Schiit Modi +Headroom Micro Amp ($350): I feel like this would be pretty good WRT to price+performance. But Headroom amps don't seem to get much love around here.
- Schiit Bifrost + Meier Jazz ($750): Budget buster. probably waaay past the point of diminishing returns here. But I'm sure it would kick butt.
- Schiit Modi + Meier Corda Classic ($800): Might be another price performance hi point, especially since I probably wouldn't need to upgrade the Classic at least through two or three headphone upgrade cycles. But waaaaay out of budget here.
I think the standout combinations are in increasing price:
- Audioengine D1 alone (< $200)
- the Modi + Magni pair (< $250)
- Modi + Headroom Micro Amp (<=$350)
- the Modi + Meier Jazz (< $500)
- the Modi + Corda Classic. (> $500)
What say you guys? I'm open to all suggestions except for two: getting open back headphones since I work in a cubicle with lots of external noise and doubling/tripling/quadrupling my budget.
Sigh, after all this, I might have to upgrade my headphones also... What am I doing here again?