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Another N00b looking for advice: DAC+amp around $500 for ATH-A900

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

Hey guys,

 

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)

 

DAC options:

 

  • 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.

 

Mix-n-match options:

 

  • 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?

post #2 of 5

probably the objective combo. The 5x gain on the modi  might be too much (and it's set, 1 gain only). The objective has 2 gains (2.5 and 6). At lower parts of the knob, there will be imbalance on both, so the objective is your best bet. 

 

post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thanks! I really appreciate it. The Objective2 and ODAC combo looks like a great choice. I'm not sure that you mean by "imbalance in both"; do you mean that at low volume (higher attenuation), left-right will be imbalanced?

 

I'd be giving up a cross feed option though, I'm ruminating over the O2+ODAC and the Modi and Headroom Micro amp combo.

post #4 of 5
Quote:
Originally Posted by enkidu View Post

Thanks! I really appreciate it. The Objective2 and ODAC combo looks like a great choice. I'm not sure that you mean by "imbalance in both"; do you mean that at low volume (higher attenuation), left-right will be imbalanced?

 

I'd be giving up a cross feed option though, I'm ruminating over the O2+ODAC and the Modi and Headroom Micro amp combo.

In the lower parts of the volume knob, there'll be a channel imbalance for both the magni and the O2. So, w/ the 2.5x gain, you'll be able to use the better parts (higher parts) of the pot. So yes, you're correct. 

As for the crossfeed, you might be better off saving a $100. There's usually crosstalk between the channels, so I don't think you'd be bothered by it. Looked at wikipedia and it says that early stereo recordings had instruments panned on one side and panned on the other. 

post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thanks! I really appreciate it. I feel that the Meier Jazz with it's stepped+switched attenuator design would reduce the imbalance issue, but then I think I'd be a bit deeper in this rabbit hole.

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