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Need help choosing DAC & Digital Interface for HD800 in a PC setup mostly for classical music,...

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hello all,

 

After many years (to be exact, 7 years...), I finally saved up enough money to spoil myself with a serious upgrade to my headphone setup that is way overdue biggrin.gif

I have done a bit of research on the forums and asked a friend of mine, which I'll present below.

 

Looking forward for your advice! After all these years, I honestly CANNOT wait to upgrade my setup... at least to finally get rid of crappy noise-infested transport I have (i.e my PCI-based PC sound card).

I tried to provide as much information as concisely and clear as possible. Apologies if I gave away too many details smile.gif

 

Budget:

  • Around ~3000$ (could go a bit more, if I need to buy a new amp)

 

Quick Equipment History (red = current):

  1. I owned HD650 back in 2003 connected to a PC via a sound card Terratec DMX Fire 24
  2. Upgraded setup in 2005 by having a dedicated headphone amps Corda HA-1 Mark II (very old amp, bought for ~280 Euro, released by meire audio probably 2001 if not earlier, this is a linked review)
  3. Replaced HD650 with HD800 in 2012, on the same setup.. it was a worthwhile extremely noticeable upgrade, despite the excessive EMI noisy PCI-based sound card using analog output to the amp.

 

 

Items to be purchased:

  • DAC - Most important thing
  • USB/[xxx] Digital interface with PC
  • [Optional]: Do I need a new amp, or is the Corda good enough for HD800 (at least for now)?

 

Forum Recommendations from my research:

  • What I have seen so far for DAC, most are recommending Violectric V800 or Audio Gd Reference 7.1. A friend of mine who I trust seems to say good things about V800, which seems neutral according to review (my preference).
  • with USB[xxx], most seem to recommend hiface2.
  • For amp, I'm not sure if I need a new one or not.. so I haven't done any research on this.

 

Personal Listening Preference:

PC is my primary and only transport (using foobar2000, KS mode) I love the sound to be as close as possible to reality, without any coloring.

I mostly listen to classical music, lots of instrumental string music and eastern music & songs. (I'm not a fan of hard rock or heavy stuff). 

Therefore, I love: clean, dynamic, transparent and crisp sounding details.

This is why I loved HD800 much more than HD650; the much-improved soundstage, crisper details, snappier bass (perhaps a little bit less 'full' than HD650? but then again this is given my current setup). 

 

Side Question:

If I have a DAC with usb like V800, do I need a USB digital interface? I read few arguments on asynchronous mode vs. non for USB and how asynchronous is superior, this recommending hiface2. On the other hand, this reviewer mentions USB is already excellent and I could save the $$ for either better DAC or perhaps a new amp... What is your advice on this?

 

Again, many thanks!! and apologies for excessive details, but I'm really excited that I finally get to spend my savings on this upgrade! I recently got married so my bank account was flattened as you might expect and this is the ONLY thing I can spoil myself with k701smile.gif

 

Note: I will rely on net for my purchases so can't sample any items :(


Edited by recca_cool - 4/21/13 at 4:24pm
post #2 of 14

With your budget I would go straight to Audio gd Master 7 (no need for digital interface in this case), with a balanced amp probably to follow after a while (I don't know how good is your current amp)

post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by i019791 View Post

With your budget I would go straight to Audio gd Master 7 (no need for digital interface in this case), with a balanced amp probably to follow after a while (I don't know how good is your current amp)

 

Thanks for your reply!

 

The amp, I bought my amp for ~280 Euro back then, and I'm guessing it is an entry-level amp.

 

Edit: I figured out why there is no need for interface.


Edited by recca_cool - 4/21/13 at 4:26pm
post #4 of 14

Did you check the HD800 thread in the high end forum? I know it's quite long but you'll find a lot of tips on what upstream hardware people really like with this headphone. The V800 is often favorably mentioned, especially if paired with the V200 (most users seem to prefer tube amps however).

 

Once you get the DAC out of the PC's noisy box, the differences in sound are very subtle. Sure you can spend your entire budget on one, but that shouldn't be necessary - even if your requirements are very high. You probably would enjoy a good amp more than a top-end DAC. 

 

I have also recently joined the HD800 club, and in my case pairing it with the WA7 seems to have cured me of the upgraditis. It has changed the way I listen to the music. With other setups my attention was always quickly drawn to the flaws in the sound and I started analyzing how to fix them, but this setup lets me forget about all that and just enjoy the music - there simply aren't any flaws that I notice. 

post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hello PleasantSounds,

 

Yes I checked, that is why I put a section with what I found out through my research in the forum :)

 

However, I still need educated opinion. You mentioned that an amp is more important than DAC so I actually should be spending money on it, but I also read that DAC is more important than amp, because you need as clean of a transport as possible to have a good sound.

 

Anyway I still need your suggestions and advice,

 

Thanks for the help :)

post #6 of 14

From my experience the choice of a DAC will have a very subtle impact on the sound. Most modern DACs do a very good job, and for me the selection is mostly down to the features I am after, namely:

- Inputs: USB is probably the most convenient input if your source is a computer. Make sure it supports asynchronous mode (most do but this the most important feature) and transfer rates required for all your tracks (24/192 should cover that). S/PDIF is good to have if you use other sources like CD players, and Toslink comes handy also if you have ground loop issues between your components. Note that the S/PDIF standard supports up to 96kbps, although many devices go higher.

- Outputs: the line level RCA is a must, unless you want to go all the way balanced - in that case make sure you have XLR out as well (this path tends to be expensive).

- Power: some USB DACs are powered via USB, while others will command a spot on your power board. In theory the USB power should be the worst option, but I have never noticed any impact on sound quality. Personally I don't trust devices with external power supplies as some manufactures source them from different suppliers based on the target market (different power plugs) and there are differences in quality.

- Other: Some DACs have pre-amp functionality with multiple source selection, double outputs, pass-through etc. Decide also if some form of visual display is needed (some have great LCD displays, some LED indicators, some nothing at all). Also the size and looks need to be considered.

 

Regarding amps, it's a different story. You plug in your headphone directly into amp's output circuit and it's characteristic has an impact on how the combo performs. Impedance is the key word here, but it has two different aspects:

 

- The headphone impedance: if you look at the impedance graph of the HD800, you'll see that it has wild fluctuations of impedance depending on the frequency of signal. This makes it difficult to drive, as the amp needs to respond "correctly" to this varying load. Many amps don't and this is one of the main reasons why this headphone is often considered too bright. In particular many solid state amps which are great for low impedance headphones do quite poorly with the HD800.

Also, impedance impacts the way in which power is delivered through the headphones. Low impedance headphones work with low voltage swings, but require more current to deliver sound. High impedance headphone (assuming the same efficiency) will need higher voltage to deliver the same level of loudness, but it will draw less current. An amp which is ideal for low impedance may not be able to drive your high impedance headphones loud enough (unless you can switch the gain).

 

- The amp's output impedance: Dynamic headphone uses the same principles as electric power generator. and behaves like one. When you send a single impulse to a headphone, it causes the membrane to move out of it's neutral position, producing sound. But then the membrane springs back to it's neutral state, and this action generates some current. If the amp doesn't absorb it, the membrane doesn't move quickly enough and the produced current mixes up with the next impulse, distorting it. The lower the output impedance of an amp, the better it will dampen this undesired effect. What matters in practice is the ratio between the headphone impedance and the amp impedance, which is recommended to be at least 8:1.

 

I don't want to create an impression that impedance is the only thing that matters - to exhaust the topic one would have to write a book. But I hope this gives you some feel for what's going on there when you listen to your favorite concerto. 

post #7 of 14

That is some top info even tough I am completely no interested in HD800 :) I was especially interested in impedance part of it,

 

Thank you for PleasantSounds.
 


Edited by sebna - 4/24/13 at 12:40pm
post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thank you PleasantSounds for all the explanation.

 

I doubt I'll go XLR approach, if my understanding is correct, I have to balance my headphones as well which I'm not interested in doing at all at this stage.

Please tell me if my understanding of how my setup should be like is correct: Computer (source) -> USB DAC Input -> RCA output to Amp -> RCA output to Headphones?

Is this the best setup, cabling wise? or should I use a different ouput (like SPIDF? or IS2 which i don't know what is that) between DAC & amp, to avoid double conversion?

 

For DACs, I have two contenders:

1- Audio GD Master 7 (very expensive 2180$ without shipping )

2-Violectric V800 (1145$ WITH shipping)

 

The thing with V800, it does not have USB asynchronous mode. However, its cost is half that of M7, which will give me more room to spend on an excellent amp. (Side note: V800 reviewer on forum compared it to Audiophileo interface and it was more or less the same)

Both seem to be a "revealing type" of DAC, which I'm not sure what it means exactly? but if my understanding is correct, it means it is the type that is transparent and shows ALL audios clearly and accurately without coloring or mashing them together?

Isn't that suppose to be a good thing? I like that.

 

So the question is, how much better, supposedly, M7 would be against V800, given the difference in price?

EDIT: found review comparision between V700 and Reference 7.1, but Ref 7.1 is not M7 ^^;;

 

As for amps, I am totally clueless :( Any recommendations on that? I'll check the forums as well.

 

Again thanks for your feedback! I'm reading more on forums as I'm waiting for more recommendations.

 

Thanks!


Edited by recca_cool - 4/26/13 at 6:47am
post #9 of 14

I'm a big fan of the Master 7. I think it embodies all the good traits of other DACs I've owned or borrowed, which is a rare feat. 

 

Anyhow...I tend to recommend a good tube amp for the HD-800s, or rather, an amp that designed to be slightly more "musical" than absolutely un-coloured. An easy choice to go with a Master 7 if you didn't want to modify the headphone cable would be a Luxman P-1 or P-1u, as it takes a balanced input from the DAC, which works well with the Master 7.

 

Sorry about your wallet.

 

A good idea though would be to take your headphones to a local meet and try them out of different systems to get an idea what you like best. I did use the HD-800s with an absolutely dead-neutral system and was happy with them, but just the right tube amp I felt was better.

post #10 of 14

I have a lot of respect for the audio-gd gear, but in this price bracket you're well and truly within the diminishing returns territory. If you want to be as close to perfection as possible and the price is acceptable then go for it. But then you will need an amp that actually can transfer all that minuscule detail to your headphones, and I don't think it's going to be any cheaper... If I may suggest one more contender to your list: I've been very impressed with the Audiolab M-DAC, and looks like it's got all the treats you're after.

 

Regarding amps: I agree with Currawong that a good tube amp would be ideal. I haven't listened to a lot of gear that would do the HD800 justice, so hopefully someone else will chime in with some good suggestions. Or just go back to the HD800 thread - plenty of good gear discussed there.

post #11 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by recca_cool View Post

Thank you PleasantSounds for all the explanation.

 

I doubt I'll go XLR approach, if my understanding is correct, I have to balance my headphones as well which I'm not interested in doing at all at this stage.

Please tell me if my understanding of how my setup should be like is correct: Computer (source) -> USB DAC Input -> RCA output to Amp -> RCA output to Headphones?

Is this the best setup, cabling wise? or should I use a different ouput (like SPIDF? or IS2 which i don't know what is that) between DAC & amp, to avoid double conversion?

 

For DACs, I have two contenders:

1- Audio GD Master 7 (very expensive 2180$ without shipping )

2-Violectric V800 (1145$ WITH shipping)

 

The thing with V800, it does not have USB asynchronous mode. However, its cost is half that of M7, which will give me more room to spend on an excellent amp. (Side note: V800 reviewer on forum compared it to Audiophileo interface and it was more or less the same)

Both seem to be a "revealing type" of DAC, which I'm not sure what it means exactly? but if my understanding is correct, it means it is the type that is transparent and shows ALL audios clearly and accurately without coloring or mashing them together?

Isn't that suppose to be a good thing? I like that.

 

So the question is, how much better, supposedly, M7 would be against V800, given the difference in price?

EDIT: found review comparision between V700 and Reference 7.1, but Ref 7.1 is not M7 ^^;;

 

As for amps, I am totally clueless :( Any recommendations on that? I'll check the forums as well.

 

Again thanks for your feedback! I'm reading more on forums as I'm waiting for more recommendations.

 

Thanks!

Balanced dacs are at their best feeding balanced amps. Balanced amps are better through their xlr output comparing to their SE output.

If you want to hear SE, you will probably have paid some more than needed if you go for balanced upstream gear.

I have only briefly heard the HD800, but it was enough to convince myself that they were not for me if combined with neutral upstream gear.

I never had tube gear and I cannot speak of them.

If you do not go the tube way, you could consider the Audio gd musical series (SA-2 or SA-1.32 dacs, SA-31 amp) or the Yulong A18 amp. With them you optimally go as you wrote: Computer (source) -> USB DAC Input -> RCA output to Amp -> SE Headphone output

post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks all for all the contribution ^_^ Whatever I'll end up with will probably last me a good 5-10 years, so it is very reassuring getting all this feedback.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by i019791 View Post

Balanced dacs are at their best feeding balanced amps. Balanced amps are better through their xlr output comparing to their SE output.

If you want to hear SE, you will probably have paid some more than needed if you go for balanced upstream gear.

I have only briefly heard the HD800, but it was enough to convince myself that they were not for me if combined with neutral upstream gear.

I never had tube gear and I cannot speak of them.

If you do not go the tube way, you could consider the Audio gd musical series (SA-2 or SA-1.32 dacs, SA-31 amp) or the Yulong A18 amp. With them you optimally go as you wrote: Computer (source) -> USB DAC Input -> RCA output to Amp -> SE Headphone output

Yes I'm not going the tube way

Is balanced 100% superior than non-balanced setup? If yes, then why manfuacturers release it in SE format?

If I'm going to eventually switch to balanced, then isn't more economcial to get a balanced setup coz it works for standard headphones, and switch cabling later (I found it costs 300$+ which I can spare for a balanced amp)?

Or is it that it has a heavy learning curve? From what I saw, I need to buy cables like crada for my HD800, and that is it, but maybe I'm mistaken.

I appreciate also your suggestion on SA-2, but I'm reading it is musical and so on, why would I want that? I personally prefer to stick to as true to the source (transparent/dynamic/detailed) as possible. Perhaps you can enlighten me as you have more exp trying different sets.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by PleasantSounds View Post

Regarding amps: I agree with Currawong that a good tube amp would be ideal. I haven't listened to a lot of gear that would do the HD800 justice, so hopefully someone else will chime in with some good suggestions. Or just go back to the HD800 thread - plenty of good gear discussed there.

I'm sticking to solid setup. Maybe my next "other" setup will be tube, but for now I'd feel more comfortable with solid.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post

I'm a big fan of the Master 7. I think it embodies all the good traits of other DACs I've owned or borrowed, which is a rare feat. 

 

Anyhow...I tend to recommend a good tube amp for the HD-800s, or rather, an amp that designed to be slightly more "musical" than absolutely un-coloured. An easy choice to go with a Master 7 if you didn't want to modify the headphone cable would be a Luxman P-1 or P-1u, as it takes a balanced input from the DAC, which works well with the Master 7.

 

Sorry about your wallet.

 

A good idea though would be to take your headphones to a local meet and try them out of different systems to get an idea what you like best. I did use the HD-800s with an absolutely dead-neutral system and was happy with them, but just the right tube amp I felt was better.

So you are saying if I go with Master 7, I'd have to modify my headphones and switch to balanced setup?

Sorry for all the newbie questions.. I'm trying to read/browse forum & pick up as much info as I can.

I don't have any audiophile-related shops around me at all, so have to rely on net & peer reviews/recommendations.

 

With allt his discussion, I learned that I need to spend more on amp than DAC at least, and not get a usb interface, as I should make sure my DAC has that option.

So maybe my budget can be around 3000-4000 $ which makes it ~2000 each?

 

Hopefully I can get something that'll be a serious upgrade to my very old entry-level amp & noisy-computer setup.

Any recommendations for solid amps?

 

Thanks!

 

EDIT:

I'm adding V200 as an amp of choice, seems like a good choice with HD800, and it has balanced input & output as far as I can tell.


Edited by recca_cool - 4/26/13 at 2:50pm
post #13 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by recca_cool View Post

With allt his discussion, I learned that I need to spend more on amp than DAC at least, and not get a usb interface, as I should make sure my DAC has that option.

So maybe my budget can be around 3000-4000 $ which makes it ~2000 each?

 

My 2cent:

If you really want to stick with Solid state:

 

USB converter: Stello U3/Audiophileo2/JKSPDIF (around 300-500 bucks each)

Dac: Metrum Octave (either the Mk1 on special offer, or the MK2) ~800-1500 depends on where you live (EU or not), and buying new or used.

Amp: Headamp GS-X mk2 (2.4k ish) - SS. Tube there's the Zana Deux (2.2k ish), Stratus (2.6k).

 

I could do again with 2-3k Dac and 1k amp too. However, from my experience, Dacs are better home trial than blind buy something expensive that you may or may not like.

 

Balanced is not superior to Single Ended; it's all depends on the topology of the amp in question. Going balanced isn't that expensive, buy a neutril 4 pin XLR and reterminate your Hd800 stock cable (soldering iron + 10 mins + 10 bucks worth of parts).

post #14 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by recca_cool View Post

 

Yes I'm not going the tube way

Is balanced 100% superior than non-balanced setup? Certainly not. It is just probably easier for some manufacturers to reach top performance through a balanced design  If yes, then why manfuacturers release it in SE format?

If I'm going to eventually switch to balanced, then isn't more economcial to get a balanced setup Yes coz it works for standard headphones, and switch cabling later (I found it costs 300$+ which I can spare for a balanced amp)? If you or somebody at your acquaintance is handy with a soldering iron, you can reterminate your headphone to balanced very cheaply

Or is it that it has a heavy learning curve? From what I saw, I need to buy cables like crada for my HD800, and that is it, but maybe I'm mistaken.

I appreciate also your suggestion on SA-2, but I'm reading it is musical and so on, why would I want that? I personally prefer to stick to as true to the source (transparent/dynamic/detailed) as possible. Perhaps you can enlighten me as you have more exp trying different sets. HD800 + neutral gear is indeed for some just transparent /dynamic/detailed. For others it is also bright/sibilant/fatiguing/... I  happen to belong to the "others". Most of the "others" need some suitable coloration (typically tubes, or at least similarly "musical" gear) with the HD800 to enjoy their music

I'm sticking to solid setup. Maybe my next "other" setup will be tube, but for now I'd feel more comfortable with solid.

 

I'm adding V200 as an amp of choice, seems like a good choice with HD800, and it has balanced input Yes, for convenience mainly & output No, V200 is single end amp as far as I can tell.

Since you cannot audition expensive gear, you could opt for gear with good (typically one month) return policy.

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