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DAC + Separate Headphone Amp, Sennheiser HD558

Poll Results: Should I use a DAC + headphone amp combo or DAC + a separate headphone amp with my HD558s?

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post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
First post here, but I have read around quite a bit.

I'm looking for some advice on my setup. I am very passionate about high quality music and wish I had more of a budget to accommodate that, but I need to make do with what I can! So far I'm running a MUSE mini DAC (click for eBay page) temporarily since I wanted to get my new system hooked up to my computer. It's time for a bit of an upgrade.

Some Background:

I'm a big user and lover of cans and I do quite enjoy my Sennheiser HD558s (50 ohm / 112 dB), but I know they can do better. I have pretty well decided on the cMOY headphone amp from BSG if I go the separate route, but of course am open to other suggestions. I also do have and use speakers regularly. My buddy is getting a new setup and he will be getting my MUSE mini DAC, so I'll be needing a replacement. Currently, I'm running my HD558s directly from the MUSE mini DAC's headphone port. It works surprisingly with 0 hiss at all volumes (windows and foobar2000 maxed). It's decently clear and the bass has some good control especially vs. the on-board sound. This lack of hiss is crucial lol.


Computer - USB output
Sherwood AI-1110 Integrated Amp (2x50W from the late 80s, runs beautifully but the headphone jack sucks a bit lol) - RCA input from DAC
Polk Audio S4s - soon to be given to the same buddy as the DAC, I'm getting a pair of Paradigm 5SEs to replace these
Sennheiser HD558 cans, 50 ohms and 112 dB - fed by cMOY headphone amp (maybe)

Bottom line and questions:

I need the DAC to have 1 RCA out and 1 Line/Headphone out, nothing else like optical/coax is required. RCA will go to my Sherwood and the line out would feed to the BSG cMOY of course. I'd like it to support 24-bit/96KHz through the USB preferably, 

- Would it be more worth my while to use a headphone amp built into a DAC? I would think a dedicated headphone amp would/should improve quality, especially if it's a decent enough one, but I'm not quite sure.

- If I were to go for the BSG cMOY, would it be recommended/"required" (sound quality standards) to find a DAC that has an unamplified headphone output? If it were to be amplified, how would that affect the sound quality? I believe my current simple MUSE mini DAC does NOT have an opamp or anything for the headphone port, correct me if I'm wrong. 99% of them I can find have amps built in otherwise.

My maximum budget between the two (or for a hybrid) including shipping is $150. The BSG cMOY amp would be ~$75 including shipping so that's half already if I go separate. Unfortunately I know I won't have many "serious" options, but I know I can do better than what I have now!

I've come across the following 2 for DAC options so far (all eBay links, I'm in Canada FYI):

- Mini CM6631A CS4398 24-bit 192KHz

- HIFI NEW Version DAC Decoder TE7022 CS4398 24bit/96KHz

The main difference seems to be the CM6631A vs the TE7022 chip. The former seems to have a few more features, but seemingly none that would be of any use in my application (I'll have no use for 192KHz). Otherwise they both use a CS4398 and OPA2132. They are also both ~$63 shipped which plays nicely with my budget (if I end up going the separate route of course). I don't have experience with different chips for DACs so what do you guys think, have you heard either or both of these?

Basically I'd like to know if spending the entire $150 budget on a DAC/headphone amp combo would be worth it, but still give me very good quality as the BSG cMOY seemingly would. I'm concerned with making the decision that would not result in better quality. But if the DAC is $75 would it make enough of a difference TO the BSG cMOY to get the improvement, or is that not a factor due to what the BSG cMOY is built for?

Thank you all in advance for taking the time to read and reply, I hope to get this going as soon as I can, I have the itch now and my buddy is using a 3.5mm to RCA cable right now, so he wants my DAC lol.

Edited by hv6478 - 5/26/13 at 11:17am
post #2 of 4
Thread Starter 

I've slept and come to work since posting this and I forgot to mention one more thing: cables.


I'm going to want good quality cables, but only so far as they will make a difference with the equipment I'll have. The amp and DAC would very close to each other so a 1ft or even 3-6" length for a 1/8" to 1/8" cable would be awesome. I'm having trouble finding a good source for these in Canada. I think I'd like to stick to silver wires inside since clarity and detail are important to me, and the consensus seems to be that copper creates more of a bassy tone and takes away from the higher frequencies a bit.


Also my RCA cables are currently very long (from the Rogers digital box bundle lol so nothing fancy either). I think I'd like a nice 3ft or 6ft RCA cable as well. I'd like to get these locally if possible to avoid shipping, or something from dx.com or somewhere similar with free shipping. I know cables can make a difference to a certain extent, just not sure to what extent exactly in every situation.


Thanks again guys!


P.S. sorry if this is in the wrong section. I saw other DAC posts here and my PC is my source so I took a shot lol.

Edited by hv6478 - 5/26/13 at 11:19am
post #3 of 4

It sucks that there are no responses!!!

post #4 of 4

Just a quick response here to maybe help get you started on some ideas.


A DAC will not have a headphone out, unless is also has a built in headphone amp.


The DAC is designed merely to get the digital information off your source, and turn it into an analog signal.


That analog signal will need to be amplified. This can be done with an amplifier. The amplifier can be built into the DAC (Such as the Emotiva DC-1), or it can be a separate component altogether. Such as Schiit Vali.


An example of a DAC only (with no headphone amp) is the Schiit Modi. This DAC has only a USB input (probably most common connection used by head-fi'ers) and RCA analog outputs. Those RCA outputs can be ran into the amp of your choice. These are line level outputs, and you still need to add an amp to connect headphones.


Please be aware that the headamp will need to have a volume knob (meaning that it acts as a preamp and headamp). Most headphone amps I have came across do have a volume built in.


If the amp you want does not have a preamp built in, you can buy a DAC that can also act as a preamp.


Hope that helps. It's late, so I just sort of skimmed over your OP, but I will come back tomorrow to add/revise my thoughts after reading your entire post. If this info doesn't help at all, I apologize. but like I said, I just sort of skimmed over your questions. :p

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