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Replacement power amp and DAC for under $600

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

I've been reading these forums for audio advice for years now — finally decided to post a question for my specific situation.

 

My audio setup was my iMac running into a FiiO E7/E9 DAC/headphone amp combo (via USB), and running the line out on the E9 into a Harman Kardon HK3480 2-channel amp that powered a pair of Cambridge Audio SX-50 bookshelf speakers (90db at 8 Ohms). It was a great sounding system for my smaller living room — the HK was a bit of beast in size and put out 120 watts/channel and leftover from before I moved to NYC and had way more space. The headphone jack died a while ago, so the E9 was powering my Sennheiser HD595's.

 

The HK died earlier this year when something heavy was dropped on it during a move and I replaced it. In an effort to save space, I tried out a Topping TP21 (with the E7/E9 combo), knowing that it'd be much less power — but I read a lot of great reviews and the price was easy enough. However, I've never loved the sound — it lacks the warmth of the HK and always feels like it's straining to power the speakers (which aren't exactly inefficient).

 

Well, the E7 just died, so now I'm looking into replacing the DAC, but I also want to replace the Topping. My max budget is $600 and I'm wondering if there are any decent budget integrated amps with DAC built in, or a solid budget DAC and power amp combo. My sources are strictly digital at this point — outside of the iMac (with USB or digital out) I want to be able to connect my Apple TV (optical).

 

Some all-in-one units that I've considered: the Cambridge Audio Azur 351A, but the DAC only works with USB (which could get me by for a while); the NuForce DDA-100 (I'm concerned that the sound could be too clean/digital for my tastes); the TEAC AH01; and the Onkyo A-5VL. I'm wondering if anyone can speak to these or if there are some units that I'm not aware of in this price range. I know that I could also get a DAC for about $300 (something like the Cambridge Audio DACMagic 100) so maybe that plus a decent $300 amp (that has a smaller profile)?

 

Any help/suggestions are greatly appreciated! Thanks much!

post #2 of 10

The Yulong D100 MKII is an excellent DAC that has a very good amp section built in for $450.

 

Review: http://www.head-fi.org/t/608098/review-yulong-d100-mkii-dac-an-update-to-an-already-excellent-device

post #3 of 10
I have the Indeed TA2021, so I can understand how the Topping TP21 wouldn't be suitable for a living room. Great for a computer desktop setup though.

Emotiva mini-X a-100 could be a good choice for a speaker amp with a good bit more power, although not that of the HK 3480, yet smaller footprint. Get a Schiit Asgard 2 for headphones which would have pre-amp output for the mini-x a-100. Then all you need is an external DAC. Maybe the Schiit Modi or an ODAC to stay within your budget? Definitely better DACs than in the E7.
Edited by cel4145 - 10/11/13 at 12:54pm
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the suggestions, so far — I'll look into them. Just for the sake of clarification: the FiiO E9 still works just fine. So, I still currently have a headphone amp (it's not amazing, but I enjoy it just fine). Also, the living room is the size of a larger bedroom — it's not too big.

 

Any idea how an Emotiva mini-x would pair with either a Cambridge Audio DACMagic-100 or a Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11, sound-wise? I think the warmth and "fullness" of the HK is what I miss most. Maybe this isn't something I'm going to find with a smaller amp?

post #5 of 10
I would imagine an analog amp (vs. a t-amp or digital amp) would give you sound closer to the HK.

Research the ODAC. The Cambridge Audio DACMagic-100 became a lot less popular since the ODAC came on the scene. And I noted above you said that USB "could get me by for a while." USB DACs are much better than they used to be and can be as good as optical.

And one thing great about the ODAC is that it is tiny. Bad phone picture, but you get the idea smily_headphones1.gif
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the heads-up on the ODAC!

 

Does anyone have any experience with Maverick Audio? I'm curious about their TubeMagic A1 amp coupled with their TubeMagic D1 DAC. The A1 doesn't look like a power horse, but it's a tube/solid state hybrid that could offer the sound I'm more interested in. Or one of those paired with another option?

post #7 of 10
I own the Maverick TubeMagic D1 headphone amp/DAC and used to own the Little Dot I+ hybrid tube/solid state amp. For me, the the tube pre-amp experience is not the same as an actual tube headphone amplifier like the Bottlehead Crack or more expensive tube headphone amps. I prefer the headphone amp in my Schiit Asgard 2 over the Little Dot or the TubeMagic D1. But that could just be my particular tastes. smily_headphones1.gif
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks! Just curious: have you used the D1 as a DAC/preamp with a power amp (for speakers)? That's what I'm really gunning for, at this point (as opposed to focusing on the headphone amp experience). It's my Cambridge SX-50's that need the most love, as opposed to my Sennheisers :happy_face1:

post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by BKinBK View Post

Thanks! Just curious: have you used the D1 as a DAC/preamp with a power amp (for speakers)?

I've used the D1 with an Indeed TA2021 and Energy V 5.1s in a secondary computer setup in my house. My primary setup is in my signature line.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BKinBK View Post

It's my Cambridge SX-50's that need the most love, as opposed to my Sennheisers happy_face1.gif

I understand. I used to own the Cambridge S30s, and I listen to my desktop speaker setup a lot more than my headphones.

I haven't tried the TubeMagic D1 in my primary setup, but I really like the Asgard 2 a lot. It gets hot in my home office in the summer, so I run an Indeed t-amp with it over the HK 3390. When I added the Asgard 2 into the mix as the pre-amp for controlling my speakers, I felt like the soundstage increased a little and it warmed up the sound of the Indeed t-amp a touch. Was a nice addition. And now that things are cooled off in the fall, I've switched to using the HK 3390 as a power amp (via the main in on the back bypassing the pre-amp). I feel like (but have not compared it) that the Asgard 2 pre-amp is better for SQ than the pre-amp in the HK 3390.
Edited by cel4145 - 10/11/13 at 2:40pm
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thank you for all of the info!

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