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!