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Help Selecting Amp and DAC for Sennheiser HD650 - $1000+ Budget

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Hi All,


  I am fairly new to Head-Fi and am a newbie to the audiophile world.  Need some insight from the more experienced folks.  I've had my eye on the Sennheiser HD650s for quite some time now and finally pulled the trigger on a pair which arrive tomorrow.  Need some help in pairing up my musical needs with a desktop amp and DAC, as well as with my budget.  First my source info and listening requirements...


Source:  Samsung Laptop, playback via Foobar (FLAC), VLC (FLAC) and iTunes (The majority here are 320kbps MP3 CBR files, LAME codec rips) - USB output.

Music Genres:  Widely varied - Classic Rock, Indie Rock, Punk, Electronic, Dance, Ambient, Classical, Folk, Live concerts, some Jazz, Blues, Vocal.

Side note: I enjoy a good deep bass as well as a good soundstage and clarity.  I like a little bit of everything, hence the HD650s.

Upgradeability:  I would like to avoid "upgrade-itis" and get the best Amp/DAC setup I can that I will be happy with for years to come, as well as be able to possibly enjoy an ortho setup, such as the HiFi-MAN HE-500s, in the future.


Desktop Setup only (portability not needed), but desktop space is an issue in the short-term.


  My budget is about $1000, but I would be willing to stretch that a little, say to $1300, if the justification was there.  After spending the last 5 months on this forum, I've gathered the following as some of my options.  I think I am sold on the tube amp route for sure, but I don't see myself rolling tubes often. 


1.)  Schiit stacks...too many to mention.  Quite lost at the moment.  Was initialy thinking Uber Bifrost/Asgard2 ($519/$249) would make a good SS starting point and would be a "safe bet", but I think I want tubes, so the Valhalla ($349) and Lyr ($449) are in the picture now.


2.)  Woo Audio - WA7 Fireflies ($999) - All in one solution, small form-factor, within my budget.


3.)  Woo Audio - Getting crazier here now....WA6-SE ($1190) - Great reviews, but expensive and quite large. Not sure I can fit these on the small desk I am using now.  Sophia Princess tubes?


4.)  ALO Audio PanAm ($499) paired with the Uber Bifrost ($519)


5.)  Some Burson SS amp unit, such as the Soloist SL ($649) paired with the Uber Bifrost ($519)


  We all know it is about personal listening preference and getting a "return-on-investment" which makes sense to our ears and our wallets, but I value the opinions of more experienced HD650 owners/former-owners who have similar listening decision points as I.    What I am looking forward to is an outstanding listening experience at home for a newcomer to this "hobby/way of life".  I want to be "WOWED" by my home setup...mind you I am coming from a cheap $50 gaming headset and Klipsch S4 image-II IEMs.  Anything will be an upgrade for me at this point.  My next set of questions will be around going to a balanced setup, getting decent USB and interconnect cables, etc.


  Thank you all for your time.  Looking forward to the input.  Also, I may make it out to the NYC area meet on 11/9 and try some equipment then, but I would like to have something before then.



Edited by M76NYC - 10/15/13 at 7:51pm
post #2 of 10



If you're thinking of possibly needing the current throughput for something like an inefficient ortho, be careful what you grab. Note, the WA7 maxes out at 1 watt at 38ohms. So it's under a watt for 38ohms (HE500), and even less for 50ohms (LCD2+). Some may like the sound of the pairing, but that's for you to figure out. In general, Dr Fang recommends 1 watt at minimum for the 38ohm HE500. Quality is definitely there with the WA7. But some inefficient headphones still need brute power. But it comes down to your ears, your preferences.


The Bifrost/Lyr would definitely do the job in your budget range, and handle orthos (6 watts) and higher impedance cans. Very good pairing too. Great warranty and made in the USA.


There's also the Audio GD 10SE2. You can go balanced in a big way. Foot print also is smaller, but power is huge here.


Very best,

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks Malveaux!  Great info.  Now, why not the Woo Audio WA6-SE?  Read lots of positive feedback on these forums.


Also, remove the future ortho setup out of the equation.  Which would you recommend then, given my requirements? 


Thanks again.



post #4 of 10



If Ortho is out of the equation, for sure, then the WA7 seems obvious if you want to get something that covers all bases and has a tiny foot print. Anything will work at this point, if you're not trying to get something that can handle inefficient orthos and normal or high impedance headphones that are really sensitive.


The difficult part here, is simply justifying a $1000 DAC/AMP for a mid-tier headphone.


With your budget, I'd probably do the reverse and get a better headphone with a mid-tier (instead of high end) DAC/AMP setup.


As it is, this is putting a huge emphasis on the dac/amp, which simply doesn't effect the total sound nearly as much as the headphone does. It makes you wonder, what are you trying to achieve with this purchase? Simply higher quality? Or purchase satisfaction? This place will make you think you need all kinds of expensive stuff to achieve "full potential" or any other absurd notion on a headphone that only needs a few milliwatts to be fully driven. It also calls into question, what quality music are we talking about here?


Very best,

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 

All excellent points again MalVeauX, thanks again.  The only reason I am looking at a higher-end amp/DAC is all the feedback I've read about how well the HD650 scales with better amps.  So many people like the WooAudio WA6-SE which is $1190 just for the amp, so why would an amp/DAC combo of $1000 be possible overkill.  I would probably be "happy" with a Magni/Modi stack for ~$200 or a Bifrost/Asgard2 for ~$800, but I wanted to push for more up-front and to go straight to a tube amp.  I do find it interesting that if I purchase the Bifrost (Uber w/USB) and Lyr, I would be spending more on the DAC than the Lyr amp.  Does that normally make sense?


My music collection is now mostly all FLAC files, over 1.3TB worth, covering all genres.  So, I am looking for some quality listening.  This is just a start for me, so I am sure my listening "taste" will change with time and I will have to adjust my setup as I am exposed to more hardware.  I just want a real good start without blowing the bank. 


So, with that being said, say my budget was only $500-700 for the amp/DAC combo and ortho's were years away, what are your recommendations?





post #6 of 10

I’m missing Audio-GD options in your list. I’m currently enjoying a NFB-28 very much, which is hard to beat on price/performance,  which drive my LCD-2’s with ease.

In contrast to what MalVeauX is suggesting, even though his arguments make total sense & looking at it from your perspective, you have a decent sets of HD’s so I would upgrade the DAC/Preamp now and save up for top quality HD’s. My personal approach is to build the sound up from the source, starting with quality material etc.. .

post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks Stino for the input, but I think I will avoid Chinese-made hardware now, just for the warranty and shipment in case there is an issue.  Schiit has an awesome warranty and is made in US, and Woo Audio is in New York City, where I reside.


I am leaning toward the Schiit Bifrost and Lyr stack, or maybe the Woo Audio WA7, if I think I won't be buying an ortho headphone any time soon.  Now, for the Bifrost, is the "Uber" upgrade a must-have for the $100?  I think I will get it.  Also, which tubes for the Lyr?  Stock NOS GE 6BZ7 or upgrade to the NOS Tungsram ECC85, or go for something else, such as the 6N1P?  I am brwosing the Lyr tube rolling thread now.  So much info!!


Thanks all for the input.



post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

* bump *  :)

post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 

I just pulled the trigger on a Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies!    Now the waiting begins - it will ship in 2-3 weeks.  Thanks to all for the feedback.



post #10 of 10

I am thinking about a very similar set up and MalVeauX makes a really interesting point about investing in better HP rather than a better DAC and Amp.  This brings up an interesting question about price ratios.  For a limited budget in the mid-tier or non-astronomically priced top-tier set of gear:  what is an approximately optimal allocation to headphone/amp/dac ?  


My intuition is to allocate roughly 60% of the money to headphone price, 25% to amp, and 15% to a DAC.   I know this isn't the best way to approach things, and that many other important variable are in play, so perhaps a better question is: what percentage (on average) of total sound quality is determined by each component?  Clearly the headphones are most important and deserve the largest weighting, but how much relative to the other components (on average, I know its context specific, but generally speaking)? 

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