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Is it worth saving up for a balanced amp?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 

I currently use a Xonar STX to drive my Sennheiser HD 650's from my computer, but I'm considering upgrading to a dedicated amp and DAC setup, and the Schiit products in particular caught my eye. I'm trying to decide if I want the Bifrost/Asgard 2 combo, or if I should wait a few months and save up for a Gungir/Mjolnir combo and buy balanced cables for my 650's. I'm eventually going to upgrade to something like an LCD-3 or some other high end planar-magnetic, but that's probably at least 9 months to a year away, after I get a better paying job, but I wanna hear some opinions on whether or not saving up for a balanced setup plus cables is worth it over purchasing what I assume some would consider a mid range setup much sooner. I don't have any real complaints about the STX as it is, though I've never listened to anything better than what I'm using right now so I don't know what I'm missing out on

P.S. If anyone has alternative suggestions for good amp/dac setups around this price range that are worth looking into (or worth saving up for) please suggest them. I would prefer a solid state amp but I'm open to suggestions

post #2 of 21

Well I haven't heard the Xonar STX but I would be very surprised if you couldn't upgrade to something vastly superior in a single-ended configuration for a very modest outlay. I imagine the Bifrost/Asgard combo would be perfect.

 

The thing to remember about headphone kit is that it generally keeps its resale value. So the Bifrost/Asgard you buy now will be easily resalable in a few months time, when you decide to upgrade. You don't have to go for the End Game LCD-3s right away...

 

Another option worth considering - is the CEntrance Hifi-M8. Balanced output, absolutely awesome sound, and portable! Will quite easily power your LCD-3s, for a start. That's what I'd consider in your situation, anyway.

post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by one-eyed-xander View Post
 

Well I haven't heard the Xonar STX but I would be very surprised if you couldn't upgrade to something vastly superior in a single-ended configuration for a very modest outlay. I imagine the Bifrost/Asgard combo would be perfect.

 

The thing to remember about headphone kit is that it generally keeps its resale value. So the Bifrost/Asgard you buy now will be easily resalable in a few months time, when you decide to upgrade. You don't have to go for the End Game LCD-3s right away...

 

Another option worth considering - is the CEntrance Hifi-M8. Balanced output, absolutely awesome sound, and portable! Will quite easily power your LCD-3s, for a start. That's what I'd consider in your situation, anyway.

Oh I know pretty much every mid range dedicated solution would be better than the STX, but I'm wondering if it's worth saving up for an even higher end setup rather than just purchasing a mid range setup now. I have an Ibasso DX100 for portable use already, so this is exclusively for a desktop rig. I wasn't aware of the resale value of audio equipment, that's definitely worth factoring in to my decision, thanks for that tip

post #4 of 21
Thread Starter 

Bump
There's gotta be more than one person with input on this matter :p

post #5 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by InternetSandman View Post
 

I currently use a Xonar STX to drive my Sennheiser HD 650's from my computer, but I'm considering upgrading to a dedicated amp and DAC setup, and the Schiit products in particular caught my eye. I'm trying to decide if I want the Bifrost/Asgard 2 combo, or if I should wait a few months and save up for a Gungir/Mjolnir combo and buy balanced cables for my 650's. I'm eventually going to upgrade to something like an LCD-3 or some other high end planar-magnetic, but that's probably at least 9 months to a year away, after I get a better paying job, but I wanna hear some opinions on whether or not saving up for a balanced setup plus cables is worth it over purchasing what I assume some would consider a mid range setup much sooner. I don't have any real complaints about the STX as it is, though I've never listened to anything better than what I'm using right now so I don't know what I'm missing out on

P.S. If anyone has alternative suggestions for good amp/dac setups around this price range that are worth looking into (or worth saving up for) please suggest them. I would prefer a solid state amp but I'm open to suggestions

HD650 was very good balanced from an Audio gd NFB-10 for me

post #6 of 21

I was in your same boat 2 weeks ago. I was using my Sound Blaster ZxR to drive my HD650s, and I was thinking about getting LCD-3s in the future. Ultimately I decided to go ahead and get the Gungir/Mjolnir combo because even if you are able to resell your dac/amp you'll never get the full price out of it. The thought of trying to sell my stack while upgrading to LCD-3s AND buying a new stack just seemed too expensive. 

 

Then a funny thing happened. I went from my ZxR severally holding back my HD650s to my HD650s holding back my Gungir/Mjolnir. Luckily I recently got a bonus so I blew it on my LCD-3s last week and I can now say I am in music bliss. 

 

Well that's my story. If I were you I'd go ahead and get the stack you want now. You'll end up saving money in the long run. If you get a stack that only matches your current HD650s you'll likely find it hard to justify upgrading in the future.  

post #7 of 21

This is a very good question, and one I spent much time pondering. I eventually decided to get a TOTL balanced amp, and pulled the trigger on the HeadAmp GS-X MkII. I will let you know if this was a good decision once it arrives, as I also am rocking 650s. The thing about TOTL balanced headphone amps like the GS-X is that they double as excellent preamps, so you are paying for a core centerpiece of your system, rather than just a headphone amp. It is quite an outlay for balanced, though.

 

In the end, let your source guide your decision. You can build an excellent single ended system such as the Resonessence Labs Concero DAC with the Woo Audio 2 (which also doubles as a preamp). I got a deal on a used dual mono balanced DAC that really needs a balanced amp to get the most out of the sound [see http://www.head-fi.org/t/664270/review-firestone-audio-tobby-dac]. I am in love with my 650s right now on a very poor SE amp (HiFiMan EF2A), so I can't wait to hear them balanced on the GS-X. And the GS-X gives me the option to add a TOTL set of cans once I decide whether to go with 800s, LCD3s, etc ..

post #8 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by jrzamora6 View Post
 

I was in your same boat 2 weeks ago. I was using my Sound Blaster ZxR to drive my HD650s, and I was thinking about getting LCD-3s in the future. Ultimately I decided to go ahead and get the Gungir/Mjolnir combo because even if you are able to resell your dac/amp you'll never get the full price out of it. The thought of trying to sell my stack while upgrading to LCD-3s AND buying a new stack just seemed too expensive.

 

Then a funny thing happened. I went from my ZxR severally holding back my HD650s to my HD650s holding back my Gungir/Mjolnir. Luckily I recently got a bonus so I blew it on my LCD-3s last week and I can now say I am in music bliss.

 

Well that's my story. If I were you I'd go ahead and get the stack you want now. You'll end up saving money in the long run. If you get a stack that only matches your current HD650s you'll likely find it hard to justify upgrading in the future. 

This is a risky approach imo. He could save some money only if he has really decided (and he has visibility to near future funding) for a 3,5 K rig - and even this is not certain as he can discover that his expensive upstream gear does not fit well his expensive headphone for him. There can be much enjoyment far below the LCD-3s etc. By the way, getting balanced gear is not necessary at all.

post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by i019791 View Post

This is a risky approach imo. He could save some money only if he has really decided (and he has visibility to near future funding) for a 3,5 K rig - and even this is not certain as he can discover that his expensive upstream gear does not fit well his expensive headphone for him. There can be much enjoyment far below the LCD-3s etc. By the way, getting balanced gear is not necessary at all.

I'll have a much better paying job than I have now within 6 months, a year at the most, and it would only take about two or three months savings for me to get a Gungir/Mjolnir stack, as opposed to one month for a Bifrost/Asgard 2, and it does seem to make more sense to buy high end first instead of buying mid range, selling that and then buying high end. It would take longer, cost more money altogether, and probably wouldn't be as impressive a jump. I've also heard definite praise for the Mjolnir/LCD-3 pairing, and while I haven't heard it myself, I'm only about an hours drive from The Headphone Bar here in Vancouver where I could easily test it out before buying
post #10 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by InternetSandman View Post

... where I could easily test it out before buying

 

There's your solution. You might even hear something you like better than Schiit. And your economic model makes sense.

post #11 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by InternetSandman View Post
 

I currently use a Xonar STX to drive my Sennheiser HD 650's from my computer, but I'm considering upgrading to a dedicated amp and DAC setup, and the Schiit products in particular caught my eye. I'm trying to decide if I want the Bifrost/Asgard 2 combo, or if I should wait a few months and save up for a Gungir/Mjolnir combo and buy balanced cables for my 650's. I'm eventually going to upgrade to something like an LCD-3 or some other high end planar-magnetic, but that's probably at least 9 months to a year away, after I get a better paying job, but I wanna hear some opinions on whether or not saving up for a balanced setup plus cables is worth it over purchasing what I assume some would consider a mid range setup much sooner. I don't have any real complaints about the STX as it is, though I've never listened to anything better than what I'm using right now so I don't know what I'm missing out on

P.S. If anyone has alternative suggestions for good amp/dac setups around this price range that are worth looking into (or worth saving up for) please suggest them. I would prefer a solid state amp but I'm open to suggestions

 

As someone who's had the PB-1, tried the PB-2 and the first RSA balanced amp (forgot which one that was), plus a bunch of desktop and AC-powered amps SE and balanced, I'd say that generally for the HD600/650 the portable balanced amps have more obvious improvements vs SE portable amps (aside from the Meier Stepdance, and a few others), compared to powerful, Class A SE desktop amps (Meier, Audio GD, Burson, Schiit, etc) vs balanced desktop amps. Basically, all you need is a lot of clean power, and good desktop SE amps can deliver a lot of voltage and current and would sooner blow your eardrums before getting enough audible distortion or lack current. So if you're planning on keeping the HD650s and no plans on upgrading to more demanding headphones, you can save a lot of money and space on the Bifrost/Asgard (or the Valhalla) that you can use on other things, like more music.

post #12 of 21

Technically, balanced amps do nothing for SQ, they only double the voltage to the cans. Increasing the loudness changes the way we perceive sound, so just turn up the dial some and get the same results. You can look into "Fletcher-Munson"' curves or equal-loudness contour.

The HD650 is pretty sensitive for 300 Ohm cans and really don't need extreme measures. IMO there's plenty of overzealousness when it comes to cables and amps. In any case if one enjoys the toys, that's good too

post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

 

As someone who's had the PB-1, tried the PB-2 and the first RSA balanced amp (forgot which one that was), plus a bunch of desktop and AC-powered amps SE and balanced, I'd say that generally for the HD600/650 the portable balanced amps have more obvious improvements vs SE portable amps (aside from the Meier Stepdance, and a few others), compared to powerful, Class A SE desktop amps (Meier, Audio GD, Burson, Schiit, etc) vs balanced desktop amps. Basically, all you need is a lot of clean power, and good desktop SE amps can deliver a lot of voltage and current and would sooner blow your eardrums before getting enough audible distortion or lack current. So if you're planning on keeping the HD650s and no plans on upgrading to more demanding headphones, you can save a lot of money and space on the Bifrost/Asgard (or the Valhalla) that you can use on other things, like more music.

I'm going to be keeping the 650's short term, but long term I do want to upgrade to a set of high end planar magnetic cans, I mentioned the LCD-3's in my original post as what I'm tentatively setting my sights on, and I expect those would benefit from being driven by a powerful balanced amp even more so than the 650's, when compared to a good SE amp

post #14 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by InternetSandman View Post
 

I'm going to be keeping the 650's short term, but long term I do want to upgrade to a set of high end planar magnetic cans, I mentioned the LCD-3's in my original post as what I'm tentatively setting my sights on, and I expect those would benefit from being driven by a powerful balanced amp even more so than the 650's, when compared to a good SE amp

 

9 ~ 12 months is actually not that long, if I were you, I'd start planning for that system. BTW, if you don't mind me asking, going from HD650 to LCD-3 (along with an amp & a DAC) is a pretty significant jump, are you very certain that LCD-3 is the one you want?

post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jenneth View Post

9 ~ 12 months is actually not that long, if I were you, I'd start planning for that system. BTW, if you don't mind me asking, going from HD650 to LCD-3 (along with an amp & a DAC) is a pretty significant jump, are you very certain that LCD-3 is the one you want?

I'm fairly certain. I had narrowed down my choice to between the LCD-3 and the HE-6, and I've -tentatively-decided on the LCD-3, because I was already partial to the aesthetics and the performance of the Schiit balanced stack and the LCD-3 seems to pair well with them from every review I've read. I am curious to see the reviews of the slightly cheaper (and also better looking) LCD-X, but apart from that I don't really have anything else I'd set my sights on other than maybe the Sennheiser 800's with their new amp-DAC combo, but either way the first step is saving up the money for an amp/DAC and I have plenty of time to weigh the two options there.

I do want it to be a significant jump though. I do prefer going as high end as possible on an initial rig, I made this topic just to try and decide whether or not balanced was truly worth the additional cost over SE if planning on upgrading to a headphone like the LCD-3
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