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DAC or AMP, which will improve sound the most from my computer

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

Hope this is in the right area, I'm sure this has been covered before however i could not find it. So here goes

 

I'm coming from a high end home analog set-up using edgarhorn speakers and set amplification, bi-amped with solid state on the bass. All my source was analog or tubed CD players, I have no experience with DAC's and am basically lost when it comes to all the tech surrounding them

 

Life changes and i was forced to sell off my system and I'm now in the middle of putting a modest computer based system togeather.  I have approx. 400 gb of WAV lossless ripped and enjoy listening directly from my laptops output on my Sennhieser HD 650's 

 

Every thread i read tells me i can significantly improve my listening experience with an Amp and a DAC.  So I'm wondering which would give the biggest improvement in sound to start ( i will be buying both, and am strongly leaning twords schiit gear)

 

In my previous systems with speakers i was routinely surprised by how much different an amp could make a system sound, and even hearing much more detail in the music

 

Common sense is telling me a DAC should make the most difference (bypassing the cheap stock realtek soundcard) but experience tells me an amp can make a big difference, I thought it might be prudent to get some opinions from folks that have been down this road already

 

Thanks Joe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i

post #2 of 19

Schiit is to way to go if you want a good dac under $1000. I listened to the Bifrost and the Gunjr which were all remarkable. My opinion is that the sound difference between amps is more than between dacs. I'm currently using the HD650, SR325Is, and the HD800 with my amp being a Graham Slee SRG2( and a Vioelectric) and my dac Dacmagic 100. I wish to buy a Schiit dac pretty soon with me leaning towards the Gunjr. (<not sure if right spelling but Schiit product names are "schiit") Amps seem to have drastically different sound differences to my ears. For example, a Burson amp has too much sparkle in the highs for me while Vioelectric is very analytical. Yes, dacs can make a sound difference but they don't have that much of a sound difference as amps. I however think Burson dacs are also too sparkly. Don't know how they manages that because most dacs don't make that much of a difference in tonal balance overall.

post #3 of 19

I don't know if it helps all that much to think in terms of one being more important or influential than the other... they are, along with your headphones, a "system".  I am sure you can appreciate this given your tube/horn experience in home audio.  Once you have a system, then the effect of swapping different components in and out may certainly make more or less of a difference by the strength of the component and perhaps, at some point by the role it plays.  I felt like I noticed a huge difference between DACs from around 1996 until just a year or two ago... and not so much difference between amps (with reasonably easy to drive speakers, didn't get into headphones all that much until 5 or 6 years ago).  Now I am starting to reverse my focus as I think my own appreciation of the differences between DACs is most certainly on the decline and my interest in the interaction between amp and headphone is very high.  I find the latter to be much more fun and fascinating than the former.  Perhaps limited by my technical understanding and appreciation of what goes into a good DAC and/or my inability to hear such subtleties or register what I am hearing as meaningful differences to my brain.

 

I see the DAC as the foundation and the amp/headphone as the frame of the house, and your head shape and brain as the interior design that makes the final determination about comfort and tone, or just overall presentation as it is perceived by you.  So just like when you go to build a real house, the foundation is important due to its ability to make or break everything that follows, but maybe not what makes the most difference to your daily living.  I will soon choose a DAC that is well beyond my Dragonfly, but it will be tough and I will probably not be blown away as much as I will be comforted by the notion that I have a good foundation for some time to come.  Maybe a Schiit product as mentioned above, maybe an Oppo HA-1 or a Geek Pulse, maybe a Yulong or Questyle product at some point, I am looking forward to it and not looking forward to it at the same time because it will be a very tough decision as there is so much to like about all of them from my perspective.  I like that many good DACs are also combo units with a decent headphone amp, that is just a bonus from my point of view, or maybe the "all you really need" depending on the unit and your headphones.  But once I get past that, the real fun for me will be finding the right amp, and having a couple of different amps to bring out different qualities among a few different headphones.  This will happen every 6-18 months, and I will "add" more often than "replace".  Would love to be able to have two good DACs but not sure it will be as much bang for buck as multiple amps.  I am thinking I will resist the DAC temptation and only upgrade or sidegrade every 2 or 3 years, if even that.

 

So the long answer to your short question is that I vote for "amp" as being the most influential, but only so long as the DAC is at a minimal/reasonable level of performance (which I think is easier to achieve nowadays than it has ever been.  I would also say that breaking the analog chain from your computer is still probably first priority as they are such terrible environments for audio (in relative terms, they still manage to sound quite good in many cases).  If I didn't want to spend a bunch of money all at once, I would (and have) just get one of these great new USB DAC/amps like a dragonfly, microStreamer, or similar type of product if you think portability would be nice to have, and if you don't, then one of many very decent desktop combo units that can be had for 300-700 dollars.  If you are planning on staying with the HD-650, I would be tempted to do the Modi/Vali thing with Schiit and then maybe upgrade the DAC next year and then the amp after that...  


Edited by Greggo - 1/11/14 at 6:02am
post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 

thank you both for the input, after my first listening session with the schiit valhalla I found that an amp in a computer based system is very much like my previous experiences with tubes and horns, I also found headphones open up so much more of the music than I have experienced before when paired with a good amp (not so much direct from the computer, i caught little glimpses here and there but the valhalla opened things up so much more)

 

I'm deffinately going to go with a Schiit DAC, my problem is i know me and I'm never happy when i feel like i have something inferior

so I'm waiting till funds free up then im looking at the uber bifrost with usb.............at which point i iintend to end this search for better sound.

 

I found in my quest with horns and tubes i lost something. I got all caught up in nuance and was always critically listening and looking for flaws. Some of my favorite music became boring.  This is not a cycle i want to get into ever again.  I've already caught myself longing for a pair of lcd-2 the process is trying to creep back into the music:deadhorse: 

post #5 of 19

Sounds like a solid plan to me.  I can really relate to your comments/experience....mine was a different path, but devolved into the same obsession that took me in a direction I later regretted.  Truth be told, I am listening to music I really enjoy direct from my chromebook into my HD-700 as I type this, and I am not missing anything all that important.  Yes, it gets better, and I will enjoy that too... but only so much and I am certainly not going to get all caught up in the  audiophile BS this time around.  I am going to be honest about finding my own value points and then just have fun swimming around in that pond and leave the ocean to others.

post #6 of 19
Good stuff!
Insightful replies.
Thx
post #7 of 19

Think of it as garbage in, garbage out. 

post #8 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by joespride View Post
 

thank you both for the input, after my first listening session with the schiit valhalla I found that an amp in a computer based system is very much like my previous experiences with tubes and horns, I also found headphones open up so much more of the music than I have experienced before when paired with a good amp (not so much direct from the computer, i caught little glimpses here and there but the valhalla opened things up so much more)

 

I'm deffinately going to go with a Schiit DAC, my problem is i know me and I'm never happy when i feel like i have something inferior

so I'm waiting till funds free up then im looking at the uber bifrost with usb.............at which point i iintend to end this search for better sound.

 

I found in my quest with horns and tubes i lost something. I got all caught up in nuance and was always critically listening and looking for flaws. Some of my favorite music became boring.  This is not a cycle i want to get into ever again.  I've already caught myself longing for a pair of lcd-2 the process is trying to creep back into the music:deadhorse: 

I thought of getting the bifrost too but like you, I know me(i gotta have the biggest one)(sometimes bigger the better) so I'm going for the Gunjr with usb. I'm eventually gonna get the lcds too.

post #9 of 19

DAC. A cheap DAC ($500 or less) will make a world of difference, as far as cleaner, bigger, better sound goes. A DAC should basically have little to no sound of its own, so then you can worry about headphone/amp synergy.

post #10 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by GoldfishX View Post
 

A DAC should basically have little to no sound of its own, so then you can worry about headphone/amp synergy.

 

Neither should an amp. "Synergy" should be a matter of whether it can provide the voltage for and current at the listening level preferred by the listener without audible distortion, not a warm tube amp making a current-hungry, very-detailed headphone sound smoother. If you don't like detail presented in that manner, get another headphone but make sure the amp is pushing it properly.

post #11 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

 

Neither should an amp. "Synergy" should be a matter of whether it can provide the voltage for and current at the listening level preferred by the listener without audible distortion, not a warm tube amp making a current-hungry, very-detailed headphone sound smoother. If you don't like detail presented in that manner, get another headphone but make sure the amp is pushing it properly.


Different strokes, I guess. I don't want to amplify a colored source (which would include the initial source and the digital to analogue conversion), I want to worry about the headphone/amp synergy further down the chain. If it means a colored amp (or even a neutral amp that tilts to either dark or bright) with a neutral headphone, I'm okay with that. I start not trusting what I'm hearing if the source or the DAC is colored.

post #12 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by GoldfishX View Post
 


Different strokes, I guess. I don't want to amplify a colored source (which would include the initial source and the digital to analogue conversion), I want to worry about the headphone/amp synergy further down the chain. If it means a colored amp (or even a neutral amp that tilts to either dark or bright) with a neutral headphone, I'm okay with that. I start not trusting what I'm hearing if the source or the DAC is colored.

 

Ideally your amp should just amplify a source, colored or not, and drive the speaker or headphone well. Some sources are deliberately colored, yes, but even if I'd like my sound to be audibly and obviously colored, I'd rely on the headphone/speaker* then the source and not the amp. A source and headphone for me are easier to argue for having a "flavor," and an amp shouldn't interfere if I want the warm sound of a Rega Planet CDP or an Ah! Njoe Tjoeb CDP to be audible through B&W or Focal speakers. I just personally think there's no point in not trusting a flat source if my amp will just mess with that signal anyway.

 

 

 

*This isn't just preference but reality - dynamic drivers are only rated at a nominal impedance. Run a powerful bass note through it and the impedance can vary; not to mention that 1-second on a sine sweep produces only a short range of frequencies, mostly one after another, whereas 1-second of actual music produces all manner or frequencies at each microsecond. This is what is missed in the endless debate between an objectivist relying exclusively on test tone measurements and a subjectivist at the other end who thinks all that is absolutely pointless - these measurements are useful but that isn't absolute.

post #13 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

 

Ideally your amp should just amplify a source, colored or not, and drive the speaker or headphone well. Some sources are deliberately colored, yes, but even if I'd like my sound to be audibly and obviously colored, I'd rely on the headphone/speaker* then the source and not the amp. A source and headphone for me are easier to argue for having a "flavor," and an amp shouldn't interfere if I want the warm sound of a Rega Planet CDP or an Ah! Njoe Tjoeb CDP to be audible through B&W or Focal speakers. I just personally think there's no point in not trusting a flat source if my amp will just mess with that signal anyway.

 

 

 

*This isn't just preference but reality - dynamic drivers are only rated at a nominal impedance. Run a powerful bass note through it and the impedance can vary; not to mention that 1-second on a sine sweep produces only a short range of frequencies, mostly one after another, whereas 1-second of actual music produces all manner or frequencies at each microsecond. This is what is missed in the endless debate between an objectivist relying exclusively on test tone measurements and a subjectivist at the other end who thinks all that is absolutely pointless - these measurements are useful but that isn't absolute.


Okay then, we disagree. I say Neutral - Neutral - Colored if need be - Colored if need be. You say Colored if need be - neutral - neutral - Colored if need be. Whatever works, I guess. I just know a neutral amp is the last thing I want to give my HD800.

post #14 of 19
Thread Starter 

Who decides what is neutral ?  My hearing is just that  "My Hearing", and yours is yours  I don't follow measurements i follow my taste in what I'm hearing,  to bright, or to flat for me may be just right for someone else.

 

At the end of the day this hobby is a very personal experience (made more so by Headphones) :L3000:

 

I've been researching DAC's a bit now and honestly cant make heads or tails of it, Seems the argument for which is better always comes down to features, and which chip is used. Problem is today's sweetheart of a chip is tomorrow's toss off.  I'm thinking this all comes down to personal preference.  With all my previous stereo systems i found i had to do alot of experimenting to get the gear that i preferred. I don't know what made me think this would be any different !!!

 

I was hoping to stay off the upgrade merry-go-round.  I went ahead and ordered the Modi in order to fill the gap for now (Looks like the $$$$$$$ for Bifrost will take awhile) My concern is smoothing out the edginess / roughness I'm now able to hear

 

A lot of good reading i appreciate all the responses

post #15 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by joespride View Post

I've been researching DAC's a bit now and honestly cant make heads or tails of it, Seems the argument for which is better always comes down to features, and which chip is used. Problem is today's sweetheart of a chip is tomorrow's toss off.  I'm thinking this all comes down to personal preference.  With all my previous stereo systems i found i had to do alot of experimenting to get the gear that i preferred. I don't know what made me think this would be any different !!!

 

I was hoping to stay off the upgrade merry-go-round.  I went ahead and ordered the Modi in order to fill the gap for now (Looks like the $$$$$$$ for Bifrost will take awhile) My concern is smoothing out the edginess / roughness I'm now able to hear

 

A lot of good reading i appreciate all the responses

 

This is how I understand DAC technology...We've basically reached a level where the conversions are solid on all levels and differences are hard to hear, so people need to push build qualities, features, etc.

 

On a personal note and to totally contradict my last statement, I ran a Gungnir (next step up from the Bifrost) in my system and found it too harsh/aggressive (especially with the HD800), so I tend to stay away from Schiit DAC's. I run a Peachtree Dac-It in my systems and find it pretty neutral...Neither too laid back, nor too aggressive, just right. And it was cheap too. YMMV, that was just my personal findings with it.

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