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Upgrade my Amp or upgrade the DAC for warmer sound? Recommendations please

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

I've been adding to my audio equipment collection in search of something to add a more warm tone to my extensive and varied collection of digital music. I listen to all kinds of stuff from ambient to rock, and while I've got the ambient covered, I still can't get some of my rock collection to have the right sound. I've tried upgrading to 24-bit FLAC, Westone 4 IEM's, and a variety of amps and players but I can't quite get what I want. I have a variety of DAP's including the Marantz NA7004, the FIIO X3, the IBASSO DX50 & the Sony F886. I used to have a FIIO E18 until my husband borrowed it... I would have replaced it but I'd like to see what people have to say about what to try next. Oh, as far as the amps go, I have the JDS C5, FIIO E11, & the FIIO E12DIY (which I just got). I'm starting to think that there's no one combination that is best for each genre of music & that's OK. Once I got my Westone 4's I was finally able to hear the clarity in my 'test track' of Olafur Arnalds' 3326. The Marantz as well as the 2 Wilson DAC players provides a nice warmth to most of my music but none of them (so far) have the fullness of sound when I listen to classic rock (like the remastered Beatles 24bit FLAC). Perhaps there's some combination that will work on the FIIO E12DIY but I haven't played around with it beyond the stock build.

 

Anyhoo, I'm wondering what I should try next in my never-ending quest. Should I try a different amp (like the HIFIMAN EF-2A) or should I try a different DAC? I need something that has a coaxial input, unless there's absolutely no other option than to go with USB input.  I liked the sound of the FIIO E18 but it didn't have the accuracy that some of my other products have & it's also limited to USB input. So I'm leaning towards something with a Burr Brown DAC, but I'm curious about the ESS Sabre as I've never heard one yet.

 

So, basically I want a warmer more analog sound but with accuracy/clarity & a wide sound stage. Do I need a different DAC, amp, or scrap it all and start from scratch? Any help would be appreciated.

post #2 of 7
Thread Starter 

Hey, I can see this forum is  packed with all kinds of questions & it's easy for a request like mine to get lost. If someone could even just point to some relevant threads to point me in the right direction, I'd really appreciate it. I have good quality audio files and IEM's, but I can't figure out whether I need to change the amp or the DAC to get the warmer more realistic tone I'm looking for. Any help would be appreciated...

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 

No replies?  Well, I've noticed that the portable amps have a varying effect depending on which player's line-out I use. There's not much difference with the Marantz NA-7004, but both the FIIO DIYE12 & the JDS C5 noticeably improve the audio from the FIIO X3,IbassoDX50, and the Sony F886... So far the C5 sounds better, but again I haven't messed around with the different combinations of the DIY. I'm guessing that means that the amp on the headphone out in the Marantz must be of pretty good quality (which I believe I read somewhere). That would make sense, IMO, that the Marantz would have a better headphone amp than the portable DAPs. If I were to rank the native amps on the various players I would put them as the X3 as having the lowest quality (but still decent) and the Sony having the best.

 

I'm starting to think that the place I need to improve in my "system" is the DAC rather than the amps. Obviously, any hints or opinions about this would be appreciated. Guess I'll have to look into what DAC to try. Right now, I'm thinking of trying either the Peachtree DAC-It or the Bifrost. I don't know anything about the DAC chip in the Bifrost but it seems to be a really popular DAC. Still the Peachtree has the Sabre chip which seems to be considered the top chip by most people. And either one can take the digital coax feed from any of my DAP's. BTW, I have the adapter that allow the Sony to output a digital audio signal (it's kind of hard to find but they sell them for about $50 on ebay if you can figure out the correct part to order.Sony doesn't really advertise that their latest Walkmans have the ability to produce a digital audio out. And no that's not the line out- I have that adapter, too- same as for the Walkman F806 model...)

post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 

Two other points. I prefer a separate DAC rather than a DAC/amp combo because I don't want/need a cheap amp tacked onto my DAC just to have a single unit. If I want that, I can just use one of my DAP's. Even the Sony (which is the best sounding of the portable DAPs that I have, still doesn't have an amp that compares to a good standalone amp.) The Marantz seems to be the exception in having a good amp on the headphone out but I believe that was part of the design.

 

The other point is that I won't consider a DAC where the manufacturer refuses to say what the DAC chip is. I think that's critical info and if they don't want to say, I'm not going to buy. After all, most people on these boards have a favorite DAC chip that they like the sound of. And yes I know that implementation makes a huge difference in how the DAC chip ends up sounding, but still the chip has to be the backbone of the DAC...

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 

Still nothing. I've been playing around with the FIIO E12DIY and found that it has a substantial improvement on the overall sound when bypassing the amps on my DAP's (particularly the X3 and DX50). So maybe it's the amplifier that's the missing link in my search for a wide soundstage with a warm, natural sound? Any help would be appreciated..

post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 

I finally got an answer to my posted question but I'm not going to post it since I got no input from anyone about this most basic question. I finally talked to somebody knowledgable about audio (and he even asked if I spent a lot of time on Headfi based on my question!) & was steered towards the answer. If anyone is interested in what I found out, you can send me a PM or even (gasp) respond to this post.

post #7 of 7
My suggestion to add a bit of warmth to your sound is the RSA Protector amplifier. I have both the RSA Protector and RSA Lightning and has many others observed, the Protector adds a warm tube like sound to the music. It is a wonderful amp and if you want to go balanced it has both a balanced and single output.
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