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A Little Help with DAC and Tube Amp Combination

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hi all,


I am interested in purchasing a Little Dot tube amplifier...not sure on the exact model yet.  I plan to use the amplifier with my Sennheiser HD 25-1 ii with my MacBook Pro and with .wav audio files.  


I believe the MacBook has a decent on-board DAC but was wondering:


1. Would a separate DAC be beneficial? If so, what do you recommend with the Little Dots?

2. I have seen some "hybrid" DAC/Tube amp combos.  Is it better to have the DAC built into the amp, or for the DAC to be separate?  If there is no difference, could you recommend a DAC/Tube amp combo?  


Sorry if my lingo is incorrect.  I am just starting into my electrical engineering classes in school and find this all very interesting.


Thank you!

post #2 of 6

I can pretty much guarantee that a dedicated/standalone DAC is much better than the integrated one on your Macbook.


I'm sure there are DAC/amp combos that sound really good, but I always recommend a dedicated DAC and a dedicated headphone amp.


I don't know too much about any of Little Dot's products, but I can recommend some other manufacturers who make both DACs and amps.


You can try the Schiit Magni/Modi combo for a very highly-regarded, budget-friendly, solid-state solution ($200). You will hear a lot of praise for this combo both on these forums and in-general.


But if you wanted a tube amp, you can check out some of their tub amps.


Take a look at the website


post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thank you for the reply.  


So if both components are best separate, if I could not purchase both at the same time, would it be smart to purchase the amp first, while using my on-board DAC, and then add a separate DAC later?  A DAC does not provide any amplification, correct?

Edited by mxg284 - 3/23/14 at 7:55pm
post #4 of 6

I don't know how well that would work, because if you were to connect the headphone-out from your Macbook to a headphone, the signal would already be amplified. This could cause distortion, and it's not really meant to do that in the first place. If you connect it to the front-out instead, that could be a viable option, but I still wouldn't recommend it. If you're willing to spend $200+ on a pair of cans, you generally always need a good DAC and amp to drive them properly.


It would be much better to just go with a good, dedicated/standalone DAC combo for around $200 and get the most expensive cans you can afford.


I promise, regardless of what cans you get, you will not be disappointing with the Schiit Magni/Modi combo. It's cheap, compact, simple, and even out-performs more expensive solutions.

post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thank you again for the help.  


One last pair of questions.  Does the DAC that will connect to my MacBook connect via USB? How do I bypass my Mac's DAC in order to use the new one I purchase?

post #6 of 6

Well most DACs have one, or a combination of three inputs:

Digital Coaxial in

Digital Optical in

USB in



How your DAC will connect your your Macbook depends upon the DAC that you purchase and the digital output options from your Macbook.


The Schiit Modi is their entry-level, but don't let entry-level fool you, DAC and only has a USB input, so if you were to buy that, you just connect the DAC to your Macbook via USB. Specifically a USB-A to USB-B cable, aka printer cable. This means you will be somewhat limited to only using that DAC to listen to music on your computer. You wouldn't be able to connect it to a standalone DVD/CD or Blu-Ray player of any sort. But remember, if your computer has a CD/DVD or Blu-Ray player, you can just play your optical media from your computer and you're golden.


Schiit claims that their Modi DAC is driver-less so you won't need to install any software or drivers. When you hook up the DAC to your Macbook via USB it will automatically send the digital audio stream to it. From there you would proceed to hook up the headphone amp, via RCA audio cables, to the DAC and then your headphones to the amp. The Macbook should set it automatically, but if it doesn't, you need to set the digital out to PCM, instead of Dolby or DTS encoding



If you want, which I also recommend, you can disable the integrated audio completely on your Macbook so both you, and the computer, can avoid confusion. Don't worry, you can always re-enable the integrated audio on your Macbook so you don't have to always use the DAC and amp combo.

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