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Good headphone amp + USB DAC + 2.0/2.1 amp under $500? NAD D3020, Teac A-H01. What else?

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 

Hello all,
I'm a long-time reader of the forum.

I bought a used AKG K501 many years ago, but for some reason it ended up in a cupboard at home for most of the time. I recently brought it to my office for listening to background music and soon realised I could benefit from a headphone amplifier. Moreover, the amp of my Audica MPS-1 I was using in my office broke down last week, so I think it's time to upgrade my whole computer audio system.

 

I plan to use my Windows PC as source (lossless CD rips and MP3s). The sound card has analogue output only, so I'll resort to a USB DAC.

As to the speakers, I was thinking of re-using the tiny speakers from the Audica system (they correspond to the Audica CS-S1 model), and maybe adding a sub. I was tempted to upgrade the speakers, but I the space on my desk is really limited, so I would not be able to accommodate anything much larger. Well, something like a Cambridge Audio S30 or Dali Zensor 1 would still fit both within my budget and on my desk, I suppose. And in that case, I may not need a sub.

 

What I'm looking for is a USB DAC, a 2.0 or 2.1 amp, and a high-quality headphone output, preferably as an all-in-one system.
The following units seem to be rather close to my needs:
- NAD D 3020: http://nadelectronics.com/products/digital-music/D-3020-Hybrid-Digital-Amplifier
- Teac A-H01: http://audio.teac.com/product/a-h01/overview/
They seem to have good reviews, but especially the NAD is a bit more money than I want to spend.
Due to space constraints, a full size integrated amplifier or AV receiver is not an option.

 

Another thing to consider is that I can only drive the speakers at barely audible volume anyway, so sound quality through the speakers is not a primary concern.

What matters more to me is quality of the headphone output.

 

I'd like to ask for some advice:

- Which of the two above systems (NAD D3020, Teac A-H01) has a better headphone output?
- Would you rather recommend another DAC+amp system under $500? it doesn't need to be an all-in-one.

 

Thanks.

post #2 of 33
The TubeMagic D1 Plus is a very nice combined DAC/headphone amp, with a pre-amp for hooking up a speaker amp or powered speakers.

For a separate speaker amp that is just an amp, I recommend an amp from Indeed, either the TA2021 or this higher output Class D. Indeed is well known in the small digital amp community, and I have a couple of their amps. If you have questions, Peter (owner/designer) will gladly answer them. Check the measurements, and you'll find that the TA2021 is very small.

I used to run the Cambridge S30s with my desktop setup, but found them a little fatiguing. I would recommend the Wave Crest Audio HVL-1 or the EMP Tek E5Bi.

Finally, what about powered monitors? The JBL LSR305s have been getting rave reviews since they came out last fall, and they compete with powered monitors in the $500 to $600 range, and they can typically be had for $300 or a little less.
post #3 of 33
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the suggestions, cel4145. They really made me think.

Digging a bit deeper into the reviews of integrated systems and of quality of their headphone outputs, I think that a dedicated headphone amp with pre out is indeed preferable, perhaps combined with active speakers, as you suggested.

Can you suggest me any alternative to the TubeMagic D1+ (solid state is fine, too), possibly from a brand that has retailers/customer service in Germany?

post #4 of 33
Audioengine D1 is pretty easy to find.
post #5 of 33
Thread Starter 

I'm reading excellent things about the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus. It's about $500 though, so a bit more than I wanted to spend. Same story about the Denon DA-300USB.

 

Edit: added the Denon.


Edited by arg0 - 4/7/14 at 9:07am
post #6 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

Audioengine D1 is pretty easy to find.


True. Was a bit concerned about whether, being USB-powered, it has sufficient power to drive the AKG K501 (which seem to be more difficult to drive than their 120 Ohm impedance suggests).

post #7 of 33
Thread Starter 

Ruled out the TubeMagic because of lack of distribution and support in Europe, and moreover because the fact that the tube is not in the headphone path makes less interesting.

Realised I'd like a variable line out, which rules out the Denon.

What is left are:

 

DAC+headphone amp+preamp:

- Yulong U100 DAC & USB DAC & Head AMP & sound cardYulong U100 (€195, estimate incl. shipping and customs)

Maverick Audio TubeMagic D1 Plus DACMaverick TubeMagic D1 Plus (€200, estimate incl. shipping and customs)

- ArtikelbildMatrix Cube (€250, estimate incl. shipping and customs)

 

DAC+headphone amp+full amp:

 

- ArtikelbildTeac A-H01 (€390)

 

Excluded DACs:

- ArtikelbildAudioengine D1 (€170, no analogue input)

Audio-gd NFB-11.32Audio-GD NFB-11.32 (€280, estimate incl. shipping and customs, no analogue input)

- ArtikelbildDenon DA-300USB (€400, no variable line out)

- NAD D 1050 24 Bit/196 kHz DAC mit Cinch und XLR Ausgang NAD D 1050 (€450, no variable line out)

- ArtikelbildNAD D 3020 (€450, not convinced by its performance as headphone amp)

 

Audiolab M-DAC silber (Digital-Analog Wandler inkl. Class-A Kopfhörerverstärker) Audiolab M-DAC (€750, costs more than I want to spend)
 

- Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus Digital-Analog-Wandler silberCambridge Audio DacMagic Plus (€430, no analogue input)

 

 

How would any of these compare to the HPDAC (see here)? I built one of these about 7 years ago, and that's what I currently use for listening to the AKG K501.

 

One thing I forgot to ask is about sensitivity to radio noise from wifi or cellular phones. The HPDAC gathers quite some noise from my mobile phone. Is that the same for other DACs/headphone amps?

 

 

Edit: added some more devices, together with the lowest street prices I could find for Germany. Also put the TubeMagic back in the list and took out those devices who don't have an analogue input.

Edit: added images, for future reference.


Edited by arg0 - 5/7/14 at 9:56pm
post #8 of 33
For the price of the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus, you should also look into the Audio-GD DAC/headphone amps/pre-amps. Lotta love for them on Head-Fi (search).
post #9 of 33

The D 1050 has a discrete high performance headphone amplifier according to the NAD description. So if it was only headphone amplification you wanted then it's also worth considering.

post #10 of 33
Thread Starter 

Thanks, your suggestions are highly appreciated.

 

cel4145, I'll look into the Audio-GD products.

 

Head1, I'd seen the D 1050. One of the drawbacks I see is that the volume output only affects the headphone out, so it's not ideal for connecting powered speakers, because in my case the speakers would not be within easy reach. OTOH, if I use foobar2000 as source, I may use global keyboard shortcuts to adjust the source volume. So many decisions...

 

Edit: added reply to Head1.


Edited by arg0 - 4/11/14 at 8:14am
post #11 of 33
Thread Starter 

Getting tempted by the Audio-GD NFB-11.32...

post #12 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by arg0 View Post

Getting tempted by the Audio-GD NFB-11.32...

I was wondering if you would. Everyone seems to love their Audio-GD equipment on Head-Fi smily_headphones1.gif
post #13 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by arg0 View Post
 

Getting tempted by the Audio-GD NFB-11.32...

 

HIT IT :P

post #14 of 33
Thread Starter 

Just realised the Audio-GD NFB-11.32 does not have analogue in and that I would need to go for the more expensive Compass 2 to get that as well.

And if the volume knob on the Yulong U100 does not affect the RCA outputs (I remember having read that somewhere, need to search again), the list gets even shorter, as I'm basically left with the TubeMagic D1 Plus and the Matrix Cube in the sub-€250 battlefield.

post #15 of 33
Thread Starter 

Eventually I've decided to go keep the passive speakers of my Audica MPS-1 system, aiming at a future upgrade and I'd rather keep everything inside one enclosure.

 

I had found some more integrated DAC+headphone amp+power amp devices , such as

 

Artikelbild

Muse ORDO TA2020 at about €95 (incl. shipping and customs)

Artikelbild

MUSE DT-50A T-amp at about €250 (incl. shipping and customs)

 

Artikelbild

ANK Audio A-22 at about 275€ (from a Geman dealer)

Artikelbild

Toany LA-200 at about 425€ (incl. shipping and customs)

 

But eventually I'm not very convinced about ordering from China/Korea and I could not find enough information on the ANK A-22 to support it's audiophile claims.

 

So I'm left with the other locally available options:

 

Artikelbild

NAD D3020 (MSRP 450€)

 

Artikelbild

Teac A-H01 (MSRP 400€)

 

Now, I found a dealer selling a new Teac A-H01 for about 290€ (about $400) and I am very tempted.

All the used ones I have seen don't go for less than €230-250.

I know in the US it can be found in the $300-350 range, but with shipping + customs that would top $400.

 

Any counter-suggestions for a DAC+headphone amp+power amp before I hit the Teac?

TIA.

 

Edit: typo


Edited by arg0 - 4/17/14 at 2:38am
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