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Budget up to $1k for (full-size?) headphones and DAC/Amp from MacBook Pro

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Let me cut to the chase! :)


Gave up on IEMs.  It's now time to invest in a mid-range head-fi setup that will LAST and without me losing them on public transport or out drunk.


I'm normally pretty good at researching but this is just a minefield...I'm overwhelmed!


I figure budgeting up to around $1k will provide a good mid-range bang for the buck.


I expect to spend about half n half on the DAC/Amp and headphones (i.e. around $500 each) since I figure they're equally important.


Intended source is as mentioned a recent MacBook Pro.


Intended use is mainly home listening and something to take away on holidays and listen to in a hotel room.  i.e. not for out and about or wearing on a plane.  Open is OK.


Given I intend to pack it and travel a lot a DAC/Amp that's relatively robust...i.e. no valves!


Smaller is better but pocketable is not necessary.  Mains powered is expected and preferred for DAC/Amp.  If I'm plugging in the MacBook Pro I don't mind plugging in an amp as well.  I don't anticipate using it in an airport lounge but a bus (or dual powered) option may be considered because I always get to airports ridiculously early and spend hours waiting (especially international).


Preferred sound signature


This is quite hard to describe.  My tastes are very varied so something fairly balanced and versatile.  Big fan of piano-based rock and pop à la Kate Bush, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tori Amos etc.  Also heavier/faster rock and electro clash (Peaches, Chicks on Speed) and French pop and rap (Christophe Willem, Zaho).  In contrast I love experimental ambient electronica (DVA, Loscil) where openness and soundstage can shine.  I listen to a LOT of live recordings.  I try to be open and experience new styles of music all the time...when have the time!


So really nothing too limiting but probably slightly on the forward/punchy side but capable of good refinement and detail/clarity and space and nothing too dark or too bright.  I know I can't have it all for this money.

Edited by simonm - 4/30/14 at 10:32am
post #2 of 7
The ODAC/O2 (Objective 2) is a good transportable setup that would take approx. one third of your budget. Lots of discussion about this DAC and headphone amp on Head-Fi if you search. They can also be purchased as separates. For instance, I use the ODAC with a Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amp (definitely not transportable). You could consider getting yourself the ODAC, then a good headphone amp for at home, and a smaller inexpensive one to connect to it for travel.

I would also suggest getting yourself some good open headphones for home use. Then use part of your budget for some lesser expensive closed portables for when you travel. Open headphones have a bigger soundstage than closed headphones, providing a better immersion experience in the music and typically better instrument separation. However, open headphones have zero isolation and leak sound--no good for travel.

Check out the Battle of the Flagships thread and Innerfidelity's Wall of Fame lists for some good open headphones to consider:


*Note how the top rated headphones are all open (or semi-open).
Edited by cel4145 - 4/30/14 at 10:59am
post #3 of 7
Melbourne? Are we to assume your "$1k" budget is in AUD and not USD? I don't think the prices will be too far off, but it is something to keep in mind, especially if something is going to be a lot more expensive if shipped from the US.

Most of your SQ is going to come from better headphones, so you can get a solid DAC and amp in the ~$200 (USD) range and still have plenty of room for great cans. cel suggested the ODAC and O2, and I've heard nothing but good things about these two. I believe they do have battery power (or at least some models do), so you would get portability over something like Schiit's Magni + Modi stack (which pair for $200 USD).

With those, that should leave plenty of room for a great pair of headphones and plenty of power to drive them. My current favorite is Sennheiser's HD600 (~$400 USD), and, like you, I tend to listen to a wide range of music and find them quite versatile. I also use them for PC gaming and have no complaints.
post #4 of 7

For the headphones, you could try the HD600.  Great all arounder, neutral and balanced.  $400 new.


For DAC/Amp, you could try anything from Schiit.  Good quality and great value for your money.  I've tried the 600s with Schiit gear and I liked the combo.


Now, I haven't tried it myself, but I've heard good things about the Pico DAC/Amp from HeadAmp.


Any of these combos should keep you at or under $1K

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 

$1k includes import...but can be AUD or USD.  Your choice... :happy_face1:

post #6 of 7

I don't know how much import fees are, but a quick google search tells me 10% so I'll go with that.


HD600 $400

Pico DAC/Amp $350


Total $750 +$75 = $825.


Lets round up to $850 for anything I'm not accounting for.  A pretty good deal for a excellent (I've read) and portable DAC/amp.  Though you may not want to use 600s on a bus.


Schiit Magni/Vali and Modi will be cheaper, and while easily transportable, they aren't portable.


I haven't used many closed headphones outside of the MDR-7506 but you might check InnerFidelity for some recommendations.



post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the suggestions so far!

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