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Amp and DAC ($1000-$1500) for HE-500

  1. SolidVictory
    Hi all!
    I took the plunge and bought an HE-500. Now I'm going to have to deal with getting a proper DAC and Amp for the headphones (as I have nothing decent apart from a few portable players).
    My budget is $1000-$1500 all-in. I would like to add that I will consider speaker amps, but I highly prefer headphone amplifiers as I will most likely use future purchases on this setup.
    Edit: After researching a bit more, it looks like getting speaker cables for my HE-500 and tapping into some speaker amps might be a great alternative to a headphone amp. Please feel free to recommend some good speaker amps too!
    I've researched a bit and here's a short list of what I'm considering (from most preferred to less preferred):
    1. Emotiva mini-X a-100 + Resonessence Concero: great DAC/speaker amp combo.
    2. Woo Audio WA7: the all-in-one solution here and elegant design is very hard to pass up.
    3. Schiit Lyr + Bifrost: great combo from my research, especially for the HE-500
    4. Schiit Mjolnir + Gungnir: an even greater combo (starting to push my price range). Will require me to go balanced which will add cable costs into the mix.*
    * Removed because after some research, there seems to be bad synergy with the HE-500.
    Attributes I seek from my setup:
    1. Power: I want the headphones to sound absolutely effortless even when the volume is jacked up a bit. HE-500 requires 1 watt per channel, so it is somewhat power hungry.
    2. Transparency: Little to no muddiness. I love when the frequency spectrum is balanced so that a bass thump doesn't overpower highs.
    3. Resolution: I love when I discover new details in music and when it is not overly accentuated (it shouldn't sound artificial).
    4. Neutral signature: This is probably cliche, but I would prefer a neutral signature. Judging by the quality of these amps and DACs, this is probably obvious but worth mentioning.
    My frequency preferences: Midrange > Lows > Highs
    What would you recommend for the HE-500? Obviously there is headphone synergy involved, but I would also like to use my AKG K702's and JH16s with this DAC/Amp (albeit the HE-500 will probably be connected to it 90% of the time). Keep in mind that I will consider both DAC/Amp combos as well as separate units.
  2. joseph69
    Well I just ordered the WA6 with the Sophia princess rectifier tube and 6EW7 tubes for my Grado RS1i's, and from the research I've been doing, it seems I can't go wrong with this amp. 
    I'm telling you this because while searching, the WA7 is mentioned quite a few times,which is supposed to be much more powerful, and as you know comes with a separate DAC. It seems to be highly recommended, and build quality looks outstanding on both the WA6/7. I also have the Schiit Magni/Modi combo, although the Lyr/Bitfrost and the Mjolnir/Gungnir (which I've never heard) are more expensive, the M/M combo does sound nice for an inexpensive amp/dac, and also well built. BTW I'm a neighbor, I'm right over the Verrazano!. 
  3. SolidVictory
    Thanks for the post! What made you decide on the WA6? Why not the WA7?
    What DAC do you plan using with the WA6?
  4. SolidVictory
    So after doing a bit more research, it looks like the Emotiva mini-X a-100 is a popular amplifier for the HE-500's. Any other speaker amp recommendations? Of course, would appreciate headphone amp and DAC recommendations as well.
  5. Gnomeplay
    The HE-500 are fairly efficient, I really think using a speaker amplifier is just going to complicate things and take up space more than it's going to effect your sound quality. I've heard from people that own the two, that the Lyr and a-100 are very similar performance for the HE-500.
    The ergonomics of either stack of the Schiit products would push me in that direction. Another question would be if you want solid state or tube (hybrid). 
    That all being said, if these are the only options you're looking at I would probably shoot for the Gungnir and Mjolinir, with the Bifrost and Lyr not far behind. 
    A lot of people are happy with the WA7, and it looks beautiful - but last I knew (which very well may not be the case anymore) there was quite a wait time because of backorder and manufacturing, thats something you're going to want to look into.
  6. manbear
    The point of the Emotiva is not that's strictly "necessary," but that it's a great bargain compared to dedicated headphone amps. It's much cheaper than the Lyr, for example. Check out the Emotiva thread -- a lot of people love this amp with the HE-500. I use it with the HE-400, and it beats the crap out of my old Little Dot amp. It is just effortlessly powerful, with snappy, deep bass that's very tight and controlled. No midbass hump at all. It's more resolving than my Little Dot as well. 

    One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you will need to some kind of adapter to use it without headphones. You can get a custom one from BTG Audio for around $40. You can also build one pretty easily. 

    If you decide to get the Emotiva, you can use the money you saved on the amp to get the Resonessence Concero. This is a very neutral, clean DAC with excellent resolution and detail. Beats the crap out of the Bifrost according to people who have heard both. 
  7. joseph69
    Mostly from opinions on this forum, plus reading commercial reviews. Also a lot of people own it and love it, so I figured I can't go wrong with it. And like I mentioned before, the build looks excellent, and also they do use some nice parts inside this amp from what I've read from the PDF down load. As far as DAC's, I plan to use a 1990 Meridian-203, and I also have the Schiit Modi, (I find the sound from both of these to suite my needs with my current amps), and I'm waiting for the AudioQuest Dragon Fly, so I will have three different DAC's to try with the WA6. Also, I really liked the look of the amp (in silver), which is irrelevant to the sound, but if I love the sound, the looks are just a bonus for me. So the reason I didn't order the WA7 is because I have DAC's and like I mentioned, I've had a lot of positive replies about it in response to my questions from fellow Head-Fiers.
  8. SolidVictory
    Thanks for the information. Definitely considering the Emotiva. Is there another DAC that you recommend? I see that you have the Concero yourself, but I'd love to explore other speaker amp / DAC combos.
    Also, did you get a chance to listen to the Schiit Lyr and see how that compares against the Emotiva?
  9. formula1
    The real downside of using speaker amps with headphones is that there's always noise floor/hissing at certain volume levels, some guys have reported that on the emotiva thread as well. 
    My personal recommendation? get a dedicated headphone amp such as the Conductor SL in this case the 9018 (amp/dac) model which have a very organic sound (dac) and it's known to be very neutral. I'm sure you can find it under 1.5k with some retailers that are offering nice discounts. 
  10. Happy Camper
    Some say they hear a hiss and others don't. If it was a common problem with the amp, everyone would have the same problem. I'd say it has to do with the source too. But you can use load resistors to attenuate the output if you are using a hot source.
  11. SolidVictory
    What were you using before the Burson? I'm kind of looking for a tube amp, so I don't know if I'd consider it. But it does sound intriguing.
    What headphones do you use and what setup do you have? Any recommendations?
    Thanks for all of the help so far guys!
  12. Happy Camper
    The Yulong DA8 is said to be a good unit with a decent quality headphone amp.
  13. Happy Camper
    I use two 125 watt speaker amps on a pair of HE-6. I've also used the 500s on them for a couple months without any problems.
  14. manbear
    Without using any resistors, I hear a bit of noise with the Emotiva and the HE-400 (which is more sensitive than the HE-500). Only noticeable with no music playing. I use resistors between the amp and the headphone though, and it is dead silent that way. Grounding issues can make the noise worse for some people. The Emotiva has a two-prong AC plug. If you use a source with a 3-prong AC plug, you could get a ground loop. This is true for regular headphone amps as well, not just speaker amps. 

    Solidvistory, I haven't heard the Lyr. You can find some comparisons in the Emotiva thread though. 
  15. wewewho77
    I have my MDAC paired with Musical Fidelity speaker amp that rated 130watt per channel to feed my HE500 with no background noise at all but however if I plug my AKG K550 with them I can hear some noise. Maybe because of the K550 lower impedance and higher sensitivity than the HE500 that cause the noise.

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