Best DAC (or amp/DAC) under $150
Jun 24, 2012 at 5:36 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 22

hipster2010

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Hey everyone,
 
So I recently got a Denon D5000 and I'm looking to upgrade my DAC from the FiiO E7 that I currently have. I am trying to decide if it is worth upgrading to something else that is up to $150. Ideally it will be closer to $120, but I can stretch up to $150 if necessary. I don't need portability so it doesn't matter if the DAC is portable or for a desktop.
 
I don't really know much about the different DACs available, but currently I'm looking at the FiiO E17. I'd appreciate any help and recommendations to point me in the right direction. Thanks
 
Jun 24, 2012 at 11:23 PM Post #2 of 22

PurpleAngel

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Quote:
Hey everyone,
 
So I recently got a Denon D5000 and I'm looking to upgrade my DAC from the FiiO E7 that I currently have. I am trying to decide if it is worth upgrading to something else that is up to $150. Ideally it will be closer to $120, but I can stretch up to $150 if necessary. I don't need portability so it doesn't matter if the DAC is portable or for a desktop.
 
I don't really know much about the different DACs available, but currently I'm looking at the FiiO E17. I'd appreciate any help and recommendations to point me in the right direction. Thanks

You say you want to upgrade your DAC, but the Fiio E7 and E17 are both DAC & Headphone amplifiers.
I believe the Denon AH-D5000 are easy to drive, so it's not like you really need a headphone amplifier upgrade.
I believe the E7 and E17 both use the same DAC chip Wolfson WM8740.
 
Jun 25, 2012 at 12:54 AM Post #3 of 22

hipster2010

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Quote:
You say you want to upgrade your DAC, but the Fiio E7 and E17 are both DAC & Headphone amplifiers.
I believe the Denon AH-D5000 are easy to drive, so it's not like you really need a headphone amplifier upgrade.
I believe the E7 and E17 both use the same DAC chip Wolfson WM8740.

Thanks. I knew that the amp was supposed to be a big upgrade in the E17, so I assumed the DAC was also slightly better. The D5000s are quite easy to drive so I'm not looking to pick up an amp right now.
 
Do you happen to know of any other DACs that might be a better option then? I was considering the new ODAC. I was also looking at the Hifiman EF2A, Numark uDAC2, and a used Pop Pulse PCM1796. Do you have any knowledge about any of these?
 
Thanks.
 
Jun 25, 2012 at 1:50 AM Post #4 of 22

PurpleAngel

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Quote:
Thanks. I knew that the amp was supposed to be a big upgrade in the E17, so I assumed the DAC was also slightly better. The D5000s are quite easy to drive so I'm not looking to pick up an amp right now.
Do you happen to know of any other DACs that might be a better option then? I was considering the new ODAC. I was also looking at the Hifiman EF2A, Numark uDAC2, and a used Pop Pulse PCM1796. Do you have any knowledge about any of these?

It might help to know what source(s) you plug you DAC/Amp into?
As the D5000 are only 25-Ohm, should really stay away from tubes, tubes provide voltage, but not as good at providing current.
The D5000 need very little voltage, but I'm sure prefer good current (solid state amp).
Hybrids like the Hifiman EF2A may or may not work well with 25-ohm?
 
The thing is the E17 to me is a good match for driving the D5000.
My Fiio E11 (good headphone amp.) is about equal amp wise with the E17.
So I know how good the e11/E17 make headphones sound.
 
Something like the SMSL SD-1955 ($100) sold on eBay, might be good enough to show a difference, but it's only a DAC (no amp).
 
Jun 25, 2012 at 4:21 AM Post #5 of 22

hipster2010

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Quote:
It might help to know what source(s) you plug you DAC/Amp into?
As the D5000 are only 25-Ohm, should really stay away from tubes, tubes provide voltage, but not as good at providing current.
The D5000 need very little voltage, but I'm sure prefer good current (solid state amp).
Hybrids like the Hifiman EF2A may or may not work well with 25-ohm?
 
The thing is the E17 to me is a good match for driving the D5000.
My Fiio E11 (good headphone amp.) is about equal amp wise with the E17.
So I know how good the e11/E17 make headphones sound.
 
Something like the SMSL SD-1955 ($100) sold on eBay, might be good enough to show a difference, but it's only a DAC (no amp).

Thanks for the help. Like I said in my original post, I don't really know much about DACs/amps as I'm somewhat new to them and my experience is very limited. I'll look into the SMSL SD-1995 in the meantime. 
 
I'm currently using my laptop with a stock (crappy) soundcard so I run my music out through the usb to my E7 then to the D5000s. 
 
Jun 25, 2012 at 12:04 PM Post #7 of 22

PurpleAngel

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Thanks for the help. Like I said in my original post, I don't really know much about DACs/amps as I'm somewhat new to them and my experience is very limited. I'll look into the SMSL SD-1995 in the meantime. 
 
I'm currently using my laptop with a stock (crappy) soundcard so I run my music out through the usb to my E7 then to the D5000s. 

Try using the program Foobar for music.
 
Jun 27, 2012 at 12:43 AM Post #8 of 22

calipilot227

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I had the Hifiman EF2A and I would not recommend it. It had too much gain even for my Sennheiser HD580s (300 ohms!!!), so I was forced to lower the volume on my PC, which degrades the sound quality.
 
I just ordered the Emotiva XDA-1, and I'll post my impressions when it arrives, hopefully on Tuesday. It looks to be a great DAC for it's $349 MSRP, and a downright steal at its current $199 clearance price (brand new and still backed by the 5 year warranty). It seems to be well reviewed, so we'll see if it lives up to my expectations. I can't give it my stamp of approval just yet as I have not heard it, but it may be something to consider if you are able to push your budget to $200. I'll keep you updated. 
smily_headphones1.gif

 
ODAC seems to be FOTM, which makes sense since it hit the market fairly recently. I was strongly considering it, but I ultimately went for the Emotiva due to the 24/192 support and SPDIF/Toslink connections for only $20 more than the fully assembled version from Audio Poutine ($180). The JDS Labs version is in a smaller case but lacks RCA line outputs (offering a 3.5mm line out instead), and sells for $150. It seems to be very well received, and reportedly has a very neutral sound signature. It also supports 24/96 over USB, a rarity for DACs under $200.
 
Jun 27, 2012 at 3:15 AM Post #9 of 22

hipster2010

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Quote:
I had the Hifiman EF2A and I would not recommend it. It had too much gain even for my Sennheiser HD580s (300 ohms!!!), so I was forced to lower the volume on my PC, which degrades the sound quality.
 
I just ordered the Emotiva XDA-1, and I'll post my impressions when it arrives, hopefully on Tuesday. It looks to be a great DAC for it's $349 MSRP, and a downright steal at its current $199 clearance price (brand new and still backed by the 5 year warranty). It seems to be well reviewed, so we'll see if it lives up to my expectations. I can't give it my stamp of approval just yet as I have not heard it, but it may be something to consider if you are able to push your budget to $200. I'll keep you updated. 
smily_headphones1.gif

 
ODAC seems to be FOTM, which makes sense since it hit the market fairly recently. I was strongly considering it, but I ultimately went for the Emotiva due to the 24/192 support and SPDIF/Toslink connections for only $20 more than the fully assembled version from Audio Poutine ($180). The JDS Labs version is in a smaller case but lacks RCA line outputs (offering a 3.5mm line out instead), and sells for $150. It seems to be very well received, and reportedly has a very neutral sound signature. It also supports 24/96 over USB, a rarity for DACs under $200.

 
Thanks for the info. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the Emotiva once you receive it. It sounds like a great deal, but I can't really justify the $200 right now, and I probably can't even justify the $150. 
 
 
Quote:
Try using the program Foobar for music.

 
Ya I had Foobar but my computer broke, so this reminding me to re-install it. Thanks.
 
Jun 28, 2012 at 7:01 AM Post #10 of 22

rahzim

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I had the Hifiman EF2A and I would not recommend it. It had too much gain even for my Sennheiser HD580s (300 ohms!!!), so I was forced to lower the volume on my PC, which degrades the sound quality.

 
I've read somewhere else in the forums about audio levels/sound quality.  Is there a thread or information somewhere that explains how the sound quality is affected by volume levels on the computer?
 
Jun 28, 2012 at 9:26 PM Post #11 of 22

Destroysall

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Quote:
 
I've read somewhere else in the forums about audio levels/sound quality.  Is there a thread or information somewhere that explains how the sound quality is affected by volume levels on the computer?

I once read that for optimal listening, digital volume has to be 80%.  Wouldn't know how much of that is true, though. 
confused.gif

 
Jun 29, 2012 at 4:56 AM Post #12 of 22

rahzim

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I once read that for optimal listening, digital volume has to be 80%.  Wouldn't know how much of that is true, though. 
confused.gif

 
Hmm so I've heard now that it should be 100%, and 80%.  I wonder if there's any scientific evidence to back this up or if it's just conjecture.  I think I'll ask this question in the sound science forum.  I tried adjusting volume on fubar myself and with the amp and didn't notice a difference, but then again I didn't listen very critically.
 
Jun 29, 2012 at 5:29 AM Post #13 of 22

mikeaj

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Hmm so I've heard now that it should be 100%, and 80%.  I wonder if there's any scientific evidence to back this up or if it's just conjecture.  I think I'll ask this question in the sound science forum.  I tried adjusting volume on fubar myself and with the amp and didn't notice a difference, but then again I didn't listen very critically.

 
It's not a big deal usually, but it depends.
 
If you want bitperfect output (exactly what's on the CD / file gets sent to the DAC), you need 100% volume, no EQ or any processing, and no anything added in any part of the software.  However, bitperfect is not really worth worrying about and doesn't really mean much in practice for music playback.  If you have volume under 100% in software, this is essentially reducing the resolution of the information sent to the DAC.  To get the values smaller and softer, they all need to be divided down; the lower you set the volume in software, the more information you're throwing away by scaling the signal down digitally.  Thus you get lower signal-to-noise ratio in theory; in practice, this is only an issue if you have 16-bit playback only (24-bit, you can do pretty much whatever).
 
Some DACs, for whatever reason, aren't designed well and have issues running at max volume.  They might clip the peaks slightly if you run them at 100% or close to it.  So turning the volume down for these devices, would avoid this problem.  How much you need to turn down depends on the device.  
 
So on decently-designed hardware, 100% is better—but practically the same.  To be safe, something lower avoids a potential issue and is probably negligibly worse (16-bit) or pretty much not worse at all (24-bit).
 
Jun 29, 2012 at 6:35 PM Post #14 of 22

Demochip

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I looked into the Emotiva DAC and noticed that it has a frequency response of 5hz-48khz. Between the Audinist and the Emotiva, the Emotiva certainly has a higher range. 
 
Does the frequency response of the DAC (or Amp) have to match with the dynamic range of the headphones?
 
Also when you pair an Amp with a DAC does the THD% compound?
I've tried to research this stuff but it's all kind of over my head. I wish I was an electrical engineer or something :)
 
Jul 1, 2012 at 1:28 PM Post #15 of 22

brunk

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Quote:
I looked into the Emotiva DAC and noticed that it has a frequency response of 5hz-48khz. Between the Audinist and the Emotiva, the Emotiva certainly has a higher range. 
 
Does the frequency response of the DAC (or Amp) have to match with the dynamic range of the headphones?
 
Also when you pair an Amp with a DAC does the THD% compound?
I've tried to research this stuff but it's all kind of over my head. I wish I was an electrical engineer or something :)


Most of the specs are irrelevant honestly. Why? There's way too many other factors involved. Chasing something with a .01% increase in THD or 5khz extra frequency response is futile. Solution --Buy them and find out which is best for you, or find someone with a similar system, and taste as yours and see what they think.
 

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