Component Upgrade Advice Needed.
Jul 6, 2009 at 5:23 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 9


500+ Head-Fier
Nov 20, 2008
I wasn't really sure which sub-forum to put this in, but as it applies to headphones, amps, etc., I figured it would work best here. Moreover, I am a relative beginner here, so please excuse my indecisiveness.

I am looking to upgrade my audio system in the next several months, but I'm really not sure what I want. Currently, I run my Sony SCD-CE595 Player > Little Dot I+ > AKG K601s. It sounds decent to my ears, but I really want to experience as close to the best sound as I can afford.

- Budget: $2,500
- Listen to Classical/Opera almost exclusively
- My living situation almost entirely rules out speakers, so I'd rather go with headphones

Of course, if anything from my list is worth saving and integrating into my new set-up, that would be wonderful. It would allow me to spend more on the components that should be / need to be replaced. Right now, I am certain that I need to replace the Little Dot I+. It's a nice amp, and I'm not really sure if I will get rid of it, as it's portable enough to take on vacations, etc. I was looking at the "HeadRoom Balanced Desktop Amp," which would eat up about half of my budget. However, I like that it has an optical-in jack that would allow me to connect it to my Sony Player via its optical out. ... Is that a good thing (it seems like it would be to me)? I also like what I've read about the sonic improvements that a balanced amp / headphone combo can make.

Do you think I need to upgrade my Player, too? I'm pretty satisfied with the headphones, and I think that getting them re-cabled / balanced will be about all that I do, there (I love how big the soundstage is on the k601s!).

Also, would I need a DAC, or is my player doing that job itself?

Thank your for your patience! Like I said, I have several months to come to a final decision, but I thought it would be best to get some input here to guide me into the right direction ... Way too many things of interest out there right now! :wink:
Jul 6, 2009 at 6:43 PM Post #2 of 9
$2,500 is a whole 'nother league from the equipment you have right now. I you really want to spend that much, your first step is to unload what you have and start from scratch. I suppose you could keep the CD player as a transport, and use the digital out to feed an outboard DAC. Your player acts as transport and DAC right now, but a better DAC would equal better sound.

It's tough to even make recommendations at this level, since the field is wide open. You might enjoy a pair of Grado RS-1 through a quality tube amp like the EAR. You might enjoy the Stax Omega 2 system. You might like to jump up to the AKG K701 (or the previous K501) and just get a killer amp and source. You might want to Try a pair of Sennheiser HD650s with a quality balanced amp, or heck, you might like the new HD800s.

If I were building a system for Opera/Classical where I had that budget, I'd start with an AKG K1000 earspeaker, and go from there. Amps and sources are going to be to your taste, and you'll have roughly $1500 to play with between the two of them.
Jul 6, 2009 at 7:15 PM Post #3 of 9
To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what a DAC does in the whole chain of things. Would it be better go get a really nice CD Player like the Marantz SA8003 and skip the DAC? Or would my current player + a nice DAC be a better bet (it certainly seems like it would be much more economical)?

Moreover, would choosing the HeadRoom Balanced Desktop Amp just because it is balanced and has an optical-in be overkill? I'm not sure whether the optical in thing allows the amp itself to act as a DAC or not ... I really wish there was a guide somewhere for people just breaking into this. :)
Jul 6, 2009 at 7:33 PM Post #5 of 9
Yeah, opinions change too fast for a guide to be useful. I'll do what I can, though.

A CD player, in the traditional sense, actually does two things: it acts as a transport, which reads bits off a CD and converts them into electrical information, and it acts as a DAC, which converts those electrical, digital pulses into an oscillating analog signal. Analog is what we listen to, so any time you're listening to a digital medium (CD, dvd, MP3, etc.) you are ALSO listening to a DAC somewhere. Most CD players include a DAC, though they vary in quality.

If your CD player has a digital output, (an optical, coaxial, or AES/EBU cable) you can plug that into a DAC to do the digital-to-analog conversion. That's a crucial step, and is actually much more important to the sound than the transport. That's why people go all out and buy fancy ones.

Good quality CD players have good quality DACs in them, almost always. If you listen primarily to CDs, a good CD player might be a smart way to go. DACs have gotten popular since the rise of computer media. A digital output from a computer fed into a good DAC will sound essentially the same as a more expensive transport, and be more convenient for many folks here.

The HeadRoom Balanced Desktop is a DAC + Amp. You can plug the optical output from your CD player right into it, and it will sound excellent. That wouldn't be a bad choice, but it is by no means the only or the best choice out there.
Jul 7, 2009 at 1:24 AM Post #7 of 9

Originally Posted by Pyriel0 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Do you have any background in soldering/electronics for building diy stuff or are you looking just to buy premade only?

Premade only (absolutely no experience whatsoever).

And thank you so much for your help, Malldian and Sherwood! :)
Jul 8, 2009 at 10:14 PM Post #8 of 9
So, I've been thinking maybe I don't need to spend $2,500 right now. I may just go ahead and get the HeadRoom Desktop Amp with the DAC. I probably don't need to have a balanced amp + re-cabled headphones right now (that's like 10 steps up from where I am currently ... perhaps 5 steps up would be more natural).

Then again, I have read that the HeadRoom Amps with integrated DAC don't have as great of sound as a HeadRoom Amp + external/separate DAC. I guess that's what I have to decide on. ... Good thing I have a few months to do so. :wink:

Also, I have noticed that HeadRoom recommends a separate Power Supply for their Desktop (and other) Amps. How much difference would this make in sound as opposed to having the Amp simply plugged into my wall?
Jul 10, 2009 at 2:40 PM Post #9 of 9
Agree w/ all the recommendations above. I would add perhaps a consideration for a Stax system, since you like Classical/Opera. Unless you HAVE to stay portable.

However, I'd suggest that before you spend all kinds of money, you need to have a listen to as many of these 'phones as is possible. I've heard many great ones, but didn't love all of them. I don't know where you live, but if you could get to a meet and have a listen to these components, you will probably find that out of all the great stuff you read about, there are some that you like, some you don't like, and only a few that you love and just HAVE to have. If you can't get to a meet, then I guess you can go through the buy/sell routine until you fall in love. There's enjoyment to that, as well, but it takes much longer and there's much more frustration, as well. Good luck, and don't forget to keep it fun!

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