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DAC + Amp for low gain / impedance

  1. sakujou
    Hello everyone,

    I am looking for a budget (100-150$) DAC + amp combo, or separates, suitable for low impedance headphones & IEMs.
    I would be using it to drive:

    Philips Fidelio X2 (mostly these prob.)
    AKG K551
    Audio-Technica CKR9

    PC with foobar and losless music (through USB) + PS4 through (toslink out).

    I need the DAC to support 24/192 or 32/192 audio through USB and 24/96 through toslink.

    Any recommendations are welcomel. This was the TL DR version.

    Now a bit more info:

    I realize I am pushing things a bit with this budget, but... there could be something that would work for me right?

    The thing is currently I am powering those headphones through a Denon X2000 AVR and they sound pretty boring, compared to when I am listening to them from my Cayin N3 DAP on low or medium gain settings. I guess the AVR's output is just too much for sensitive and easy to drive headphones like these. Not sure if that is the problem.
    But I also realize I am not THAT picky, since I am quite satisfied with the quality I get from a budget DAP like the N3. :)

    Probably the Schiit Magni 3 + Modi 2 stack would work well for me, but it is a bit over my budget and availability in Europe is also an issue.
    Objective 2 + OL DAC would work well I assume? But they are also pricey for me.

    Would maybe a Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 do well? I can not find any info on the output impedance and there is no gain switch. For 160$ I can get one 2nd hand from ebay.

    I also see a 2nd hand DIY Objective 2 amp for 90$, maybe I can try to pair it with a cheaper DAC?

    I am open to all sorts of recommendations and thanks in advance. :)
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
  2. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    If you won't use any higher impedance headphones or low sensitivity headphones, or extremely high sensitivity IEMs like the SE535, you can get away with the Fiio E10K.

    You'll either have to sacrifice toslink or even 32/192 or you'll have to end up with a kind of crappy amplifier circuit. Just because your headphones and IEMs don't need a lot of power doesn't mean they won't need a low output impedance or very low THD+N.

    You can just save up for an AudioGD NFB-11 even if you'd have to wait a year to get it, considering you have the Cayin DAP to hold you over in the meantime..

    I don't think I've even seen under $100 no-name eBay DACs from China that have both USB and SPDIF, even coax, let alone 24/192 or 32/192 support.
  3. sakujou
    Thank you for the reply and help provided.

    Fiio E10K doesn't have an optical input, so I would not be able to connect my PS4. So it is not a viable option for me.

    i realize that I need a very low out impedance out of the amp. Probably a lot of current at the same time as well will not hurt, even though it will not be the priority. It seems that Magni 3 is the king in the 100$ tier in those regards, while the Objective 2 is also a very good option. But I would need to add a separate DAC for those.

    As for cheap DACS - there are tons of them on ebay and aliexpress that have higher grade dac chips, support 24/192 (and above), multiple inputs, etc.
    Like this one, or this one, or Topping D30 (if found cheaper) or the SMSL Sanskrit 6th Anniversary Edition. The things is I do not know much about their quality. There are even cheaper options without housing and brands, but they seem even shadier. :D

    So I was looking for some more opinions and recommendatins for both a dac and amp with the qalities / connectivity I have listed.
    Maybe someone has tested some of those cheaper DACs and amps.

    Would I be wrong if I understimate the importance of the DAC? The amp quality and specific needs for output I get why I need, but how of this DAC business can actually affect quality and how much of it is placebo and mumbo-jumbo?

    But obviously all of the combo options go well beyond my budget, especially in Europe, so that is why I was looking for cheaper alternatives.

    All help, opinions and shared experience is highly welcome. :)
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
  4. ProtegeManiac Contributor

    Or just save up more and get better equipment? You know, like asking a toddler if they want a cookie now or if they can wait they get two cookies later. It's not exactly something like how you need a car to get you to work now and telling you to save up for a Mercedes S600.

    Well I was computing for $50 max, since you still have to pay for shipping and maybe taxes...

    It's not that huge but I'll always say connectivity should be an important consideration, and in your case it looks like you'll really need toslink or some other way to work with a PS4, so you can get those. But at least compare how much they'll cost vs anything else you can get from a dealer within your region because you might not exactly save that much in lieu of having product support in case it's DOA or breaks later. I mean if you'll just risk that it might as well be on a better bang for the buck product like if you're comparing how much a Schiit stack costs in some places vs just getting an NFB-11.

    Or just check local/regional price for the SBX G5. Amp might not be as good as the O2 but if your primary concern is to be able to use it on a Playstation then you might as well get that.

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