DAC/amps with independent headphone and analog output levels?
Nov 24, 2014 at 1:32 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 22

gepardcv

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I'm trying to come up with a list of DAC/amp combination units which allow headphone volume to be controlled independently from the analog output level. It's fine if the analog output level is fixed (at the usual 2V unbalanced, 4V balanced). I want to connect dynamic headphones to this unit, and have the ability to use another amplifier (with its own volume control) with other headphones. So far, the list is depressingly short:
 
1. Benchmark DAC1 HDR (but not the DAC2!)
2. Burson Conductor Virtuoso (though it has a 30 ohm output impedance, and so will not work well with IEMs)
3. CEntrance DACmini (when ordered with the "always-on RCA" mod; the 1 ohm output impedance option makes this a decent choice with IEMs)
4. HRT microStreamer
 
The Chord Hugo doesn't do it, the Resonessence Invicta doesn't do it, the Matrix Mini-i Pro doesn't do it, the Benchmark DAC2 HGC doesn't do it... most of these designs seem to have been built at least partly with the intent of eliminating preamps and driving power amps without dedicated volume controls.
 
What else is there that does what I'm looking for?
 
Nov 24, 2014 at 4:26 AM Post #3 of 22

RonaldDumsfeld

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You are looking in the wrong place OP.
 
All pro-am audio interfaces do exactly what you want, offer transparent SQ and don't cost the earth. The most common recomendations include:-
 
Anything from The Focusrite Scarlet range
Anything from the Native Instruments Komplete range.
Anything made by MOTU, RME, SPL or Audient.
 
There are mnay other manufacturers. inc Steinbeg, TEAC,Tascam but the above nrands seem to be the most popular atm.
 
A great bonus with all the above is not only can you control phone and line out volume independently you can also send a different program to either. i,e, listen to music on speakers and game on headphones.
 
Nov 24, 2014 at 12:10 PM Post #4 of 22

gepardcv

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The Audiolab M-DAC manual says it cuts out the line out when headphones are plugged in, so it doesn't work. The other suggestions are interesting, though, thanks! I'll be sure to check out the music interfaces, too.
 
Dec 14, 2014 at 7:33 AM Post #6 of 22

Incognito73

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Just to chip-in here, as I was after the same functionality ... if you are on the fence to use pro audio interfaces (I would generally recommend them) it's tough chance to find audio interface with the support for independent variable volume control on both interfaces (headphone and analogue output stage). Also, many DACs will simple mute analogue outputs when headphone jack is inserted.
 
However if you want fixed analogue/balanced output stage and independent volume control for the headphones (amp) so that both interfaces can be used at the same time and not exclude each other, you may consider:
 
- iFi iDSD Micro  *It can operate in "direct" mode. Fixed analogue outputs and variable headphone amp are active (and can be used) at the same time. I have one and can confirm this functionality. Analogue output is connected to my integrated amp and I'm using headphones at the same time  I just dial-in the headphones volume to minimum when using amp/speakers).
 
- Aune S16  *This is pure asymmetrical design with independent circuits for analogue output stage and headphone amp and they can be used at the same time (confirmed by the user). Analogue outputs are fixed by design. It should be superb DAC and I'm toying with the idea to order one for desktop duties.
 
Hope this helps.
 
Dec 14, 2014 at 7:48 AM Post #7 of 22

RonaldDumsfeld

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it's tough chance to find audio interface with the support for independent variable volume control on both interfaces (headphone and analogue output stage).

 
I'm sorry to have to contradict someone offering advice in good faith but the above is completely false.
 
All pro and pro-am audio interfaces have independent gain controls for headphones and line out. It is a vital function. Otherwise the user could not cue or pre listen effectively.
 
In fact all the studio grade gear not only offers separate volume for line out and 'phones they also give you volume control (and EQ/effects) on all outputs. So, for example the $500 MOTU Ultralite has a total of 14 outputs and 10 inputs. Each with it's own controls, volume, EQ, effects. Not only that -  each output can be a different program if you want. Phones can be independent, mirror the active output or be user allocated on the fly.
 
Sorry incognito but it's better not to risk spreading bad info. Best to double check your facts in future. No big one though.
 
Dec 14, 2014 at 8:08 AM Post #8 of 22

Incognito73

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Ah, you didn't got it right! and maybe I didn't put that right 
wink.gif
 What I meant to say is if he is on the fence to use pro audio/studio interfaces it's tough chance find "consumer" audiophile interfaces with such feature. So, let me re-phrase
 
"if you are on the fence to use pro audio interfaces (I would generally recommend them) it's tough chance to find HiFi "consumer" audio interface with the support for independent variable volume control on both interfaces (headphone and analogue output stage)"
 
 
From my experience, ESI GigaPort HD+ is the best valued 8 channel interface on the market. When using proprietary ESI drivers, each stereo channel is presented as separate audio interface in Windows with independent control. When using decent ASIO host (I use Cockos Reaper)  possibilities are pretty much endless. Another advantage of having 8 channels in parallel is that you can connect subs, separate headphone amps, amps. Only downside of this audio interface is that when using all 8 channels you are limited to 44/16.
 
Problem with pro audio/studio gear is relative complexity in using (especially with good ASIO hosts) and that may be off-putting to "normal" users.
 
Don't jump on the gun with such ease! I've had plenty of experience even with pro audio interfaces, ASIO hosts, filters, integration etc. My HTPC is still using 8 channel audio card with ASIO host for filters processing, DRC, sub control etc.
 
Dec 14, 2014 at 8:30 AM Post #9 of 22

RonaldDumsfeld

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Ah! Fair enough. That makes much more sense.
 
If I was confused then so might others. So it's as well all is clear now. Some good and no harm done. Result.
 
Dec 14, 2014 at 8:56 AM Post #10 of 22

Incognito73

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Result indeed! 
 
Forgot to add one more consumer one: Meridian Explorer. Dual independent outputs (headphone and fixed analogue out). I believe that they are not excluding each other when used in parallel. Meridian did slash the prices because of the new Explorer2, so first version is now really great value.
 
Feb 3, 2015 at 11:46 AM Post #11 of 22

Phishin Phool

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The Geek Pulse has variable headphone out volume with fixed line out if that helps.
Edit- my bad (that faulty info came via support at LH) but gAve up on them eons ago- had forgotten I even posted here
 
Jun 26, 2015 at 12:06 PM Post #12 of 22

wingsounds13

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Interesting that no one has come in to correct this yet, but the Geek Pulse does not have a fixed line out or separate level control of the headphone output. It uses the output of the same DAC chip to feed all outputs and does its level control within the ESS Sabre DAC chip.

Just making sure that nobody gets bit by the wrong information.

J.P.
 
Apr 18, 2016 at 4:07 PM Post #13 of 22

NigelJ

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The Geek Pulse has variable headphone out volume with fixed line out if that helps.

Sorry, but you are wrong. All the Pulse DAC/amps use digital volume control so that both the headphone and analogue outputs vary as you change volume. In addition the headphone output offers three levels of analogue gain.

Edit: Missed the fact that wingsounds13 had already provided the correct information - must remember to update the page before replying. :)
 
Sep 17, 2017 at 10:36 PM Post #14 of 22

ler224

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Is there an updated list of USB DACs which have independent headphone & (balanced) line out volume control? I am currently using a Focusrite Scarlet 2i4 and I am looking for an upgrade. I only use the USB (from PC), headphone out & balanced out.
 
Sep 17, 2017 at 10:48 PM Post #15 of 22

ProtegeManiac

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I'm trying to come up with a list of DAC/amp combination units which allow headphone volume to be controlled independently from the analog output level. It's fine if the analog output level is fixed (at the usual 2V unbalanced, 4V balanced). I want to connect dynamic headphones to this unit, and have the ability to use another amplifier (with its own volume control) with other headphones.

AudioGD DAC-HPamps have a front panel switch so the analogue output is preamp controlled or fixed output straight out of the DAC circuit.
 

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