DAC/Headphone Amp Questions and Purchase Recommendations
Sep 14, 2009 at 11:44 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 9

brentatent12

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Hello all,

I’m new here at Head-Fi; I’ve checked various threads on it for a while, but just today registered an account. I have a question regarding DAC’s/Headpone Amps. I’m new to both of them, and have relatively limited knowledge of what makes one good rather than poor sounding. I would like to get a desktop sized unit which has both DAC and Headpone Amp in one, however, if there are valid reasons why this is not the best course of action, I am open for suggestions. It should have a USB input. An optical would be nice, but is not necessary as I am planning to mainly use it with a computer.

The following is an example of the form factor I’d like; however, anything smaller would also work. eBay.com.sg: 2009 YULONG DAH1 MARK II DAC USB INPUT / Headphone AMP (item 160326271631 end time Oct 02, 2009 21:28:25 SGT)

My price range is $500 and below, however, I’m really curious to see what benefits a $500/400/300 DAC holds over a $200/100 one. If there is a less expensive option available which produces fantastic sound for its price, then I may be inclined to get that and upgrade at a later time.

In terms of my setup, I will be connecting the DAC to a HLLY TAMP-90, which in turn drives my Cambridge SoundWorks Newton M-85 speakers. I currently use a Creative X-Mod as my sound card, so I figure it wouldn’t take much to beat that! I use Sennhesier PXC-450 Noise Cancelling headphones, which have an impedance of 150 ohms with active noise cancelling turned off, and an impedance of 750 ohms with it turned on. Also, I am waiting for a pair of Head-Direct RE0 IEMS which have an impedance of 64 ohms.

HLLY TAMP-90 - http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f21/hl...tryout-415566/

From some brief research, I have compiled a list of DAC’s that fit my description—at least partially. I will list them below along with some of the key differences I noticed among them and my comments. If you could comment on the quality of each one (both SQ and construction) and possibly add to the list from your own experience and knowledge, I would greatly appreciate it!

The following list is in order of price as of 9/14/2009.

1)USB DAC (PCM2707+DIR9001+PCM1793) + Headphone Amplifier ($100)
eBay.com.sg: USB DAC (PCM2707+DIR9001+PCM1793) + Headphone Amplifier (item 170376872923 end time Sep 28, 2009 00:17:06 SGT)

This is pretty much the least expensive DAC I could find. It has everything one could want, however, I’m not sure how good the build quality is or components used.

2)Musical Fidelity V-DAC ($215)
Welcome to Musical Fidelity

I’ve heard it has good sound quality; only trouble is, it doesn’t have a headphone amp, so I’d have to get that separately.

3)Styleaudio Emerald ($209)
http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f38/st...p-sale-416783/

This is the lower end model of the Styleaudio Topaz. It looks perfect for what I want, and is a great price, however, a few things about it bother me—A. It uses the same TI PCM1793 that it seems is found in many of the lower end DAC’s, such as the first one I mentioned. B. The THD+N = .001, which seems to be much higher than the .0005 I’ve seen listed for higher end DAC’s. Also, its dynamic range is only 113dB. I’ve tried to find reviews of this DAC to get people’s opinions; however, I can’t seem to find even one review on the net. Other then the aforementioned, I really like it! Also, how does it compare to #1 in terms of components, build, and SQ?

4)Valab TDA1543 NOS USB Re-Clock DAC MK-1 Luxury Version ($260)
eBay.com.sg: Valab TDA1543 NOS USB Re-Clock DAC MK-1 Luxury Version (item 290345437570 end time Oct 01, 2009 09:52:06 SGT)

This is only a DAC, so I’d have to get a separate Head-Amp, however, it seems to have pretty good reviews. Also, it is a NOS DAC which some prefer the SQ. Has USB and optical among other things.

5)Devilsound DAC ($300)
devilsound labs - high end computer audio

Another NOS DAC without a Head-Amp; It has gotten excellent reviews and seems to be Audiophile grade.

6)2009 YULONG DAH1 MARK II DAC USB INPUT / Headphone AMP
($340)
eBay.com.sg: 2009 YULONG DAH1 MARK II DAC USB INPUT / Headphone AMP (item 160326271631 end time Oct 02, 2009 21:28:25 SGT)

It’s the perfect form factor for me, also, seems like it uses pretty good components. What really gives me pause about this, however, is where it recommends in the documentation that the volume on the computer be lowered to half way when using USB for fear of distortion. This leads me to believe that something’s wrong…

And finally…
7)Styleaudio Topaz ($450)
http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f38/st...p-sale-416783/

The SyleAudio has gotten excellent ratings and reviews from everything I’ve read on it. Also, the components used all seem to be very high quality. This is probably the ideal product—it’s small, and does everything I want. The only drawback is that it’s a bit expensive. How does this compare to the Emerald? Is it worth 250+ more?

If you’ve actually made it this far, I congratulate you. I never planned to write so much, but wanted to be sure I was thorough enough. Please let me know what your recommendations/thoughts are. I appreciate both all your time and help!

Thank you,
Brent
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 8:55 PM Post #2 of 9

bixby

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You have done some good homework. Lots to think about here. But I am about to make a bold statement but it is serious.

Buy a plane ticket and come out to RMAF in Denver in a few weeks. Listen to as much as you can. You will probably save yourself at least the cost of the plane ticket over the next few years.

You can read about this stuff for months and still not really know how it sounds to you. I have read about a piece of gear here that folks think is wonderful sounding only to be very disappointed when I actually go to a meet and hear it. You can get some generalities but you really need to hear it first hand.

If that won't work, go to some of the sponsors who have trial programs and just buy there. It is a lot better than buying stuff from all over the world because it is $50 or $100 cheaper only to be selling the next month here on HF. Trust me I have done it. As I look back I should have taken my own advice
ksc75smile.gif


cheers and welcome, sorry for your wallet
 
Sep 16, 2009 at 10:12 PM Post #3 of 9

DeusEx

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Quote:

Originally Posted by bixby /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Buy a plane ticket and come out to RMAF in Denver in a few weeks.


This is one of the reasons I wish that school started later...
 
Sep 17, 2009 at 3:11 PM Post #5 of 9

brentatent12

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Everyone,

I appreciate your responses and understand completely where you're coming from. The only real to truly be informed when you purchase audio equipment is to evaluate it before hand in person. Or more preferably, in your own listening room with the other components you'll be using. I guess this is something that I've always known deep down =). I'm not sure about Denver since I have school, but I'll certainly look into it!

Thanks,
Brent
 
Sep 18, 2009 at 9:48 AM Post #7 of 9

SjoerdB

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I'm also new around here; I received my first 'HiFI' cans last week; the AKG k601; right now i'm still listening to the trough my Yamaha R-500 (1980's integrated amp), which I'm feeding from my Mac Mini's headphone-out. In order to achieve better results I'm also looking for a DAC/Amp combo. Your list is basically the same as mine, so i thought I should reply.

The first one that i found really interesting was the one you mentioned first, it's a cheap solution, but I'm not so sure if I'll enjoy it long enough

Quote:



It's upgraded brother looks better, but I don't think it'll be a big step up.

There are two DAC/Amps I've been especially nterested in lately, and I think they're a good supplement to your 'list'.

1) Matrix Mini-I ($350)
The first one is the Matrix Mini-I which, I think, looks really awsome and well built. It's available for $350, which is, for me, the maximum I'm willing to spend right now.
Problem is however; there are little to none reviews about this one. One member of this forum already received one, and is quite positive about it.

2) Compass DAC ($330)
The other one is the very popular Compass Dac, there are lots of pages written about this DAC and it's supposed to be really good.

I'm sorry that my post isn't really a help for you, but I understand your position, since I'm in the same situation. I'm just trying to help and to get things a little more clear for myself too.

Good luck with your decision and please let me know what's it going to be!
 
Sep 26, 2009 at 8:48 PM Post #8 of 9

brentatent12

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Thanks so much for your post SjoerdB! I'll definitely add the two you mentioned to my list--they both look very interesting. I was already aware of the compass, however, I'm not sure how it would work out for me in terms of size; that was really my only qualm about it. I haven't decided on anything yet, so we'll just have to see what progressions are made in the near future.
 
Oct 23, 2009 at 8:59 PM Post #9 of 9

nick_charles

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Quote:

Originally Posted by brentatent12 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
1)USB DAC (PCM2707+DIR9001+PCM1793) + Headphone Amplifier ($100)
eBay.com.sg: USB DAC (PCM2707+DIR9001+PCM1793) + Headphone Amplifier (item 170376872923 end time Sep 28, 2009 00:17:06 SGT)



Avoid !

I bought one of these. Out of the box it sounded great ! , then several things went wrong. The headphone socket developed a fault, one channel not working, this was made worse when the USB was plugged in (bizarrely) removing usb and powering on and off temporarily fixed it , then ground noise developed, the supplied wallwart is very buzzy as well, the digital/analog input switch did not work, the final straw (all within 5 days !) was that when I removed the RCA cables from the unit they took both RCA socket outer shells (the metal bits) from the unit with them leaving plastic stubs - apalling !
 

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