Help a beginner
Mar 19, 2013 at 4:15 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 9


New Head-Fier
Feb 25, 2013
I have liked headphones for most of my life but always had cheap models. I finally got my taste of good earphones a few months ago with an entry level Grado and B&W P5. I have now decided to invest in an amplifier and a DAC . currently using NuForce portable USB amp.
Problem is - I am completely confused. Everytime I think I found a good match for my needs another gorgeous something with shiny tubes comes out of the internet and makes me reconsider. My budget is between 1000 and 1400 for amp and dac (not necessarily an all in one unit). I may be in the US in May so this will be a good chance to shop but this is not mandatory.
Here are my questions, Given my budget (over all approximately 2000 USD but I want some left over for HE-500s or similar) what would you recommend:
1. Get an amp plus DAC of decent quality (the WA7 from Woo Audio comes to mind here as well as several models from Audio GD)
2. Get a separate DAC and amp from the same vendor (Audio GD or Schiit or any other such combo)
3. Get dac and amp from different vendors
4. Lower equipment budget and get higher quality phones
I can already sense the begining of a serious love affair with my bank account so any tips will be welcome.
As for my preferences:
I do not want the sound to be overly lush, I am not a bass head and will honestly rarely miss the last octave in the bass region. Crystal clear highs and mids will be more important with the kind of music I will be listening to (see below). I listen to a lot of female vocalists and accoustic so any sibilance will be a major turn off. Since I prefer intimate recordings sound stage issues are likely to be more minor (i.e. I will not push the amp with heavy orchestral works on a regular basis at least).
I am also not looking for an analytical sound as I am not a music critic. Some personality is welcome.
The sources:
A lot of streaming internet (spotify, grooveshark), loseless flac and aac, very few MP3s of high bit rate. I understand that building a library will be a pleasurable and costly journey so I am preparing my wallet.
The music;
A lot of female vocalists (Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, etc.), solo piano works (Chopin, Beethoven, etc.), jazz and modern jazz (Avishai Cohen, Miles Davis, Brubeck, etc.), Country (Jhonny Cash, Fleet Foxes). I love finding out new music so I always listen to something new and see if I like it.
Please helo me before I buy everything.
Mar 19, 2013 at 5:00 PM Post #2 of 9
I think the O2 + ODAC Combo system would work great for you.  It is an extremely neutral and well designed amp / DAC.  If you do a ton of USB listening make sure the DAC comes with the USB port, which if I remember correctly the combo does.  Another good choice would be to go custom IEM.  Something like the JH Audio 10 x3 Pro or JH 13 and grab the DAC/ Amp combo to your liking as long as it has an output impedance below 8 Ohms to drive the customs.
Mar 19, 2013 at 7:26 PM Post #3 of 9
Thanks TMAC,
IEM are not for me - I have extremely sensitive ears and the pressure from the IEMs drives me crazy. I also found that they are only really great for bass because of the excellent seal but the actual sound always sounded congested to me - although I never listened to a good pair and obviously not custom made ones.
As for ODAC and O2 - I was thinking of something a bit more upclass unless you will tell me both are giant slayers.
Mar 20, 2013 at 3:34 PM Post #4 of 9
The O2+ODAC combo I tested via USB sounded identical to my much more expensive Grace Design m903 if that helps.  I think the OS+ODAC combo is a giant slayer and well worth the cost.
Mar 20, 2013 at 6:48 PM Post #5 of 9
Thanks NA Blur,
Is it better for me than buying something like WooAudio WA7 or a Schiit combi such as Lyr and Gugnir (I woild rather spend more money on the DAC than the amp)?
I admit that after seeing the Decware CSP2 I am a bit inclined to buy that one because of the looks alone. What a stunning piece of kit.
Mar 21, 2013 at 12:05 PM Post #6 of 9
I think something like the WA6-SE is a bit more engaging and fun sounding with headphones like the HD-650 and HE-500.
I have never listened to the Decware CSP2 so I am not going to guess what is sounds like.  I have heard the 02, BUDA, WA3, WA6, and Grace Design m903.
Mar 21, 2013 at 1:51 PM Post #7 of 9
A few comments here...
First off, you should figure out your headphone before you start shopping for an amp.  The amplification requirements for an HD650 are very different from those of an HE500 or LCD2.  If you go with an HD650, then something like a Woo 6 (non-SE version) would likely do nicely - if you're looking at an HE500, then the WA6-SE makes more sense, or a Burson Soloist, or other.  Basically, the headphone you choose will slot you into what type of amp you're looking for.
Once you've figured out the phones, then I think things become easier.  If you're going for an HE500 - your budget probably isn't sufficient to do wonders for it on both DAC and amp - but I'd err on making sure you have the right amp to power your phones, and save on the DAC if you have to cut back somewhere.  The reason is in digital technology face much higher depreciation - and chances are that whichever component you scale back on now, will be replaced within a few years - but, chances are also good that you'll want a new DAC within a few years given the pace of improvement of DAC's.  Looking at the Schitt line...I'd go with Mjolnir/Bifrost before I'd go Lyr/Gungnir.
Speaking of the specific amps - I've heard many of the amps you mention, though with LCD's and HD800's, but not HE's.  Based on your listening preferences, and a seeming lack of interest in the usual HiFi categorizations of a system's abilities - it seems to me that what you're most after is accuracy and depth of tone.  My feeling is that you're best off with tubes in your amp to achieve that objective - just be sure to seek out tube gear that isn't overly lush.  I find the SS options in this price range that I've heard (Mjolnir/Soloist) to both be very good amps - just not geared towards your priorities.
Mar 21, 2013 at 4:33 PM Post #8 of 9
Thanks LionTamer and NA Blur! I am into the LCD2s after seeing so many good reviews of them. I also read the Schiit Lyr will work with the LCD2. I am not a tube roller and will not start experimenting with tubes - I just dig the look but look for a low maintenance solution. 
Setting aside 1000 USD for the LCD2 leaves abour 1000 USD for the amp and DAC. I can be flexible if the additional funds will make for a good system. I do not anticipate any updates for 2 years later.
May 15, 2013 at 10:43 AM Post #9 of 9

It's been a while and I finally have am update. I bought the schiit stack (lyr and bifrost) and using it to drive an he-500.

Even out of the box with stock tubes this sounds amazing. A big leap over my previous setup. I am goin to enjoy this for a few months prior to seeing where my taste takes me.


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