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Help choosing amp and dac for Audeze LCD-3 .. (WA22, WA6-SE...)

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  1. Shaka
    Hi guys!
    Long time member but due to inexperience in this area never really contributed. Which is why I'm here now, because I need help but feel this is all way over my head.
    My interest in headphones has started recently with a purchase of Sennheiser's IE80 (for gym/running) and IE800 (for office/work). I was extremely impressed with the IE800 and started thinking about full-sized headphones for use at home, with my laptop.
    I recently auditioned the HD800's and was really impressed. I'm no expert but I thought the quality was really good, it reminded me of the times when I had a separate DAC/CD player and listened to a lot of music.
    So I spent a couple of weeks looking into reviews and trying to find a good amplifier/dac combination as the intended use is at home by my desk, using my MacBook and lossless music files. 
    The HD800 I demoed was using a Pathos Aurium headphone amplifier which is a hybrid (using 6922 tubes). The source was some weird looking high-end CD player. I was very happy with what I heard and was sure I'd get the HD800 and the Pathos. However I'd need a DAC started looking at those and other possible alternatives to the Pathos. The two that I 'liked' the look of (based on what I read) were the Naim DAC-V1 and the Sennheiser HDVD800. Both seemed to offer what I was looking for (USB at 24-bit/196kHz etc),  but as they were both amp/dac devices I thought it'd be overkill to get the Pathos too.
    After spending more time looking/reading/getting confused, I came across a lot of chatter about the Audeze LCD-3. I'd heard the name before of course but that was it. So out of curiosity and the desire to get the best for my money I thought I might as well read more about them. From what I've read I'm extremely impressed. I hope to be demoing these in a couple of weeks but I'm already so certain that these are what I want! Crazy, I know.   
    Obviously I'm now looking at a higher price point too, but if I like what I hear, I'm definitely willing to pay that little bit more.
    This leads me to the next dilemma - due to the deviation in my plan I also started looking at other DAC's and amps that I'd never considered before. But again due to my inexperience in this area, I'm not sure what goes well with what. And I'm hoping someone with knowledge and experience in this can help me out.
    These are some of the amps I'm currently looking at (based on aesthetics and reviews):
    1. Pathos Aurium :: £850, 3.6W @ 32ohms
    2. Woo Audio WA6-SE :: $1190 ($1500 with upgrades) - I like this but not sure about the split boxes
    3. Woo Audio WA22 :: $1995 ($2645 with upgrades) - I REALLY like the look of this. If I got this I couldn't afford the upgrades (at least not right away), so it'd be the basic model. Though I may be persuaded to get one of the upgrades
    These are some of the DACs I'm considering:
    1. Arcam irDAC :: about £400
    2. Schiit Bitfrost :: $519 with uber analog and USB gen 2 upgrades
    And DAC/amp combos:
    1. NAIM DAC-V1 :: £1295
    2. Sennehsier HDVD800 :: £1495
    It's impossible to demo al these devices and combination, so what I'm looking for is for Audeze LCD-3 owner's to let me know if they are familiar with these devices and what they think are a good match for the LCD3. Or if there's anything I have overlooked, please let me know. I'd like to spend no more than £2000 (or $3000) on the dac/amp setup.
    This probably means I shouldn't consider the WA22 :frowning2: .... but I like the look of that so much :frowning2:
    anyway, look forward to your advice.
  2. NA Blur
    I have ready many reviews of tube amps not being the best combo for the LCD-X series headphones.  I can say with certainty that both the LCD-2 and LCD-3 sound great with a top notch solid state amp like the BUDA or Grace Design m903.
    If you do not require all of the connectivity you can always go with the O2+ODAC from JDS Labs.  In the end it is about the sound and the O2+ODAC combo sounds identical to my m903.  It is not nearly as sleek looking nor is it made with the high-end care that Grace Designs puts in their products, but it gets the job done at 1/5th the price.
    The LCD-3 is not hard to drive at all as it is an entirely resistive load.  The price is not justified to many users going from the LCD-2 to the LCD-3, but rest assured that the LCD-3 is faster and has more airy sounding treble.  The are a tad clunky and heavy which is why I do not own them any more.
    I realize you are going for a hi-end rig here, but it may be worth looking at the $600 and under category for amp, $600 and under or DAC, and $600 and under for headphones.
    I mean even something like the O2+ODAC and AKG K712 Pro would prove top notch and not break the bank.
    If you want to go tube amp then the WA3 and WA6-SE would be my recommendations.
  3. Shaka
    NA Blur
    Thanks for your comments. This just shows how confusing all this stuff is for someone starting out.
    I think I've pretty much decided that LCD3 is what I want, unless the demo goes horribly wrong. The dealer also has Stax so I may try them too but I won't be buying them as it's a lot more than what I originally planned to spend.
    Regarding amp/DAC, I don't really need a really high-end solution, just something that'll play nicely with LCD3 and play music files off my MacBook. Of course having extra features, such as balanced inputs/outputs and ability to add other sources is a bonus. Main thing is sound quality.
    I was afraid about the tube amps not being suitable with LCD3. Shame as I love the look of them.
    Going for a more modest amp/dac system, how is the WA7 fireflies considered with LCD3 and just in general?

  4. Shaka
    I'm going to throw the following into the mix: Yulong DA8 Sabre Ref DAC Schiit Mjolnir DAC Schiit Gungnir amp
  5. Surfski
    For deep dive discussion on DACs, Computer Audiophile is a great source. I think the C.A.S.H list at that site is a useful data point. I just picked up the Ayre QB9 used on Audiogon. This is a wonderful though narrowly focused DAC. I suspect it would be very nice with WA6 SE but also notable for the balanced output if you go the WA22 or balanced amp approach.
    Worth noting that the stand alone DAC market is evolving pretty quickly so it is worth paying attention to new file formats like DSD. For computer interfaces, a well implemented asynchronous USB interface makes a big difference. These days even the Audioquest Dragonfly includes this approach. 
    There is no substitute for listening and making your own decision. This is always tough with headphone gear. That is why I am a fan of purchasing well regarded equipment used. Makes both the initial purchase and inevitable upgrade process a little less painful. 
    So, I think I have the right DAC for me. Now I need the right amp. The never ending quest.
  6. titusgroan
    I would highly recommend the Epiphany Acoustics O2/ODAC, works very well with my LCD-2 Rev 2s.
  7. Shaka
    Well I finally got my LCD-3's on Friday and currently running them in. 14 hours done so far.
    I obviously still have the dilemma of the amp/dac. Since my previous posts, I think my ideal solution would be a combined unit instead of a separate dad and amp. Although this is the ideal solution, I'm still open to suggestions.
    I'm currently interested in the Burson Conductor and have read many favourable reviews. Luckily my local dealer is an authorised dealer so hopefully in a few weeks I will arrange for a demo.
    Other than that, another dealer is an authorised Naim dealer, so I can try out the DAC-V1 too.
    However, at the moment I'm strongly in favour of the Conductor.
    A future upgrade (maybe not too distant future) would be Toxic Cables Silver Widow ....
    This is getting to be an expensive project/hobby.
  8. Tony1110

    Very expensive hobby :)
  9. jackwess
    Burson have been busy lately releasing new modules/optional upgrades for the conductor. You can be sure that is money well spent. 
    Let us know how the demo goes. 
  10. Lorspeaker
    70bucks...pure clean power. 50w x 2...v tiny 4x2inches, no hiss, no humm...connected my LCD2/He6 via 4 speakertaps.
  11. Shaka
    I actually had a brief listen to the Burson Conductor wuth a minty fresh pair of LCD-2 and I wasn't very impressed. For now I'll put that down to the LCD-2 not having been run-in sufficiently.

    Until a few days ago, I had big grand plans and was compiling a list of dacs and amps that I could get based on user comments and online reviews. A lot of these were a lot more than I had originally planned on spending. I am now trying to be a bit more realistic and considering more modest setups and devices that can be bought locally or nationally, rather than ordering from overseas.

    I'm running my LCD-3's as often as I can and hopefully in a few weeks time I will go an demo it with the Conductor. I'm hoping for a better experience than I had with the LCD-2. If this sounds good then this would be a very strong contender. I've read that the Tenor USB interface in the conductor isn't the best so if I got this, I may consider adding something like an Audiophilleo type device to it.

    Another setup I'm considering is a Pathos Aurium headphone amp. It's probably not a well known company and/or a headphone amp, but Skylab reviewed it back in June or July this year on the Innerfidelity website and really liked it. He tested it with the LCD-3 and sounded quite impressed.
    My dealer has these too and I actually demoed it a couple of months back with Sennhesier HD800. It did sound really nice. I really like the design of it too and being a hybrid it uses 2 6922 tubes which allows for a bit of tube rolling (not that I know anything about that at the moment). I will demo this with my LCD-3 and my own music and I'm hoping it will sound awesome as I really like the design of it too.
    This setup would then need a dac, for which I'd budget around £1k. Maybe a Wadia 121 or a Metrum Octave mk2.
    I understand the Metrum is a NOS dac. I don't really understand what that means other than that it doesn't oversample ... is that good or bad??

    And my third option at the moment is a Naim DAC-V1. This supposedly has an excellent and highly regarded DAC but apparently also has a very good headphone stage. A different dealer has this so I will be demoing this too. Not too sure about the headphone stage on this so would probably buy a separate amp, if I got this.

    So these are my three current choices. Any thoughts?
    Oh and if anyone can recommend a good DAC for around £1k that would go well with the Aurium, please let me know.

    As always, thanks you so much for all the advice and views. Without the knowledge of members, I'd be getting nowhere.

  12. Amphibica
    I own the LCD2.2s. I love them. I tried the LCD3s but couldn't just the little bit better performance at twice the price.

    I tried the Burson Conductor but, like you, I was unimpressed.

    Centrance... nada; unimpressed.
    I'm currently using an Antique Sound Lab MG Head DT OTL Mark II.  I really like it.

    Recently I heard the LCD3s and the Woo Audio WA6-SE. I was so impressed I am hoping to buy one.

    I've heard the Violectric V200 is good with the Audeze, but I've never heard it.
    Also, I have the Q-Cables for my Audeze and I can't say enough about them.  Highest praise! Clean, light-weight. Nice.
  13. formula1
    On the contrary, i've tried tubes and Audeze - Not my cup of tea. 
    I preferred the LCD3 presentation over the LCD2's, probably op didn't like the amp and the problem was the headphones (did you try the lcd2 with another amp?) the lack of burn in is another possibility. 
    As for external USB interfaces, Burson released a C-media module. It seemed to solve the issues with the tenor. 
  14. Tony1110
    The performance you get from the Conductor - in my experience anyway - is dependant on a couple of things. Firstly, it really needs to be left switched on for a few hours prior to listening in order to warm up. Turn it on and play music immediately and you'll be left disappointed. Leave it on for a few hours before plugging in your headphones and it's a completely different animal. This has been the case with a few of the solid state amps I've owned but it's especially true of the Conductor. Secondly, the USB connection is awful. I've changed my views on this matter several times but after going from the Audiophilleo 2 to a direct USB connection then to a Halide Bridge, I have come to the conclusion that a USB interface is nigh on essential. The Bridge especially works wonders with the Conductor. I know Burson have released a new USB module but I haven't tried it so I can't comment.

    There are lots of folk on here who use the Conductor with the LCD-3 and love the combination. Having said that, the Schiit stack (Mjolnir & Gungnir) seem to be very well regarded with Audeze headphones. If I were to buy Audeze again I'd be inclined to go down that road.

    I have a friend who owns the LCD-3 and swears by this amp: http://www.njc-audio.co.uk/html/monitor2.html
  15. Shaka
    Just to clarify my Burson experience - both the LCD-3 and the LCD-2 had been delivered 2 days before my collection. When I collected the LCD-3, I believe the dealer had unboxed his LCD-2's the same day and had started running them in with the Burson just a few hours before I arrived. The Burson was connected to a Roksan Oxygene CD player, but I don't know if it was connected via digital or analogue. For now I'm still going to put down the seemingly poor performance down to LCD-2 not being sufficiently run-in.
    Like I said I will demo the Burson Conductor again with my LCD-3 and my own music stored on my MacBook. This way I can be sure that I will be demoing it exactly like how I would want to use it i.e. via USB out of my MacBook. It would be great if I could also try it with a USB-S/PDIF convertor too but that won't be possible.
    I'm not familiar with the Burson C-module and will try to find out about it.
    So this will be setup option 1.
    Option 2 is the Naim DAC-V1. I would maybe consider adding a separate headphone amp to this as it's mostly the DAC section that is regarded highly. 
    Option 3 is the gorgeous Pathos Aurium hybrid amp. I actually can't wait to try this as it was superb with the Sennhesier HD-800. I hope I like the sound of this over the Conductor as that way I can pick and choose different DACs.
    If I went for this option, then the DACs I'm currently considering are the Schiit Gungnir and Mytek Stereo192.
    Re: tube amps - I read mixed opinions ... the general consensus seems to be that LCD-3 and tubes don't mix well, but then I read other views where Woo Audio W6A-SE and WA22  are talked about as sounding amazing with LCD-3.
    Another example is the ALO Audio Studio 6 - all reviews claim it is stunning with likes of LCD-3... luckily for me this is out of my price range.
    I do like the look of Woo Audio products and I'm sure their amps are amazing, but there's no UK dealer, so no way for me to demo or buy.
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