I need recommendations for headphone amps/dacs
May 21, 2015 at 12:09 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 33

jiminvictus

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Hello everyone, this is my first ever post.
 
Having finally graduated law school and landed a good job, I can afford to dive into the head-fi realm.
 
I currently own a Creative Sound Blaster E5 portable headphone amp/dac, and I have a pair of Sennheiser HD280's, Beyerdynamic DT770's (250 ohm), and AKG K712 Pro headphones. I listen to music a lot at work, since I work by myself in an office most of the time. I also listen to music at home.
 
I'm into jazz, classical, EDM, classic rock, and folk. My wife's very much into music as well. I want a desktop amp and dac (either a combo or separate units) for home and another for work.
 
My budget is up to about $2000 for everything - both home and work. I want a solid state amp for home, because I have young, active children who pretty much break everything I own that isn't made of solid steel and concrete. A tube amp would be great for work, and would allow me to try both.
 
Also, 2 headphone jacks would be great for an at home setup, since my wife and I listen to music together. Also, I plan to buy a pair of Beyerdynamic T1's in the next year and a pair of Audeze LCD3's in a couple of years. So, I'd like something that can power both of those.
 
Ok, all of that said, what recommendations do you folks have? I've been looking at the Beyerdynamic A2.  Also, I live in a house, not an apartment. Do I need to consider something to stabilize/clean my power going into the amp?
 
Finally,I like having a lot of bass sometimes, for EDM and movies. I've been thinking about the Ultrasone Pro900's. What do you folks think? Any recommendations?
 
I'm still relatively new to all of this. Any help you folks have will be greatly appreciated.
 
Cheers!
 
May 21, 2015 at 12:22 PM Post #2 of 33

Music Alchemist

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Here are my recommendations.
 
Audiophile headphones: Sennheiser HD 800
Basshead headphones: JVC HA-SZ2000
Solid-state amp: Schiit Magni 2 Uber (or non-Uber)
Tube amp: Schiit Vali or Schiit Valhalla 2
DAC: Schiit Modi 2 Uber (or non-Uber)
 
If you research them, contrasted against what you listed, you should see why I mentioned them.
 
I believe there are adapters that let you turn a single headphone jack into two.
 
May 21, 2015 at 12:47 PM Post #3 of 33

jiminvictus

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Hmm, well, I'm a little surprised at the the first response.
 
I'm well aware of Sennheisers. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of their sound. But thanks for the recommendation. I'm a little surprised that, given my dac/amp budget, you're recommending the lowest end Schiit stuff. Would those amps and that dac be a good pairing with what I currently have? Would you really buy a $1600 pair of cans and plug them into a $100 amp? I'm certainly not an expert, but it seems a little odd to me.
 
"If you research them, contrasted against what you listed, you should see why I mentioned them." Umm, I'm not sure what to make of that. As for adaptors - yeah, I know, you can get a "Y" adaptor for ten bucks at radio shack. But I'm finally able to allocate a fairly generous budget to improve my listening experience. I'd like to do it right.
 
May 21, 2015 at 1:13 PM Post #4 of 33

Music Alchemist

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I'm well aware of Sennheisers. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of their sound. But thanks for the recommendation. I'm a little surprised that, given my dac/amp budget, you're recommending the lowest end Schiit stuff. Would those amps and that dac be a good pairing with what I currently have? Would you really buy a $1600 pair of cans and plug them into a $100 amp? I'm certainly not an expert, but it seems a little odd to me.

 
I'm not the biggest Sennheiser fan either, but the HD 800 does not have the typical laid-back Sennheiser house sound. Even among those who dislike it, it is revered for having ultimate detail retrieval and is one of the most neutral headphones out there too. The Magni amp line has more than enough power for nearly all headphones. (Even the HD 800 is fairly easy to drive.) It's only logical (when on a budget) to get the best headphones you can, then get whatever amp has enough power, instead of spending a ton of money on a higher-end amp that may not even sound better. (Some people in Sound Science say properly-designed higher-end amps don't sound any different, but I won't go that far.) And you said you were getting two amps and DACs, right? That makes saving money on them even more important. There's no point getting, say, a $100 headphone, then spending thousands on the amp and DAC. (Extreme example to illustrate my point.) If you want to color the sound with tubes, the second tube amp may help you do that. And even if you don't get the sound you like, tube rolling is at your disposal.
 
Oh, and you should eventually get into serious equalization:
http://www.head-fi.org/t/413900/how-to-equalize-your-headphones-a-tutorial
http://www.head-fi.org/t/587703/how-to-equalize-your-headphones-a-tutorial-part-2
http://www.head-fi.org/t/615417/how-to-equalize-your-headphones-advanced-tutorial-in-progress
 
Note: Personally, I want the Ragnarok and Yggdrasil, which are $4,000, but that's just me. Your budget, for now, is lower.
 
May 21, 2015 at 1:28 PM Post #5 of 33

jiminvictus

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I guess I was unclear then.
 
I want a dac/amp with enough power to push the Beyerdynamic T1. I've had the chance to listen to them enough that I know they're what I'm going to get. Also, I currently have the Beyerdynamic DT 770's and the AKG K712 Pro's. So, what I'm asking is, what would be good amps/dacs to pair with those given the price range I've stated?
 
I've read that the AKG K712's in particular are picky about dac/amp pairing. I love them, but I get the feeling that a better dac/amp than my Creative Soundblaster E5 would probably improve their already good sound. Mostly, I'm looking for advice regarding which dac/amp to purchase for my existing equipment with an eye toward what I plan to get in the future.
 
May 21, 2015 at 1:32 PM Post #6 of 33

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  I guess I was unclear then.
 
I want a dac/amp with enough power to push the Beyerdynamic T1. I've had the chance to listen to them enough that I know they're what I'm going to get. Also, I currently have the Beyerdynamic DT 770's and the AKG K712 Pro's. So, what I'm asking is, what would be good amps/dacs to pair with those given the price range I've stated?
 
I've read that the AKG K712's in particular are picking about dac/amp pairing. I love them, but I get the feeling that a better dac/amp than my Creative Soundblaster E5 would probably improve their already good sound. Mostly, I'm looking for advice regarding which dac/amp to purchase for my existing equipment with an eye toward what I plan to get in the future.

 
Ah, I see. Well, like I said, the Magni/Modi combo has far more than enough power to drive just about any headphone, and it has a neutral frequency response as well, so if you don't like the sound, then the problem is with your headphones. I would recommend getting neutral source components and use EQ (tutorials linked above) to tweak the sound to your taste (or even pursue the most neutral sound possible) rather than spending so much on tube rolling and the like.
 
If you are asking for amp/DAC recommendations for $2,000, without upgrading your headphones, then I would advise against that as well. You will always get by far the largest improvement by upgrading your headphones.
 
How about we narrow down your budget to know how much you can spend on the amps/DACs after upgrading your headphones?
 
May 21, 2015 at 1:54 PM Post #7 of 33

jiminvictus

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*Sigh . . .
 
nevermind.
 
I didn't think it was such a hard question. I have a certain set of headphones. I am planning on purchasing another set in the future. Which amps/dacs will pair well? That's all.
 
May 21, 2015 at 2:05 PM Post #8 of 33

cel4145

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*Sigh . . .

nevermind.

I didn't think it was such a hard question. I have a certain set of headphones. I am planning on purchasing another set in the future. Which amps/dacs will pair well? That's all.


It is a very controversial and difficult question, though.

One outlook is that if a headphone amp has enough power to easily drive the headphones you want to use to your listening volumes, and the dac/headphone amp measure accurate within the range of human hearing, then there's not a benefit of spending more on the dac/amp, whereas better headphones can produce a noticeable improvement. Now an exception to this could be tube amps, which often have a bit of distortion which people find is pleasureable. That's a personal taste thing.

If one does believe that different dac/amps sound different even when their measured differences are inaudible, there is still the problem with the reliability of subjective evaluations of others of those perceived differences since they could undoubtedly be influenced by expectation bias and listening test factors that have nothing to do with the actual audible performance of the electronics. And then, because subjective evaluations are so personal, what is significant to one person could easily not be significant to you. So I'm of the personal opinion that--once you get into dac/amps of this quality--that you can't count on what other people tell you. You have to make the determination for yourself (and even then it could be unreliable). Otherwise, might as well go with the best value in a dac/amp that measures accurately instead of spending more money. The Modi/Magni stack is one example of that. If you want an alternative, consider the Audio-GD NFB-15.
 
May 21, 2015 at 2:11 PM Post #9 of 33

cel4145

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Oh, to address your original post, so that your wife and you can both listen to different headphones, probably will want two different headphone amps and split the signal coming off the DAC and sent it to both.

As far as bass heavy headphones for EDM and movies, do any of the headphones you have right now provide the amount of bass you are looking for? People have different tastes in how much bass is enough.

Finally, what's your source device for watching movies? A home theater setup? If so, what make/model of AVR? What other source devices do you want to use?
 
May 21, 2015 at 2:26 PM Post #11 of 33

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  *Sigh . . .
 
nevermind.
 
I didn't think it was such a hard question. I have a certain set of headphones. I am planning on purchasing another set in the future. Which amps/dacs will pair well? That's all.

 
I know some people like the Valhalla 2 ($349) more than the Magni 2 with 600 ohm headphones like the T1. But keep in mind that its output impedance is 14 ohms on high gain and 3.5 ohms on low gain, so there may be potential issues with other headphones. (Most headphone amps have very low output impedance.) A more expensive compromise is the Lyr 2 ($449), which is a hybrid, as in solid-state + tubes. It has more potential of pairing well with more headphones.
 
In any case, narrowing down your budget is crucial, so you can know what you are able to get. For example, if you were to buy a used T1, that would open up your budget more than if you were to purchase it brand new. Then there's the issue of whether you want to get two DACs or just use the same one (or none at all) at the second location.
 
May 21, 2015 at 2:34 PM Post #12 of 33

jiminvictus

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We watch blu-rays on my Macbook Pro retina display.
 
The video is good, since we're sitting like 3 feet from the screen, but better sound would be nice. So, you know, an amp with 2 headphone outputs would be nice. I'm not looking to drop a ton of money on a sound system just yet, since I have young kids. For the time being, I'd rather invest in a good set of head-fi equipment.
 
I know that sound is subjective, but frequency response and all of that can be tested objectively. I really doubt that the Schiit Vali can compete with the Beyerdynamic A20. Maybe the only difference is the price tag, but I doubt it.
 
Also, my AKG K712's are no slouch. IMHO, they're a big step up from, e.g., the Sennheiser HD 650's, which I have also had a chance to try out, both in terms of sound quality and also build quality.
 
I am not a big fan of Sennheisers in general. Their sound is clear, articulate, dry, dead, and generally devoid of bass. I respect them as a tool for professionals, but I do not wish to use them while listening to my own music. If someone else likes them, well, that's just wonderful. But I'm allowed to have my own taste too. But I digress.
 
So, I guess I'd like to wipe the slate clean and ask the following: what is a good dac/solid state amp to match with my AKG K712 Pro's and, in the future, to match with the Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla and Audeze LCD-3?
 
May 21, 2015 at 2:38 PM Post #13 of 33

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So, I guess I'd like to wipe the slate clean and ask the following: what is a good dac/solid state amp to match with my AKG K712 Pro's and, in the future, to match with the Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla and Audeze LCD-3?

 
If you're getting the LCD-3 in the future, and you would consider a Schiit tube amp, skip the Valhalla 2 and get the Lyr 2. It works well with planar magnetic headphones as well.
 
May 21, 2015 at 3:16 PM Post #14 of 33

cel4145

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I know that sound is subjective, but frequency response and all of that can be tested objectively. I really doubt that the Schiit Vali can compete with the Beyerdynamic A20. Maybe the only difference is the price tag, but I doubt it.


I would be surprised if the A20 measures better within the audible range of hearing than a Modi/Vali setup.

However, you don't want a headphone amp with two headphone jacks and one volume control UNLESS you are using the exact same headphones. Differences in impedance and sensitivity between different headphones would mean that one headphone would likely be louder than the other, and perhaps uncomfortably so to reach a useable volume on the other pair. And then of course, even if you did have two of the same headphones, you and your wife might like to use different volumes. So best strategy is probably to get a single DAC and split the output to two amps.

Also, my AKG K712's are no slouch. IMHO, they're a big step up from, e.g., the Sennheiser HD 650's, which I have also had a chance to try out, both in terms of sound quality and also build quality.


Makes sense. There are many people that prefer the AKG house sound to Sennheisers :)

So, I guess I'd like to wipe the slate clean and ask the following: what is a good dac/solid state amp to match with my AKG K712 Pro's and, in the future, to match with the Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla and Audeze LCD-3?


The LCD-3s are 110 ohms, 102dB / 1mW. The T1 Teslas are 102 dB/1mw, 600 ohms. Your AKGs are more difficult to drive, IMO. So likely anything that drives them well is going to be fine for those other headphones unless you choose an amp that has some unusual problem with higher impedance power output. You could consult the AKG Q701, K701, K612 Pro, K77X, and K712 impressions/discussion threads to find out what amplifiers people are using (google make/model with head-fi as a keyword).

You might also try some of the HiFiMan headphones to see what you think of them. Now they can be a bit difficult to drive.
 
May 21, 2015 at 3:22 PM Post #15 of 33

jiminvictus

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Ok, I said I was thinking about a tube amp for work, and a solid state for home.
 
I also said that my combined amp/dac budget for work and home is about $2000. Music Alchemist, no offense, but I'm not sure you're reading what I'm actually writing.
 

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