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Need a DAC/HP amp with some restrictions

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by Entropism, Oct 26, 2017.
  1. Entropism
    So here's my situation:

    I need a desktop DAC/Amp combo that takes either optical or USB input, has RCA outs that get muted when I plug headphones in, and has enough power to drive headphones fairly easily.

    Anyone have any suggestions? The cheaper the better, really. I'm finding it difficult to find all 3 and keep it within a low budget.
  2. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Schiit Modi2 or Modi2 Uber with Vali2 or Magni3.

    JDSLabs O2-ODAC with rear ODAC output configuration.

    AudioGD NFB-11 - no auto-mute though, but it has a switch to select output in front - Headphone, Variable (Preamp), Fixed(direct from DAC).
  3. Entropism
    Sorry, I think I should have actually listed my budget... I want to keep it around $100. Definitely can't do the $200-350.
  4. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    You definitely can't do preamp output, powerful headphone amp, and a DAC for $100.

    $99 - Schiit Magni3. Really powerful headphone amp, preamp output, no DAC.

    $50 - Pangea HP101. Powerful enough headphone amp, USB DAC (that works better with Samsung Android than freaking Windows 10), no preamp output.

    $150 - Audioengine D1. USB DAC, preamp output, low power headphone output.
  5. Entropism
    First off, I want to thank you for the help. I don't want it to seem like I'm not grateful. I do, however, have some questions and revisions to what I need in my setup. Maybe this will clarify things.

    Right now, I have a Logitech Z623 setup attached to my computer. It's running off an old Asus Z77 motherboard with onboard audio, soon to be replaced with either a Z370 or X370 board. I'll be making sure I get one with an upgraded Realtek chip, but we all know those chips are decent at best. Up until recently I was using an older Yamaha receiver to power some desktop speakers, but I wanted to save desktop space and got the Logitechs. Honestly, I'm regretting the switch, but I'm enjoying having my desk back.

    Current HPs are Sennheiser HD25-1 II (70 Ohm), Sivga SV007 (16ohm), HyperX Cloud/Takstar 80s (60 ohm), and an ISK HD9000 rebrand (32 Ohm)

    So I have 3.5mm from my MB to the Z623, and my current headphones are barely being powered by either the front panel audio, or the logitech's HP jack.

    So I don't listen to my music LOUD anymore. I'm older, my days of tinitus inducing punk clubs are behind me, and I keep volume levels comfortable and enjoyable. All I want is to be able to drive my headphones without pushing distortion (the HD25 & HyperX need the volume pushed to 100% right now), and also handle any HP upgrades I might make in the near future, say up to 250 Ohm. I want to be able to plug my HPs into the DAC/Amp, have the RCAs mute output to my speakers, then unmute the speakers when I unplug the headphones. If I have to flip a switch manually I could deal with it, but I'd prefer it to happen on its own.

    I know the Schiit stack is my best option, and I'm trying to justify the $200 cost, but with the holidays coming up and more important things to save for, I can't justify doubling my budget.
  6. Entropism
    That's three times my budget...
  7. annasoh323
    Sorry, no answers here, only more questions. I'm in a similar boat to you in that I'm looking for worthwhile upgrade paths from onboard audio. I'm on a Z270 board with Realtek ALC1220. Do you have links to info regarding the statement about Realtek chips being decent at best? I'm trying to figure out the technical specs of the onboard audio to make a technical justification for upgrading with an amp or DAC/amp (whichever would provide the best improvement/$).
  8. bixby
    To meet your criteria at your price point you will have to make a few concessions. A decent dac and HP amp that is better than your onboard audio is feasible. I just replaced a Steinberrg UR12.[not a bad interface for under $100 but cannot switch between line out and HP] For lower level hp listening the HP "might" be good enough. And the drivers are solid.

    A schiit stack would most likely get you a better amp, but not sure on the dac side, Schiit usb implementation has been its weakest link [not bad sounding though]. I have owned their low end and mid range dacs. You could always start with the Steinberg and add the Magni3 at some point.
  9. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Have you set the on-board audio, to 2-channel and "Speaker" output (not "Headphone" output), and maxed out the computer's volume setting (to 75% or even higher) to feed the strongest signal to the Logitech's, then plugged the headphones into the Logitech's headphone (maybe not the 16-Ohm SV007) and see how loud they get?

    If your going to buy a new motherboard soon, maybe hold off buying an external DAC/amp.
    Some of the new motherboards come with an add-on DAC chip.
  10. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    On my work space where I have my laptop I switched to smaller speakers too. Even smaller than the Z623. Using the SonicGear Quatro 2 now - these have 2in drivers with dual 2in passive bass radiators. Imaging and response are good enough once properly aimed, plus I get more bass than on a totally open desk as mine has shelves which acts as bass trap. Bass is louder, slightly boomy but not to the point of individual notes getting blurred.

    The thing is though I wasn't suggesting the Schiit stack so you can pour 3watts into each driver, but because of all your requirements. And as for power, again it's not about pouring more power into what headphones you have, but pouring enough clean power into what you have and conceivably upgrade to.

    As it is the only device that kind of complies with all your requirements are the Fiio E10K and the Audioengine D1, but I tried these on the HD600 and didn't really like them. E10K was blurring the bass (even with bass boost off) and the D1 was blurring the barely audible bass. 250ohms isn't that much higher. And the thing is, even with 300ohms, given the sensitivity of the HD600, that was already fairly loud. Still not as clean as the low distortion sound of the O2 and the Magni.

    If you'd limited upgrades to low impedance, high sensitivity headphones (or IEMs), no problem. The Philips X1 I tried worked well enough with these - any bass distortion I got was attributable to the headphones (ie I can still got it even with my D-Zero MkII, and probably even with my desktop amp). There's also the HiFiMan HE400S, which has more controlled bass.

    Or at least, hopefully no problem - these are USB fed, both signal and power. Any nise through USB and you have no alternative. If you were hoping to use the DSP chip on the motherboard, no chance on that either since they only work via analogue output or SPDIF output (ie the same chip handles DSP and SPDIF conversion). If all your games have built in surround virtualization, no problem. If you use Razer Surround on the rest of your games, no problem (I personally didn't like it vs hardware DSP and headphone audio encoded into games, and I can't even hear a difference with it on movies).

    As it is instead of blowing $100 that can't do what you need it to you might as well use the built in soundcard on the motherboard (assuming you have one of those gaming boards that have virtual surround DSP and the decent output stage and headphone driver chips). These have waaaaaaaaaay more clean power than your Logitech's headphone output, you can hook up both speakers and headphones, and you don't really need the preamp control anyway since the Logitech has a volume knob on it, and unlike studio monitors or powered speakers, they're small enough to sit on the desk closer to your hand.

    And while you might think the connections and switching are a problem, if you're using virtual surround going into a DAC-HPamp, you'll have to go into the sound suite anyway to disable it every time you switch over to speakers. If your motherboard uses the same analogue output circuit on the rear jacks and front I/O (assuming you have one of the decent motherboards) then it's not that much of a problem in terms of driving power either. If not, then just run an extension cable from the rear headphone output to the front so you switch out headphones there. The only thing you really have to put up with is scrolling down to the lower right corner to adjust the volume, but you can just set up hotkeys for that.
  11. annasoh323
    Request clarification: by "add-on DAC chip", are you referring to a separate DAC section on the motherboard? If that's what you mean and the motherboard doesn't have a separate DAC chip, what part of the computer does the D to A conversion? Besides asking the manufacturer (which I've done and am waiting to see if/how they answer), is there a way to tell what sort of audio hardware quality I've got?
  12. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Modern audio processors (DSP chip) that come on the motherboard (like Realtek) will come with a built in DAC function, like for 6-channel (5.1) audio.
    Some motherboards (higher priced) also come with an added-on separate DAC chip, now that add-on DAC chip might only take over processing the main right and left channels (front speakers and headphone), leaving the Realtek to provide DAC function for the sub-woofer and center and the two rear channels.
    But I'm not sure just how many channels the add-on DAC chip processes, it might be 2.0 or 5.1.
  13. Entropism
    Purple, again, thanks for the info. I'm planning on a higher end motherboard anyways, simply for cleaner OCing. Whether it's the Asus ROG Strix, Gigabyte Aorus, MSI Pro Carbon line, or Asrock Taichi, they all come with "upgraded" realtek 1220 chips, with dual dedicated headphone amps. I haven't built a computer since the Z77 days, so I'm used to fairly **** sound from the onboard. I had no idea the audio on them were actually good these days. At this point, I'm probably leaning towards the Asus rog strix line, either X370 or Z370, depending on how fast intel can put 8700Ks on the shelves.

    As for gaming? I don't bother with virtual surround or anything like that. I keep mine strictly at 2.1, and I don't play FPS games, so I don't need to hear anyone sneaking up behind me. Strictly MMOs these days.

    So I think I'll take your advice and hold off for a month or two. By that time I'll have completed my build and I can see if the new board can properly power my HPs. Thanks again for the help!
  14. annasoh323
    Where does this info come from? I'm having a hard time finding out anything concrete about the hardware used for Realtek. Are D to A and amplification duties handled all on that one Realtek chip? My Google-fu skills are apparently lacking here. Mostly, I'm trying to figure out what class/equipment in the way of external DAC's/amps I'd have to get before it's a truly worthwhile upgrade,

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