Need ideal home setup under $500 (Headphones + DAC/Amp)
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AtlanticMadness

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Hello guys. (TL;DR below) I'm pretty new to audiophile gear, but I'm looking to get a somewhat good home setup going for under $500. Seeing as it's Black Friday weekend. I figured it would be a good time as any.

My old setup was simply plugging my m50's straight into my desktop's headphone jack.
Well now my M50's are broken (lent them to a friend for too long). And my computers headphone jack is a bit loose/pushed in causing me to do some annoying twiddling back and forth to get the proper sound of it. Line in at the back of my case simply does not cut it, I loose a lot of little details in my music compared to using the headphone jack.

I'm not fully schooled on the glossary of terms so I won't try and describe the sound I'm looking for, but for starters, I'm looking for something that can pick up on the m50's shortcomings and perhaps polish what already excels at.

I listen to a very wide variety of genres, everything from folk to hardcore, soul, classical, hip-hop, punk, pop, younameit. If I had to pick one I listen to the most I'd say Progressive/Experimental Rock. At times the songs can get quite busy and complex with tempos switching abruptly. I'd like a set of cans that can keep up with this and clearly highlight every nuance and detail in the track. I'd really like to hear as much as I can, close to the way it was intended to be heard. A nice full sound if that makes any sense.

Hopefully you'll get where I'm coming from. I have no idea what would cater to the sound I like. I suppose something neutral would be ideal? I would prefer something closed, only because I am concerned about external sounds interfering with my listening experience (I live on a busy street in NYC, none of my rooms are 'silent'). I also don't want my music being heard 50 feet away if I decide to use it outside of home. I don't know how much of an issue or not this is with open designed headphones.

As for DAC/AMPs, portable or not doesn't matter to me, but with my budget I suppose portable is what I'll get.
Am I asking for too much for my budget? I'm a neophyte to all of this, so it's a tad overwhelming, but some input/recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
 
TL;DR:
  1.     $500 max budget
  2.     Need upgrade from ATH M50
  3.     Beginner, need closed headphone + DAC/AMP
  4.     PC source
  5.     Music is my #1 concern over everything, but I do quite a bit of gaming
  6.     Multiple genres

Sorry for being long-winded, I'm just looking for the best mileage out of my budget and I'm a bit lost.
 
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Tangster

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You should look at a decent soundcard if you're source is a PC, the Xonar DX/D2X are excellent (the chips in them batter the equivalently priced and higher USB DAC into submission) and fairly cheap.
 
I would only consider an amp if the headphones you pick benefit from a dedicated amp, however I personally recommend the Matrix M-Stage or the Schiit Asgard.
 
I think any of the following would be a good start in audiophillia, especially for a varied genre listener.
KRK KNS8400, although you may find it has less bass than the M50 and is a touch bright.
Shure SRH 840, I find it brighter than the KNS8400, but with better bass and highs.
Shure SRH940, very detailed but bass anemic.
Audio Technica ATH A700X, good all round headphone. Not the most comfortable though, clamps tight and unless you rubber band mod it can slip down on smaller heads.
Audio Technica ATH A900X, really good headphone. No real weaknesses in sound, but same comfort issues as A700X.
V-Moda M80, no real weaknesses. Leans towards basscentric, but less than the M50.
 
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AtlanticMadness

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Quote:
You should look at a decent soundcard if you're source is a PC, the Xonar DX/D2X are excellent (the chips in them batter the equivalently priced and higher USB DAC into submission) and fairly cheap.
 
I would only consider an amp if the headphones you pick benefit from a dedicated amp, however I personally recommend the Matrix M-Stage or the Schiit Asgard.
 
I think any of the following would be a good start in audiophillia, especially for a varied genre listener.
KRK KNS8400, although you may find it has less bass than the M50 and is a touch bright.
Shure SRH 840, I find it brighter than the KNS8400, but with better bass and highs.
Shure SRH940, very detailed but bass anemic.
Audio Technica ATH A700X, good all round headphone. Not the most comfortable though, clamps tight and unless you rubber band mod it can slip down on smaller heads.
Audio Technica ATH A900X, really good headphone. No real weaknesses in sound, but same comfort issues as A700X.
V-Moda M80, no real weaknesses. Leans towards basscentric, but less than the M50.
 
Very much appreciated info. I overlooked a sound card, because I was under the impression that an external dac/amp would be much better in terms of getting bang out of your money. I will gladly hold on to my dollar bills. Thanks for list as well, do you feel that any of the headphones you listed would really be better off with an amp or can it get by without?
 
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PurpleAngel

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Audio Technica ATH-A900X, used one on eBay, shipped for $180.
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Audio-Technica-ATH-a900x-headphones-/110980065935?pt=US_Headphones&hash=item19d6ed6a8f
 
O2 (Objective 2) portable headphone amplifier, also works fine as an AC powered desktop, $155
Fiio E11 portable headphone amplifier, $51, $55 with spare battery and simple battery recharger.
 
Xonar DX or D1 sound card, CS4398 DAC chip and Dolby Headphone surround sound, $65 used or $81 new
or Refurb Creative X-Fi Titanium PCI-E sound card, $44.99
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Audio-Technica-ATH-a900x-headphones-/110980065935?pt=US_Headphones&hash=item19d6ed6a8f
 
The Fiio E17 headphone amplifier, $140, with it's optical input, would be a good combo with the Titanium (non-HD) sound card.
 
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Tangster

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Quote:
 
Very much appreciated info. I overlooked a sound card, because I was under the impression that an external dac/amp would be much better in terms of getting bang out of your money. I will gladly hold on to my dollar bills. Thanks for list as well, do you feel that any of the headphones you listed would really be better off with an amp or can it get by without?
The KRK KNS8400 benefits from an amp. I've only ever heard the A900X with an amp so can't comment(I do have a pair coming in the post next week). The rest will do quite well without an amp.
 
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AtlanticMadness

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Thanks for all the help to both. I'll be going with A900X + Xonar DX for sure now. Still researching amps but will probably just pick one of your suggestions, again I appreciate the help.
 
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PurpleAngel

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Quote:
Thanks for all the help to both. I'll be going with A900X + Xonar DX for sure now. Still researching amps but will probably just pick one of your suggestions, again I appreciate the help.
Xonar DX is a great value, but not something you want to plug the A900X straight into, so you will some sort of external headphone amplifier
and it must have a headphone output jack with a very low impedance, like 5-Ohm or less.
 
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jasonb

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I just got an AKG Q701 and a Fiio E17 for $380 all said and done. So that is a very good sounding option. 
 
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Just get a FIIO Q1 and a refurb Hifiman HE 400i. Less than $350 and you'll be in heaven.
If you need a more powerful amp, get a Nobsound NS-08E tube amp for $40 and feed it from the Q1 dac line out.
 
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kid vic

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I used to have the A900X and didn't like it after awhile compared to my other headphones, I recall finding it superior to the Beyerdynamic DT770's it replaced though. Consider the
sony MDR-7506 (my dearly beloved previous portable) or the MDR-7509 (little brother to my current reference can MDR-7520). Both of the sony's mentioned will play beautifully from your phone without issues.

Try to get a DAC/Amp combo like the Aune T1 or one of SMSL's offerings
 
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