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newbie needs help understanding DAC/Amp + recommendations

  1. loozh
    Hi newbie here.

    I recently decided to join the audiophile community ( and possible slippery slope) and upgraded from a KZ AS10 to an UE-11 pro.
    Upon purchase + impressions, the store i got from and a few customers there kept on recommending to get a DAC/AMP although i usually listen through a 3.5mm jack in my Samsung Galaxy S9. So here is a few questions i am confused about.

    1) Is a DAC/AMP really required to maximize the experience?

    2) what specs or features should i look out for when choosing a DAC/AMP?

    3) Why are some DAC/AMP way more expensive despite have lesser features
    (e.g. Fiio Q5s vs Phatlab Phantasy 2)

    4) So far i did some research on Fiio Q5s and cord Mojo, (can't tell much difference in performance), any recommendations between these 2 and beyond?

    Thank you everyone for your replies and assistance.
  2. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    That depends on whether your headphones have low sensitivity and/or very low or very high impedance, and if whatever mainstream device you're using them on has high output impedance.

    For reference most smartphones have around 15mW at best. That's not optimal though absolutely not a problem for headphones/IEMs with sensitivity at 100dB/1mW to 105dB/1mW. Above that you're getting closer to not having a problem with the output power at all but just how much less distortion and noise you want, particularly if there's an impedance issue.

    Haven't tried the S9 but my S3, S7 Edge, my Dad's S5, all sucked vs my Note 3 and Note 4 on some earphones. All of these are T-Mobile though and these use the embedded and neutered DAC-headphone driver chip embedded in the Snapdragon chipset. That's kind of like if I only wanted to play LoL, but I'm still using a low end AMD APU pre-Ryzen+Vega.

    Output power, output impedance, low THD+N, connectivity options

    Why would a Lotus without A/C cost more than a Lexus? Why would a Lamborghini with a good stereo system cost more than a Mercedes with practically a home theater system with a tiny screen? Why would an EVGA RTX 2080 Ti Kingpin cost more than a reference NVidia RTX 2080 Ti if they're running the same chip but chances are the failure rate will be higher?

    You're paying for Class A operation in that example. That's very hard to implement especially in a portable amp since that wastes a lot of energy and emits a lot of heat, so you trade off power for lower noise and distortion.

    Same way you can buy a Camry or Lexus but Lotus can have Yamaha tune that same V6 engine and put it in a tiny chassis that goes from 0-60mph in 3.6seconds and goes around corners as well as a new Supra without the electronic aids (assuming you also know how to actually drive). That Lamborghini costs more because it has a higher revving V12 so you can handle long corners better without running out of revs while the production costs are higher than Mercedes (not to mention you get slapped with a higher tax on a 2-seater vs a 4-seater). Higher failure rates on Kingpin cards isn't because the quality is bad, but because they're equipped for the users to really mess around with them and that's what the buyers of that kind of graphics card would look for.

    It's kind of like if you ask why I'd use a $300 fish slicer that I would only use on wide cuts of fish but never on thick cuts of meat since it strays the longer the cut when some other people can buy a $120 8in Wusthoff and use that for everything from breaking down chicken to prepping crudo and carving a prime rib. When you go into the details the raw salmon is more frayed on that one.

    Or why a bike that doesn't have climate control nor a radio cost $50,000. Anyone buying that bike likely spends enough weekends at Laguna Seca to want to scrape his knee pads at a higher speed than roll around in an Audi.
  3. joesuburb
    Generally speaking, when you are dealing with efficient headphones such as IEMs, you are better off putting your money into better headphones than a DAC/Amp. Just my opinion, but its a bang for the buck thing.

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