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Not sure what I am looking for exactly, Can someone help?

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by elluzion, Jan 17, 2011.
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  1. Elluzion
    Hey everyone!
    Basically, currently I have the JH5's (custom IEM's) and a Cowon J3, but I would like to listen on my big desktop computer.
    Would I need a DAC to connect to my computer through USB to override the audio card and then plug my JH5's into the DAC to listen through my computer? Is this what I am looking for?
    I want to be able to listen to songs on my computer at the best quality possible,,, is there such thing as a full size desktop amp with DAC?
    Please let me know! I haven't done much research on desktop amps, but I don't need portability, please point me in the right direction!
    Also, how would I connect the amp or DAC to my computer?
  2. Elluzion
    any ideas?
  3. GreyArea
    You could start with something like the Audio-gd Fun or NuForce HDP. They are both full size desktop DAC/Amp combos. They also both have higher quality DACs than most soundcards so that would improve your listening experience.
    Try searching those two names and in 10 minutes you'll have a nice long list of desktop DAC/Amps. There's a load in the 'Head-Gear' section of the site too.
    Desktop DAC/Amp combos usually connect using USB or TOSLINK. If you have an optical TOSLINK output as part of your computer's sound card, it's usually a better option than USB with lower quality DACs although this is a subject of much debate here on Head-Fi.
    I'm trying to be fairly vague, your specific questions will be better answered by using the search bar. Hope that gives you a good start though.
  4. Yoga Flame

    Yes. It is better referred to as a DAC/amp, meaning that it has a built in headphone amp. There are standalone DACs that won't work well when connected directly to headphones.
    Yes again.
    The Yulong D100 is a very good desktop DAC that also has a good built-in headphone amp. Costs under $500 shipped. It's got balanced XLR outputs, as well as regular RCA line outputs. They are line level outputs at a fixed volume.
    A more budget friendly option is the Audinst HUD-mx1 at $179 shipped. It's got RCA output jacks that are controlled by the volume knob. So you can use it as a pre-amp for active speakers.
    An even cheaper option is the uDAC-2. It also works as a pre-amp.

    USB is the most common. Many DACs also accept digital inputs using SPDIF coaxial or optical. There are also Firewire DACs but those are less common.
  5. Elluzion
    Wouldn't I just want a DAC? i have the Jh5's and I don't think that they will benefit much from an amp, but I don't want to plug my headphones into my onboard computer output, not very good. Wouldn't I only need a DAC to bypass that?
  6. Yoga Flame
    Actually any device that is meant for headphones-- iPods, soundcards, CD players-- always has a built in amp. It's just that many of them aren't very powerful, so that's where the external amp comes in. But as you said, for efficient headphones this isn't as much of an issue.
    Now pure DACs also have some form of amplification, but it is meant for transferring the audio signal to an amp, rather than for powering headphones. The line out of a DAC actually has a higher output impedance than a proper headphone output. So not the best match for headphones, especially those with a low ohms rating. There is also the fact that most pure DACs only have RCA jacks for output, so you can't plug headphones directly into them anyway.
    Another important feature that a proper amp section brings is the analog volume control knob. Without it, you would have to lower the volume digitally. CD quality digital audio has 16 bits to represent the dynamic range of volume. As you lower the volume digitally, the number of bits left for use decreases. There will be a loss of resolution and the subtler details in the music will disappear as you go lower. With analog volume control, you can keep the digital volume at 100%.

  7. Elluzion


    So are you saying that basically any DAC I get will already have an amp? Would I need a DAC that says it has an amp built in?
    Thanks for the info1!
  8. Yoga Flame
    All digital audio is amped in some form. But not all are amped in the right way for powering headphones. Perhaps I got too caught up in the technical meaning of "amp". Usually when we talk about "amping" here on this site, it refers to headphone amping, and not line-out amping. So in that sense, not all DACs will have an amp built in.
    To answer the question, yes you would need a DAC that has a headphone amp.
    Here is an example of a DAC with no headphone amp:
    And here are a couple of DACs with headphone amps:


  9. Elluzion


    Thanks! I think I am going to go with the YULONG D100, looks promising! ALso, what would be the most HIGH QUALITY way to connect my MP3 player (cowon J3) doesn't have line out, but headphone out obviously. Would it be best through RCA from the amp/dac or XLR?? looks like the Yulong has both! It also says it has SPDIF or something, my big desktop computer has that, would that be the best way to connect it? or would USB be better?
    Thanks for all the help!
  10. GreyArea
    Sweet. I haven't heard of the Yulong but it sounds fully-featured. Where are you buying from? Can you get it from AudiophileChina or CoolFunGadget?
    The best way to connect your mp3 player would be using an 8th-inch-jack to RCA cable. 8th inch jack plugs in where your headphones plug in and the RCA go into the headphone amp in RCAs on the amp.
    Bear in mind that this will bypass the DAC in the unit and you'll be using the DAC in your mp3 player which won't be as high quality. There's no way to get round this unless you use a computer and connect using SPDIF or USB or buy an audiophile portable source like the FiiO E7 or something.
    So, no matter how you do it, the connection from your mp3 player won't be high quality. That's just the way it goes.
    XLR will probably be for balanced input and output and your mp3 player won't have this.
    SPDIF is the Sony/Phillips Digital Iinterface. It comes in either Optical (TOSLINK) or Coaxial (Wire). It's usually a better quality way to connect than USB because there can be complications with USB affecting the digital conversion. If your big computer has SPDIF, use that. It'll probably be optical which is how I connect my DAC to my PC sound card. Make sure you use a good media player like Foobar 2000 with a WASAPI or ASIO. That'll mean the audio bypasses the computer's hardware and all the conversion is done in the DAC, it sounds better.
    If you search for anything I've mentioned you'll find long threads that explain.
    Hope that helps.
  11. Elluzion


    Wow. This is some of the most useful straight forward information I have received! So basically if I want the highest quality from my MP3 that will be impossible because since it doesn't have a lineout, the RCA will bypass the DAC from the Amp and use my MP3 players anyway. And there is no way to avoid this?
    I just checked on my computer and it has an orange thing called "SPDIF OUT" is that what I would use?
    What is the WASAPI or ASIO? I usually use J.River MediaJukebox Player, would I have to switch?
    I wish I could get one of these! the black and purple!
    looks $$ though.. If i bought the Yulong, I think I would get it used. I would want black though
  12. Yoga Flame

    Yup. There are a few sellers on eBay that offer this. You can also get it direct from Tam's Audio (aka jtam aka coolfungadget).

    +1 to what GreyArea said. Basically the portable MP3 players already have their own DAC built in. With very few exceptions, these players can only output an analog signal. This would be either the headphone jack, or a 3.5mm line out jack. You can hook this up to an amp, but not to a DAC.
    The RCA jacks on the Yulong (and most other DACs) are the outputs for connecting to a separate amp. So you can't use that as an input from the MP3 player. The Yulong DAC has these digital inputs: USB, SPDIF coaxial, SPDIF optical (TOSlink), AES (this is the XLR digital input; mostly used in pro audio studios only). It has RCA analog line outputs, and XLR analog balanced outputs.
    There are some DAC/amp combo units that have both line in and line out RCA jacks. You could use your MP3 player with those. But I don't really see much use for that since if you had a nice desktop DAC, you'd want to use that to play your MP3s rather than the portable player.
    The short answer is no.
    But some MP3 players have special adapters or docking stations that will let you tap a line out signal from the player. These are sometimes called LODs (line out dock). I don't know if your player has this available. There are also other adapters for some Apple players that can extract a digital signal that bypasses the built in DAC. These are quite expensive for what they do, IMO. I think the Wadia one costs a few hundred dollars because they had to pay licensing fees to Apple.

    Yes, I believe an orange SPDIF out means digital coaxial. You can connect that to the Yulong. Many people have said coaxial sounds better than USB. My computer doesn't have a coaxial output, so I can't confirm that.
    WASAPI and ASIO are special drivers for Windows audio. I'm not a Windows guy myself, but from what I know Windows by default will process all audio before sending it to the soundcard. Sometimes this lowers the sound quality. So these special drivers help to avoid that. A popular player for Windows around here is Foobar. Again, I'm not a Windows guy, so that's the end of what I know about it.
  13. GreyArea


    Well, no. The thing is, that at some point your digital files have to get converted to analogue sound that can be played by your headphones. That's why it's good to have a decent Digital-Analogue-Converter. RCA, 1/4 as well as 1/8 inch jacks and line outs are all analogue outputs so by the time the sound get's there it's already been converted from the digital 0s and 1s into an analogue wave. In the case of your mp3 player (and most others out there), it doesn't have a digital output so there's no way to get the digital music out there so you can convert it with a good DAC. It's already been converted (and probably not that well) by the mp3 player. That's why it's best to use a source with digital output when playing digital files, so you can use your DAC.

    Orange? That'll be Digital Coaxial cable. They look like standard RCA ports but they're digital, not analogue.
    Use it if you can. It'll give you a good clean digital transfer. Better than stnadard USB because you don't need to think about asynchronous USB (don't ask).
    You'll need a similar digital port on your DAC to feed it in though. You can't directly convert coax to optical either, you need a little box (which might attenuate the signal).

    You might have to switch. I'm not sure if J.River Media Jukebox can output digital audio using one of these systems.
    I use Foobar 2000 which is just another media player. It has the advantages of being *highly* customisable and being able to play pretty much anything you throw at it.
    It also uses WASAPI, ASIO and it's own data transfer system.
    These acronyms are just the names of systems that ensure that your music doesn't get messed up on it's way between your media player and your DAC. I can hear the difference between with and without but that may be because I have a computer that likes to interfere with my music in some way.
    There are other media players that use these systems. I think WinAmp does too. Give it a search in the bar.

    How much are they new? What's your budget?
    EDIT: I mentioned SPDIF earlier, it's Sony/Phillips Digital Interconnect Format, not Sony/Phillips Digital Interface.
  14. GreyArea
    Ha! Yoga Flame, you beat me to it.[​IMG]
    Elluzion, there's some good info here.
    Yoga Flame's mentioned that the Yulong has CoAxial input so you can go direct from your computer to the DAC without any loss.
    I assumed you were on Windows too. For Mac users, the audio output is clean without the use of drivers.
    Tam at CoolFunGadget is a popular guy. I have a friend who bought from him and raved about the service.
    He's well though of here in Head-Fi too. 
    Haven't dealt with him personally but I wouldn't hesitate to in the future.
    I wish I'd read this thread to read 2 years ago. Would have saved me quite a bit of time.
  15. Elluzion
    Thanks for all the info again guys!
    So basically I am currently going to save money up for the Yulong D-100.
    A few more questions though, how would I be able to hook up my Audioengine A5's to the Yulong D-100? Would I be able to switch off between amping through my speakers and through my JH5's?
    Also, my JH5's are terminated to 1/8'', what would I need to convert to 1/4'' to fit the D-100?
    And just to double check, the best quality possible from my computer would be:
    Computer - Coax/SPDIF whatev - Yulong D-100 - JH5's (and i would play my music through  foobar2000
    and for the mp3 the best quality possible would be
    Cowon J3 - RCA cable to headphone out - JH5's right?
    Also, should the amp matter? Like if I get a tube vs. solid state? I will mainly be using the amp/dac with my computer and IEM jhaudio 5's, would it be better to get a tube or a hybrid over the Yulong-D100, cuz that one is solid state. Would it matter?
    Thanks! Now I am thinking whether I should get a seperate DAC and AMP. I'm thinking maybe a better DAC because an amp isn't as important for the JH IEM's
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