USB DAC/Headphone Amp Recommendations
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MassDude

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Hi all,
 
Am looking for recommendations for a USB DAC/Headphone amp. I have an old FiiO E7 which is just so-so and I want to replace it. I will mostly be using this with my Audio-Technica ATH-M50Xs, and sometimes with B & W P5s. I listen to FLACs exclusively.
 
There's a lot out there - I've seen good reviews with Meridian's Explorer, the newer AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2, and Cambridge Audio's DacMagic XS.
 
Appreciate your thoughts!
 
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PurpleAngel

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  Am looking for recommendations for a USB DAC/Headphone amp. I have an old FiiO E7 which is just so-so and I want to replace it. I will mostly be using this with my Audio-Technica ATH-MX50s, and sometimes with B & W P5s. I listen to FLACs exclusively.
There's a lot out there - I've seen good reviews with Meridian's Explorer, the newer AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2, and Cambridge Audio's DacMagic XS.
 
You might do better and sell off the ATH-M50s and put all your budget for better headphones.
 
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MassDude

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The ATH-MX50s are decent headphones for their price point. I'm listening to FLAC off of my laptop; For now, I'm looking for recommendations for a USB DAC/Headphone amp. Later on I can upgrade my headphones. I want to get the source system tweaked first. Adding better/expensive headphones now won't do much for the sound if it is just using the on-board audio from the laptop.
 
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cel4145

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Do you need a tiny portable amp/dac setup? If no, the Cambridge Audio's DacMagic XS is close in price to the Schiit Modi/Magni stack, which is generally considered one of the best desktop amp/dac setups.
 
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  The ATH-MX50s are decent headphones for their price point. I'm listening to FLAC off of my laptop; For now, I'm looking for recommendations for a USB DAC/Headphone amp. Later on I can upgrade my headphones. I want to get the source system tweaked first. Adding better/expensive headphones now won't do much for the sound if it is just using the on-board audio from the laptop.
 
Not sure I entirely agree with this.
 
Been sitting here surfing the net listening on the laptop with my Meridian Explorer and Sony's current top of the line consumer headphone (~$300).  I think it sounds pretty great for what it is. 
 
Based on this thread, I just pulled out the Explorer and plugged the headphones direct into the laptop.  Sound is certainly more muddled.  Switching back to the Meridian, I'm really glad I have it.  It's marginally, but certainly meaningfully, better.
 
But at the same time, if I had to choose between having the DAC/amp versus better headphones, I'd choose the latter every time.  Like, for example, I have a B&W P5 somewhere at home.  I'd much rather listen through the Sonys straight out of the laptop than the P5 out of the Meridian. 
 
Assuming your laptop isn't totally deficient (and your DAP certainly isn't), the differences with better electronics is a marginal (though perhaps very meaningful) gain.  The differences between headphones is a fundamental change in the character of your sound.
 
I've been through a ton of gear, both audiophile high end and consumer high end.  If I were in your shoes, I'd buy better headphones.
 
Just my $0.02.
 
-Jason
 
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MassDude

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Do you need a tiny portable amp/dac setup? If no, the Cambridge Audio's DacMagic XS is close in price to the Schiit Modi/Magni stack, which is generally considered one of the best desktop amp/dac setups.
My laptop is stationary on my desk, so no real need for a portable setup. The Schiit Modi/Magni combo seems to be a great choice. Thanks for the tip!
 
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MassDude

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Not sure I entirely agree with this.
 
Been sitting here surfing the net listening on the laptop with my Meridian Explorer and Sony's current top of the line consumer headphone (~$300).  I think it sounds pretty great for what it is. 
 
Based on this thread, I just pulled out the Explorer and plugged the headphones direct into the laptop.  Sound is certainly more muddled.  Switching back to the Meridian, I'm really glad I have it.  It's marginally, but certainly meaningfully, better.
 
But at the same time, if I had to choose between having the DAC/amp versus better headphones, I'd choose the latter every time.  Like, for example, I have a B&W P5 somewhere at home.  I'd much rather listen through the Sonys straight out of the laptop than the P5 out of the Meridian. 
 
Assuming your laptop isn't totally deficient (and your DAP certainly isn't), the differences with better electronics is a marginal (though perhaps very meaningful) gain.  The differences between headphones is a fundamental change in the character of your sound.
 
I've been through a ton of gear, both audiophile high end and consumer high end.  If I were in your shoes, I'd buy better headphones.
 
Just my $0.02.
 
-Jason
I certainly see your point. I wasn't thrilled with the sound from the B & W P5s and find the ATH-M50x much better sounding to my ears. Maybe the over-ear vs on the ear has something to do with the sound to my ears. Cost certainly isn't the issue since the B & W's cost more and B & W is certainly no slouch when it comes to audio gear. What cans would you suggest at the $300-$400 price point that would be better in your opinion than the ATH-M50X?
 
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MassDude

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I ended up getting the Schiit Modi/Magni and all I can say is "Holy Sch**t" !! Just amazing. The ATH-M50X's really shine using this DAC/amplifier combination.
 
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Good you are happy. I was gonna have you think of upgrading the headphones instead since upgrading headphones brings about more significant change in sound quality. I have the original m50s, and when I bought the dacmagic xs, there was/is no improvement in sound quality except for higher volume level.
 
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I ended up getting the Schiit Modi/Magni and all I can say is "Holy Sch**t" !! Just amazing. The ATH-M50X's really shine using this DAC/amplifier combination.

Congrats! I have not heard the Modi/Magni. But I used to have the ODAC and O2, which many people say sounds very similar. It's great getting good clean sound, isn't it? :D

Nice thing about that setup, too, is that it will drive pretty much any headphone well.
 
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Congrats! I have not heard the Modi/Magni. But I used to have the ODAC and O2, which many people say sounds very similar. It's great getting good clean sound, isn't it?


Nice thing about that setup, too, is that it will drive pretty much any headphone well.
Yes, the sound is amazing - what a change! 

 
That's the good thing - as I explore other headphone options, I know that the Schiit combo will be able to drive whatever I decide on.
 
As to others on this thread, I sense no love for the ATH-M50X, and I wonder why. I've read nothing but glowing reviews on them, including InnerFidelity and CNet, and to me they sound good. Obviously there are much better headphones out there, but at this time I don't see spending more than $500 on my next set of cans.
 
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