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  • JFS
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Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
I am not sure at this point what I want for headphones, but computer sound is not good so I need another solution. I thought I would get a dac/amp now and look for headphones later. Will be  using this for Desktop and not portable use. Probably need dac/amp that will drive a number of headphones.

What impedance should I look for in an amp?

I want to keep cost down, but also don't want to spend too little and find out it is not enough power. From what I have read most dacs are similar and the amp needs to have enough power to   drive the headphones properly for sound quality. Want the best sound for music. Not into games or surround. Hopefully transparency (or is it better to have some eq for some music)

Not sure whether I need an amp that plugs in a wall outlet, or is usb enough for power?

Some of the features I like:
- use Linux so would like plug and play if possible
- gain switch so better control of volume adjustment
- connections: headphone out, rca out to hook to external amplifier (don't think I need more)

Computer has usb and spdif out (not sure if this will bypass the sound card)

These are some of the products I have looked at:

Fiio e10k
Magni/Modi
Audioengine D1
Toppping a30, d30
Drangonfly black, red
Odac/o2
FX Audio Dac-x6

If it is better I could split up the dac and amp; also use a cheaper dac if the sound quality is the same and add a better amp. If I do this I am wondering about compatibility between dacs   and amps (eg the Schitt modi has 75 ohm output. Is this common?)

Also like to hear of other options.

Thanks for reading and advice.


Joe

  • DVDdoug
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #1
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but computer sound is not good so I need another solution.
Are you talking about the speakers built into a laptop?

If you plug a pair of good studio monitors into your soundcard you should get darn good sound.    Or, powered computer speakers can go from "cheap sounding" to very good sounding.

You'll probably also get good sound if you plug a good pair of headphones directly into your soundcard.

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Probably need dac/amp that will drive a number of headphones.
Here is a multi-output headphone amp, but it doesn't have USB.

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Not sure whether I need an amp that plugs in a wall outlet, or is usb enough for power?
You can probably get enough power from USB, but I'd look for one that's wall powered.   It will depend on the sensitivity of your headphones and how loud you like to listen.

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Computer has usb and spdif out (not sure if this will bypass the sound card)
Yes.   With a digital connection you're bypassing your soundcard. 

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and amps (eg the Schitt modi has 75 ohm output. Is this common?)
That's fine for driving an amplifier or active speakers but it's too high for headphones.   The rule-of-thumb is that source impedance should be 1/8th (or less) the load impedance (and headphones are typically 32-64 Ohms).    But, sometimes the "output impedance" spec refers to the recommended minimum load and the source impedance is less than that.    For example a power amp with "4-Ohm" outputs can drive 4-Ohm speakers, but it's actual source impedance is far less than 1 Ohm.     

Line level inputs are typically 10K Ohms or more so a 75 Ohm source fine.

  • 4season
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #2
I'd suggest not making this any harder than it has to be  ;)

O2 + ODAC and the Topping combo you mention both look like they'd handle just about anything up to 600 ohms.

You can generally mix-and-match DACs and amps freely.

O2 has a gain switch, but the designer says it's for use with analog inputs only: When used with ODAC, this should be left in the low gain setting to prevent possible clipping. So don't get too excited about this feature.

The original version of ODAC works fine with Linux. I have not tried "Revision B" nor the Topping D30 but suspect they would be fine.

My only experience with Topping is with their VX3 amplifier which I mostly use as a speaker amp: Impression is that quality is good. Not a specialized headphone amp like the A30, but it works very well with my 50 ohm Fostex T50RPs.

  • JFS
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #3
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but computer sound is not good so I need another solution.
Are you talking about the speakers built into a laptop?

This is a Desktop computer so not looking for portable. I just acquired this computer. I am using Linux and this being new hardware Linux doesn't have good drivers. I could go with adding a sound card, but would rather add an external dac/amp      

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Probably need dac/amp that will drive a number of headphones.

Here is a multi-output headphone amp, but it doesn't have USB.
Sorry for the confusion. I meant that I wasn't sure what I was going to buy for headphones so wanted an amp that would be able to drive various headphones. That amp looks interesting. I am thinking for a dac and amp up to $300 Canadian.
  • Last Edit: 27 November, 2017, 01:22:29 AM by JFS

  • DVDdoug
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #4
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Sorry for the confusion. I meant that I wasn't sure what I was going to buy for headphones so wanted an amp that would be able to drive various headphones.
I'm still not convinced you need anything beyond a regular soundcard,   If you're having driver problems, I'm sure there are plenty of soundcards that support Linux (but I'm not a Linux user).   A USB soundcard might be more compatible than an internal sound card because they are standardized to work with "class compliant" Microsoft-supplied & Apple-supplied drivers...   If a "standard" Windows or OSX driver works with these things, I assume someone has written a Linux driver that works with all of them...

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That amp looks interesting. I am thinking for a dac and amp up to $300 Canadian
It's your money and you can do what you want but In that price range I'd be thinking about an HDMI card and a home theater receiver.    You might have to spend a bit more than $300 CAD and you might have to look around for an HDMI card that supports Linux, but you'd be getting a LOT more for you money.    (Sometimes receivers don't have the "best" headphone amps, but they are usually adequate and you'll get some bass/treble or EQ control so you can adjust the sound, and you might even get Dolby Headphone processing, etc.)   

  • JFS
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #5
I have an HDMI out on the motherboard. I haven't tried it yet. Will have to see when I have a receiver. I am planning to get a receiver in the future, but I mostly listen to headphones where I live. I thought a dac would give better results with headphones. I would have to try a receiver. Have their been any comparisons between stereo headphone amps and external dac/amps for sound?  I am not really concerned about surround, would rather get a stereo amp. I will probably get something used so will see if I can get one with HDMI.

Is spdif out as good as usb for sound quality?
  • Last Edit: 28 November, 2017, 11:40:37 PM by JFS

  • dneern
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #6
I am in a similar position to you at the moment OP. And I thought I would give you a little heads up about Schiit.

I thought their products seemed good and had good specs for decent prices, then I started doing some research looking for objective scientific reviews and I came up with this post on nwavguy's blog:
http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/07/banned-at-head-fi.html

It's a bit of a read, but I think if you do read it you'll understand why I say that you should probably think about avoiding Schiit products. They're a bit unscrupulous in their practices, and they don't follow very good design principals which lead to a whole controversy over the fact that their poorly designed amplifiers were very clearly causing damage to people's expensive headphones. Not the best and brightest when it comes to electrical engineering.

edit: I think you can find the video evidence of the headphone damage in the comments.

  • kode54
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  • Administrator
Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #7
Thank goodness we're only hosted by a software developer, and rather a reputable one at that. I would hate to see sponsor bias creep too heavily in and displace common sense and good logic.

  • JFS
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #8
Thanks for the advice about Schiit. The article was good to read. I'm sorry to hear about head-fi and their attitude.


I am in a similar position to you at the moment OP. And I thought I would give you a little heads up about Schiit.

I thought their products seemed good and had good specs for decent prices, then I started doing some research looking for objective scientific reviews and I came up with this post on nwavguy's blog:
http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/07/banned-at-head-fi.html

It's a bit of a read, but I think if you do read it you'll understand why I say that you should probably think about avoiding Schiit products. They're a bit unscrupulous in their practices, and they don't follow very good design principals which lead to a whole controversy over the fact that their poorly designed amplifiers were very clearly causing damage to people's expensive headphones. Not the best and brightest when it comes to electrical engineering.

edit: I think you can find the video evidence of the headphone damage in the comments.
  • Last Edit: 05 December, 2017, 03:07:14 PM by JFS

  • jjb70
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Re: Like advice on choosing a dac/amp
Reply #9
In fairness to Schiit that is going back a few years and they did address the issue. I agree they handled it badly initially and I think Schiit recognised that.
As hifi manufacturers go Schiit do avoid the outrageous stuff of some high end manufacturers (such as not pushing silly price cables, power chords etc) and they offer affordable entry point products which is more than many do. They have also avoided the MQA stuff. So while I haven't bought any of their stuff and do think they reacted badly to the Asgard issue initially I really don't see them as a bad company.