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Confused amateur here looking for some dumbed-down advice/opinions please (I understand the subjective nature of audio). I think I prefer natural, uncoloured sound. I started off with a Fidelio X2 about a year ago and really liked it over the casual stuff I'd been using. Then I got an HD6XX and while it lacked the excitement of the X2 it somehow felt more authentic and satisfying (and less grating high up) and I really fell in love with it. I'm driving it via the builtin TI NE5532-based amp in my PC and it's noticeably better than everything else, e.g. smartphone, laptop jack (I spend 90% of my listening time at my desk by my PC). So I'm looking to take the next step and get a decent general-purpose amp, not just for the HD6XX but whatever I get in future - something like an Elear is probably as high as I'll go.
This amp seems like it could be a great buy but I don't understand enough to know that. I imagine if I get it, I'd need a decent DAC to do it justice, as opposed to a PC's line out (which I imagine is quite dirty by comparison). Is there a good choice for a 2V DAC with a price tag that makes sense? Should I possibly be looking somewhere else for my first amp and then look at something like this later? Would I even be able to tell the difference?
Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!
Knowone knows what this amp will sound like. I have been listening to a JDS Labs 02 amp and their OL DAC for the last year. It is t the end all be all but for a little over $200 clams it's getting the job done and sounding good doing it.
Well for starters, you should probably be considering an amp that doesn't have a six month wait time like this one which is scheduled to ship in Feb 2019.
Get an amp that's available now, driving the 6XX from a PC is very suboptimal. You don't necessarily need to get a DAC straight off.
Standard recommendations would be a cheap Schitt stack (Modi + Magni, or just the Magni), even a Fulla 2. The CTH on Massdrop seems to be in stock so no massive lead times. If you've got limited budget, concentrate on the amp. A DAC doesn't make as big a difference and you can always look for one later.
Going off of what RockyMountains said, the CTH pairs really well with the HD 6XX and HD 800 series, it was tuned for Sennheisers. We won't know about THX pairings until it's out. I bought one because I could use a good solid state amp (I have mostly tubes and hybrids now) and imagine it should go well with some of my collection.
If you go that route, I also found the CTH also pairs well with the HE 4XX but didn't like it with the Elex so probably not a good candidate for the Elear.
I disagree with RockyMountains about Dacs, I think they can make a big difference. The "cheap" option that I prefer is the Modi Multibit. I use my CTH and Modi Multibit at work and thoroughly enjoy them even though I have a much better setup at home.
What didn’t you like about the Elex and CTH? I’ve read that this is a particularly nice pairing. I bought the CTH and Mimby in anticipation of landing an Elex drop. I found some on ebay (which arrive today) but the Tube blew on the CTH while burning in. I’m beginning to think that I’m cursed. Just wondered if you found an alternative.
First essential thing, our taste may not match so this could be the perfect combo for you. :) If our taste does match, that combo is GREAT for some affordable headphones (HD 6XX, HD 58X Jubilee, HE 4XX).
I tend to like warmer and strong mid bass for most music or awesome clarity for classical (and some jazz). If I had to pick one amp and two sets of headphones, they would be the La Figaro 339, Elex, and HD 800 (with SDR mod). Different sets of tubes for classical vs everything else.
To answer your question, I found the Elex + CTH to be dry and lacking punch. Part of the joy of the Elex is they are ENERGETIC. I felt like the CTH killed that energy. I also don’t like the CTH + LCD-2c.
I see. Thanks for the detailed response! Judging by what you've told me, we have VERY similar tastes. I also own HD 58X which I really love with my Bottlehead Crack (although it is an OTL tube amp not necissarily recommended for 150 Ohms cans). I'm guessing that this is more similar to La Figaro 339 in sound than it is the CTH. The only reason I ended up buying the CTH was for the Elex based on some recommendations. I thought that I would be getting a more versatile amp that is somewhat similar to the Crack, but would work to drive both the 58X and Elex. I've noticed just what you have - less thump, good clarity, dry and with a more closed soundstage by comparison using the HD58X. Everything about Elex excites me besides the fact that they are almost too easily driven so I "shouldn't" use a OTL tube amp unless it's one designed as such. With my CTH possibly being defective (blown tube almost immediately), I'm wondering if Massdrop will refund and allow me to purchase something else. I did pick up a Gold Lion 6922 which arrives today along with the Elex, so I will give that a spin. Since many options aren't available (including La Figaro) or wouldn't ship until next year, I may be stuck. Any other recommendations in the sub $400 range if I do end up being able to return the CTH?
I didn't think the Gold Lion is a good match for the CTH, I liked it less than stock. My favorite ended up being the Siemens E188CC. I also have an Amperex which is good too (don't remember which model). The stock tube is good but I find the Siemens more musical.
The La Figaro is a bit weird, it is really good for both low and high impedance headphones including any planars I've tried with it. It's my favorite pairing for the Elex so far.
I found the Jotenheim good with my HD 6XX (at a meet) but never tried it with the Elex. It was very clean and energetic. Schiit tends to have good value for the money but proper pairing is still essential so I would try one first or be sure you already have the Elex on hand so you can return the Jot if you decide the pairing isn't good. You may also like the Jot for the HD 58X.
I find the HD 58X dryer than the HD 6XX so that may also be a factor with what you're hearing with the CTH.
The Topping DX7S is a fantastic choice, with measurements that put DACs several times its price to shame (*cough* Yggdrasil *cough*). I will, however, point out that getting something that is perfectly transparent to human ears, meaning that getting something better will not yield any truly audible improvements, is not that hard.
Any decent amp can manage better than ±0.5dB 20Hz-20kHz, which is the audible threshold for frequency response deviations, which means that they will be completely indistinguishable from an amp that is perfectly flat and, by extension, from each other.
There are two other factors that can affect the sound of an amp in a real, meaning "not attributable to psychological effects or flawed testing methodology", way: Distortion and the output impedance of the amp. Distortion has an audible threshold of about 1%, but some studies have found around 0.1% and I generally go with the stricter option. With this amp, the distortion could increase by 1000 times and still would not be audible.
For output impedance, you want it to be one tenth of the impedance of your headphones, or one eighth according to NwAvGuy but again I go with the stricter option, to avoid producing audible changes to frequency response. Output impedance is the real source for the majority of "tube sound". You can go look at measurements for this, and you will also find plenty of reviews of the Schiit Valhalla 2, an amp with a low output impedance for an OTL tube amp, mentioning how it sounds less "tubey".
I am in on the last DX7s drop, so hoping you are right about its performance! But, the output impedance of its SE and balanced headphone outputs... What was Topping thinking?
Now I question why I just didn’t buy the balanced DAC only SMSL SU-8 to drive my balanced amps... I am afraid with the sky high output impedance of the DX7s I won’t even bother using the amp on it... and I really doubt I would be able to tell the difference between the amp on the DX7s and the SU-8... basically I paid around $180 extra for an amp section I won’t use... D’oh!! :-(
I had a 1k dedicated balanced heaphone amp I used to use with the DX7s for use with my HD800s. Well at 300 Ohms the cheap balanced HP out sounds better than the 1k fully balanced super low Ohm output unit. No question. I'm on this drop because I really like the feed forward sound and have a Hegel integrated for speaks I adore. Really curious if this will be as good but in a headphone amp way.. Hey @AndrewMason what are you guys doing differently than Hegel in your feed forward design.
Hegel's patent discusses standard feedforward and feedback, mixed in with a complication of a threshold-controlled analog switch (they misleadingly name as "threshold detector") which disconnects or connects the FF path based on the magnitude of the distortion. But using an analog switch like this will never really permit ultra-low distortion, and it may introduce audible clicks and pops as it cycles on and off with the musical signal. If you look at Hegel's THD figures, they're decent but not spectacular.
THX's patents use a non-standard FF + FB. This non-standard approach uses a much more linear arrangement of components that among other things eliminates inductors, enabling AAA to achieve outstandingly low distortion and much smaller form factors.
Since you are pretty new to this audiophile stuff....run now run away and save your money....nah just kidding. For real I would recommend as a starting point the Audioquest Dragonfly or Beetle dac amp. Or possibly the iFi Audio Nano iDsd Black or xDsd dac amps. Great options for a good entry level price. The Schiit Modi Magni or Vali stacks are also great options.
The truth is that I can run you a decent list of choices, but it depends on your taste and budget. So many ways to go really. I love my portable rig which consists of the Audioquest Dragonfly Red plus Jitterbug to my Nad HP50 cans from my Samsung S7.
Measurements do not lie. As for the amp, it is not great, but the SU-8 has issues where it clips at full scale from the balanced outputs.
The dragonfly is not very good, nor is the modi. For entry-level stuff, the Topping D30 crushes pretty much everything else, or you can get the SMSL iDEA if you want something small.
I agree that they are entry-level dac amps that I pointed out. Although I do think that the iFi xDSD is pretty good and more than entry-level. The Dragonfly is good for my portable needs. Never had the opportunity to listen to any Topping gear, and SMSL has a good reputation for cool gear at excellent price points. I should have also pointed out the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2, but then again it doesn't drive high end headphones well enough, but if the cans are moderate and or easy to drive the S2 is a good choice too.
Mind you notice that I have mentioned combo units that are both Dac and Amps. I guess I like an all in one solution. But hey separates are better for the long haul and dacs can rotate every couple of years.
I have to say, I wasn't expecting an answer here, but am super grateful! I'm on board for all the THX drops from now on. Super great work on product and Q and A guys!!!
as for DACs - get Khadas Tone Board or Schiit Modi 3. audiosciencereview has good measurements of these.