Alrighty,.. like myself maybe you enjoy ‘stream of consciousness’ writing, or maybe you are upselling your skills (create a topic mayhaps?)...
The overkill of information when you need to share which configuration iDevices you own (which magically seem about bragging rights, but that is more an apple thing as they are seen as a premium brand), which I’d be inclined to do too-depending on the thread- true sometimes the greater memory capacity versions have slightly faster storage inbuilt, more to do with the controller chip for the storage, but telling an Echobox thread all about how many gigs and whether your idevices have cellular etc has little to do with the music.. or a music player...
playing Devils adovocate I can understand why you might list your future upgrade for your phone.. but it has little to do with the recommendations you are wanting is my guess..
But assuming I am wrong,... and assuming I have read you right- you will be using iDevices as your primary source for a multitude of formats and media streaming services/stores.. so I recommend that any Bluetooth device you do get supports AAC format natively.
By saving conversion stages you have a better chance of hearing more natural sound.
I do find it odd with that headphone inventory that you are insistent on saving money on your music playback device.. especially with regards to your fanatiscism with cables.
Dont get me wrong, I love cables too.. but they are like the last thing - after room treatment and speaker cones etc to play with. They will/can change the sound (on equipment great enough and well set up) to those who know what they are listening for... but they should NEVER factor more than 10% the system price. (otherwise the money is definately better spent on better gear).
With your headphone inventory - saying you have limited budget and want to buy an entry level amp/DAC to be a utilitarian device,.. I’d truly recommend holding off on the next headphone purchase and channeling some more funds into the electronics that will pair with all of them. The electronics you use will ALL you headphones get used all the time. Another set of headphones will just leave others on the shelf.. it doesn’t seem like logical investment for ‘best bang for buck’ having your money tied up in devices that are not being used.
So either sell an old set of headphones (if you really think you need those new headphones, and are unwilling to spend much on the amp/DAC that drives them ALL), or delay that next headphone purchase until you have the right electronics to power your existing sets. (you might find you dramatically enjoy your present headphones enough, with proper upstream tools to do the job well).
When I added a Creative E5 (Literally one of the junkiest, cheap audio parts an AudioFool could find!) to our headphone collection; everything was magically better. It blows away the output of an iDevice. And this isn’t about electrical measurements, this is about music. The two have very limited correlations... (and most measruement equipment isn’t design to test for ‘musicality’ but rather specific traits. I don’t listen to square waves!
Anyhow- the Creative E5... Supports AAC format as the bluetooth codec from iDevices and will lessen the conversion stages to send the music to the speakers. A Creative E5 fed into a car stereo system, or even playing back iTunes store music via bluetooth sounds vastly better than the iDevices raw output. (sad but true, irrelevant to how well an iPhone/or any phone measure electrically) Soundstage and finesse, layering and the ‘get your toe tapping’ vibe that comes with musical playback.. a second hand E5 shouldn’t set you back much, and is such a ‘jack of all trades device’ that it will pay for itself again and again and again.
True, my child rejects it now in order to use the FIIO x5(III) in the house.. but that is more to do with the half terabyte of lossless music on the FIIO, and that it is a DAP... (no need for several devices/doesn’t distract with incoming messages etc from phones that are used for communication)
If you were truly trying to save money, then absolutely grab an Echobox Explorer. It wont do half the things you want, but then that is what the ES100 you use is for...
I believe you’d do well to save up for a nice Astell and Kern, and as I mentioned drop are selling an older unit that electrically measures SIMILAR to my FIIO X5(III) but it would totally smash if for musicallity,. It is a couple of tiers UP the range as audio devices go.
The Echobox wouldn’t be far behind my FIIO X5 is my (educated) guess.
If I had the cash to spare; I’d grab an Echobox, load the same music as is already on my FIIO X5, and then when the child needs borrow a device, I truly wouldn’t care which one it was.. (they’d be in the same ballpark).
The A&K I recommended you (that DROP offers, and includes a music catalogue nearly equal to the asking price) would be a big jump up, and when you have your regular hifi rig, or parts of it, in use again, it would certainly give everything you could want...
To be fair, I really encourage you to scrounge for some second hand cheap part that allows you to get away from ‘direct from phone’ sound. You have such a nice selection of ‘cans... Power them right and they will deliver some sweet sounds. But looking to your personality, as given in the writing above, I feel that upgradeitis would end up costing you a lot if you kept buying entry level ‘mid-fi’ DAPs and DACs/amps...
If I loan you a few DACs/amps you might be willing to upgrade their power cables to whatever improves their sound.
Send them back when you are on your feet again, and the cables you will have given me will of course pay me back tenfold :-)
If you are into headphone modding I have lots of single cable devices that I would love to use with balanced cables...
I don’t think my FIIO X5(III) is anything special as a balanced output device.. and I don’t think the investment is worth it at this level of the hifi game.
Hence why I feel you will need to spend serious money on something like an Opus #2 to be even slightly satisfied.
Given your list of sources.. a DAP doesn’t sound like your ENDGAME device.. A nice portable DAC/amp would be though..
So with a limited budget, you could ALMOST get away with the DACs in the iDevices (again, based on the level of kit you are USED TO USING), and maybe just focus on a nice portable amp to get those headphones sounding their absolute best!!