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I have seen many people recommending getting an AMP while lesser people talk about DAC.
So do I need both or will it be suffice with just an AMP?
After a quick look at the comments here, I intend to get a Schiit Vali 2(budget at <$200) but wondering if I need to get the Modi 2 as well. Or is the DAC more of an additional component that is good to have? On another note, the sound card on the PC got nothing to do with the audio as long as I use an AMP/DAC?
I am assuming you are pretty new to audio hardware, so I will attempt to break the info down for you. A DAC and amplifier are two different types of equipment. A DAC (short for digital to analog converter) takes a digital data signal from your computer or other devices and converts it to an analog signal that can be sent to your speakers or headphones. An amplifier will take that analog signal and increase the power to the appropriate level to drive your headphones. Many companies produce separate DAC and amp units so you can mix and match different units for your needs/preferences. These are generally best suited for use at home where they won't be moved around much. There are some products out there that combine the DAC and amp into one unit. The combined DAC/amp units are the best option for portability, but tend to be less powerful than the separate units for the same amount of money.
If you are going after the best sound quality, it is definitely recommended to get both a DAC and amp for your PC. I suggest saving up until you can afford both. You would do well to save a ton of time & money and buy yourself a Schiit Jotunheim w/ DAC add-on. With the Jotunheim, you will have all the connections, sound quality & power you will probably ever need for headphones.
Audio tech here.
If you use your headphone out to the amp, you are using a DAC, but it's your computers most likely not very good DAC.
If you use a sound card, you won't get any more audio quality than your motherboards built in DAC. You might have more volume (which, with 300 ohm headphones that have been measured at 500 ohms and higher at some frequencies) you will appreciate the volume but that's where the amp comes in.
If you use a sound card, you're getting electrical interference from the circuits of your pc. Some of them are well shielded and actually do an OK job at sound quality. You don't need to get a DAC to get a taste of what these headphones can do.
You will not get a taste of the quality of these headphones without an amp though.
Buy or build a good amp (bottlehead crack is considered the "end game" for these headphones If you're willing to solder it all yourself, otherwise schiit magni 2 uber is a budget option) and you'll get a taste of their quality.
If you don't think they have that good of sound quality, listen to them for a few days, and then go back to other headphones. If you still think they don't sound that good, you'll need a DAC because the interference of your motherboard are causing interference which could be ruining the sound quality.
If it STILL does not sound amazing, then theyre not for you, because for one, open backs are not for everyone, and second their sound signature is also not for everyone. for MOST people it is extremely pleasing. I had a pair of HD650's I wore the pads out on, and I just sold them and joined the 2nd drop of these instead of getting new ear pads, and I absolutely loved them.
I have a Schiit modi 2 uber DAC and a bottlehead crack amp that is amazing.
If after all the trouble of getting DAC and amp you still think they don't think they are worth it, you could sell the kit as a "starter audiophile kit" and probably get rid of it pretty fast and be close to breaking even on it all.
@lshriver @RiflemanFirst Thanks for all the info.
Yes. I am new to this and probably won't even bother with all this if not for this HD6XX that everyone is crazy about. But it is always good to try and experience new things. More information. I am only looking for a unit for home use. Never comfortable wearing a big headphone in public. And my computer does not have any speakers, so the AMP/DAC will purely be powering up the headphone.
The Schiit Johunheim and bottlehead crack (+ speedball) is definitely out of range. I am restricting my budget not because I cannot afford them (not saying I am rich but I can just save $100 every month for 6 months before the HD6XX is shipped and I will have $600) but more of like not wanting to throw in so much money for something I have zero experience with. Not even sure if I can tell the difference in sound quality between a $2000 and a $200 audio equipment. And I will probably never spend more for a headphone than these HD6XX. I will have till December to make my purchase so I might consider getting the Jotunheim (I have seen the video of the Bottleneck assembly and it seems like a very tedious job).
That being said. I would like to rephrase my question. Assuming that greater cost = greater quality (I know that is not true. Just an example.) If I have a $300 budget. Would it be better to get a $200 AMP and $100 DAC combo, or a $300 AMP, or a $300 DAC?
I am looking at Schiit because they have wide range of choices from lower to higher end products and they look amazing.
Of course I would be happy if I can make do with just a Fulla 2 at $99, or just the Vali 2. Or the Magni/Modi Uber(?)2 combo that many recommend. There are mix opinion on Vali 2 VS Magni 2. But honestly, tube AMP seems too cool to not try out (but a pain since they need to be replaced).
Any opinion on tube AMP vs Solid-state AMP on the HD6XX?
Solid state amp vs tube amp is mostly a matter of preference. Generally speaking, solid state amps are best if you prefer clean and accurate/uncolored sound. Tube and tube hybrid amps do the same job, but tend to impart a bit of smoothness (distortion to be more technical), which makes the sound more laid back. In other words, typically not as bright or sharp. Some people say using a tube amp is like listening to music after having a few drinks. It loosens up and takes the edge off.
That said, there are some tube and tube hybrid amps out there that are very "solid state sounding." My Vali 2 is a good example of this with the original 6BZ7 tube provided by Schiit. I switched to a Genalex Gold Lion E88CC tube and was easily able to hear the difference in smoothness and low end. Switching tubes, aka "tube rolling" allows you to fine tune the sound signature to your preferences. Keep in mind that tube rolling can get expensive really quickly.
My advice is to find a way to audition different DACs and amps. Thankfully, Schiit has a very good return policy which allows you try & compare different products in your price range.
It would be better to get a $100 DAC, $200 amp.
DAC's only improve to a certain point. The modi 2 uber (or even modi 2) is pretty much the standard for DAC's of this price range.
$200 for an amp and HD650's are quite dependent on how you like your music to sound, bass heavy (with these it will never overpower the mids, but a tube amp will be warmer having more bass while still having good highs)
a solid state will be brighter, and hd650's are darker headphones, so it would make it more of a balanced sound. If you want to enjoy the music more, tube amp. If you want to hear things in the music you've never heard before, solid state.
That last paragraph is for this price point though, get a higher end tube amp and you'll be able to hear as much as a solid state and have the more pleasurable bass (if that's your thing)
Solid state amp I recommend Magni 2 Uber for $149 ($139 if you choose B stock, meaning could have light cosmetic but has full warranty)
For a tube amp I recommend the Little Dot MKII, for $167 on Amazon.
If you go solid state you'll have around $50 left in your $300 budget. The Schiit magni/modi is by head-if and inner fidelity the best budget setup you can have, with the little dot tube amp being for people (could be you, might not be) who prefer the tube sound.
I just ordered the HD6XX but have the HD600 and find that I prefer a tube amp. I have a Schiit Bifrost DAC and a Vali 2 tube amp. I switched the tube (tube rolling) for a slightly warmer sound. I find it easy to listen to for hours. There's a whole community dedicated to tube rolling many tube amps, including the Schiits. Try Head-fi.org.
I also have a iFi Black label DAC/AMP unit for travel. It has a battery, but is too bulky and heavy to easily use with a phone. Works great with my Macbook Air though. It is digital, super clear and sounds simply awful with the Sennheisers. The highs are super grainy and coarse. I have Oppo PM-3s for travel. Those work fine with the iFi.
It's a daunting hobby to jump into, but there are some amazing benefits if you listen to music often.
***Remember, your system will only sound as good as your source files. If you build a wonderful rig around the 6XX and then play/stream low quality mp3s or poorly mastered music, then you'll be extremely disappointed. Garbage in = garbage out.
There are a number of good combinations for the 6XX.
A user above mentioned getting a schiit Jotenheim with the add-on DAC module which will make it an AMP/DAC for $500. I believe that is within your range.
I cannot comment on that setups synergy.
There are two combos that I have enjoyed with the Hd650:
1. Any decent DAC with a Bottlehead Crack +speedball. It's an amazing AMP with some opportunities to tweak the sound.
2. Modi multibit + Vali 2. Also within your budget and is an excellent combination. Easy to sell pieces after the fact if things don't work out.
Good luck with choosing and enjoy the music. If your head isn't bobbing and foot tapping away, then you're doing something wrong.
In response to your first question, you will see the most tangible improvement if you spend a greater amount of money on the amp than the DAC. The difference between a $100 DAC (like the Schiit Modi) and a $500 DAC is negligible, especially for a beginner. But the difference between a $100 amp and a $500 amp will be readily apparent.
Tubes vs. solid state is purely a matter of preference. Tubes sound "warmer" (more enveloping midrange/vocals and stronger bass.
Good luck in your audio journey!
There no "fit all" description, but as a regular rule of thumbs it's not true to say that tube would have stronger bass. Historically it's the opposite but they manage now to reproduce bass quite well with tube in some cases. I agree that this is a matter of preference, tube does have a higher level of distortion but it's a characteristic even order harmonic distortion that is pleasing to the ear and contribute to the tube sound and lush midrange.
Many Audiophiles agree that the best DAC and Amp are gonna be the Magni 2 (DAC) and the Modi 2 from http://schiit.com. Look on (reddit) r/audiophiles for more information and good advice. Both are reasonable priced. Good luck!!!
(the following statements is with budget in mind)
I'd avoid tube amps until you have a decent solid state amp. Tube is for when you want something different than accurate. It's a rabbit hole to find the perfect tube amp if you ask me. Solid state amp that can provide enough voltage and current across the audible frequencies should be all you need. But if you're really confident tube is for you, I won't judge too much :D.
Separate DAC might help, but just hold off buying one right away. I'd just get the amp first (unless it's a built in amp DAC combo of course). If you hear no hiss or pops coming from the pc/amp (using a gain setting that isn't insanely high), a stand alone DAC probably won't knock ur socks off. If you do hear hiss or pops, make sure it isn't the headphone amp by powering the amp on without connecting it to the computer.
I hear good things about Magni 2 and the Modi 2. If you do get the DAC, perhaps see if your pc has optical out. USB for audio can pick up interference.
OR NFB-11 from audio-gd ($299'ish). I hear amazing things from that but it takes a while to ship from china and any warranty issue you have with it will take forever. Plus ordering from the site is seems sketchy (but apparently safe since many have done it).
(answering questions I saw)
DAC is a sound card sorta - just without a real amp section and wired up outside the pc. Your PC will recognize a DAC just like a sound card.
$200 amp + $100 DAC probably all you need. Expensive DACs ($300+) really really really makes no sense to me (you won't hear any difference besides the placebo effect). HD6xx isn't crazy power hungry once you give it the voltage it needs so ultra expensive ultra powerful amps aren't needed (NFB-11 is overkill but it's about the same price as other lesser combos).
Hi there! Adding one more voice to the chorus...
"The Schiit Johunheim and bottlehead crack (+ speedball) is definitely out of range. I am restricting my budget not because I cannot afford them ... but more of like not wanting to throw in so much money for something I have zero experience with. Not even sure if I can tell the difference in sound quality between a $2000 and a $200 audio equipment."
This is wise thinking, in my opinion. Don't over-commit to something you're unsure about.
"I would like to rephrase my question. Assuming that greater cost = greater quality (I know that is not true. Just an example.) If I have a $300 budget. Would it be better to get a $200 AMP and $100 DAC combo, or a $300 AMP, or a $300 DAC?"
I wouldn't assume that more money = more better, and I would try to not pigeonhole the experience by thinking you'll get a better experience by spending more on X than Y. (Personally, I find that a good DAC makes a big difference on sound quality. I know that many people disagree.) Instead, I would try to stick to my budget and get the component(s) that I think would best suit my needs. Read lots of reviews and try to decide for yourself. My view? Since you're new to audiophilia, anything you get is going to sound pretty damn good to you. Your opinions will change over time.
I've not heard any of them myself, but I'd think either the Schiit stack or an O2 / ODAC combo would be a great way to get your feet wet. Getting separate components leaves room for easier upgrading later, but getting an all-in-one is easier now.
Anyway, good luck and have fun!
You recommend the Bottlehead Crack. Don't you have to build that yourself?
Yes. It's not that difficult. If you don't have time or don't feel comfortable doing it, then you can look for one on sale from a member of the various audio forums out there. It's not too hard to find.
Alternatively, there are some pretty helpful people in the DIY community that might be willing to build it for you for you.
Thanks. I'll look into it. Turns out that Bottlehead isn't that far from me. There are local builders. Or, I could work at burning my fingers with a soldering iron. Haven't done that in a long time. ;)
Thanks everyone for all the information.
@Kamaka $500 is actually out of my budget (Schiit Jotenheim and Bottleneck Crack). I would like to keep it around $300. Schiit shipping to my country is almost $50. So that would bring it to $350 and probably more if I decide to be lazy and buy their RCA cables. And I do agree that split unit are better for starter because if one day I decide to try tube, I can keep my DAC and get a tube amp.
Gathering all the ideas. Seems like I can never go wrong with a Magni 2 and Modi 2 (probably getting the Uber for the ALU body). I am leaning to these combo for now... Tube seems nice and stuff. But I think I should stick to something simple first. And of course there is still 5 months to go till December. Plenty of time to look around.
And yes, my computer does have optical out.
its FEWER people, not "lesser".
Important distinction, otherwise you are in effect "judging" the people suggesting DAC
Ummm there are so many options out there, so they are not necessarily the best...
I suppose wait for someone more knowledgeable (who has Jotunheim) but that female 3 pin XLR cable to USB probably won't do anything for you in this case. If it did work (if you bought a male version somehow) it'd be mono only (unless someway to use dual usb outputs -> really really goofy...).
Using with a laptop, the USB cable (make sure the Jotunheim has the DAC Module) really is your only good option. You could get Stereo to RCA cables but you would no longer be using the DAC in the Jot and WOULD be using the squished in poorly shielded audio processing of the laptop.
You would not connect jotunheim to the computer unless you also have the DAC module built in, you would connect it via the DAC first, then the jot amp.
If you get the version with the built in DAC, you'll connect it via a cable like this
It uses a printer cable for a usb input, and it would use the built in DAC if you have that option.
It recommends 2m or less USB cable because after 2 meters the quality of the signal is lost. Its still there just fine, but not as detailed so ideally you'd have a 3 foot or 5 foot cable.
Do NOT use your front I.O. on your computer, it usually has the highest electrical interference of anything on your computer. Plug it into the motherboard i.o. and you'll have a much better experience.
Like @lshriver said, if you want to connect the Jotunheim to your laptop/computer, you need the DAC module (or a different external DAC) and hook it up via USB cable.
Add the iPurifier2 to your Black Label. I did and it sounds much smoother and more refined. How do you like the Vali2 amp compared to your Black Label if I might ask?
Thanks, Shawn. You're the second person this week who suggested something like this. My friend told me to buy the Schiit Wyrd, but this looks like a better fit for a somewhat portable iFi.
I tried a pair of HD 600s with the iFi and they sound awful. The highs sounded like they were run through a cheese grater, grainy and harsh. With the Vali2 I love the phones. But I'm running the signal through optical instead of USB. It could be that cleaning up the USB in would fix that. I'll try it.
The Vali2 is just an amp. It needs a DAC with it to sound the best. Running the Sennheisers through the Schiit system, they are smooth and warm. If you have a Schiit stack, it's nice to try the Vali 2 instead of the Magni. Very different sound.
I also have a pair of HE400s phones and they are lovely through the iFi with great clarity. Using that setup was the first time I could hear the accordion in the background of Cassandra Wilson's Red Guitar. I love that song and never heard all the instruments with the Vali and the Sennheisers.
What you said about the Vali 2 made me really want to try it. It does not cost much different from the Magni 2 Uber. But I guess there is not way for me to decide just from reading what people say unless I try them myself.
The major reason for me to lean towards the Magni now is that the Vali tube (consumable) seems to be a pain. Unless I keep some spares at home (which I do not want to if I could), the amp might just suddenly stop working midway of whatever I will be doing. The thought of that just made me want to get the Magni 2 because it seems to be much easier.
@Kamaka @RiflemanFirst Back to the Schitt Jotunheim. Does running the HD650 on a balanced setup make much difference? I was looking at the Schiit Jotunheim as some people mention and saw the balanced headphone jack port. Did a quick search for a Balances cable for the HD650 and it turn out to be $200+ (I know there are cheaper options, but I am looking at the original). Even for an MSRP $500 mouse, $200 for a cable is a lot! So getting the Jotunheim would likely means I need to invest another $200 on the cable? If not I will not be making use the the $500 system fully.
I highly recommend buying a solid-state amp if this is your first time. From a purely technical standpoint, the Magni 2 Uber is a significantly more powerful amp than the Vali 2 which is an important factor with the HD650/6XX. The Vali 2 is still a solid choice for the HD650, but like you said, tubes are consumable and you will eventually need to replace them. The Vali 2 just has a smoother sound signature than the Magni 2U.
In regards to the Jotunheim, the balanced cable makes a subtle (but noticeable) difference with overall clarity, instrument separation, and allows for much more power delivery. If you buy the Jotunheim, you don't NEED to use a balanced cable right away if money is a concern, but I definitely recommend going balanced if your budget allows it.
Eventually, I will be replacing my Vali 2 with a Jotunheim.
Consumable is a relative term. Tubes should be reliable and last for years, sometimes decades, unless they are physically damaged. If you move a lot, or have irresponsible people around (small children - college dorm) then a solid state amp might be wiser.
Tube amps are popular but are not better or worse than solid state. They just have a different sound and match with different headphones. I'm not that experienced, still it took me just a few seconds to realize that I like the Vali 2 with Sennheisers and my iFi Black Label with Hifimans. If you have access to an audio shop or know people into audio, go for a listen. The exact sound will be different for different models but the general qualities are there to hear.
I think it's partially worthy to note using an equalizer one can get a new sound if you find solid state too boring out of the box. I use the Peace extension for the APO Equalizer. It has quite a bit of functionality with a user friendly user interface (if you have an idea how EQ's work). Beware some EQ's are just garbage though and break the sound.
So far I found the need to bump the bass of "reference" headphones. For the k7xx, it saved them from being too harsh (to me). HD6xx will only need that bass boost unless you get really picky. Sadly, it won't except a super bass boost and additionally does harmonically distort noticeably 100dB+ at 40Hz and lower (just like practically all dynamic driver headphones).
True, EQing is always an option. I used to EQ all the time, but have stopped entirely earlier this year after getting into DAC/amps and higher end headphones.
@CowboyMystic @Michael-Q Thanks for the input. Considering Vali 2 is a hybrid(and after some youtube video and Googling), I probably should get a solid-state amp and aim for a true tube amp like the Bottlehead crack+speedball. Saw a 6 months old post of the Bottlehead crack+speedball selling at $299 promotion (https://www.massdrop.com/buy/bottlehead-crack-speedball-amp/talk/1612660). If that price every drop again I will definitely get it. Got to keep a lookout for now. Hopefully not so soon.
Does Schiit have good customer service? I kinda have a bad habit before I buy things online, and that is to email them about something to check their response. But I did not get any response after a few days. I know this is not a Schiit Helpdesk that's why I emailed them to ask instead.
So the question was, for the Modi 2 Uber, if I am going for the optical connection, do I still need to plug in the USB? I was under the impression that since the Uber draw power from the 16VAC supply (unlike the standard version) so I do not need to plug in the USB. Alternatively, if I use USB and not optical, do I need the 16VAC supply?
I got a response to the one question I asked within a couple of hours by email. The Modi Uber does have a wall wart power supply and doesn't need USB. I think you still need the external power even with USB, which is just an input. I'm using Toslink. No USB at all.
I'm lucky enough to live kinda close to Bottlehead and will go and grab a listen to the Crack at their next open house August 5. I'm excited about that.
From what I can tell (considering of getting a DAC sometime in my future from them or the nfb-11)
For the Uber version the USB is for communication only - not power. So if you use the toslink, the USB would not be needed.
The alternatively question is interesting-let me know the answer here. I assume you still do need the adapter. "short answer" I bet the Uber version needs (well, makes it easier to implement) the extra voltage for stronger output circuitry.
A follow up question that wasn't well described is if the toslink works with 24bit/192kHz. It's my understanding now that optical is limited to 16bit/96kHz (at best-which is still better than cd quality). So USB might be the best bet (you may have a good enough cable laying around) unless you do hear radio frequency interference (from phones instuff).
I personally would be happy with that optical quality but I figured I should give you the heads up.