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Best reasonably priced desktop DAC/AMP combo

I currently use the HD 58X with the 7HZ 71 portable AMP/DAC. It works but I don't know how close to it's full potential. For some songs (rarely) the song sounds OK with the volume set to 40%, but usually 60% is the sweet spot (but sometimes, I need to crank it up even more, especially with metal songs). My friend who has the same headset, he has them connected directly to the motherboard. It's probably because he has a high-end mobo that the audio sounded better directly off his mobo (20% was enough to play most songs OK). As I said in the title, I want a DAC/AMP combo because I want it to take less space and usually from what I saw online, they are cheaper than separate (but if we have anything good, worthy of going split, then why not). I plan in the future to get more premium headphones like the HD 8XX/800S/820 series (or a planar magnetic of the same price range). They say that you don't see much difference (like less distortion and more power being delivered to each driver) but I would like it to have a true balanced output (I know that I will need to change the cables of my headphones). I have also read online that the DAC nowadays is not worth the money, and you should focus on a good amplifier. Anyway I want it to support as much as possible every new tech and format, like MQA, DSD512 etc. I checked in here during Black Friday and Cyber Monday for any good deals but I didn't find anything interesting. I found this brand called SMSL in here but when I checked them online, I found these 2 interesting models, the SU-9 Pro (ES9039MS PRO) DAC and the SH-9 (THX AAA-888) AMP. You can find them as a bundle that includes the extra cables to connect the DAC with the AMP and it costs about 800 euro but still I think it's a bit too much for what you get. Any suggestions please? The JDS ELEMENT III MK2 starts from $450 but for the Boosted AMP version, you need to pay $50 more. If it's something outside from this e-shop, I want something preferably within Europe because I want to avoid the extra costs.

Dec 8, 2023
take a look at the Schiit Jotenheim. You can get it with the dac builtin and it works well as balanced. I have the Jotenheim and Bifrost to drive my Hifiman HE6se v2's, and it powers them wonderfully since they are quite hard to drive.
Dec 2, 2023
There is no audible differences between modern DACs/amps. 100 euro is about the upper bound of I'd look for for individual DAC and amp, so 200 euro total if buying separate devices. Amps only make headphones louder, nothing else. If it changes the tonal quality of the headphone then it's a very bad amp. And of course stick with solid state amps. Tube amps change the tonal quality. Motherboard audio quality was either worse and you preferred the slightly more distorted sound (more compression / distortion usually sounds better), or it wasn't level matched (very unlikely you did this, and if you did, very unlikely you did accurately) and you preferred the db increase, or sound was identical and you're a human which means you physically aren't able to hear differences between modern sound sources. Unless the computer had grounding issue or electrical hum, second two are more likely. Absolutely no need for balanced, will not affect audio quality in any way unless you're using 1,000ft cables.
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