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Will a DAC/Amp help

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I currently listen to music through a Fiio M11 with HiFi Man HE 400s balanced. Is there any advantage to me getting an external DAC/Amp? Would I hear any improvement in sound? What would be a good choice? thanks, Fred
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Fayne
2144
Dec 31, 2019
@fjbeiderbecke Power is the primary possible gain by going external. Planar magnetic definitely benefit greatly from amps with large current output. I highly recommend buying seperate DAC and amp. You'll end up with better sound quality and features, especially if you're doing XLR connectivity between the amp and DAC. Plus you don't screw yourself if you decide you want to upgrade the amp in the future. Well, that and if you end up with multiple amps, it is much easier to share an external DAC. For amp: From the Drop lineup something like the THX 789 or Liquid Carbon X would likely drive the HE400 much nicer. The THX is able to push 6watts balanced and the LCX can push 2watts. The THX is sound neutral; not coloring the sound at all, just amplifying. The LCX will give a bump to the low end, making the bass more noticeable. From outside the Drop lineup, the Monoprice Monolith THX 887 and the SMSL SP200 THX are solid performers, using similar circuits to the Drop THX 789. Both can push between 6 and 8 watts balanced and provide the same neutral sound as the Drop variant. For DAC: From the Drop lineup, the Grace SDAC Balanced is an excellent entry mode balanced audio DAC. It is kinda feature light, but is balanced and has fairly good performance, and is stupid cheap. From outside the Drop lineup, have a gander at the SMSL M500. It is a wonderful little balanced DAC with MQA support, good opamps, and a surprisingly good overall design. Note: As amps go, I've got the Drop THX 789, LCX, CTH, ZDT Jr., LOXJIE P20, and LittleDot1+, and as DAC go I've got the SMSL M500, Topping DX7s, SDAC Balanced, Airist R-2R, TEAC UD-501, and a couple of SDAC (unbalanced). For planar amplification I almost exclusively use the THX 789, but it does work just fine on the LCX. I mostly use the M500 DAC, but sometimes use the Airist when listening through the tube amps (the UD-501 is married to my AX-501 speaker amp).
fjbeiderbecke
24
Jan 2, 2020
It appears the SMSL M500 is an amp and DAC. Is that correct?
Fayne
2144
Jan 2, 2020
Correct. It is technically a DAC and amp. The headphone out doesn't sound bad, is just a touch under-powered if you want to use planar magnetic or high Ω cans. Plus, no gain configuration. It does work great for IEM. I've had good luck with it and my Shozy CP-3, Kinera Idun, BQEYZ Spring1, and Shouer Tape. The star features of the unit are extremely high Vrms on the balanced line out (XLR), full MQA render, and the use of one of ESS's top DAC chipsets (ES9038PRO). Pair it with a balanced amp and it is magical. Amir at ASR ran it through his basic tests, if that is your cuppa. The numbers are extremely pleasing. You can find those here.