Basics to start this hobby

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I need help here. Just getting into this hobby. All of my guidance comes from reviews like Joshua and Zoes' style reminds me of Louis CK and I like that. Now please help! I'll start with a DAP...fine. Went with Fiio M11. For my first pair I was able to get some 6XX headphones two weeks ago on Drop. Great start I'm thinking. Then I watch "FUNKING END GAME" and I'm told I need an amp? FINE...last week I bought the 789 off Drop as well. It's described as both a DAC and an AMP. Soooo...this is better than the DAC on my M11? First Q - why buy an M11 or any DAP if you're using an external DAC/AMP? Wouldn't a cheap android phone storing microSD card FLACs play the files well, or stream Tidal??? Second Q: After thinking "now I'm sorted as I have a DAP, headphones and now an external DAC/AMP I watch Z's review for the Monolith version for $500 and in it Zoes says to use a 789 "properly" you need a balanced DAC. What??? I really need help here. First of all - do I want balanced? What's that? Third Q: It says on the back of my 789 "balanced" input and on the front "balanced" output. Soooooo...how is that different? What am I gaining by buy a separate DAC from this DAC/AMP? Fourth Q: What cables are needed for this? Sorry to be all over the place here, but I'm trying to navigate the start of this hobby. Was excited but now seems daunting. Still excited though... Could SOMEONE please start with the basics...what do I need? Then what are the incremental steps to enjoy this hobby? Please use basic terms or define terms that your grandmother (me) wouldn't understand. Appreciate it.
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dcha12
433
May 9, 2020
I'll answer your questions in order, then add some commentary of my own:
  1. DAPs are really for portable use. You could just use a phone with FLAC files in it; sure. However, both the DAC and the amp in a phone is definitely not nearly as high of quality as ones in quality DAPs such as the A&K Kahn Cube, Sony ZX2, etc.
  2. "Balanced" means that the electrical signal is transmitted along a positive, negative, and a ground (a "three-legged" signal if you will). Unbalanced, or single-ended, means that there's only a positive and negative, and the negative also acts as the ground. Unbalanced connections are more susceptible to noise, but in 99% of personal audio setups (including speakers), it's almost never an issue. Zeos is dead wrong here: the 789 is actually not a truly balanced, differential amp (you'd have to get the Schiit Jotunheim if that matters to you, which it shouldn't); the positive/negative of the balanced inputs get summed, and to generate a balanced output, op-amps are used. Not exactly a differential design in my book (it technically is).
  3. The balanced input of the 789 is designed to take a balanced cable from a DAC (two 3-pin XLR cables). The balanced output is for powering headphones through the use of a 4-pin XLR. Obviously, the input takes in a signal, and the output is the amplified signal through the amp. By buying a separate DAC, you're not going to be using the DAC section in the 789, which in theory could lead to "cleaner" measurements because DAC sections tend to be electrically noisy and can mess with amp circuits. You're likely never going to notice this, but I will say that it's possible to buy both worse DACs and better DACs than the one included in the 789 (there is also sidegrading, but that's a different topic).
  4. See answer #3.
First and foremost, the thing that matters the most is are you happy? Putting it this way: you're the one who is going to be listening to your setup, not some schmuck on the internet. What matters most is the sound you're getting out. The whole balanced/unbalanced debacle really started gaining a lot of traction when the Schiit Yggdrasil first came out, where it was reported that the balanced out was superior sounding to the single-ended (SE) out. Yes, this is absolutely true in the case of the Yggdrasil (and for the matter, also the Gungnir). The reality is that the difference really isn't nearly as big as what people try to make it out to be; you're still getting about 90-95% of the total performance. The even bigger picture is that it doesn't freaking matter what topology a piece of gear is; what matters is how it sounds. Balanced does not mean better, and SE is not better. Of course, this could play a part if you have an amp that only has SE inputs (for example, a Feliks Euforia) and want to pair it with a Gungnir MB or Yggdrasil. My experience is really that it's just nervosa talking though, and if you're really nervous, it's easy enough to buy a 1:1 Jensen Iso-MAX transformer for your signal (which I do own and I find extremely transparent, but honestly, even in the outlined scenario written in this paragraph, I'd just use the SE outputs on the DAC).
luckywales
4
May 14, 2020
What's the "best" way to connect my non-portable setup? Assuming I go with unbalanced, I have a PC with all the FLAC music, then my DAC/AMP in the THX 789 and then my HD6XX. Sorry this is so basic...
dcha12
433
May 14, 2020
Plug the DAC/amp into the PC. Depending on your motherboard, either the optical or the USB will be better. Try out both. If you want to connect your DAP to the amp, there should be an analog bypass to not use the amp on the DAC, although I'm unfamiliar with your DAP. Don't be sorry about basic questions. We were all there at one point.
rastus
1236
May 9, 2020
You are actually fine with the Fiio DAP, nice, and the drop THX 789, as well as with the 6XX. To be a bit more portable though pick up some decent IEM's to hang with the DAP in traveling/noisy surroundings, as the 6XX are open cans, leaky both ways. You now have a portable DAP music player/DAC/amp, which can serve as your DAC when using the 789 for even better music, yes it gets better, until you run out of money... but what you are getting today at these price points is so nice, you really don't need to blow your retirement fund, to get to what was a dream not so long ago. A decent cable to connect the two: https://www.amazon.com/Mogami-3-5-2RCA-10-Cable-Gold-Connectors/dp/B01M0I37GU?th=1 If you want to get a desktop DAC, you will then need a suitable USB to connect it to your PC or source, as well as RCA/XLR for example to head over to the THX amp from the line out. Helpful white paper, it got better, it did not get simpler... yet: https://www.us.marantz.com/-/media/Files/DocumentMaster/MarantzNA/US/Marantz_DAC_White_Paper_4_5_2016.pdf Hope this helps.
(Edited)
luckywales
4
May 14, 2020
Ahhh ok. Now, based on the advice above your reply, I should consider a portable setup and a non-portable setup which makes complete sense since the music on the Fiio reflects precisely the music stored on my PC. If I want to listen to the PC, I'll put the 789 on a nice little shelf on my desk. That will act as both AMP and DAC right? If that's correct, in your opinion what's the "best" way to connect my PC to the 789? If that's not correct...what would YOU do?
rastus
1236
May 14, 2020
Get a complementary companion desktop DAC for the 789, as it is a dedicated, wondrous at this price, amp. The 789 with the 6XX and a DAC such as the D50s, will be your go-to at home: Option - used D70 to pair with the 789: https://www.ebay.com/itm/TOPPING-D70-HIFI-AUDIO-DAC-AKM-AK4497-2-XMOS-Native-DSD512-Balanced-768KHZ-BLACK/174280840854?hash=item2893f29696:g:h3wAAOSwqQpeuufx Get a nice set of IEM’s for the DAP.
(Edited)