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Are the Amp/Dac that important?

Tricky

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Hello,

I'm newly initiated to the audiophile scene and I'm wondering about some things about DAC, Amp, and preamp. Are they that important or should I spend more in the headphones and give up a bit on the amp? Or should I focus on a balanced setup?
To structure a bit the answer here's are some examples:

1)
Using a Focal Clear with a JDS element 2
2)
Using an Sennheiser HD 600 with Violectric HPA 550 Pro
3)
Using a Sennheiser HD 600 with a Schiit Magnus

So, in each situation, what would I lose? Would it sound terrible or just not sounding the best? If I spend 1k on a headset should I be spending the same on the amp/Dac?
I know that the DAC/Amp changes the sound so it's not snake oil as some people claim, but does the difference in sound justify the difference in cost between a 300 JDS Element 2 and any of those 3k+ amps?
Same question with the DAC/Preamp. Should I care about that or just take something able to run my gear power-wise and call it a day?
 

Joe Smith

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My view - you can put together a really good headphone listening system for sure for under $750 these days, and I'd say, put at least 60% of that budget toward the cans. Paying for good construction as well as sound quality, because they have to hold up under regular/daily use. While I'm a Schiit guy, if I was starting out now, I think I'd be playing with the JDS current lineup, and go up to the Element series rather than the Atom.
 

threni

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Probably depends on your budget. Ie if you don't have much money then get a perfectly good DAC/amp for not that much and buy headphones with what's left. Then, later, when you've saved up, the amp/DAC will not need changing but you can replace the headphones. If you're spending more money, then get good-enough headphones then.
I went with £340 for the HD 660S, £200ish for the Schiit Asgard 3 amp and £95 for the Topping E30 so that's roughly 50/50 headphones/hifi. (It's all more expensive a year or two on). But you can get cheaper amps which perform as well/better.
 
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Tricky

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So, if I use 1k5 € headpones (Utopia Clear), Do I need to get 3k amp or JDS are enough to run it well ?
 

jhaider

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Are they that important or should I spend more in the headphones and give up a bit on the amp?

The assumption behind your question - more expensive is “better,” is incorrect.

First, find headphones you like. Price and sound quality are only loosely correlated. IMO it’s very hard to beat HD580/600/650 at any price, but other opinions differ. Failing the ability to try lots of them, @amirm’s reviews here and Brent Butterworth’s reviews at Soundstage Solo are good guideposts. The one thing to keep in mind is all passive headphones suck in some way. An unfiltered or minimally filtered full range driver is not a high fidelity device. So they will need external EQ.

Which brings me to the electronics. Fact is, the tiny and unassuming $110 or whatever Qudelix 5k is a vastly superior product to all the amps you mention and most of the market at all prices. The reason is it offers a very useful parametric EQ and crossfeed. It’s basically a loudness compensation circuit away from being perfect. RME and Monoprice offer desktop products with inferior but still useful EQ capabilities but higher output and more impressive looks.
 

Jimbob54

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Find the headphones you want . Get electronics that measure clean and provide enough power for said headphones.

The sennheiser are a far better value proposition than the Focal.

The element would be more than enough for the focal or the senns .
 

DVDdoug

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The main thing that affects "sound quality" or "sound character" is the frequency response of your headphones (or speakers and their interaction with room acoustics).

The two likely "defects" or "weaknesses" from the electronics would be noise (hum or hiss) from the headphone amp, or not enough power/loudness to drive the headphones to your desired loudness. If you don't have those issues you're not going to hear an improvement with "better" electronics. Of course more sensitive headphones will play louder but they will also make the noise floor louder.

Frequency response (from the electronics) is usually flat with any modern electronics, and distortion is usually below audibility as long as you don't drive the amp into clipping.

Plugging your headphones directly into your phone or computer may be adequate if you can get enough loudness (and no audible noise).

I'm newly initiated to the audiophile scene
The "audiophile scene" is mostly nuts! ;) This site and HydrogenAudio are exceptions.

Beware of flowery language... "Audiophiles" use a lot of words that seem to mean something but they don't... Scientific-engineering terminology like frequency response, noise, distortion and wattage do have meanings and they are measurable. If somebody says, "This headphone has plenty of bass", I'll tend to believe them. If they say, "This headphone has plenty of detail", I don't know what they really mean and it might just be their imagination! See Audiophoolery.
 
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twsecrest

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I'm newly initiated to the audiophile scene and I'm wondering about some things about DAC, Amp, and preamp. Are they that important or should I spend more in the headphones and give up a bit on the amp? Or should I focus on a balanced setup?
To structure a bit the answer here's are some examples:
1) Using a Focal Clear with a JDS element 2
2) Using an Sennheiser HD 600 with Violectric HPA 550 Pro
3) Using a Sennheiser HD 600 with a Schiit Magnus
So, in each situation, what would I lose? Would it sound terrible or just not sounding the best? If I spend 1k on a headset should I be spending the same on the amp/Dac?
I know that the DAC/Amp changes the sound so it's not snake oil as some people claim, but does the difference in sound justify the difference in cost between a 300 JDS Element 2 and any of those 3k+ amps?
Same question with the DAC/Preamp. Should I care about that or just take something able to run my gear power-wise and call it a day?
Headphones should get first priority in your audio budget, so more then 50% of your audio budget.
The headphone amplifier should be the next priority in your audio budget.
DAC would be third (or last) priority in your headphone budget.
Me, I like all in one DAC/amps.
300-Ohm Sennheiser HD600/HD650/HD6XX like the voltage a tube headphone amplifier output.
But a solid state amp can also drive them well.
The headphone jack in receivers work best with high impedance (Ohm) headphones.

Headphones for portable (battery) audio sources (smartphones, DAP, etc) appear to be the driving force for headphone sales.
Headphones that use less voltage, but more current, work best for battery powered devices.
So the 55-Ohm Focal Clear would (should) be more preferable for smartphones, but running off an A/C powered solid state headphone amplifier would be the best for the Focal Clear.

Takstar HF 580 planar headphones, with Sendyaudio AVIA ear pads is a great bargin, for about $250.
Topping DX3 Pro DAC/amp is a good bargin at $200.
 
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Tricky

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So,
What's the difference between a 300€ amplifier and a 3k€ amplifier?
 

Kevbaz

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I agree with the above, from my experience I could not hear any difference between any of the DAC/amps I have other than noise/his on one amp.
The only reason I spent more was for more features such as crossfeed, EQ, tone control etc. Also better connectivity, EU made and 5 year warranty (RME)
The majority of your budget should go into good headphones as this seems to make the most difference on sound.
Kev
 

nerdstrike

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So,
What's the difference between a 300€ amplifier and a 3k€ amplifier?
Nicer case maybe? I can understand the higher price for running big speakers with lots of power, but not for headphones.

In theory you would be buying really low distortion, great channel separation, superb ergonomics, reliability, an integrated dac of impeccable character. I don't think I've seen any evidence for these when the price goes far beyond reasonable.
 

voodooless

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So,
What's the difference between a 300€ amplifier and a 3k€ amplifier?
€ 2700 ;)

And otherwise… who knows, the 3k one might perform much worse. Price as a general indicator for quality is just stupid. What you can be sure of though is that much more of that money went into marketing, paid reviews and generic shilling of the product in various places.
 

killdozzer

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So,
What's the difference between a 300€ amplifier and a 3k€ amplifier?
If we're talking new, I think it would be hard to find a 300€ that gives a lot of clean power combined with a lot of properly working features. There was this Onkyo A-9010 that use to be good at that price level, but it's out of production and models after cost more. But this one hardly gave you any extra features and it gave 2x45Wpch into 8.

Then again, 3k€ amp may very well be an overpriced unit. Until you say which one you had in mind it's hard to tell. Important thing to say is that there is a lot in between.

You could say in general that more clean power and more reliable features will come at a price.
 

Leporello

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Or should I focus on a balanced setup?
Yes, you should focus on a balanced setup. But in this case balance means concentrating on things that matter the most sonically. In faith based audiophilia, however, balance usually means that if you have expensive headphones you also have to purchase an expensive dac and an expensive amplifier even if they make very little difference. It helps to make the audiophiles feel better about their headphones.

There certainly is lots of talk about "driving you phones to their full potential" but it is mostly rubbish. You can easily buy relatively inexpensive dacs and amplifiers which will never be the bottleneck in your system. The headphones will, no matter how expensive.
 

ZolaIII

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First of all find the hedaphones you really wish (sound, comfort and all), then find what will drive them optimally at dB LPS level (sensible range 50 to 106 dB) as close as possible followed with SINAD at given mV (again with bucket of wishes regarding; performance, look, feel, additional functionality, price, ownership pride, support and whatever).
You will be surprised how selection narrows down with some of those special wishes.
 
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