• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Bass head looking for a desktop USB DAC + amp that can drive a 600Ω headphone for 500€ or less

StrikeK

New Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
4
Likes
0
#1
Hi,

the title probably says it all. :p

I'm looking to replace my discrete sound card (ASUS Xonar STX, due to ASUS' lack of driver support) with something more serious, but at the same time I'm definitely not an audiophile and don't care much for a neutral sound stage. In fact I prefer it to be "bass heavy", because I like to listen to electronic music with a lot of bass. Until now I've used the software equalizer that came with the sound card driver to accentuate the bass, with satisfying results. I'm using headphones with high impedance (600Ω), which I do not want to replace.

I've done some research, but there's just too much information and so many technical terms that I'd have to read up on just to make sense of the reviews I've stumbled across. o_O I'm not trying to become an expert for a one-time purchase, I'm really just hoping for a recommendation that fits the criteria (as outlined by the title).

Thank you for your time!
 

twsecrest

Active Member
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Messages
117
Likes
49
Location
California
#2
Did you disable the motherboard's on-board audio, in the BIOS, when you installed the STX?
Have you tried the Unified Xonar drivers?
http://maxedtech.com/asus-xonar-unified-drivers/
Maybe spend $20-$60 for upgrading the STX's 3 op-amps?
What is the make and model of the 600-Ohm headphones.
Do you use the STX's Dolby headphone?
Or do you use the STX more like a DAC/amp?
 

solderdude

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
3,386
Likes
6,007
Location
The Neverlands
#3
You will need a high output voltage if you want to drive a 600 Ohm headphone with the bass boosted.

Perhaps go for a cheaper DAC that has the functions you need and use a separate headphone amp or speaker amp that drives the headphone directly or is that not an option.

What's the budget ?
 

zermak

Active Member
Joined
Jun 2, 2019
Messages
145
Likes
100
Location
Italy
#4
The ASUS Xonar STX is a decent DAC. I am not sure why Amir's measured one had that bad results (probably bad drivers, the Uni Xonar solves lot of problems, give it a try) but other individual tests (like on RMAA site) proved it is a good DAC solution for the average people (me and you probably).
If I were you I would buy an Atom amp and use the front line out of the STX but using the UniXonar driver and EqualizerAPO for your bass equalization (be aware, use negative pre gain or better a low-shelf filter or you'll encounter digital clipping).
 

StrikeK

New Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
4
Likes
0
#5
Thanks for the replies, but I'm still where I was when creating this thread. :p


Did you disable the motherboard's on-board audio, in the BIOS, when you installed the STX?
Have you tried the Unified Xonar drivers?
http://maxedtech.com/asus-xonar-unified-drivers/
Maybe spend $20-$60 for upgrading the STX's 3 op-amps?
What is the make and model of the 600-Ohm headphones.
Do you use the STX's Dolby headphone?
Or do you use the STX more like a DAC/amp?
Yes, I've disabled the on-board audio ever since I've (physically) installed the STX. I've been using Unified Xonar drivers on Windows 10 for as long as I can remember, because I had issues with the ASUS ones when switching to Windows 10. There was no sound output, no matter what I've set the output device to IIRC. Using bootleg drivers feels extremely hacky still. I'm not even talking about booting into safe mode with driver signature enforcement explicitly turned off to be able to install them, nor am I talking about the implied security risk of running software of unknown origin and giving it the highest privileges possible. I'm having more mundane problems with the Unified Xonar drivers: For me the installer more often than not fails to find the STX and refuses to proceed installing. And no, I've not forgotten about the internal power connector when physically installing the card. The last couple time I've had the misfortune to have to reinstall the driver, at some point the installer froze and after rebooting into normal mode suddenly there was sound. Although I've disabled driver updates via Windows Update, Windows still decides to replace the installed driver with the stock ASUS one every now and then. I've also rolled op-amps. I can't exactly remember which ones I'm currently using (if it's not clear by now, I'm not an expert), I just looked up how to improve the sound on the STX when I was bored one day, ordered and swapped the op-amps to whatever was recommended and I was happy with the results (or at least not bothered enough to undo the changes). Lately I've found myself using Linux based operating systems more frequently and while the STX seems to work fine out of the box on most desktop-focused distributions, the sound is somewhat lacking even with tweaked pulseaudio settings and a system-wide equalizer in place. So I'm hoping to get a more "platform-independent experience" with an external DAC + amp, too. Other than that I'm planning to upgrade my PC (switching from Intel to AMD) and I'm toying with the idea of building a mini-ITX system just for the sake of it. Given that there's only one PCIe connector on mini-ITX mainboards, which will be populated with the graphics card, I wouldn't be able to fit the STX in there. There are reasons why I didn't ask how to make the STX sound better. My mind is pretty set on getting rid of the card. The headphones are actually a headset. I didn't bother to mention that, because I didn't want the thread to revolt around that (or the STX ;)), but it's a Beyerdynamic MMX 300 Manufaktur (2nd gen, 600Ω variant). I doubt I've ever knowingly used anything Dolby. Unfortunately I can't answer your last question, because I simply don't understand it.


You will need a high output voltage if you want to drive a 600 Ohm headphone with the bass boosted.

Perhaps go for a cheaper DAC that has the functions you need and use a separate headphone amp or speaker amp that drives the headphone directly or is that not an option.

What's the budget ?
What's considered high output voltage in this context? I wouldn't mind having a separate headphone amplifier. The setup doesn't have to be portable. I'd even prefer desktop device aesthetics, but that's not a deciding factor at all. My budget is 500€ (about 560$), but just like everyone else, I don't want to spend more than I have to: I don't claim to have above average hearing capabilities, so whatever can provide me a fair bit of bass (without making absolutely everything sound like mud) goes.


The ASUS Xonar STX is a decent DAC. I am not sure why Amir's measured one had that bad results (probably bad drivers, the Uni Xonar solves lot of problems, give it a try) but other individual tests (like on RMAA site) proved it is a good DAC solution for the average people (me and you probably).
If I were you I would buy an Atom amp and use the front line out of the STX but using the UniXonar driver and EqualizerAPO for your bass equalization (be aware, use negative pre gain or better a low-shelf filter or you'll encounter digital clipping).
I earnestly appreciate you, too, taking the time of your day to reply to some random guy on the internet, but I would've also appreciated it if you just assumed I had a legitimate reason for asking for recommendations on a USB DAC and headphone amplifier that can drive 600Ω headphones (with some oomph) for 500€ or less. I mean, I would've asked for tips on how to improve the sound of the STX instead, if that was what I wanted to know. :p Whether or not I've actually ever had a legitimate reason may be subject for another debate.
 

August

Active Member
Joined
May 4, 2019
Messages
114
Likes
74
#7
If you really lack the driving force, consider an amp device with balanced output.:)
 

zermak

Active Member
Joined
Jun 2, 2019
Messages
145
Likes
100
Location
Italy
#9
I earnestly appreciate you, too, taking the time of your day to reply to some random guy on the internet, but I would've also appreciated it if you just assumed I had a legitimate reason for asking for recommendations on a USB DAC and headphone amplifier that can drive 600Ω headphones (with some oomph) for 500€ or less. I mean, I would've asked for tips on how to improve the sound of the STX instead, if that was what I wanted to know. :p Whether or not I've actually ever had a legitimate reason may be subject for another debate.
Ahah you're welcome and well I am in the opposite situation... I want to find a reasonably priced and sonically decent USB DAC to feed my DIY 5 channels power amp (with ICE Power boards) but I had zero luck so far and I'll go back using my Xonar DX for the audio deconding which after all measures good for the price :p

As for the DAC+AMP combo I think here the D10/50 and Atom combo is a good start.
 

garbulky

Major Contributor
Joined
Feb 14, 2018
Messages
1,102
Likes
397
#10
I use the Emotiva Bas-x A-100 with 300 ohm sennheiser headphones. The amp is in direct drive mode with its jumper engaged (easy to do). It provides ridiculously powerful drive. Its weakness which is a higher noise floor in direct drive mode is hard to hear at 300 and 600 ohms making it a nice match for your headphones.
Power Output (headphone output; direct drive mode)
(requires internal jumper; USE WITH CAUTION):
8 Ohms: 50 watts / channel
33 Ohms: 12 watts / channel
47 Ohms: 8.5 watts / channel
150 Ohms: 2.6 watts / channel
300 Ohms: 1.3 watts / channel
600 Ohms: 0.6 watts / channel
 

solderdude

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
3,386
Likes
6,007
Location
The Neverlands
#11
You'll need an amplifier that has an output voltage of around 10V.
This means, when using a speaker amplifier, you will need 25W/4 Ohm or 15W/8Ohm.
The DX7s complies in balanced mode thus you will also need a balanced cable for your headphone.
Do note that Beyerdynamic drivers don't like to be overdriven !

Cheapest desktop option will be Schiit Modi3 + Schiit Magni (11V output voltage) which will cost you $ 200.-
Do not go for the more expensive modi multibit !
This does not require you to buy a balanced cable.

Anything that can drive 0.3W (300mW) or more into a 300 Ohm headphone will do.
That is the spec to look for.
The 32 Ohm powers manufacturers quote are irrelevant in your case.
 

VintageFlanker

Major Contributor
Patreon Donor
Joined
Sep 20, 2018
Messages
1,011
Likes
1,687
Location
Paris
#12
I use the Emotiva Bas-x A-100 with 300 ohm sennheiser headphones. The amp is in direct drive mode with its jumper engaged (easy to do). It provides ridiculously powerful drive. Its weakness which is a higher noise floor in direct drive mode is hard to hear at 300 and 600 ohms making it a nice match for your headphones.
Power Output (headphone output; direct drive mode)
(requires internal jumper; USE WITH CAUTION):
8 Ohms: 50 watts / channel
33 Ohms: 12 watts / channel
47 Ohms: 8.5 watts / channel
150 Ohms: 2.6 watts / channel
300 Ohms: 1.3 watts / channel
600 Ohms: 0.6 watts / channel
The problem about this BasX 100 use is that we don't know much about the output impedance. I suspect it could be very high, as we saw in recent @amirm Sony's amp reviews.
I don't know where you live, but maybe you could consider to send yours for review?
 

garbulky

Major Contributor
Joined
Feb 14, 2018
Messages
1,102
Likes
397
#13
The problem about this BasX 100 use is that we don't know much about the output impedance. I suspect it could be very high, as we saw in recent @amirm Sony's amp reviews.
I don't know where you live, but maybe you could consider to send yours for review?
Sorry it's in service right now. In stock mode the output impedance is very high. There is a dropping resistor in the circuit to lower the prodigous power output for sensitive headphones. This dropping resistor causes the output impedance to be at least 220 ohms.

However there is a user engagable jumper that allows the speaker outputs to be routed directly in to the headphone output. Here the output impedance should be quite low. Though I don't know the exact impedance, it would be similar to that of a solid state speaker amp likely less than 4 ohms and if I had to guess closer to 1. This is the mode that he would want to run his 600 ohm headphones at. That's what I run my 300 ohm HD600 and my 150 ohm HD 700 on.
 

StrikeK

New Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
4
Likes
0
#14
Thanks again for all the replies!

Topping DX7s: I haven't found any balanced cables for my headset. I guess that rules this one out, because its unbalanced 6.35mm output can only drive headphones with an impedance up to 300Ω. Its output power is less than the 0.3W @ 300Ω mentioned by solderdude.

Topping D10/D50 + JDS Labs Atom: I could get a D10 with an Atom for about 175€ making this the cheapest option. How do I even figure out if I need the more expensive D50 over the D10?

Emotiva BasX A-100: That thing looks serious, but the whole direct drive / "bonkers mode", as a reviewer called it on YoutTube, scares me off. It seems like something a manufacturer would do to have a reason to decline warranty claims. I wouldn't feel comfortable disassembling it and tempering with jumpers. Also, I'd still need a DAC.

Schiit Modi 3 + Schiit Magni: I've read the "Schiit stack" is a pretty neutral setup, making it an underwhelming experience for anyone looking for bass. I don't know if I'm allowed to link to those discussions on other forums here. I just googled "Schiit stack bass". At the same time the Magni can provide a little higher output voltage than the Atom, although it's impossible for me to judge by how much Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 230mW RMS per channel vs Max Output @ 600Ω 125mW (8.68 VRMS).

I was kind of hoping for a device with a magical (at least to me) switch that enhances bass, like what the one labeled "XBass+" on the iFi-Audio micro iDSD Black Label supposedly does.
 

solderdude

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
3,386
Likes
6,007
Location
The Neverlands
#15
Just use EQ to enhance the bass. Then you can do it exactly how you want it and not have to depend on what 'fixed' amount of bass boost they feel is needed.
The Beyerdynamic drivers have a habit of distorting (clipping) with lots of bass at higher levels.

The Schitt will be able to play 2.6dB louder than the Atom.
The Atom and Magni are both equally 'neutral' and have similar bass extension.

The difference between needing a D10 and D50 is down to looks, connectivity and format support.

There aren't much 'hifi' headphone amps around with bass boost.
 

Veri

Major Contributor
Patreon Donor
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Messages
2,981
Likes
2,943
#16
I was kind of hoping for a device with a magical (at least to me) switch that enhances bass, like what the one labeled "XBass+" on the iFi-Audio micro iDSD Black Label supposedly does.
If you can find one used, the iDSD BL with its bass switch is a pretty enjoyable device. Can go really loud, very powerful for its portable/minimalist build. But it's an expensive device, and it's held back by its DAC.

Honestly, why not get the Topping DX3 and use some bassy EQ? You can even recreate the ifi toggle via EQ: https://www.reddit.com/r/headphones/comments/9lkvne Or you could get the monolith thx aaa all-in-one, which comes with parametric EQ so you don't need any software. Still within budget I think?
 

garbulky

Major Contributor
Joined
Feb 14, 2018
Messages
1,102
Likes
397
#17
Thanks again for all the replies!

Topping DX7s: I haven't found any balanced cables for my headset. I guess that rules this one out, because its unbalanced 6.35mm output can only drive headphones with an impedance up to 300Ω. Its output power is less than the 0.3W @ 300Ω mentioned by solderdude.

Topping D10/D50 + JDS Labs Atom: I could get a D10 with an Atom for about 175€ making this the cheapest option. How do I even figure out if I need the more expensive D50 over the D10?

Emotiva BasX A-100: That thing looks serious, but the whole direct drive / "bonkers mode", as a reviewer called it on YoutTube, scares me off. It seems like something a manufacturer would do to have a reason to decline warranty claims. I wouldn't feel comfortable disassembling it and tempering with jumpers. Also, I'd still need a DAC.

Schiit Modi 3 + Schiit Magni: I've read the "Schiit stack" is a pretty neutral setup, making it an underwhelming experience for anyone looking for bass. I don't know if I'm allowed to link to those discussions on other forums here. I just googled "Schiit stack bass". At the same time the Magni can provide a little higher output voltage than the Atom, although it's impossible for me to judge by how much Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 230mW RMS per channel vs Max Output @ 600Ω 125mW (8.68 VRMS).

I was kind of hoping for a device with a magical (at least to me) switch that enhances bass, like what the one labeled "XBass+" on the iFi-Audio micro iDSD Black Label supposedly does.
The A-100 isn't as nuts to use in real life as long as you stay with appropriate headphones. I never had to worry that I was about headphone damage with it.

What it is....is simply different, best way I can tell. The jumper thing I will admit was cumbersome that it wasn't a switch on the front. But it also doesn't really require tinkering. It had four regular screws that takes the case off. Then you slot in a plastic jumper that's provided. I have no electrical skills. Takes about 3-5 minutes. And I never changed it back to stock mode since that firs day. :)

Yeah you will need a dac and preferrably one with a volume control. I use my dac for volume control and leave my A-100 at a set and forget it volume (sort of like a power amp for headphones).

(Note subjective impressions, no DBT performed).
Anyway, sounds like you are finding the bass a bit lifeless on your 600 ohm headphones. That's why I reccomend giving this amp a try. They've got a 30 day trial period. it's not "bass heavy" but it does bass and dynamics unlike anything else I've tried except for the Mytek Liberty dac/amp ($1000). Movies are a riot on it :)
 
Last edited:

Veri

Major Contributor
Patreon Donor
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Messages
2,981
Likes
2,943
#18
The A-100 isn't as nuts to use in real life as long as you stay with appropriate headphones. I never had to worry that I was about headphone damage with it.

What it is....is simply different, best way I can tell. The jumper thing I will admit was cumbersome that it wasn't a switch on the front. But it also doesn't really require tinkering. It had four regular screws that takes the case off. Then you slot in a plastic jumper that's provided. I have no electrical skills. Takes about 3-5 minutes. And I never changed it back to stock mode since that firs day. :)
I've owned the Emotiva. The jumpers are very easy to configure. The power is indeed great and the amp sounds absolutely fine. Only reason I sold it is that (mine at least) got very hissy with more sensitive headphones, making it a low-ish sensitivity headphone amp exclusively. Not so great if you'd want to use anything besides planars/HD650/HD800 etc in the future, so not really future proof enough for my liking.

But it is a good, powerful amp. Runs circles about most amps in its price range power-wise. But now that Atom/THX-AAA is out which gets plenty loud and is very versatile, I'm not sure one would still need the big hefty Emotiva unless that's what you're into... :) it's really quite heavy and large.
 
Last edited:

StrikeK

New Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2019
Messages
4
Likes
0
#19
Thanks again for the replies!

Just use EQ to enhance the bass. Then you can do it exactly how you want it and not have to depend on what 'fixed' amount of bass boost they feel is needed.
You're right, of course. An equalizer is exactly what I'm looking for. I wanted a magical bass boosting switch instead, because I assumed only devices that are way out of my price range came with a built-in equalizer. Basically I thought of a "bass boosting" switch as a cheaper alternative to an equalizer.

The Beyerdynamic drivers have a habit of distorting (clipping) with lots of bass at higher levels.
This might sound like a first world (non-)problem and it almost certainly is, but I don't want to miss the convenience of not having to change between a decent pair of headphones to listen to music with and a headset whenever I want to play games with friends. The MMX 300 is definitely capable of achieving the sound quality (emphasized bass without making everything sound muddy) I want, unlike any other "gaming" headsets I've used before. Sound quality is not one of the reasons I want to replace my sound card with a USB DAC and headphone amplifier. In fact all I want is an external (as opposed to the internal nature of a PCIe sound card), no-software (besides the driver for the DAC) solution that sounds like my current internal, software-equalizer-driven setup. If I could get an even more punchy bass, that's just a bonus. I should've made this more clear in my initial post.

Or you could get the monolith thx aaa all-in-one, which comes with parametric EQ so you don't need any software. Still within budget I think?
Again, I had no idea there even are USB DACs with built-in equalizers, at least not in this price range. At first glance the THX-AAA seems to be exactly what I'm looking for. However, according to the specs its unbalanced output only goes up to 73mW @ 600Ω and 150mW @ 300Ω, if I understand correctly. That's less than what solderdude recommended (300mW @ 300Ω).

But now that Atom/THX-AAA is out which gets plenty loud and is very versatile, I'm not sure one would still need the big hefty Emotiva unless that's what you're into... :) it's really quite heavy and large.
In theory, could one use the THX-AAA for its USB DAC and EQ capabilities only and connect an A-100 to it to do all the amplifying? That's certainly not within my budget, but I could save up for another month or two if this turns out to be my best option...
 

solderdude

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
3,386
Likes
6,007
Location
The Neverlands
#20
At first glance the THX-AAA seems to be exactly what I'm looking for. However, according to the specs its unbalanced output only goes up to 73mW @ 600Ω and 150mW @ 300Ω, if I understand correctly. That's less than what solderdude recommended (300mW @ 300Ω).
Only when you want to play VERY loud. Otherwise it is fine. I was under the impression you wanted to play loud and with hugely amplified bass.
 
Top Bottom