• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required. There are many reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Best DAC (with or without Amp) for the lowest amount of money?

jbenam

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
Hi everyone,

After lurking for a week or so I decided to pull the trigger.

Brief introduction:

I've been looking for a DAC+Amp combo for the last year or so, but the horribly confusing mess of subjective advice ("Dragonfly Red is the bestest thing around" "nope the DF Red sucks and it's over-priced" - rinse and repeat for everything else out there) around the internets made me steer clear of taking a decision until I found this forum a week or so ago.

Finally someone not throwing around audio-babble terms after listening to a device for a day or so, but instead providing hard, objective evidence of what we're hearing at!

Now, introduction aside, here's what I'm looking for...

The best DAC+Amp combo for the lowest cost. Which is kinda different from "best bang for buck", since it means I'm not really looking for the ABSOLUTE best for a certain amount of money, but something above average which will let me drive good quality, high impedance headphones (looking at either the Oppo PM-3 or the DT-880, right now) for the cheapest cost possible. Max budget is around $200, but I'd be much happier spending $50 for a similar sounding product, if possible. Keep in mind this is my first DAC/AMP, so I'm still pretty fresh when it comes at this stuff, so anything above average will probably blow my mind.

I'm not afraid of building DIY stuff, since I'm pretty skilled with electronics, but if I can get something pre-built, which does the same stuff for slightly more, that's fine too.

The DAC and the Amp can be separate units, I have really no qualms with the size of the unit since I'll mostly run them at home/work. I suppose a portable unit could be a plus since I could use it in the car as well, but I'm not sure if it's worth the price/performance tradeoffs (if any).

Anyways, I was looking at the SMSL Idea, but from what I gather there's something better available around for the same amount of money (DIY ODAC+O2?).

Sooo... Help plz?
 

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
44,854
Likes
243,501
Location
Seattle Area
Welcome to the forum. I am interested in finding such a combo so if people have suggestions, I could try to acquire and purchase them.

For now, can you clarify if you are looking for a portable, small solution or desktop?
 

duo8

Member
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
94
Likes
48
The cheapest DAC that is tested to perform acceptably is probably the speeka/monoprice/xtrempro usb dac, there's a thread with measurements.
If you want something better there's Topping D10 and smsl idea/sabaj da2.
Not many amps were tested here though.
 
OP
J

jbenam

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
Hi Amir,

First things first, congrats for what you're doing - it's exactly what the community needs and hasn't been done enough until recently.

Anyway, either desktop or portable is fine. My point is if I can get something desktop-sized which costs me, I dunno, for example $50, and to get the same quality in portable size I need to spend three times as much, then it's a no brainer - I'll just go for the desktop unit.

@duo8
Thanks for your reply - those are exactly the ones I was looking at. There's one guy in there saying that his ODAC sounds better though - what about that one?

There's a 30$ difference between the D10 and the D30. Should I go for the latter? Is there much difference between the two?

One major big point is that the DA2 has also got an amp in it... In the iDEA thread I can also see another guy saying that I should invest into an amp first, since most laptop outputs will sound kinda okay and I won't hear much difference with just a DAC... is that correct?

Also how much is a difference between the DA2 and the D10 in terms of DAC quality? I've had a look at the graphs, but they seem almost identical to me :(

Thanks for your replies, much appreciated!
 

SchwarzeWolke

Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 7, 2018
Messages
94
Likes
82
I'm more or less in the same boat, bought myself a Dragonfly black... After learning a lesson or two I pulled the trigger during the Aliexpress Anniversary Deal period and ordered a Topping D10. I want to use it with a "modded" desktop version of the O2 Objective from Headnhifi. Especially when you want enough power for a DT-880 (what impedance?), the O2 Objective should be the safest bet out there for the least amount of money. It is also the device which has been measured a lot and it has been bought in all versions from different manufacturers without failing.

I don't know where you live, in North America, I would by the O2 from JDS Labs, in Europe, maybe from Headnhifi.
 

sejarzo

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
977
Likes
1,080
I've owned a few different headamps from the DIY category over the past dozen years or so, starting with a Millet Hybrid, a PIMETA (both sold) and a MisterX-built Cavalli Kan Kumisa III which I still own. It was built with all high quality components (WIMA caps, Vishay-Dale resistors, ALPS Blue Velvet volume pot, etc.)

I like the CKKIII but it is probably not the best choice for certain low impedance phones, and according to the designer, that can be somewhat dependent on the gain chosen. The design is somewhat prone to ultrasonic oscillation with low impedance loads that manifests itself audibly like a low level 60Hz hum, but that can be remedied by adding a Zobel network on the output. I used it for years with the HD600, DT880, and a few AKG phones before discovering that hum with some (but not all) low impedance IEMs. What I find a bit odd is that the innerfidelity charts for the HiFiMan RE400 IEM and HE-400i show similar impedance and phase across the entire frequency spectrum, yet the hum is audible with the RE400 but not the HE-400i.

I recently bought a Magni3 just for kicks and quite honestly...other than a slightly noisy/static-y volume pot, I think it's just fine. I can only detect that noise when adjusting the pot with no music playing. It has yet to smoke or demonstrate any odd behavior as Amir noted with his. It's also extremely quiet with either the RE400 or Audeo IEMs with which I can detect hiss using the CKKIII.

I have been using an original ODAC for the past few years and likewise think it's just fine, but given the quality of the Topping D10 or D30, those are the ones I'd be targeting.
 
OP
J

jbenam

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
Hi guys,
Thanks for your replies.

I was looking at a DT-880 600Ohm (because from what I gather, if you have the right hardware to drive it, higher impedance = better). I've found one locally for a decent price.

Yeah, I'm in Europe. Issue is, even if I were to be a cheap ass and buy parts, PSU and PCB for the O2, I wouldn't save a significant amount of money when compared to a Topping A30.

So I was thinking of cutting the chase and order a Topping A30/D30 stack from China.

But... I have a few more questions:

1) Is the Line Out on the back of the A30 just a passthru, or does it output amped? (I suppose this is a question for @amirm )

2) How much of a difference is between a D30+A30 when compared to, I dunno, for example a Sabaj DA2, when driving something like a DT-880?

Thanks again!
 

sejarzo

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
977
Likes
1,080
jbenam...I'm unsure if I would go for the 600 ohm DT-880.

Someone else might differ, but if you look at the graphs for the DT-880 250 ohm vs 600 ohm on innerfidelity, they quite similar when it comes to frequency response and distortion. While I owned the DT-880/250 for a few months (and resold it because I found it brighter than the HD600, my preferred can at the time) I never was able to audition the 600 ohm because no one seemed to have it.

The 600 ohm would be more difficult to drive from a portable player, if you should ever want/need to do that.
 
OP
J

jbenam

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
Yep, sound (hehe) advice. Thank you for steering me in the right direction!

Looks like I'll end up with a DT-880 @ 250 ohm + Topping A30/D30 stack.

Thanks everyone for your time!
 

junki

Member
Joined
Mar 24, 2018
Messages
55
Likes
43
Yep, sound (hehe) advice. Thank you for steering me in the right direction!

Looks like I'll end up with a DT-880 @ 250 ohm + Topping A30/D30 stack.

Thanks everyone for your time!

I recommend getting the Massdrop SDAC with either the Massdrop O2 amplifier or the Schiit Magni 3 amplifier, which nets you around $200 and you got your DAC and AMP needs handled. I'd choose the Magni 3 if you feel your headphones sound too dark or veiled on the treble, and the O2 otherwise.
 
Last edited:

sejarzo

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
977
Likes
1,080
I recommend getting the Massdrop SDAC with either the Massdrop O2 amplifier or the Schiit Magni 3 amplifier, which nets you around $200 and you got your DAC and AMP needs handled. I'd choose the Magni 3 if you feel your headphones sound too dark or veiled on the treble, and the O2 otherwise.

Agree 100%. Most folks I know think the DT-880 tends to be a brighter sounding phone, and I also think the Magni tends toward a brighter/more forward presentation with either the HD-600 or HE-400i.
 
OP
J

jbenam

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
Grabbed some DT880 Edition 250 Ohms - I'm not really sure if I prefer bright headphones or warm ones.. and I had to start somewhere :)

The Massdrop SDAC isn't available right now, and I'd prefer to get the entire stack from a single vendor.

I think I'll go with Topping, since Amir swears by it, and it seems superior to the O2/ODAC in every way (from what I gather).

I'll just wait for the Beyers to come in and see what they sound like, then go on from there...

Cheers!
 

iXFi

New Member
Joined
Apr 7, 2018
Messages
3
Likes
5
Hi everyone,
Registered just to reply to this thread, but been lurking here for a few months and in every other online audio community for as long as I can remember... :) I can totally relate to the OP. I'm constantly looking for the best possible sound for (a reasonable) least amount of money.

Now, to cut to the chase, I decided on (and have ordered, but not yet received) the Topping D30.
Why?

1. It has a very good reputation, not only here but all over the Internet.
2. Good measurements, and said not to be audible discernable from D50 and hence much more expressive gear.
3. It is compatible with both iOS and Android devices, in part thanks to its separate power supply (confirmed by Topping).
4. Could enable me to connect some legacy devices thanks to its many inputs.

On a side note, I will connect it to a pair of Sennheiser HD650 through a Bottlehead Crack amplifier, which I'm halfway through building. Hoping for some great synergy. :)
 

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
44,854
Likes
243,501
Location
Seattle Area
On a side note, I will connect it to a pair of Sennheiser HD650 through a Bottlehead Crack amplifier, which I'm halfway through building. Hoping for some great synergy. :)
Welcome to the forum. Would love to see a thread on your build of Bottlehead Crack in our DIY forum.
 

Wombat

Master Contributor
Joined
Nov 5, 2017
Messages
6,722
Likes
6,467
Location
Australia
Hi guys,
Thanks for your replies.

I was looking at a DT-880 600Ohm (because from what I gather, if you have the right hardware to drive it, higher impedance = better). I've found one locally for a decent price.

Yeah, I'm in Europe. Issue is, even if I were to be a cheap ass and buy parts, PSU and PCB for the O2, I wouldn't save a significant amount of money when compared to a Topping A30.

So I was thinking of cutting the chase and order a Topping A30/D30 stack from China.

But... I have a few more questions:

1) Is the Line Out on the back of the A30 just a passthru, or does it output amped? (I suppose this is a question for @amirm )

2) How much of a difference is between a D30+A30 when compared to, I dunno, for example a Sabaj DA2, when driving something like a DT-880?

Thanks again!


I have DT 880 Pro. When I was researching 'phones, the Beyer website had a good guide to selecting 880s. I found the site but they don't now seem to accept Internet Explorer.

I chose the 880Pro(250Ohm) because headphones are not my usual listening go-to(slight increase in clamping pressure is not an issue), They are more suitable for driving with non-pro gear than the 600Ohm version and the curly cord is good for desktop use(an extension lead can be used if necessary).
 
Last edited:

Stump909

Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2018
Messages
80
Likes
53
Based on measurements we're seeing from their other products, would the Topping MX3 be a valid option? Feature wise, it's basically a mini-DX7 without a balanced input.
 
OP
J

jbenam

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
10
Likes
2
Based on measurements we're seeing from their other products, would the Topping MX3 be a valid option? Feature wise, it's basically a mini-DX7 without a balanced input.
I was going to ask the same thing!

Got my DT-880s today, pretty good headphones even unamped, but I definitely can hear I'm missing something without a good DAC+Amp.

I wonder how the MX3 compares to the D30+A30?

Maybe @amirm has got one laying around he can test for us? :D
 

zistrudel

New Member
Joined
Apr 11, 2018
Messages
1
Likes
0
Hello dear Audio Science Review community,
I am looking for a cheap external DAC for my PC, which should cost less than 50 € if possible.

Unfortunately, I have massive background noise on the OnBoard sound chip as well as on the asus xonar dg, probably due to voltage fluctuations. (For the asus xonar dg only on one ear)
That's why I'm looking for an external DAC to handle my Superlux HD668 (56 ohms). In the search I came across the FX Audio DAC-X6 and this forum.
According to the tests, he looks very appropriate for me or does someone have a better idea?

Furthermore, I'm unsure how to connect the X6 to the PC and to achieve the best sound quality.
Either through the SPDIF of the asus xonar, SPDIF of the motherboard or USB?
 
Top Bottom