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Best purpose-built single ended dac amp stack under $1000usd

icarm1

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Hi all,
First time posting after being consumed by the rabbit hole that is audiophelia.

I am looking for a dac/amp combination that works ideally with single ended headphones (in this case the dt1990s).
The general consensus I’ve seen is that at the same price, an SE stack will be better than a balanced stack, as there is are fewer components, thus more expensive components can be used.

Problem is, in any increase in price (e.g modi/magni -> modius/magnius) the difference is usually moving from SE to balanced, and I’ve heard the SE output suffers because of it.

I am going to purchase the dt1990s. I plan on this being the headphones I use for the next 20 years, with no need for a balanced stack. thus I’d like to get a good dac/amp setup that is actually purpose built for SE headphones.

I’ve asked Schiit on their opinion, and they suggested the Asgard 3/modius, I’ve also considered the lyr 3+{something} and the smsl sh9/su9, but I always come back to the problem that at least one part of the stack will be designed for balanced use, with SE as an afterthought.

Edit: I don’t need to spend $1000, or even $500, I am willing to spend the money for the ideal product.

Help, please.
 

LTig

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RME ADI-2 DAC - SOTA measurements, increadably feature rich (including EQ and cross feed) what separates it from all others. Don't know the price in US$ but it used to be close to your budget.
 

Dunring

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The last times I had the dt1990 it was a lot of fun with the Magni Heresy and Khadas Tone board. Also the SMSL SP200 with the Topping d10b and also the JDS Atom DAC sounded terrific with them. I've had the Asgard 3 with and without the 4490 dac and it was nice, but not a good value compared to the Heresy.
The SP200 has the same power on single or xlr, and an SMSL M300 works great if it's in the budget, but the Atom DAC is just as fun.
 

b7676

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Chord Hugo and Qutest are the premium, boutique SE products.
 

someguyontheinternet

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If you don't plan on getting a different headphone, just go with a Magni/Modi stack or even a iFi Zen DAC. The former is more versatile, but the latter also works fine for high impedance headphones and has a flatter footprint.

If you really want to be prepared for (almost) everything, the aforementioned RME ADI-2 DAC covers pretty much all use-cases.
 

Phorize

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If you don't need built in EQ there's a few good choices from topping, jds etc (I use an a50s/d50s stack on my desk, but I;d consider the JDS element 3 if I was buying now as on a desktop a one box solution is definitely optimal. Against these options the rme still stacks up really well as for slightly more cost one gets EQ, the ability to drive pretty much any headphone, a long warranty in many countries (5 years in the UK) and excellent support.
 

jae

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Is there any particular reason why you need separates? Topping EX5/DX5/DX7 Pro+ are all good units
 
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icarm1

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Hi all - thanks for the suggestions and the messages with suggestions,
I’ve also now found the jds labs element 3, the burson playmate 2 and burson conductor 3p, all of which sit at the higher end of the price range (the conductor would be bought second hand).
The reviews on these are pretty great, any thoughts?
 
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icarm1

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RME ADI-2 DAC - SOTA measurements, increadably feature rich (including EQ and cross feed) what separates it from all others. Don't know the price in US$ but it used to be close to your budget.
Thanks for the option - I think at that price I’d go for either the burson conductor 3p or 3R as they are dedicated SE dac/amps
 

MAB

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Thanks for the option - I think at that price I’d go for either the burson conductor 3p or 3R as they are dedicated SE dac/amps
Why is dedicated SE important? Just wondering!:)
My thoughts are the DSP of the RME ADI-2, combined with the performance of both the DAC and the headphone amp would be hard to beat.
 

LTig

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Thanks for the option - I think at that price I’d go for either the burson conductor 3p or 3R as they are dedicated SE dac/amps
That makes no sense. The RME has both SE and balanced preamplifier outputs and a SE headphone output (if this is not dedicated I don't know what you mean). On all outputs both THD and Noise are lower (better) than the Burson (not that it matters regarding audibility), and the latter lacks all those nice features why one invests into the RME in the first place.

Anyway I would never buy Burson because audiophool BS like using discrete opamps for better sound is just that, BS. I think no boutique manufacturer has ever been able to produce a discrete opamp with better specs regarding distortion and noise than a good standard audio opamp - rather the opposite.
 
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icarm1

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I can see why you are confused - the RME is using a dedicated SE headphone out, that was my mistake. In addition, the RME does have better measurements compared to the Burson conductor 3p (except for channel separation). The THD and SNR differences between the units should not be noticeable to the human ear anyway (which is standard for dacs at this price range, and even some sub $300 dacs these days). However it sits at $1299 USD, which is beyond my price range (although it does come down to ~$1000 used). at that price point it would be fairer to compare it to the Burson conductor 3 reference, which I would not get due to the price.

Beyond the price difference, the availability of bluetooth on the Burson is a worthwhile addition, and I don't think the additional features on the RME provide much more versatility compared to those available on the Burson (but i'd happily read your perspective, if you'd like to outline why you prefer them).

I'm not sure why you dislike the opamps either - do you think if the Burson had the same 6 opamps as are present in the RME, that you'd consider it viable?

Thanks for your reply - its an interesting point of view
 

Smitty2k1

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If you don't care about performance beyond the threshold of hearing, there is absolutely no need to throw more than 200-250$ out the window. Throw in a good bluetooth receiver and you're still well below 500$.
I'm beyond happy with my Topping DX3 Pro+. I have easy to drive HD598se headphones though.
 

LTig

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Beyond the price difference, the availability of bluetooth on the Burson is a worthwhile addition, and I don't think the additional features on the RME provide much more versatility compared to those available on the Burson (but i'd happily read your perspective, if you'd like to outline why you prefer them).
I haven't checked the Bursons features so didn't knew it hat BT.

Regarding the RME I may be a bit biased as I own the RME ADI2-PRO fs due to its ADC - I bought it also for measuring audio equipment. However compared to my old Edirol UA25 USB sound interface I couldn't hear any improvement in sound quality with the RME which told me that most decent DACs are audibly transparent. That is without EQ. Now I have seperate EQ settings for all my headphones and this definitely makes an audible difference.

Therefore if someone asks for DAC/headphone amp recommendations my standard answer is
  • keep what you have if you own something decent, or
  • get something decent below $250, or
  • get the RME due to its features because these are where the real improvements lie.
I'm not sure why you dislike the opamps either - do you think if the Burson had the same 6 opamps as are present in the RME, that you'd consider it viable?
It's not that I dislike opamps. I just dislike discrete opamps in audio devices because they are a solution to a problem which doesn't exist in the first place, thereby sacrificing specs (open loop gain, temperature stability, DC stability, distortion, common mode rejection ratio, power supply rejection ratio, ... ) compared to standard opamps. The only problem most (not all) standard opamps suffer from is that they cannot deliver more than a few mA of current, but this can be fixed easily by adding a discrete output stage within the feedback loop.

Regarding the Burson: the fact that the device allows opamp rolling means that the circuit is not optimized for one specific opamp. For example: Its loop gain must be smaller to prevent oscillating in case a faster opamp is rolled in. Hence its SINAD is worse than it could have been. So even when using the same opamps as in the RME its performance is likely worse.
 

MAB

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Therefore if someone asks for DAC/headphone amp recommendations my standard answer is
  • keep what you have if you own something decent, or
  • get something decent below $250, or
  • get the RME due to its features because these are where the real improvements lie.
This is great advice!
 

CaseyBill

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That Sabaj just reviewed looks like a tidy package at 420. But I can also wholeheartedly recommend the RME, look for a 2nd hand one and it should get under your budget. Headfi classifieds are a decent place to scope 2nd hand gear.
 

MRC01

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... The only problem most (not all) standard opamps suffer from is that they cannot deliver more than a few mA of current, but this can be fixed easily by adding a discrete output stage within the feedback loop. ...
Using BUF634 is also a common approach.
 
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icarm1

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I haven't checked the Bursons features so didn't knew it hat BT.

Regarding the RME I may be a bit biased as I own the RME ADI2-PRO fs due to its ADC - I bought it also for measuring audio equipment. However compared to my old Edirol UA25 USB sound interface I couldn't hear any improvement in sound quality with the RME which told me that most decent DACs are audibly transparent. That is without EQ. Now I have seperate EQ settings for all my headphones and this definitely makes an audible difference.

Therefore if someone asks for DAC/headphone amp recommendations my standard answer is
  • keep what you have if you own something decent, or
  • get something decent below $250, or
  • get the RME due to its features because these are where the real improvements lie.

It's not that I dislike opamps. I just dislike discrete opamps in audio devices because they are a solution to a problem which doesn't exist in the first place, thereby sacrificing specs (open loop gain, temperature stability, DC stability, distortion, common mode rejection ratio, power supply rejection ratio, ... ) compared to standard opamps. The only problem most (not all) standard opamps suffer from is that they cannot deliver more than a few mA of current, but this can be fixed easily by adding a discrete output stage within the feedback loop.

Regarding the Burson: the fact that the device allows opamp rolling means that the circuit is not optimized for one specific opamp. For example: Its loop gain must be smaller to prevent oscillating in case a faster opamp is rolled in. Hence its SINAD is worse than it could have been. So even when using the same opamps as in the RME its performance is likely worse.
Thanks for elaborating. To put it in perspective, I started with the dt1990, then entered the web of dac/amp mayhem to match it. I started with looking at the btr5, then successively looked at better and better combinations until arriving at this point (partway through the depths into audiophile gear, although I know I could go deeper.)

I don’t particularly want to buy more than one dac or amp in this lifetime, so I’m happy to spend a moderate amount to get an end game set, which will see me through the next decade or so. As such when I had generally settled on choosing one of the Burson line up I didn’t really want to restart looking at other dac/amps out of fatigue for the options (the line has to stop somewhere, doesn’t it?)

That being said, I’m going to wait for Black Friday, in the hopes that one of these options will be discounted, then go from there. I don’t think I’ll necessarily be making the wrong choice with any of these, and the rme option has been added to the list.
So thanks everyone for the input and suggestions.
I think I have what I need from here :)
 
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