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Confusion over balanced output for headphones (DACMagic 200M vs. Jotunheim vs. Modius + Magnius)

xji

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Hi, I feel a bit lost as I'm new to this space, and I'd really appreciate your help. I'm looking to get a setup that would power both a pair of active studio monitors and a pair of headphones. Both are entry-level (JBL 305P MKII and Sennheiser HD 600).

At first, I had been considering buying the combination of Schiit Magnius + Modius. (The plan is to plug in the headphones via the balanced output in front and the studio monitors via the XLR output at the back.) The problem is that I'm in Europe, and it seems that since all Schiit products are made in the US, they are ridiculously expensive in Europe (Magnius and Modius are both 50% more expensive on schiit-europe.com compared to their US prices... Or I can pay for international shipping + customs). So I've been wondering about alternatives.

DACMagic 200M as a combined DAC looks decent. It's also available at a good price from local retailers. However, one thing that made me unsure is that for the headphone it only offers a 1/4'' port, which seems not ideal. If I understand it correctly, this means the output is unbalanced, right? I wonder how much of a drawback this potentially is, compared to the balanced output we see on Magnius and Jotunheim.

Schiit Jotunheim 2 would be another option, but not only is it more expensive (and doesn't seem to support MQA, not that I'm a Tidal user at the moment), it's simply out of stock on schiit-europe.com...

I've also read in some threads though that sometimes whether the output is balanced is unlikely to make a big difference. For example, due to the power level, as mentioned in https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...les-for-desk-and-portable-applications.33893/ and https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...sl-sh-9-thx-headphone-amplifier-review.17519/ But I have to say I lack the knowledge to fully understand the mechanisms.

Also, as I'm a complete newbie, I'm not sure how something like DACMagic 200M and Jotunheim measure up against a separate DAC + amp setup such as Magnius + Modius (even though the combo would be cheaper). Some have suggested that separate setups might be preferred, and from the reviews on this forum, it seems that Magnius does perform better than Jotunheim on some of the criteria measured. If I'm able to buy Magnius + Modius at the US price, I would have probably already done so. Would that make sense?

Or maybe there are some other setups that suit my use case better? I see SMSL and Gustard X16 seem to get good reviews, but I'll still have to get an amplifier that connects to both the headphones and the speakers.

Or, since I already have a Hidizs S9 Pro, would you say that these active monitors and the headphones are too basic to warrant a more pricey DAC + amp combination, and I can just get by with the S9 Pro? (Probably by simply using a TRS to Dual 1/4" TS adapter to connect to the active monitors.) I have read however that a portable amp might not be enough to fully drive HD 600.
 
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staticV3

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Balanced vs unbalanced does not matter when it comes to desktop headphone Amps.
What matters are the actual measurements of that headphone output. Power, noise, etc.

Best to forget about MQA altogether. It's real shady and borderline fraud. More here and here.
If you want actual hi-res, lossless streaming, then Apple Music, Deezer, or Qobuz are the better choice.

Separate setups are preferred in that you can replace just the DAC or just the Amp should your requirements change or should one break.
Though an all in one means a lot less clutter.

The Hidizs S9 Pro is more than enough to drive the HD600 to its fullest potential, though it's not ideal for plugging into the JBL.
Reason is that you may pick up interference and ground loop induced noises via its 3.5mm port and it's 2.5mm port is not safe to plug into mains-powered equipment.
 

Vincent Kars

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Nothing balanced about a headphone output.

You can drive a headphone with 1 amplifier per channel. Because of this you can use a common ground for both channels. Hence a TRS jack will do.

You can also drive a headphone with 2 amps per channel, one pushing, one pulling. As now the "ground" has become active as well, you need a 4 wire connection.
As the amp is called balanced, they call this type of connection balanced but it is simple 2x single ended.

Anyway, doubling the amps, doubles the power and of course the distortion as well.
Bit more detail: https://www.thewelltemperedcomputer.com/HW/Headphone/Connect.htm
 
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xji

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Balanced vs unbalanced does not matter when it comes to desktop headphone Amps.
What matters are the actual measurements of that headphone output. Power, noise, etc.

Best to forget about MQA altogether. It's real shady and borderline fraud. More here and here.
If you want actual hi-res, lossless streaming, then Apple Music, Deezer, or Qobuz are the better choice.

Separate setups are preferred in that you can replace just the DAC or just the Amp should your requirements change or should one break.
Though an all in one means a lot less clutter.

The Hidizs S9 Pro is more than enough to drive the HD600 to its fullest potential, though it's not ideal for plugging into the JBL.
Reason is that you may pick up interference and ground loop induced noises via its 3.5mm port and it's 2.5mm port is not safe to plug into mains-powered equipment.
Thanks! That's really helpful. Would you say the Magnius + Modius combination is intended to be at the same level of Jotunheim with ES9028 as DAC (and DACMagic 200M), and it would be mostly a case of separate vs. combined? Or would you say they actually have quite some performance differences. I might look into buying one of these, disregarding the headphone output type and MQA.

Maybe the focus is different: Jotunheim is really more an AMP with a DAC added, DACMagic 200M is more a DAC with an AMP added, and thus its AMP might be a bit weak?
 
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sq225917

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For some reason the headphone market uses the term 'balanced' when what everyone else uses to describe that type of output is 'differential'
 

Roland68

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Hi, I feel a bit lost as I'm new to this space, and I'd really appreciate your help. I'm looking to get a setup that would power both a pair of active studio monitors and a pair of headphones. Both are entry-level (JBL 305P MKII and Sennheiser HD 600).

At first, I had been considering buying the combination of Schiit Magnius + Modius. (The plan is to plug in the headphones via the balanced output in front and the studio monitors via the XLR output at the back.) The problem is that I'm in Europe, and it seems that since all Schiit products are made in the US, they are ridiculously expensive in Europe (Magnius and Modius are both 50% more expensive on schiit-europe.com compared to their US prices... Or I can pay for international shipping + customs). So I've been wondering about alternatives.
But you do realize that the prices on the US side are net prices without taxes?
In the EU, taxes and customs are already included and you save yourself the rather high shipping costs of at least $/€ 45 (plus taxes) and the fee for customs clearance at the shipping company (approx. $/€ 12-30 plus taxes).
I'm already at over € 300 for the Magnius from the USA.
The modest remainder is for the costs of warehousing, distribution and warranty processing in the EU.
Does Schiit cover the shipping costs to the USA and back in warranty cases if you could also have bought in the EU? Then there are the customs problems if you send something to the USA under warranty and don't want to pay customs again.
 
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