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Headphone Amp with DAC and balanced XLR pre-Out for studio monitors?! Topping DX5? SMSL DL200?

MbphotoX

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Hiya

I'm looking for a solution to kill a problem that's been plaguing me for well over a decade.

I have a pair of studio monitors (Yamaha HS5) and a simple headphone amp (Destiny Aristaios mk II - tube amplifier; basically a Yaqin PH-5L) and a huge issue with noise from my computer.

Before anyone suggests problem solving on the computer level: I've moved three times, built 3 new computers, used 3 different power supplies, graphics cards, mice, and a dedicated ASUS xonar soundcard.. the problem was always there, never got better, no way to remove it.
I'm using an ART DTI
https://www.artproaudio.com/product/dti-dual-transformer-isolator/ that helps a LITTLE bit, but simply not enough.. Still have to keep the studio monitors' gain at 8 o'clock for them not to pick up feeping noises from whenever I move the mouse, among other things.


I just got the Beyerdynamic DT1990 Pro and thought I could take a look at the market to see if there was a device out there that could solve all my problems all at once.


I'm looking for a headphone amp that has a DAC and balanced pre-outs for Studio monitors​

What do I want from it?
  • Headphone amplifier
    • Doesn't need to be balanced. If it has enough power to drive the 250 Ohm DT990 and the DT1990 Pro, I'll be fine
    • Doesn't need tubes.
      • If it has RCA pre-outs, I might try a comparison with my Aristaios mkII hooked up to the device
  • needs a built-in DAC
    • I don't believe in DAC "sounds", so I don't need a $ 1'000 DAC. As long as it's transparent with something like >100dB SINAD (DAC only), I'm fine
    • Is a USB input better than optical, or does it just come with more issues? Lots of horror stories regarding USB on DACs..
      • My Crosshair VIII Impact has SPDIF as well as various USB outputs, but I guess the SPDIF would completely eliminate any electrical connection with the computer?!
  • balanced pre-outs for studio monitors
    • the volume knob on the amp has to also adjust the volume on the speakers (preamplifier mode)
    • must be balanced (no more ground loops, please!)
    • Ideally, they get muted when headphones are plugged in, or a switch lets you deactivate the preouts
  • Price as low as possible
    • Used is fine, too


Devices I have looked at so far:
Topping DX5 (lite) - 300€ at the moment (330€ for the non-lite MQA thingy).. not the prettiest, but excels in ASR measurements
can be switched to preamp mode, controlling volume of the studio monitors. Headphone amp is not the best, cannot handle very low impedance (right?!), but enough power for all my headphones. 4-pin XLR headphone socket, but it doesn't appear to be balanced, since the power is the same as the 1/4" one.

SMSL DL200 - a lot cheaper at only 176€ ! But it appears to have everything with similar performance, too.. balanced TRS output (I don't need locking XLR connectors on my office desk) and similar headphone amp power (1.5W into 32 Ohm vs 1.8W for the DX5) 4.4mm headphone socket, but doesn't appear to be balanced, since the power is the same as the 1/4" socket.

Schiit Jotunheim 2 with ES9028 - much more expensive, but even prettier.. Probably has the better headphone amp section, with much worse DAC section.. not really that tempting anymore, since the DAC is usb only

Any others I should consider?


Pros or Cons?

Would the SMSL DL200 be all I need?
 

MaxwellsEq

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I've been using a Sabaj A10d 2022 which has a good DAC, headphone amplifier and balanced line-level XLRs, which you might consider. Like others you have mentioned, you can switch between HP and "preamplifier" mode. I have no noise issues on USB from the computer.

You said you didn't want advice on noisy computers, but your description might have the characteristics of a ground loop. If that's the situation, you may find USB is problematic. There are some good USB isolators you could try if that's the case.
 

JeremyFife

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SMSL C200 was what I was looking at before I went another way, and reviewed here. The DL200 might be better though.
 
OP
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MbphotoX

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I've been using a Sabaj A10d 2022 which has a good DAC, headphone amplifier and balanced line-level XLRs, which you might consider. Like others you have mentioned, you can switch between HP and "preamplifier" mode. I have no noise issues on USB from the computer.

You said you didn't want advice on noisy computers, but your description might have the characteristics of a ground loop. If that's the situation, you may find USB is problematic. There are some good USB isolators you could try if that's the case.
thanks, I'll have a look


it's actually not a ground loop, since the DTI basically "lifts ground" and the issue still persists.
I get feeping noises whenever my mouse is moved, despite the DTI in place) and those are insanely loud if I set the gain on the monitors to +4dB..

I mean, it COULD be a ground loop.. and the DTI just fails.. but that's why I want balanced output to the speakers and ideally just feed the DAC with SPDIF.. fuck USB and all the driver issues..
 
OP
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MbphotoX

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DL200 looks to be the same as C200... these chifi manufacturers are selling the same 5 products in 20 different boxes each.. sigh..
 

MaxwellsEq

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it's actually not a ground loop, since the DTI basically "lifts ground" and the issue still persists.
I get feeping noises whenever my mouse is moved, despite the DTI in place) and those are insanely loud if I set the gain on the monitors to +4dB..
I agree - your DTI device should prevent such loops, but your description is classic PC-based ground loop. It might also be RF pickup. Your symptoms turn up here frequently - more noise when the mouse is moved, more noise when intensive graphics (e.g. gaming) is going on. If you search here you will find quite a lot of people saying exactly what you are saying and finding a fibre connection somewhere stops the noise dead.

Also, moving to balanced working throughout is a good idea. I've not used single-ended gear at home for years, and in studios it's never used!
 
OP
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MbphotoX

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After doing several hours of more research, I decided to brave the chi-fi lottery and ordered the SMSL DL200 from Amazon..
176€ was just too good to pass up. And if there are any issues, Amazon in Europe has never failed me with their customer support.

(they usually just issue a full refund, but I'd wager that this is slightly above that price point.. then again, shipping it back and forth across country borders for a repair might be so expensive that they will simply send me a new one free of charge if it turns to dust within the warranty period...)
 

hifime

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if you have clicks or pops through USB, you can try optical if your mobo has optical out. Better ones usually do.
 
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