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Help with DAC & Amplifier pairings. (Drop, SMSL, Schiit, Topping, THX,...)

TOOdamnFRANK

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I’m fairly new to this whole world of home audio / audiophile products / headphones (less than 1.5 years or so) and my first real / external Amp & DAC stack was a Schiit Modi & Magni 3+. Since then I have moved on and purchased a Drop THX 789 with a Drop Grace SDAC that I did not care for. Right now I have a S.M.S.L. SU-9 DAC on the way after reading the reviews of that unit on this website (also what lead me to the Drop THX). Anyway, I was wondering if the SMSL SU-9 DAC will be a good pairing with my Drop THX 789 or if I should switch to the SMSL SP400 amplifier instead? I am running this setup from my gaming laptop. Right now My concern with something like the SP400 is that it’s apparently not very loud for how much power it claims to have according to the comments section under the review on this forum. And secondly, is it even worth the price tag when I already have a brand new 789? Would I notice a major difference between the two? And is the SU-9 a good pairing with the 789? I mostly use the combo for PC gaming and my laptop streaming music. 65% gaming 35% music (of that music I tend to listen to Spotify and Tidal both an equal amount of the time because while Tidal usual sounds better, Spotify is still a lot easier to use and has more of the music I love.)
If you were in my shoes would you stick with the SU-9 & Drop THX combo and wait for something that a bigger jump in performance to come out in the sub $500 range, or is there something out there already worth my time and money that would pair better with the SU-9? (Please don’t suggest the SH-9 as I’m not a fan of its “balanced” channel or lack of and fresh it’s a lateral move from the drop thx amp.) Should I just hold out another year and see what comes out in the “Mid-Fi” budget point? I haven’t listened to the combo with the SMSL SU-9 yet, it will be here Tuesday. I listened to the Grace with the drop thx and it sounded amazing, but I feel like there are way better DAC to pair with that amp and it had hardware issues so I returned it.
My main headphones at the moment are
Gaming: Hifiman Ananda & AKG K712 Pro
Music: Sennheiser 6XX, Hifiman Sundara & Ananda
Thanks for any incoming suggestions and advice, provided they’re good. Haha
 

Doodski

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The Massdrop THX789 was tested at ASR and the SMSL SP400 was too. The SP400 has a little bit more power output and otherwise the signal to noise and such is very close but better on the SP400 and is likely inaudible between the two of those amps. If you look at the SP400 link I made here you will see it is compared to the THX789 directly. It's a good read.
 
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TOOdamnFRANK

TOOdamnFRANK

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As far as sound preferences go, I like a big soundstage (nothing fake and overblown, but nice and expansive for gaming) and I prefer something with really good imaging, separation, and precision (for locating enemies in game and because I like being able to locate instrument and feel like they each have their own correct and accurate position in the space around rather than all blending together.) I’m not 100% sure I’m using those terms correctly but I hope I am or that you can tell what I mean by what I’m saying.
 
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TOOdamnFRANK

TOOdamnFRANK

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The Massdrop THX789 was tested at ASR and the SMSL SP400 was too. The SP400 has a little bit more power output and otherwise the signal to noise and such is very close but better on the SP400 and is likely inaudible between the two of those amps. If you look at the SP400 link I made here you will see it is compared to the THX789 directly. It's a good read.
I’ve read the review here. Over and over. Haha. Was hoping someone had some first hand experience maybe with the pairing I’m going to have. The review is what gives me pause of the SP400 as the comments after show it kind of lacks in terms of volume / doesn’t really seem to output 12watts like it claims even the measurements seem to show it isn’t that powerful. Which is why I was questioning if it’s worth the “upgrade” or if there’s anything better. I don’t know. Just don’t know if it’s worth the money when I have the 789 already, but I worry it won’t pair as nicely with the SMSL DAC. I don’t have any experience outside of my Schiit stack that is meant to pair together so I don’t know how they’ll sound together and what not. Or if I should be looking elsewhere for a different balanced DAC, or amp next or wait a year for better / newer tech for a real noticeable. upgrade
 

Doodski

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As far as sound preferences go, I like a big soundstage (nothing fake and overblown, but nice and expansive for gaming) and I prefer something with really good imaging, separation, and precision (for locating enemies in game and because I like being able to locate instrument and feel like they each have their own correct and accurate position in the space around rather than all blending together.) I’m not 100% sure I’m using those terms correctly but I hope I am or that you can tell what I mean by what I’m saying.
Both of those amps will be transparent and will give you what has been recorded without coloring the sound and changing it. If the game has a big sound then both of those amps will show that. If the recording is limited and small then that is what you will get. They are uncolored amps and are transparent sounding in that they neither take anything away or add anything and you hear what was recorded. Frankly unless you are really wanting a matching SMSL stack of a amp and DAC or there is something about the SMSL you like I would keep the THX789 and be happy with that. The THX789 is a very capable amp.
 
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TOOdamnFRANK

TOOdamnFRANK

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Both of those amps will be transparent and will give you what has been recorded without coloring the sound and changing it. If the game has a big sound then both of those amps will show that. If the recording is limited and small then that is what you will get. They are uncolored amps and are transparent sounding in that they neither take anything away or add anything and you hear what was recorded. Frankly unless you are really wanting a matching SMSL stack of a amp and DAC or there is something about the SMSL you like I would keep the THX789 and be happy with that. The THX789 is a very capable amp.
Thanks. That’s what I was hoping to hear. My OCD is killing me because they’re not “made” to pair by the same Company but the SMSL has all of the tech goodies I wanted and tested really well on the reviews I saw here. I’m hoping the DAC won’t color the sound too much, I saw it has settings if I wanted that, but I don’t think I’d mess with them. Just want true to source and gear that doesn’t take away from soundstage or location abilities in games or music if that makes sense.
 

Doodski

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doesn’t really seem to output 12watts like it claims even the measurements seem to show it isn’t that powerful. Which is why I was questioning if it’s worth the “upgrade” or if there’s anything better. I don’t know. Just don’t know if it’s worth the money when I have the 789 already
Both the THX789 and the SP400 will amplify to deafening levels unless you have a very difficult to drive set of headphones.

I worry it won’t pair as nicely with the SMSL DAC.
You can mix and match the SP400 or the THX789 to most any DAC and they will operate well. There are DACs that have a low output voltage but it is rare.

Or if I should be looking elsewhere for a different balanced DAC, or amp next or wait a year for better / newer tech for a real noticeable. upgrade
You're on the right track at the moment. You can wait every year for the next best stuff and you'll never buy anything because it's always improving. The DACs are mostly a solved technology and have been for a couple of decades. All of the new better DACs are very difficult if not impossible to hear a difference even if on paper they have differences. They exceed your hearing abilities.
 

Cahudson42

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If you really want a major improvement then look ...... for parametric EQ add-on.

Another way for PEQ would be to use a $110 Qudelix 5k for it's DAC and PEQ capability. Connect Qudelix 2.5mm balanced out to THX789 XLR input for best performance from the Qudelix.

Yes, you trade off some DAC performance. But, per Amir's test, noise is low, andTHD is still 90db down. And you get a 10-band PEQ in exchange. With enough custom entries for all 5 of your HPs.
 
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Doodski

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Another way for PEQ would be to use a $110 Qudelix 5k for it's DAC and PEQ capability. Connect Qudelix 2.5mm balanced out to THX789 XLR input for best performance from the Qudelix.

Yes, you trade off some DAC performance. But, per Amir's test, noise is low, andTHD is still 90db down. And you get a 10-band PEQ in exchange. With enough custom entries for all 4 of your music HPs.
I skimmed and scanned the owner's manual and it's a very spiffy little box.
 
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