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Looking for advice on a headphone-only desktop dac/amp

SvilenP

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Aug 7, 2022
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Hello friends,
I am new and looking for advice as the title suggests. What I currently have is:
1. Source:
1.1. Gaming computer ASUS ROG GL552VW, 6 years old - this is my main source /there is one free USB-A and one HDMI output/;
1.2. Phone OnePlus Nord2 5G /no 3.5 mm jack only USB-C/. I have Tidal HIFI for another year with my mobile plan, now I'm also testing Amazon HD for 30 days, but after that I'm unlikely to continue (I like it a lot but it's expensive...).

2. Headphones:
2.1. RØDE NTH-100
Impedance: 32Ω
Sensitivity: 110dB/V
Maximum Input Power: 1700mW, 1% THD @ 1kHz;

2.2. Kotori Audio DAUNTLESS IEM
Impedance: 12.2 Ω @1kHz 100dB;
These are my first Real headphones and were recommended to me by "the Honest Audiophile" for which I am grateful!

2.3. I have more:
2.3.1 MOONDROP CHU IEM
Impedance: 28Ω±15% (@1kHz)
Sensitivity: 120dB/Vrms (@1kHz);
2.3.2 OnePlus Nord Buds TWS
Bluetooth 5.2, Codecs: AAC, SBC
Driver Sensitivity: 102dB ± 3dB @1kHz;
2.3.3 (Expecting) TANGZU WAN ER SG IEM
Impedance: 20Ω
Sensitivity: 107dB (@1kHz).
These are for fun, tests, for work (it's dirty).

3. Dac/Amp - Hidizs S9 PRO
ESS9038Q2M DAC
PCM: Up to 32bit768kHz
Native DSD Supports Up to 512
Single-ended 3.5mm + Balanced 2.5mm
One of the recommendations of "the Honest Audiophile" for which I am grateful!

4. Speakers - I do not have and do not plan to have (I live in a panel apartment).

As you can see above, I'm new to the hobby - first music setup and I don't have a lot of money... The music I listen to is metal and specifically symphonic metal and melodic death metal. It's important for me that vocals sound good (mainly in symphonic metal) and I'm "sensitive" to high frequencies. Almost all the bands I listen to have female lead vocals.

What I'm looking for is a desktop dac/amp with maximum musical quality (related to my musical preferences, a neutral and natural sounding device) for the money I can spend ~ $300.

Regarding the "extras":
1. Bluetooth - if there is good, if there is no - good. It is not very important to me, because I do not foresee development (for now) in this direction. I'm almost 48 years old and I think quality music is only possible with wired headphones...;
2. Many inputs and outputs - I don't have speakers and I don't think I will. On the computer I have, as I wrote, USB-A and one HDMI output, which I don't know if it is "suitable" for music. I don't plan to connect my TV. I don't have and don't plan to have any other sources of audio content (CD player, music records, etc.);
3. Balanced output - my current headphones do not need such, and in the future I will hardly be able to spend more than $300 on headphones, and they will hardly need such...;
4. It's good to have a display, I don't need a remote control - for me the audio quality is important in the first place!

"the Honest Audiophile" recommended the following models to me:
SMSL AO300, Fiio K11 and Aune X1s GT.
"the Honest Audiophile" is my friend (albeit from a distance) and I respect him because he has an "EAR", and as a mechanical engineer I can only look at numbers, although I have no knowledge in this field...

Of the listed, I first settled on the SMSL AO300. Then I read here and there and some more candidates jumped out at me besides the ones I suggested above. Unfortunately, I can only judge devices by other people's reviews and ratings. Here in Bulgaria there is no place to test devices, and I don't know anyone who is passionate about this hobby. In addition, from here (BG) you don't get what is done as I read on the forums - to take devices and if you don't like them, return them...

What came up in my search is:
1. TOPPING DX3 Pro+
2. SMSL DL200
3. FiiO K7/K7BT
4. Maybe TOPPING DX5

Yes, the price is important to me, but the quality of the music is more important to me, and from the point of view of perception, not as numbers! As I already wrote, I am looking for a device that reproduces music neutrally and naturally, the music I like as well. Also, this device "worked" well with my only source (my old computer) and my headphones (RØDE and DAUNTLESS). If there are extras, fine, but they are on the second or third plan.

I'm personally gravitating towards the SMSL DL200 and maybe the FiiO K11, BUT I'm not reliable at all, so I'm hoping for some advice from you?

From this link https://refrr.app/SEyDgAXJaN/41378 you can get $5 discount from https://shenzhenaudio.com/.

Thanks in advance!
 

Timcognito

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Go to the upper left corner of this page and click on Review Index > Headphone Amp. You can the sort by Brand, Recommended, Price, etc. by clicking on column tops. Narrow it down and ask if any body has experience with those. Be sure to read the comments after the review, some very insightful people here. Good Luck
 
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Dunring

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The Topping DX5 is much better for sensitive IEMs than the DX3Pro+ We have two DX5s and they have the same power on all outputs so you don't need balanced.
If you have a hot video card and can't get a quiet USB port, optical is a great way to go if your onboard sound has it.
 

DVDdoug

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Is there anything specifically wrong with your computer's headphone output? Does it go loud enough without distortion? Is there background noise?

If there is nothing wrong, an external DAC is unlikely to improve the sound.
 
OP
SvilenP

SvilenP

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Joined
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Location
Bulgaria
Hello, I have no problem with the computer but it is a gamer, 6 years old and its creators have not emphasized its musical abilities. No sound card and stuff. My music collection already includes files that cannot be played by the computer alone, nor in quality that can be played. My headphones are not the best, nor do they have high requirements, as you can see, but they also need sound amplification.

Hidizs S9 PRO works. For signal amplification, it does well, and even with DAUNTLESS IEMs, its signal comes in more. As for the quality - it's hard for me to judge because I don't have an "ear", I don't have experience with higher quality devices, and my headphones are not very good, I can say entry level, first in terms of quality headphones.

Since I plan to use the Hidizs S9 PRO now only with IEMs when I'm not at home, I need a more serious device (compared to the Hidizs S9 PRO ) to enjoy music at home with the RØDE NTH-100 (for now).

I believe (or should) that a quality non-"mobile" device will give me a better music experience with my current source and headphones. So I'm hoping for your help, I know you can help if you want because I've read most of the threads here, especially Amir's tests even though I haven't written any comments.
 
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