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Looking for brands of DAC/Amp stacks that have matching, stackable Power Amps that I can add later. Prioritizing build quality and clean, simple looks

Quinton595

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Apr 6, 2024
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Hello everyone.

I want to start by thanking everyone on this forum for all of the great discussion and education you've all provided me. I have learned a lot, abandoned a lot of old, mistaken ideas, and have really changed in what I'm looking for in an audio setup.

I don't want to take advantage of the ASR Community's kindness, so I'm hoping this will be my last post on the subject.

To keep this short, I am trying to find a well-built, well-measuring DAC and Amp, for around $900 USD or less ($1200 CAD), that is from a brand which has visually-matching, stackable power amps that I can add later, when I want to build up a small near-field speaker setup with a subwoofer.


There are three criteria I'm hoping to meet:

1. Build quality. I am NOT an audiophile like most of the people here. I like good, clean sound, but I do NOT enjoy buying and trying new equipment. I recently got some HD800s, which will be my only headphone purchase for the next 10, 15, 20+ years, or until they break -- whichever comes first. I expect my DAC/Amp stack to last for at LEAST 10-15 years, but really, I see no reason why it shouldn't last forever, until the capacitors reach their chemical end.

2. Transparent, Well-Measuring sound.
I don't think I have very discerning ears, so I'm not too worried about having the ABSOLUTE best-measuring stuff out there. Anything that falls into Amir's "Excellent" blue category in his distortion graphs, for example, should be more than good enough for me.

3. Clean, Simple, Square-ish Looks, in the colour Black. Brands like Topping, Schiit, JDS Atom, etc. are all great in my opinion in this regard. Brands like Chord or IFI are often not. They look gimmicky to me.



To not waste your time, I have tried to do research on the subject in these forums. Here are my thoughts on some of the popular recommendations:

  • I really love the look of the Topping L70 and A90 lines, and they seem to be extremely well-received by the community. However, I have seen a lot of people talking about how Topping's build quality is bad, and their units die often. The A90 Discrete is within my budget, but the matching DAC, the D90, seems to twice as expensive as the Amp. Is this correct? If so, the 90-tier stack is out of my budget. The 70-tier stack seems just as good for me, but there's still the concern over build quality.
  • -
  • The JDS atom line is great, nicely-styled, and well-priced, but it doesn't have a lot of inputs and outputs, and there's no matching power amp, so I don't see how I could connect this all together to have both a headphone setup and a near-field 2.1 speaker setup. I also am not opposed to having more overall power for the HD800s, and a fully-balanced system, as this will be for a PC audio environment.
  • -
  • SMSL is a brand I don't know much about, but they seem to be reviewed well here. It seems like most of their products are beyond my budget, though, and I don't want or really care for the LCD screens that come on a lot of their stuff. Most of the time, I would want that screen off if I had it, and I'm worried about the lifespan of such a screen if it's running for many hours a day across 10, 20, 30 years.
  • -
  • Schiit is the brand I was originally drawn to, and put the most time and energy into researching and considering. I would basically be buying a Modius DAC (ES9028 or AKM?), a Jotunheim 2 Amp, and a Gjallarhorn power amp. However, of all the brands above, Schiit measures the worst by far. Don't know if it's bad enough to matter, though.

Any other recommendations or discussion are greatly appreciated. Thank you all for your ongoing help, learning, and support!

P.S., if you have a recommendation but it costs $1000 instead of $900, don't worry, just recommend it!

P.P.S I am also open to buying a power amp from a different brand than my main stack, so long as it's a nearly-perfect visual / size match.
 
OP
Quinton595

Quinton595

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Apr 6, 2024
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SMSL for the DAC and Fosi Audio for the Amp.
Thank you for the recommendations. Any particular models? I took a look at Fosi's offerings and, although I know more money doesn't equal more better, I still feel like their amp offerings a bit BELOW what I'm looking for. I also don't really care for Bluetooth connectivity.
 

OldTimer

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Thank you for the recommendations. Any particular models? I took a look at Fosi's offerings and, although I know more money doesn't equal more better, I still feel like their amp offerings a bit BELOW what I'm looking for. I also don't really care for Bluetooth connectivity.
Just buy the mid tier according to your need. You can count on the device reliability.
 

Graham849

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Jul 14, 2022
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SMSL screens can be set to turn off after a certain interval. I have a DO100 and AO200 that have both been running since mid '22. The DAC screen is rarely used, the amplifier screen turns on when volume is adjusted in the evening, what is more annoying is the red led light on my subwoofer. I rarely use the bluetooth but is useful sometimes. Good luck with your choices!
 

Snoopy

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Jul 19, 2021
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For this money you could as well get a nice integrated class A/B amp with subwoofer out from rotel / Yamaha
 
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