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Need to decide: JDS Atom/Topping D50s, Monoprice THX AAA Balanced THX AAA 887/SMSL SU-8 V2, TOPPING DX7 Pro

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#1
I have recently gotten HD6XX and HE4XX headphones. Currently they are driven by a Essence STX soundcard. In wanting to move to an external DAC/Amp solution I am looking at the above three options. The Atom based unbalanced as a lower cost option and the Monoprice THX/ SMSL separates vs. the single Topping DX7Pro unit.

Given my headphones, I would appreciate input on deciding between the three choices! I really want to wind up with something that brings out the best in these cans.

Addendum: With either the Topping or Monolith I would be using XLR cabling.
 
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#2
Monoprice THX AAA Balanced THX AAA 887 + <some DAC> will be good choice, and Massdrop Monoprice THX AAA 789 + <some DAC> too.
What DAC chip ? Depends from your taste. I prefer Sabre 9018/9038, other peoples like AK44xx sound.
What DAC model ? Also depends from your taste.

But TOPPING DX7 Pro also will be work fine with your HD6XX and HE4XX headphones, because both models isn't a problem for DX7pro output impedance.
 

VintageFlanker

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#3
What DAC chip ? Depends from your taste. I prefer Sabre 9018/9038, other peoples like AK44xx sound.
Ouch. Usually on ASR, we don't believe in AKM or ESS sound signature... because there is nothing technical to prove it. So nope, the DAC does not depend on your taste. You need a transparent DAC. Period.
But TOPPING DX7 Pro also will be work fine with your HD6XX and HE4XX headphones, because both models isn't a problem for DX7pro output impedance.
Yes. It also has enough power to drive both.
 
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#4
we don't believe in AKM or ESS sound signature... because there is nothing technical to prove it. So nope, the DAC does not depend on your taste. You need a transparent DAC.
Yes, but digital filters, modulators and "sound signature" is different in these chips.

Ofc, difference between DAC models will be greater, that between chips.

For example, few days ago I listened Topping D70 - yes, it has very good results in tests for 1 kHz sinus wave and IMD,
but it sound isn't good for me, when I started listen music (with 2 different headphone amplifiliers , 1 of these was MAssdrop THX AAA 789, and 2 different planar headphones, HiFiman 560 & Ananda).
I can't say, that Topping D70 is "transparent" - it has noticeable problems with sound micro-details, especially in HF.
Another DAC with same AK4497 chips was much better (with same headphone amplifiliers and same headphones ) and produced transparent and clear sound, with very light "AK sound signature".

I not listen TOPPING DX7Pro , but TOPPING DX7s works fine as DAC and as DAC+Amp with HE400i headphones .
( I think DX7Pro will be better)
 

raif71

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#5
Good for you @Evgeniy for having a listen to audio gear though it's not in your list but at least you get an idea from the DAC it uses. I'm in the opinion that AKM and ESS have their own "sound signature" and that the reviews are good for both. Currently I own only AKM based dacs but an ESS device is on the way and can't wait to try it out. Will update if I hear any differences.
 

LuckyLuke575

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#6
Ouch. Usually on ASR, we don't believe in AKM or ESS sound signature... because there is nothing technical to prove it. So nope, the DAC does not depend on your taste. You need a transparent DAC. Period.

Yes. It also has enough power to drive both.
I personally like the AKM chips because both my devices have them and I've had a great experience and a lot of enjoyment so far. And I like the Velvet Sound branding in the online AKM brochures with the elegant ladies, so it would be hard for me to change governments at this stage. But I don't for one second think there exists or I can hear any difference in 'sound signature'; we're not talking about the Airist DAC, come on guys :D
 
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#7
Since I have not used an external DAC/Amp before let alone these specific products, I have a "simple" question. Do you think there is an apparent difference in sound quality between the Atom/D50s and the more expensive options?
 

raif71

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#9
Good for you @Evgeniy for having a listen to audio gear though it's not in your list but at least you get an idea from the DAC it uses. I'm in the opinion that AKM and ESS have their own "sound signature" and that the reviews are good for both. Currently I own only AKM based dacs but an ESS device is on the way and can't wait to try it out. Will update if I hear any differences.
My ESS device came in the form of Topping NX4 DSD (ES9038Q2) vs Fiio Q5s (AK4493). Surprise, surprise I prefer Fiio Q5s better than NX4 :). The AKM dac just sound so musical, smooth and better overall. Mind you the ESS is no slouch but here I pick voice just for comparison. The ESS dac just sounded harsher compared to the AKM which just sounds better to moi ears. Peace y'all.
 

Tks

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#10
The beauty of all your choices is, you can't go wrong.

The only thing you should be thinking about is, looks, connection options, size preferences, build quality, and that's pretty much it.

There is one thing I would hold off on though, the SMSL SU-8 seems it will be getting a facelift soon (from the only images we have a SUBSTANTIALLY larger screen and a volume wheel as well). Likewise Topping is priming the release of their D90, a very exciting entry to start of the 4499 AKM Dac chip implementation wars hopefully (I doubt this year though, since they have a habbit of sometimes delaying products).

Good luck, and tell us perhaps which you decided on at the end of the day.
 

pwjazz

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#11
Since I have not used an external DAC/Amp before let alone these specific products, I have a "simple" question. Do you think there is an apparent difference in sound quality between the Atom/D50s and the more expensive options?
The one case where I think you might see improvement moving up from the Atom is if you go to a balanced DAC and amp if, and only if, you have a problem with noise from ground loops or EMF. I used to use my Atom as a pre-amp for a couple of active monitors (speakers) and had a noticeable hum no matter how much I played with cable routing. I ended up switching to a Focusrite Scarlett which can connect to those speakers using a balanced XLR and the hum is now completely gone. The Atom still does fine for my headphones, with no audible hum.
 
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#12
Lots of great advice, I really appreciate it. After thinking on it, I am leaning toward ordering an Amp perhaps tonight or tomorrow, specifically the Monolith THX 887. I would start with using the the Essence STX as the DAC (either the RCA out or Coax out). That would give me some time to decide on the DAC, and let me just evaluate the difference from the sound card amp vs. the Monolith 887.

This also gives me the flexibility to go with any DAC, since the 887 would allow me to go with any input, including from a balanced DAC. I am thinking toward the SMSL SU-8 if I go with the 887, and as Tks mentioned there is apparently an updated version coming. That is assuming I can be patient.

Does this direction make sense?

Edit: As to 887 vs. 789 - quicker availability, the 5 year warranty, and equivalent to slightly better measurements are enough to be deciding factors in nearly identical products.
 
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maxxevv

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#13
The beauty of all your choices is, you can't go wrong.

The only thing you should be thinking about is, looks, connection options, size preferences, build quality, and that's pretty much it.

There is one thing I would hold off on though, the SMSL SU-8 seems it will be getting a facelift soon (from the only images we have a SUBSTANTIALLY larger screen and a volume wheel as well). Likewise Topping is priming the release of their D90, a very exciting entry to start of the 4499 AKM Dac chip implementation wars hopefully (I doubt this year though, since they have a habbit of sometimes delaying products).

Good luck, and tell us perhaps which you decided on at the end of the day.
According to the SMSL reps here on ASR, its not just a simple facelift. The underlying DAC chip will be changed. And of course the pricepoint will be updated accordingly as well.

They didn't mention what it was but a long shot guess from my part would be a dual-AK4493 setup or a ES9038Pro or even a AK4499.
The last two of which are less likely in my opinion. Since they already have a slew of offerings running the top-end chips and would likely push a pretty high price premium onto the SU-8S too.
 

MediumRare

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#14
I faced exactly the choice you have: Had a decent DAC but needed a headphone amp, then the DX7 Pro came out. For me, it came down to the following:
- DX7 Pro DAC is SOTA
- DX7 Pro headphone amp is extremely good, as long as you don't have very low impedance cans. Look at the actual THD etc. at the power levels you're likely to use. My phones have 110 ohms impedance and I can stay on the low gain setting; extremely loud.
- Balanced line out via XLR to my power amp, with no bypass through the headphone amp or extra cables needed
- Excellent controls switching between pure headphone amp, RCA and/or XLR out, with pure pre-amp mode too - and all combinations.
- Perfect digital volume control via the remote control
- You can buy it for $520 with no shipping cost

If not for the DX7 Pro DAC, I would have bought the Monolith 887 and lived with my prior (green tier) DAC. I can say the DX7 Pro DAC with balanced XLR line out was a far bigger improvement than I expected.
 
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BDWoody

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#15
Yes, but digital filters, modulators and "sound signature" is different in these chips.

Ofc, difference between DAC models will be greater, that between chips.

For example, few days ago I listened Topping D70 - yes, it has very good results in tests for 1 kHz sinus wave and IMD,
but it sound isn't good for me, when I started listen music (with 2 different headphone amplifiliers , 1 of these was MAssdrop THX AAA 789, and 2 different planar headphones, HiFiman 560 & Ananda).
I can't say, that Topping D70 is "transparent" - it has noticeable problems with sound micro-details, especially in HF.
Another DAC with same AK4497 chips was much better (with same headphone amplifiliers and same headphones ) and produced transparent and clear sound, with very light "AK sound signature".

I not listen TOPPING DX7Pro , but TOPPING DX7s works fine as DAC and as DAC+Amp with HE400i headphones .
( I think DX7Pro will be better)
So far, any claims of hearing differences between competently designed DAC's, regardless of what chip is used, have been based on subjective listening comparisons without any controls. If you match the output levels to within .1db, and you don't know which is playing (blind test), and you can still identify one vs the other, you would be the very first.
People will insist they aren't making it up... which I don't dispute...but without controlling for bias, due to the nature of hearing and psychoacoustics there isn't a lot of meaning in uncontrolled subjective listening impressions.
The sound signature nonsense is just that.
Test it for yourself. It will save you a lot of stress and possibly $$.
 

MediumRare

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#17
So far, any claims of hearing differences between competently designed DAC's, regardless of what chip is used, have been based on subjective listening comparisons without any controls. If you match the output levels to within .1db, and you don't know which is playing (blind test), and you can still identify one vs the other, you would be the very first.
I know that's our ASR mantra, but the availability of different filters seems to me proof that it isn't entirely true.

For DACs without selectable filters, it stands to reason they would/could sound different from DACs with selectable filters. Make sense?

Now, for myself, my HF hearing is shot, so I can't reliable hear any difference between filters, but I understand other (younger) people can. When my daughter (who has excellent HF hearing) comes home from college I want to see what she perceives.
 

BDWoody

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#18
I know that's our ASR mantra, but the availability of different filters seems to me proof that it isn't entirely true.

For DACs without selectable filters, it stands to reason they would/could sound different from DACs with selectable filters. Make sense?

Now, for myself, my HF hearing is shot, so I can't reliable hear any difference between filters, but I understand other (younger) people can. When my daughter (who has excellent HF hearing) comes home from college I want to see what she perceives.
Very valid, and I'm in the same hearing boat!

I'm not putting that beyond the realm of reason at all... Easy to over generalize and leave out valid semi-boundary or pathologically possible conditions.

I doubt, though, that the difference would be noted in terms like slam, soundstage, front to back depth, or any other fill in the blank Mad-Lib style of commentary so common.
 

MediumRare

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#19
I doubt, though, that the difference would be noted in terms like slam, soundstage, front to back depth, or any other fill in the blank Mad-Lib style of commentary so common.
Honestly, I don't know. All the spatial location perception could easily be affected by HF and especially by the precision of transients, which are better defined with lower distortion. The way our brains assemble spatial information from the differences in what reaches each of our ears (timing and SPL) is nothing short of magical to me.
 
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