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Portable DAC for HD600, HD660s or Hifiman Sundara

Vik

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Hi all,
I need to make a decision soon. I have preliminary bought an Audioquest Dragonfly Black, but need to update it for better audio quality for orchestral music, especially string instruments. I'm using it with HD650, HD600 and DT880 now, but will soon end up with buying Hifiman Sundara, HD660s or Sennheiser DT 700 Pro X.

I've tried both Dragonfly Cobalt and Chord Mojo 2 – both sounding better than Dragonfly Black, of course, but the Mojo user interface was confusing. and I'm not sure the Dragonfly Cobalt is the best buy for that price (and I'd prefer something less expensive – ideally max. $300).
Since I'm also going to use this for listening on an iPhone 11, I need something that's loud enough – and my hearing isn't perfect; for a few years now I have been needing to turn up the volume, and also started to like/need headphones that are emphasising frequencies in the 1kHz to 6kHz area. What happens above 6kHz isn't something I'm going to spend a lot of money on, because I'm probably not hearing these frequencies much anyway,
Btw, I want to avoid DACs that need batteries.

I have tried to find existing, relevant threads without much success (probably because I have quite specific requirements), but please let me know if you are aware of existing thread. Or even better: please suggest DACs I can look up! I need to return the Dragonfly soon if I don't plan to keep it (and I don't), so any hints about a better solution would be very useful. Thanks in advance!

EDIT
After I posted this, I came across these raving reviews of various iFi Audio DACs:


They were all so positive that I started wondering if the writer works for iFi Audio. Are any of you using any of these, and have any comments?
 
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RickSanchez

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You can use this tool to find headphone amp reviews:

It does not include a filter for "portable" but it doesn't take long to find what you need. I'd suggest you use this tool to find out the power requirements for the various headphones you own. That's the only way to know if a particular amp is going to have enough juice for your headphones.

Amir has measured a couple iFi products; they didn't do all that well. Some suggestions:
 
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jthc

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Hi all,
I need to make a decision soon. I have preliminary bought an Audioquest Dragonfly Black, but need to update it for better audio quality for orchestral music, especially string instruments. I'm using it with HD650, HD600 and DT880 now, but will soon end up with buying Hifiman Sundara, HD660s or Sennheiser DT 700 Pro X.

I've tried both Dragonfly Cobalt and Chord Mojo 2 – both sounding better than Dragonfly Black, of course, but the Mojo user interface was confusing. and I'm not sure the Dragonfly Cobalt is the best buy for that price (and I'd prefer something less expensive – ideally max. $300).
Since I'm also going to use this for listening on an iPhone 11, I need something that's loud enough – and my hearing isn't perfect; for a few years now I have been needing to turn up the volume, and also started to like/need headphones that are emphasising frequencies in the 1kHz to 6kHz area. What happens above 6kHz isn't something I'm going to spend a lot of money on, because I'm probably not hearing these frequencies much anyway,
Btw, I want to avoid DACs that need batteries.

I have tried to find existing, relevant threads without much success (probably because I have quite specific requirements), but please let me know if you are aware of existing thread. Or even better: please suggest DACs I can look up! I need to return the Dragonfly soon if I don't plan to keep it (and I don't), so any hints about a better solution would be very useful. Thanks in advance!

EDIT
After I posted this, I came across these raving reviews of various iFi Audio DACs:


They were all so positive that I started wondering if the writer works for iFi Audio. Are any of you using any of these, and have any comments?
Qudelix 5K. It's a portable w/ battery, but you can also hook it up directly via USB-Lightning. Enough power to drive my HE400SEs comfortably, and infinitely customizable. The PEQ is the killer feature of this little guy -- you can emphasize that low treble with ease.
 

phrwn

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This is interesting to me because I'm thinking about replacing (downsizing) my Element II with something that doesn't require mains power. I mostly use E-Mu Teaks and even the laptop jack provides plenty of power, so the Element II is total overkill.

I had a Cobalt years ago before I saw the measurements, which explained to me why I was not getting much from it, audibly speaking.
Then I got a Hidizs S8 but remember it had some drop-out problem. I wonder if this has been resolved with the S9.
 
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threni

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Hi all,
I need to make a decision soon. I have preliminary bought an Audioquest Dragonfly Black, but need to update it for better audio quality for orchestral music, especially string instruments. I'm using it with HD650, HD600 and DT880 now, but will soon end up with buying Hifiman Sundara, HD660s or Sennheiser DT 700 Pro X.

I've tried both Dragonfly Cobalt and Chord Mojo 2 – both sounding better than Dragonfly Black, of course, but the Mojo user interface was confusing. and I'm not sure the Dragonfly Cobalt is the best buy for that price (and I'd prefer something less expensive – ideally max. $300).
Since I'm also going to use this for listening on an iPhone 11, I need something that's loud enough – and my hearing isn't perfect; for a few years now I have been needing to turn up the volume, and also started to like/need headphones that are emphasising frequencies in the 1kHz to 6kHz area. What happens above 6kHz isn't something I'm going to spend a lot of money on, because I'm probably not hearing these frequencies much anyway,
Btw, I want to avoid DACs that need batteries.

I have tried to find existing, relevant threads without much success (probably because I have quite specific requirements), but please let me know if you are aware of existing thread. Or even better: please suggest DACs I can look up! I need to return the Dragonfly soon if I don't plan to keep it (and I don't), so any hints about a better solution would be very useful. Thanks in advance!

EDIT
After I posted this, I came across these raving reviews of various iFi Audio DACs:


They were all so positive that I started wondering if the writer works for iFi Audio. Are any of you using any of these, and have any comments?
Don't rule out the $9 Apple USB dongle. (Get the US one, not the much quieter EU one on vacation!). Works just fine on the HD 660S.
 
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Vik

Vik

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I had a Cobalt years ago before I saw the measurements, which explained to me why I was not getting much from it, audibly speaking.
Interesting... I compared the Dragonfly Black with the Dragonfly Blue (Cobalt): the black model sounded better than the built in DAC, and the cobalt version was clearly better than the black. Both were also amplifying the signal.
I'm still curious about why so many have given the cobalt brilliant reviews while others say that it isn't that impressive. But most of all, I'm curious about which other DACs (with an amplifying effect) in the dragon price range that either sound better, are cheaper, or ideally – both.
Don't rule out the $9 Apple USB dongle. (Get the US one, not the much quieter EU one on vacation!). Works just fine on the HD 660S.
I didn't know that the US version was louder – thanks for the tip. But how loud these DACs are is, of course, less important than the sum of the audio quality + being loud enough.

Have any of you compared the Dragonfly Cobalt with the Burson Audio Playmate 2? I'm looking for a dongle DAC, but the Dragonfly Cobalt cost more than half the price of a DAC with more options. I'd like to try all the relevant models, but here in Norway, it isn't easy to find demo rooms with a good selection of DACs.
 

acbarn

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Interesting... I compared the Dragonfly Black with the Dragonfly Blue (Cobalt): the black model sounded better than the built in DAC, and the cobalt version was clearly better than the black. Both were also amplifying the signal.
I'm still curious about why so many have given the cobalt brilliant reviews while others say that it isn't that impressive. But most of all, I'm curious about which other DACs (with an amplifying effect) in the dragon price range that either sound better, are cheaper, or ideally – both.

I didn't know that the US version was louder – thanks for the tip. But how loud these DACs are is, of course, less important than the sum of the audio quality + being loud enough.

Have any of you compared the Dragonfly Cobalt with the Burson Audio Playmate 2? I'm looking for a dongle DAC, but the Dragonfly Cobalt cost more than half the price of a DAC with more options. I'd like to try all the relevant models, but here in Norway, it isn't easy to find demo rooms with a good selection of DACs.
The Dragonfly dongle DACs are underperforming and overpriced. Take a look on this site at Amir’s reviews of the Black and Red.

 
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Vik

Vik

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Thanks a lot, acbarn and phrwn!
I've seen some of this earlier. All I'm looking for is something which makes orchestral music – bowed string instruments, in particular – sound as close to the actual sound on these instruments sound in a concert hall or or recording studio in my ears, preferably in a dongle. So far, I haven't come a cross anything that's better than the cobalt, but I may have been fooled partly by having too short time in the demo rooms I tried them out, eg. by differences in loudness. Since my hearing isn't perfect, and since I simple can't order such dongles from other countries and return them if I don't like them, I'm not really sure what to do.

I've both seen brilliant reviews of equipment that aren't impressive in scientific tests and vice versa, but I can't trust only reviews or only measurements. I also need something which matches my ears' underrepresentation of the high frequencies.

I also need something which matches My current HD600 and HD650, plus the Sundara which I may end up with (for now). I've tried headphones that are a lot better (scientifically) than these headphones, but they don't sound better in my ears, probably since the. 'betterness' happens a frequency range I can't hear properly. Any others with the same hearing limitations that have found a DAC/headphone combo that sounds great in that price range?

EDIT: Plugins that emulate tube distortion or tape distortion are often used by mix engineers in order to make recordings sound 'better', for the same reason that headphones or DACs that doesn't look ideal in EQ graphs, distortion measurements etc necessarily sound 'best' in all ears.
 

RickSanchez

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How much do you know about software EQ? You seem to be searching for an elusive combination of hardware (amp + headphones) that is perfect for you. That can take an incredibly long time and cost a lot of money. The approach that I would recommend is:
  1. You have fantastic headphones, no need to "upgrade" for SQ. Only upgrade if you have problems with headphone weight, clamping force, etc.
  2. Find a portable DAC/amp that measures well (low noise, low distortion, enough power for your headphones) and has the features you want.
  3. To the extent that you want to dial in your preferred sound profile(s) use software EQ.
That might save you a lot of time, money, and heartache.
 

acbarn

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How much do you know about software EQ? You seem to be searching for an elusive combination of hardware (amp + headphones) that is perfect for you. That can take an incredibly long time and cost a lot of money. The approach that I would recommend is:
  1. You have fantastic headphones, no need to "upgrade" for SQ. Only upgrade if you have problems with headphone weight, clamping force, etc.
  2. Find a portable DAC/amp that measures well (low noise, low distortion, enough power for your headphones) and has the features you want.
  3. To the extent that you want to dial in your preferred sound profile(s) use software EQ.
That might save you a lot of time, money, and heartache.
This ^^. I’ll add that all decent dongle DACs are going to sound the same if they’re competently engineered and have enough power to drive your headphones. Pick a transparent DAC/amp and learn how to use EQ.
 
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Adaboy4z

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I settled on the iFI Go Blu for ultra portable. It does have a built in battery, but I've never depleted it during listening sessions. It can be connected via Bluetooth or USB type c to a phone, tablet or computer. It has balanced and unbalanced headphone Jack's. My favorite is the volume wheel which can pause,, ff and rew tracks.. It has xbass to enhance the low end without muddling the mids and xspace. I use it for IEM, HE400se and HD559 its plenty loud and good quality sound IMO. Also check out the Zen Can if you own a dac already. It's my side table Amp.
 
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threni

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Interesting... I compared the Dragonfly Black with the Dragonfly Blue (Cobalt): the black model sounded better than the built in DAC, and the cobalt version was clearly better than the black. Both were also amplifying the signal.
I'm still curious about why so many have given the cobalt brilliant reviews while others say that it isn't that impressive. But most of all, I'm curious about which other DACs (with an amplifying effect) in the dragon price range that either sound better, are cheaper, or ideally – both.

I didn't know that the US version was louder – thanks for the tip. But how loud these DACs are is, of course, less important than the sum of the audio quality + being loud enough.

Have any of you compared the Dragonfly Cobalt with the Burson Audio Playmate 2? I'm looking for a dongle DAC, but the Dragonfly Cobalt cost more than half the price of a DAC with more options. I'd like to try all the relevant models, but here in Norway, it isn't easy to find demo rooms with a good selection of DACs.
The sound quality is going to be pretty much identical across all DACs. You're certainly not going to be able to choose the better performing ones by just sitting in a shop and having someone play you a few. I mention power because in the case of a dongle the choice isn't regarding quality but simply "does this dongle provide enough power for this pair of headphones". The answer, for the Apple dongle and the HD 660S - given I have both dongles and those headphones - is "Yes, if you have the US dongle; no if you get the EU one".
 

ZolaIII

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The problem is driving hi impedance hedaphones with portable and without battery? I don't know any dongle that can do that trough unbalanced out. Trough balanced you should look at E1DA lineup. Only one that I know it could is SBX G6 but it ain't portable and it won't work with phone as power source (as it needs more power than phone output can give).
From flask (battery powered) alike one's see the Hidizs HD80S but you will still need to use balanced outputs.
 
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Vik

Vik

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Thanks for the feedback, guys!
The sound quality is going to be pretty much identical across all DACs
Hi, based on my own experiences and most DAC reviews I've seen – and many of the threads here, that doesn't make sense to me. For instance, I tried the 660s with two different Dragonflies, and the results were clearly different.

And regarding power consumption: the plan is to, when needed, buy an Y-cable, which allows the iPhone to be connected to both the power supply and the DAC at the same time... unless, of course, there are problems associated with using such a setup.
I settled on the iFI Go Blu for ultra portable. It does have a built in battery, but I've never depleted it during listening sessions. It can be connected via Bluetooth or USB type c to a phone, tablet or computer. It has balanced and unbalanced headphone Jack's. My favorite is the volume wheel which can pause,, ff and rew tracks.. It has xbass to enhance the low end without muddling the mids and xspace.
Thanks for the tip. I'm curious about how it sounds compared with other DACs – will see if I can find some reviews (and a dealer around here).

Regarding enhancing the low end: personally, I see, to need something which reduces the low end, since this increases the mid and high frequencies.

Regarding EQs, I've been using them for a few decades, and wish all Macs and phones/tablets had a built in and simple master 'channel strip' which would affect everything. This would allow using both EQ, compression, if needed, multiband limiting etc to be applied to everything that comes out of that device. The simplified, built in EQ choices in my iPhone (11) only affects music, and consists of simple read-made presets like 'Reduce Bass', 'Reduce Treble', 'Classical' and so on, so of course they aren't very useful, but I'll go through this thread properly.

You have fantastic headphones, no need to "upgrade" for SQ.
The main problem is that I don't have fantastic ears anymore, and that isn't only about some frequencies being too loud while others needing a boost. Some degree of tinnitus and generally more 'muddy' hearing than most people have means that the envelopes/speed and other parameters also affect the degree of clarity I hear. There are also orchehstral recordings out there which musically are brilliant but for various reasons aren't at all all great for us with some degree of hearing loss – in ways that EQs can't solve. In some cases a multiband compressor (like Waves L3) + a linear phase EQ would be a perfect fix, in other situations, a transient designer plugin would do the trick.
 
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ZolaIII

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@Vik I still hear great but I boost female overtones because I like it like that. Thing is you need stronger output than what dongles usually can provide to drive 150 ohm's can's (and you do need to drive them loud) and only solution is going balanced or switching to up to 64 Ohm's can's (talking about traditional dynamic driver's of course). Alternatively there are portable flask alike battery powered AMP's and batteries last long in those that can provide enough power (old Topping NX3S for example) but it isn't very convenient. Considering your self lucky as Amir uses S650 in listening tests. Now you only need to read reviews for mentioned gear. Proper implementated DAC's will sound the same which Audio quest's one's certainly ain't. When you finish reading you won't even consider buying anything from them ever again.
Best regards.
 

threni

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Thanks for the feedback, guys!

Hi, based on my own experiences and most DAC reviews I've seen – and manyh of the threads here, that doesn't make sense to me. For instance, I tried the 660s with two different Dragonflies, and the results were clearly different.

And regarding power consumption: the plan is to, when needed, buy an Y-cable, which allows the iPhone to be connected to both the power supply and the DAC at the same time... unless, of course, there are problems associated with using such a setup.
The results will "be" different because your tests won't have been controlled - a double blind, level matched test. That's why going for a demo won't be much use. I'd really not put much faith in external reviews. You linked to Audioquest's site earlier in the context of reviews, so I assume you expressing surprise at how your DAC isn't as good as people make out. Well, probably because that site listed awards from pointless sites such as What Hifi or some character who might have a beard and a YouTube channel but who openly admits to not performing proper tests of the stuff he's reviewing but simply going from his subjective opinion. This is a terrible way of producing a short-list of kit to consider buying. Why would anyone care for the opinion of a stranger? Would you like me to tell you my favourite ice cream flavour? I thought you were after a good DAC?

I mention power not in the consumption sense, but simply that the EU Apple dongle doesn't provide enough power for the HD 660S, so it'll sound very weak and lacking in bass. I mean, perhaps for you, and for some music, the US Apple dongle won't be enough power. And you could argue that this is an example of DACs sounding different. But it's not really - it's just an example of you needing a DAC that's powerful enough for the headphones you're interested in driving.
 

ZolaIII

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@threni DAC's do sound difrent when it comes to lo power loads (depending how much SNR can preserve there and for high sensitivity lo impedance IEM's and hedaphones as there difference between 70 and 90+ dB is in hearing range) but again it's more related to how good their amp section really is (but that doesn't have to do anything with his case).
 
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Vik

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you need stronger output than what dongles usually can provide to drive 150 ohm's can's (and you do need to drive them loud) and only solution is going balanced or switching to up to 64 Ohm's can's (talking about traditional dynamic driver's of course)
Hi, I'm having a Dragonfly Cobalt here now, and it plays well (and loud enough) with HD600 (300 ohm), HD650 (300 ohm) and DT880 (250 ohm).
Why would anyone care for the opinion of a stranger?
'Opinion' in terms how 'how does this sound?', isn't something I'm looking for, but I have bought the Dragonfly Cobalt with an option to return it within 30 (?)days, which means that I have time to check out other options (if I can find them around here). I could spend even more time than I've already done reading myself up on reviews, measurements etc – and I will – but imagine that I could save some time by asking for advice, as in 'where should I start to look' – and several of the replies in this thread have already been helpful.


"Would you like me to tell you my favourite ice cream flavour? I thought you were after a good DAC? "

No, I'm looking for a DAC/headphone combo which matches my hearing. I've checked out very pricey headphones, using good DACs, but they don't sound particularly good in my ears due to me hearing limitations.

I mentioned earlier that not only are mix engineers and mastering enginerrs using plugins to emulate various kinds of distortion in order to make a mix sound 'better' – before plugins were available, tube mics, tube preamps and other analogue tricks were used to enhance (or 'enhance') recording. Whenever one of these plugins or tube/valve devices are used, distortion is added – which, if scientific tests were done, would make them look less than ideal on paper. I simple can't just/only look at measurement results and make a decision, mainly due to the limitation in my hearing. For instance, I decided to buy the 660s because they – in my ears – sounds like they had an exaggerated bass. Even if I have troubke hearing frequencies the higher they are, I seem to hear low end frequencies louder than most people. Lots of people I know, around my age (mid-60s) who have, like me, worked professionally with music/audio for decades have hearing limitation/issues and or some degree of tinnitus, so normal 'rules' don't apply when we need to make decisions about speakers, headphones etc.
 
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ZolaIII

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@Vik I regularly use pasive tube amp with EQ from first half of 50's in digital VTS plugin form of course (and nothing bad about that). You do have review of couple of DragonFly's (my favourite BSD OS by the way) hire and there you can see how SABRE9601 amp part is fundamentaly broken. I have a portable DAC based on reference ESS (bord) design with ES9018K2M +SABRE9601. I find the CS43131 integrated amp section better and currently a wining design for portables. There is a unbalanced version of E1DA that can give 2.6V on output but I am afraid that won't be enough (compared to 3.5~4 V [5 to 6 dB difrence] of balanced output from similar balanced one's). I don't like to much bass either and I am allergic when it overlaps with lo mids while hearing perfectly good (acording to last years medical examination [35 to 16K Hz]).
 
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