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Portable DAC for HD600, HD660s or Hifiman Sundara

threni

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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).

'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.

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.
I understand and agree completely with your desire to deal with limitations in your hearing. I do the same thing. Plus I have my own taste in what I want to hear. The HD 660S actually has, objectively, a quiet bass that needs boosting. So I do that, as well as boosting some of the higher frequencies, to get what I want to hear. I'm just saying that the DAC is not the place to do that. You want an objectively neutral DAC, AMP etc and perform any manipulations in software elsewhere. The plugins/distortion thing is entirely separate. The band, engineer etc do whatever they want and come up with an end result. I want to hear exactly that, seasoned to taste given my hearing/choices.
 

acbarn

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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.
The dragonflies sound different because they’re poorly engineered and consequently measure poorly. My advice is to get yourself a transparent DAC/amp and move forward beyond these audiophile myths.


Conclusions
As the category leader, AudioQuest takes advantage of their market position to price the Dragonfly Cobalt sky high. Unfortunately it then proceeds to deliver a highly distorting product that has little ability to drive low impedance headphones. You can buy plenty of products at one third of its price that way outperform it. If you want a brand name, get the THX Onyx which washes the floor with it. Whoever designed the headphone amplifier in this product needs to go back to engineering school or pay attention to what the competitor is shipping. Actually he needs to do both.
 
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Vik

Vik

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The dragonflies sound different because they’re poorly engineered and consequently measure poorly. My advice is to get yourself a transparent DAC/amp and move forward beyond these audiophile myths.
When i wrote that I tried the 660s with two different Dragonflies, and the results were clearly different – that was only meant as a comment to "The sound quality is going to be pretty much identical across all DACs". I compared Dragonfly Black with Dragonfly Cobalt.
The HD 660S actually has, objectively, a quiet bass that needs boosting. So I do that, as well as boosting some of the higher frequencies, to get what I want to hear. I'm just saying that the DAC is not the place to do that. You want an objectively neutral DAC, AMP etc and perform any manipulations in software elsewhere.
Ideally, I'd like to find a DAC that doesn't need EQ, combined with an ability to compensate for my reduced hearing of almost all frequencies except from 1-2k and downwards. At the moment, Dragonfly Cobalt isn't bad with this in mind, but it needs a lot of power and I'd prefer something more transparent – hopefully with a lower price.

If you want a brand name, get the THX Onyx which washes the floor with it.
I'm not particularly interested in brand names, but since you mentioned THX Onyx: the confusing part with all this is that there are always someone out there who will disagree. I just saw a review of the THX Onyx with this conclusion...


THX Onyx.png


...which makes me wonder if there's any dongle out there (or dongle priced small DAC with volume control etc) which pretty much everyone agrees in being a great choice?


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.

Pause, FF and Rewind sounds good if it also sounds great. Will look it up, thanks.
 
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acbarn

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I'm not particularly interested in brand names, but since you mentioned THX Onyx: the confusing part with all this is that there are always someone out there who will disagree. I just saw a review of the THX Onyx with this conclusion...
That was a quote from Amir's review, not my statement.

I think the solution is to use measurements to guide you, not random opinions from influencers on the internet who are not doing proper testing and are very likely to have bias for various reasons. This graph, for example, tells you all you need to know about the Cobalt:

Audioquest Cobalt Multitone Measurements DAC and Heapdhone Amp.png
 
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threni

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When i wrote that I tried the 660s with two different Dragonflies, and the results were clearly different – that was only meant as a comment to "The sound quality is going to be pretty much identical across all DACs". I compared Dragonfly Black with Dragonfly Cobalt.

Ideally, I'd like to find a DAC that doesn't need EQ, combined with an ability to compensate for my reduced hearing of almost all frequencies except from 1-2k and downwards. At the moment, Dragonfly Cobalt isn't bad with this in mind, but it needs a lot of power and I'd prefer something more transparent – hopefully with a lower price.
Well, no well designed DACs require EQ, as that would be an attempt to compensate externally for a problem which is better addressed within the DAC. It sounds like, from what you're saying, that the Dragonfly Cobalt is poorly engineered in a way which fortuitously coincides with EQ you might otherwise need to apply yourself on whatever player you're using to compensate for your personal audio perception. I suspect this is a lucky one-off. Most DACs do not have a sound/signature and would need the EQ applied elsewhere in the chain. But I've not heard every DAC or read the reviews of all available DACs on this site so perhaps opinionated DACs are a thing.
 

Jimbob54

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The best answer you have been given is the best one you will ever get. The Qudelix 5K. EQ on the device that can be set up either via a phone app (android) or browser on a PC with the device connected. You can adjust all those frequencies that for whatever reason (your hearing impairment, wonky FR on the headphones or straight up personal preference) dont work for you currently.

Has a 2.5mm balanced output so you can get 4v output with balanced cables on headphones. Also Bluetooth so you dont even need to worry how to connect it to the i device.

Leaving aside this rare bird, dont try and get the sound you want from dacs and amps that really shouldnt be there to impart any sonic characteristics to the chain.
 
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Vik

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Thanks again for the feedback, guys – I'll look all these up.(I've seen the Topping DX3 Pro+ mentioned as a 'reference product' here (anyone here tried it?), and the price is lower than the Dragonfly Blue. The iFi audio GO Blu Portable also looks interesting.)

Since I may use the DAC for both an iPhone, and iPad, maybe a Mac or two, and later a MacBook Pro, I actually would prefer something that doesn't need eg. an EQ app running in the background, but of course it's best to have one. I Need to check what the best solution for iPhones are.

Due to high power consumption and lack of volume control on several of these units, I'm also considering a small DAC/Amp with a power cable – or a DAC/Amp with a built in, rechargeable battery. I

Since I won't buy anything I haven't heard, and won't rely on measurements/specs alone, definitely not rely and others' subjective opinion about sound – and prefer something with a remote and volume control, I'll hopefully be able to make a decision soon.

 
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Vik

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The best answer you have been given is the best one you will ever get. The Qudelix 5K.
I've seen several recommendations for that unit, but the review on this site says "The DAC performance of the Qudelix 5K is not very good and indeed would get a failing score if it were compared to desktop products", which makes me sceptical.
 

Jimbob54

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I've seen several recommendations for that unit, but the review on this site says "The DAC performance of the Qudelix 5K is not very good and indeed would get a failing score if it were compared to desktop products", which makes me sceptical.
"If it were compared to desktop products" - you specifically want portable, so not comparable.
 
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Vik

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If it were compared to desktop products" - you specifically want portable, so not comparable.
Hi, the main thing I focused on was "The DAC performance of the Qudelix 5K is not very good" – a statement which is quite bold and which I can't remember having seen in often in tese reviews. Regarding portable, I may have to change my mind if I can't find a portable (which can be bought here – returns are difficult for stuff that's bought in other countries) that I'm happy with.
 

Jimbob54

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Hi, the main thing I focused on was "The DAC performance of the Qudelix 5K is not very good" – a statement which is quite bold and which I can't remember having seen in often in tese reviews. Regarding portable, I may have to change my mind if I can't find a portable (which can be bought here – returns are difficult for stuff that's bought in other countries) that I'm happy with.
Seems like in your other thread you have about as much info as you are going to get from here. Think you now have to decide which meets your many requirements the closest. With most lot there usually has to be some degree of compromise.

If I were you I'd focus on:

Availability
Form factor
Compatability with varying sources (eg iOS devices don't mix well with devices that need plenty of power from the phone)
Can you use eq in the set ups it's going in
Price

By the sound of it availability will be your biggest hurdle.

For desktop simplicity, power and performance the topping dx3 Pro plus looks hard to beat.

For portable, the qudelix.
 
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Vik

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Availability
Form factor
Compatability with varying sources (eg iOS devices don't mix well with devices that need plenty of power from the phone)
Can you use eq in the set ups it's going in
Price

By the sound of it availability will be your biggest hurdle.
Absolutely, and I'm already checking out stuff – trying out the Sundara with Mojo2 yesterday (and the Edition XS, which in my ears wasn't worth the price difference.
iOs doesn't allow a system wide EQ (other than the built in presets for music apps), which makes this a lot more difficult, just like my beed to deal with several Apple devices with different operating systems etc.
Reviews here (and some other places) have been useful – so useful that I wish I had found separate page on ASR listing all the DACS and DAC-amps, ideally with a rating system. I found this...
...but if there is a list of ranked DACs, portable or not, with/without built in amps, I haven't found it yet.


For desktop simplicity, power and performance the topping dx3 Pro plus looks hard to beat.

For portable, the qudelix.
My reservation against Qudelix is still the mention of the 'not very good' DAC performance, a statement which is way less enthusiastic than what he wrote about some of the other, similar products.

OTOH, unless I have been dreaming this (!), I believe I saw a comment about the DX3 Pro+ was most useful for the DAC itself and not so much for the amp, along with a recommendation about bypassing the built in amp and use the DAC in that unit with an external amp. I don't think I have been dreaming this, but maybe I'm mixing up the Pro+ with some other DAC-amp?

Based on the measurements and reviews on this site, these are, along DX3 Pro + ($199), the strongest contenders (disclaimer: there are still tons of reviews I haven't read):

Topping EX5 $349
In 2019: 'exceptionally good performance with both my Drop Ether CX and Sennheiser HD650'

Hidizs S9 $112
In 2021: 'a tiny device that delivers desktop class performance/'best phone adapter in the world?'

Fiio A5 $130 ($260)
In 2019: 'it rivals the best of the desktop headphone amplifiers. There is plenty of power to drive just about any headphone with very low output impedance. I don't think we have seen this combination before') But this is an amp only, and would need eg a Fiio A5 (also $130).

The iFI Go Blu ($199) also looks interesting, because it has a mic + volume/ff/rew/pause and apparently also can be used for phone calls.

I could actually buy two of these products for the price of the Dragonfly Cobalt.

Should I be worried that some of the quoted reviews/statements are from 2019?
 
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Vik

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Based on the measurements and reviews on this site, these are, along DX3 Pro + ($199), the strongest contenders (disclaimer: there are still tons of reviews I haven't read):

Topping EX5 $349
In 2019: 'exceptionally good performance with both my Drop Ether CX and Sennheiser HD650'

Hidizs S9 $112
In 2021: 'a tiny device that delivers desktop class performance/'best phone adapter in the world?'

Fiio A5 $130 ($260)
In 2019: 'it rivals the best of the desktop headphone amplifiers. There is plenty of power to drive just about any headphone with very low output impedance. I don't think we have seen this combination before') But this is an amp only, and would need eg a Fiio A5 (also $130).

The iFI Go Blu ($199) also looks interesting, because it has a mic + volume/ff/rew/pause and apparently also can be used for phone calls.

Since I can't edit the post: Topping MX5 should also be on that list. It's the only relatively inexpensive DAC-amp with a SINAD rating above 94 in this list:
 

tifune

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Since I can't edit the post: Topping MX5 should also be on that list. It's the only relatively inexpensive DAC-amp with a SINAD rating above 94 in this list:

I've tried to parse this thread and I'm not clear: are you still searching for a DAC? If so, maybe take your mind off it for a bit with some light reading:


If you're still on the fence after that, I've owned Sundara, HD650 and MANY others. If portable is your concern, the answer is:

1. Qudelix
1.5 ES100 - basically a Qudelix, even designed by same person, but 10 band EQ instead of PEQ. Also $20 cheaper and you can actually find them in stock

2. For Sundara, you'll probably want an amp. Topping NX7 best bargain available.
HD650 fine w Qudelix/ES100 unless you want your bass turned up to 11 (in which case I'd say find other headphones)

3. Beyond these you get into bigger $, questionable portability. Ampersand+Qudelix is my preference for big mobile power, Cayin C9 is the last stop before you have to start carrying around an A90 + AC battery pack.

Obviously those are all Mobile solutions but I see In Your most recent posts mention DX3 and MX5 so not sure what your goal is at this point. Personally I don't feel open backs are really portable at all. I mean, you can walk around your house and yard I guess. Beyond that you won't make many friends.
 
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If you're still on the fence after that, I've owned Sundara, HD650 and MANY others. If portable is your concern, the answer is:

1. Qudelix
1.5 ES100 - basically a Qudelix, even designed by same person, but 10 band EQ instead of PEQ. Also $20 cheaper and you can actually find them in stock

2. For Sundara, you'll probably want an amp. Topping NX7 best bargain available.
HD650 fine w Qudelix/ES100 unless you want your bass turned up to 11 (in which case I'd say find other headphones)

3. Beyond these you get into bigger $, questionable portability. Ampersand+Qudelix is my preference for big mobile power, Cayin C9 is the last stop before you have to start carrying around an A90 + AC battery pack.

Obviously those are all Mobile solutions but I see In Your most recent posts mention DX3 and MX5 so not sure what your goal is at this point. Personally I don't feel open backs are really portable at all. I mean, you can walk around your house and yard I guess. Beyond that you won't make many friends.
Thanks for your reply!
When I use the term 'portable', I'm mainly looking for something I can use on the phone (eg in bed or lying on a sofa) or when traveling on a train or plane/in a hotel room. I have Beyerdynamic DT880 which IMO are relatively OK for traveling. (I also bought RHA T20i earphones some years ago, but they don't sound good even with a good DAC/amp.)

I need something which I can use at home as well, ideally with a remote control and EQ – so I may have to buy two DAC-amps.
Right now Topping DX3 Pro+ and Qudelix or ES100 are most tempting. I'll check that out. Ampersand and Cayin C9 are both beyond my budget. The same is true for the new Topping DX5, which otherwise looks very interesting, since it probably could drive my Genelec 1031A pair, has bass/treble control and seem more grown up than the DX3 Pro+.
 

tifune

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Thanks for your reply!
When I use the term 'portable', I'm mainly looking for something I can use on the phone (eg in bed or lying on a sofa) or when traveling on a train or plane/in a hotel room. I have Beyerdynamic DT880 which IMO are relatively OK for traveling. (I also bought RHA T20i earphones some years ago, but they don't sound good even with a good DAC/amp.)

I need something which I can use at home as well, ideally with a remote control and EQ – so I may have to buy two DAC-amps.
Right now Topping DX3 Pro+ and Qudelix or ES100 are most tempting. I'll check that out. Ampersand and Cayin C9 are both beyond my budget. The same is true for the new Topping DX5, which otherwise looks very interesting, since it probably could drive my Genelec 1031A pair, has bass/treble control and seem more grown up than the DX3 Pro+.

Re: the 880, it looks like it has a fixed cable. When it comes to portable, balanced connections are important for maximizing performance largely due to a doubling of power output. HD6xx and Sundara cables can be replaced for a reasonable cost, so this would not be an issue.

I do think Qudelix should be step 1 for you - play with it a few weeks, figure out what parts you find lacking, and re-evaluate. If you're on an EXTREMELY tight budget or simply In a hurry, ES100 could work as well but in addition to the EQ limitations there is some debate as to how much power it can actually put out. When Amir tested, IIRC he didn't have the cables necessary to fully measure balanced output and the ES100 balanced power specs are kind of... nebulous. The site lists 4V but I think their app shows 3.2V.
 

fastfreddy666

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you could also try the Sonata HD pro. The insides are the same as the Hidizs S8 (reportedly)
I did not experience drop outs. The dongle is small so you can also use it on the go.

Review: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...sonata-hd-pro-review-headphone-adapter.22625/

Amirm tested it with his HD650 (300 ohm) headphone and he was pleased with the results.


The dongle is currently not available on Amazon anymore but you could still order it from aliexpress. The IOS version is hard to find but you can just buy the Android Version. You only need to buy a micro USB to to lightning connector cable separately.

 
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tifune

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I just the had a look at the ES100 rating (couldn't find the same kind of graph for Qudelix) so I guess I need to compare some more):
The SINAD ratings (90) aren't actually that impressive compared with some of the others... not easy to make decisions, especially since I need to order most of the relevant products from abroad.

I'll also look at the sonata HD Pro too – thanks!

how high does your SINAD rating need to be?
 
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