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Small form-factor Headphone DAC/AMP for PC under 500$

Pawlakbest

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Hello.
My current setup is Topping L30 (1st gen) and Topping E30 (1st gen) connected to PC via USB and I'm using Hifiman Edition XS. In future I'm planning to upgrade to either Arya or LCD-X. I will be only using USB as a connector so I don't care about bluetooth, coaxial or optical input and I won't be using Speakers, so the less outputs, the better. I only care about USB and Headphone out(balanced would be a plus). I want the best measurements and power I can get for the money and neutral sound. And I want AIO. Even though L30 and E30 sounds great, I want something in smaller box, also if possible with screen that turns off when its not used (like in Topping DX5). Also, built in power supply is a must, cause I hate these bricks, that's why I eliminated some great DAC/AMPs like Topping DX3Pro+ or FiiO K7. Good and long drivers support and good build quality is also important.

I found these to fit most of my requirements, but I don't know if there are others or newer versions of these that are better and even more suitable for me:
1. Topping DX5 - look like a direct upgrade to my setup, with really useful Auto Off feature, but maybe there are smaller and cheaper DACs that would be enough for me and I will never use XLR headphone out, so it just adds another port that breaks front simplistic asthetics.
2. SMSL M500 MKIII - also not cheap and a little bigger that DX5 but measurements are a little better, but maybe there are smaller and cheaper ones that are enough for me.
3. SMSL M300 SE - also big, but at least cheaper than M500, and I prefer that power off button is in front, easier to access, and I will be powering off any DAC/AMPs often as I'm doing it now with L30, cause E30 is turning off when PC shuts down as it's using USB power. Unfortunately there is no Amir review, so I don't know how it measures compared to DX5 and M500.
4. SMSL C200 - for now my favourite, cheap, small, only usefull outputs in front, knob turns it off in front but I don't know if the screen powers off if not used, measures a little better than DX3Pro+ and has built in power supply. Problem is that it's almost nowhere to be found, only aliexpress shops as of today(I live in Europe, Poland). I heard that there is a newer version DL200 and C200 is now abandoned, but DL200 is much bigger and doesn't look like C200. Also I don't know if it's enough for my future Headphone upgrade.

Any recommendations and opinions are much appreciated. Thanks
 

ZolaIII

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If they still make it:
And versatile with good performance for also low impedance sensitive IEM's/headphones.
 

staticV3

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The Edition XS, Arya, and LCD-X are all very sensitive headphones that need barely any power to get loud.

That makes AIOs like the DX5 and C200 needlessly big, heavy, and expensive. You'll never use even 10% of their available output power.

Balanced headphone output is also a frequently misunderstood feature that's mostly pointless for this application. It certainly doesn't improve sound quality.
That's why the C200 for example, doesn't actually have a balanced headphone output.
Its 4.4mm Pentaconn jack has a single-ended Amp behind it.

Therefore, I'd recommend the Topping DX1.
It's as transparent as anything else on your list and the perfect class of power for your headphones.

You can find measurements of the DX1 here: https://www.l7audiolab.com/f/topping-dx1/

They were made with the same APx555B that Amir uses for his reviews, and with an arguably more diligent operator behind it.
 
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ZolaIII

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@staticV3 to me Topping DX1 is a big no for such a use, that is without good linear volume controls from digital source because of analog pot on it. Besides it's just average, about 10 dB worse than DX5, worse than a good CS43131 dongle and on pair with 10 $/€ more anaemic Apple EU usb dongle.
 

staticV3

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to me Topping DX1 is a big no for such a use, that is without good linear volume controls from digital source because of analog pot on it.
The pot is linear down to -40dB, similar to the pot in OP's L30 which afaik he has no issues with.

Besides it's just average, about 10 dB worse than DX5
10dB worse in which metric?

worse than a good CS43131 dongle and on pair with 10 $/€ more anaemic Apple EU usb dongle.
It has better DR, THD+N, Multitone, Jitter, and Output Power than the Apple dongle or any comparable cs43131 dongle.
 
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Pawlakbest

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If they still make it:
And versatile with good performance for also low impedance sensitive IEM's/headphones.
Yes, I can still buy it, but question is do I need that much power?
The Edition XS, Arya, and LCD-X are all very sensitive headphones that need barely any power to get loud.

That makes AIOs like the DX5 and C200 needlessly big, heavy, and expensive. You'll never use even 10% of their available output power.

Balanced headphone output is also a frequently misunderstood feature that's mostly pointless for this application. It certainly doesn't improve sound quality.
That's why the C200 for example, doesn't actually have a balanced headphone output.
Its 4.4mm Pentaconn jack has a single-ended Amp behind it.

Therefore, I'd recommend the Topping DX1.
It's as transparent as anything else on your list and the perfect class of power for your headphones.

You can find measurements of the DX1 here: https://www.l7audiolab.com/f/topping-dx1/

They were made with the same APx555B that Amir uses for his reviews, and with an arguably more diligent operator behind it.
I don't think that DX5 or C200 is too big, at least they are smaller than M500 and M300SE, question is do I need DX5 and if C200 is enough, is it replaced with newer model?
I also sometimes use my DT 990 pro 250 Ohm, but I guess I could set High gain in DX1 for it to be enough for them? I like DX1 being small, but I can spend some more money on C200 to get better measurements and power, it's not a problem. I was only considering if spending money for DX5 and M500 is not a waste in my case.
 

ZolaIII

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@staticV3 at 50 mV 32 Ohms recalculated to SINAD (Amir's DX5) from Wolf's THD+N % and not accounting in Wolf's SINAD is usually 1~2 dB better (better PSU probably). In that same measurement pot whosent great nor analogs are on both ends.
 

ZolaIII

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@Pawlakbest it's not about power it's about performance on very low power output for sensitive low impedance IEM's/headphones and that it's not load dependent. That will drive pretty much anything from power hungry planars that are mid impedance, low sensitivity and there balanced actually makes sense to sensitive IEM's with superb to great performance, thicks all your wish list and you have money for it. So why not? Combined it's still top performer around hire.
 
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staticV3

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I also sometimes use my DT 990 pro 250 Ohm, but I guess I could set High gain in DX1 for it to be enough for them?
The DX1 in High gain will drive the DT 990 Pro 250Ω to 109dB SPL Peak.

For reference, my usual listening volume is about 10-15% of what the DX1+DT990 is capable of.
 

staticV3

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@staticV3 at 50 mV 32 Ohms recalculated to SINAD (Amir's DX5) from Wolf's THD+N % and not accounting in Wolf's SINAD is usually 1~2 dB better (better PSU probably).
50mV SNR is 90dB for the DX5 and 94dB for the DX1.
Topping DX5 Measurements Stereo 50mv Headphone Amplifier Balanced.png 1663622332-Dynamic-Range (1).jpg
 

ZolaIII

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staticV3

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I see where you're coming from.

Still, Topping's own specs which have been very accurate so far, corroborate Wolf's and Amir's 50mV SNR measurements:
6736999.jpg 5642261.jpg

With 1.7μVrms, the DX5 has 4.6dB more noise than the DX1, which is extremely close to the 4dB more noise that their 50mV SNR tests have shown.

I would therefore take Wolf's load sweep noise floor measurement as an outlier.
 
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Pawlakbest

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So DX1 should be enough for my present and future headphones? I'm listening to my Edition XS at 10:30 o'clock at the knob(all max in windows) and it's loud enough for me. If there is no downside to C200(DX1 only powered by USB) and no audio quality loss and it's as neutral as DX5, then I'm sold.
Edit: Unless there is something similar to DX1 in SMSL products.
 

Dunring

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I've had all of those and currently have a few.
SMSL C200 sounds great and didn't have any problems with the three I've had so far. Good power too.
Topping DX5 no issues, good power but priced high for retail unless you get used or the Lite version which just doesn't have MQA support.
SMSL M300SE currently have one, the 3.5mm output instead of RCA is a pain with adapters, single end 3.5mm is barely more than onboard sound, but the 4.4mm side will power the Hifiman HE5xx fine. If USB ports are noisy I use a Samsung ETA0U60JBE charger for clean power a lot cheaper than a real Apple one.
SMSL M500 MKII enough power for the Hifiman HE6se if you don't equalize much with a preamp reduction. Otherwise it'll power anything. The older models had some issues (they have two optical, the newer ones have just one).
 

staticV3

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So DX1 should be enough for my present and future headphones?
It should be enough for every headphone discussed in this thread.

Unless there is something similar to DX1 in SMSL products.
SMSL's competitor to the DX1 is the SMSL D12.

Same DAC chip, similar output power, USB-powered as well, but a larger chassis and some extra features.

Also, no independent measurements AFAIK.

Other DAC+Amps in the same category are the FiiO New K3, iFi Zen Air DAC and iFi Uno.

Though they focus more on UX and extra features like a switchable bass boost, than on supreme transparency.
 

mc.god

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It should be enough for every headphone discussed in this thread.


SMSL's competitor to the DX1 is the SMSL D12.

Same DAC chip, similar output power, USB-powered as well, but a larger chassis and some extra features.

Also, no independent measurements AFAIK.

Other DAC+Amps in the same category are the FiiO New K3, iFi Zen Air DAC and iFi Uno.

Though they focus more on UX and extra features like a switchable bass boost, than on supreme transparency.
D12 was reviewed by Amir some times ago:

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/smsl-d12-dac-headphone-amp-review.46521/

I personally prefer DX1 for better noise measurements and D12 showing volume on display only while changing it, even though D12 having digital volume control.
 
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mc.god

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4. SMSL C200 - for now my favourite, cheap, small, only usefull outputs in front, knob turns it off in front but I don't know if the screen powers off if not used, measures a little better than DX3Pro+ and has built in power supply. Problem is that it's almost nowhere to be found, only aliexpress shops as of today(I live in Europe, Poland).
At Amazon italy C200 is constantly available for a long time, often discounted at around 160€, you can check if you can get it shipped to Poland.

https://www.amazon.it/C200-Amplificatore-ES9038Q2M-4xOPA1612-Telecomando/dp/B0BC8SLXS8
 

mc.god

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Or you could even go with a small powerfull dongle of your choice (i.e. Sonata BHD pro, Tanchjim Space or even the new 35€ Fiio KA11) + an usb rotary encoder volume control like this
 
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