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Trying to find the best DAC+Amp combo for the HD800s, under $900. Was originally leaning towards Schiit products, but they don't seem to review well.

What is the best sub-$900 Schiit DAC and Amp Combo, SPECIFICALLY for the Sennheiser HD800s?

  • Modius & Lyr+

  • Modius & Jotunheim 2

  • Jotunheim 2 with its ES-9028 DAC Card

  • Jotunheim 2 with its Multibit DAC Card

  • Modius & Valhalla 2

  • Modi & Magni

  • A Topping Stack (Please state Model in comments)

  • JDS Labs Atom Stack

  • Some other brand (Please state products in comments)


Results are only viewable after voting.

MRC01

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What I was trying to get at is that if things like the Topping and JDS products TEST and MEASURE better than the Jotunheim, what are all of its features actually worth, in the auditory experience? It's balanced, yes, but what possible benefit does the balanced output bring, if the Topping and JDS are still measuring better than it? Balanced helps reduce noise, helps provide more gain, offers lower distortion, etc. etc., but the topping and JDS still measure better in all those criteria.
...
That is, until we talk small details and things that arguably don't matter, like a wall wart vs an internal power supply, two separate devices vs one, etc. I'm sure these little details and buying-points matter to some, but they don't to me. I'm just trying to get good sound.
It's a question of quality, reliability, flexibility and preferences. Personally, I've been burned with Topping and SMSL so I don't buy them anymore. Of course different people's experiences vary and some people swear by them. Regarding Jotunheim vs. Atom, if you don't mind having a couple of wall warts hogging your electrical outlets and always consuming energy even when the units are turned off, and having 2 separate units instead of just one, and you don't intend ever to own low sensitivity headphones that need the Jotunheim's extra power, nor having a power amp that might use its line level analog balanced outputs, then the Atom stack is the way to go. And even better, it's less expensive.

Another difference is the volume knob. The Jotunheim's RK27 is a better part having better channel balance at low settings. I own the original Atom, the Atom 2, and the Jotunheim and have measured them. The original Atom's channel balance was slightly off at settings below 09:00, which I did use even on low gain, which was slightly annoying. The Atom 2's volume knob has better balance, nearly as good as the Jotunheim. But they all match well at volume settings above 9:00, no difference there.
 

JeremyFife

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Slightly alternative thought: If you prioritise reliability (on the assumption that technical excellence and power is available readily) then RME has a great reputation.
Their RME ADI FS range is a DAC/Headphones combined unit that is highly regarded here.
 
OP
Quinton595

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It's a question of quality, reliability, flexibility and preferences. Personally, I've been burned with Topping and SMSL so I don't buy them anymore. Of course different people's experiences vary and some people swear by them. Regarding Jotunheim vs. Atom, if you don't mind having a couple of wall warts hogging your electrical outlets and always consuming energy even when the units are turned off, and having 2 separate units instead of just one, and you don't intend ever to own low sensitivity headphones that need the Jotunheim's extra power, nor having a power amp that might use its line level analog balanced outputs, then the Atom stack is the way to go. And even better, it's less expensive.

Another difference is the volume knob. The Jotunheim's RK27 is a better part having better channel balance at low settings. I own the original Atom, the Atom 2, and the Jotunheim and have measured them. The original Atom's channel balance was slightly off at settings below 09:00, which I did use even on low gain, which was slightly annoying. The Atom 2's volume knob has better balance, nearly as good as the Jotunheim. But they all match well at volume settings above 9:00, no difference there.
Well, Schiit, I think you just made my decision for me.

Having you sum it all up so bluntly has made it much easier for me.

I DO mind having wall-warts, not because of the warts, but because of the constant power drain.

I DO intend to one day add a power amp to the stack, though I don't know what just yet.

And I DO want more reliability than what I've read about Topping.

So it seems I'm now much more confident with my original choice of Jotunheim 2. It seems most people still recommend getting the Modius DAC with it, though, rather than using the internal DAC card (see the poll). But, like I said before, that's because all of the reviews and data on the Jotunheim's DAC card were for an older, obsoleted AK card, or the Multibit. I can't seem to find much about the ES9028 chip. Then there's also the question of the Midgard. It seems the Midgard outputs only 750mW at 300 ohms, whereas the Jot puts out almost double, at 1.2W. Whether I'd ever actually need that though.... well now I'm just getting back into the thick of the discussion you already addressed. It seems the Jot is a better product, in all ways except measurements, but, like many people here have said, it still measures just fine for human hearing.

I still love the Lyr+, purely for its looks, but it has.... issues.

Thank you very much for all your help. I hope you know it is greatly appreciated.
 
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MRC01

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So it seems I'm now much more confident with my original choice of Jotunheim 2. ...
If that's the case, consider getting a balanced cable for your headphones. This is because (A) balanced eliminates any chance of ground loop hum noise, and (B) the Jotunheim's balanced outputs are cleaner (lower noise & distortion) and more powerful than its unbalanced outputs, so you might as well use them. Not a fancy expensive cable, just a well made one.

If I couldn't find one for $50 or less, I'd buy the parts and build it myself. Relevant thread: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...one-cable-from-unbalanced-to-4-pin-xlr.27619/

Note that if your headphones have a 4-pin balanced cable, you can plug them into an unbalanced amp with a simple passive adapter (like this). But not vice versa! In this sense, a 4-pin balanced cable is more universal than the unbalanced cable that comes with the headphones.

Of course, you can ignore this and simply use it unbalanced, the Jotunheim gives you that flexibility.
 

solderdude

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Your explanation of how much power is needed, especially to hit harmon targets, was very helpful. Based on my testing of the HD800s in stores, I intend to run it with a 5-to-10 dB boost in the bass and sub-bass frequencies. Even with my fairly limited exposure to EQ, I gather that this is a fairly big boost, and so I obviously want to avoid distortion, and make sure I have enough amplification power for that. Problem is, I don't actually know how to calculate how much power I need for this, specifically with the HD800s.
With Harman boost and only using it at max. at a comfortable loud level you will need an amp that can provide 200mW in 300ohm
With Harman boost and occasionally wanting to use it at a impressively loud level (for less than the duration of a whole song) you will need an amp that can provide 1W in 300ohm

One thing I'm trying to figure out about EQ is the whole concept of headroom and preamp gain. If you don't mind, I'd like to confirm that my understanding of the two approaches to EQing are correct:

1) To my mind, if I were to leave all frequencies at 0, have a preamp gain of 0, and then boost the bass with a bass shelf of, say, 5dB, then what I've done is kept the volume constant across most of the sound, but boosted the bass. Beyond a certain amount of boost, though, I will start to introduce distortion. This distortion is separate and unrelated to noise, and instead represents... what, exactly? A failure of the speaker's driver to be able to move and respond properly to the given much-higher-than-usual voltage for that frequency?
For this method you need negative preamp which lowers the overall level so the boosted bass is not clipping.
When you push the bass up 5dB you will need -5dB negative pre-amp otherwise the DAC will clip the output signal. Unpleasant sound.

The alternative method is to lower mids and treble and keep bass at 0dB in which case you don't need to apply negative pre-amp.
Note that some equalizers already apply or automatically apply negative preamp when boosting any of the bands above 0dB.
Unfortunately using this method the mids and treble part might be wobbly in response which is not the case when used as described above.

I both cases you need an amplifier which can be set to a higher gain.

Is volume a separate concept from gain?
Gain is a form of volume control in coarse steps but usually a higher gain means a technical lesser quality (higher noise floor and distortion) but with any half decent amp this is still below any audible thresholds.

Based on your earlier explanation of S/N ratios, the ratio actually gets BETTER, because noise is constant, but turning the volume up boosts the signal, right? Ok, so that seems like a SECOND point in favour of using scenario 2)'s approach to EQ. What happens to the distortion, though? When you have to turn everything up louder, to offset of a negative EQ preamp, are you not just undoing all of the distortion benefits you gained by using scenario 2's approach in the first place?
You do not need to worry about distortion. Distortion better than 0.01% is absolutely pointless.


Also, thank you for again reiterating that it's all bullshit, what people say about different dacs and amps sounding wildly different. It's still helpful to read that, even though I know it to already be true. Like I said in response to Oleg87 above, I always find it difficult to choose between products when there's no clear winner. When it all comes down to subtle flavour differences, aesthetics, and whim, I tend to struggle to make a decision.

But speak for yourself, buddy. YOU might not need 1 jiggaWatt, but I intend to run my headphone directly off the core of a nuclear reactor, and it is my God-given right to do so.
It is !
 

Doodski

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because I'm not super familiar/experienced with audio gear, I can't necessarily trust my own convictions, so when I start reading posts, I get swayed.
Pick your favorite 2 or 3 amps and then flip a coin. I actually do this sometimes. Or I get a girlfriend to pick the nicest looking one... LoL.
Yes, thank you! I know the Magi an Modi are well-liked. I've just always wondered what exactly you're "giving up" by stepping down from the mid-tier units to these smaller ones. Or, to put it the other way, what you gain by stepping up from a magni and modi to a magnius and modius. "More Power", "Balanced Output", yadda yadda, but again, if it all comes down to measurements, and the noise and distortion are below what's audible anyway, then what are you ACTUALLY getting?
OK here are the Schiiits.>>
MAGNI.
You get a nice basic amp with a decent but nothing expensive volume pot and lotsa of power. Mine works perfectly from what I hear. 3 year warranty.
VALI
You get a valve/tube. 2 year warranty.
MIDGARD
You get a very nice volume pot, huge power output, 2 year warranty and balanced connector.
 
OP
Quinton595

Quinton595

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If that's the case, consider getting a balanced cable for your headphones. This is because (A) balanced eliminates any chance of ground loop hum noise, and (B) the Jotunheim's balanced outputs are cleaner (lower noise & distortion) and more powerful than its unbalanced outputs, so you might as well use them. Not a fancy expensive cable, just a well made one.

If I couldn't find one for $50 or less, I'd buy the parts and build it myself. Relevant thread: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...one-cable-from-unbalanced-to-4-pin-xlr.27619/

Note that if your headphones have a 4-pin balanced cable, you can plug them into an unbalanced amp with a simple passive adapter (like this). But not vice versa! In this sense, a 4-pin balanced cable is more universal than the unbalanced cable that comes with the headphones.

Of course, you can ignore this and simply use it unbalanced, the Jotunheim gives you that flexibility.

The new HD800s are actually sent out with both single-ended cables, and balanced ones, but the balanced cables are terminated with a 4.4mm pentaconn connection. I didn't know if this type of connector was TRULY balanced and double-ended, because to my mind, it has a total of L+, L-, R+, R-, and Ground, whereas XLR has just 3 pins, L, R, and Ground, so I don't really know how one maps to the other, so I necro-posted in an old Head-Fi thread:


and received confirmation that the 4.4mm pentaconn is truly balanced. I can then use a passive 4.4mm pentaconn-to-XLR adapter to plug the senn's into the Jotunheim to achieve balanced output from the amp, and the Modius DAC will feet into the Jotunheim using it's (two?) Balanced XLR cables, for a fully balanced system.

Why two XLR cables going from Modius->Jot become just one XLR cable leaving the Jot is beyond me.
 

KeithPhantom

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Why two XLR cables going from Modius->Jot become just one XLR cable leaving the Jot is beyond me.
Because the 2 3-pin XLR from DAC to amp represent a single channel of audio (1 for left, 1 for right channel), and the XLR from amp to headphone is a 4-pin which matches the Pentacomm cable, thus both are stereo balanced.
 

MRC01

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... I can then use a passive 4.4mm pentaconn-to-XLR adapter to plug the senn's into the Jotunheim to achieve balanced output from the amp, and the Modius DAC will feet into the Jotunheim using it's (two?) Balanced XLR cables, for a fully balanced system.
Sure, and that works whether you use the Jotunheim's built-in DAC or an external one.
Why two XLR cables going from Modius->Jot become just one XLR cable leaving the Jot is beyond me.
Because each XLR cable carries one channel of stereo: one each for left and right. The headphone cable carries both. Each XLR has a ground pin, which the headphone doesn't need, so the XLR has 3 for each (signal +, signal -, and ground) instead of 2 for the headphone (signal +, signal -).
 

oleg87

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It seems the Midgard outputs only 750mW at 300 ohms, whereas the Jot puts out almost double, at 1.2W.
Almost double the power means a little less than 3dB difference in max headroom (on top of what is already more than enough power for the HD800s) - not very meaningful. The nature of how hearing works is that you need exponentially more power for a "linear" increase in perceived volume.
 

spede

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I tried SMSL SP200 and volume pot was spinning like beer bottle cap on table, id guess Toppings cheaper offerings are similiar.

Get Jotunheim 2 with Modius.
 

MRC01

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... Get Jotunheim 2 with Modius.
With the Jotunheim 2's revised ESS9028 internal DAC, audio quality/performance is about the same either way. The Modius gives more flexibility as it also has coax and toslink inputs where the internal DAC is USB only. Is that worth a 2-box solution and an extra $130? That depends on personal choices.
 

oleg87

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I tried SMSL SP200 and volume pot was spinning like beer bottle cap on table, id guess Toppings cheaper offerings are similiar.

Get Jotunheim 2 with Modius.
I think Midgard uses the same pot as the Jot2 fwiw.
 
OP
Quinton595

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Because each XLR cable carries one channel of stereo: one each for left and right. The headphone cable carries both. Each XLR has a ground pin, which the headphone doesn't need, so the XLR has 3 for each (signal +, signal -, and ground) instead of 2 for the headphone (signal +, signal -).

Ahh, that makes sense. I forgot that headphone drivers don't require a ground. It's 2x3 XLR, so 6 pins, combining their grounds and becoming 4 "pins", plus 1 ground.

Does the ground not get used at all in the pentaconn connection when used for headphones? Strikes me as odd that they'd use it for headphones, then, as opposed to a connector that just has 4 contacts, like the 2.5mm and 3.5mm TRRS connectors that I just learned about seconds ago on Google....
Almost double the power means a little less than 3dB difference in max headroom (on top of what is already more than enough power for the HD800s) - not very meaningful. The nature of how hearing works is that you need exponentially more power for a "linear" increase in perceived volume.

I see, thank you!

And a Big Thank You to everyone who has commented and helped. I have learned a great deal from this thread, and I appreciate all your time and help.

I think I've pretty much settled on the Jotunheim 2 as my Amp. More Power than the Atom, (potentially) more reliable than the Toppings, with audio quality that is good enough for most reasonable human hearing. Plus it looks nice, and gives me the flexibility to add to the stack with matching products in the future. Whether I'll go with the Modius DAC, or use the newly-available ES9028 DAC card inside the Jotunheim, though, I'm still up in the air about. I have plans to one day add a speaker amp like a Gjallarhorn to the stack, so I'm trying to think about the inputs and outputs I'd need, as it would be for a 2.1 setup. I don't know if buying the Modius really gets me anything extra in that regard though.

Computer --> Modius

Modius Dual XLR Output --> Jotunheim 2 Dual XLR Input

Jotunheim 2 Single XLR Output --> XLR to Pentaconn Adapter --> Sennheiser HD800s Pentaconn


Either Modius RCA Output OR Jotunheim RCA PRE-AMP Output --> Gjallarhorn Stereo RCA Input

Gjallarhorn Banana Plugs --> Speakers

???? ---> Subwoofer


If I just buy the Jotunheim and use its DAC card, I have two PRE-AMP XLR Outputs, and two PRE-AMP RCA outputs to use for the Gjallarhorn and Subwoofer. Since the Gjallarhorn uses up the RCA, that leaves me with just the XLR, or using a splitter. Do subs take XLR? Can a subwoofer even be "Balanced"?

If I also buy the Modius, I get a second set of RCA outputs to use for the Gjallarhorn and Subwoofer.

And that, of course, is entirely independent to the actual DAC performance difference between the Modius and Jotunheim 2 ES9028 DAC card, though MRC01 is saying they're pretty comparable (got any links to data?)

(Sigh) You guys enjoy this stuff, right?

There's something wrong with you all.
 

johny_2000

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received confirmation that the 4.4mm pentaconn is truly balanced. I can then use a passive 4.4mm pentaconn-to-XLR adapter to plug the senn's into the Jotunheim to achieve balanced output from the amp
Shiit is overdue for investing in PCB layout changes and case modifications. It's a shame they haven't used the 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as a standard amp output by now. Most modern devices include both types by default - 1/4 inch TRS + Pentaconn 4.4 mm. And they've ditched the bulky, legacy XLR connectors, at least in consumer devices.
 

Brian Hall

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Then there's also the question of the Midgard. It seems the Midgard outputs only 750mW at 300 ohms, whereas the Jot puts out almost double, at 1.2W. Whether I'd ever actually need that though.... well now I'm just getting back into the thick of the discussion you already addressed. It seems the Jot is a better product, in all ways except measurements, but, like many people here have said, it still measures just fine for human hearing.

The Midgard has more than enough power. With the switch on high gain, I never go above 11:00 on the volume knob on either the HD650 or the HD 800 S.

I will say that Schiit has great customer service too. Something happened to my first Midgard after about one month. Schiit sent a prepaid label for the return and had the replacement unit to me in four days without waiting to receive the returned item. It would have been three, but FedEx sucks and always delays items for a day in Cypress, TX.
 

MRC01

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... Does the ground not get used at all in the pentaconn connection when used for headphones? Strikes me as odd that they'd use it for headphones, then, as opposed to a connector that just has 4 contacts, like the 2.5mm and 3.5mm TRRS connectors that I just learned about seconds ago on Google....
...
A headphone or speaker responds to the voltage difference between its 2 input wires. It doesn't know or care which is "signal" or "ground". With unbalanced, one wire carries the signal and the other is ground (having no signal). With balanced, each carries a signal that is the mirror image or inverse voltage of the other. Thus their difference is twice the voltage/signal and their sum is zero at all times.
A basic primer on balanced vs. unbalanced here.
 

Robbo99999

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Anything that measures well here on ASR. It doesn't matter - DACS and Amps are totally uncontroversial! So I didn't bother voting.
 

MRC01

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Anything that measures well here on ASR. It doesn't matter - DACS and Amps are totally uncontroversial! So I didn't bother voting.
That's true so far as audio performance goes.
But then OP also says he wants it to be durable and reliable enough for years of service, and look nice.
 

Robbo99999

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That's true so far as audio performance goes.
But then OP also says he wants it to be durable and reliable enough for years of service, and look nice.
Yeah, there's that too. Quite hard to judge reliability though, and you can already see pics of the devices in the ASR reviews.....still not that much to be discussed in my mind, but ok. I think I was triggered by the opening line in the title saying "Trying to find the best DAC+Amp combo for the HD800s, under $900", which indicates the whole kind of audiophool philosophy of "pairing" & "synergy" between components in the audio stack to influence the sound, lol.
 
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