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Utter audio noob somewhat disillusioned with the amp/dac market, looking for advice...

garbulky

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#21
I don't know what I'm talking about. But i use the Emotiva Bas-x A-100 with the jumper engaged with my 300 ohm Sennheiser HD600 and the 150 ohm HD700 and the thing sounds fantastic (subjectively, no DBT performed). A lot of bass extension, lots of lightning fast dynamics etc. The sensation of your "headphones coming alive" was my exact impression.

With the jumper engaged the A-100 has tremendous power. However, it has two things to keep in mind. 1. You need a DAC WITH a volume control upstream. In direct drive mode there isn't a lot of play on the A-100's volume knob. So you essentially use it as a headphone "power amp" with whatever upstream doing the volume control. I set mine to a little under halfway and leave it there. That's as loud as I want to go. Then I simply adjust the volume using my Emotiva DC-1. 2. It's meant for high impedance headphones like your DT-990. With lower impedance units there's going to be audible hiss because engaging the jumper increases the noise floor a lot.
 

Kouioui

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#22
lukeman3000, you're not gonna be mislead by the reviews posted here. If the Element suits your personal aesthetic the best, buy it and be happy. For myself, I'd rather pocket the $250 to spend on another headphone type as one isn't suitable for all situations. You're not going to hear a much noticeable difference in the devices on the recommended list at these prices.
 
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#23
lukeman3000, you're not gonna be mislead by the reviews posted here. If the Element suits your personal aesthetic the best, buy it and be happy. For myself, I'd rather pocket the $250 to spend on another headphone type as one isn't suitable for all situations. You're not going to hear a much noticeable difference in the devices on the recommended list at these prices.
That is to say, the analog pot and dust infiltration aren't concerns or negative aspects? I don't have to worry about the pot gumming up over a 2-3 years of usage from occasional dust getting inside?
 

Kouioui

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#24
I don't have to worry about the pot gumming up over a 2-3 years of usage from occasional dust getting inside?
Scratchy analog pots happen given time no matter where they're mounted is my experience. I do a lot of listening at low volumes to not aggravate my tinnitus. For critical listening or stage IEMs 85dB peaks never longer than 4 hrs/day. Accurate channel balance at all volumes is an attribute I appreciate but if I were to spend more or upgrade it would be something like the Monolith THX with balanced XLR I/O, a seperate DAC, or high quality USB recording interface.
 
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Fluffy

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#25
I use a JDS Atom amp and a Topping D30 DAC. Total cost about $220
Pretty reasonable as well.
Also, what exactly is going on with the likes of Audioengine and Schiit and such? It's strange to me how these products can have seemingly tons of positive reviews, and yet there is also a vocal minority that speaks out against them. Maybe I'm generalizing too much and I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but that's as it appears to me. I'm just curious what the deal is here. (Though to be fair, I haven't seen anyone really talk about Audioengine, whatsoever).
Audiophilia is a huuuuge community, and with any sufficiently large space, you will find contradicting opinions. I recommend not getting excited about that, 99% is just noise. You should find your own reasoning for appreciating things, and get info based on that. in this context, ASR is focused on measurements, empiric evidence, and a general scientific attitude. If these things appeal to you and you consider audio devices as well engineered machines rather than art pieces or expansive jewelry, then this is the place to be. There are good reviews and poor reviews of every brand here, including Shciit and Audioengine, and they are based solely on how their products measure. There is no brand loyalty/hatefulness here.
In that case something with an XLR mic input might be worth considering. Motu has a new affordable M2 but it hasn't been reviewed here yet. My son's a PC/VR/console gamer and nemo inputs.
My advice here is to define preferences and requirements before making a purchase. If sound quality for headphones is the prime factor, going with a device that offers that as a bonus is probably not smart. I have the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and it indeed has descent XLR inputs, but horrible headphone output. That's because the main focus in these sound cards is the inputs most of the time, and the headphone out is an afterthought.
. I also ran across one commentator on Amazon who said "Built in 2019 but with 2018 problems. Unfortunately, after numerous negative reports, I do not consider it reliable for the safety of other connected devices".
DX3 pro is known to have QC issues sometimes. There are QC issues with any device, and there are always defective units in any brand. Some devices and companies have higher QC failures than others, and most of the time it's reflected in their prices – lower quality QC, lower prices, roughly (though not always true). Buying from manufacturers like that is not unwise, you just need to know that you incur a greater risk of receiving a defective unit. Decide for yourself if the low price is worth the gamble.
That is to say, the analog pot and dust infiltration aren't concerns or negative aspects? I don't have to worry about the pot gumming up over a 2-3 years of usage from occasional dust getting inside?
Honestly I never heard of dust being a problem with pots. Analog pots can become crackly over time, depending on how they are built, but I don't believe this is a dust issue. I may be wrong though.
The first is the analog pot. Does this mean only mean that the channel balance is a bit out of whack at low volumes, but otherwise it's not seen as a detriment? If digital is superior why would this $400 piece of tech not have digital instead of analog? And how low is low, exactly?
Analog pots and digital pots can both be excellent or terrible, depends on implementation.
For example, here is the channel balance vs volume position of the Aune X7s (analog pot):
aune.png

Not great. The Element II looks much better in comparison (also analog):
elem.png

Much better. And here is the same measurement of my own Arcam rHead, also analog pot:
arcam.png

Almost perfect! The difference is, they use different technology.
In contrast, the digital volume control of the DX3 pro looks like this:
dx3.png

Virtually flat. That's basically the difference between analog pot and digital pot. But it's only one feature, and not the end all be all of amplifiers.

Am I correct to assume that any one of those would give me sufficient headroom and such?
Will any of the recommendations of that list that Fluffy shared power my 250 ohm 990s with headroom to spare?
(I've tried to find this "1W or greater output @ ~300ohms" rating but can't seem to find it)
First of all, I need to make an important correction:
Look for ones with ~1W or greater output @ ~300 ohms
This should say "0.1W (or 100mw) or greater @ ~300 ohm". No headphone amp can deliver 1W to a 300 ohm headphone, and they don't need to.
The short way to know if your amp has enough juice to power you headphone with sufficient headroom is to look at the specs.
For the Element II, JDS Labs site shows these specs:
jds.png

Your headphones are between 150 and 600 ohm, so we would guess the power to be somwere between 165 and 656 mw. Conveniently, Amirm has measured this, and you can see the actual output in this graph:
out300.png

As you can see, at 300 ohm load (representing headphones of 300 ohm), the Element II can deliver a maximum of 281 mw, at THD+N of about -100db. This is excellent.

If you want to get a bit more technical, the measured sensitivity of the DT990 is about 99db spl/mw. I'll assume for this calculation that they are also 300 ohm, to make it easier. If these headphones receive 281 mw from the amp, that means they will produce 123.5 db spl. For 250 ohm, it will be even higher. This is the sound pressure level at max volume, and it's beyond deafening. It will probably blow out your eardrums before it blows out the headphone drivers. So in short – yes, it definitely has enough headroom. The same headphone sensitivity with 100mw would give you about 120 db spl (for 300 ohm – higher for 250), so also quite enough.
 

Kouioui

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#26
Fluffy, you're correct about the 300 ohm output and the K5 Pro has 990mw @ 33 ohms which is close to 1W. Apologies to all but that's what happens when you're tired and I was trying to be as non-technical as possible replying to an 'utter audio noob'. I'll try and be more specific replying in the future.
 
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#27
So I shouldn’t be deterred just because the Element II has an analog pot or because the pot is on top? That’s the impression I’m getting. I do like it, but these were concerning issues, at least at first.
 

Kouioui

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#28
You asked about a comparison between 2 products and I tried to be honest with my thoughts and opinions. I may not always give 100% accurate answers but was trying to look at things as if I were a PC gamer with no audio experience and what would concern me. Both products are decently engineered and will give you plenty of pleasurable listening. Enjoy the music whichever you choose.
 

Fluffy

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#29
So I shouldn’t be deterred just because the Element II has an analog pot or because the pot is on top?
At this point I suggest finding a review that addresses this specific topic, if it bothers you. In Amirm reviews he doesn't check what happens to pots when accumulating dust over several years (obviously), so I can't help you with that.
 

StevenEleven

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#30
Hi guys. First off, I'm in the process of educating myself on amps, dacs, and the like. It's a lot to take in. What I really want is to not necessarily become an expert in this field but to learn enough to make a good, informed buying decision.

I own a pair of DT-990 Pro 250ohm headphones. I know they're not super awesome but they seem pretty good for gaming and music (though I do have my eye on the 1990s...).

Anyways, when I first tried running my 990s directly from my desktop PC mobo's stereo output, they were satisfactory and I could almost get them as loud as I would've preferred. But, after asking around, it became evident that "just because it's loud enough" does not mean that you're getting a high quality experience. I'll admit I still don't understand the intricacies of this and why this is such.

But that said, I have decided that I want a headphone amp (and I guess a DAC as well cause I'll need one of those as far as I'm aware). In my haste I went ahead and ordered an Audioengine D1 for $169, which does give me more volume (still not quite enough in some cases), and it seems to have DRASTICALLY improved the sound. Switching back and forth between the D1 and my mobo's output is just.. insane. I had no idea what I was missing out on. When listening to live music performances it sounds like everything is more spaced out - I can identify the individual instruments much more easily and hear the details of them better. It actually feels almost like I'm there in the room when I close my eyes. I understand now at least to some degree what I was missing out on.

As I mentioned, though, the D1 is still too quiet in some cases and I just don't have any extra headroom. Furthermore, I've seen some people speak poorly of Audioengine, calling the D1 "junk". And yet, the reviews on Amazon and Crutchfield and the like are all very positive, some reviews seemingly coming from experts in the field. I can return the D1 to Amazon easily enough.

So I got to looking into other options like the Schiit Magni/Modi, but the more I looked into it, the more I found disparaging comments about these devices, and Schiit in general. Despite so many websites and users recommending the Magni/Modi stack otherwise. I think one such disparaging thread was somewhere on this very forum, and in a certain reddit comment a user tore Schiit apart talking about how they're just marketing without the engineering to back it up.

So what the hell is the truth? Here's what I'm looking for: a relatively non-ugly, preferably combination amp/dac unit for my DT-990 Pro 250ohm (bearing in mind I may upgrade to the 1990s later), and most importantly, a unit that has the respect of people who know what they're talking about. Preferably a unit that doesn't have a ****** pot or any glaring design issues that will take advantage of my 990s and allow them to shine as much as possible given my budget (probably $400 or less)

After some more searching I came across the JDS Labs Element II which would seem to tick all my boxes. I even found a thread on it here that seemed positive in general. I'm primarily a gamer and I like to listen to music on iTunes as well. Would this meet my needs, or are there some other units I should consider, or even a discrete unit combination?
I have posted and deleted this a few times, but I see you are having trouble with all of the options, so I will just leave it up and keep it simple this time.

I have a pair of DT990 Pros and love them and use them all of the time. They are very fun headphones. Some approve of the SQ, some don't. Here's a positive review (as far as SQ goes):

https://www.rtings.com/headphones/reviews/beyerdynamic/dt-990-pro

I use this to drive them at my computer--probably not the best possible solution in the world but it has worked flawlessly for me for a few years, looks kind of cool too, two strong headphone amps built in, continuously variable crossfeed, will feed external powered speakers also, USB DAC or analog as inputs, only $150 or so:

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MONITOR2USB--behringer-monitor2usb

So that is not only what I would do, it's what I did do--twice (I just got my second one for another part of the house). I don't think it's up to spec for the Audiosciencereview badge of approval, it's spec'ed at 85 db SNR, which is just a little short of what a CD is capable of, for example, but I'm pretty sure you'll find it gives very good, strong, loud, quiet, even, channel-balanced headphone amplification. Although all you have is my say-so. It's a purpose-built inexpensive USB DAC / monitoring tool, not an audio-enthusiast grade device, and on the other hand not a toy, but it works great for me for headphones and speakers in connection with computer uses. I really don't think I'm missing anything SQ-wise, as far as your typical earthling is concerned.

Edit: I hate channel imbalance too, and like @Budgeter , I have both the DT880s and the DT990s and a very old pair of Senn HD580s. The Behringer drives them all fine with no issues AFAIK. I just turned the volume all the way up with the DT990s and nothing playing and heard no hiss (though the heat is running) and I just turned the volume all the way up with the DT990s with music on and cannot imagine anyone EVER enjoying it that loud. Though I will say I did hear some good deal of distortion at totally unreasonable and unrealistic top volumes--don't know if it's the headphones or the headphone amp (or my eardrums!!!).

Note: Just tried my ipad with volume maxed out to analog out to Behringer analog in to DT990s, and there was no distortion that I could discern. STILL, LOUD. TOO LOUD. I am guessing the computer USB out to Behringer DAC / heapdphone amp to DT990s just pushes the headphones beyond their limits and so it is the headphones distorting at those volumes.

Good luck!!!! :)
 
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#31
Owner of 880 premium 250-600 ohm (used to own)/ 990 (premium 600 ohm-currently own) here.

That is to say, the analog pot and dust infiltration aren't concerns or negative aspects? I don't have to worry about the pot gumming up over a 2-3 years of usage from occasional dust getting inside?
Same to you, I have a big concern with channel imbalance since I'm sensitive to it. My Atom amp has channel imbalance issue at low level (below 9'o clock) but it was fixed by RMA. From my experience, around 0.3-0.4 dB imbalance, I may hear the difference, but below 0.3 dB, it becomes perfectly normal.

To drive my pair, I use either fiio e10k alone or D10 + atom combo. To my ear, there is little to no difference between them tbh. Although I only listen from low quality source (Youtube), but I guess you should know this too. The only high-quality source that I've ever listened to is "Live in Prague" by Hans Zimmer (bit stream). Even with this, the difference is negligible, they're pretty much the same.

Duo to these experience, in case I upgrade in the future, certainly my choice will be something with digital pot. After all, difference in sound quality can't be perceived in my use case.

Power wise, for 880-990 (250-600 ohm), an average of 10-20 mW can give me a headache volume. I'm not sure if this is the case with low volume recording. With an "easy to drive" planar (HE4xx), it would be about 170-300 mW for the same volume (same volume knob position compared to 880-990). FYI, to drive all the pairs mentioned above, my volume setting is as below, above that is unlistenable:

D10 (max volume) + Atom amp (10 - 11'o clock).
Fiio e10k (2-3)

With that said, I don't think power is a concern. I'm not sure why people always complaint in this regard, but it isn't the case for me.

-----------------------------------------------------------------
Because your budget is $400, I seriously think you should try both or multiple combos at the same time. This is the best way for you to see how they perform. After all, it's up to your ear. If you can't hear the difference, why bothers all the comments like "they're more lively, more energetic, etc". Then, just return what you don't like.
 
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#33
At this point I suggest finding a review that addresses this specific topic, if it bothers you. In Amirm reviews he doesn't check what happens to pots when accumulating dust over several years (obviously), so I can't help you with that.
I asked JDS about this. They said the following:
Good question, there are no concerns. We have been building elements since 2015. There is a plastic light diffuser beneath the knob, which does not allow dust or particle matter to enter the enclosure.
 
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#34
Something I thought I’d ask here instead of creating a new thread - what’s the recommended procedure for setting volume? For example, should I max out the volume in Windows 10 and then adjust the amp to desired level, or something else?

Also, I finally decided on the Element II and placed my order today.
 

A800

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#35
I would use Linux to set the volume ;)
 

A800

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#37
Windows has always been a trojan rather than a OS since the day it incorporated network technology.
Also you can look through windows from both sides ;)
 
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#40
Fyi, John from JDS had this to say about Windows volume:
Yes, there is a small benefit to THD when using 99% volume (as opposed to 100%); there is no need for further reduction.
I decided to pick up the Element II. Love it. It's really perfect for me. I don't have anything else to compare it to (except mobo audio), but compared to that it sounds substantially better. It's really hard to describe why or how it sounds better, but it does. At the same volume, the mobo is uncomfortable to listen to. High frequency sounds are more shrill, and everything sounds pressed together. When I'm using the amp, it sounds like everything is much more spaced apart and detailed. And I can listen at louder volumes with it being uncomfortable. I'm interested in hearing any explanations as to what is actually going on and why I'm perceiving these things the way I am.

Speaking of louder volumes, how do I know how loud is too loud? I don't want to damage my hearing.

Furthermore, if I'm considering upgrading my headphones from the 250 ohm DT990s at some point, is it likely that I could discern a difference at this point? If so, what should I look for, a higher resistance headphone? 600 ohm? Any suggestions here of different headphones to check out that might take more full advantage of my new amp/dac would be appreciated. If I can actually discern even more improvement from more expensive headphones then I'm interested. I primarily game and listen to music (a wide variety - jazz, rock, dubstep, really anything), and I think I prefer somewhat of a reverse bell curve EQ (somewhat higher lower frequencies, lower mids, and somewhat higher high frequencies). But I could be wrong and perhaps I just don't know what I really like because I haven't experienced it yet. Getting this amp has been a pretty paradigm-shifting experience because music sounds completely different now, in a very good way (btw, do I need to worry about the quality of the music I'm listening to, or does iTunes provide high enough quality for all intents and purposes?)

Lots of questions there... Any further help would be greatly appreciated!

Here it is!

 
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