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mickeyjuiceman

New headphones bought, now looking for DAC/amp suggestions

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Posted (edited)

TLDR - bought some Focal Elear cans, thinking about a (probably used) DAC/amp setup and would like suggestions/thoughts.

 

PLPR (perfect length, please read) - Have just purchased a set of Focal Elears (should arrive tomorrow), and am now on the hunt for something to drive them.

 

I've rarely used headphones in recent years, but as a result of my own foolishness in encouraging my wife to use the TV (which has a decent SS and is just across the room from this PC) in the living area of our apartment rather than watching things on her Surface, I now find the need to dive under the cans far more frequently.

 

Currently setup is running files from the PC (high-end MP3/FLAC files) into an SMSL M8 DAC and then an SMSL SA-160 amp into Boston Acoustic CR-7 monitors, and plugging a set of BeyerDynamic DT770 HPs (from my days in radio) into the amp when needed.

 

Not exactly high-end gear, to say the least.

 

As a result (and also due to fiscal constraints) I'm not looking to go top-end here either, but I am looking for a good match.

 

Having bought apparently-decent headphones (the aforementioned Focal Elears), I'm now out to use them to the best advantage that my budget allows. I doubt I can spend more than $400, but less is clearly better in these financially uncertain times.

 

Happy to buy used (I often buy used gear in other spheres, not too worried about fashion/cutting edge) as that's usually the best value, if not always the most convenient.

 

Also happy to make my own replacement cable to replace the extension-cord-esque cable that apparently comes with the Elears. Have done a LOT of cable-making in my time, along with other simple electronics work, and am kinda looking forward to doing this.

 

Importantly, these cans are apparently a lot better with an amp with a low output impedance, or the bass gets somewhat nasty. This rules out stuff like the Topping A30/D30, which is a shame, as I like Topping, and the stack does look good.

 

Mostly listening to rock (Extreme, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, etc) and funk (lots of Vulfpeck and so on) but also drift into new country (Brad Paisley, and so on, guitar-driven stuff) and also pop and stuff like the inimitable Dolly Parton, so somewhat eclectic. Reasonable volumes, not screamingly loud.

 

So, any suggestions as to good pairings?

 

As a guitarist from way back (when I was also doing FOH mixing work and so on) I do love tubes (and I've got a heap of spares around the place), but can't see that they're affordable, but man, they look great 😄

 

I'm happy to have an all-in-one, or separates, don't really care.  Can't be horrendously ugly as it's all visible in the main living area, and my wife cares about these things (although I get a pass, for some reason).

 

Maybe I should just buy one of these and be done with it :)

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/273977653536?ul_noapp=true

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/323438251474

 

(Yeah, I'm sure I've missed important info, and I'm likewise sure this post shows how little I know. It's OK, I already know I don't know much, thus I am asking . I've spent the last three days reading obsessively, but it's only three days 🙂

Edited by mickeyjuiceman

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I think the DAC will suffice, probably not worth it to invest in something higher end. Maybe get something like the Schiit Heresy ($260 on A2A) and combo it with your M8. The Heresy has quite a good review from ASR, low output impedence as you require, and can juice most cans available.

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Posted (edited)
22 hours ago, mickeyjuiceman said:

TLDR - bought some Focal Elear cans, thinking about a (probably used) DAC/amp setup and would like suggestions/thoughts.

As I state to others here I recommend the smsl sp200 amp, DAC wise as long as it's decent like the topping d50s or smsl su8. 

 

Had the elear they are interesting headphones, decent at their current price. Most say they have like a house signature. I would recommend a neutral amp like the smsl or any THX amp.

 

I would probably keep the smsl m8 as it will work will probably and get the smsl sp200 amp (they around $400). Buy one quality item then splitting your money and getting two average items.

Edited by sly_bastard

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2 hours ago, jlnguyen97 said:

and combo it with your M8

1 hour ago, sly_bastard said:

I would probably keep the smsl m8 as it will work

Looks like I've been somewhat unclear, or I'm not sure of a thing (probably both) - I need to keep the M8 feeding the signal out from the PC to my speakers, as I use the speakers through the day for watching YT, etc..

Looks like the Heresy has a passthrough? Hard to tell, but I presume that would work if that's what it is. Maybe I could setup a splitter, to choose between the speaker or HP paths? Not a fan of adding things into signal paths, but at this level it probably does't really matter too much.

 

I think if I bought an SP200 (there might be a used one around on here, I saw the other day) I'd also need to buy another DAC in order to use the speakers (unless I managed to switch between them, as mentioned above).

 

This was an interesting video, speaking of the Heresy. (Assuming the guy isn't a nutter - I know in photography there are no end of nutters, but I know who they are in that world, Here, I know nothing 😄

 

 

1 hour ago, sly_bastard said:

Buy one quality item then splitting your money and getting two average items.

Always happy to do this, it's one of my philosophies.

 

There's a used Audio-gd N11.28 around for $250, which seems like it's a good unit and not too expensive? (also a Yulong Audio D100 for $300, but that might be getting on a bit, I suspect.)

 

Thanks for the input guys, much appreciated as I blindly grope my way forward.

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23 hours ago, mickeyjuiceman said:

Maybe I should just buy one of these and be done with it :)

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/273977653536?ul_noapp=true

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/323438251474

Also, ping @MattyW - any difference between the above two options (which I'm pretty sure I've seen you recommending) between the obvious ones of aesthetics and price?

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1 minute ago, mickeyjuiceman said:

 any difference between the above two options (which I'm pretty sure I've seen you recommending) between the obvious ones of aesthetics and price?

 

Cheap and nasty junk, will not do the Focals any favours.

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13 minutes ago, aasza said:

Cheap and nasty junk, will not do the Focals any favours.

Ta, I also tend to obsessively research, and know from the camera world that gems can lie hidden, so it's worth asking 🙂

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, aasza said:

 

Cheap and nasty junk, will not do the Focals any favours.

You'd be very surprised.  They sound far better than they aught to. Leave Schiit  or Topping DAC's in the dust and that's the price point they sell at. Schiit is really nothing special, well not the Modi 2 or Modi Multibit anyway. Maybe if you stepped up to the Gumby. I've not run one of those.

 

You can certainly do better,  though not without quite a lot more money.  I have a pair of the USB powered units and use them for computer audio at home and at work. For my two main systems though I want better. I've an $800 + $4,000 DAC coming with my previous top DAC's being $1k or $2,300 so make up your own mind. 

 

The cheap 8x TDA1387 DAC's will compete with and better most discrete DAC's under $1,000. If you're someone who value measurements over actually enjoying music then admittedly they're not for you.

Edited by MattyW

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Posted (edited)
14 minutes ago, MattyW said:

The cheap 8x TDA1387 DAC's will compete with and better most discrete DAC's under $1,000.

Interesting.

 

1 hour ago, mickeyjuiceman said:
On 24/03/2020 at 4:33 PM, mickeyjuiceman said:

Also, ping @MattyW - any difference between the above two options (which I'm pretty sure I've seen you recommending) between the obvious ones of aesthetics and price?

Also, this 🙂

I'm really tempted to buy the decent-looking one and the used Audio-gd N11.28 so I can A/B them...

Edited by mickeyjuiceman

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I've tried a few headphone set ups but I always end up going back to my high end computer sound cards.

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31 minutes ago, MattyW said:

The cheap 8x TDA1387 DAC's will compete with and better most discrete DAC's under $1,000. If you're someone who value measurements over actually enjoying music then admittedly they're not for you.

Sorry but I am not sure what you mean by this comment. I though DAC was all about the measurements. It is a digital to audio converter so ones that come as close to the original would be the better ones which would be about the measurements. So not sure what you mean by music DACs.

 

What typically is the music section from what I believe you mean is the amp and headphones which can colour the music. If by your comment you could just eq it for a musical feel but it doesn't work like that as you need a good base and this is where measurements matter. 

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Posted (edited)

It's $60, try it, or not. No big loss either way. I don't really feel like arguing it. Whether tried or not doesn't really worry me. Perhaps I'm just tired and grumpy.

 

R2R type DAC's usually measure worse than modern sigma delta types though many of us vastly prefer the sound. I'll say many as there are also many prefer sigma delta. You have to try them to find out.  The best of the oversampling DAC's I've tried have all used the AK4497EQ chip though I still prefer these old R2R based units. 

 

Anyway,  let your ears decide.  Those are the things you need to please after all.

Edited by MattyW

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6 hours ago, mickeyjuiceman said:

Looks like I've been somewhat unclear, or I'm not sure of a thing (probably both) - I need to keep the M8 feeding the signal out from the PC to my speakers, as I use the speakers through the day for watching YT, etc..
 

2 x AudioQuest M-22 Adaptor - Male RCA to Two Female RCA should fix the problem. 

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4 minutes ago, Irek said:

2 x AudioQuest M-22 Adaptor - Male RCA to Two Female RCA

Ah, nice idea...

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If you're using your own files, it could also benefit you to look at a DAP as opposed to a DAC/AMP. The Elears are fairly easy to drive, so don't necessarily require a desktop setup to get the most of them. 

Other options might include all in one's like the Topping DX3 Pro, Schiit Fulla etc. Another solid option might also be the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label as a desktop/semi portable option. Second hand Chord Mojo's also occasionally fall into your price range.

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Ok, I just purchased the focal elear too. (On special a2a). For something outside of the box, I am using an lg30v phone to stream music and a used schiit magni 3 headphone amp I picked up from gumtree.

It might be that the phone alone is enough (it has a great dac).

The phone can be had for $400 on special or second hand even cheaper.

The headphone thing is new to me too.

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Posted (edited)

Update time.

 

I bought a used audio.gd N11.28 DAC/preamp/headphone amp for $250 shipped off Gumtree. It's got multiple output options - headphones or variable or fixed pre-outs - so I am running the USB from the PC to the audio.gd, and can then choose between the cans or the speakers. Running the monitors off a small Topping (M21 Ex2) amp, which is pretty decent, but I'm sure I'll replace at some point...

 

Anyway, vast improvement over what I had, and really allows the headphones to perform to their potential. I'm sure they'll get even better as time goes by and they get used more. (Also, the Alps vol knob is so nice to use...)

 

Thanks everyone for your help, was very useful.

Edited by mickeyjuiceman

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