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Amps, DACs, and Audio Interfaces

by Stuart Charles Black

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Updates

  • 11/12/20
  • 1/10/21. New Image.

Hey there friend!

Navigate the Site!

  1. Headphone Reviews & Comparisons
  2. Microphone Reviews & Comparisons
  3. Amps, DACs, and Audio Interfaces (You Are Here)
  4. The Budget Kings Series
  5. Studio Monitors
  6. Beats, Production, & Turntables
  7. Gaming, Movies, & Pop Culture
  8. Build a Home Studio Guide
  9. Best Of
  10. Resources

Current # Demoed: 57

  • Amp/DAC Combos (Bluetooth included): 32
  • Standalone Amps: 16
  • Standalone DACS (Bluetooth included): 7
  • Audio Interfaces (Amp/DAC combo): 2
  • Own: DragonFly Red, FiiO K3, FiiO K5 Pro, iFi hip-dac, FiiO BTR3K, iFi Zen, xDuoo MT-604, FiiO BTR3K.
  • Currently Demoing: iFi Go Blu, xDuoo MT-604, iFi hip-dac 2, FiiO BTR3K/5, iFi xDSD Gryphon.

Contact me if you would like to send something for a demo. I’m always looking to test new products out! Just use the form “All other Inquiries & Questions”

What is a USB DAC?

Guides

  1. Best Budget Headphone Amplifiers & DACS (Updated)
  2. Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers & DACS (Updated)
  3. Best For Vinyl
  4. Best For Gaming
  5. Best For Desktop
  6. Best Overall (New)
  7. How To Choose

Reviews

Audioengine

  1. Audioengine D1 Review (Demoed)

AudioQuest

  1. Audioquest DragonFly Red Review (Own)
  2. AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt Review & Shootout (Popular)

Audeze

  1. Audeze Deckard Amp/DAC Review (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

Bottlehead

  • Bottlehead Crack Review (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

Bravo

Bryston

  1. Bryston BHA-1 Review (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

Burson

  1. Burson Audio Playmate 2 Review (Demoed)

Cambridge Audio

  1. Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100 Review (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

CEntrance

  1. CEntrance DACport HD Review (Demoed)

Chord

  1. Chord Mojo DAC Review (Demoed)
  2. Chord Hugo 2 Review + Mojo Comparison (Demoed)
  3. Chord Poly Review (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

Creative

  1. Creative SoundBlasterX G6 Amp/DAC Review (Popular)
  2. Creative SoundBlaster G3 vs. G6 (Demoed)

FiiO

  1. FiiO Q1 Mark II Review (Owned & Sold)
  2. FiiO E10K Review (Owned & Given Away)
  3. FiiO A3 Review + Shootout with E10K & Q1 (A3 Owned & Sold)
  4. FiiO K3 Review (Own)
  5. FiiO K5 Pro Review & Setup (Own)
  6. FiiO K9 Pro Review (Demoed)
  7. FiiO BTR3K vs. BTR5 (Own Both)

iFi

  1. iFi micro iDSD Black Label Review (Demoed)
  2. iFi xDSD Review (Demoed)
  3. iFi xCAN Review + Shootout (Mojo & xDSD) (Demoed)
  4. iFi Zen DAC/Amp Review (Popular)
  5. iFi Zen DAC/Amp V2 (Upgraded)
  6. iFi Zen DAC/Amp vs. Zen CAN Signature 6XX
  7. iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack (New)
  8. iFi Zen Blue Review (Popular)
  9. iFi hip-dac Review (Popular)
  10. iFi Neo iDSD Review (Demoed)
  11. iFi iDSD Diablo Review (Demoed)
  12. iFi Go Blu Review (Demoed)
  13. ifi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review (Demoed)

JDS Labs

  1. JDS Labs cMoyBB Review (Demoed)
  2. JDS Labs Objective 2 Headphone Amp Review (Demoed)
  3. JDS Labs Element Review (Demoed)
  4. JDS Labs ATOM Review + Objective 2 Comparison (Demoed)

Klipsch

  1. Klipsch Heritage Headphone Amp/DAC (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

M-Audio

  1. M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB Audio Interface (Owned & Sold)

Naim

  1. NAIM DAC V-1 Review (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

Oppo

  1. Oppo HA-2 Review (Owned & Sold)

Schiit

  1. Schiit Magni 2/Modi 2 Review (Owned & Sold)
  2. Schiit Fulla Review (Coming Soon!)
  3. Schiit Magni 3 Review (Coming Soon!)

S.M.S.L

Sony

  1. Sony TA-ZH1ES Review (Coming Soon!) (Demoed)

Topping

xDuoo

DAPS

  • FiiO M3 Pro (Coming Soon!)

Upcoming

Stay tuned!

Topping Mini-Series

A look at some Amp/DAC stacks and how they compare to other products! More to come.

  1. Topping E30/L30 Review – Just How Good Is It?
  2. Topping E30/L30 vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX (Popular)
  3. Topping A50s/D50s Review (With E30/L30 & Zen CAN Signature Sound Comparison) (Popular)

iFi Zen Mini-Series

An in-depth look at the Zen line of Amps & DACS

  1. iFi Zen vs. Zen V2 (Upgraded) (New)
  2. iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review (Popular)
  3. iFi Zen Blue Review (Popular)
  4. iFi Zen DAC/Amp vs. Zen CAN Signature 6XX
  5. iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack
  6. iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review (HIFIMAN)

Amp/DAC Comparisons

& Shootouts

  1. Schiit Magni 2 vs. Magni 2 Uber
  2. Audioquest Dragonfly Black vs. Red (Popular)
  3. Chord Mojo vs. Hugo 2 (Popular)
  4. FiiO K3 vs. E10K (Popular)
  5. FiiO K3 vs. K5 Pro Review & Comparison (Popular)
  6. JDS Labs Element vs. Objective 2
  7. Topping E30/L30 vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX (Popular)
  8. Topping NX4 vs. FiiO Q1 MK II
  9. iFi Zen Amp/DAC vs. Zen CAN Signature 6XX
  10. iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack (New)
  11. Creative SoundBlasterX G6 vs. G3

Shootouts

  1. AudioQuest DragonFly Red vs. Cobalt vs. Mojo vs. DACport HD (Popular)
  2. Audioengine D1 vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. Creative SoundBlasterX G6 vs. Chord Mojo (Popular)
  3. Audioengine D1 vs. FiiO E10K vs. DragonFly Red (Popular)
  4. Audioquest Dragonfly Red vs. Chord Mojo vs. Oppo HA-2
  5. FiiO A3 Amp Review & Shootout [E10K & Q1] (Popular)
  6. FiiO Q1 vs. DragonFly Red vs. Audioengine D1
  7. FiiO Q1 vs. E10K vs. DragonFly Red
  8. FiiO BTR3K vs. BTR5 vs. DragonFly Red (Popular)
  9. iFi xDSD vs. xCAN vs. Chord Mojo
  10. iFi Zen vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. JDS ATOM vs. Bravo Ocean (Popular)

Audio Interface Comparisons

  1. Audient id14 vs. id22
  2. Komplete Audio 6 vs. Scarlett 2i4
  3. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 vs. 2i4 (Coming Soon!)

Best

Interface

Needs Updating

  1. The Best Budget Audio Interface
  2. The Best Audio Interface for Home Recording

Best

Amp/DAC

Newer or Updated

Best

For Headphones

  1. The Best Headphone Amp for the Sennheiser HD 600 & 650 (Popular)
  2. The Best Headphone Amp For The Sennheiser HD 800
  3. The Best Headphone Amp for the AKG K701 & K702 (Popular)

Thanks for stopping by!

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Be sure to check out my Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Don't forget to share if you found it helpful!

14 comments

Álvaro October 19, 2020 - 3:33 pm

Stu, I finally bought a Philips Fidelio X2HR on sale. I am starting to listen to classical music especially but I have a low budget and I wanted to ask you what things produce the most significant improvements:
1) with a headset of sufficient sensitivity and low resistance, is a dac or external amplifier necessary? I read this (https://www.soundguys.com/do-you-need-a-dac-13488/) and it left me with doubts, is it possible that smartphones have improved their technology and the difference with a dac is small?
2) To have a neutral and more analytical sound, is it convenient to equalize? If so, towards a flat curve or better aim at the Harman curve? (guided me in these recommendations https://github.com/jaakkopasanen/AutoEq)

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 24, 2020 - 3:18 am

Hey man!

That’s actually a great question. Amps and DACS are becoming sort of a meme, and I’ve been harping on this point for over a year now. I was just talking to someone on Instagram the other day about how phone dacs are closing that gap between bad quality and really good quality. In fact, whenever someone new asks me about a dac and they’re primarily using their phone, I ask them immediately which one it is so I can get a better sense of if they actually need a dac. I still think an amp/dac is necessary in many cases, but to answer your question: Absolutely. Smartphones have come a long way. I personally do most of my listening on desktop so I really do have a need for a good DAC.

As for your second question, you’ll find different schools of thought on this. For instance, Metal571 prefers the Harman target AFAIK, and yeah, generally speaking, my preferences fall in line with it as well. I mostly prefer the Audeze house sound which is similar: Flat bass, slightly elevated mids, rolled of treble. I mostly find myself EQ’ing to to this type of sound. Similar to the Harman target, but not exactly in line with it.

As you may or may not know, Classical does extremely well with some added bass emphasis (not too much), because the genre is really volatile and can easily sound tinny, bright, scratchy, and obnoxious due to it’s seemingly unpredictable variations in decibel level. I’m sure you’re at least partially aware of what I’m talking about. I find it to be very irritating at times, as most headphones don’t do too well in handling these discrepancies. Interestingly enough, I found the Philips SHP9600 to do very well with it, and really any amp/dac that has a warmer tone can also help mitigate those unwanted side effects.

So if you wanted to take the plunge on something to pair with the X2HR, definitely give the hip-dac a look, as well as the FiiO Q1 MK II. Both of those have a warmer sound that pairs well with the genre. 🙂

Let me know what you think!

Reply
Álvaro October 24, 2020 - 10:18 am

Thank you very much Stu, it was very clear to me. My current smartphone is very cheap (Huawei Y7 2018), when it dies, I will try to look at something with a little better audio (used LG V, Nokia 6. or something like that).

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 24, 2020 - 1:50 pm

Yeah man! Let me know if you need any further help if you do decide to purchase a separate dac for your phone, and just keep me posted in general! 🙂

Reply
Daevid December 12, 2020 - 9:40 am

Hi Stu!
What is a DAC you would recommend pairing with the Objective 2 and the Sennheiser 6xx? Would be willing to spend aound 100 $.
Love the blog btw.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 13, 2020 - 6:11 pm

Thanks man! If you are getting the Objective 2, I believe you should get an OL DAC to pair 🙂

Keep me posted!

Reply
Headphonesradar December 22, 2020 - 11:37 am

I got the K3 because I was looking for a good DAC/AMP unit around the $100 mark. This DAC AMP is almost perfect. Almost because it MIGHT not have the power to drive power hungry headphones. But for 99% of the headphones that are under 100 ohms, this is more than enough.
Sound quality is A+, setup is easy – you just plug it in and it works.
Definitely recommended.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 22, 2020 - 2:41 pm

Yes! I love the K3! Agree about power output. It was a bit disappointing unbalanced, but it still does pretty well with most headphones. I can technically run it with my HD600’s, but there’s hardly any headroom. I wish they would have just used the same power output unbalanced that they provided with the E10K, and then used even more than that for the balanced 2.5mm jack.

Reply
weilds February 12, 2021 - 5:26 pm

Thank you for sharing this site with us.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 12, 2021 - 5:51 pm

You’re very welcome my friend! Need any help with anything? Let me know!!

Reply
Max August 1, 2021 - 6:01 pm

Hey man! Love your work. Helps a lot and that little touch of humour in your videos is a nice touch hehe.

I have a little question for you. I am currently looking for the best option to drive my headphones to get the max resolution possible. I have two Beyerdynamics set. DT 770 M 80Ohms and a pair of DT 990 250Ohms. For listening experiences, I want to try the BTR5. Connected with a usb-c lightning cable on my iPhone using Apple music ALAC Hi-Res service. My question is, with that setup (I want it to be as portable as it can be) is the BTR5 good enough to my needs? If not, which one would you recommend? Budget is not an issue!

Thanks a lot again for your work and in advance for your response!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black August 1, 2021 - 8:16 pm

Hey man thank you so much! YouTube videos have been sporadic lately because of my camera, but your comment makes me really want to get things squared away quickly! Much appreciated 🙂

As for your question, BTR5 is totally fine with both and will drive them wonderfully. Great choice there 🙂 Let me know how it goes..

Reply
Kolmar January 7, 2022 - 4:51 am

Hey Stu, thanks for all the work you’ve put into this website. Quite a helpful resource, I’ve got a question about amps that’s been on my mind while doing research here & elsewhere.
Whenever people say that a headphone has an amp requirement, the main thing they mention is that the headphone needs more power to reach “peak loudness”. How loud exactly are we talking here? Because I have pretty sensitive ears and usually keep my audio levels quite quiet (heh). For example when I’m watching a video or playing a game I keep the windows sound slider at 8-10 out of 100. If I’m enjoying a song I might turn it up to 15 but never past that, in the 20s it gets uncomfortable and past the 50s I’m pretty sure I would rupture an eardrum. So say you were to plug in a K702 straight into the computer, would it give enough power to reach a volume level of 15 or would it still need extra amplification? Additionally, does an amp have a noticeable effect on sound quality or is it primarily just loudness?

For more context the headphones I’m currently using are the Sennheiser Game One’s, which afaik is just one of the older hd500 series headphones with a mic attached to it. Its specs are 50 ohms and 116dB/V.

Bonus question I’m curious about: You’ve mentioned that the HD600 lineup is a better investment than HD500 because it has a far superior sound for music, but i think you’ve also said that they have poor imaging for gaming/film. If you had to choose between the HD6XX or the HD560S as your only headphone that’s split evenly between gaming/music/movies, which would you rather pick?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black January 10, 2022 - 6:04 pm

Hey man!

Generally speaking, 115dB on the loud-ish side and 105 if you’re on the quieter side of preference.

As for a K702 plugged in to a computer, it really depends on the Soundcard but generally speaking, I’m going to lean towards “No” in the majority of cases. This is because most PCs and laptops don’t provide enough juice due to the fact that most companies don’t prioritize audio in their builds.

I will say that it’s gotten a lot better over the years though. For instance, Apple products generally have really good internals and you may not even need something separate. It really just depends on the manufacturer though. So to answer your question, yes, in 99% of cases I would purchase someothing extra for the 702 as it’s very inefficient. The “Power-Hungry” notion you’ll read about across the internet was a bit overblown, but they do need something.

Lol at the Game One. I can’t say I’m surprised to hear that, but I did laugh out loud. For those plus a decent internal soundcard, you’re likely just fine as they’re very efficient.

As for your last question, that’s a tough one!

To be honest with you, I may lean slightly towards the 560S for that purpose but because I already have a K702 I didn’t really desire one if that makes sense. I also outlined my thoughts in the 560S vid if you’re interested.

Hope that helps!

Keep me posted with further questions. 🙂

-Stu

Reply

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