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The Best Budget Headphone Amplifiers and DACS

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings Bass Heads, and Welcome aboard!!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience, that will make you fall in love with music … all over again.

So, don’t want to read?!

Before we get into the Best Budget Headphone Amplifier, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…

I’m Here To Help!

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!


Introduction

Choosing the best budget headphone amp doesn’t have to be complicated.

Today we’re going to keep it simple.

I’ve demoed over 50 Amps and DACS at the time of this update, so I can confidently tell you I have a pretty good idea of which ones in the budget category are worth it.

In fact, before it’s all said and done, you may not ever need to upgrade beyond this category.

I’ve spoken at length about why in many articles and videos, so we won’t get into that much here.

I’ll just say this: Amps and DACS are generally way overrated.

I’m not saying they all sound the same, but the differences between them are fairly minuscule if we’re being honest about it.

What is “Budget?”

In this case, we’ll mostly be looking at Amplifiers and DACS around the $100 range, some a bit above that, and some below.

I will not look at anything below $75 because, to me, it’s a waste of time.

I will also not go much past $200, because the closer you get to $250 and beyond, the less budget it becomes.

So today we’ll try to stay below $250.

#6

iFi Zen Amp/DAC

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

The Zen is a great Amp/DAC combo for those just starting out!

When the iFi Zen first came out, I saw it as a new benchmark standard for what an Amp/DAC combo could achieve for the price.

Since then,

the price has jumped from around $130 to roughly $200, and in the interest of full transparency, I don’t recommend it anymore in most other instances.

That said, within the scope of this article – i.e. what I mentioned at the start that I would stick to $250 and under, it kind of still is a budget option though I think there are better DACS to buy.

So, with that said, consider it but perhaps consider it last.

Features

You can hook it up to separate speakers via its RCA outputs or balanced 4.4mm jack, it has a power match (gain) button and iFi’s own TrueBass, and you can run balanced 4.4mm cables with your headphones.

It’s also got a standard 1/4″ jack for use with a single-ended (unbalanced) connection.

It’s also Tidal MQA compatible and can play files up to 32-bit/384kHz in addition to being DSD compatible.

iFi has since come out with a few variations on this unit, but this is the OG.

In addition to great sound and a roughly 1 Ohm output impedance (similar to the G6), you can also output to separate speakers via its RCA Analog outs. There’s also a balanced 4.4mm output.

I would describe the sound as clear and detailed with a hint of warmth, iFi’s house signature.

Learn More:

 

Video Review

Don’t forget to leave me some love! <3


#5

Creative’s SoundBlasterX G6

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

Creative SoundBlasterX G6

Gamer’s heaven.

We’ll start with an option that some people may scoff at, Creative’s SoundBlasterX G6.

I too was skeptical that a product mostly geared towards casual consumers and gamers could be considered one of the best options for audiophiles in the budget category, but I truly believe this to be the case.

Why is that?

BECAUSE I SAID SO! 

Just kidding.

It’s because the G6 is incredibly versatile and comes power-packed with near-endless possibilities at its price point.

Use the line/optical input and output to connect to pretty much anything: separate speakers like the Presonus Eris e3.5, a Nintendo Switch, your PS4, Xbox, a turntable, a separate amp, a separate DAC, etc.

The unit connects to your PC via micro USB, and it has plenty of onboard features:

  • Scout Mode
  • SBX Mode
  • Plenty of gain for the most demanding headphones

Creative claims it can power up to 600 Ohm headphones and I believe it.

It’s a lot of power…

Too much power, for an immature species.

It also sounds fantastic.

With music, gaming, and film, you’ll be truly immersed in the experience.

At 1 Ohm output impedance, it’s going to strike a perfect balance between neutral and warm.

You won’t want to take your headphones off anytime soon.

But wait, there’s more!

Download SoundBlaster’s Connect App and you’ve got a fully functional, easy-to-use EQ feature along with many other add-ons.

Learn More:

 

Video Review

Don’t forget to leave me some love! <3

 


#4

FiiO K5 Pro

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos Audio! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

FiiO K7 Review

Note: You can also check out the newer K7.

What can be said about the K5 Pro that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?

This is perhaps the most versatile unit I’ve come in contact with and did replace the Audioengine D1 in this article for that very reason.

I can do basically anything with it:

  • Hook it up to studio monitors/speakers and use it as a preamp.
  • Use it as a dedicated Amp/DAC on your desktop for music or gaming.
  • Output it to a separate Amp via its RCA Analog Outs.
  • Hook it up to your PS4 via its optical input.
  • Hook it up to anything in your home theater via its Coaxial input.
  • Use it in conjunction with pretty much any DAC via its RCA inputs. Just make sure the DAC in question has RCA Analog Outputs.
  • Use it with your turntable via its RCA inputs.

Add to that it sounds fantastic and has plenty of power. What more could you possibly ask for?

Like the G6, you can use it in a plethora of different ways.

Add to that you’ve got plenty of power with its 3 gain stage and 1.5W total at 32 Ohm.

The sound of the K5 pro definitely leans towards warm, perhaps even warmer than both the Zen and G6.

 

Video Comparison to the K3


#3

JDS Labs ATOM

Price: Check JDS Labs | Official Review: Here!

JDS ATOM HEVI Review

The JDS ATOM.

Yep. Still relevant, even despite the barrage of Amps and DACS that have flooded the scene over the last few years.

But why is it still relevant, Stubear?

Because reasons.

Outside of the #1 super budget option, this is basically all you need if you want to hear music as it was intended (i.e. clean and neutral, with a low output impedance).

The ATOM is quite a bit flimsier feeling in your hand than the original Objective 2, so keep that in mind.

I personally believe that both of these Amps sound roughly the same, although there are some snobs who would disagree.

With either, you will need some sort of DAC to pair as both are standalone amplifiers only. I would recommend JDS’ own ATOM DAC, but a wide array will work here and I’ve used many different combinations.

Like the Zen and the K5 Pro, you can output to separate speakers with the ATOM.

Absolutely love the neutral, clean signal these provide to my headphones. It sounds crisp and alive, with startling detail and clarity.

I’ve paired both the ATOM and O2 with many different DACS. Let’s take a look.

  • DAC Magic 100 (discussed below). You will need this RCA to 3.5mm or something similar to make the connection. I used these from Evergreen. I liked it paired with the Modi as well, but not quite as much. I would say that overall I have enjoyed the O2 the most out of the entry-level amps I’ve tried.
  • E10K/K3. Great cheaper option. If you first bought the E10K and wanted to upgrade the Amp, this combo would be perfect as it sounds pristine.
  • DragonFly Red. At around $199, this is starting to venture out of range, but I had to mention it here because of how much I love the Red as both a DAC and a DAC/Amp. Highly versatile!
  • Schiit Modi. My first DAC. Not much else to say. Does the job.

 

Video Review

 


#2

Hidizs S9 Pro

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Hidizs! | Official Review: Here!

Hidizs S9 Pro Review

This is a DAC I’ve come to absolutely adore if only for the simple fact that it’s a much better value than both the DragonFly Red and Cobalt – the former of which I recommended for quite a few years on this blog, and the latter of which I NEVER recommended. 

Why?

Because it was overpriced when it came out and is still overpriced now.

The S9 Pro essentially gives you the same 9038Q2M DAC chip found in the Cobalt for 1/3 of the price.

Read that again:

The S9 Pro essentially gives you the same 9038Q2M DAC chip found in the Cobalt for 1/3 of the price. 

And as much as I loved the DragonFly Red, I think it’s overpriced in today’s climate whereas a few years ago, it wasn’t.

The DragonFly Red doesn’t have a balanced jack and that’s typically how I listen nowadays.

You probably will, too.

Remember, we’re always looking for the best value when it comes to DACS.

The S9 Pro is just that – a fantastic value.

It feels very light but happens to be incredibly durable.

If you’re so inclined, it supports up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512.

Power Output

  • Single Ended: Up to 100mW+100mW@ 32 Ohm – 3.5mm SE 
  • Balanced: Up to 200mW+200mW@32 Ohm Balanced – 2.5mm

#1

FiiO BTR5

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

FiiO BTR3K vs. BTR5

It’s interesting to me that the BTR5 boasts an ESS9219C chip because, in theory, it should sound cleaner and more sterile than the BTR3K’s AK4377A.

I’m not sure if this specific ESS chip is a bit different from the one present in the DragonFly, but the point is that I didn’t hear much in the way of sound difference between the 2.

Foxing’s “Night Channels” may sound ever so slightly more lively and with perhaps a tad too much sheen over hi-hats and cymbals, but it’s extremely subtle and won’t be discernable to the majority of people.

Upon further listening, I noticed that this trend has continued.

The Foreign Exchange’s “Come Around”, a song I’m very familiar with, sounds more lively during the intro.

The BTR5 seems to push the instruments forward whereas the BTR3K’s sound feels a tad recessed and a bit more laid back.

Ultimately it’s still very subtle and probably won’t matter much to the majority of people and I could just be imagining it knowing the BTR5 houses the ESS chip.

What makes the BTR5 a super valuable option is that it’s a Bluetooth DAC but you can also use it wired on your desk.

In addition to that,

it’s priced wonderfully and represents a true budget option without coming across as cheap or flimsy.

It’s built well, functions nicely, and won’t break the bank.

Video Review & Comparison To BTR5 and DF Red

Keep in mind when this video was recorded. I’m no longer recommending the DragonFly Red or BTR3K.


Anything more than these and you’re going to get overwhelmed. The important thing to remember about Amp/DAC solutions is not to get carried away in choosing one.

They all get the job done. They all sound great.

The differences between them are subtle and almost marginal, negligible, etc., etc. (insert term here).

Yes, higher-end Amp/DACs will sound better, especially with more expensive headphones.

But if you’re just starting out, all of the above should be on your radar.

If you’re interested in checking out what I’ve demoed or what I have coming up, check out my Amps & DACS page!

Some of them are:

LOL.

Video Discussion

Don’t forget to subscribe and leave me some love! <3

Also, keep in mind my opinions change over time so think of the article as current while the video is what it is.

Final Word

If I had to choose only one from this list, I would most certainly invest in a FiiO K5 Pro or K7.

It sits at an unbelievably good price point for what you’re getting and will prove most valuable for years down the road.

I don’t plan on getting rid of mine ever!

Learn More:

 


Well, that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the best budget headphone amplifiers and dacs, and came away with some valuable insight.

What do you think about these? Which are you likely to go with? Let me know!!

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know in the comments below or Contact me!! I would love to hear from you.

Until then, all the best and God bless..

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

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

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18 comments

Fev80 September 3, 2018 - 11:52 pm

Great page, looks professional, and you have good content. My kids are into all thing audio, so I will definitely show them this one, when they need to know something.
Your explanation regarding the amps and voltage was very helpful to me because I never have understood it before.

Thank You

Reply
Stuart Charles Black September 4, 2018 - 12:19 am

Thanks Fev!

Let me know if you ever need a hand..

-Stu

Reply
JohnHB October 6, 2018 - 5:18 am

Awesome, I use the Audioengine D1 24-bit Digital-to-Analog Converter as well and can recommended too. I have a few other  Audioengine products from including the Audioengine A2+ Powered Desktop Speakers. They make really good durable products at a fair price. Great stuff indeed.

What are your favorite headphones for the home studio? I do a lot of mixing.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 7, 2018 - 4:52 pm

Hey John how are you liking the A2’s? And have you heard the LSR 305’s from JBL? Love the D1 for gaming though and you’re right; it’s really rock solid as far as build. Really a great solution for PC and Console gamers alike.

As for studio headphones? Love the Sony MDR V6 for an entry level and the Sennheiser HD600 as an all around open back. Both phenomenal sounding cans. You may give the AKG K553 a go as well. It’s a bit more laid back than a V6 and is probably the logical step up.

Let me know if you need a hand in deciding!

Reply
Kent October 6, 2018 - 11:32 am

I love watching movies and listening to music and I’m trying to build a mini home theatre in my room. I already looked at getting a projector to get the movie playing on the wall, but now I’m thinking a headphone amplifier would really bring my home theatre experience to a whole new level. I think something around $100-$200 would suit my budget perfectly. Thanks for this helpful review!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 7, 2018 - 4:50 pm

Hey Kent to start what about trying the Audioengine D1? It’s a great investment and will improve the sound and clarity of your headphones tremendously! Let me know your thoughts..

Reply
Gary April 23, 2019 - 11:33 pm

hi Stuart / All

Thanks for the great website (found through metal571 channel link btw).

What I’m struggling with is selecting a dac/amp.

I’ve read your reviews above (and elsewhere on the website). Very informative.

I’ve purchased (but can return) the dragonfly red (“DR”).

– I DIDN’T find it improved my audio experience with my samsung S8 (believe it or not).
– I definitely was getting direct output to the DAC from my player (using UAPP and HibyMusic players).
– I was testing with sennheiser jubilee hd58x headphones, which I consider reasonable quality.
– I actually felt some separation was better with the phone on its own.
– Other times maybe higher frequency stuff e.g. cymbal taps sounded better or more ‘real’ with the DR.
– I think the DR can be a touch bright and some tracks sound rather lean in the bass (though I guess that might be to do with the mastering or possibly use of foobar with ASIO4ALL or WASAPI output).
– I suspect some of the DR precision is down to its treble.

NOTE: my S8 is the UK version with the exynos chipset (which a reddit thread claims has a better DAC than its snapdragon brother – I wouldn’t know) AND upsamples to 192khz (not clear when though – this is reported by the devs of UAPP – perhaps when android audio API is being used). Just trying to account for why it sounds pretty decent IMO.

HOWEVER, the DR definitely improved my PC mobo audio (realtek 892 chip).

My usage on my PC is music and gaming.

I’m thinking I need a headphone amp because of my 150ohm hd58x.

I’m confused about whether to go down the audiophile DAC/AMP route or towards a soundcard with perhaps an audio/music bias.

My thoughts:

– I could maybe go upto a mojo but it would be a massive indulgence (moneywise).

— it seems widely regarded as just awesome though
— if my primary usage is going to be PC, I don’t necessarily need something portable / battery supported (but I guess having the option would be nice, especially if it sounds as good as people say).
— will it improve my S8 sound though?
— will I get annoyed by it potentially running out of juice if I do end up using it with my phone a lot
— I also don’t like reports I’ve heard about it getting hot when charging and using. Heat doesn’t help component longevity.

– I know you like the audioengine D1 – how does that compare, say, to the:
— JDS objective2 / ODAC combo
— mayflower arc (for the mic input)
— Cambridge audio dacmagic PLUS (which i believe to be a combo too)?
— iFi Audio Nano iDSD black label
— Schiit modi / magni 3 (balanced DAC)
— Sound BlasterX G-6
— sennheiser GSX1000

– I mentioned the dacmagic PLUS as a possible alternative to your objective2 / dacmagic 100 solution, as it might be tidier (though I don’t know if your setup sounds better).

– btw I like the objective2 / ODAC as it has a mic option (just means I can disable my mobo audio completely). A mic input is not essential (as I can just use my mobo audio) but

Hope you can help

Cheers,

Gary

Reply
Stuart Charles Black April 25, 2019 - 3:40 am

Hey Gary!

Thanks so much for the love! Really enjoy Metal’s reviews 🙂

What are your source files? I think that has more to do with sound quality than the DragonFly Red or your phone. Even the sample rate won’t really matter all that much. I’d say bit depth is much more important. Are you using 24-bit files?

That’s interesting about the Fly vs. your phone. I always tell people in my articles and otherwise to try their phone first because a lot of the newer phones do have really good DACs. Glad you mentioned that actually because it’s not always advantageous to even purchase something separate.

If it were me, I’d go with a DAC/Amp because it’s much more convenient. There will be some people who swear by Soundcards but I’ve never been that guy. I don’t have anything against it though. It’s just not practical for me. I’d rather have something on my desktop and just prefer being able to physically handle it and what not. Personal preference I guess.

If you want to bypass all the lower tiered stuff and make a true upgrade, the Mojo will deliver on that front tremendously well and will sound better than your S8. I’ve always said that the differences between Amps and DACs are extremely subtle but with a Mojo you can definitely tell a fairly substantial one. It’s more lush, warmer, more realistic, and the Instrument Timbre is almost mind blowing. Vocals are no exception either. It kind of makes you feel like she’s singing in front of you which feels really strange but also incredible. I’m not going to say “It’s like you’re there!” but for headphones it’s probably about the closest you’ll get to that. I was using a MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Closed and was just blown away. I will truly never forget that moment.

With an Objective 2, you’re pretty much all the way there as well. Definitely my favorite budget desktop and it sounds sublime. It kind of also gives off this sense that you’re listening in a studio space rather than just hearing a recorded track. There’s a lot of nice air and separation going on. JDS Labs is a no BS company and this amp proves that you don’t need to spend heaps of money to get the best sound. In fact I could really go on a rant but I won’t. Lol.

As for the Mojo getting hot? Yes, it gets fairly hot but I was told by reliable sources at Audio Advice and I believe some reps back in October that it’s normal and won’t hurt anything. It can be alarming when you put your hand on it but I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I’ve written a bit about how Chord designed the unit and why the sound is so much better, but I can’t remember what article it was. I do know off top that they didn’t use a traditional DAC chip to obtain the sound which explains a lot.

Also, yes. It is super annoying when it loses a charge as I’m not really used to having to charge an Amp. I ran into this issue with the iFi xDSD as well and it was really irritating. If you treat it like your phone and charge it a lot you should be okay. When in doubt, charge it. I do a lot of music listening and Gaming and tend to forget to turn it off. That was really one of my only gripes with the unit actually.

The D1 is a great Amp/DAC and the differences in sound between the Objective 2 aren’t really noteworthy. It’s got a slightly warmer tilt to it but that’s about it. Still very detailed and clean. Love that one.

Haven’t heard the Mayflower or DAC Magic Plus. I want to say the DAC Magic 100 with the Objective 2 was ever so slightly cleaner than the Modi but that could totally be my imagination. When you know something is $100 more it kind of programs your brain into a bias towards the “better” unit. If you were to get the Objective 2 I’d just get the combo from JDS Labs and be done with it. Fantastic amp.

I haven’t heard the Nano but I do want to get my hands on that one soon.

Used to own a Magni 2 but haven’t heard the 3. I would imagine it’s about the same. Don’t quote me on that though. It does have a lot more power but in all honesty the 2 had plenty. My opinion is that they just made it to compete with other similar units that started coming out. I don’t really like the sound of the Magni anymore now that I’ve heard other stuff. It’s not as clean as an Objective 2 and honestly pales in comparison.

Haven’t heard the Sound BlasterX or Senn GSX1000.

Honestly, the Objective 2 + ODAC is a great choice but if you want a true upgrade in sound, the Mojo does provide that.

Hope that helps! Keep me posted man..

-Stu

Reply
Gary April 26, 2019 - 2:15 am

Hi Stu

Thanks for the great reply.

I typically have 320bit MP3 converted from WAVs, sampled from CDs. Or FLAC from WAVs from original CD. I’m pretty sure that means 16-bit 44.1khz audio. My understanding is i guess i could rip to 24-bit, if my audio system permitted, but it’s about the mastering quality and the medium limitations, which is 16-bit (as it’s CD audio).

I’ve been thinking increasingly about the Mojo because just everyone speaks highly of it, particularly in comparison the Hugo, which is 3 times the price. I just don’t like heat and its detrimental effect on electronic components.

Thanks for the reassurance about JDS labs. I’ve heard from 3rd parties they’re the biz, so it’s good to hear the same from you.

On my research travels, I’ve heard good things about Topping. It’s surprising/frustrating, when one delves, as to how many audio manufacturers there are out there. Ahhhhhhhhh!!!

Cheers,

Gary

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 1, 2019 - 2:24 pm

Ah okay, nice! So yeah I do think the Mojo is a worthy investment and the best I’ve heard outside of a Bryston BHA-1. It really does sound better than anything priced lower and I’m of the mindset that most Amps and DACs sound about the same (So that should tell you how I feel about the Mojo). There’s way too much hype surrounding them and there are also too many of them. The market is currently over saturated and it’s really irritating to me.

I think new companies want a piece of the ever growing proverbial pie, and are taking advantage of the fact that people are just never satisfied. Now we have this influx of them and it’s completely unnecessary and also confusing for the average person who just needs something to amplify the sound a bit and also improve audio quality. So I know exactly how you feel as I feel the same way. I honestly can’t stand it. It grates my nerves to no end.

The Hugo is also not even close to being worth that much when you consider a Mojo sounds basically identical with regard to detail. The Hugo is just trying too hard to be more detailed and while it kind of is, it doesn’t sound as enjoyable to me. Definitely not wroth that price jump. Check out my article: Chord Mojo vs. Hugo 2.

Keep me posted as well with any other questions!

-Stu

Reply
Deepak Nayan March 13, 2021 - 6:11 pm

#2
JDS Labs Objective 2 or ATOM.

Objective 2: Check JDS!
ATOM: Check JDS! ******* This should be Check ATOM***********

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 13, 2021 - 6:15 pm

Huh? No, it’s right mate. JDS is the website. I’m saying “Check JDS’ website” basically. I will clarify it better though.

Reply
Babar May 25, 2022 - 7:22 am

Hello Stuart,
I’m a newbie to DAC/Sound Systems but I have a set of Sony 5.1 speakers that has HDMI Arc input (built for LEDs right?). Is there any DAC that would work with it so I can use it with my computer?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 25, 2022 - 10:13 pm

Hey Babar,

Could you link me to the speakers you have or tell me the exact model so I can take a look at the back?

Nice website by the way!

-Stu

Reply
Darren February 16, 2023 - 6:17 am

Hey Stu, I’m new to all this and will be getting the 400se come though tomorrow. Done a fair bit of research on various headphones but when I found your channel and written reviews I was blown away! So detailed yet with humour and super helpful.

I was torn by the k702 and 400se as similar price but opted for the 400se, which will mostly be for music production and gaming.
I will try them out first but I’m finding it hard to know if an amp is required. A few ppl say you do, others say you might not. Just a bit confused by it all, never knew this world existed!
I’ll be running it through a Scarlett solo so unsure if that’s enough on it’s own?
I don’t want to miss out on the full potential, yet don’t want to spend unnecessarily. With being so new to this it’s hard to know what improvements to expect.

Thanks again!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 16, 2023 - 6:05 pm

Darren,

What a lovely comment! Thank you for stopping by. I think you will be thrilled with the 400se. I’m not sure of the output impedance on the Solo, but IIRC, it’s around 10 which is probably a bit too high. That said, let me know what you think first and then if it doesn’t sound quite right I can help you with some sort of amplification.

Keep me posted!!

-Stu

Reply
Darren February 16, 2023 - 7:49 pm

Hey Stu, thanks for getting back to me.

I’ve actually cancelled the order as I’m still so undecided lol. I want to get this right so thought I’d be patient, plus it’s frustrating I can’t try these out near me. I’ve since added the 560s to the list and opened up a bigger can of worms! The pricing for me here is:

K702 – £95
400se – £120
560s – £150 (but from what I can see I may not need an amp with this)

Will mostly be used for music production and gaming, but depending how WOW’D I am by the sound, as I’m very new to this sort of quality, I may starting listening to music more. Genre tends to be blues, blues rock, acoustic, and I would like to start dabbling in a bit of classical and jazz (only right since I’ve started to learn the double bass!) But mostly I see it with the gaming and production.
The large soundstage you mention on the K702 does excite me with regards to FPS, but I’m concerned about the lack of bass I hear a lot about.

In regards to amps I’ve checked a lot of the prices of your recommendations and they seem relatively pricey and as much or more as the headphones themselves.

K5 – £120
ATOM – £140 (£90 used)
K3 – £90
I have managed to find a E10k used for £40 though so that’s seeming a bit better to me but will obviously be lacking compared.

Sorry for the barrage of questions, I’m just at a loss! Thank you so much for all your help and dedication, It’s very much appreciated.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 22, 2023 - 4:41 pm

Darren,

NO worries! I can totally understand your dilemma. To this day it’s still kind of hard to choose between those!! I’ve gone back and forth on it quite a bit trying to come up with a perfect answer for people who ask.

Ignore those people. There’s no lack of bass. This graph is a great example of exactly how the 702 sounds: https://crinacle.com/graphs/headphones/akg-k702/

Now, is it going to blow your ass away? No, but it’s bass that’s correct. That’s the part people always mess up when they attempt to give their opinions.

In any event, if gaming we can safely cross the 400se off the list. Great cans for music, too boxed in and claustrophobic in my opinion for gaming. Footsteps and directional cues are going to sound muffled and lost, and the overall image is much too narrow for surveying exactly what’s going on. I tested these extensively with MW2 and I’d personally never use them in a competitive situation as you’re almost never going to have an edge.

The K702 vs. 560S is a very tough dilemma and one I extensively outlined here.

I will outline my thoughts here as well.

For gaming, I personally give a slight edge to K702 as it’s wider/more expansive and you can hear more stuff going on. Directional cues are fantastic, and I’m always ready for a gunfight before it happens. Some people will tell you the opposite, but it personally was not my experience. Again, tested extensively with MW2 and the edge is 100x better than a 400se.

The 560S is also right there, and the Soundstage on both is nearly impeccable. I’ll say the 560S doesn’t have quite as wide of a SS, but it’s still above average to excellent for gaming.

Music-wise, the 560S is great but I’ve always said that it just lacks something. I mention this in the 500 series article as well as the 560S review and probably more.

Others have come back to me saying the same and it’s hard to explain. It just comes across as kind of dull even though the sound signature, tuning, and overall tonality are perfect.

I personally use the K702 as my daily all-around driver, as it works for all the genres you mention, gaming, plus more.

Music-production-wise, can’t go wrong with either 560S or K702, but I lean towards the K702. It sounds a bit clearer due to that wide image and you can hear everything going on which is obviously super important for cleaning up the mix and rectifying errors. I’ve always found that headphones with more open SS tend to do much better when mixing tracks.

As far as amps, I would def get a K5 Pro. You can go cheaper with K3/E10K, but you’ll be upgrading anyways which ends up costing more in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, I love both and recommended them for a long time, but the K5 Pro is something you’ll hang on to. Trust me on that one.

Hope this helps!!

Keep me posted with questions. I would go through the 500 series article and the 560S one I linked for my complete thoughts as I think it will help you make that ultimate decision.

-Stu

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