Best DAC/AMP under $200

Pogre

Pogre

Audioholic Overlord
This is not under 200$ but this is most likely only dac/amp combo you will ever need https://jdslabs.com/product/objective2-odac-rev-b/
My son is looking at getting a nice set of cans and dac/amp since he currently doesn't have the room for a full system. I know nothing about the headphone world. Would that unit cover everything he'll need? I see there's a USB input, is that where he'd hook his phone up to it or could he use the headphone jack on his phone? Is that pretty much a starting point price-wise for an amp/dac combo?
 
John Parks

John Parks

Audioholic General
My son is looking at getting a nice set of cans and dac/amp since he currently doesn't have the room for a full system. I know nothing about the headphone world. Would that unit cover everything he'll need? I see there's a USB input, is that where he'd hook his phone up to it or could he use the headphone jack on his phone? Is that pretty much a starting point price-wise for an amp/dac combo?
The Objective 2+ODAC is strictly a desktop unit, designed for hookup to a computer. I do not believe it has OTG (On the Go) capabilities. For something to connect to a phone, the Audioquest Dragonfly series might be a better option.
 
tyhjaarpa

tyhjaarpa

Audioholic Field Marshall
My son is looking at getting a nice set of cans and dac/amp since he currently doesn't have the room for a full system. I know nothing about the headphone world. Would that unit cover everything he'll need? I see there's a USB input, is that where he'd hook his phone up to it or could he use the headphone jack on his phone? Is that pretty much a starting point price-wise for an amp/dac combo?
If you are in budget 02SDAC combo could be nice as well. These are more of desktop setup how ever. I'm not so much on the go stuff.
 
Pogre

Pogre

Audioholic Overlord
If you are in budget 02SDAC combo could be nice as well. These are more of desktop setup how ever. I'm not so much on the go stuff.
Okay, thanks guys. I need to ask him a few more questions then. I'm assuming a desktop setup because he's shooting for something to listen to at home. He's the one who asked about hooking his phone into the JDS Labs unit (he knows less than I do about headphones, lol).

Can he get something pretty good for $250 - $300 total, cans and all? We don't even have a budget, but I don't see him able to afford much more than that.
 
Truthslayer

Truthslayer

Full Audioholic
I would avoid something like this that comes with any kind of booster, especially from company never heard of. If you are in budget you should look for O2SDAC instead.
You seriously never heard of ifi audio.
 
K

kenwstr

Audioholic Intern
Sorry to bring up the old topic. Recently faced a similar problem and this is what I want to say.

Although I'm completely new to 1) HiFi audio and 2) this forum, I'm super impressed on how thorough everyone is here. Thank you all for putting so much of your time in reviews, comparisons, help, etc. I've been looking for a DAC/Amp combo for under $200 myself, which eventually led me here. I'm a bit more informed of what's out there and where we are in 2019 when it comes to quality vs price. However, I've never tried anything except commercial receivers that I had hooked up to the ps3/ps4.

What I'd Like:

A nice desktop DAC + headphone amp or Combo device
USB and Optical IN for my computer and PS4
Quality DAC
Quality HP OUT so it can power my entry-level headphones (32 Ohm) and any future HIFI headphone I purchase
Reliable, so it can last me a good while.

My considerations:
Topping DX3 Pro - $220 - https://www.amazon.com/Dilvpoetry-Topping-Headphone-Amplifier-Bluetooth/dp/B07KTXG1YQ

It's a great DAC with a headphone amp. It has everything I could want. However, I'm hesitant because of all the problems people have been having. Although, since following the DX4 Pro thread people say topping is working on a fix. Also found this seller saying they have a March edition (link here). Not sure. I send them a message to see what they reply with.

Modi 3 + Magni 3 - $198 - https://www.amazon.com/Schiit-Modi-Converter-Delta-Sigma-DAC/dp/B07KWHWV1M

Reliable and powerful. Scores well on the SINAD chart.

Khadas + Atom - $198

(+$25 if you build a case for Khadas Tone Board) (+$25 on SPDIF to Optical adapter)
Amazing DAC and Headphone Amp. Only con is the SPDIF IN on the Khadas. Need adapter to make it work with the optical source (ps4, tv, etc). Is it worth it though?

Topping MX3 - $130

The little engine that could do it all. DAC, headphone amp, speaker amp with sub-woofer out, BT. Not the best/latest components, but has everything you could want and they work well.

Micca OriGen G2 - $110

Great DAC with a headphone amp. Older, but good Wolfson circuitry. Analog combination optical S/PDIF digital output is a plus.

Also, recently found this Youtube video -

Hope this helps
If your aim here is quality music on headphones, maybe consider at an all connectivity in one solution. Drop's Panda headphones https://drop.com/buy/drop-wireless-headphones.

The DAC and amp are included in the headphones, at least that is my understanding of it.
I don't own these so not invested in it, just thought it looks interesting as you don't need a separate DAC or headphone amp.

Drop also have some THX AAA Dac/Amps you may find interesting. They have very low distortion and are supposed to be very precise and tonally neutral like no other.

The best digital audio solution I have as an Ibasso DX80 and HD 650 headphones. The DX 80 drives these high impedance phones well. I tied my vintage integrated amp with digital sources via an Essence HDACC but, that's all rather more expensive. So, I thought you might find the Panda's or THX amps interesting options.

Ken
 
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John Parks

John Parks

Audioholic General
K

kenwstr

Audioholic Intern
Have you looked at the SMSL M6?

It seems the only thing it is lacking from the Topping DX3 Pro is Bluetooth...

Yes, SMSL have interested me in the past. One thing that impressed me years ago was that they offered linear PSUs (power supply units) P1 & P2, not sure if they are still available. In terms of HiFi products (especially amps), PSU is very important so the voltage and earth reference are stable and free of noise. Linear PSUs hold a stable voltage which you don't get in a simple bridge plug pack or switch mode supply. The linear PSU I saw incorporated a toroidal rather than the common Laminated core transformer type. Toroidals are generally lower noise and preferred in audio gear. On the face of it, SMSL appeared to be taking care and going the extra mile with their designs. The current M6 does not appear to come with a linear PSU, I could be wrong though.

The audio market is full of misleading marketing. The way I cut through the garbage is I look at the qualifiers included in the specs. If the qualifiers are absent or not meaningful industry standards, I assume they are lying because that is the most common tactic of shonky operators. For example, if they say "Power 100W", this is just stupid and meaningless, but if they say "Continuous power into 8 ohms" etc or use the THX standard power spec based on a standard THD, that gives me more confidence that they might be truthful.

Now look at current SMSL specs again, are there any meaningful qualifiers ???
Do they pass this acid test of transparency?

Ken
 
John Parks

John Parks

Audioholic General
Yes, SMSL have interested me in the past. One thing that impressed me years ago was that they offered linear PSUs (power supply units) P1 & P2, not sure if they are still available. In terms of HiFi products (especially amps), PSU is very important so the voltage and earth reference are stable and free of noise. Linear PSUs hold a stable voltage which you don't get in a simple bridge plug pack or switch mode supply. The linear PSU I saw incorporated a toroidal rather than the common Laminated core transformer type. Toroidals are generally lower noise and preferred in audio gear. On the face of it, SMSL appeared to be taking care and going the extra mile with their designs. The current M6 does not appear to come with a linear PSU, I could be wrong though.

The audio market is full of misleading marketing. The way I cut through the garbage is I look at the qualifiers included in the specs. If the qualifiers are absent or not meaningful industry standards, I assume they are lying because that is the most common tactic of shonky operators. For example, if they say "Power 100W", this is just stupid and meaningless, but if they say "Continuous power into 8 ohms" etc or use the THX standard power spec based on a standard THD, that gives me more confidence that they might be truthful.

Now look at current SMSL specs again, are there any meaningful qualifiers ???
Do they pass this acid test of transparency?

Ken
Thanks for the info! I guess my comment was directed towards @Darrnn as the poster is interested in DAC/amp combos in the $200 range. Darrnn mentioned Topping and SMSL typically runs in the same circles.

As far as upper range Topping and SMSL offerings (like the D90 and M400 respectively) go, they have been getting a lot of positive attention over at ASR.
 
K

kenwstr

Audioholic Intern
Thanks for the info! I guess my comment was directed towards @Darrnn as the poster is interested in DAC/amp combos in the $200 range. Darrnn mentioned Topping and SMSL typically runs in the same circles.

As far as upper range Topping and SMSL offerings (like the D90 and M400 respectively) go, they have been getting a lot of positive attention over at ASR.
Yes, I understood that it was directed at Darrnn. Your post is more directly on topic than mine, and is a reasonable and very relevant suggestion. SMSL may do some fine product lines. It's just that the way they do their specs now does not give me great confidence. Is there anything to distinguish them from the electronics chain stores?

Ken
 

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