I think the IFI zen dac is an awesome choice, both in terms of price-to-performance, sound and it also has a great upgrade path, Personally i have mine paired with the IFI zen Can its ptretty much my favorite stack
I currently have an FX-Audio DAC-X6MKII, its just noisy as hell on IEM’s, and I hate the volume knob it just spins with no begin or end. Speaking of which does the knob on the iFi have a start/stop?
I considered the Topping, but from some of the responses in the pinned Topping DX3 Pro+ thread, some people have issues with constant volume, slow volume response from the knob and an overall underwhelming impression of it.
I have heard mixed reviews on the Topping DX3 Pro+, mostly having to do with volume weirdness.
The ZenDac generally gets love here, and seems like a good pick.
If portable is an option the Fiio BTR5 and Qudelix 5K are both great options. The 5K is a little brighter, but has a very good parametric EQ. They both have enough power to drive a pair of magnetic planar over the ear headphones, despite being tiny battery powered devices, and they have even more power when running wired with USB input, and yet more if you have balanced cables for the headphones, since they both have 2.5mm balanced output. They are both usually under $130 as well ( unless there is a supply problem ).
The BTR5 is the one I use as my daily, and was my gateway into this hobby, I bought it for the ability to connect a phone and PC at the same time ( the 5K does this too ) over Bluetooth, so I can be wireless at my home office, and get a call without having to take headphones off.
Note that the portable picks like the BTR5 can be used wired too.
I agree that the ZenDac is a good pick. You can even use as a DAC only and elect to have the volume fixed or variable. It is truly balanced, not just a 4.4mm jack on the front connected to SE hardware. I have heard their truebass is very good too. About the only knock is that the only input is USB.
if you can wait n bump your budget a wee bit, you should be able to get the Zen Air DAC n CAN for around your max budget. the only difference is you drop the MQA and balanced circuits and go to a ballistic ABS for the casing over extruded aluminum.
yup, there are lots of good starter stacks to consider at the $$200 ($100 / device) mark.
the Atom+ duo you just mentioned.
the Schiit Modi and Magni.
the Spark duo from Monolith.
the ZEN duo from iFi.
I’ve actually stopped following a lot of the Chinese brands as they are churning out stuff so fast and they’re so similar because they’re just a house named product under a couple competing parent companies chasing that days trend / fad. having new product announcements barely before the outgoing model had a chance to really hit the shelf leaves my head spinning.
Firstly, congrats on the great community you have here. This forum is very helpful!
I’m new to audio and I bought recently my first headphones: Focal elegia.
I used them while I’m working to listen to music (classic rock, hard rock, metal, techno, jazz, blues).
I plug the headphones directly to my PC via 3,5 headphone jack.
Now I’m looking for a DAC/Amp because I feel the Elegia is underperforming. (For instance, currently I can’t distinguish between spotify and tidal)
I was thinking about buying the DX3 pro plus but this tread made me consider the iFi zen v2.
My question is: isn’t the iFi zen v2 just a DAC or does it also serve as an Amp? What is the best desktop dac/amp combo for $200 currently?
The IFI zen DAC is actually an amp/DAC combo (stupid name - no idea why).
A basic and fairly easy way to tell is by a unit’s output - if it has an headphone jack of any kind its most likely a amp/DAC combo if its only RCA or 3 Pin XLR outputs, then its it most likely strictly a DAC.
There are a few exceptions but they are rather rare or they are specialized equipment