DAC/Amp upgrade w/ headphones $1500 Budget?

Hello everyone! I am looking for recommendations for my DAC/Amp in addition to a new set of headphones. My current setup is a Topping E30 with a JDS Labs Atom and DT 880 headphones. I listen to a wide variety of music and typically like to lay down, close my eyes and get immersed in the music for extended periods. My current stack is my first venture into HiFi and I am looking to see what’s the best bang for buck upgrades I can get around $1500 or less. This includes DAC, amp and a set of open back headphones.

I am leaning towards Sundara for the headphones and these are some options I have come up with for DAC/Amp but I am open to other suggestions.

-Topping D50s/A50s

-SMSL SU-9(n) and Singxer SA-1

-Monolith Liquid Gold X

Thanks in advanced!

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First thing to know is that sound wise Dacs and amps regardless of what reviewers or people say are tuned to a flat frequency response.

It’s the distortion, power, power delivery [class D, ab or A]

Once you’ve got your desired connectors on your amp and dac you’re good to go on that front stop spending anymore cash on it.

I personally would go for a topping dac they’re so well engineered. [I’d stick with your E30] with the Singxer amp, I personally prefer the Class A delivery over others but your JDS labs is honestly fine. The sound difference… Is going to be so tiny. The headphone or any transducer will be the change.

Something to seriously note on the heaphone front before buying a new one I’d recommend trying this EQ profile on the DT 880 600 ohm it fixes a ton of issues like the mid bass impedance swing and couple of peaks at 5-6k and 8k.

Preamp: -4.3 dB
Filter 1: ON LS Fc 60 Hz Gain 4.0 dB Q 1.0
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 210 Hz Gain -2.0 dB Q 2.0
Filter 3: ON PK Fc 4300 Hz Gain 4.0 dB Q 4.0
Filter 4: ON PK Fc 5700 Hz Gain -6.0 dB Q 5.0
Filter 5: ON PK Fc 8300 Hz Gain -7.0 dB Q 5.0

This flattens the bass which is awesome you can hear how dynamic it is and add the instant clarity by getting rid of masking. It’s transforms it to an incredible headphone.

The above shows the distortion that ruins the sound and that EQ cleans it up a bit.

Moving on if you are going to get a sundara only the 2021 version is good the others are shit compared to it.

I’d personally go for a 6XX over the sundara. Hope this helps.

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Wow, thank you so much for such a comprehensive response! I honestly haven’t educated myself with audio technicals such as power delivery but I will definitely look into it. I use the supplies USB to connect the DAC to PC and have Gotham “Worlds Best” RCA cables connecting the DAC to the amp. Is this what you meant by “desired connectors”? Is this optimal or should I consider other options? If you wouldn’t mind; what should I be setting my bitrate to on my PC? It’s currently 192khz and I typically listen to music via Amazon streaming.
Going from regular gaming style headphones to a dedicated DAC/Amp and HiFi headphones was such a huge upgrade. Being that this is my first stack; I have nothing to really compare the sound and performance to. Now I understand diminished returns and I am not trying to be continuously chasing the next best this but I have a little bit of money and wanted to explore my options.
It seems like you are suggesting to focus more on headphones and possibly an amp. Is there any other areas or tweaks you’d recommend I look at? Lastly your setting recommendations; where can I input those numbers? Thanks again!

Hello @Nick000 I have been down nearly every head-fi rabbit whole that exists. Having owned $50k in head-fi gear (maybe more) in the last several years. While I have not owned your exact set up, I was YOU at one point. What advice would I have wanted, knowing what I know now? Spend the bulk of your money on headphones. The other components (DAC, AMP etc) will effect the sound, but none will give you the ‘bang for the buck’ that comes with finding the right headphones FOR YOU. @Thotstomp provided some sage advice. I have very little experience with beyerdynamic, but enough to know that they are not for me. As far as the DAC and AMP, I would keep them until you NEED more power or some other feature that these do not have (EQ, Balanced etc). Trust me when I say- unless you NEED more power, the audible “upgrades” that come with other more expensive gear will be very subtle and minor when compared to investing in more/better/different headphones. Just make sure you research the power requirements of the headphones you decide on before ordering. But your current DAC/AMP set up will handle the vast majority of available headphones without issue. Headphonesty.com has a great headphone power calculator to help with the power requirements. I wish someone had told me all this stuff early on. I enjoyed my headphone journey, but I would have saved a ton of money & time with the above knowledge.

Having said all of that, without knowing anything about what sound signature you like. For your budget, at retail prices, I recommend (Your DAC/AMP will easily work for any of these):

For a Planar dynamic headphone: Audeze LCD-X 2021+ (or Hifiman Arya)

For a Dynamic driver headphone: Focal Clear either version are very good (OG or MG) just get one with a warranty. A few of these will experience driver issues.

Or better yet, for a dynamic and a planar: Hifiman Ananda and HD650 (or 6XX).


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