Entry Level DAC/Amp Combo or Stack

Hi all,

I’ve been monitoring the headphone space for a few years purely based on fascination but only recently decided to start taking it seriously as a hobby! I own a couple entry level pairs of cans like the SHP9500s, Fidelio X2s, ATH-M50s (sorry, first purchase back in 2013, and they are quite poor), Beoplay H9i, and most recently the Nighthawk Carbons.

For about 5 years I’ve been using my Logitech Z623 speakers as an “amp”, but am more interested in a dedicated DAC and amp setup. That being said, I’ve been watching a lot of Z’s, Josh’s, and DMS’s video reviews of mid-fi to HiFi products, and have set my eyes on the Argon Mk IIIs as well as the DT 1990s, alongside other headphones that can really benefit from a DAC and amp.

My budget, which is flexible, is somewhere around the $200-$300 range. I wouldn’t mind something biased towards analytical or fun, but ideally I’d love something in the middle that could push the power needs of headphones I’m interested in buying (Argons, for example). I’ve looked at a couple items like the Asgard 3 as well as the JDS Labs Atom (and eventual DAC), but I’d rather follow someone’s guidance one what’s best out there for my needs. For reference, I listen to all sorts of music, except for modern pop country. EDM / Drum 'n Bass / Rap are usually my go tos.


For what you have, I think something like the jds labs atom and topping d10 is pretty sweet imo, should be more than plenty for what you need. But be careful with the d10 right now, there have been some fakes floating around

I didn’t see the argons, my bad. With the argons I think getting the asgard 3 with the ak dac might be the best bet imo


That’s the 4490 module, correct? I just wasn’t sure if there was anything else out there that I should be aware of and prioritize over the bit of research I’ve done. I know a lot of people like the A-100, especially with the Argons, but I don’t want to overkill what I already own. I need to budget and incrementally reach an end game, haha.

So personally I think for what you are going for, the asgard 3 would offer the best bang for the buck. I think as a headphone amp the a3 is much better sounding than a basx. I think this amp would be good enough for pretty much most headphones under 1k admittedly, it’s just really good

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Awesome, thanks for the insight. Do you have any opinion between the 4490 DAC or the Multibit? Is the multibit worth the additional $100?

So personally I think so, it’s a more fun sounding dac than the ak, if you have the budget it might be worth it if you plan to keep the amp in the long run

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Thanks! I’ll look into it!

JDS currently offers a B-stock of their El DAC for 150. I actually purchased this and got an El Dac 2 and really love it. TBH not sure if this is intentional on their part as the site listing just says EL DAC but the box I received clearly indicates EL DAC II B-Stock. Haven’t tried too many other dacs and was coming from a creative g5 but would absolutely recommend JDS. Excellent support as well.

The el dac ii is a very nice unit, great dac imo

Yeah I’m really happy with it and JDS labs overall. Unfortunately i just checked and looks like it’s been de-listed. Maybe worth keeping an eye on if you’re not in a hurry to get something. Just to note what made the unit i received a b-stock was a very tiny chip in the paint on the top about the size of a pen point

JDS Labs Atom ($99) + Geshelli Enog 2 Pro ($179) would be my bet. You can upgrade to a balanced amp if you so desire later. Bonus points for the Geshelli if you like made in USA.

For more the Archel 2.5 pro ($179) is Geshelli’s premier amp offering, but that throws you into the >$300 range by a bit.

I would have said a geshelli stack but I would say that the argons really like more power

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I am a big fan of matching stacks and made in the USA. Though, I’ll still look at the Geshellis. I haven’t reviewed or even thought much of their products. People just seem to rave about JDS Labs and Schiit seems to have done a really good job on the A3.

I was also looking at the JDS Element II since it has a nice speakers/headphones switch but not sure if that’s enough of a selling point for $400.

I think if you wanted to go with jds I would say the el stack would also be great. As much as I like the archel 2.5 pro and the enog 2 pro, I think with the argons it wouldn’t be the best match

it’s a small thing but the build and feel of the EL amp/element is very nice. The look and feel of the large knob is very satisfying. That combined with the switching, and the small power bump is why i upgraded from an atom. I would say on paper it was not the most economical choice but i’m very happy with it. Had I known more about audio equipment and what i wanted when i started i probably would have gone with the element II outright.

For anyone who’s experienced both, how are the comparisons with sound between the A3 and the JDS El stack or Element 2?

Didn’t realize the El stack is a couple extra hundred bucks, so A3 may still be the best bet.

So I think the el stack does sound a bit more refined, but the a3 has more power. I think they are both pretty great. I personally prefer the el II stack but it is more expensive, and for the argons the a3 does have more power

Would the El stack sound comparable to the Element 2?

I think the el stack is an improvement over the element ii, it’s just a better option but you pay for that

Awesome, thanks for all your help. We’ll see what I settle on soon!