Excellent IEM desktop amp/amp+DAC? (<$1000)

Any amps or amp+DAC combo units that stand out here, strictly for IEMs? I have some DACs already, but wouldn’t mind another combo unit if the magic is there. Something like JDS Element III(or El DAC 2+ + El amp 2+). Must have ZERO noise. Neutral, neutral-warm, or warm. Natural sounding.

No Topping or Schiit, please. Probably should try something else. Also did not like the dull, dark sound of SP400. Didn’t like Chord Mojo 2 enough.

The Working List:

  • Questyle M15 dongle
  • Cayin RU6 dongle
  • JDS Element III / El DAC II+ (+) El Amp II+
  • EF400 (DAC use only?)

The Naughty List:

  • Dragonfly Cobalt (too old & expensive)
  • Geshelli JNOG2+ERISH2 (god, these names, wtf… Backordered)
  • Zen DAC V2 Sig + CAN Sig (noise!)

geshelli labs

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iFi would be my choice.


How do the chip options differ?

The Zen iCans or whatever? iCanues. Should have great USB and noise filtering, coming from iFi.

Zen Dac v2 > Zen Can

Or if you want a smaller footprint and portability then xDSD Gryphon

Both options use the sweet buttery Burr Brown chipsets and both have enough power to drive all but the most demanding HP’s Sus/HE6 etc and offer a black background when it comes IEM use :+1:

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Ah, sounds tops! Thanks! My Xonar STX soundcard had a Burr Brown(PCM1792A).

Is the “Signature” the same as V2, just diff color?

Would make a great shootout, between Zen DAC V2 Signature + CAN Signature, Element III, and Cobalt/Gishelli.

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I think the signature series is the same but has a built in eq for 3 different headphones the 6xx, HFM and Meze 99 I might be wrong so I’ll tag @CartrKellr_iFi maybe he can clarify this :+1:

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I don’t use IEM’s. But this particular unit has an output designed specifically for IEM’s. And it’s supposed to be one of the cleanest IEM outputs available on the market. This is called the RME ADI-2 DAC FS. It’s a DAC/AMP combo unit that has a massive amount of features, (watch the videos to find out about them.)

Here are a couple videos to learn more about it.

I own this unit myself, but I run it into the Topping A90D and only use it as a DAC - but the amp portion for IEM’s should be superb from everything i’ve heard. I have waffled on about this unit quite a bit on these forums, so if you want more information I suggest poking around a bit to find those threads. I personally love this unit quite a bit. It offers a massive amount of functionality and is a great ‘all in one’ combo unit imo.

When I bought it last year, I paid around 900 USD for it. But that was before the recent inflation hit. So likely prices have changed.

From a cursory check using google shopping, it looks like the price ranges from 700 USD used, to 1300 USD new - or around 1100 of those UK Pound-it’s if you are in UK land and prefer a new unit. RME ADI-2 DAC FS – Thomann UK


I have this currently. ZERO noise with IEMs, unlike the A30 Pro I had before. I’m thinking this amp has pretty good room for improvement, yet, though. It’s my temporary headphone amp, before The Big Upgrade.

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A bit of a Marmite choice that @Pokrog latest comment in one of the gaming section threads…

“ADI-2 is dog shit. It just is. It doesn’t have good anything. It’s honestly just not even debatable imo,”

Never heard that type of opinion about iFi gear.

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Yep, if you just need a good AMP the Topping A90D is really great too. I own one of these also, and I use it every day.

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I would view your quote on Pokrog’s opinion, as somewhat controversial - especially when based on my personal experience, the RME ADI-2 DAC FS has been quite great imo. also there are a veritable plethora of audio reviewers on youtube that have all released videos talking about how amazing it is - and these are not small reviewers either, these are well-respected reviewers in the community… So you’ll have to forgive me for not holding the same view you have on this one.

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Lol. Tell you what, that iFi iSilent iPower2 is THE #1 system part change/upgrade I would recommend for any/all budget level amps & DACs that use 5V/9V/15V PSUs! Huge noise improvement with the Douk U2 amp, for example.


@zenstrata Putting differences aside would you describe the ADI and Topping sound sig’s as?…

I’ve not heard all the Toppings but the ones I have aren’t what I’d call warm.

Agreed. Don’t recommend Topping equipment to me, then!!! D:

I don’t use the ADI-2 for an amp. I use it as a DAC and output to the Topping A90D, I also use the equalization and sound shaping options on the ADI-2 and have presets i spent a few hours twiddling for my various headphones to adjust them to give me the sound I enjoy.

When it comes to the Topping A90D - I agree with what Zeos said in his review about the A90D, it is 33:02 into the linked A90D video. It’s very good, and it works great for me, and has sounded good on pretty much any headphone i’ve thrown at it.

  • A great way to test these things for yourself is to buy them through Amazon, and take advantage of the 30 day no-hassle/free-shipping return policy that amazon has. Test out the equipment, return the stuff you don’t want to keep, and nothing is lost.

I can say, that I am happy where i’m at, i doubt i’ll ever update the DAC or the AMP I use further until something breaks and is not repairable, or my needs change so much that I can’t use what I currently have.

As Zeos said in his review for the RME ADI-2 DAC FS - it is designed to end it. All the random collecting of gear - it really did end it for me, i’m now off the upgrade train. I’ll be sticking with the A90D for my amp, and the RME ADI-2 for my dac.

I may still invest in new headphones in the future, but for AMP’s and DAC’s i’m off that particular endless-upgrade train. what I have now sounds great, i can shape the sound any way I want, and easily power any headphone I want.

It wasn’t cheap though. i spent around 1500 USD on the two pieces of equipment, not to mention high quality cables and adapters… probably pushed the total up around 1800. (yeah I spent around 300 dollars on cabling probably didn’t need to spend that much. -Viking Weave headphone cables are not cheap!- But it’s nice to have good quality cables and adapters.)


What DACs do you already have? What did you not like about the Mojo 2? I’ve tried a few sources and might be able to help add some options to your list.

At the moment, I would look at EF400, it’s got zero noise, mostly neutral sound with a smooth laid-back character which is still very Dynamic, it’s R2R so pretty Natural sounding. Only thing is, it is very powerful and usable volume range is limited for IEMs. You can use iFi’s IEMatch accessory or use a decent external Amp like Zen CAN (has some noise from Balanced Out) or Atom AMP+ (have not heard it personally) for IEMs with the EF400 as a DAC. I like the IEMatch option better.

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I do strongly suggest you watch Zeos review for the Topping A90D I linked. It is not like the other topping amps. It’s quite exceptional. And if you don’t like it, you can always return it by taking advantage of amazon’s return policy.

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(I mentioned I already have this :wink: )