Future focused amp/DAC ~$1,000

I’m in analysis paralysis and could use your help! I’d like to step up my setup and hate cheaping out now only to upgrade in the near-mid term (would rather buy quality and have it available when I want to get higher end cans). 1k range is comfortable

Looking to upgrade the sound for my daily driver setup (8+hrs working from home). It’s a Desktop PC used about 20% for Teams meetings (blue Yeti, USB for a mic), 10% Watching Streaming Videos (Netflix/HBOMax/Youtube), 50% of the day I’m listening to iTunes (Apple Music), and another 10% of the time my headphones are just sitting on my head, quiet for absolutely no reason at all. Only about 10% of any given workday are my ears uncovered, and very little time is spent critically listening to music (unfortunately). Really enjoy FPS gaming, don’t get the chance as often as I’d like. I have PLENTY of desk real-estate (considered tossing a HT receiver behind a monitor.)

Normally wear/listen to MassDrop AKG k7xx b/c of how comfortable they are on my head – and how good they make everyone’s voices sound in Teams. Other Cans currently laying around include A couple pairs of ATH-M50(x), Beyer DT770 Pro (80Ohms) and Sennheiser HD590 and 280’s. Beyers get a lot of work when I want to ‘feel’ more of a low end impact.

In the past I’ve used the FiiO E5/E7 stack and have always enjoyed the extra detail and fullness it’s added to music in comparison to MoBo. Recently un-mothballed that pair and they haven’t aged well. (although the E7’s currently sound better than the on-board hp amp)

My Musical Tastes vary widely; but, I’d consider myself a borderline Bass-Head with Audiophile tendencies (or the other way around). Lots of EDM, Low-Fi, Metal (all genres), Acoustic singer/songwriter etc. Home/Car Audio is where I fell in Love with Music (Car Setup has Focal Utopia’s w/ JL W6 lower end; plenty of amplification – Home Theater is anchored by a pair of SVS Ultra Subs) – and I’m MUCH more concerned with the overall experience than I am measurements or empirical arguments.

Today, and the near future all of my Can’s are single ended – I do have aspirations for Fostex TH900’s for the legendary low end, a pair of Focal’s (all over the place on model), and at least 1 pair of Planar’s (sundara maybe?).

Enough about me :wink: – I’m really struggling with some choices.

Asgard 3 / Bifrost 2 (their current lead time is killing me) - warm, full, powerful sound, lots of “headroom” from the B2 for the future, and why not (modius looks good for $, the B2 can always move to a 2ch system later on)

Topping 70/90 components,

rebel amp with ?? DAC,

RME (little over budget),

save money and get something from ADS?

I’ve searched several forums and watched tons of reviews - but folks are either looking at a much lower budget or the headphones used already demand higher end gear or reviewers get really excited about just about everything (Love Zoes, but I kinda get lost trying to sort recommendations, Currawong gushes over the BF2 like most everyone else, and audio science cannot stand schiit)

I wouldn’t recommend the Bifrost with the Asgard: you’re much better off with a cheaper single ended dac. The Asgard would smooth out any harshness anyway…
This guy is right on budget: Monolith by Monoprice Liquid Gold Balanced Headphone Amplifier and DAC by Alex Cavalli - Monoprice.com . You’d be paying for a great amp with a basic dac attached but that’s the way round I’d aim for. It’s also one box which just makes things simple.

Appreciate that recommendation! Looking into it for sure.

BF2/A3 logic: all my cans are single ended today; Asgard seemed to be a beast that applies all of its effort to SE. BF2 would be a solid DAC that wouldn’t need replacing for quite a while - and would scale up as the need for a better amp arose (like balanced - more reformed or whatever). I’m open to other options for sure - but that was my thought process.

Some of what I’ve read about a lot of balanced equipment is that the suburb measurements and reviews come from the balanced out. Many balanced amps have sub-par SE performance/sound.

Looking for more info on the liquid gold now tho, thanks again

Not the Topping A90. This amp is dead nuts excellent in both balanced and single ended, and tons of power for just about any headphone you can think of.

The BF2 is an excellent DAC. I know, I have one in my main hifi rig. That being said, I tried it in my headphone rig and was not impressed at all. Total shocker to me honestly because it sounds perfect in the main (loudspeaker) system. Then again, that system is also running a Freya+ with NOS tubes.

The DAC that I prefer in my headphone rig is the SMSL M400. It’s a great combo with the A90.

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Depends on the amp and how it is designed. It’s a common complaint about the Schiit Magnius, for example, but even Schiit themselves (that sounds funny now that I wrote it…) acknowledged they had to cut corners on the SE to deliver a $200 balanced amp. You’re not going to see that kind of thing on a Jot2, A90, or the like…

Also, many in other parts of the forum have had nothing but good things to say about running an Asgard3 off of a BF2.


My recommendation WAY below your budget would be the Element /EL stack from JDS labs. Just because it has a very small footprint on the desk, which I find excellent for a more crowded Home Office setup. At least mine is a little crowded. :sweat_smile: I daily drive the Element II and one of my daily cans is the K712 pro, and I really like the experience

Another more unconventional recommendation for a warmer amp would be Burson. The Playmate 2 is an all-in-one solution with 3W Class A and pre-outs for powered monitors. There is also the Funk if you want to use passive speakers at your desk alongside the headphones, but you would need a DAC (maybe the E30?).

Or you could also go for a SE DAC like the E30 or the Allo, together with the Schitt A3. The money saved can be used elsewhere, and you would be probably set for quite a while.


The Burson stuff is interesting. I do have a pair of Dali Lektor 6s sitting quietly to the sides of my desk and I looked at the emotive bass a-100 for a hot minute. The funk looks to have a much more respectable head amp section (discounting the novelty of running 50w to cans of you play with the jumpers)

The playmate 2 is appealing (usb-c is attractive for an all in one - especially if we ever go back to offices).

The burson headamps are class a and should make an aging bass head happy (singsxer su-1, and the A3 also kind of appeal to me for the Class A leaning)

The JDS stuff is cool, and would make a perfect companion at the office…my wfh desk is a kitchen counter-top sitting on ikea filing cabinets. I have plenty of space, lol.

I have a singsxer su-1 + topping D70s in a cart at Apos, A3/BF2 at schiit, took a look at the smsl 400 stuff and think it’s likely a bit to clinical for what I want. Even strongly considering the RME ADI-2 or Matrix audio mini-I 3 (pro).

Wish I could hear all this stuff.

Thank you for the input - your endorsement of the ADS stuff with AKG 7’s is compelling - just because I have the budget doesn’t mean I am looking to light money on fire. I haven’t upgraded to Atmos yet I. The HT. :slight_smile:

Schiits higher up dacs have been known to be “secretly” very good with speakers, but i think schiit is always looked at as a headphone company.


The last thing the SMSL M400 is is clinical. Far from it. Combined with the Topping A90 and Hifiman Sundara’s, the M400 has a rather robust bottom end, a warm and full midrange, and a silky smooth top end. It’s a very mature, refined sound.

If this DAC was clinical in any way, the A90 and Sundara’s would definitely let me know it.


imo the m400 is not even a little bit better than the m300 mkii. just a horribly priced dac. since i got my gustard x16 i’ve hated my m400 more and more every day. the x16 has so much more detail that i didn’t even think existed when i was listening to the m400/m300 and i am so happy with it. also topping a90.

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That is the only “negative” review I have ever heard about the M400. And as for price, I’ve read where some say it’s overpriced for what it is. Whether it truly is or not is a different story. However, that doesn’t apply to me since I bought mine off of one of my brothers that bought it new about a year ago.

Also Topping A90 what?

just that i am also using an a90. honestly i dont hate the m400 i just think its 3 times the price it should be and that just feels wrong. its nice and all, it really just doesn’t sound any better at all than the m300 mkii, which is like $230. the step up in detail from the m400 to the x16 is like going from onboard pc audio to a dac. its pretty huge.

Are you sure there’s not something wrong with your M400? Because that pretty much goes against everything everyone else says about the M400.


The Element 2 is really attractive as a “just buy it and move on with life…for now” option that will work in the corporate office at some point (even toss in a backpack when needed). And I haven’t ruled this out as a VERY short term solution (b/c the Schiit stuff I originally wanted is sooo backordered). At this price point the Topping 30 Pro stack looks promising w/ a bit of a more laid back sound (4 lower end Dac’s?)

Honestly - My motivation is to have the Amp/DAC outclass anything I have today - So I can just focus on Headphones for the next several years. I Understand the concept of “only as good as the weakest link” and i’d rather NEVER need to wonder if i’m being bottlenecked by the DAC, and to a lesser extent the Amp.

-Lastly keeping in mind that I appreciate a thicker, more tactile and intimate sound over the airy, clinical, extremely reveling parings.

Just in case anyone enjoys a little bit of closure - Here is how this search ended.

TL;DR - Bifrost 2 → Asgard 3 = :smile:

A bunch of years ago I set out to build a pretty solid WFH/Gaming station and tried out a number of different things - in the headphone space I Landed on the FiiO E7/E9 stack with AKG 7XX and a Blue Yeti w/ ATH-M50’s. Eventually turned that station over to the wife after getting an “in-person” job and she wfh more often.

Shuffled EVERYTHING around last year due to COVID (moved bedrooms, dining room, office etc to accommodate 2 perm work-spaces). Realized the FiiO gear had not aged well, built a new PC with the promise of “Isolated audio with dedicated processor combining ESS audio DAC with amplifier”!!! Well, it was much better than standard PC - out, but nothing like what I was hoping for.

Picked up a Drop THX789 thinking it would give me plenty of room to grow…
Tried line out → THX 789 (SE output only) and couldn’t stand to wear any of my headphones for any period of time - Suppose Garbage in = Garbage out. I dusted off the E7 (alone) and compared to the output from the 789 and was kind of suprised that I could get near the volume with much more dynamic sound. So I output from the E7 to the 789 and it just wasn’t pleasing at ALL. Grabbed the E9, and usd the E7 as DAC ONLY out to the 789 - still bad :confused:

Decided to return the 789 and do more research. Ended up deciding on something from Schiit, probably an Asgard 3 or Jot 2. Just was overly confused with their DAC Lineup and was struggling with the BF2 pricetag.

Ended up deciding that I didn’t want to do the DAC upgrade path (after the 789 experience, I really didn’t want source to be my limiting factor ever again…or to even be a question) and was sold on the BF2 and was wishy-washy on the Jot2 (for future proof) or the A3 (I only use SE, and I enjoy a more lively Class A sound where I can afford it). Ended up reading through enough that I would get the A3 w/ the BF2 and Placed my order.

At the time I ordered, the A3 was shipping in 1-3 days and the BF2 was 3-5 days. Next day my order was “Bifrost 2 In Production” then “rolling back-order” two days later.

Found you guys 2 or 3 days after that (after getting through probably +60% of Zeo’s DAC/Amp reviews).

Decided to Cancel my Schiit order after a couple of UN-inspiring exchanges with their Customer Service. Quickly hopped on a Used A3 (thanks to this forum) and ordered a Topping D70s after several reviews suggested it was warmer than the typical topping sound.

A3+Topping D70s was an interesting combo. Not sure how to describe it - but it was definitely open, very dynamic, resolved parts of music that I really hadn’t noticed before and at the same time felt - off. Mind you I’m primarily using AKG7XX as a guide post b/c of how much time I have underthem.

One thing that kind of felt strange - there was always a hint of “hot signal” and I would hear some distortion where it didn’t belong. Suspected the 2.5v output may have been the culprate and put the D70s into Preamp mode and knocked it back to -10 and it actually helped, but didn’t fully resolve the issue. (output via USB/SPDIF - itunes/tidal all had the same issue).

Overall I was enjoying the experience - but really wasn’t taking full advantage of ALL of the features (digital readout of bit/sample was pretty cool though). I ordered a Modi 3+ while still in the return window - and was able to A/B a little. Physco-acoustics or not - I did perceive a difference between the 3+ and D70s.

–I felt there was a fairly similar sound signature; but, the D70s was more open (wider feeling), had better bass, dynamics and overall upgraded sound from the 3+ (but no where NEAR a $550 dollar price premium justification, to me). I was VERY happy to keep the Modi 3+ around until I could get a hold of a BF2. Actually starting to get excited about the prospect of a BF2 b/c of the insane value (to my perception) of the 3+!

Had a new Shiitt Order for a BF2 ready to submit when I figured - what the hell. Posted in the Buy/Sell thread that I was hoping anyone would be willing to part with a BF2, lol. Within a few moments - it payed off and I had a BF2 on the way :smiley: This gave me some 1:1 time with the Modi 3+, and I was fairly impressed at the enjoyment I was getting. I compared it to line-out from PC, E7 and really REALLY was happy with the improvement (and the prospect of plugging it into my iPad Pro and w/e).

Once the BF2 arrived, I was able to listen/play around with it and do some light comparisons with the Modi. Immediately I enjoyed the return of low end, and how well it seemed to balance with what kind of felt like a mid bump I had been hearing from the A3. I know the K7XX have a mid focused (to me) sound - but It seemed softer, yet somehow more forward since getting the A3 (i have other cans, just wont bore you with those impressions today). The BF2 all of a sudden felt like I was listening to music again - not listening to my setup! There were tracks that I’d been criitcally listening to over the journey described here - and I would play them with the BF/A3 combo and I kept laughing b/c I’d somehow forget to listen for things.

Does that even make sense?

Some tracks are just songs I know and LOVE, but many others are tracks I listen to specifically to get to know gear. Tracks I’ve used since getting trained how to listen to gear back in the 90’s (way down deep, bird on a wire, Spanish Harlem, etc).

Back to forcing my self to listen to elements of a track, and not to the music, I noticed some pretty interesting things. On the 3+ I often feel myself getting distracted with some separated instrument or intentional Left to Right effect…or chord plucks that really stand apart. A trend started to emerge and vocals would sometimes fade and the music would take over, especially when things get hectic (think slipknot and 9 metal musicians contributing to the music at the same time). The Modi 3+ w/ A3 does a great job of not hitting that dreadful “Wall of Sound” effect too terribly bad that happens all to often with a track with Information Overload, lol.

With the Bifrost 2 - I don’t get the same starteling effect so (very) often like I did on the Modi. There are a could tracks that REALLY kind of make my eyes cross - or the acoustic guitar just bloom’s on the Modi - where on the BF2 it’s just so much more natural. Things feel right, and musical, and so-so enjoyable.

I’m pulling cables for comparison - so it’s clearly not a blind test; but, I continually find my self listening to the passage and being ready to swap on the Modi, then swapping to the BF2, listening to the passage and not realizing i’m 3min into the next track (or2). I honestly feel like I hear things on the modi that pop, that get missed on the BF2 - but for the sake of enjoyment!

Listening to some currently popular tracks - the modi is a little grating and I can hear the distortion “pop out” like I could on the D70s (when it’s on -10) - with the BF2 it’s not as noticeable and I find letting a “what’s hot” playlist stay on shuffle longer without getting annoyed.

Just working - the Modi 3+ will still pull me out of my train of thought now and then with some technical “wow” or extreme separation in the music I wasn’t expecting. With the BF2 I really only get pulled out of my work-flow when some thing just sounds so good that I remember to hit the ‘add’ button.

Some pending questions:

  1. I’ve gamed (FPS mostly as of late) with the BF2 and the D70s - too much time between to really compare BUT I’m digging how the thicker sounds come through on voices and guns. Foot steps sound a little heavier than I’d expect - but i’m not sure its NOT the game mix. So the question - With the extra ‘space’ and how details stick out more with the Modi 3+, not sure if I’d prefer to game on it or not!? (if yes, then I’m gonna keep 2 Dac’s on my desktop…wth)

  2. Originally thought I’d keep the Modi for my HT setup and feed it with Optical from my Desktop PC (20ft run and 2nd zone is actually powering a pair of Dali Lektor’s beside my desk). My Yamaha A2000 won’t play a digital signal to a 2nd zone for some reason…so digital to Modi to the yamaha gets around that. With as much as I enjoy the music from the BF2, I’m considering just running XLR output (to rca) to the A2000, OR running Pre-Amp out from the A3 and letting it give a nudge of Class A love. Either way - that kind of leaves the Modi3 odd man out.

—I suppose I could use it from a sonos connect to multi-zone amp (assuming it’s better than the Sonos internal DAC); OR use it as a DAC for my wife’s setup (or bounce it once they run out of stock at Schiit).

To round out my HP collection I’ve picked up a Drop Senn 58x (based mostly on description that it has more bass than the 6xx) and the Meze 99 noir (b/c I’m an Un-embarrassed bass-head that cannot justify the pricetag of Fostex TH900’s right now). They’ll hang out with Senn HD 590’s (20 yrs old), Senn 280pro, DT770 80, ATH-M50 and M50x (which i don’t like at all), Koss kph30i and a couple BT for travel (sony 1000xm3 and Senn Momentum 2).

I appreciate everyone in this forum, and especially the members that have allowed me to scoop up some Schiit while there is none to be had from the manufacturer! Also - the Anylitical vs Fun thread for getting me to think about what’s really important to me - The music <3!

Sorry for the dissertation; hope you stopped at the TL;DR :wink: