Getting my dad a bargain stack, need advice

So I am planning to get my dad a full stack this year as he has recently really been into audio. I showed him how to use youtube and now he doesn’t listen to his vinyl/CD collection and his audio system with JBL 4312s nearly half as much as before. Instead, he has found music from his youth on youtube and listens on his computer. Right now he uses a very old Dell desktop that I used to use. It’s an old Core 2 Quad motherboard with integrated Realtek 888 High Definition Audio chip. It’s currently driving his Micca PB42X via 3.5mm that I got him last year. So I have been looking over a few options as I know even a cheap DAC would be an upgrade from the Realtek. With this I also want to get a headphone amp and a pair of headphones to add to the experience. All in all, I’d like to spend $250 with $350 as a stretch limit.


  1. I currently found a Sabaj D4 for fairly cheap. This could be a good all-in-one solution with a headphone amp as well as a DAC. The specs look pretty good, but I wanted to see if anyone had more experience/info on this. I can also take the savings from here and add to my headphone budget.

  2. On the other hand, my dad has been wanting to experiment with tubes for a long time. His dream setup would be McIntosh tube amps and pre-amps. I cannot afford this. But I still want to help him try tubes. So I might stretch my budget and get him either a LittleDot Mk II for $119.99, a Schiit Vali 2 for $149.99, or even a Darkvoice for around $200 used if I really stretch my budget. I have no tube experience so I am not sure which of these would work best. Which one of these is the best budget pick? I am assuming the Darkvoice will obviously be the best soundwise, but how big of a difference is it to the Vali or the LittleDot. I have figured out a cheap AKM4493EQ based DAC solution that I will have to go with just cause of the cost of the tube amps.

As for headphones, my current headphone shortlist is $99 for the Fidelio X2HR, $99 for the Sennheiser 599 SE, $114 for the DT 770, $114 for the DT 990, and $135 for the Sennheiser 58x. But I will make a separate post later asking for advice on this once I know what kind of stack would work best.

Thanks for the help! :slight_smile:

I have an idea if you are willing to stretch your budget more.

Is there a way you could afford a Little Dot Mk3 and Sennheiser HD600? You might be able to find good used prices but I’m not sure. That would be one of the best setups in the price range imo.
Another option would be the Little Dot Mk2 with the HD58x, they are the best all-rounder headphone here I think. The Darkvoice isn’t good with the stock tubes, so you would have to get some different tubes for it to really shine.
I think a good starter setup here would be the 58x with the Little Dot Mk2. But for a dream setup I think the Little Dot Mk3, or if you know how to solder and put together electronic components, the Bottlehead Crack, a diy tube amp that punches way, way above it’s price point, with the HD600 would be incredible.


Yeah the Mk3 is a big out of my budget. I may go solid state just because things like the atom are $99 so it might represent a much better value than the Little Dot Mk 2. I know tubes will be more expensive generally and do a different sound signature, but I think between budget tubes and budget solid state that solid state might be the way to go here.

I guess if I am going to get him a tube in the future, it’s going to be a good one like the Bottlehead.

Yeah if you know how to put electronics together and do soldering, the Bottlehead crack is really awesome with high impedance headphones like the HD600.

I think if you are just looking for budget amps, the Liquid Spark is a really good amp that will be more fun sounding. The Schiit Magni Heresy is also really good, it is going to be a more analytical and transparent sound.

maybe consider this hybrid amp its on sale right now and is a pretty awesome amp for the current asking price

Mind you I haven’t heard any these myself, but this is the general opinion on them.