Headphones & Possible DAC / Amps: Building to Mixing / Stream Deck

Hello to all.

Quick introduction: I’ve been a Zeos fan for a while, but have not been in a position to do more than just appreciate his and the varied reddit communities. However, my series of functional-at-best audio accouterment has finally died and I’m looking to build a deck long in the making with some need of inputs coming very soon.

While I could go crazy and indulge in my deep-seated audio elitism, I know that I can very well enjoy quality audio without breaking the bank. Moreso, since I’m working toward building a setup for gaming and local table-top content.

While I don’t want to concentrate too much beyond the initial Phones / DAC / AMP, I would like to build toward a quality deck without breaking the bank. This would include an XLR MIC, Audio Interface / Mixer, etc. I realize those purchases are not made in a vacuum and each step needs to be considered.

Currently, for the Phones and amp I’m looking for something in the $100-$200 range. A little flexibility on the DAC front.

For the Amp, I’ve been mainly looking at the JDS Labs Atom due to its ubiquity and widespread approval. Due to the overwhelming number and range of opinions on DACs, I’m largely undecided, but the SMSL Audio M3 seems as if it might be a good intro & transition item. For the phones themselves, I had initially wanted to play it cheaper with the Monoprice Retros and combine it with a desktop XLR MIC like an AT875R (as I have an ideal space for that type of dynamic shotgun with an interface or mixer with decent pre-amps).

Without rambling too much, I’m waffling between modding an M40x for a Boom Pro to get started, but some of the comments regarding longevity are concerning. Then again, it’s nearly disposable in price. The Audio-Technica WS1100is seems promising, but the possible brightness of the cans are the only concern as much as I do love decent low tones with more game-centric focus. I’ve watched videos and read until it feels like every device is blurring together. There are so many great buys out there.

While I’d like to build toward something along the lines of MoogleMan3’s setup here, part of that is overkill considering I’ll be shooting toward multi-channel content production without sweating standalone speakers aside from an older setup I have – the headphones will definitely be the focus.

My priority list, built piecemeal: Phones -> Dac / AMP -> Mic -> Interface / Mixer (Something likely a little nicer than the Focusrite Scarlett or Yamaha MG10XU). I’ve got an optical out to at least start the chain, and the fun rolls on from there.

I’m likely making this convoluted and I apologize for this mess being my introduction to you fine folks as it does bleed into multiple topics. I wanted to keep it as one entry instead of separate queries.

Any pointers, mockery, shaming is more than welcome as this could likely stand some better structure and approach protocol and background-wise.

Cheers, all and thanks for any consideration. Apologies for a rough first post and introduction.

1 Like

Question on your setup’s goals when completed: Is the mixer going to be the integrating the microphone, DAC signal, and more inputs? What kind of content and work will you be doing on the mixer? How many inputs and what types will you require?

Have you considered the Mackie Big Knob Studio?

I do not have personal experience with it, but it sounds like it could be an all-in-one solution to get started with a DAC/AMP/Mixer/Interface which is only missing optical input. This would be expandable to have a discrete amp powering your headphones or headset with a signal chain like:

USB >> Mackie >> 1) XLR Mic in, 2) XLR Mic in, 3) RCA Input in, 4) 1/4 Input in, 5) Speakers out, 6) JDS Labs Atom out >> Headphones

Yes, I know this goes against the code of audio elitism, but from a practical standpoint it may be a very affordable and future expandable setup that should be sufficient. In the future, a signal chain could go something like:

optical >> SMSL M3 DAC >> 1) Mackie, 2) JDS Labs Atom >> Headphones

USB >> Mackie >> 1) XLR Mic in, 2) XLR Mic in, 3) SMSL M3 DAC in, 4) 1/4 Input in, 5) Speakers out, 6) more speakers out

1 Like

I can tell you what I use since I sort of had streaming in mind when I built it.

First of all, your optical out is pretty much going to be useless unless you’re fine with separating out your DAC and your interface. Audio interfaces and mixers have a built-in DAC, and as production devices I don’t think they’re going to be awful. Certainly you can still get some sort of audiophile DAC which will be better DAC, but it’s not necessary.

The mixer/interface: I use a Yamaha AG03. As an interface, it’s great. It can accept one XLR input with full 48V phantom power, plus either a guitar input or stereo line in. There’s a version that costs more but has more inputs, the AG06. It also has some built-in DSP capabilities, including a compressor. You set those via the included software, but they will work even if it’s not connected to the PC.

It also functions as a DAC, and while I’m sure it’s not as good as a Topping D10, the Geshelli Enog 2, or other “real” DACs - it’s good enough. It only goes up to 44.1kHz and has some issues with WASAPI (it has to be in push mode), but it’s fine.

Now, the downside of interfaces and mixers is their outputs generally don’t have any power. Most interfaces have at least RCA outs that you can happily connect the Atom to. (I use a Liquid Spark since the Atom wasn’t available when I was buying.) However, and this is far less common, the Yamaha mixers also have balanced quarter-inch outputs meant for powered speakers. However, I could happily take that output and connect it to balanced amps like, say, the 789.

It’s very possible to have an audio chain that uses something like the AG03 as an all-in-one device. For me, as a streamer, it gives me a lot of headroom - my microphone is currently “just” a Samson Q2u, but down the road if I wanted something nicer, because I have full 48V phantom power, I could do that. And it’s nice to have knobs to directly control volume and gain.

Anyway, that’s how I do it.

1 Like

Really appreciate your reply, insights and questions, @JVerbit & @leops1984 .

I imagine the mc will be integrating the majority of the inputs. It will be a matter of producing the cleanest sound from the chain with a minimum of any post DAW type work if I can get a quality feed from the start (after initial setup and tweaking). I won’t need more than the two XLR inputs, but the additional feeds should be handy, which is why the Big Knob was such a nice pick. I’ve been binging as much info as I can on it.

I intend on doing some in-person multi-input recording for tabletop game sessions (a likely condenser bridge I’ll cross when I come to it as it will involve a group unless I get a windfall of cash), along with having the primary capability to do gaming and media content production and vocal commentary. That sounds vague, but it’s several projects piggy-backed onto more frequent hobbyist work, streaming and gaming in general.

I had looked at tons of Mackie products quite a while back, and at the time didn’t consider the potential of the Big Knob Studio considering my goals were greatly limited in scope. For inputs, and more specifics, I want to keep the signal chain as minimal as possible to avoid any possible issues. The Mackie should help greatly with this, and has good pre-amps to drive anything I’d buy in the foreseeable future. Good call on that. I would likely work toward the bottom option, eventually addressing the much lower priority of my room speakers out.

I have no qualms against going against the code of audio elitism. I had a chance to board that train over a decade ago and chose not to do so. Practical, clean sound can be had for decent money these days without selling an organ.

@leops1984 I’m with you on the minimalist front. Until maybe a year ago, I had just planned to grab a Q2u and other decent bang-for-your-buck gear to complement it and call it a day. I’ll likely work toward spiffing things up down the road.

I want to thank you both again for your thorough and thoughtful replies and comments. Now if I could just pull the trigger on a mic I’d be good, but I have enough ideas on that front to torture myself further for additional education and eventual coin-flipping if it comes down to it.

Cheers to both of you. If any passers-by detect the pungent aroma of poor decision making with what I’ve said, chime in! The more, the merrier.