Helping a friend for his birthday

So I have a buddy who loves music, and even maintains a lossless (mostly FLAC) library. “Problem” is, he’s rocking HD598 just off the 3.5mm on his laptop/dock in his home office. Listens to mostly guitar driven stuff. (Prog Rock, Death Metal, Classic Rock)

I was thinking of getting him an amp/dac combo unit as a birthday gift for him. We’ve talked, and he prefers to get a single unit rather than have 2 discrete boxes. He sometimes listens/games from his laptop in his living room, so something that isn’t a pain to move from his office to the living room would be a plus. I haven’t explored a ton in the portable realm, but if we go that way, I think something with bluetooth capability might be a plus for when he travels to client sites for work (once I convince him he needs better IEMs than the $30 Bluetooth guys he’s running now).

My question is: would a dac/amp combo even make much difference to the sound on the HD598s? I know they aren’t that demanding of a headphone, but I’d imagine they would come alive some when compared to the garbage Dell internals. Just trying to get a feel for how much of a change it would bring. Would the money be better spent on new headphones and then an amp/dac combo to power them? Was thinking around $200ish budget for the dac/amp combo, and if new headphones come into play, I can con his brother into helping me get them.

Been looking at the following amp/dac combos:
ifi Zen DAC - I like that it doesn’t require external power in his use case. Are there other dac/amp combos that also power and signal off USB? Would this be enough to power upgraded cans like 58x Jubilee or 6xx? Can’t really get a good feel from what i’ve read where the limit for this unit is. Seems like balanced it would be fine, but maybe not unbalanced.

FiiO K5 Pro - Looks like it will have plenty of power and won’t require a replacement as quickly due to potential headphone upgrade, but does require an external power source, which makes switching rooms more cumbersome.

Xduoo XD-05/XD-05 Plus - Seems like it would work well for his use case. I think it would have plenty of power as well. Long battery life means he wouldn’t have to occupy 2 USB ports all the time, but would have to remember to charge it.

Headphone upgrade-wise, was thinking 58x or 6xx or similar as he seems to enjoy the Sennheiser sound signature, but am open to other ideas as well.

since you’re looking at some mobile solutions, I’d get the IFi hip dac.

if you want stationary, the Topping D10 off of for $77 and then the Schiit Magni 3+ off Schiit for $99.

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Unfortunately, no. I’ve been using my HD598 for almost 9 years now and it sounds pretty much the same no matter the source (phones, notebooks, built-in/separate sound cards, etc). If there’s any difference, it’d be because of the inherent sound profile difference between the different amplifiers. It’s not because of a un-tapped potential of the headphone.

HD598 and HD6XX have a very different sound signature imo. HD598 is leaning neutral with steep roll off in sub bass frequency while HD6XX is mid centric with elevated mid bass and some roll off in the sub bass and highs. To me, HD6XX is an upgrade but some will argue that it’s just different. I do like the scalability of HD6XX. Better amps will likely produce a better sound with HD6XX.


The 598 should benefit from a higher quality chain so I think you have the right idea although I would probably want to upgrade HP soon if it was me. XD05 plus would be pretty sweet and have the power and portability you want as well as being pretty solid for future headphone upgrades.

if portability wasn’t a requirement I would recommend a Fiio K5 pro for the all in one solution or for separates a Liquid spark (or magni heresy) + Topping D10/E30. (separates would be my preference) .