How to improve my headphones' sound (DAC/AMP help)

Hello, I recently got into the world of audio and I was wondering how can I improve the sound of my headphones. The headphone I have right now are Phillips SHP9500, Superlux HD668B and the Cooler Master MH752. I’m planning on buying in the near future the Koss KPH30i and after that I want to try a Planar headphone (something with a warm and a little bit bassy sound but this would be next year).

I was considering getting a DAC/AMP combo to connect to my computer to improve the quality of my audio but I don´t know which to buy or if this is even a good move. Most of the time I use my computer with Tidal and sometimes my phone.

What would improve the sound more a dac/amp combo or one of those separatly? My budget right now is tight I want to spend less tha 75 on the combo or in just the dac or the amp (maybe I can get some nice deal on black friday). Also have to take into account that in the near future I want to get some planar headphones that I think (I may be wrong) require some power.

Thank you for your help in advance.

Actually there is not one thing that comes into question that would be the Topping E30 in combination with Schiit Asgard 3 or a Lake People G103S.
Maybe a Jds Labs Atom for the entry and a Schiit Magni 3+ or Herasy for the entry.
But with 75€ you will not get far.
You’ll have to invest a bit more for this combination.

The Topping E30 because you already have a Tidal account and when you add Audirvana to your pc as software that unfortunately also costs extra you can use the potential of your Tidal account with the Dac Topping E30 because it also supports Dsd.

For a Dac/amp combo you have to invest the same amount of money to have at least a little bit of something reasonable.
Also for your plans later.

As a temporary alternative the Hidiz S3 or S8 would not be wrong, which can also be used on a pc next to an Android system where the sound is much better, until it looks financially better.

Hello. Two important questions:

  • where are you buying this? US? Europe? Asia? A lot of differences in price depending on where you are, especially in budget audio.
  • do you need a mic output? If you will use your mic with a splitter, it’s better to get a solution with a mic input option. Plugging a Mic in your PC and headphones in your amp can lead to split ground issues.

Now, that said, if your budget is $75 with no flexibility at all and you don’t need a mic input, I would recommend the FX DAC-X6. $65 in Amazon or Aliexpress, plenty of power and a noticeable improvement over onboard IMO. Drive my cans for 8 or 9 months and I have no complaints about it. For $80 there is an MKII with apparently a better DAC solution and Bluetooth.

There is also the option of going for just an AMP and get a DAC later. I believe the Liquid Spark is in sale for $89 on Monoprice’s website, and it gets a lot of praise from the community. It should drive most of the cans until you get in a higher tier of headphones (a.k.a. more expensive stuff).

If you need a mic, things get tricky. The Fulla 3 is an interesting option but it is $100 + shipping, and if you’re outside the US it may get even more expensive.

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I’m buying this in Europe and a mic output would be nice to have since I use the mic when I work fro home or gaming (although I don´t really play all that much nowadays).

I saw the schiit Fulla 3 but in schiit europe goes for 135 right now. The options I looked at were the Monoprice desktop dac amp which currently costs 55 and Fiio E10K Olympus 2 also around 60 but these don´t have mic output (I didn´t even know I needed one to use the mic lol). Another option I saw in this forum in the too good for the price list was a Behringer UCA 202 U-CONTROL which can be found extremely cheap (25-30). In that list they said is actually a dac amp but the amp is not very powerful.

I guess I’ll have to reconsider these options since they don’t have mic output.

So it is better to buy the amp and dac separatly instead of getting a combo unit. With which you would start? I would notice more of a difference getting an amp or a DAC? I could stretch the budget to 100.

Topping L30 and E30 combo. I have been pretty happy with those and they measure really good:

Oh… just noticed the budget. These go a triple over. Sorry.

I have this on my gaming PC and it is good for the price. A little bit over your budget:

There are good Dac Kombos as well as good Dacs.
Everybody has his preferences.
With such Dac combinations you are more flexible, with fixed Dacs you are more or less bound.
Since you want to use planar headphones later and since the performance is very poor, it would be good to have a powerful amplifier that can handle that.

As the colleague had suggested you can also invest in the amplifier first and later on the Dac that also works or
You can use this one for a start

It is also quite good for the first steps and maybe it will be enough for you.
This would be a Dac with an amplifier built in.

Yes, the Zen DAC looks like good alternative to the Schiit here is the review with measurements:

If you double your budget you will get solutions that are really good and can drive the planars:

Here is good example:

That was on my short list, but I went with the separate Topping E30 DAC and L30 Headphone Amp. Still under 300e. I am using Sennheiser HD600 300ohm Headphones and it sounds great. Looking to get the Audeze CDM2 Planars.

I would say most of the options showed here are nice. The Zen DAC is well praised for it’s price, and the Schiit Fulla (and also the Hel) is the solution to go for the mic input. The E30/L30 stack is also well praised but is another price category. There are also the Dragonfly solutions that are really simple and I believe begins at 100€, but I personally don’t know much about then.

I believe all you current headphones aren’t that demanding, so even if they can scale and benefit from an amp, my recommendation would be to save up a little more and go for one of the options suggested here. If I’m wrong and one of your headphones is struggling with your current output, then I still recommend the DAC-X6 as a stopgap.

As for which to go, combo or stack, that goes for preference. If you’re only using headphones at a desk, the combo is useful for the compact nature of it. If you plan on using more gear, like having different amps or passing to a speaker amp, than the stack solution is more interesting. It’s also more flexible, as you can change only one of the components (DAC or the Amp) and still have a change in sound.

The Fx Audio Dac is technically old.
If you use it without Audirvana it will work fine on your computer and Audirvana is not necessary in this case.
Because it does not support DSD conversion.
The Ify, on the other hand, could be run without Audirvana for the time being and the software could still be purchased later.

But the Ify would make more sense, it has more power and is technically more advanced.