I have some questions

Hey there,
I am looking to upgrade my DAC in the near future and I have a few questions. What is the benefit of having XLRs on a desktop instead of RCA and also are there any other benefits of dedicated DAC and headphone amp, instead of a combo unit, other than switching units out or keeping the desk clean.

Also open to suggestions. Price range 200-300€($). I’ve already looked into some Topping DACs, SMSL SU-8 and JDS Labs, but the latter is a bit pricey and hard to find in Europe, at least imo.

It’s a balanced signal so that’s nice, but I wouldn’t worry about it if you don’t have a balanced amp. You aren’t missing out on anything tbh (although it might help if you have interference or a ground loop)

Typically you get higher quality components for the money as they put more effort into each individual component imo, but this isn’t necessary always the case


Short version If the DAC is actually differential you should use them if you have them.

Slightly longer version some DAC’s (usually higher end ones) use separate L+/L-, R+/R- signals internally, and the out put amplifiers amplify them separately, this can lead to a lower noise floor. But if you then take the output from the RCA (Single Ended connection) they have to do additional messing with those pairs to produce a L/Gnd R/Gnd output. There are several ways to do it, none of them are particularly great.

If your DAC cost less that $500 you probably don’t care.


Transformer balanced has some drawbacks, true.

Sticking the signal and inverse signal into an Op-Amp will just give you an unbalanced output in reference to Gnd.

Can be mostly careless as to where you run the cables. Right next to cheap USB-chargers and the like.

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For me, fun. I enjoy playing around with different dac and amp combos. There are some really good combo units, so there isn’t really a practical audible difference in sound quality of separates vs combo. But, having a separate dac and amp allows you to play around more and find a combination you like.

The Gungnir and Yggdrassil both use op amp summing crcuits and both have noticeably inferior SE out vs Balanced.
Transformers are expensive and audible, more so than valves in some cases.
Dropping the L-/R- signals defeats the point of balanced.
Lot’s of people have tried getting higher quality single ended outs from the Yggy, using transformers, dropping the L-/R- and pretty much none of them are better than the built in op amp solution.

If your amp isn’t differential or your not using a balanced headphone cable it doesn’t really matter, it has to be summed somewhere.

Most good combo’s will have an RCA out so you can use separate amps and as has been said are good value for your :moneybag:

Very true, but then you have a built in amp just lying around that you can’t do much with

So if I’m going balanced, I might as well go balanced all the way?

This is true. But it only allows half the playing around I was referring to. You’re locked into one dac this way.

It’s really not worth worrying about at the price points your looking.
I’m actually looking for a DAC with good SE out right now because a lot of my more expensive components don’t have balanced.
There really is no tangible benefit unless you have a piece of gear you really love and your looking to maximize it.

Thread derailer

Which can be down to a lot of reasons.

They are a commodity item. Digikey, search term “audio transformer” yields 719 results. There are probably more options with a center tapped coil on there.

Now you have me confused. The inverse signals are never to be left floating.

Balanced in the context of amp to headphone is misleading at best. That is a different topic though.

Short answer: No

Longer answer: Each conversion from balanced to unbalanced and vice versa requires some device (or a bodge of a DIY-cable). A lot of TRS-inputs and outputs on (semi-) professional gear lets you use the outputs/inputs as either balanced or unbalanced.

One Dac is one Dac…combo or not? lol

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Except for when companies like Fostex put a headphone amp into a combo, and then not let you feed analog to that amp.

So in general I shouldn’t care, but when there’s a option to use XLR I should be using it?


Yes that’ a fair way to put it, use it if you’ve got it, but don’t make it a big factor in decisions.


Alright, but what are my options at that price point. I am tempted to go the two separate units route, probably going to buy an amp later.
@M0N suggested SU-8, I looked into D50s before that, also keeping my eye on DX3 pro and DX7 pro for now.

I would only suggest the su8 if you get a balanced amp or want the features, otherwise look into the d50s or the el dac ii imo

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It seems like its good to have options. XLR can be one of those options. I remember watching zeos reviews and in one he said he had a hard time finding a good amp for his fostex 909 headphone. and when he found one that worked good with it, it turned out to be a portable xduoo amp. So you never know.

I like to stay away from XLR cause its means more expensive cables and such. But if you have high end headphones or a Argon lol, its nice to have the option.

Some manufacturers will put more quality parts into a units XLR input/output. So if your amp has both a Single ended and XLR output you might have a/b test it or to come to hifiguides and ask lol. Thats why i love my RNHP amp. just has a SE output.

but high end amps will probably have a XLR and the best components in the XLR so, time to buy a XLR cable for your headphones lol.

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Somehow he just didn’t have anything on hand that worked well lol, it’s really not a hard headphone to drive nor is it as picky as he says, he just happened to have a specific collection of amps that didn’t work well at the time lol