I want to buy everything once

After spending several years with budget HiFi stuff (JBL 305, Tin P1, BLON BL-03, Schiit DAC (sold), then a cheap Amazon DAC/Amp combo) I have decided that I want to fully jump into audio, but I want to buy everything once. Instead of buying progressively more and more expensive stuff, and than having hundreds of dollars trapped into gear I don’t use, I want to get the right high end stuff up front.

Here are my questions:

Should I get a separate DAC and AMP, or go with a higher end combo?

Does balanced matter? Some people say it does not make a difference, and others act like it matters.
Also some balanced amps are really SE with a splitter. Does that matter?

How much does the amp really matter? I haven’t fully settled on what headphones I want to get, but am sure I’m not going to get something with 300 or 600 ohms. Some people act like the amp is very important, and other people (or the same people in different reviews) act like spending ~$200 (THX AAA … , Topping L30 / A50s) is about the same as spending $500 (Topping A90).

Should I spend more on the DAC or AMP?

Thanks for the help!

Welcome to the forum! What sound signature are you after? The P1 and the BL03 have very different signatures, what have you liked more? Also, are you on the US?

Also, I recommend spending less in DAC/AMP and more on end-gear (Headphones, IEM, speakers), just so you know what kind of sound you want. Then, you can go for synergy and look at specific source gear for your favorite headphones/etc.

For starter sources, you could go: Zen DAC for an all in one solution, Schiit stack (or Schittius, for $400), E30/L30, Liquid Spark Stack… there is a lot of options.

For the ones you compared, the Element II is a little warmer sound amp IMO (little more bass, little rolled of highs), while the Topping/THX are described a more bright sounding amp. So it really depends on what you like to hear more, and what you will pair with it.

Thanks for the reply. I live in the US. I am looking for over ear, closed back headphones. I am looking at the DT 177X GO, but I have not made up my mind yet.

I listen to Rap, EDM, and metal mostly, with some sound tracks from Star Wars and PotC.

It seems like you land on the “DAC/AMP don’t matter as much” side of the spectrum. I am trying to see if I am going to regret wasting money on a less expensive system. I don’t really want a “starter source” that I will grow out of in 1 or 2 years. I want to know if the less expensive systems can last me for 8+ years, or if I should just buy a top end system. (Does the added money really make a difference?)

I haven’t passed the Element II level so, I guess I can’t say if it actually makes a difference or not for high-end stuff. But coming from my way from onborad audio > less than a $100 dac/amp > BTR5 > Element II, I would say it does. I just don’t believe is an universal solution, that’s all. Have a hard time listening to the Elegia in the BTR5, but it is so sweet in the Element.

Now, I see you want more dark/warm side of the spectrum, which is not really my thing. With this and you wanting more expensive stuff I will defer to others more experienced people. My pick for what you described would be an Elegia with a bass boost, but that’s just me.

1 Like

DAC the new Geshelli JNOG if you can get one. It goes on sale on Black Friday. Balanced amp I’m really feeling the Geshelli Erish, but if you want something that has both single ended and balanced the S.M.S.L is nice for the price.

If you want single ended only, I really like the RNHP, but the Geshelli Archel 2.5 is really clean as well and its cheaper.

The if you want a cheaper and sill clean DAC the ENOG 2 is also great, but the JNOG is freaking amazing…

More importantly the headphones that you decided on will really dictate the amp, one for power but the other is synergy.

would 177x go be your endgame or would you upgrade beyond that?

I was going to recommend the Eligia as well. I’m a fan of Focal though. The Listen Pro are a really clean set of Focal closed backs at a lower price. If you like bass I’ve been feeling the Vmoda Crossfade master M100.

1 Like

Thanks for the reply’s. I’ll take a look at the Focal Elegia’s. It sounds like most people think headphones dictate the AMP/DAC.

Yeah, Focal dynamics is addicting, and I love it for most my electronic music. Never hear this one. The new Focal Radiance is a warmer version of the Elegia with better timbre according to Resolve, so maybe it’s an interesting option. It’s $1300 though.

Interesting, how is the “lower-end” line of Focals? Some friends liked the sound of the Elegia, but $400 + a lot of taxes is quite the money for them, so I’m curious for a more “budget” option into Focals.

I have the focal clears and they are extremely amp picky. They sound ok on thx amps, but are magical on the RNHP and the ERISH (balanced)…

They could literally be 2 different headphones…

My Sinn, don’t like bight/ cool amps. They sound better on my liquid amps or tube amps… not great on the Geshelli, THX, or RNHP.

my Dt880 600ohm need more than the RNHP, or Archel 2 can really output… they need to be cranked… but they sound good when you do. Just volume limited…

So yep. Headphones do make the difference

Depending on your budget, I could hook you up with the RNHP/Elegia combo. Agree with others here that gear synergy is important and DAC and Amp will get the most out of whatever headphones you choose. PM me if interested in either/both RNHP and Elegia. After acclimating to the gear, you’ll notice the Elegia, while not a basshead can, does present good quality bass representative of the recording. They’re very transparent to the source material and presents what’s there.

1 Like

It all matters, to an extent.
There are people who spend the GDP of small countries searching for that perfect Headphone/Amp/Dac combination that excels in every metric to the point of being able to discern the heartbeat of a gnat front-right of the stage. Do gnats have heartbeats? I really don’t know, but dammit you want to hear it if it’s there! :wink:

The question is, what is your budget and where are you willing to make compromises?

When it comes to Amps and Dacs, I’m not sure that the “escalating price equals better sonics” rule of thumb applies like it used to even a decade ago. With the exception of some poorly engineered products that get called out pretty quickly, we’re getting exceptionally good products with great specs at very affordable prices these days. It’s hard to choose wrong, but it does come down to the headphone pairing as others have mentioned.

All that said, I agree with the other replies, pick your headphone and work from there.

1 Like

ATM I’m leaning towards DT 177X GO, but have not made up my mind (there are some closed backs mentioned in this thread that I will look at).

I am not sure if I should go with a more expensive balanced setup (Topping A90 + Drop Grace SDAC Balanced + DT 177X GO with a balanced aftermarket cable) or go with a less pricey Topping L30 / A50s / THX AAA + (some dac) + DT 177X GO with the SE cable it ships with.

I don’t really know where I should and should not make compromises.

Once you’ve decided on a headphone, if I were you, I’d be digging through the various forums for comments by people who already have them. Find out what they’ve paired them with, what their impressions are, etc. Take notes.
Eventually you find a consensus that X amp and Y dac work well with a particular HP where others don’t.

This also applies to SE versus Balanced amp design. Balanced will benefit some HPs, higher power output for example for harder to drive HPs or a perceptibly wider sound stage, and be a waste of money for others.

Do you need every available input and output combination? If not, why pay for it?
Do you need 6 watts of power, which would melt your HPs, your ear drums, and scramble your grey matter? I hope the answer is no!
Do you need a device that has better specs even though those numbers are beyond the limit of your hearing?
Does it matter to you that you have a matching “stack”?

Finally, bass.
This is just my opinion and it sort of falls into the compromise category. I chose an open back headphone knowing the common complaint was a lack of low end, but with incredible clarity and detail etc, all the good stuff, in the mid bass, mids and highs. And they were mostly right, until I played Depeche Mode - Dream On from the album Exciter. Mind Blown.
And I can listen for hours without fatigue.


They sound freaking amazing, we had a pair of the Listen Pro before I ordered the Clears. After hearing the Listens Pro pulling the trigger on the Clear was easy. I “Needed” to hear just how much better a headphone could really be because the Listen pros have a stupid amazing sound to me.

1 Like