Looking for the best AMP + DAC for Focal Elex within $500

I’m kinda on the fence still about what to get between these two combinations. A lot of the advice I get seems to come in the form of “well so-and-so is 95% as good as so-and-so but cheaper, so…”

So I figure I should rephrase the approach – I have a $500 set budget and just want to get the best thing possible within that figure to drive a Focal Elex. I figure maybe this approach will eliminate confusion and argument regarding value metrics.

My searching seems to have led me to the doorstep of these combinations of hardware:

  • Geshelli Labs Archel 2.5 + ENOG 2 Pro
  • S.M.S.L. SP200 + SU-8
  • Monoprice THX Monolith

My hearing priorities are one of enjoying detail, low noise, and a wide soundstage. I am more sensitive to changes in the treble than I am in the bass, but I still dislike a loose, muddy, or otherwise inaccurate bass. I am the type of listener that generally prefers the AKG K7XX to the Sennheiser HD6XX, although I do put on the Sennheisers for certain situations.

In any case, I’m just trying to figure out what is truly best for driving the Elex. Likewise, if you think there is a better headphone for me within the Elex’s pricepoint, you can chime that in as well.

Also perhaps worth noting, but I did contact Geshelli about current lack of color options a few weeks ago and they responded. I gave them input saying purple is a favorite and I think cyan would be a good color to put out too, as it contrasts well with purple (especially pinkish shades of purple). The result was a short conversation which included getting these images via attachments: https://imgur.com/a/837XbIy

Really cool that they’re so personal and laid-back with their customers. Worth noting the cyan came out more teal than the electric cyan I was imagining to contrast the purple, but I’m not gonna say anything, I’m really impressed they took the advice like that honestly.

So I guess Geshelli will have some new colors now if you wanted them ^^

But yeah, just doing one last check before I go pulling the trigger on the Elex and Geshelli stack, more or less.


Yeah it’s the archel 2.5 pro + enog2 pro for me personally, I think that pairs the best in the price range

These work great

Can’t help you on the color part though

I got the SMSL SP200 with the SU8 DAC and they sound fantastic with the Elex.

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Here’s one for ya – What if I was curious about the Fostex 909? Would the Geshelli power both?

I ask because I know someone who might be looking to get rid of theirs for relatively cheap and I know they’re loved – I’m gonna guess they’re better than the Focal Elex and Clear if you have the right hardware to drive them.

Yes, that would work just fine*

So the 909 is different sounding than the elex or clear, more of a sidegrade with a different signature, but they are pretty awesome. But also pretty dang amp picky, where I would almost recommend going for a rnhp and just saving for a dac later on

Alrighty then. Still not sure on it, he’d have to drop the price more, and if a $1799 headphone is a “sidegrade” from the Elex then the Elex must be some really serious bang for buck.

If it’s truly just a sidegrade then maybe I won’t bother, doesn’t seem sensible in that case.

AMP+DAC wise I may just get both and send back whichever I’m less into maybe.

It’s more of a sidegrade /kinda upgrade tbh on the wrong amp, they are just fairly picky is the thing. It’s absolutely an upgrade on the right amp, but I think you would want the rnhp to do that which might really go over your budget. The elex is a fair bit more reasonable tbh. I would wait until you get something like an elex imo. You want to take it in steps before you drop some cash on something like the 909. The elex is just the safer pick here imo

I suppose so. Watching RWBY on my HD6XX (I find it’s newer seasons to have great audio) makes me realize how good the stuff I already have is and how upgrading much further than this is entering unreasonable territory for anyone but the rich.

So I guess I’ll stick to Elex, the guy still wants at least $1200 for the Fostex right now, and I doubt it’s anywhere near double the quality of the Elex which is $600. I may at least try both the Geshelli and SMSL approaches though, and just return what I like less.

What would you pair with the RNHP in the price-range? Would the SMSL do? It has been on my radar, after all.

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Most likely an enog2 pro or su8 for the price range. Otherwise something like an rme adi2 dac

I enjoy the pairing of the Monolith with the Elex. Accurate representation with more than enough power! Great synergy between the 2

Yeah it sounds like a lot of “you can’t go wrong” on these.

I had a person recently tell me “You could put any of those combinations on a dice and throw it and wherever it landed would be a solid choice”. He advised the SMSL stack simply because they’re basically as cheap as Geshelli if bought from Drop, is a THX 888, and the SU-8 has more decode features – but doubled-down that at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter.

I’m just going to test-drive both stacks with the Elex and keep the one I like more I suppose. My past experience tells me I prefer Sabre DACs to AKM ones, but then people talk about “implementation matters more” and all that and my only experience with AKM so far has been the Magni-Modi3 which is apparently not considered a good implementation, which basically causes the comparing of spec sheets to be pointless. I guess the only way I can know is by buying both and trying them out.

I’ll have plenty of hardware to sell once I make a decision though. I do hope that audio equipment generally retains it’s value and that I can sell a Schiit Magni+Modi3 stack and my HD6XX & K7XX, as something tells me that the Elex setup is going to make my old equipment redundant.

Honestly I’m considering going overkill and getting the Topping D90 and pairing it with the RNHP and outputting to either a Focal Elex, Focal Clear, Fostex 909, or Sennheiser HD800S the latter three of which are all in the same price bracket (Fostex 909 and Clear are higher but there’s a “lightly used” market for them that typically knocks several hundred off).

I know that most haven’t heard the D90 yet, but I’ve heard it’s on par with the RME ADI-2, so you could think of it as ADI-2 >> RNHP >> Headphones if you like.

Basically, I’ve been doing better financially recently than I really expected, which has sort-of raised the bar on what I can afford.

I’d rather find something pretty “endgame” for the AMP and DAC as it’s something I rather not have to lose my mind over in the future – a pair that’ll basically handle anything outside of $3,000+ cans.

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You could, that would be pretty good for most headphones (although the 800s I would say you would want a tube amp for if you want enjoyment)

If you could get a clear and rnhp that’s an excellent pairing imo

Yeah I’ve heard the HD800S are kinda sterile without tubes, or something of that nature. I’m a neutrality buff but someone describing it as “sterile” sounds kinda

I can find Clears for about $1000, maybe I’ll go for that.

Topping D90 >> RNHP >> Focal Clear… seems like a pretty awesome upgrade from a Magni-Modi-HD6XX?

I feel like it’s a bit of a tossup between the Elex and the Clear though. People are saying the Elex is 99% as good as the clear and the Elex is more forward and I’ve found that I tend to prefer forward-sounding audio over relaxed, probably because I’m less of a relaxed person – I’d say I’m “analyzing” audio more than “grooving” to it when I put on headphones. That’s probably a trait of mine I should learn to get rid of though. I do like the design of the Clear more but aesthetics would be a dumb thing to put weight on.

I just really don’t know, hard to judge between things you’ve never tried. I guess I’ll just see if I have the extra money for the Clear and get the Clear if I can – I do hope it sounds better than the Elex for the money if I do. Maybe it’ll take better advantage of the D90+RNHP than the Elex does.

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I like audio both forward AND a wide soundstage, which oftentimes it seems those two things don’t like to coexist.

For sure imo :+1:

The 800s actually sounds more neutral on a tube at times lol

So here is the thing. The elex and clear sound somewhat similar out if a thx or something, but when you give it a setup like an rnhp or other amps, the difference is more apparent that the clear pulls ahead. It’s just fairly amp picky and people assume a thx will get the most out of it imo. From what you describe about wanting something neutral, the elex sounds more like a gentle w shape where the clear just sounds more neutral with better technicalities, which suits your preference more

The clear can be intimate or wide out there depending on the track, they represent what you listen to pretty dang accurately, so the soundstage and presentation will change based on the song, it’s pretty versatile in that regard

I’ve tried and owned a bunch of stuff, if you want any comparisons just ask :+1:

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Understatement? Lol

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