My trusty DAC has died - Please help me find a suitable replacement

Hi all,

For almost 11 years I’ve been using the Dr. DAC2 DX on a daily basis for my PC/home studio setup, but for the past couple of months it has been producing a terrible distortion to the right audio channel every time I raise or lower the volume. I’ve been living with it, but it’s now becoming so annoying that I guess it’s time to look for something new.

The reason why I went with the Dr. DAC2 was that it had an output switch which allowed me to send the audio signal to either my speakers or my headphones. Which, when you’re living with someone, is pretty much essential. The other reason was that it had a built-in headphone amp with a dedicated high impedance output which, also, was essential for my 250 ohm DT770 Pro. I am, therefore, looking for a replacement DAC/Amp unit or combo with these same features. So, to recap:


  • Output switch (speakers/headphones)
  • Built-in amp strong enough to power 250 ohm headphones
  • S/PDIF or USB input
  • Budget of around $500.-


  • Black device(s)
  • The smaller the better

I initially came across the Fostex HP-A4 BL, but because I don’t have balanced headphones, it seemed pointless to me to be paying for a feature I was never going to use. I then ended up at the HP-A4, which still seemed to tick all of my boxes, if not for the fact that - as opposed to the BL - it is a USB powered unit which makes me wonder if it’s strong enough to power my 250 ohm headphones. Any thoughts on that perhaps?

Any other recommendations that you may have for me are, of course, very much appreciated. I have no problem buying a combination of a separate dac and amp, just so long as it allows me to easily switch between speakers or headphones output.


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You might be able to find a questyle cma400i? That’s a pretty solid all in one that allows you to switch between pre and headphone out, balanced headphone amp but the single ended is still pretty solid imo

It’s alright, imo it’s a bit lacking in headphone performance for what price it tends to command

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@Rhah, Welcome to HFGF! I know this isn’t the buy/sell thread, but I happen to be selling a CM400i. PM me if you want details.

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Thanks! That does actually look like a solid unit, and beautiful too! It’s a bit out of my budget, but I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding something that ticks all of my boxes so I’m definitely going to consider it. Thanks again!

Thank you, sir! That would actually solve the budgetary issue. Let me do some more research on the device and I’ll get back to you!

Any other recommendations are still welcome.

What about something like an Asgard 3 with the DAC card? With the multibit card, it’d be $400, can be ordered in black, and has a switchable line out for active speakers. Should pretty much power anything, but is single ended only.

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Used typically I see them go for around the 450 range

I would mention other combo units, but the main issue is that many don’t have a switch for headphones to speakers, instead they switch to speakers when headphones are unplugged, is that alright? If you don’t mind that, the Asgard 3 with the multibit card is pretty sweet as @FiCurious mentions

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Preferably not, no. I have considered the Asgard 3, and I think it’s beautiful, but that very thing has actually been my main gripe with most of the units or combos that I have managed to find so far. I only have the one pair of cans, so for my current situation it would mean that its cable would mostly be dangling down on the floor, at risk of being run over by my desk chair, and that is just not convenient for me.

Being able to have my headphones plugged in at all times, with the cable out of the way, and having a switch or button to route the signal to the headphone amp whenever I can’t use my speakers is really an important feature for me. (And why the CMA400i is still at the top of my list for now.)

But thanks again for your suggestions guys, I really appreciate it.

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Not sure why manufacturers are so opposed to adding a switch lol

Well anyways there are some others, audio gd products like the nfb 11 or r2r 11 have switches and are in your price range, but personally I am not a fan of the sound since I think they sound sloppy and unrefined for my tastes, but there are those who enjoy them

Most of the all in one units I personally like with the switchable output is above your price range, or don’t have the switch

What you could do is grab a separate dac and headphone amp, and then split the output of the dac to a monitor controller like a Mackie big knob passive and do it that way, but it’s more bulky that way (like a topping e30, Asgard 3 or lake people g103s, and Mackie big knob?)

Haha, that is exactly what I’ve been wondering.

Yeah three separate units may be a bit much … Though what about a combination of the JDS Labs EL II amp and dac? Is that something that could work for me? I’m not familiar with this brand, but it was recommended to me by someone else.

The El dac ii and El amp ii are pretty dang good imo. It does have a preout for speakers but you have to unplug the headphones. Do you need a volume control for the speakers? If not you can just split the dac output and be a ok (although you would have to turn off the speakers or amp if not in use)

Way outside of the price range, but feature wise the GS X mini has exactly what you want. I’m Curious if the Gilmore Mk II Lite has the preout switch as well. Checking.

It doesn’t, also in that case you still need a dac anyways


This might be perfect. For an all in one unit that someone just wants to have that’s simple and isn’t terrible at breaking the unit for an all in one, I’d try the Monoprice DAC/Amp. (Can’t find forum thread so here

I believe in software one can choose between headphone out and speaker/preout with volume control. $500 USD with the really neat feature of Dirac I don’t think you can go wrong.

Darn it…

I do, yes.

Another interesting option to consider. Thanks!

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Actually, I was just reading up on these and the amp does seem to have an output selection button, as per their website:

“OUTPUT SELECTION: The Mode button allows you to toggle between headphones and powered speakers. No need to disconnect cables! Hold the Power/Mode button for at least 1 second to toggle between these modes. Only one mode is active at a time. Volume is adjustable in either mode.”

So if that’s the case, that would actually make the dac & amp stack a worthwhile consideration. The only thing I’m wondering, is if it isn’t a bit convoluted to have to reach to the back of the unit and hold the power button for a fixed amount of time every time you want to switch your output channel…

Does anyone happen to have any experience with that? I fear that I may just accidentally turn it off, for example.


I have an el amp ii on me actually, lemme go try that when I get home lol, I don’t think I ever bothered using it as a preamp. Thanks for finding that, I never would have known. Their other amps like their atom operate based on the unplug method, so I guess I assumed it would be the same on the El amp since there wasn’t a switch (but apparently not lol)

Guess that one is down to preference

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Great! Let me know when you had a chance to try it out.

It seems like the Element II combo unit has the same mode button, so is there any particular benefit to having the amp and dac as separate units, as opposed to buying just the one combo unit?

Similar signature but with the separate components you get more flexibility in the future, and also imo the separates sound a bit better to my ears (possibly because they each have their own power supply and might also be beefed up a bit vs having to fit everything in the element)

That makes sense. Thanks again!

You asked me a question about the Fostex HPA 4BL, in the “what did you buy 2day thread”. I’ll just answer that question here. Short answer, I would not consider the HPA-4 BL.

I am not a fan of the HPA-4BL. Of all pieces of gear I’ve tried, that unit is probably one of the few I definitely wouldn’t recommend. The DAC portion of the unit in my opinion is not as resolving as some other modern DACs, so I didn’t keep it.

In a direct comparison to an IFI Zen DAC, which also uses a Burr Brown DAC, I preferred the Zen DAC in performance since it was faster, more resolving, and I felt was better all around vs the Fostex.

At one point I looked into all in one units and I considered these in that price range:
Cma 400/600
Singxer SDA-2

But I never tried them and went a different direction.