New Amp A90/789/Asgard3/or ZenCan

I am currently comparing a Zen Can with a Topping L30 connected to a Topping E30 DAC. Like them both as they would serve me well for now as I only have SE gear.

*Headphones: Sundara, SennHD590, Grado, SR 325, Sony MDR 1A

*Music Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal/Classic Rock/Female Vocals…

I have been searching reviews and such for some time. I feel that the Amp can be the best place to start and build around that. I still use my Adcom (circa 1987) amp for my secondary rooms off my HT that includes a B&K 5 Channel beast (circa 1998). Other sources come and go but they remain relevant. I believe/hope that the headphone game is now similar.
That leads me to the other amps referenced on the thread title. The first 2 are balanced and can serve as a source for a dac and tube rig at the same time. The Schiit for a SE solution if I never needed to go down the balanced road (keeping it simple). Then there’s the thought of keeping my desktop clean with a combo unit such as a Dx7 pro or a Monolith 788.
There is no perfect solution but that is where I am. Any suggestions appreciated.

I am roughly in the same situation, the only difference is that I am looking to replace a Magni Heresy with something that sounds warmer and wider. I am not really interested in balanced.

What differences have you found between the ZEN CAN and the L30? The Asgard 3 seems to have good rep on the internet but I could not find any direct comparisons between ZEN CAN and the Asgard or other amps around 250/300$.

Honestly there is no difference in sound between any of them. I personally believe that the subjective reviewers are making all of this crap up to sell. And the scientific ones are bickering over numbers that a bat or a dog could not tell apart. In the end I chose a Monolith Liquid spark because it fit best on my desk and cost only $89. It has a nice build, can serve as a preamp, and has the most single ended power of all the units that I sampled…Zen Can close second but cannot function as a preamp. Don’t even get me going on dacs…the only thing that separates them is functions and looks. Now if you require balanced then I would say go with one of the THX models as they can now all be had for under 250. Incidentally the topping A90 is no better than the L30 in single ended…exactly same power and sound.


name is TechEnthusiast and then proceeds to disregard all dacs and amps as having the same sonic characteristics, good one :rofl:


Wait so you are asking for suggestions about amps, but then say they all sound the same. So you are just looking for something that has the most features you can afford?

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That is my HONEST review. I am into tech, just not about justifying paying more for equipment that gives you no real benefit. Perhaps you can measure it but if you cannot hear it why bother.

I asked for suggestions here and other forums and found limited useful help. Even here I posted my original question and all I got was crickets…that is it until I provide some useful information from some actual testing and comparisons with my own ears. I will admit that I do not hear well past 14 k but I can hear everything else. If these devices are producing some magic at those higher frequencies than I would not be able to tell. But I do not think that is what this is about.
I personally think people come to forums like these to justify their purchase of big ticket items by touting that this amp/dac is “wider” or this one is “warmer” . When in fact they are merely parroting hat they are parroting subjective reviewers ike Zeos who are merely trying to make a living peddling this gear for likely handsome kickbacks. I mean really, have you heard many negative reviews.
Bottom line is pick what is best for your ears. These forums do not provide you with enough information that will help you with what will sound best to you. I say look at the. Messurements as a starting place athen find a manufacturer that provides t h e best build and warranty and go with it. And utilize Amazon and other suppliers who provide a solid return policy because hearing for yourself is truly the only way to find out…or just take my advice on these aforementioned devices and make your choice from there. But if you can hear the difference spend that money if that makes you happy.

I mean, this is all subjective in the end. We can objectively look at things but in the end it’s always personal preference. Being an expensive hobby means it’s best to see what others think regardless of how bias or unbias they are. An unknown product is still an unknown product until you hear it yourself. It’s still up to the buyer to make the decision and forums like these can provide another point of view.

So like it’s all just a point of reference (these forums, reviews, opinions) if anything and we all just end up taking it as it is, as it’s presented by other people and decide for ourselves through their opinions and reading graphs I guess. There will never be the best but there will be choices. Providing useful information is always helpful in getting pushed in one direction or the other otherwise it just becomes a name game of throwing out name brands and seeing which one sticks.

And yeah I agree, some people do show up on forums to justify their purchase. This is an expensive hobby.


Bruh, I understand what you are saying. But I think really evaluating gear takes some time and you have to pick up on the subtle nuances. Everyone use different source material various bitrate MP3, various streaming services, various sound quality game files, to uncompressed format Flac and DSD files. If source material is closer to the lower end of quality, then yes things will sound more alike than different.

But if you feel you have found what you like, then great. Its great to hear, at the end of the day its your equipment and you should not have to justify why you purchased it, at the expense of knocking other products.


Hi, @TechEnthusiast. I must start with an apology for not seeing your initial post several days ago. I normally try to give a welcome to new posters but can’t get to all of them and regrettably your post was met with ‘crickets.’ I am also legitimately happy for you that you’ve gotten a Liquid Spark and are happy with it. I have one of those too and it continues to impress me with its performance for the price. It’s a fine starting point into the hobby.

I would also like to weigh in on some of your claims in hopes that all of us learn from the conversation.

High frequency hearing loss is common. Many studio engineers, particularly older ones, have lost hearing above a frequency much lower than your 14k. There is sonic information in most music that high but it is also possible to listen critically and accurately without that information.

There is some truth in this. Many of us are taught that spening money on a hobby is frivolous and that that money could be used elsewhere “more responsibly.” I know I’ve had those feelings, anwyay, and I don’t think I’m alone. In such cases for me it’s not about justifying the purchase of the specific item, it’s about justifying that much money for any type of ‘fun use.’ Once that’s done then many of us just want to know that our money was spent wisely in pursuit of fun. I don’t think that behavior is an indictment of the hobby so much as a very normal way we humans are conditioned to think and how we seek social validation in just about any way we can…it’s very much who and what we are.

The use of “parroting” here is an interesting choice. As I get deeper into this hobby I tend to see more resistance to parroting the opinions of others than I see anything else. When multiple sources describe a piece of gear as “warm” it tends to be because that piece of gear has a sonic characteristic that is perceived by multiple individuals as being “warm.” It’s legitimately possible for mulitple people to perceive a thing and come to similar conclusions about it. That’s true outside of this hobby as well. Many people say “pizza is good.” Are those who say that in 2020 parroting those who came before or are they tasting pizza themselves and determining that it’s good? Also, if you read around this forum you’ll see that there’s a lot of working against parroting Zeos. He touts amplifiers that use THX tech or similar and many of the moderators and regulars of this forum hold a very different viewpoint on those amps, as just one example.

Some more broad strokes here…I think you’ll find many reviewers are not getting big kickbacks. There might be some who are but I can’t name a reviewer who got rich by reviewing. Most of them do reviews because they love the hobby and want to help others enjoy the hobby. I’m getting into reviewing some too and no one has offered me money to say nice things about their gear. There are affiliate programs where if a retailer can establish that a buyer used your link to get to their site and then bought the item, you get a very (VERY) small commission. But many reviewers work for other companies who pay them for their labor like any other job.

I kinda agree with this one. Measurements are a good place to start if you’re new to the hobby, but emphasis on “start.” Even then, two things that measure almost identically still sound different. I’m working on reviews of a couple entry-level headphone amps right now that both have nearly identical distortion and SINAD measurements, and they sound different! It took some time to parse those differences out, but they are there. Yet, either would make a fine starting point for someone exploring the world of headphones.

I agree with this too. There is no replacement for your own ears. Many manufacturers and retailers realize this and have generous return policies.

Thanks again for dropping by the forum and if you stick around hopefully we can be more prompt in helping out. Cheers!


I agree with you whole heartedly. However, I personally believe that it does not need to be an expensive hobby (though I guess we all have different meanings of what expensive is). I personally believe that the money should be put towards a good set of headphones. Nowadays, we all mostly posses a decent dac within our PC’s, Tablets, and Phones. And as it turns out really powerful amps such as the Liquid Spark can be had for as little as $89 that will drive 99.5% of all headphones easily with no noticeable noise or distortion.
I recall when I originally got heavily involved with this hobby back 20 years ago the equipment was sparse and limited and cd players ruled as source devices. I bought my first “real” headphones, a pair of Shure Se 525 iem’s and Grado SR325’s, which were all the rave back then and were efficient, but they even they benefitted from amplification. So I bought an “Airhead Amp” ($159 that beef up the sound but it had a scratchy volume control and was physically too big for me to be portable. I don’t think that they even mentioned the power rating of that amp, but is far less than a Fiio BTR5.
We have come a long way


I did not knock any other products.

Yeah I started this hobby more than 10 years ago and settled on the equipment i really liked back then. My amp was described to me as being warm and tube like and it gave great musicality to my dt880 and I agreed with that amp assessment through my own listening. I’ve ran my dt880 on more analytical amps and they come out sounding flat and lifeless to me. Sadly my amp died and i didn’t fix it but now im back searching for new gear. I bought a Emotiva basx a100 to replace it but I could have went with the more affordable liquid spark which I hear is great for powering the dt880 600 ohm. I was contemplating the asgard 3 for its power and what it brings to the table but I got a great deal on my emotiva and I’m happy with it. Still curious as to what the Asgard can do since it is a dedicated headphone amp and my emotiva isnt. People say it brings a warmth to the sound so that’s exactly what I want and need for my dt880’s to sound their best for my preferences.

If my emotiva didnt cost me less than an asgard3, I would have went with the Asgard 3 since it has all the power I would ever need. But then again I also want a tube amp.

I appreciate your breakdown, though I am not new to this hobby, but rather renewed. When I say parroting I mean that people tend to report what others are saying rather than listening for themselves. This is just purely an observation made from reading numerous posts on other forums. When it comes to dacs I just don’t get it. If they pass the signal accurately to the amp then they have done their job. My observations with the E30, m200, Spark Dac, Fiio e310, and my onboard Soundblaster z card have all provided similar results. If you want it to do tricks get one with a remote or use an eq to color the signal. From that point I believe that is then the amps job to deliver that signal to the headphones with juice uncolored or colored by choice…tubes/EQing. For me all of the amps that I have auditioned have done their job similarly with the only differences being power, functions, appearance, and of course price.
As an example, I can honestly say that for single ended use, I cannot tell the difference between the Topping A90 and the LS30. I do realize that it sells more for the balanced features than SE, but for me I do not see the need for Balanced. I recently purchased Hifiman Sundara’s as my new set of headphones and that is what has renewed my interest in this hobby. I guess that perhaps I had it a little backwards in my way of thinking. Instead of building my set up around an amp maybe I build it around those Sundara’s which is kind of what happened.


I agree many average posters spread things they’ve heard from reviewers or other posters without sufficiently clarifying that they are spreading someone else’s opinion or analysis rather than their own. I also wish that all posters, regardless of how advanced they are in this hobby, would make it clear when they are sharing an opinion that is not their own.

I am also sympathetic to this viewpoint. My viewpoint was quite similar for a time, and in truth, underneath the growing complexity that I can understand more and more as I learn more about this hobby, it probably still is. The tricky part is in how one interprets “pass the signal accurately.” Unfortunately the way many have gone about determining that a DAC or amp is ‘passing the signal’ accurately is just to see if it doesn’t change a the form of a sine wave. It’s an extension of the wire with gain mentality; an amp should take an incoming electrical wave and make it taller (increase the amplitude) without otherwise changing its shape (the change in shape is the distortion). For a DAC the idea is that the incoming stream of 1s and 0s should be flawlessly converted to an electrical waveform without losing any of the information encoded in those 1s and 0s. Here’s the problem, many measurements take pure tones that have waveforms that look like this:

when in reality a signal that carries information that we perceive as music looks more like this:

(source) - and this is a rather simple music wave, truth be told.

Saying that because a piece of gear handles the former well that it will also handle the latter equally well is a bit like saying that because one can proficiently solve:


then they are also proficient at solving things like this:

Now, this is an oversimplification of the broader argument, certainly, and that oversimplification is being used to more quickly demonstrate a point. That point is that DACs (or amps) jobs are to extract the information, but there’s a lot there to extract, and that the ability to pass a sine wave doesn’t say very much about that extration ability. There’s a lot of complexity in the electrical transmission of a music sound wave. It’s very, very difficult to build measuring tools that can measure all of that nuance and complexity carried inside the wave. As the price of DACs and amps goes up, they are made of better and better parts. Those better parts are capable of extracting those nuances in ways that don’t show up on sine wave measurements. That’s because those better parts can respond more quickly to changing voltages and currents (and that’s what those waves are representations of…changing voltages and currents…and those changing voltages and currents are themselves represenations of the changes in pressure that result from the mechanical energy transmitted by a disturbance through a medium). Electrical signals travel so fast that sometimes we forget they still happen in time. The more responsive an electrical component is in the time domain, the more faithfully it can reproduce an incoming signal. In my own hearing, that has translated to better sound - most of the time (there are sometimes overpriced duds). Measuring equipment also operates in the time domain and as such can’t always operate fast enough to measure all those changes, either.

Now, it’s a fair question: if expensive electrical measuring equipment can’t pick up these signal differences, how can the human auditory system? It turns out the human brain is the most advanced pattern-recognition system on the planet. Our technology is still far behind our own brains’ abilities to recognize very subtle variations in patterns that we are familiar with. Music is the creative assembly of patterns of sound. And even though our brains aren’t as strong in audio pattern recognition as they are with visual pattern recognition, they are still inherently wired to alert our higher order cognition systems when something sounds different than they’re used to hearing - a different pattern. Audio gear that is made differently, using different parts, different circuit layouts, different power supplies, etc. will create slight variations that our brains can pick up with enough practice and familiarity.

In light of all that, when you title a thread “New Amp A90/789/Asgard3/or ZenCan” and then say they all sound the same…I think is neither fair nor accurate. It may be true that you don’t hear a difference yet, but stick with it and I’m sure you will.


I bet that’s true. The L30 is literally 1/2 of an A90’s signle ended section. It’s the same circuit in both units.

Thanks again for the thoughts. I hope this discussion is useful beyond just the two of us sharing ideas.


Oh boy, that escalated quickly… if I can put my two cents I am apparently one of the allegedly few people who can ear differences between different DACs when the general consensus is that there is no real discernible difference. And this leaves me wondering. Last month I have realized that to me the my new Topping E30 sounds discernibly different form my old and now broken DFR so much so that now I find my headphones less fatiguing to listen to. But I do not believe that reviewers and other people are lying, they may just be looking for different sound qualities, statistically more commonly sought after, than what I am looking for. Like @WaveTheory brilliantly explained above psychoacustic elements of the sound we ear are not actually encoded directly in the signals we pass around but only their physical representation is and we cannot yet infer them from the physical measurements to a decent degree. Also conversion operations are never perfect, they almost always entail a trade-off, if not from the perspective of the physical qualities of sound they almost certainly do from the one of those sonic/psychoacustic elements.

Will I be able to find the perfect amp advice here? Likely not. But as we generally agree that red is a warm color and blue is a cold color perhaps I will be able to find a general direction where to look for a warmer and wider sound. Will I be mad to people who gave me a “wrong” advice here? Nope that too, any honest advice is welcome.

If I can give you one advice instead, if you can’t tell the difference between different amps then it may be because you don’t know what you want out of them. At least that generally works for me. No difference then it just means I did not find what I was looking for which many times is not even easy to describe to yourself.


Wow!! That’s the type of useful info I came here for. And I thought Mp3 and Bluetooth had a lot of convoluted waves and patterns that messed with the signal. Maybe I am better off not knowing too much and enjoying my listening sessions in my own world of ignorant bliss.