Whats your favorite dac/amp pairing?

I wanted to pose this question to everyone and ask regardless of price and etc, whats your preferred dac and amp pairing and is there a preference when reaching for a pair of headphones when listening to the combo? Have you settled on a dac/amp pairing where you found the best synergy in your opinion for your preferences?

Ive come to realize that I really enjoy listening to the lake people rs-08 with the ares II a lot. It was like a new world for me in terms of audio quality and enjoyment.

Its the combo I reach for when I want smooth, organic, and neutral with added warmth and I guess excitement thanks to the ares ii. Didnt sound as fun on the topping e30 and micro bl. Made me go wow when I plugged my preferred dt880 in. I change up the amp to the bottlehead crack for something a bit warmer and intense or the liquid platinum when the rs-08 is sounding a bit too neutral and smooth for what I want at the time.

So I guess my question is, what do you like and what does it do for you?

Weird somehow I got an email and notification that you created this thread without having visited it. Wonder how I can turn that off.

If you look below at “Tracking” Icon you should be able to select options :+1:

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Wow…this one has been done so so many times…
And the answers or replies will be all over the map…

So many, many good choices if thought out well so you dont get a poor technical pairing should provide the end user a good listening experience.

I have stuff from the $99 to the mega-thousand dollar range.
The $99 amp and $99 dac make me smile all the time.
The mega-buck solutions I have also make me smile all the time.

For prefence in dacs I have gravitated to the multibit, R2R dac…like the Schiit Bifrostt 2 and the Soekris 2541. SE or balanced doesnt matter much here at all.

For amps, OMG so many, favorites would be PassLabs HPA-1, Schiit Magni 3 (the original one not the 3+), ACP + amp DIY.

Either dac to any of the amps works well and provides a clear, accurate, transparent base to explore the differences in headphones.

My favorites to date are the Final Sudio D8000 Pros and ADX 5000’s followed by the HD 650’s.

For me is accurate bass on the low end, not any exaggerated boomy stuff. I dont look for a headphone to correct any mediocre source material. The setup I like is one that allows me to hear the good and bad in a recording.

So in the end the setup does for me is to allow me to enjoy and explore music as it was made as best possible with as little coloration or manipulation as possible.

I have gone thru over 30 amps, a dozen dacs and settled in on the above. But for others I am sure the choices will be different and their experiences great as well…such a subjective pastime!

Enjoy the music!


I’m going to guess that was because @SkipsMchee initially put it in the parent category, which isn’t allowed for non admins since the site was initially set up where you can only post in subcategories in this section. I moved the post over to a subcategory to fix this, strange it gave you a notification without even clicking on the thread

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Thanks for the change! My mistake.

Don’t worry about it, didn’t mess anything up or something lol. Just make sure to check when posting if you are posting in a parent or a subcategory, just make sure it’s a place non admins can post in (since I don’t even know if people would have been able to reply to the thread when it was in the parent category or not, changed it yesterday when I saw it before anyone had posted)

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Will def pay closer attention. Thanks!

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Wow 30 amps! Do you feel settled with the passlabs hpa-1 or do you still have the curiosity to hunt for more? Its one of the amps i have on my list of what id like to try out.

The adx 5000 is also a pair of headphones on my try list. I wonder about its bass and whether or not it would have the sub bass id want after reading impressions on that pair. I would think id want to pair it with a dac amp combo thats warm and could help with some rumble or maybe punch to the low end due to my preferences.

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I have been doing this stuff for a LONG time…lol !

In the past few years I have had an accelerated interest in amps in particular due to me being an electrical engineer/technician type of person…circuit design really interests me…

Differences in amps can be varied, but most good amps out there are very similar in the output, but many differences in options, inputs/outputs and cosmetics. The big deal with amps, IMO, is the amount of power available and matching impedance’s for maximum power transfer. With certain amps like tube amps with ac heaters might be prone to more hiss and hum…amps that are dc coupled vs cap coupled may influence the sound as well…so there are these differences…they may or may not be important to you.

Do I still have the curiosity to hunt for other amps. yes and no. Yes in that I just like to try and see how they work with my stuff. No not for trying to find anything better that what I have…after so many years of going down this rabbit hole…nothing thats out there will do an appreciable positive improvement over what I already have IMO, except for burning a hole in my wallet!

The ADX 5000 are expensive and would not be a basshead can for sure. If you like a warmer bassey can then this one IMO is not the one to look at. If after you try several cans and come to grip with the tons of crappy music out there…and experience a really good recording with bass with the ADX 5000’s you will be amazed at how well they do on the low end. Again very subjective for most.
Spending $2000 on these without trying first would be a mistake.

There are other amps less costly than the HPA-1 $3500…that will do as well as it. Again its a subjective thing here and I really like this amp alot…but I do have several others as well…

Good luck in your journey!


To actually comment on this thread, I’ve also gone through a lot of amps and dacs as well, can be pretty rewarding (especially in the higher end side of things). I’ve honestly developed a source gear first mentality with headphones in the past years (which I had for speakers for awhile, but I guess that didn’t translate to headphones for me until recently lol), cause if your source can’t get it right, doesn’t really matter what headphones you put at the end as they can only reproduce what they are given. Only am like that with higher end though, if I was working in the more budget to midrange side of things I’d much rather prioritize the headphones first over anything (since they tend to be less influenced by source gear, and cheaper source gear is more similar than different at this point).

That being said, there’s really so many potential pairings and combinations that it’s really hard to cover them all, and what might be appealing for someone may not for someone else, all depends on what you want to get out of the headphones and what you already have. Something else to consider with overall pairings and synergy is that your goal is the final result of the chain, so you really want to evaluate everything as one whole chain rather than evaluating something in isolation (if you can really do that in the first place). Basically just because something is great on specific chain doesn’t mean that same thing will be great on another, requires trial and error, and results will vary. There are a lot of great things that sometimes end up sounding pretty poor not because they are bad, but because they just aren’t properly paired.

At this point I think the headphones I’ve put the most time into figuring out what they work well with is the mysphere’s (3.1 and 3.2), to the point where I’ve likely gone overboard lol. Ended up making a personal pairing chart to document all the stuff I liked on a different forum, but I think with how important source can be with those headphones it was a worthwhile endeavor to really figure out how they reacted and what they were truly capable of in the end. (ended up liking the lampizator pacific → angstrom stella headphone mk2 for the 3.1 and totaldac d1-direct + d1-drivers mk2 → riviera aic-10 for the mysphere 3.2) But it does get tiring and there is a point where it really can become unnecessary/not worthwhile to try out all the potential pairings out there, generally if you find something you really like I’d just stick with that if you are satisfied for the most part. There’s always more options to try out there, but you don’t have to feel compelled to try everything (which is really easy to get caught up doing lol)

Not even sure how many amps I’ve gone through (guess I could pull up the spreadsheet and count but I don’t need another reminder of my poor financial decisions) let alone demoed, but I’ve been slimming down my collection of stuff to really suit my core headphones and ended up with a collection of stuff that I won’t really be selling and won’t really be that interested in hearing anything else to possibly replace them either (still want to slim down more though, but hard to bring myself to do that anymore atm). I did get caught up in sidegrading hell wanting to taste all the flavors per se but I think realizing I got caught up in that cycle was pretty important to really figuring out what I wanted and resting temptation of trying other things, and it’s been pretty valuable to consolidate everything down and not own source gear just for the sake of being different or having an alternative sound, instead picking something that encompassed the most of what I want with the right tradeoffs I was able to live with. It’s all a game of tradeoffs, there will always be problems or small nitpicks with pairings, but the goal is to find something where those issues are ones you don’t really care about. Not worth the time to find the “perfect” pairing since it’s likely a lost cause, just find something you enjoy and will be willing to live with


This is the second time ive heard this advice but from a different hobby. I completely agree. Always seems too easy to lose track of things when theres so much to experience.


It’s strange with me as far as audio is concerned.
I have repeatedly tried things from the community that were often described as the crème de la crème and have been taught better.
In short, I didn’t like it at all.
Often it was or is equipment that was the big hit for me that is less popular.
Apart from that, it’s exactly the things that predominantly meet the requirements that are necessary for headphones.
And most of them are even better made.

In the meantime, I have gone one step further by having a hybrid amplifier built according to my requirements.
I modified another one where I thought it could still be useful after a defect.
And a tube amplifier that is already good out of the box, but I also added Vcaps capacitors.

It’s just a pity that you can often only share this passion here on the internet and hardly ever in private life due to a lack of interest.
Sometimes it would be great to know if you are just exaggerating and chasing ghosts or if you are on the right track.
But you notice that it’s slowly coming to an end where you say or think either the next level is coming or you’re resigned to the way things are and have exhausted everything.
In the meantime, I’m only interested in a few things because I know that product X has a hard time convincing me.
Which is sometimes not wrong.
Once you’ve got your Dac and your optimum amplifier out, only headphones are interesting.
There are still two or three Dacs that make me curious, but I’m fully satisfied with the amplifier.

What annoys me a bit is that many products are actually not bad and if they had been invested in better components for the same money or nearly the same money, they would be even better.
It’s a bit of a shame to see that many people are not aware of this.
I have noticed that with my two conversions the concept is mostly good but savings have been made elsewhere. I would have added the 20-30$/€ more.

Sometimes you doubt whether it is not too much or too much, but when you have done it you realise that you were right.
All the things that bothered you are now better or more pleasant or completely gone.
Sometimes I think, am I too demanding or do I expect too much?
That’s why I hardly ever go into shops anymore, even if I hear something there to try it out, it’s not what I’m looking for.
Even if the shop assistants tell and tell.
Where I really walked out with a smile was with an almost priceless Macintosh amplifier.

At the moment I am happy with my Singxer Sda 2 and Su 2,Little dot 1+ tuning and Feliks Euforia and tubes I have.
The hybrid amp I had made is coming in the mail.


I very much like the warmth of the Burr-Brown DAC chips used in most iFi products. My portable choice is the hip-dac.

Not the most expensive or detailed piece of kit, but it works very well for me.

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I was just starting down the DAC/Amp path, and pretty quickly decided that DIY might be the path I take, mostly because I can. I am a computer scientist and software engineer, that used to be an electrical engineering student at one point, and worked as an embedded engineer for several years.

I have done a couple of super cheesy horrible DIY amps, mostly to learn what things make an amp better or worse, and I agree, amps are really about avoiding some pitfalls that lead to bad noise floor and interference.

DACs are where I am learning a bit more right now. I am working on a whole software driven parametric EQ and simulated tube system. I am not sure where I am heading with the interface, but there is some fun to be had here.

I am sure my view is somewhat skewed from having jumped into DIY after a couple of very affordable options, but the price to happiness ratios get out of whack very fast on this gear.

Also why do the balanced options from most of the brands get gated at the mid tier? I have to spend $400 to get a Schitt stack that does balanced output. A portable, like the Qudelix 5k can do it for about 1/4 the cost.

This is what got me to look into DIY in the first place, since I knew the parts weren’t that expensive. The knobs, switches, buttons, and connectors, are actually the expensive bits.

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Hello John,

Great on the DIY stuff…I have been doing this with amps for years, late 60’s. Very rewarding a times!! lol. A little smoke every once an awhile!

The balanced cost question is an interesting one. Depending on how balanced you want or need. Desktop or portable leads to costs with the electrical parts connectors in the back and front, and this also reflects on the case size to fit it all in. Pentacom 4.4mm , dual 3 pin xlr, 4 pin xlr, or all the above.
So many use cases etc all influence the cost.

Actually for a desktop balanced setup $400 is really on the low end for cost…

In the Schiit solution they use a “full” size RK27 fully balanced pot…again more cost.

Then there is the power usually associated with a balanced device (whether really needed or not) adds to cost…

As you indicate that portable device with a balanced solution for $199…can be done, but would it sell really well to the headphone users out here etc…who often dont think $400 is a lot at all!!

So many things to consider for sure…

The Passlabs ACP + dit kit for $199 only SE but its reallt sweet fot the price of admission. And the kiddies can actually learn something along the way!

All the best!

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Agreed, connectors are tricky.

I am torn on the right answer, but I am starting to lean toward 4 pin XLR, since it is a nice middle ground on the cost vs functionality, and it is easy to get the 4 pin to “whatever you want” cable".

the Schiit solution they use a “full” size RK27 fully balanced pot…again more cost.

Pots are a whole thing, and I think that is the same one in my desktop volume knob. I tend to prototype with digital pots with button pairs due to the costs.

A little smoke every once an awhile!

Yep, I have done that a couple times, and it is part of the process.

I own a portable, and don’t want to make one, the stock ones in that space are a pretty good value. Both the Fiio BTR5 and Qudelix 5k are a fantastic value and solve for DAC and Amp at the same, and give you some cool Bluetooth features too ( they are wonderful for work from home people ). I couldn’t make all of that for less, and my form factor would not as “consumer friendly”.

One thing that seems to over-rule all else when it comes to a low cost product that might suit your use case is…is it any good?

Their is this opinion that low cost = mediocre or less than stellar stuff…
High cost = Possible stellar experience.

For a AIO for $200 with a dac and amp, and balanced,many will question it as to how well it will perform compared to other stuff they have,

Lots of bias here for sure…many audio types will think a $200 AIO is well…mediocre at best compared to the often much higher priced stuff that have…

But for me there is good stuff at the $99 level as well as the $1K + levels…

Interesting set of value judgments going on here.

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There’s great stuff at most price brackets, and also less than great stuff as well, all depends. I do think it’s hard to escape the idea of “you get what you pay for”, but that doesn’t mean that just because something is less expensive doesn’t mean it won’t provide a quality experience. All depends on the level of performance you are really after

Also in regards to the cheap balanced stuff, honestly at the sub 500 price point, I’d rather build out a quality single ended design with nicer parts than have to skimp on parts quality and add complexity with a balanced design, think there’s just more value to be had with single ended designs than balanced in the lower price brackets imo, less tradeoffs have to be made

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Couldn’t agree with you more…Its the pieces and parts in total, plus the cost and how well does it really perform or work to make you smile!