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11-29-2023, 11:52 AM   #1
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Please advise some desktop amplifier under 1k

Guys,

Somebody who plays nicely with audio equipment please advise some desktop amplifier under 1k...

My laptops has ***ty DAC inside, so probably in order to achieve quality sound I'll need some external DAC. Searching for decades but can't find exactly what I want. Coming from 90's, my main concern looking at various brands is that seems like they have decided to get rid of Bass Treble knobs and EQ features! So sad I can't find a single amplifier (well, except billion dollar models) that will have all these in one unit. In order to achieve what I want I have to buy: DAC, Amplifier and Equalizer separately, to be able to use my headphones as well as speakers with sub. I can't describe how many brands I've checked, some have EQ but lack USB input and vice versa.

So far I found this combination:

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
Cambridge Audio AXA35


Any better ideas?

11-29-2023, 01:21 PM   #2
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For headphones specifically I have the Sony PHA-1 and I'm happy with it. It has a built-in battery even, so its truly portable for listening on my iPhone, but works fine connect to the iMac via USB. Doesnt have EQ though, but I find the balance with my phones good (Sony MDR-1s) and see no need for it.
11-29-2023, 01:53 PM   #3
Lev
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QuoteOriginally posted by hcarvalhoalves Quote
For headphones specifically I have the Sony PHA-1 and I'm happy with it. It has a built-in battery even, so its truly portable for listening on my iPhone, but works fine connect to the iMac via USB. Doesnt have EQ though, but I find the balance with my phones good (Sony MDR-1s) and see no need for it.
Thanks, yes I have to say that portable headphone amps are just another world! I'm more leaning towards desktop solution.
12-01-2023, 03:43 PM   #4
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I have an SMSL DO200 DAC, and it feeds an SMSL HO100 headphone amp and a pair of powered JBL studio monitors. I have a lower end set of Sennheiser cans that I run of the headphone amp...can't comment much on how good it is vs others, but I'm pretty pleased. They have power amps too, and you can put together a teensie desktop hi-fi system with these components.

A lot of detail. Took me a little while to get used to the sound of the headphones through the DAC and amp...but I find that my brain seems to compensate for a different EQ sound whenever I change! I was probably listening to bluetooth headphones way too much before that!

The 'audiosciencereview' site is a good resource for this stuff. They cover a lot of the obscure (to me anyway) Chinese brands that have sprung up in the past decade or so. It's a great time to be into audio...so many options coming in to compete with the established players!

12-02-2023, 01:59 PM   #5
Lev
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QuoteOriginally posted by DamienW Quote
I have an SMSL DO200 DAC, and it feeds an SMSL HO100 headphone amp and a pair of powered JBL studio monitors. I have a lower end set of Sennheiser cans that I run of the headphone amp...can't comment much on how good it is vs others, but I'm pretty pleased. They have power amps too, and you can put together a teensie desktop hi-fi system with these components.

A lot of detail. Took me a little while to get used to the sound of the headphones through the DAC and amp...but I find that my brain seems to compensate for a different EQ sound whenever I change! I was probably listening to bluetooth headphones way too much before that!

The 'audiosciencereview' site is a good resource for this stuff. They cover a lot of the obscure (to me anyway) Chinese brands that have sprung up in the past decade or so. It's a great time to be into audio...so many options coming in to compete with the established players!
I'm bit confused to be honest, I didn't know enhancing the sound of my laptop would be this hard. I thought I will be able to just choose one brand and build some good sound, but unfortunately there is no single solution in reasonable price range. Looks like SMSL HO100 is unbalanced headphone amp, isn't it? I don't know why but more I read about these devices more I become demanding to features. Looking at Schiit's devices for example, they are so sexy, made in usa etc.. really good stuff, but no speakers, no subwoofer output. My brain will blow up all I do is hanging on various brand web sites and reading tons of descriptions...
12-03-2023, 01:35 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lev Quote
I'm bit confused to be honest, I didn't know enhancing the sound of my laptop would be this hard. I thought I will be able to just choose one brand and build some good sound, but unfortunately there is no single solution in reasonable price range. Looks like SMSL HO100 is unbalanced headphone amp, isn't it? I don't know why but more I read about these devices more I become demanding to features. Looking at Schiit's devices for example, they are so sexy, made in usa etc.. really good stuff, but no speakers, no subwoofer output. My brain will blow up all I do is hanging on various brand web sites and reading tons of descriptions...
Well...easy to get confused - there's simply so many options now! I think I've just spent another hour going down the rabbit hole! For what it's worth, the DACMagic was on my shopping list when I originally went searching for something (I previously had a PreSonus Studio Interface that served as my DAC and headphone amp, but it died some time ago). I ended up with the DO200 as mentioned - I just wish it had multiple USB input options, as some devices seem to have gotten rid of optical outputs now (like my Mac Studio).

Oh...you mention EQ too. They do have options in some of these. In the DO200, unfortunately it is just a 'color' option, which does affect EQ, but also I think does some things with harmonics in an attempt to replicate tube amps and whatnot. I'm sure there must be options with some sort of EQ on board.

The balanced headphone output thing...I just had to read up on this as I've spent some time in the live music scene and, for me, 'balanced' means a different thing in the context of pro audio than it does for audiophiles and their headphones. FWIW my little HO100 has a balanced out, though it does not (apparently) deliver any more power than the 6.5mm standard output, so interpret that however you will.

There are indeed options around that might save you buying seperate components. In SMSL world, there is the very well priced AO300, which packs DAC, headphone amp, and power amp into the one unit. Is it going to have the very best pure sound out there? Probably not. Will it be heaps better than a crappy laptop DAC and preamp...most certainly I think. I'm guessing there's probably better options, but the AO300 even has an RCA sub out line (presuming here that your sub is active/powered, not passive).

On the Audio Science Reviews site, you'll see a forum topic around combination DAC/Headphone amps, and these devices will at least meet your DAC and headphone needs. Just need one with a line output of some form, and you can add an amp for the speakers. Combination Audio DAC and Headphone Amplifiers | Audio Science Review (ASR) Forum
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