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evanolynuk
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Joined: Feb 2 2012 - 10:20am
Headphone DAC/Amp or Separate DAC and Preamp?

Hello all!

I've always enjoyed my readings on this site.  The depth of knowledge here is staggering.  Thus, as an entry level audiophile on a university student's budget, I am leery of coming off as blunt and naive in comparison to the general community.  Please forgive me if it appears as such; the inexperience is not born of an absence of ambition, but rather a lack of a good starting place.  However, this does seem like the perfect place to send some of my questions into the hi-fi audio ether.  

 

If you'd like to skip over the background info, I'm wondering if it is more cost effective for me purchase a headphone dac/amp combo or a dedicated preamp, and a dedicated DAC?  I will be getting a new power amp soon and need a new source and preamp.  

 

I've slowly built up my living room system to be my vintage and analogue setup.  For the time being (a function of my budget), I am satisfied with it.  Where the majority of my listening is done, considering I'm a student, is at my desk with digital sources.  Although the space is small, I have optimized the location of the speakers: A set of Alesis Monitor One's.  

 

The first inklings of hifi (outside of headphones (I own a pair of Spiral Ear 2-Way Pro Customs)), began in me purchasing vintage speakers and amplifiers for enjoyment.  After trying out a number of amps, I currently am flipping between an old Optonica Receiver for the Alesis', and an early 80's Akai; both of which have their strengths and weaknesses.  Ironically, they are sonic opposites.  

 

For all of the combinations at my desk so far, I have been using my Nuforce U-Dac as both a source, and a preamp.  Now, I would like to upgrade to a dedicated power amp (which i will eventually make a decision on), but what I am having trouble with, is whether I should purchase  a dedicated preamp and a dedicated DAC, or if it would be more cost effective to purchase a headphone amp/dac combo?  What are the pros and cons of doing so?  Also, if you could make any recommendations that would be great.  I am more than likely going to buy used if possible, as my budget for the DAC and preamp is only around $300.  

 

Thanks so much if you stuck through and listened!  I greatly appreciate it!

commsysman
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Joined: Apr 4 2006 - 11:33am
AMPLIFIERS

Alas, there are very few dedicated preamps that are worth anything for under $2000. That makes a separate power amp and pramp much more expensive than what most people want to spend.

It is far more cost-effective to get a good integrated amplifier with a headphone jack.

The Cambridge Audio CA340 or CA350 or similar would be a very good choice if you can find one used in your price range. Another possibility would be a NAD 315 or 325 amplifier.

The DAC is another story. I am not clear on what you are going to connect to the input of the DAC, so maybe you could help out with some information there.

 

evanolynuk wrote:

Hello all!

I've always enjoyed my readings on this site.  The depth of knowledge here is staggering.  Thus, as an entry level audiophile on a university student's budget, I am leery of coming off as blunt and naive in comparison to the general community.  Please forgive me if it appears as such; the inexperience is not born of an absence of ambition, but rather a lack of a good starting place.  However, this does seem like the perfect place to send some of my questions into the hi-fi audio ether.  

 

If you'd like to skip over the background info, I'm wondering if it is more cost effective for me purchase a headphone dac/amp combo or a dedicated preamp, and a dedicated DAC?  I will be getting a new power amp soon and need a new source and preamp.  

 

I've slowly built up my living room system to be my vintage and analogue setup.  For the time being (a function of my budget), I am satisfied with it.  Where the majority of my listening is done, considering I'm a student, is at my desk with digital sources.  Although the space is small, I have optimized the location of the speakers: A set of Alesis Monitor One's.  

 

The first inklings of hifi (outside of headphones (I own a pair of Spiral Ear 2-Way Pro Customs)), began in me purchasing vintage speakers and amplifiers for enjoyment.  After trying out a number of amps, I currently am flipping between an old Optonica Receiver for the Alesis', and an early 80's Akai; both of which have their strengths and weaknesses.  Ironically, they are sonic opposites.  

 

For all of the combinations at my desk so far, I have been using my Nuforce U-Dac as both a source, and a preamp.  Now, I would like to upgrade to a dedicated power amp (which i will eventually make a decision on), but what I am having trouble with, is whether I should purchase  a dedicated preamp and a dedicated DAC, or if it would be more cost effective to purchase a headphone amp/dac combo?  What are the pros and cons of doing so?  Also, if you could make any recommendations that would be great.  I am more than likely going to buy used if possible, as my budget for the DAC and preamp is only around $300.  

 

Thanks so much if you stuck through and listened!  I greatly appreciate it!

evanolynuk
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Last seen: 1 month 3 weeks ago
Joined: Feb 2 2012 - 10:20am
Computer>(DAC>preamp OR headphone daccamp)>amplifier>Alesis'
commsysman wrote:

Alas, there are very few dedicated preamps that are worth anything for under $2000. That makes a separate power amp and pramp much more expensive than what most people want to spend.

It is far more cost-effective to get a good integrated amplifier with a headphone jack.

The Cambridge Audio CA340 or CA350 or similar would be a very good choice if you can find one used in your price range. Another possibility would be a NAD 315 or 325 amplifier.

The DAC is another story. I am not clear on what you are going to connect to the input of the DAC, so maybe you could help out with some information there.

 

Well I am looking to replace what my Nuforce U-Dac is currently doing; which is a preamp and USB DAC from my computer, to the amplifier.  I really like the Udac and would stick with it even if I get a new power amp, but the volume control is sub-par.  It's not consistent through all ~300 degrees of rotation, which would lead to a very poor volume control.  Using integreated amps like I have been, gave me the freedom to control my volume directly on the amp, and leave the udac stationary in the middle.  A dedicated power amp would mean my only volume control would be my udac (less than ideal), or my player (songbird) on my laptop.  But adjusting the volume on the software is cumbersome compared to a real knob.  

 

Make sense?

evanolynuk
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Joined: Feb 2 2012 - 10:20am
I guess to summarize, are

I guess to summarize, are there any disadvantages to using a headphone dac/amp combo as my desktop DAC and my preamp?  

Demondog
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Joined: Feb 22 2009 - 5:01pm
Headphone amp DAC Preamp's

I don't see any advantage to separate units except the obvious one, the ability to upgrade components individually in the future. It's up to you if that capability has any value.

No disadvantage to the combo units as far as I'm concerned. They can provide more for the money, since you aren't paying for multiple things, like chassis and power supplies. I use a Grace m903 as the heart of my main system. It has analog as well as digital inputs, and a great analog volume control. The Grace unit is out of your price range, but there are other less expensive choices. Some of the Peachtree products come to mind, combining nice features, plus they tend to get good reviews for sound quality.

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