~ $300 DAC + AMP for Elegia

I am looking for a good DAC and AMP for use with the Focal Elegia. It/they will be replacing my FiiO E17.

My price range is: About $300 (can stretch to around $600 if it makes a big difference).

I like to listen to: Electronica, rock, classical. For example: The Flaming Lips, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Shostakovitch, Bach.

I will be using them for: work at a desktop. Fed by a Macbook Pro or my 1+6. I listen to a lot of HiRes FLAC and DSDs, but also Google Music. Going to start the $2/4 mo. Tidal HiFi trial.

There are some excellent posts on this forum that have given me ideas – perhaps too many. :smiley:
So now I need to narrow it down.

My home setup is a Chord Hugo 2 with the Focal Utopia. I do have balanced cables for the headphones, but currently use an adapter to SE.

As it may be clear from my choice of music and home setup I do love really analytical setups. But I am also tube-curious, and will an listening for extended periods as I work.

So far I am considering the following:

Schiit Lyr
Schiit Magni + Schiit Modi
other Schiit products?
Massdrop CTH + SDAC DAC/Amp $320
Massdrop x Eddie Current ZDT Jr $259 used
iFi product??

Some more expensive items I could stretch to if they would make a big difference:
Monoprice Liquid Platinum $700
Woo Audio WA6 $700
THX AAA 789 $400

Thanks in advance for your comments!

  • Henrik

Hi Henrik,

in the budget 300-600, you also could consider a DAP, like HiBy R5 or which is more analytical: Fiio M11 (for example) and you could use the onboard EQ

For DAC/Amp I think of the ifi Nano iDSD BL under 300.
The xDSD for 399€ - is my daily with the Elegia in the office. The Bass Boost is a nice option

The SMSL SU-8 + THX AAA 789 is also a quite analytical combination - what I also use with the Focal at home
The SU8 is 80 off at the moment, from what I read today.

You can’t go wrong with the Woo Audio WA6, though only once had a chance to demo it with another dynamic headphone

The Drop SGrace Balanced DAC was reviewed by @Torq - nice simple DAC for the money

The SMSL SP 200 THX AAA 888 AMP is under 280
there will be a fitting DAC M200 or M400 in january

Monolith by Monoprice for 499€ with Dual AKM 4493 DACs and Dual AAA 788 is maybe too much for office

Here are others with far more experiance, who also own the Elegia as office hf

As for tubes… you could run into problems with the Elegia and a Eddie Current ZDT - it could not match perfectly cause of the relative low impedance of the Elegia
Maybe a hybrid could do it better (Lyr 3)


@MartinTransporter nailed it…

I would second the NiBL it is an everyday carry for me.

For a more traditional separate DAC and amp combo I would say the JDS Atom, and the Schiit Modi.

Also a good DAP would work great, the Hiby r5 has good reviews and works well. There are a decent amount of DAPs in your price range that would easily fulfill your requirements/needs. @antdroid just did a bunch of comparisons of DAPs in the last couple months and would be a good resource for you to check out Here


A word of caution if you wind up looking at the SMSL SP200; apparently the production units have a linear-taper pot instead of the more normal log-taper, which with sensitive headphones means you won’t have much room to move on the volume dial. And since it doesn’t seem to be a particularly good pot even then, that means you’re very likely to run into fairly significant channel-balance issues.

The ZDT Jr is, for me, not a great fit with low-impedance cans either (anything under about 150 Ω and certainly under 100 Ω, and the Elegia are just 35 Ω).

And avoid anything with more than 3 ohms of output impedance (which is a very large swath of Topping’s AOI units, including the DX3 Pro, which seems to have undergone a big jump in OI with newer units … presumably part of addressing whatever was resulting them failing previously).


Thanks, that helps narrowing it down a bit.

Massdrop Liquid Carbon X + SDAC DAC/Amp @ $250 seems like a good deal.
Massdrop CTH + SDAC DAC/Amp $320
iFi xDSD looks good too.
THX AAA 789 $400 + Topping D10 @ $65

Of the above, is there any clear winner or loser?

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I have thx 789 and it’s great for a linear clear sounding amp. Powerful and clear. Very little coloring added by the amp. I used it with Elegia and it keeps a very neutral sound. I use it with SMSL SU-8.

I just bought xdsd to go with my recently purchased Stellia on the go.

I’ll have my mint Thx 789 on sale fairly soon and probably with the SU-8 if interested.


also not the biggest fan of the SP200 - but you could adjust volume on it once
and use the SU-8 with the remote for volume - just a thought and would always prefer another solution

Ended up buying the Massdrop Liquid Carbon X + SDAC DAC/Amp. Thanks for the feedback!


Curious what were the main factors on that pair?

I used my Elegias for quite a while with the LCD-X and a SDAC (not the combined unit) and they sounded great. I can’t recommend getting a balanced headphone cable enough though - the change was more dramatic than I thought possible.

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I picked the Liquid Carbon X + SDAC because of good reviews on this site, good price, and suitability for use in my office. If I were to rank them I would say it was closely followed by the xDSD and the CTH + SDAC. I stayed away from the tube amps due to what @Torq said about them not being a good match for low impedance headphones. In short I think the Liquid Carbon X + SDAC will be a great step up from my aging E17 Alpen. But there are so many good alternatives in this price range and I think I would be very happy with any of them.


Have a Fiio Q5s with two modules if you are in the market still.


How did you like the LCX+SDAC you chose for the Elegia? I’ve been scouring the net looking for a good DAC/Amp for the Elegias—have them and the Aeon Flow Closed for a side-by-side comparison, and feel like I’m not getting a good sense of either headphone plugged into my desktop (I know, dumb idea; was hoping to invest in a DAC/Amp later).

Really curious what you think; especially if you noticed a big difference in the LCX+SDAC in terms of 1) overall sound quality and 2) bass (I listen to a decent amount of rap/hip-hop and read they need power to shine there). Would appreciate any feedback on your experience!

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:exploding_head: :dizzy_face: :tired_face: :sob:

Please buy a powerful amp ASAP!

I have the Elex and AFC – the Elex work quite well on weaker sources (e.g., my FiiO Q5’s balanced output). You are in the ballpark of fine with the Elegia.

The AFC is…sad…just sad…on a weak source. It becomes congested and rough/imprecise. I run it from my (Mass)Drop THX AAA 789 balanced. That’s a solid combo.


Ha, yeah, my plan wasn’t a good one! My issue is I don’t have amps/DACs right now so trying to figure out what to do, like the LCX+SDAC idea. Neither the AFCs/Elegias sound much better than my cheaper everyday headphones (Sennheiser HD 598 SEs) that I plug into my computer—and I know that’s simply not true.

(I see the THX AAA is just an amp. Would that hurt having only an amp and not a DAC? I’m a total newb when it comes to this type of stuff. Only ever spent real money on headphones: 598s, Ultimate Ears 10 Pro, and the 650s I had and sadly got rid of. Trying to keep whatever I need to really experience the AFC/Elegias well to a minimum price-wise.)

Really curious what you think; especially if you noticed a big difference in the LCX+SDAC in terms of 1) overall sound quality and 2) bass (I listen to a decent amount of rap/hip-hop and read they need power to shine there). Would appreciate any feedback on your experience!

Hi Brian, and welcome to the forums!

I am very very happy with the LCX+SDAC. For the price the performance is outstanding. With the Elegias there is a big difference in sound quality coming from a small DAC/AMP like the FiiO E17. The biggest difference is probably just with the amount of power available. The bass is in the right place now, punchy and rich.

I’ve been listening to Tidal Masters and can’t get enough of it. I have now burned in the amp (as the instructions tell you to do) and I am listening using the balanced out (as the instructions also tell you to do). I listen to a lot of genres but I listen to a lot of electronica and the bass is often put to test there. There is certainly no lack of bass and it is well defined.

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There are three considerations here:

  1. Having enough power for the drivers to perform to their potential
  2. Dynamic drivers (Elegia, Elex, HD-600) are sensitive to system noise and mine improved greatly on a balanced amp
  3. The DAC matters, but its value can be masked by a bad amp

The AFC should improve directly with more power (#1), but the Elegia will be affected by #1 and #2.

Regarding #3, I worked my way up through DACs to be able to hear the changes and improvements, so I have a drawer with $25 - $100 items that go unused most of the time. However, the law of diminishing returns hits modern DACs pretty fast.

The THX amps (including Monolith, etc.) blow away many objective measurements. They are audio microscopes and reveal every flaw. Once you get to this performance level the DAC differences will become more apparent.

Spend <$100 on a basic DAC to start. Absolutely do not go overboard when you start. Run it into one of the many amps in the $100 to $500 bracket. For all-around use, you probably won’t go wrong with a recent solid state amp. Many post-2018 products test extremely well (including the 789).

I personally avoid combo products like the LCX+SDAC, as they are forever stuck together and each portion cannot be independently upgraded.


I have the SmSl 200 thx amp and I haven’t really been able to audibly tell if my amp has channel imbalance, do you know of a simple way of me testing it?

Play a mono signal and see if its centered on your head. you can use white noise or pink noise or even manually change audio settings to mono and play anything.


Thank you :pray: