Best Poor Man Set Up

What headphone, DAC, and amp combo can intimidate even some higher end stuff (higher end being $400-$600 range) but cost $200 or less? I have not tried them but looking through other discussions, seems like I would through my hat in with the Grado SR80E powered by the FiiO E10K Olympus 2 Headphone Amp/DAC.

An Etymotic Mc5 out of any half decent player is more accurate than most anything I’ve heard, though it has less bass than most.

The biggest test of this was unfortunately removed from Amazon: Etymotic had an ad where you could listen to the same song played through an Etymotic earphone and recorded multiple times. It sounded great even after repeating this ten times.

The other earphones in the demo would inevitable have more and more oversaturated bands because they were more colored.

I wish it was still up.

A Sennheiser HD650 or HD6xx is similar, in that listening to music played back and recorded through one hardly changes. Same for an Audio Technica M40x.

I think that getting the frequency response as accurate as possible is one of the most satisfying things to get used to, as it truly represents the song, and many high end headphones don’t even get this right.

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A friend had a pair of those Etymotics and as amazingly clear as they are, the bass was really disappointing. :confused: I listen to a lot of bassy stuff (metal, hip hop, video game and movie soundtracks like john williams) so those low’s are important to me.

The ER3 XR has a small bass boost and might be right up your alley. I also think that it takes a while to get used to it.

EX: a Mediterranean diet can taste absolutely wonderful, but you have to get used to lower levels of fats and salts compared to the American diet.

I had the ETY 6’s and they were weak in the bass. Others have said the same thing.

If you want earbuds - and ALSO want to have the usual phone control, I really like 1More. Their triple-driver earbuds can be found for about $100 or a bit less. They have plenty of fitting options, and are built very well. I got them when I ripped the cords out of something else while walking too close to a railing. They were around my neck.

Others have said, and I agree that the Audioquest Dragonfly DAC also for about $95 is excellent. You want the current version, not the first models that have slightly less power. If you have an apple product, you will need a “camera card” in order to connect the DAC

If you don’t need the DAC - and you really might not, consider the $50 headphone amplifier from Electric Avenues. Incredibly small, it makes an AMAZING difference when compared to the highly compromised output electronics. I see that Gary, the designer, and a good guy, has had a medical issue, and he’s warning people that he might not be able to supply/communicate for a few months. His version 1 headphone amp was equal to or better than the Headroom airhead I also own.

I have to wonder if I got a fake triple driver when I got them. People keep telling me the treb on them was super nice but I got it and it sounded literally tinny. Thoughts?

My go-to recommendations under $200 are the VSonic GR07 (works for more people than Etys tend to) and the Creative Aurvana Live (1 not 2). The AKG K612 is also quite underrated. It’s pretty similar to the much more expensive K712 other than cheaper-feeling pads and an upper mid boost rather than recession.

I did help a friend mod his DT770’s which he put SRH1540 pads on and even before my really minor additions I put it next to a Z1R and honestly I liked the modded DT770 more tonally because I just hate the Z1R’s upper mids. It was less muddy than stock and had less sharp treble. I usually advocate against pad rolling but in this case, because Beyer pads boost mid-treble a lot, it worked.

I actually took side by side measurements after finishing my mods for fun:

That’s not to say the DT770 is technically superior in any way, because it isn’t, but it was easier to listen to while going for a vaguely similar sound signature.

And honestly, unless your onboard sound is downright terrible or you really need more volume, I wouldn’t really bother much with external amp/DACs. I’ve had a Dragonfly 1.5, Micca Origen+, E10K, and Fulla2 and honestly, I didn’t think any of the first three were meaningfully better (the Origen and E10K were worse in most cases; Dragonfly in some) than many of the modern onboard soundcards or higher end phones I’ve heard, and even the Fulla 2 wasn’t much better either. I’d only recommend if someone has a really noisy card, otherwise I’d suggest just to save up for something better. Buying many cheap things can add up to be more expensive than if you just kept that money away to buy the nicer thing in the first place.


I’ve heard nothing but but good things about the [[Audioquest]] Dragonfly. It looks like a large thumb drive and plugs right into a USB port and has a 32-Bit SABRE DAC and can drive most headphones. There are 2 models: one for $99 and the other $199. Has a output and can also be used as a fixed output DAC. I’ve never heard it but top reviewers are gushing over it . Plus no cables between DAC and amp. Obviously the $200 model is going to sound better. Do a Google on it. Plus almost all shops have a 30 day return policy.


Sennheiser HD6XX plugged into whatever you’ve got handy - MacBook Pro headphone out works a treat. :slight_smile:


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I’d send it back to them and ask them to check it out. Anybody can have an occasional manufacturing defect.

I needed an earbud that had a good mic, as I wanted something to use for work, which occasionally requires me to call people when I’m in a noisy environment. I had a couple of skull candy and 1 Klipsch that I’d been using, then saw the 1More ads and reviews.

After a little bit of use, they sounded better and better. I’m taking 5 hours, not 500. Got to the point where if I’m looking for isolation plus utility plus really decent sound, they are my go-tos. On the higher end I have Etymolic 6’s and vSonic that don’t have the mic and control. I really like the 1Mores better.

For a genuine “poor man” setup on thumb-drive style DAC/Amps, look up the XtremPro Portable USB DAC Headphone Amplifier with the ESS Sabre 9023 chip. It costs roughly $33 at Amazon. Also, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS v2 USB DAC/Amp has the same chip and costs about $75.

I also agree with the Grado SR80E as the best $100 headphones. However, the Massdrop Sennheiser HD6XX at $200 (plus a tube amp) will blow it away.

Oh, I sent them back. Not my thing and it didn’t fit my ears super comfortably. Went with the Mee Pinnacle PX instead :joy:

I tend to like a more neutral bright response anyway

For the truly poor, I’d recommend a Koss KSC-75, plugged into whatever device you happen to have around. They sound a lot better than the price would suggest. If you have a bit more to spend, maybe a HD 6XX or HD 600.

I second this. This setup would be more than enough for most.

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I second the Cambridge DacMagic. That was my go to DAC for many years, due to it’s portability, ease of use, and jut how GOOD it sounded. Highly recommend this for the price. Very good power for such a small device as well. Will do well at driving many headphones and IEM’s.

I’ve got a pair of the Quad Drivers and they’ve been my daily beaters coming up on two years now.

I hated them at first. They sounded hollow and recessed with no bass response whatsoever. I was using the silicone tips but then I switched over to some Comply tips and they were completely different. I was able to get the correct seal and all of a sudden there was bass where there was none before.

However, I wouldn’t recommend grabbing either of them at the MSRP. They Triple Drivers can usually be had on sale between $69 and $79 (check Costco and Amazon, always have sales) and same with the Quad Driver.

With those genres in mind, I don’t think the Grado SR80 will give you much fun. If your playback device can handle a HD6xx, that would be a much better option.

So, are the XremPro and Cambridge Audio devices actually amps or just DAC’s? I have an Audioquest Dragonfly Black already with the interface to connect to the iPhone. My understanding is that it bypasses the iPhone internal DAC but it doesn’t boost the power.

I’m wondering about under $100 amps that would drive headphones better than the phone’s limited power? Something that would make my NAD HP50’s or even my Grado SR60’s sound better.

These are Amp/DACs. Please see the ESS Sabre info below.

Both products use the ESS 9023 chip, which is an entry-level upgrade DAC. However, a poor-man setup is likely to rely on 16 bit CD audio and/or compressed audio. So, at 24 bits these DACs are unlikely to be the weak link in the system. [And some people cannot identify higher bit rate audio in double blind tests.]

I bought the XtremPro as a ‘throwaway’ travel DAC (less risk to lose $33 than a $100 or $200 Dragonfly). It very noticeably improves the audio quality over my MacBook Air (2013) and Android tablet headphone jacks. It is slightly better than later Apple onboard DACs (iPhone 6 era). It’s powerful enough to drive my Grado SR-80e and Audioquest NightHawk Carbon headphones. My Sennheiser HD-600s are “okay” with this unit, but require a low-distortion tube amp to sound their best.

I got my AKG k701 for less than 150 USD on sale, however, I can’t find a suitable DAC+AMP. This is kinda disturbing. k701 is difficult to powered up.