DAC Amp Suggestions

After reading the many great reviews and comments, I’ve about decided to spend my next $200 on a DAC / Amp with optical input.

The Schiit stack for $199 (Magni 3 / Modi 2) looks pretty good. What else would compare in this range?

That’s a very nice combination and will drive most headphones without any issue at all, though it’ll be $250 not $200 if you want the Modi 2 Uber (necessary if you want optical input).

A couple of other things to consider, depending on what headphones you’re going to be driving, are the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label and the Schiit Modi 2 Uber w/ Vali 2 if you fancy something with tubes (would be $300 rather than $200).

The Modi2uber is $150 so with the Magni3 it would be $250. The Modi2 only has USB input while the Uber version has the optical and coax input.

If you can do without the DAC for now I’d suggest a Garage 1217 Polaris ($250) since it is a more flexible amp than the Magni3 due to its adjustable output impedance so you can match it to almost any headphone.

As for a DAC I’d suggest saving for the Modi MB ($250) since its a really good DAC for the price.

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I agree with @Torq the Schiit stack is a good option at that price point. I too personally really like the Vali2 for the price, although IMO you need to swap the tube out for something better than what Schiit gives you out of the box (very much worth swapping in a better tube). I actually still own my Vali2 which was my first headamp, I think its great for its form factor and price.

Modi2u’s I would imagine come up for sale used quiet a bit since they are popular units, you could save some money picking up a used one. On the rare chance you happen to see an AGD R2R11 go up for sale used… I think they are worth about $225-235 used so if you can stretch your budget that might be an option. Not sure what the asking price is on one of those but at $225-235 I would recommend one.

If you are planning on buying stuff new or mostly new, Schiit has given me great customer service if that factors into your decision. Good luck!

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Modi MB is definitely a worthwhile upgrade over the Modi 2 Uber - I’ve certainly preferred the multi-bit versions of all of Schiit’s DACs to their D/S versions. I’d have recommended it myself if it didn’t result in almost double the quoted target budget.

Corrected my prior post on prices involving Modi 2 Uber.

If that’s an option then @jflores476 should go out of their way to check out the Massdrop x Cavalli Tube Hybrid as well. So far it’s my favorite amp south of the Lyr 3 and I’m not sure which of those two I actually prefer at the moment, so the MCTH being half the price is an easy recommendation.


I think I want to get a good DAC first and save for an amp next. I still have the DFB for now.

I also have a little Lepai amp that I got a couple of years ago. It’s driving my bookshelf speakers.

I’m wondering if I can take the optical out through a good DAC to the Lepai for headphones too.

Topping D30 ($120 on Amazon) is also a really solid choice for a DAC at this price range. It measures well (https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/topping-d30-dac-measurement-and-review.2016/) and is reviewed well almost across the board.

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As y’all know, I’m considering a modest DAC/Amp, primarily to connect to the Mac Mini, where I presently use a Dragonfly Black/Jitterbug combo to get some additional gain to go out to the Stax amp. It’s just a convenience thing, I don’t feel like plugging and unplugging the DFB, which I ALSO use when I travel or around the house to come out of my iPhone.

MQA compatibility is helpful but not a show stopper. Portability vs transportability is good also, just in case. Most loads aren’t demanding, but it would also be nice if it could drive the Hifiman HE-560s I have or a future set of cans that I may buy if I lose my mind sufficiently. Support for both AAC and APTx is nice, in particular AAC.

I’m looking at the iFix DSD. Originally I was looking in the under $200 category. But $399 isn’t out of my price range. I realize there start to be a lot of candidates in the $400 and under category. I have liked Burr-Brown sound for the op-amps for some time, and my Rotel CD player has an older Burr-Brown DAC which is pleasing.

Any other suggestions in this category? Does anyone have a spare mallet to knock the wrongness out of my thought process?

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I’ll try and post my ramblings on the iFi Nano BL here soon… I wrote it under the influence of a cold and NyQuil late at night last night…so I need to go back over it and make sure it isn’t too over the top lol. But I will say I’m going to buy my own once I send it back to the preview program.

Edit: the xDSD looks very interesting…and is definitely a step up from the Nano. The Bluetooth features are very nice. Plus the more capable playback options. … And it’s a very good looking device.

If you’re open to buying used, I like the old Topping NX4 (non-DSD). The DAC and op amps are all TI parts and it’s got that nice kind of smoothness I associate with Burr Brown from my Hifiberry DACs. It’s got plenty of power, a nice form factor and feels well made. Also, it works with iOS devices without the Camera Connection Kit and just a small USB to Lightning cable that’s included with the unit.

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I see it for $159 new on Amazon, $98 used on eBay. I already have 2 camera cards, but would not mind ditching them. The iDSD will connect with AAC and Bluetooth, or via the Camera card.

< distracted squirrel mode >
Ya should na hae told me you was a developer. I have a completely different Raspberry Pi thought in me haid. Not a thing to do with audio. </ distracted squirrel mode >

It’s something I might want to try. And possibly buy too. But the Amazon description says it runs on a Sabre 9038Q2, and isn’t talking Burr Brown, or TI. (BTW, I tend to follow TI, they are a huge player in analog/digital conversions generally).

I could always buy another DFB or a DFR. I’m looking for more function. Note that either my DFB or whatever I get will probably spend most of it’s time sitting between a Mac Mini and the amp for the Stax headphones, but will occasionally travel.

It may be fed by music stored on the Mac, on network storage, from Tidal or Apple Music. That can always change. If I get ambitious and clear up some more space in the rats’ nest of my main stereo, then the Stax amp will be fed from a phono preamp and (probably) my Teac DAC in that system.

So, cheap, cheap, what is the experience with the Fiio D3?

I just pulled the trigger on the iFi xDSD DAC. Maybe I will figure out how to do some sort of reasonable review on it and earn my reviewer’s wings.


Happy to help with proofing, editing, review, feedback, input etc. via PM if you want (though I doubt you’ll need that).

If you want to try something feature-level (maybe for the headphone.com main page) give me a holler, also.

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I don’t have analytic measurement tools, other than a decent multimeter. So I don’t think I can do a legit feature-level review. I will have to own up to 64 year-old auditory input hardware, and a similarly aging set of wetware processors when doing any evaluation.

But thanks, and I will take you up on proof/edit certainly.

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Measurements are not required for feature-level reviews, just in case that’s not obvious.

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I appreciate that. My personal standards apply.

Yeah, the NX4 is on its 2nd generation, the NX4 DSD. The one I have is the older non-DSD model that uses a TI DAC. New ones are no longer available, and I’m not seeing any used ones on eBay at the moment.

Ever since you pointed this out it has been a debate to get it over the nano…

Yeap to second that I also like the sound of the old Burr Brown or TI PCM Dacs. It seems there not as popular these days [which is a shame]

If you can find it, a second hand Behringer UCA 202 from 2013 or earlier is an excellent $30 dac. The older models still use the TI PCM Dacs and have quite a nice open and fairly smooth presentation.

Be warned though!!! The newer models [and I don’t know what year it started with] swap out the TI chip for an in house design that’s noticeably noisy an kinda just crunchy, soft and distorted sounding

So If your willing to dive into the second hand market for $30 a think the old UCA 202s are an excellent value!

From there you’ve got $150ish to play with for an amp. So depending on what headphones you plan to use, you have a few options.