DAC/AMP Upgrades and Sidegrades Discussion

@I_want_all_the_tacos, thank you for the response, I followed you here from R/headphones, and really appreciated your comments and views there. I find that I have a “similar” hearing profile as you, and also looking into getting the RME for generally the same reasons you are. I’m a big fan of multi-function meets form. I haven’t been “blown away” by anything but headphones so far, but I will be getting my MCTH here this week, and hopefully the Bottlehead w/speed ball kit in the next couple weeks. DACs just are an aspect that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around, mostly because I’m just not experienced enough in this hobby yet (especially in regards to DACs).

I think I will pursue the RME as a primary DAC once it is available again (I really like the function/form of it, on top of the highly regarded aspect)

I also agree with you on how everyone is different, and will hear things differently. In relation to the how to do reviews conversations we had on Here, I think it is important to find people of a similar hearing profile, or even similar likes as far as aesthetic/function and you could go as far as disposable income. Because subjectively I have friends that think their “gaming” headphones sound as good as my HD700/800…Psychologically I think it is because they worked hard at researching and saving up for them…So they mean/seem more to them. I’m not putting those views down (I was in the same boat a couple years ago, and it is how I came into audiophile headphones), and I get how that can color ones impressions.

Back on track… your response was exactly what I was looking for when it came to the “upgrade” of a DAC. I’m currently in the camp of Headphones>amps>DAC when it comes to upgrades or what I’m hearing. I’m looking forward to other peoples experiences and impressions on this topic.


Another unit to add to the list, as of today, is the new Massdrop x Airist Audio R-2R DAC ($349). I’ve posted a couple of reviews of it elsewhere, and when I get a chance this afternoon will likely post one on here as well.

Definitely competitive with what’s been listed so far and, more so than I was expecting.


Oooh that is an interesting option, I look forward to your review on the R-2R DAC. I still think I will eventually get something along the lines of the RME, but until then I don’t mind playing with new technology. Hopefully this isn’t something that ships in 6-12months lol.

1 Like

Damn that looks like it is quite the great value DAC, and I’m excited to see Massdrop put out an R2R DAC and see more enthusiasts try it out and hear comparisons to delta sigmas. I would definitely be interested in hearing your review of it. You seem to have a really good handle on DAC comparisons and I trust your impressions on DACs more than most in this hobby.

@taronlissimore @andrew - Not sure if this is a “bug” or intentional, but this is a great discussion here and I realized this thread doesn’t show up on the front page of this forum when replies are made. I suspect that because this is a top level sticked/pinned parent thread that it doesn’t appear on the front page when new replies are made like a regular thread does. I would suggest allowing replies here to be made visible on the front page or perhaps move this entire discussion to a new, regular (non-stickied) thread instead.


Thanks for the heads up!

It has been moved to a new thread @I_want_all_the_tacos .

Definitely some great discussion going on in here. Would be a shame for the community to miss it.

The first part of that review is up here.

I’ll break it up a bit so as to not make the first post overwhelming and so as not to test the limits of the post editor! Things like technical details, specifics of how it compares to other DACs (rather than just what I feel it should be compared with) , and thoughts on amp pairings and system building around it will follow if there’s interest.


This is pretty much how it goes. Although depending on the headphones your using I would probably go Music
–> Headphones --> DAC/AMP --> Cables, etc…(Last 5%). The way I look at DACs and Amps is usually they are pretty good in the sub $500 range. Technology has come a pretty long way. Once you start getting up into the above $1000 range I start looking at all the goodies that it has (Crossfeed, LED lights, multiple inputs and outputs etc…). The little things that sets it apart from what some of the lower-end offerings have. I do find that generally the noise floor is much lower on higher end source gear and that tends to be the most noticeable part for me.

Tubes are a little bit different than solid-state but I don’t have enough experience with tubes yet to give an informed opinion on them for price/performance.

It’s kind of like building a PC. Do I need a clear case with RGB lighting? No. Am I willing to spend a little extra to get it. You’re damn right! Haha.

1 Like

@taronlissimore I just rebuilt my PC and fully agree with you here(upgraded to the new i5 6 core and a new motherboard, the old ones were bottlenecking my 1080ti). The more money I spend on a product the more I want out of it (even if the technology can be had for much cheaper) I.E. Campfire providing that extra case of nice quality and the pin (both are cheap add on’s, but show a care for the customer and building brand). I feel the same way about my other products… I’m willing to spend the little extra for the add on fringes… But I’m also a deal finder and don’t mind buying used on products lol… a walking conundrum. I feel bad for my wife sometimes, having to put up with my shenanigans.

@DarthPool, the only DAC that was a small “WOW” to me was a MHDT Pagoda in comparison to my Bimby, Bifrost Uber, Modi2uber, UD-301 and sold off Modi, VX1, and WA7d. I’ve also heard a Metrum Musette, MHDT Stockholm2, Topping D30, O2/ODAC, Master 7, Yggy, Gungnir, Hugo, Hugo2, Mojo, UD-501 and Red Wine Isabellina, all were quite good and a preference choice except for the Mojo, ODAC and D30 to me. Mojo was just a bit too warm and the ODAC, Modi, VX1 and D30 were just a bit on the sterile side to me but if looking for “neutral” they might be what you are looking for.

As @I_want_all_the_tacos noted the differences are small and I’d say more than half my friends can’t tell the differences until I give them some clues to what I’m hearing and even with clues some still can’t hear any differences. I’m one to put DAC “upgrades / updates” behind amp upgrades but still way ahead of headphone cable changes.


Yeah, I think I’m seeing a similar theme here, I agree that headphones, amps, then DAC are the way to go. I just joined the R-2R drop, so I think that plus my El DAC, the DAC in the Element, and eventually the RME will be my go-to for quite some time. I’ll focus my efforts on amps and headphones.

1 Like

So it begins…


Definitely interested to see what you think of the MCTH. And perhaps more interested still to see what you experience between initial power-up listening and over the next few days. Not so much from the more subjective aspects of sound “quality” evaluation, but just to see what aspects of initial tube-ownership you experience.

Once you’ve got a baseline, and maybe 100 hours or so on the stock tube, since you’re local it might be fun to get together and do some broader listening comparisons.

I will do my best do document my experiences here. I would love to do a meet up, I know that @andrew @taronlissimore, are looking into helping set up a general one also. I am really enjoying the “adventure” of new equipment, quite enjoyable. I just wish I was more eloquent with my writing capabilities lol.

All setup, I’m running out of room on my desk lol…
First impression… Wow…I can hear some of the “pops/crackles/snaps” you mentioned @Torq. But even with that… Music sounds… Better, crisp more lovely/lively bass is deep and melodic…ok… official new wow moment! Listening to some FLAC files, mostly jazz, but I’m moving onto my other ecletic stuff soon… This is awesome, very happy with this…in other good news my Bottlehead is arriving today also! Tubes…tubes for everyone! :wink:

Edit: I’m using my Focal Elex initially, I’ll switch to my HD800 here soon also. :star_struck: wow a piano solo just came on…oh I can get used to this!


I mentioned those since they take people new to tubes a bit off guard sometimes. They’ll go away (and I do mean “go away” not just that you’ll “get used to them”) fairly quickly.

If you want to speed that process up a bit, when you’re not listening just leave your headphones disconnected, put the volume somewhere around 10:00, and leave the thing playing for a few days (don’t leave any tube amp on while you’re not home though).

Will do, thank you for the tip! I’m really enjoying this amp, I now get why people have so many different amps. I can see also (even though I haven’t started) why people would dive down the tube rolling hole.
switched to the HD800…and the detail and precision is just wow! Man, now I really can’t wait to get the R-2R in the mail lol!

You ordered your bottlehead on the May 5th sale right? I still haven’t gotten a shipping confirmation and its been exactly a month…

yeah, I did, but I’m in the Seattle area (which is across the water from the Bottlehead shop) so I’m sure that played a part in how quick it got shipped.

I’m in California so I’d assume it wouldn’t take much longer. Did they notify you with a tracking number at least?

That’s great to hear. I had some really cheap DAC and just-ok headphones (SHP9500S) when I first got my MCTH. So after a few songs, I just let it passively burn in for 100hours. By then, my HD600 and D50 came in, and life has been good :smiley:

It really is an excellent amp!