Do you need a dac with a great source?

This is an open discussion however I will add my own dilema into the mix as well.:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: I am most likely going to pick up a la figaro 339 for my Beyerdynamic DT 1990 and idk if I need a good dac as well. I have an iPhone X running flac files and a dac seems like a minimal improvement to my source however I have never tried a high end dac outside of trying them on in stores. Just wondering about your thoughts on the matter and also how much money will it take to create a worthwhile difference in my listening?

I personally hear very obvious differences in high-end and bass clarity in going from an old notebook, to Apple phones, and then to $33, $100, and $350 DAC/Amps. My sources are never better than CD/FLAC/contemporary streaming. Each is better than the last.

I have an Iphone 8s and while it sounds pretty good with the headphone dongle there is a noticeable improvement when I connect the Dragonfly Red DAC/Amp. Now I listen to Classical mostly where dynamics, Clarity, Instrument separation and soundstage are critical. So depending upon what you’re most sensitive to and the actual source material It may or may not matter.

I have an iPhone. It sounds ok but its not designed in any meaningful way to replicate high quality audio. they just dont have the space inside to put any dedicated audio related hardware in them. Does the iphone produce a line level output? Anyway
When you use quality equipment that is designed for the single purpose of audio alone the difference is night and day. Running my DAP through a tube amp is beyond sublime…the experience being nothing like the equivalent using a phone.
That’s a nice looking Amp :slight_smile: but as rightly suspect it will only replicate what you put into it
I can only recommend what I have any experience with but if you put some high quality on this and run it through that amp - you’ll be at a whole 'nother level!!

Do you need a great DAC with a great source? Yes !! You need to get a great analog signal out to that lovely amp you’re looking at buying. Otherwise it’s garbage in garbage out. The weakest link is going to choke the best speakers, headphones or amps. If you are playing digital files, you should not be using the iPhone as a source unless your pulling the pure digital source and then processing it with a good DAC. The DAC needs a good conversion chip and a great analog output stage.

One thing to be aware of is that DAC technology is advancing rapidly. Output stages are the real trick. Looking for a DAC that allows you to upgrade it’s firmware is not a bad idea - helps the DAC maintain longterm value. But any great DAC is going to lost for a good long time.


I can tell a very clear difference between my phone (Note 8) and the Topping D50. Sound is less muddied, and the low and high end are brought out much better.

Hmmm…as far as I can tell, the La Figaro 339 is an amplifier, not a source!

I have no personal experience with La Figaro products, but I would expect a ~$750 DAC and $600 pair of headphones to make a fairly resolving system…more than resolving enough to appreciate the improvements that a decent DAC would bring over the analog outputs on a smartphone.

But what you seem to be asking is if a high-performance headphone amp will make up for the mediocre to poor performance of the smartphone’s DAC and analog output stage. Unfortunately, that is a bit like putting racing tires on a VW Rabbit. It doesn’t work that way.

Your playback chain is only as strong as the weakest link (+/- synergy among components). You don’t have to go crazy…even a simple Behringer UMC204HD audio interface, Topping D30 DAC, or iFi Audio nano iDSD Black Label DAC will provide involving and satisfying sound that is clearly better than your iPhone.

Even the best equipment wont help a lousy recording - which is ultimately the primary source.


Indeed. Nice equipment often reveals that the recording studio used bad equipment or just slapped a track together. Or compressed it to death. But when you reach that point you know there’s nothing more to buy.


There are a lot of un-answered questions here.

  1. FLAC files mean nothing. What actual music do you listen to? Recording quality varies vastly between artists, and even albums.
  2. Why do you want the La Figaro 339 amp in particular?
  3. Have you tried the DT 1990 with anything other than your iPhone yet?
  4. How loud, approximately, do you listen to music? Quietly? Moderate volume, or loud?

@Currawong - Great questions…and I totally missed the fact that @Jarod_Ferkin has not yet purchased the La Figaro! I assumed that he already had it (must remember to read questions at least twice before responding, LOL).

There are loads of great sounding DAC/Amps in the ~$750 price range that would be a tremendous upgrade over the smartphone. A few that come to mind include:

I could go on and on and on…and I’m sure many others here could as well. Of course, most of these are solid state and none as visually stunning as the La Figaro, so if curb appeal is one of the requirements, that will need to be taken into account and budgeted for appropriately.

However, I am fairly confident that any of the above DAC/Amps connected via a camera connection kit cable from the iPhone X will be more resolving than the La Figaro 339 driven directly from the $9 Apple Lightning to 3.5mm “adapter.”

Even better sound awaits if the DAC/Amp is, instead, connected to something like the Allo USBridge or DigiOne Player running Roon Bridge. In this configuration, Roon Core Server would run on a laptop or desktop computer and the iPhone X would just be used to run the Roon Remote control app.


Does your smartphone adequately drive the DT1990s?

The FiiO Q5 ($350) was explicitly designed for this use case (and that’s why I bought it). Full Apple phone integration with a wildly better DAC; no need for the camera connection kit at all. One can connect via the provided USB to Lightning adapter, Bluetooth, or a coax, optical, or analog source. In casual daily use I have no need to go beyond its easy high-quality Bluetooth connection (the content is processed by FiiO, not Apple).

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Very cool!

Since @Jarod_Ferkin is contemplating the purchase of a tube headphone amp that weighs more than twenty pounds, it’s safe to say that portability is not high on his list of required features, but the FiiO Q5 looks like a must-have for iPhone X toting audiophiles. Thanks for chiming in!

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I just have to say how GORGEOUS that amp is. One of the best I’ve seen.

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Yes, that’s why I hadn’t contributed earlier. However, the Q5 changed how I listen to high quality music around the house. No more feeling like a dog-on-a-leash next to a bunch of fragile shelf equipment…hopefully this won’t sound like a commercial…

Once you set up Bluetooth, just connect the headphones to the Q5 and carry it around the house. It requires only the cord and a cell-phone sized device to produce quality that easily competes with many non-portable set-ups, and surpasses common background noises (washer/dryer, lawnmowers, etc). With an iPhone it’ll even play/pause and advance/rewind tracks, plus the battery is rated for 10 hours too. I’m using it happily with Focal Elex (balanced output) or NightHawk Carbons at 30% to 50% volume, but the integrated amp is a bit thin sounding with the Elex on single-ended output or with my Sennheiser 600s. For extra warmth/thickness I run the line-out through my tube amp, and go back on the leash.

A new era for me.

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Lol true I am looking for a desktop amp and I definitely will be getting a great dac as well I just may not be able to afford the La Figaro anymore :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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