Is a dedicated DAC necessary?

I’ve been looking for a good DAC/AMP for around $100, but can’t find too much out there (suggestions appreciated)

However, I have found a few good recommendations for amps around $100.

My question is, if I go with just an amp, such as a Magni 3+, would I be missing out on anything if I hooked it directly to the rear audio of my desktop instead of shelling out for a dedicated DAC?

What are the drawbacks of using onboard audio, and by extension, the advantages of using an external dedicated DAC?

Note, my goal here is to have enough Chutzpah to power harder to drive headphones. I’ve tried the HD6XX, the Sundara, HE4XX etc… but I feel like I never had the equipment to power them properly, which ultimately led me to return them.


Many, many people do that. It depends on the headphones and your demands/expectations. For a long time I ran my HD-600s directly from notebook PCs, and then added an amp, and then added a DAC. (And then more amps and more DACs.) The overall quality, bass, definition, and clarity improved with each change. Sennheisers in the 600 series scale very well, while others can max out quickly. High-end products often respond well to high end components too.


Reading up on this topic, it seems like the only way to find out if it’s the correct option for me is to try it for myself, which I guess is par for the course when it comes to audio gear. Haha.

From what I’ve read, the most I really have to worry about is electrical noise from the onboard DAC on my desktop.

That’s interesting to hear that many people run directly from their computer though. I’ve always seen dedicated amps paired with dedicated DAC’s, but that’s generally on youtube and the like.

I hear you on the 600 series scaling though. In my time with the HD6XX, I was very underwhelmed with them running off my Hidizs Sonata and the BTR5. But after running them off the balanced output on the BTR5, they seemed to improve considerably, but just weren’t quite what I was wanting.

I have a feeling that they were just a little more held back by the BTR5 and just scraping by.


Yea the best thing to do in this hobby is to just try and see for yourself. I would recommend you get an amp and try with just your onboard DAC for a bit.

After you’ve used it for a good bit of time, get the DAC and see if it’s worth it. If it does make a worthwhile change… great! Otherwise, return and be happy you’ve saved money :smile:


It’s more than that, a dedicated (e.g., desktop or strong DAP) DAC with fixed volume line out generally sounds better than output going through a volume control (e.g., rotary knob or digital buttons).

The HD 600 family really improves on a balanced setup. In my early days I (and many others) thought they were weak on bass. Then I bought strong desktop amps (e.g., THX AAA 789) and the bass appeared…still not overwhelming but 2x or 3x that of a notebook headphone jack.

In my experience, yes.


To add my 2c here…

On-board audio in general is “ok” but as soon as you start hooking up sensitive and or power hungry equipment, is over.

Sensitive headphones will pick up on all of your interference noise from your computer.
IE: mine is really unusable coming from an asus board0

Than you got power requirements which most of the time, your on-board will not be able to meet.

TBH Magni 3+ is an amazing AMP and even better paired with a Modi. for the price, it cant get better than that.


Just for context… I use my audio out headphones jack on my laptop with my LCD-GX all the time… it’s a factor of convenience.

As others have said, when you start to scale up in gear it helps having “better” or optimized/dedicated audio chains. But ultimately only you can prevent forest… errr… only you can say what ultimately brings you happiness in this hobby :wink:


Very well said. +1 10char limit.



I feel like this can’t be said enough, with all the marketing and reviews out there, it’s difficult to just go off of personal experience.


I feel like I’m an iFi hypeman sometimes but the ZenDAC for $130 is pretty solid DAC/Amp combo that should be okay to drive those headphones if you add a power adapter. It’s also balanced if you care about that sorta thing. And if later you want to add an amp, it’s pretty easy and they should be coming out with a similarly designed Amp soon.

I don’t / can’t use a DAC at work, just an amp with the PC output, and I’d trade that with a good DAC/Amp.


This x 10^24 … and this may (likely will) take some experimenting and may change over time.


This is the beauty of this hobby. Some like combos and they’re completely happy about it.

I have a more pragmatic approach of purchasing separates. A $100 amp (analogic) will still be as good as in 10 years from now, where DAC technology (digital) will certainly change. Therefore, I wouldn’t mind upgrading a $100 DAC every (other) year, for instance.

Anyway, my message is not about rules. It’s about possibilities.

I have a $200 stack at work (Modi 3 / Magni 3+) and will probably get the Monolith Liquid Spark stack as well – when they release their DAC later this year – to leave at home. Just to have some gear to reach out when I want to listen to something in a quick ‘n’ dirty fashion.



I am an iFi person my self. I have not played with any of their new toys but I am anxious too. Hopefully, I get to play with one soon and talk about it @ The Hobbyists Show, I think @DarthPool has one.


I’ve been curious about the Earmen Donald Dack. They’re using a Cirrus chip which I think falls in between something like a Burr Brown and Sabre chip. Maybe similar to AKM.

That one is $100.


I found myself in a similar situation to yours not too long ago, with some similar headphones. When I upgraded from my first serious headphone to a pair of HE 400i, I also moved from my computers’ onboard audio output to a Schiit Audio Fulla 2 ($100). This made for a significant improvement, although as a combined DAC/amp unit, I couldn’t tell which element yielded the greater benefit. I could tell the difference clearly, though, between the HE 400i straight from the computer and fed by the Fulla 2.

Since then I added an HD 6XX, moved the Fulla 2 to DAC duties into a Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid ($175), and then, as the audio addiction took hold, upgraded my DAC to the Massdrop Airist RDAC ($350). Each of these steps made for appreciable and substantial upgrades.

My advice: first, depending on your budget, you could go with either an all-in-one unit like the Fulla or the hip-dac; or, second, you could go with incremental upgrades, like hopping across DAC and amp stepping stones, e.g. from the Magni 3+ and then on to the Modi 3 further down the line.

Finally, don’t forget that buying used items can make experimenting more affordable and less risky. If you don’t like something, you could sell it again and not be out of pocket much, if at all. And slightly older iterations of popular products, such as the Magni or Modi 2, sell for great prices.


Kick it up to $200 and you have a lot more options. Purchasing used you can find a Schiit or imported DAC/AMP in the $100 range.


I always try to remind myself that, in terms of impact on sound headphones>Amp>DAC


And the higher the level of detail your headphones are capable of, the more the amp/dac matter (sensitivity, impedance, etc., factored in). Imo of course.


So I’ve decided to re-order a pair of HD6XX (Just in time too since they seem to be having supply issues now.) and I’ve ordered a Magni 3+.

I plan on going from either my onboard audio on my desktop, or my Hidizs Sonata to the Magni until I can start experimenting with DAC’s.

When driving one amp with another, what should I set the first amp to in terms of volume?
Do I want to be pumping full volume into the Magni or is there a sweet spot that I should be looking for?

Very excited to give the HD6XX another chance, though it will be hard to beat the HD559 I’m using right now, especially in terms of comfort.


Awesome choice. You will not be disappointed as far as power goes, Audio signature depends on you :slight_smile: Enjoy it!.