Newbie looking for recommendations

Hey guys I know that there are several of these kinds of posts, but sadly everyones needs are different. So I am an audiophile schooled in home and car audio just breaking into the hifi headphone world. I currently own a set of Sennheiser HD598 and Harmon Kardon BT cans. Also just picked up a set of Koss KPH30i and Focal Elegias. I got a free Dragonfly Red with my Elegias.

Now I am looking for desktop dac/amp recommendations please. I listen almost exclusively to rock and metal. Thanks guys in advance


What kinda budget are you working with? @DarthPool also might want to take this to the general purchase advice thread.


I’m thinking sub $500 range to start with. But want separates so I can upgrade down the road.

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In this era you can find an awful lot of amps under $500. Are you looking for a neutral sound or a warmer tone (often with tubes)?

There are several very clean sounding THX technology amps:

Drop THX AAA 789: $299
Monoprice THX AAA 887: $399
Monoprice Balanced THX AAA: $499
SMSL SP200 THX AAA 888: $289

The Topping A90 also just hit the scene at $499 (with very good measurements)

There are a bunch of solid state amps in the $100 to $150 range:

Schiit Magni+
Schiit Magni Heresy
JDS Labs Atom
Monoprice Liquid Spark

Sub $500 tube (hybrid) amps include

Loxjie P20 $99
Schiit Vali $150
Schiit Vahalla $349
Schiit Lyr $499
Nobsound, Little Dot, Dark Voice and many others


Lots of great community members will give their take on it. If you’re looking for a portable option and desktop all in one I really like the IFi IFSD Micro Black Label with Burr Brown Dac chips @taronlissimore and @andrew will take great care of you. If you are looking for separates then maybe a Schiit Hersey or Vali with Modi 3 should keep you around your budget.

Edit!: See the professor @ProfFalkin comment below lol!


DACs start under $100, but in your case I’d use the Dragonfly Red to feed an amp for a while. Common brands in this price range include Topping, Schiit, FiiO, iFi, etc. There’s a lot of info and discussion on this website.

Cart before the horse, guys.

Since you have a foundation in home and car audio, can you tell us what kind of sound you look for from those systems? A highly detailed sound? A mellow and rich sound you can get lost in? Big bass? Any kind of description that would help us nail down your sonic preferences would be helpful.

I wouldn’t recommend the MCTH amp for those seeking a super detailed sound, for example, so I wouldn’t make a recommendation until I knew what your preferences were.


I like good separation, crisp highs, punchy but not overwhelming bass, and great detail. I am finding as I am getting older that I am preferring a better mid range as well. For reference I run Focal Flax speakers in my vehicles powered off of JL Amps so fine detail, and Onkyo receiver powering my Polk RTi speakers in the house. To me a very full spacious sound. That is the best way I know to describe my tastes.


I was looking at iFis Zen dac but most people seemed to like it only as a dac then out to an amp type setup. Would the IFSD be a good desk top option able to upgrade later?

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I was thinking an amp and a separate dac combined for the $500 range. Was planning to use the Red mostly as my portable option. But if it would be worthwhile as a stand alone dac and just splurge on a better amp for now that is absolutely a option. I was looking at the Schiit Heresy stack as an option for sure as well

I would recommend the Schiit Jotunheim with the AK4490 balanced card. I think does well as a standalone desktop setup and has many of the sound qualities you mentioned.


Oh the Jotunheim definitely has caught my eye, I just kinda figured that would be more of a end all be all solution.


Very good recommendation. I will second this.

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I’ll have to really look at getting that one sounds like. What is the difference in that dac and the multibit one for it? Sound wise I mean

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almost, I have the same background car and home audio and I Jot with multibit, the Jot has plenty of power but sometimes presents the bass as not thump but almost muddy… for detail and separation I use the smsl su8 for dac and the thx 789 amp. but let’s be real sometimes you want hard hitting bass. for those days i still go to the Jot.


Hey @devast8r3436! Another option you may want to consider is the Chord Mojo. Unless you have hard-to-drive headphones (which I don’t think those are - at least not the Elegia), that is great as a dac/amp, and it will stand up well as just a DAC for a long time, even if you upgrade your amp. I bought a Schiit Jotunheim w/ multibit DAC a few months ago thinking I would compare it to the Mojo, both as a DAC/amp and as just an amp for the Mojo. Turns out, I liked the Mojo by itself more than the Jotunheim acting as either just amp OR DAC/amp. Of course, personal preferences will vary, but I plan on selling the Jotunheim once I’m back to NYC (that’s right - I just left it there and took only my Mojo). PS - want a Jotunheim? :stuck_out_tongue: But really, both are great, and I would just encourage you to give a Mojo and a Jotunheim a listen if you can, and see what you think. Enjoy!

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Agreed w/ the bass on the Jot not being as crisp or resolving - but it definitely does give a thicker, chunkier sound

Thanks for the comments guys, I have looked at the Mojo a little as well. Sadly I don’t know anyone with any dacs or amps nearby for me to try out. That’s why I thought I’d seek the experts advise :wink:

It looks like the THX models get alot of love on here. I know they are supposed to have less distortion and coloration then others, but does that translate to a big noticable difference in most cans?

I have the Drop THX AAA 789. It is powerful and brutally honest. It’ll reveal details and grain in your sources, as well as any quirks or limitations with your headphones. The THX amps are almost certainly more resolving than the majority of studio systems until very recently, so one can hear flaws that the sound engineer likely could not hear. In some cases it’s exactly what I want, and in other cases it’s exactly what I don’t want.

Having a clean amp is good for some combinations, test/evaluation, and also to know the impact of other changes in your system (e.g., adding a bright or warm DAC).

I like the 789 with Sennheiser HD-600s, Dan Clark Aeon Flow Closed, Focal Elex, and HiFiMan HE-560s. I don’t like it with Focal Clear (as they are also extremely resolving) or any music that was bright or harsh due to production decisions.