Systems & Synergies

i’m curious about dac-amp-headphone combinations that exhibit particularly good synergies.

i’ve enjoyed the adi-2 pro -> phonitor x -> utopia system, for instance… are there such synergies you’ve noticed that are distinctive?

I’m a fan of the dual burr-browns in the idsd micro BL with the Cayin IHA-6. The amp is a bit bright, and the burr-browns have this smoothness that ensures the brightness of the amp never gets harsh or glaring. I tried it with an ESS DAC and didn’t like it much. But I think the AKM 4490s they have in their matching DAC would also be a good choice.

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MrSpeakers Alpha Prime straight out of Chord Mojo. That little DAC/amp just brings the Primes to life in a way that much bigger/more expensive/more powerful rigs don’t. Pure synergy.



Airist R-2R and Bottlehead Crack is particularly good with almost every headphone I have… looking forward to December so I can have my own Airist R-2R


thank you - i haven’t heard any of these components yet, except the Mojo a year or two ago. it’s incredibly helpful for a neophyte (as i still consider myself to be) to be guided toward synergistic chains.

@Torq did a review of the Airist R-2R, and I did an impression:


To make this thread more interesting, and useful, it’d be great if in addition to noting the components in a system you’ve found to exhibit excellent synergy that you describe why or how you believe they’re a great pairing. Your own pictures of such setups are also highly encouraged!


This is one of my favorite little setups, delivering solid technical performance and a lot of musical enjoyment at a price that not so log ago would have been hard to imagine:

The Modi 3 (full review here) provides a solid, detailed, and neutral source as a starting point, and is easy to integrate into any system - be it fed straight from a USB port or via a CD transport (etc.). The Vali 2 (full review coming shortly) delivers a detailed, but smooth and rich performance that helps tame the slight treble grain evident in the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD6XX while maintaining, and even highlighting, an excellent mid-range performance.

When I bought my first pair of HD650, back when they first launched, they alone cost more than this whole stack ($99 + $149 + $199 vs. $499).


Here’s another fun little combination from the same general end of the spectrum … but a little bit cheaper still ($79 + $99 + $149 … just $327 here).

The high-degree of clarity, and slight treble sweetness, from the SDAC combined with the meatier presentation, increased low-end heft and greater body from the Liquid Spark, pair very nicely with the largely neutral (though maybe a little lean) HD58X - helping to bring up their bass to a more satisfying level and rounding off the very slight grain in their treble.


I still want to get this combo…have you used it with the Massdrop HE4xx? Curious how the synergy with those would be.

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I have … but I haven’t gotten to taking any pictures of that setup yet.

It’s a nice combination there too, though I would probably either use the Modi 3 in place of the SDAC, or the Magni 3 in place of the Liquid Spark with the HE4xx, as they already play lower than the HD58X and don’t need the extra heft. And the Modi 3 also will help open up the mids a bit on the HE4xx.

Mostly a signature/preference call though … and hard to go wrong with any combination of those units.


Thank you, I’m looking into options for friends and family that I’ve given 4xx to as gifts…lol especially budget options like the suggestions you mentioned.

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Wow … it’s been a while since I’ve posted here (something I meant to do weekly or so, even if only briefly). Well, maybe time to address that … and I’ll do so with two abject shifts in direction … first going to a portable (or transportable) solution as well as flinging caution to the wind and moving to the opposite end of the budgetary spectrum …

Cayin N8 + 64 Audio tia Fourté

This is a fairly extreme setup, particularly for portable use, not just due to the size/weight of the N8 but also because it’s pushing past $8,000 by the time you factor in a large, fast, storage card and suitable cables for the tia Fourté.

At this end of the market a good portion of what differentiates merely “excellent” from “left in resplendent awe” in a system, for me, is down to how many breath-taking or spine-tingling moments something gives me. If it can’t elicit a tear, cause my breath to catch, nor raise the hairs on the back of my neck, with my favorite, and most emotive, performers, song, albums and concerts, then at this level I have no use for it.

Now, to be sure, I have $500 desktop setups that can drive such emotional and physical responses too. Maybe not as often, nor necessarily in as pronounced a fashion, and perhaps not with as many pieces, but they can certainly do it. The Modi 3 -> Vali 2 -> HD6XX stack will do it pretty reliably with Jessye Norman’s portrayal of Carmen, or Elaine Paige’s “Florence” in “Nobody’s Side” (Chess). But, say, Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” (Musical) is another, more challenging, matter.

The N8/tia Fourté combination makes that entire production (War of the Worlds!) as other-worldly as the invaders Well’s original work portrays must have been when it was first published. It’s downright spooky in places, adrenaline-pumping and mournful in others, and entirely unsettling with the vocalized exultations of the Martian’s cries in “Dead London”.

As I’ve said elsewhere, this is desktop-class performance. Serious desktop gear at that.

As a pure-DAC the N8 comfortably beats out the RME ADI-2 DAC, which is one of my favorite AKM-based units and something I consider a “reference” class component. And driving IEMs the N8 is still ahead, even given the superlative IEM output on the RME unit.

When I was traveling at length, with lots of listening time, I would take my Sony WM1Z as a transport, have it feed the Chord Hugo 2, and drive the Zeus XR(A) or tia Fourté. That was the best portable audio I’d heard. The simpler, more compact, and as it happens less expensive, Cayin N8/tia Fourté pairing bests that.

In fact I like the raw output of the N8 better than the Hugo 2 unless it is being fed from the M-Scaler (which is definitely not portable).

I thought perhaps it would only be in tube mode that the N8 affected me so much. And it’s true that it seems to elicit more emotion, or at least does so more rapidly, in that mode (which may be expectation bias), but in balanced solid-state mode it isn’t much different there.

I like the N8 much more with the 64 Audio flagships than I do with any other IEM I’ve tried them with (including the functionally neutral Zeus XRA).

All in all, the N8/tia Fourté is just a fabulous pairing … and in tube-mode it is unfailingly seductive, and is one of the best examples of synergy I’ve come across in the high-end market.

Absolutely fantastic!