Empyrean Headphones/Sennheiser HDVD 800 + 'what DAC'?

I have a great setup in my sound room w/ tube amp, DAC and speakers but looking to set something up in another room that is a bit more portable.  I already have the headphones & headphone amp listed above but looking for the right DAC.  Would a Dragonfly Red or Cobalt be a good fit, or some other compact DAC?  Opinions/Advice??


The sound quality attained through a high end headphone system has similar requirement to that of a primary system. Although the demand on your amp is not as high. The demands on a streamer and DAC certainly are. Headphones are very sensitive and put the drivers right next to your ears… so You are going to hear th SQ. Especially with really high-quality drivers like the HD 800s.


You can see my headphone system under my user ID. It produces sound quality at the level of my main system. I have found with this system the Streamer and DAC are critical. Over the fifteen years that it took me upgrade piece by piece until it really became a serious system with really good and magical sound was to have a really good DAC… I tried all sorts including ones like Dragonfly, a small two box “high end “ ESS solutions from HeadPhone… and a number of others. It wasn’t until I got a real high end DAC (Ayre) that the sound really improved to become high end. My experience with all inexpensive DACs has been a real disappointment. My recommendation is to get a real DAC (mine is half sized)… something like a Schiit Yggdrasil or better. Then follow with a high quality streamer.


The sound from my Sennheiser HD800’s and Focal Utopia is truly wonderful and without fault. Getting there was a long journey, and cost money… but the good thing is it was still only around 10% of my main system.



Are you planning on continuing to use the 800 as an amp/DAC and want another amp/DAC that is truly portable, or are you looking for a better DAC to feed the 800?

I have a good headphone amp in my DAC/preamp, but for portable use (with Senn HD650) I use a Dragonfly Cobalt and my phone, streaming Tidal. I think it sounds excellent, very close to my rack unit.

The Sennheiser is an HDVD- it's only a headdphone amp- but a damn good one.  It drives my Meze Empyrean headphones.

I used the Dragonfly Red for a while when I was getting started in HeadFi and still use it for when I’m on the move, but your system would benefit from a better DAC IMHO.   What are you using for a DAC now (if any), and what sound characteristics are you looking for and are most important to you?  

I used the Empy (a warm headphone) with a Benchmark HPA4 preamp/headphone amp and a Benchmark DAC3B. It was a great combo since the neutral Benchmark gear matched the warm Empy. A used Benchmark DAC2 maybe available for under $1000. It sounds the same as my latest DAC3B (I had both before).

I didn't think the HDVD had a DAC but it looks like (from looking online) that perhaps it does??  Anyone know for sure?  If so, then do I just hook it up to my Macbook and use Tidal or Roon for music streaming?

Portability is nice but not necessary- the setup will stay in my office or garage mostly.  A DAC that goes nicely with this would be good.  

Just hook up the MacBook Pro to the USB on the back of the DAC section of the amp. It is not the best way to go buy for a garage that would be OK. For my office I use much better streaming approaches and do not let the computer touch the DAC section.

With Sennheiser’s HDVD 800, sound is perfect. The HDVD 800 is able to connect with digital sources and is equipped with a high-quality Burr-Brown digital/analog converter (DAC) that converts digital audio data into analog signals with a resolution of 24 bits and a sampling rate of up to 192 kHz. This enables the HDVD 800 to transmit the entire frequency spectrum of high-end audio sources without any loss of frequencies.

In addition to the symmetrical inputs, the HDVD 800 also has an asymmetrical input socket; incoming signals are symmetrized before further processing takes place. Digital sources can be connected to the rear of the unit via an XLR (AES/EBU) input, optical and coaxial (S/PDIF) digital inputs or USB. All digital inputs accept signals up to 24 bit at 192 KHz*. Designed and manufactured in Germany, this high-end, solid-state amplifier harmonize perfectly and deliver an ultimate acoustic performance when paired with any of Sennheiser’s audiophile headphones.


Yes - the HDVD 800 includes a DAC. I'd have a listen to that first before making any changes. After all, it was designed to work with Sennheiser headphones.



Thanks guys.  I'm thinking I need to get a DAC/headphone amp that better matches the Empyrean headphones.  I see one suggestion above but 'new' the DAC is $2K.  Looking for headphone/amp/DAC (ideally all in one, ideally small) that is $2,500K or less all-in.  Thoughts?  Ideas?

I'm thinking I need to get a DAC/headphone amp that better matches the Empyrean headphones.

Again I must ask the key question, what improvements are you looking for and what sound characteristics are most important to you?  Without this critical info it’s impossible to make a meaningful recommendation. 

The Empy is a warm headphone and mates well with a neutral headphone amp.

I had the following unit and it was good with the Empy.

Matrix Audio Mini i-3 Pro Streamer, DAC & Headphone Amp (headphones.com)

This unit is one of the most versatile pieces of gear I have used. You can stream from Ethernet (best), Wifi, Bluetooth. The unit is almost like a portable headphone amp.


I also tried the Topping A90 with the Meze, but you need the DAC and streamer to go with that.

Topping A90 Headphone Amp for Desktop (headphones.com)

It is also a good match.

The best match was the Benchmark HPA4. It is super clean and so quiet. The Meze love the HPA4 the most but the other 2 were very good for the price.

Benchmark HPA4, silver For Sale - US Audio Mart


Thank you YYZ~.  I'd love to get the Benchmark but that plus the DAC adds a lot of cost.  I think i'll try the Matrix.  Anyone want to buy a Sennheiser HDVD 800??


The Matrix has the weakest headphone section but the most versatile everything else.

Yesterdday, I bought for the second time the Topping D90LE ($799). That with the A90 headphone amp will get you close to the Benchmark level. I had the A90 before. You would need a streamer though.


What I did back then was buy the Matrix and the Topping A90. That was very good.