Your suggestions: Headphone + DAC/Amp combo?

I was recently banned from Audio Science Review.

The reason you ask? - Because I simply shared my experiences after visiting an audio shop. In my post, I compared what I heard at the audio shop vs brands I had previously owned or auditioned: Sabaj, Topping, and various branded dongles
I was drawn to ASR because of the supposedly “objective” reviews of audio gear with measurements.

But after the experience at the audio shop with high-end brands, my outlook completely changed. The main thing that I noticed was each of these headphone amplifiers/DACs have an unpleasant sound signature of their own. Either midrange forward, treble forward, recessed in the bass, or all the above. There was also a sterility to the sound where most music sounded dry and uninvolving. Sure, we could blame bad recordings/songs, but the same CD-Rs/.wav files were played at the audio shop…

At the shop I auditioned systems from dCS, Esoteric, Luxman, and Accuphase. Live recordings had a certain kind of "presence.” And it made me believe I was there in person. The music was all around me. Everything just sounded "real" it’s hard to explain. Even regular CD-Rs had a kind of liquidity to them…like flowing water. There was detail, clarity, and midrange tonality that my previous systems just couldn’t resolve.

I brought my AKG K872 (reference) headphones with me and tried a bunch of others at the shop from Grado, Audeze, and Focal. I have a working memory and notes of what each track was like with the K872s.

In every case I would imagine the headphones would be served better by high-end audio systems. I don’t currently own any other systems (sold the Chi-Fi)…reason I got the K872 (saved up for it) was because it helps me discern between different headphone amps and DACs. (ultra-transparent and morphs the sound with each new rig)

My question for you experts is…what does your headphone system look like/comprised of? I’m looking to achieve audio nirvana with headphones – perhaps a little less costly than the high-end brands, but with some of the same sonic characteristics.


Please help point me in the right direction. I’m a junior audio enthusiast.


Kind regards,



What was your handle on ASR?
(I did attract a 2 week ban a while ago, and their use of banning and suspension, can be a bit intolerant.)


I got an RME, but most DACS are also about features… and I am not really a DAC guy.
I suppose if you use the PEQs than an RME or other DAC with an EQ feature would be handy.

If you are trying to power low impedance headphones, then a DAC which can do that is best… one with a lower output impedance and can power the worst of headphones.


A lot of people like the SMSL and iFi DACS, which may not have the highest SINAD, but ASR also is mostly a list of SINAD values… when it comes to DACS.

I am sure you;ll get a list of noice sounding DACs, but I wanted a single unit I could plug into. And one that also allowed AtoD, so I did not think about it too hard.
If it was for listening then it likely gets harder.

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I use an MSB 'Analog DAC' going into an Eddie Current Studio B tube headphone amp, and plug my Susvara's into that. Sounds not-half-bad! 

@soix - Indeed, and if it wasn't for used and demo gear, it would be more than I could handle! But the Eddie Current amp is the only thing I've got that's new..... I do have a Donald North Audio Stratus on its way at some point soon, I think. I like these boutique tube headphone amps! 

Your ban is not surprising. Sharing your listening experiences in there, with no measurements to back it up, or no blind tests, is frowned upon.

To answer your query, if you are specifically looking for a good headphone amp / DAC combo, I would recommend Naim Uniti Atom HE (headphone edition). MSRP is $3,700 (I think it used to be $3,200 not a long time ago). That’s what I have. I like it that it also has a Roon Ready streamer built in. And own Naim app that you can stream Qobuz, Tidal, Spotify, with no need for Roon.


In my watch list for endgame headphone rig is the Esoteric N-05XD. Also a great headphone amp / DAC combo, with built-in streamer. MSRP is $11,000 (not sure).


Finally, take a look at T+A HA 200, retails for about $9,000. It does not have a streamer built in.

Thanks to all for the valuable insight!! Much appreciated. I’ll keep listening and figure something out.

It’s only a matter of time before ASR "reviews" more high-end gear...perhaps even some of the gear mentioned in this discussion.

My point is that measurements only matter regarding what we can hear. If we can’t hear already low THD levels, what’s the point of making them even lower?

I believe the application of advanced technology, or at least stable/reliable tech is far more important than a bunch of audio measurements. The gear I auditioned had much worse specs vs the headphone dongles/headphone amps I bought before...and yet they performed in a much superior way.

On that note, ASR does not perform measurements with an oscilloscope or do null tests for the output of DACs/Amplifiers. If they did, with the same test track, the differences would be indisputible. I once asked Amir why not, and he said that his standard measurements are more than sufficient.

He was banned on more than a handful of audio forums. For example, on WhatsBestForum - with over 15k posts. If you read some of these, it gives you the impression that the guy has no chill...he always needs to be right or win an argument. I also found forums where others did independent measurements of some Chi-Fi gear and speakers he measured...found issues with 2nd and 3rd harmonics...and even distortion!

Unfortunately, this was only recently. If I had known, I never would have trusted those measurements on ASR.


@frank1988 : I recommend letting go from grudges with ASR, and move on. Focus on what you like / prefer, and forget the rest. It will be much healthier for your mental wellbeing, your choice of equipment, and your enjoyment of music. Friendly advice

My point is that measurements only matter regarding what we can hear. If we can’t hear already low THD levels, what’s the point of making them even lower?

Also some good points in other places of your last post.

The claim is that a tone captures everything one needs to know. But it is not clear to me that transcient response is also at -120dB. 

I have two systems...a portable and home system.

  1. Chord Mojo2/Poly
  2. Moon HA 430 with internal DAC and a Node 2i as the streamer

I started listening to the headphone jack on my preamp...with Sennheiser HD800s

I initially bough a portable system to enjoy music on extended trips.  Then I started to enjoy different listening experiences.  I even picked up Focal Elegia closed back headphones.

My advice is define your desires, budget and then enjoy the journey.

I have the Naim HE. Very nice sounding and best solid state combo that I have tried that gets some good organic tubey sound.

Matrix Audio element units are nice but a little more analytical sounding. I have the Element I2. Pretty good for the size and price.

My #1 headphone setup right now is Lumin U1 Mini into Pontus II into Cayin HA-6A tube amp.

Astell&Kern DAPs are also a nice option if your headphones are not super difficult to drive. The sound quality from them is really amazing for the size.

For headphones there is a pretty good deal on some nice sounding IEMs at Hifiman for the RE2000 "open box" at $299. The ones I just received "open box" were brand new. The gold version sells for $2k.

My current sets of full size headphones are Meze Elite, Liric, Audeze LCD-XC, Hifiman HE1000SE, Sennheiser 800S and then a few cheaper sets. Of the bunch it would be a toss up between Meze Elite and HE1000SE for my overall best pick. 

By the way welcome to a forum where most people have an open mind unlike the other place you visited.


@calieng hi, looking for some 🎧, I like bass, from your list I would have expected you liked the LCD-xc the best or the 800S, do you eq the LCD?


Realized I never made a recommendation. Duh. I’d highly suggest going with a separate amp and DAC as it gives you better quality and more flexibility going forward and they don’t take up much space — at least not the ones I’m recommending. If you’re open to tubes I’d highly recommend the Quicksilver Headphone Amp, which I view as quite a bargain at around $1200…

If you’re looking to spend less, the Singxer discrete, fully-balanced Class A amp produces that smooth Class A sound at only $599 — I own it BTW…

For a DAC, the Musician Pegasus is great (I also own it) and is also a bargain at $1044 IMHO, but if you can spend around $600 more the Gustard R26 will likely give a good performance boost — both are R2R DACs BTW…

Also, if you get a DAC with an i2S connection (as the ones I recommended both do) I also highly recommend getting a DDC to be able to take advantage of this connection as it made a huge difference over using an SPDIF connection and it also re-clocks the data. The Musician Pisces or Denafrips Iris (which I own) would be great choices. Sorry for being so late, but hope this helps and best of luck.

@overthemoon  could you describe the differences in sound quality between the Chord mojo and Moon HA 430?  I like the idea of the convenience and portability of the mojo, but I’m not sure if I’ll be happy with the sound of the mojo or if I’ll end up wishing I got the moon.     Sorry to hijack this thread. 

@johnau The difference is night and day...and so is the cost.

  • The Chord is wonderful for escaping with music where ever you are.  I can enjoy music where ever I am.  It's a step up from a headphone jack on a quality preamp.
  • The Moon envelopes you in music - it's extremely dynamic while being detailed and finessed. It's a forever piece of equipment for me.  It's what I envision as a reference level listening experience.

@overthemoon  thank you for taking the time to quickly respond, and for confirming my suspicions.  doesn't make my life any easier or cheaper, but I think I know which way I need to go.   

i've compared the chord mojo to the smsl su-9/sh-9 combo and i like the smsl better--much better UI + digital tuning options + more dynamics and slam, while the mojo sounded a little more transparent/truer to source. both are hard to beat without spending alot more.

@johnau I started with the chord mojo because the portability.  I have travelled significantly for work and sometimes am away from home weeks at a time.  I personally tend not to watch TV or listen to music on the road because (a) music selection/quality wasn't engaging (b) not a big TV person.

I'm sure there's lots of other great options and the Chord Mojo2 with poly really is an amazing value for a portable and comprehensive high quality listening - especially if you have Tidal or Roon (with the ARC app).

Enjoy the process!

50 years experience with HP.The best DAC/amp setup I have heard is the Audeze lcd4 driven directly from speaker taps on AIRTIGHT ATM 300 b amp with a chord Dave front end.I will be purchasing the RAAL sra1-b soon to compliment the Audeze lcd4.



I am also going to suggest the Naim Unitti Atom HE.  I have one in my bedroom for late night listneing using my closed back headphones so I do not disturb my wife while she is sleeping.  The Naim unit replaced a custom tube headphoine amp which I use elsewhere along with a Sonnett Morpheus DAC and Hermes streamer.  I love the all in one Atom as opposed to the three boxes which it replaced and the sound is fantastic.