If I have a really good DAC, is a tube amp necessary?

skhan007

Silver Supporting Member
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10,740
I'm talking specifically about use with headphones. I recently went to a hi-fi meet at the local hi-fi shop and loved all the great tube amps I heard. I got to check out the MicroZotl2, Schiitt Lyr2, Woo and Audio WA7. There were a couple of great DACs there as well, such as the Schiit Bifrost multibit, Chord Mojo, and Oppo HA2-SE.

Honestly, I have this great Apogee Duet that I have used for home recording/demos and it sounds flat-out stellar as a DAC for headphone/hi-fi use. Probably close to the above mentioned current 'all the rage' DACs.

Not sure what a tube amp would add if my current DAC drives my cans well (Senn HD800). I know I can roll tubes and some will talk about a 'warmer' sound, but not sure how necessary one would be. Maybe it just about personal taste? I can understand if your DAC doesn't power your headphones, but other than that, I'm trying to see if a tube amp adds audible/appreciable benefit.
 

billm212

Member
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31
Totally a matter of taste. Even if a particular amp does not power the headphones adequately, that can be remedied by replacing it with either a solid state or a tube amp with sufficient power. The trick is to match the characteristics of the amp with those of the phones, so if your phones are already on the warm side, a tube amp may not be the best match. But as the 800s are somewhat bright, a good tube amp may just the the thing for them . . .

Good luck . . .
 

AndrewC

Socially Distant Member
Gold Supporting Member
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I also used to have an Apogee Duet, but rather than a tube amp, I strongly recommend you check out the Benchmark Audio DAC3. I'm currently using its predecessor (DAC2-HGC) with Sennheiser HD800s (and a pair of B&W 802 D3s) and it's phenomenal. They have a 30 day risk free trial, so if you don't think it's enough of an upgrade, you can just return it. I bet you keep it! :)
 

mcp

Senior Member
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1,708
You will never know until you try it. If a local dealer has one, try it out. Music Direct has 30 day returns, try one and send it back if it doesn't work out.
 

teleman1

Silver Supporting Member
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16,238
I had Audio alchemy & Perpetual Technologies as DACs and hadn't used one in ages. With my Tinitus, I though everything was destined for mediocre. Well I purchased one of the lowest end DACS on the market, the Audio Engine D1. This is pluged into my computer with wireless headphones connected by RCA in the back. There are other applications, but man, I can tolerate listening to a lot more and everything does sound better. I get fatigued less. SO far thats just for internet listening, youtube,etc. This little thing gives a lot of bang for the buck. If I delve any deeper, I had my eye on the Jolida tube DAC. Since I have a good stash of 12ax7's, I could give it an extra punch in the analog love dept.
 

Dig ?

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,198
I used to work in a hi-fi / custom electronics store and found that a LOT of what you spend on tubes is "prestige". If you have a serious DAC and great speakers your probably not gonna miss tubes. But then youll have to deal with "its ok but tubes are for the serious audiophile" lol! I got so sick of that job
 

Brian Scherzer

Co-Founder of TGP
Staff member
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5,148
My opinion is that the choice depends on whether you like accuracy and detail or whether your current combination of source and headphones are already pretty bright. If you don't feel that the sound you currently hear is too bright or "lacks body", a tube headphone amp can help. However, not all tube types sound alike! I have a Woo WA6-SE and a Woo WA2. The 6SE does round off brittle edges without sounding overly-"tubey". The WA2, however, is much darker sounding and sort of what a lot of people think of as being a "tube sound".

Now, my answer to your question! I am not familiar with your headphones but I believe that some reviewers have said that they are very detailed and can be fatiguing. That would be the only reason I can suggest going with a tubed headphone amp. If you need more power, there are a lot more quality Solid State headphone amps than there are quality Tubed headphone amps. If you are searching for a more "liquid" sound (liquid is the latest term for "relatively smooth") that is colored, a decent tubed amp will get you there.
 

soulohio

Member
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10,999
macbook pro > Presonus USB AudioBox > JBL LSR 305

sounds fine but gets a bit busy when you get it loud and the music is busy

next up is the LSR 310 sub
 

skhan007

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
10,740
My opinion is that the choice depends on whether you like accuracy and detail or whether your current combination of source and headphones are already pretty bright. If you don't feel that the sound you currently hear is too bright or "lacks body", a tube headphone amp can help. However, not all tube types sound alike! I have a Woo WA6-SE and a Woo WA2. The 6SE does round off brittle edges without sounding overly-"tubey". The WA2, however, is much darker sounding and sort of what a lot of people think of as being a "tube sound".

Now, my answer to your question! I am not familiar with your headphones but I believe that some reviewers have said that they are very detailed and can be fatiguing. That would be the only reason I can suggest going with a tubed headphone amp. If you need more power, there are a lot more quality Solid State headphone amps than there are quality Tubed headphone amps. If you are searching for a more "liquid" sound (liquid is the latest term for "relatively smooth") that is colored, a decent tubed amp will get you there.

Good advice. It's hard to say right now, as the Senn HD800 are some phenomenal headphones. Yes, they have a really crisp high end, but not in an undesirable or fatiguing way. Also, the Woo WA6-SE and WA2 are drool-worthy. I've really been interested in checking out both, as I really liked the WA7 I heard recently. Thanks for the feedback on those two amps.

Regarding DAC's, I feel like my Apogee Duet is really good, but Chord has the Mojo and Hugo2 and I'm curious if a DAC change/upgrade makes sense. I've got to hear them for myself, I know.
 

skhan007

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
10,740
I'm seeing DAC's that cost $2K and some going up over $5K. It's mind-boggling. Aren't we just talking converting zeros and one's, in terms of what a DAC actually does? Clearly, it's justified as this stuff sells. I know there are DACs producing DSD and high-def audio frequency ranges that go beyond what the human ear can actually hear. Part of me says, if I'm listening to CD quality in lossless format (16 bit depth and 44.1 sampling rate), I'm not sure if a different DAC will do any better than my current one (Apogee Duet). My DAC goes up to 24/96, so that covers a good deal of high-def audio albums available for purchase.

Also, the more I'm reading, the more I'm thinking that the Woo Audio WA2 sounds like a perfect fit for me. That, and the MicroZotl2 amps seem to be the ones for me to consider! I think I'm going to need to hear this stuff in-person to see if the added "warmth" of a good tube amp justifies the purchase.
 

loudboy

Member
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27,306
I'm seeing DAC's that cost $2K and some going up over $5K. It's mind-boggling. Aren't we just talking converting zeros and one's, in terms of what a DAC actually does?

It's more about the analog circuitry that follows the conversion.
 

soulohio

Member
Messages
10,999
Regarding DAC's, I feel like my Apogee Duet is really good, but Chord has the Mojo and Hugo2 and I'm curious if a DAC change/upgrade makes sense. I've got to hear them for myself, I know.

I have a PreSonus USB Audiobox (USB 2.0) sale priced at $79
I wonder if something in the $500 will make a difference
i gotta have the XLR outputs to deal with my JBL powered drivers
but I will say
you listen to a good recording of Ryan Adams solo
guitar only
and this little system breathes
it is the busier music that starts to sound
busy
 

Jack G

Member
Messages
4,080
I have a PreSonus USB Audiobox (USB 2.0) sale priced at $79
I wonder if something in the $500 will make a difference
i gotta have the XLR outputs to deal with my JBL powered drivers

In think we both run LSR305s w/ the 310s, soulo. When I had those in my main system, I ran them from an Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC/preamp and it worked beautifully:

http://emotiva.com/products/dacs/electronics/dacs/stealth-dc-1

I also really liked that it had a pure analog input/passthrough for my turntable. The JBL's have been moved to another setup and I still use the DC-1 in fixed-output mode just as a DAC (not a pre). No clue how it may compare to other DAC's. I do have an M-Audio Mobile Pre and Roland Quad-Capture but never compared in the same setup.
 




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