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Little DAC/Amp with negative gain?


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Hello all! I'm looking for a decent but cheapish DAC/Amp that has significant negative gain, and was wondering if anyone knew of anything? I'm using it to connect to my digital piano software, with which I use a pair of Etymotic 4XRs. At standard levels and 0dB gain I usually need to attenuate by at least 24dB before I can even get close to half volume with most pots.

I'll add that I'm also using it at relatively low output levels because of my messed up ears, so it really would be nice to have some meaningful volume range without having to use massive digital attenuation. Also, using that kind of digital attenuation still leaves the amp itself at a much higher output level which could potentially let accidental pops and any other noises come through extremely loudly.

I tried this: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01L4CPF7U/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 as a way of attenuating after the output stage, but I really hate that method and, unsurprisingly, it does mess with the sound (though that little thing is better than your average attenuator as far as I can tell).

Anyway, ideas much appreciated!

Edited by TheSloth
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I don't think you'll find such a thing (negative gain DAC) and certainly nothing called an amplifier is going to be designed to lower the signal strength.

https://goldpt.com/sa1.html

That's my recommendation. Cheap, no, but if don't want butchered signal and don't want digital attenuation I'm not sure I see much else short of DIY solutions.

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What is your current DAC? Are you running it straight out of the computer?

For playing music, you'd want a low-latency interface, and most of them have headphone amps with the kind of volume pot you need. Lots of options, but you can't go wrong with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as a start. There are cheaper options too, but the 2i2 is kind of a standard, used by a lot of professionals and will be easy to sell if you ever want to do so.

There's a "music making" thread in the miscellaneous forum if you want to join us and talk about gear and being creative.

Edit: Focusrite currently have their year-end sale on. https://store.focusrite.com/en-gb/categories/clearance/all-clearance 

Edited by acidbasement
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4 hours ago, n_maher said:

I don't think you'll find such a thing (negative gain DAC) and certainly nothing called an amplifier is going to be designed to lower the signal strength.

https://goldpt.com/sa1.html

That's my recommendation. Cheap, no, but if don't want butchered signal and don't want digital attenuation I'm not sure I see much else short of DIY solutions.

You're right of course, it's unlikely that anyone is making a negative-gain-only product, but I do remember coming across some variable gain amplifiers where the lowest gain setting was actually negative, so L M H was something like -12, 0, +12 for example.

I could use something like the Goldpoint if I use a separate DAC and amp, but I'm trying to keep the setup as minimal as possible.

The other option is something with a DAC/Amp with very high quality digital attenuator that works at 32 bit for example. Really, I'm not tied to any particular technical solution as long as it is sonically pleasing.

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I actually just saw that the Drop THX AAA amps have between -6 and -12dB gain at low gain settings, depending on the model and SE vs Balanced, so clearly some commercial amps are built this way. I also have a suspicion that the HeadRoom amps had negative gain at the low setting, but I can't really remember that well (and if I can't remember, who will? 😛)

I looked at the Pico Slim - that did seem like a great way of getting really fine grained volume control and is certainly an option to combine with an external DAC. Does anyone know of any integrated Amp/DACs with that sort of arrangement?

It's true that there's no specific need for negative gain - it's just a way of getting round the fact that most analogue pots are crummy at the low end of the range. So perhaps what I should ask is this - what's the best way to get super low hiss output with near perfect channel balance and fine grained volume control with a very sensitive IEM?

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44 minutes ago, TheSloth said:

I So perhaps what I should ask is this - what's the best way to get super low hiss output with near perfect channel balance and fine grained volume control with a very sensitive IEM?

Pico Slim coupled with the DAC of your choice. I am not aware of any product that approached that particular set of requirements in a more focused way.  I tried to convince Justin to build a desktop product with that attenuator and frankly, have considered buying one just to strip it out of the chassis and do it myself. The main problem is that a larger volume knob is desirable but might cover the output jack.  It's low on the list of priorities for me since I've moved almost completely away from IEMS for home listening.

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