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800$ budget for a Headphones/Amp/DAC (Help the newbie)


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Hi guys,

Where i am living i don't have many opportunities to test headphones and equipment. So i have to blind shot with what i am ordering.

I am listening to Jazz/Indie/Soul/Alternative Rock/Electronica/Female vocalist etc. And I want to use my FLAC collection via my laptop.

Please recommend me a full setup for an about 800$ (second hand is OK, but i am in Europe). I don't care much for the mobility and if is upgradeable will be great.

Thanks in advance. O0

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Pico + your headphone of choice. I'd say the HD-580 w/ 600 grills and 650 cable is probably the best value out there, but a used 225 could be a good match as well.

Spend the rest on music.

I was very impressed with the Pico running out of my HTPC at a mini-meet I hosted. It sounded wonderful with my modded HF-1.

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$800 is a tough spot for a complete setup to be a big improvement over cheaper solutions.

If you've got a mac, then a duet + senn hd580/hd600 or grado sr225, if you don't have a mac, then replace the duet with a pico.

Or you can maximize amplification instead of source quality, and go with a headroom desktop, m3, ppx, millett max, gilmore lite, etc and a decent pc usb soundcard.

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Like a few others have mentioned I'd go with the Pico and whatever headphones you choose. The Pico with dac option is an absolute steal at $500 in my opinion.

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Unless you go for really demanding headphones I'd probably recommend a HeadAmp Pico as your DAC/amp. You could upgrade to a better amplifier down the road and use the Pico via the headphone out as a standalone DAC.

If you go that route that leaves you about $300 for headphones. I only have one phone at this point so in my situation I use an IEM because they're far more versatile than full size. I was a really big fan of the Shure E500/530's but cable and some minor fit issues got me looking for something else. That something else ended up being the Sleek Audio SA6's which I personally think stand up well against the high-end universals I've heard.

For full-sized I'm not really sure what I'd recommend. I love RS-1's but they'd eat up a large part of your budget. Maybe another less expensive Grado would suit but I've only heard the SR-60's from the lower end so I can't really recommend anything else.

Maybe a good couple of questions would be do you prefer full-sized and do you prefer open or closed?

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Question for you - do you have an optical/digital out on your laptop?

Yes there is a optical out, but is a PC.

SO HD650 + pico will be exactly around 800$. And will run USB, which is very universal.

Do you think guys that Audio-Technica have a nice can in my range?

To elnero

I will not move the stuff so both mobile and full-sized rig suit me. As for Open/Closed i really don't have enough experience with the headphones to decide.

I had some experience with the Speaker based systems and I like the sound of NAIM suggested systems.

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Yes there is a optical out, but is a PC.

SO HD650 + pico will be exactly around 800$. And will run USB, which is very universal.

Do you think guys that Audio-Technica have a nice can in my range?

You should be able to get an ATH-W10VTG in your price range, without an amp or dac, that will sound remarkably good straight from a usb soundcard.

I'd lean more towards the HD580/600 instead of the 650 if you're not planning on dropping money on a top notch amp, however.

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Yes there is a optical out, but is a PC.

SO HD650 + pico will be exactly around 800$. And will run USB, which is very universal.

Do you think guys that Audio-Technica have a nice can in my range?

Another vote for the Pico. I was using my Pico (now sold) with an ATH-ESW9 and I liked the results. It's a great little headphone, but at $300 for the ATs it's stretching the price/performance barrier a bit. You can certainly get a better headphone than it for $300. The wood cups are what adds to the cost. That said, for a sealed portable headphone, it's pretty darn good.

I also used the HD600 with the Pico with good results. It was my work rig for a few months and I was perfectly happy with it.

Either way you go, the Pico is a great little DAC/amp combo.

If you get a Pico, make sure it's orange.... they sound better than any of the other colors.

EDIT: As far as opened vs. closed headphones, some of that is sound quality related and some of it is function. Do you need isolation from the ambient sounds around you? Do you need to keep the sound from leaking out and bothering people around you?

Open cans have open backs (see HD650/600..etc.) and sound will leak in and out. I prefer open cans at worl since I'm far enough away from people to have the sound of my headphones bother them, but I need to hear the phone if it rings. Some closed cans don't isolate well either. The ATH-ESW9 does not so it's OK. Headroom typically has graphs of isolation for various headphone models. They might not be perfect real world numbers, but it will give you an idea.

Just an extreme example:

graphCompare.php?graphType=2&graphID[]=255&graphID[]=711

The Shure SE530 attenuates the ambient noise much more than the open HD650.

Graphs: http://www.headphone.com/technical/product-measurements/build-a-graph/

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thrice, thanks for the info. It is really useful to me :prettyprincess:

Indeed the noise will be not an issue, so i think open will suit me better, but i have nothing against the closed cans (since i have no big experience with both)

I am no sure it is a fair question, but which AMP/Can can be close to the Naim systems ?

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I second the headroom micro portable with DAC. New it will set you back about $600. The headroom then gives you the option of connecting your PC either optically or via USB so you will be able tyo compare for yourself and decide which you prefer. This still leaves you $200 which should be able to get a used HD580, 600 or even a 650. If you want closed I would suggest a Senn HD-25-1 II (but take off the stock cord, flip the earcups around and replace it with a stock 650 cord). Not as comfy as some phones but still my favorite relatively easy to drive closed phone, and it is one tough little phone also.

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Wouldn't the Pico's USB implementation technically be better than either optical or USB from another DAC that uses SPDIF?

Quite possibly, yes, but it does limit you to USB only so if you don't want to feed it USB all the time you're SOL. If USB is your primary source it's the best choice I can think of.
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Wouldn't the Pico's USB implementation technically be better than either optical or USB from another DAC that uses SPDIF?

It may or may not, but I don't see why it would always be better. The best way to tell I suppose would be to compare them based upon how they sound not how the specifications read, but hey, that's just me.

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