DAC/AMP Combo Recommendations - Headfonia Headphone Reviews

On this page you’ll find the DAC/AMP Combo recommendations of this moment. This is an ever evolving list and the units are ranked from cheap to expensive.

Portable DAC/AMP

Fiio E17K

It’s not Fiio’s cheapest unit but it certainly is one of their best portable DAC/AMP starter units. The E17K has a digital volume control and balance, bass & treble can all be modified just like the 0-6-12 gain setting. the E17K delivers a clear and reasonably neutral sound. Gone is the warmer sound of the “older” Fiio gear but you now in return get a more linear sound with moderate bass (for Fiio). The DAC section of the E17K is identical (sounding) to the E10K’s DAC section and we quite liked that one. The E17K is a very versatile entry level unit but don’t expect it to sound like a high end one.

$99.99 from Fiio

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/fiio-e17k-alpen-2-a-good-all-round-starter/

AudioQuest DragonFly RED

Small but great sounding, that’s how you could describe the DragonFly RED in only 4 words. This USB dongle transforms your laptop or phone into a great sounding device and it even has the power to drive some full sized headphones. Yes the BLACK version costs only half but we prefer the RED version. Red gives you better layering from the lows to the highs and it has better depth and layering with even more body compared to the Black. I find the Red version to be a little warmer and more unforced/relaxed sounding than the Black one and that brings a lot more emotion and musicality to the sound. The Red version sounds a lot richer. Never go on a trip without a DragonFly in your pocket!

$199 from AudioQuest

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-audioquest-dragonfly-red-black/

iFi Nano iDSD Black

iFi has delivered marvelous work with the the BL version of the Nano iDSD. Although I’ve never had a chance to test the original version, I can easily say this is an amazing DAC/AMP for the price. I’m not sure you can ever find better technicalities from a device that costs this little. I’m sure the Micro iDSD BL is also very very good in its own price range. People say this one sounds close to the Micro version and if I ever listen to that one I will edit this review at that time. A superb little device, for those who are looking for a nice DAC/AMP that can give a good amount of power for not extremely hard to drive headphones, and with a competitive price. If you also like to listen to your in ear monitors with these types of devices, I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s flexible, built to last, useful and compact. Most importantly, it sounds flawless for the money. Just go for it.

€239 from iFi

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-ifi-audio-nano-idsd-black-label/

Burson Audio Play

There’s no way to exaggerate the utility, performance, and overall OCD funness of Play. Burson nailed it. If you need or want power, 299$ will get you power out the wazoo. If you want compatibility with DSD and other hi-res formats, bingo. If you want to eat your cake, too, Play is as reliable and stable an amp/DAC as I’ve ever tested. I’ve started mentioning prices; it’s something I didn’t want to do. It’s easy to get ugly. But gosh, I’ll be damned if Play hasn’t nailed the competition’s coffin shut. Buy it and forget about it. Add some new op-amps if you want. And be secure in your purchase, because it’s a hell of a deal.

$299 from Burson Audio

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-burson-play/

Mojo

It’s impossible not to put the Chord Mojo on this list. Mojo is small & Mojo is very good and a s a result Mojo is a big all over the world. It has two 3.5mm headphone outputs and sports a Micro USB, Optical and Coaxial input. It works with phones, DAPs and computers and it without doubt will upgrade your listening experience. Mojo isn’t cheap but gives a lot in return. Some say it sounds smooth, others say it sounds digital but it does sound good. Its big brother HUGO is better  equipped to drive some full sized headphones though. Never the less, this is THE DAC/AMP combo ever since it was released in London.

$499 from Chord Electronics

Review 1: https://www.headfonia.com/review-chord-mojo-the-chosen-one/

Review 2: https://www.headfonia.com/review-chord-mojo-hot-or-not/

Astell&Kern Acro L1000

I’ve never been the biggest fan of DAC/AMP combo’s but the Acro L1000 has won me over. AK gave it a high end, audiophile tuning and the result is very impressive. Not only does the L1000 sound great it also looks gorgeous, unlike anything you’ve ever seen. On top of that it’s also a very versatile unit that has a large number of single end and balanced outputs, as well as a 15W/channel speaker output. The Astell&Kern Acro L1000 is a do-it-all unit and if you like a top level neutral tuning and have headphones, earphones and small/high impedance speakers than the L1000 really is the only unit you need. The only bad things I can say about it is the lack of inputs and the limited effect of the sound filters, but AK – also in their DAPs – swears to minimalist changes.

$899 from Astell&Kern

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-astellkern-acro-l1000

Chord HUGO 2

The Original Hugo is still available from some seller so for now both units will be listed here.

The original Hugo was regarded a landmark in portable audio, and I think it’s offspring will follow the footsteps. You get real desktop class sound quality in a transportable package. It sounds really good with all ears and headphones I have used it with, and I am very much looking forward to trying out many more in the future.

If you are in the game for a high end DAC that appears to also be used on the go with your smartphone or DAP, the Hugo 2 is definitely worth serious consideration. The Hugo quickly won me over and has become my main DAC/amp at the office and my desktop DAC at home – it simply is that good. A recommended buy? How the hell could it not?!

$2195 from Chord Electronics

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-chord-hugo-2-ruler-of-sound/

Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse

The Woo WA8 is tube powered and it was chosen as best DAC/AMP of 2016 here on Headfonia.com. The WA8 can handle sensitive monitors, high impedance dynamic headphones and current hungry orthodynamics. The WA8 delivers a whole lot of detail and the sound is clear, clean and fast. While it often is the case that the amplifier section in AMP/DAC combos is better than the DAC section, the WA8 actually sounds its best as a combo. Oh and it’s so pretty.

$1799 from Woo Audio

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-woo-audio-wa8-eclipse-new-transportable-king/

 

Desktop DAC/AMP

JDS Labs The Element V1.53b 

The Element combines a smooth digital stage with a balanced amplifier, which makes this combo unit very intriguing and capable of sounding great with a lot of ear and headphones. The fact that it has a dead-silent background is very well received. It’s hard to find a desktop amplifier in this price range that offers the possibility to be used with efficient in ear monitors and hard to drive over ear headphones. The build quality is outstanding and if you can live with the limited file format support, I suggest you start taking a closer look at this one. Overall, the Element delivers more than enough power to drive any headphone I have at home. For the price it’s going for, I think you will have a tough time finding something similarly great performing.

$349 from JDS Labs

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-jds-labs-the-element-v2/

Project Audio Pre Box S2 Digital

The S2 Digital’s filter system should satisfy everyone but the hardcore valve listener. The S2’s got a solid, and largely load agnostic output system. Everything from its remote control to its input array work brilliantly with 99% of upstream sources. It syphons powers via USB and outputs decent power to most headphones. Its rich tones and encompassing stereo output are nearly in a league of their own in the camp of devices that ride on ESS DACs. It does all this at 349 Euro. In my books, it is a coup. Well done.

€349 from Project Audio

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-pro-ject-audio-pre-box-s2/

If you haven’t found what you’re looking for, do take a look at the category overview:

Portable Sources: https://www.headfonia.com/category/source/portable-source/

Desktop Sources: https://www.headfonia.com/category/source/desktop-source/

 

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63 Comments

  • Reply January 20, 2012

    Chris

    Hey Mike,

    Would the ESW-9 do good for Pop and Alternative Rock/Indie or would the P5 be the better choice?  The ESW-9 just has a really nice look to it.  🙂

    • Reply January 21, 2012

      Mike

      Chris, 
      If you still want to play some alt. Rock the ESW-9 would be better. 

      • Reply January 25, 2012

        Extreme_reza

        i have marshall major pairing with ipod classic 6 gen rev.3 (late 2009 edition) i listen ALAC more than mp3..i like alternative and rock..some times pop/jazz…why it sound so bad? pain in my ears especially for the high freq..should i add some cmoy BB amplifier or Fio E10 for make it better?

        • Reply January 26, 2012

          Mike

          Probably not the fault of the Ipod or the recordings, but rather you need a headphone with less treble amount aka a darker sounding headphone. Try some sennheisers? The PX100-II perhaps.

          • Reply January 26, 2012

            Extreme_reza

            if i forced to use marshall and add Cmoy BB ampli…could i get warmer sounding?

  • Reply January 24, 2012

    pDM

    Hi mike. I just impress by beats solo hd for its portable use (direct ipod / blackbery), bass impact, and good isolation. Can you recommend me portable headphones which size is similar to solo hd, have a great bass impact, and good isolation (outside noises arenot heard) ? Btw Im considering hd25 adidas, but in jakarta it is 3.4millions rupiah ( the best price i could get), how is the hd25 adidas performance compared to dt1350 in bass and isolation?
    Thanks mike.

    • Reply January 24, 2012

      Pdm

      Btw is it worth to get the solo hd for 2.7millions rupiah or should i get the hd25 adidas?

  • Reply March 20, 2012

    Shakil Shaikh

    Hi Mike!

    I’m looking to replace my original PX100’s and was looking at the PX100-IIs before reading your reviews. In the UK, the PX-IIs are £35, the V-Jays £40 and the Tracks £50. I’m guessing by the love you give them that the Jays is the pick of those three, but I just wanted to make sure that’s still the current reccomendation. Thanks!

    • Reply March 20, 2012

      Mike

      I still think the V-Jays are a lot of fun.. however there has been some people who’s been using the PX100 who thinks that they still prefer the darker sound of the Sennheiser PX100-II than the Jays. 

      • Reply March 23, 2012

        Shakil Shaikh

        Argh! That’s no help 🙂 Thanks!

        • Reply March 30, 2012

          Fabio_Rocks

          The Px 100 ii is Excellent. I own Sennheiser hd 201, Sennheiser px90, Sennheiser hd380pro, AKG k518dj, Koss Portapro, and the px100ii that is the favorite of the bunch!

    • Reply December 24, 2012

      Domagoj Tokić

      V-Jays all the way 🙂

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    SoundEskimoo

    I think the lists a bit short .

  • Reply September 20, 2012

    Nana Brenu

    Hello Mike, after your analysis of the ATH-m50, i was curious to try it, ordered a pair this week and i must say im pleasantly surprised at how good they sound, so much so that i seem to be reaching for them more than my HD25-1 II which i really love. Would you say they are portable for everyday use running around the city, because they are tempting me to replace my HD25-1 II as my main portables?

    • Reply September 21, 2012

      Mike

      The M-50 never fails to disappoint. 😉

      I wouldn’t replace the HD25-1 yet though. Give it 1-2 months and see how you like the M-50 for walking around the city.

  • Reply September 23, 2012

    cyborg drackle

    im thinking of buying px100 ii, nd had 1 ques. can i get same quality of bass, or even more in full size ones..-in the same price range? 😛 sennhisers r my first priority as they easily available in india (buying is less time consuming) i listen to metalcore, hard rock nd a little rap, i need bass, as i like the blend of base nd distortion. there r few new models also nd choosing is very confusing. plz do suggest me 1 with open back, either portable or full size, in 40$-70$. ur reply wld b a gr8 help for me mike. thx

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    Guest

    Hi Mike!
    i’m searching for a good headphone with detail Sound.. i have two option: the ATH M50 and the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro. i often listen to metal, rock, alternative, but also Jazz.. what do you recommend?

    • Reply November 29, 2012

      Mike

      MEtal rock alternative, Beyer COP would be good. Also try the Senn HD25-1 I think it’s better for Metal, Rock and Alt.
      Jazz, ATH M50.

  • Reply November 18, 2012

    Sasmit

    Hi Mike,

    you reviewed the fidelio L1 in March. I was looking at the lower range but similar downtown and uptown primarily as the L1 is out of my current Budget. have you ever tried out these portables? What is your view on their strengths and weaknesses? Thanks for your help.

  • Reply November 28, 2012

    Marcilio

    Hi mike, I’m from Brazil and want to buy a very nice headphones for my iPhone. I usually use it at the gym (a quiet gym) or on the go, and usually listen to pop rock. I’m in doubt about the px210bt – U$160, hd25 – U$200, dt 1350 – U$250 and the P5 – U$340. What is the best one? I like a good bass, not as beats, but good. Thank you very much

    • Reply November 28, 2012

      Gorboman

      I’d pick the HD25 out of those choices. But if you do treadmills in the gym, maybe consider IEM / earbuds with ear hook instead. For non gym activity, Vmoda M80 is also good sounding with bass.

      • Reply November 28, 2012

        Marcilio

        I already have some IEM =)
        Do you prefer the M80 – U$160 over the HD25 – U$200? Thank’s

        Enviado via iPhone

        Em 27/11/2012, às 23:06, “Disqus” escreveu:

        • Reply November 28, 2012

          Gorboman

          I’ve owned the M80 and have demo the HD25 also. Both are good headphones. But I think the HD25 with the split headband can stay in your head better while working out at the gym compared to the M80. So it’s more of a functionality preference rather than sound preference.

          • Reply November 28, 2012

            Marcilio

            Last question, promise: what about the sound?

            Enviado via iPad

            Em 28/11/2012, às 01:16, “Disqus” escreveu:

            • Reply November 28, 2012

              Gorboman

              Both offers different traits, but more to modern music recordings. If you like agressive sound, but not in a Grado fashion, the HD25 is best. I think it’s also respond to a broader range of music genre than the M80. But if you like a more balanced, a bit laid back, and a bit airy sound, the M80 is for you. Though I’ve found the M80 did not quite match my taste in rock music. Other than that, I love the M80 more.

              • Reply November 28, 2012

                Marcilio

                About IEM (here I come again), there are 2 on sale. The Monster Turbine Pro Gold Audiophile In Ear Speaker with ControlTalk for U$150 and the Klipsch Image X10 Noise-Isolating Earphone for U$85. Do you know any of them?
                Enviado via iPhone

                Em 28/11/2012, às 02:39, “Disqus” escreveu:

                • Reply November 28, 2012

                  Gorboman

                  I’ve never tried any of those. Sorry.

                  • Reply November 28, 2012

                    Marcilio

                    damm, you are fast! thank you very much

                    2012/11/28 Disqus

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

                  • Reply November 29, 2012

                    Mike

                    The Monster I think it’s awful. The Klipsch X10 I’m not really familiar with.

                    You should try the Vsonic GR02 Bass. It’s very cheap and extremely good. I’m guessing $30-$40. Try some sites like mp4nation to see if they have them.

              • Reply November 29, 2012

                Mike

                Good comment there by Gorboman.

          • Reply November 29, 2012

            Mike

            Good point there on the split headband.

            Nothing works as good as an IEM though for Gym sessions.

  • Reply December 1, 2013

    Ahmad Parapat

    i think this recommend list need to upgrade….

    • Reply December 16, 2013

      Robert

      Yes, definitely

  • Reply June 4, 2014

    Alton Britt

    Help me decide for general music-listening on Onkyo 629 and Ipod Touch-5th; also watching movies via home theater: Koss DJ Pro 200 or Logitech UE 6000? Much appreciated!!

  • Reply June 7, 2014

    Chris Allen

    Great recommendations! The Audio-Technica ESW-9 has to be my favorite out of of this list of recommendations with the Bowers & Wilkins P5 coming in close second. I do see these Marshall headphones receiving some talk lately and even my local Best Buy has started carrying some. I’ll have to try them out sometime. Great list once again!

    Cheers,
    Chris A.

    • Reply June 7, 2014

      dalethorn

      I have the ESW9a which is my wife’s favorite, but I also have the Thinksound ON1 which is at least as good sonically, but has many advantages in comfort, portability and durability.

      • Reply June 8, 2014

        Chris Allen

        I’ve yet to see and know little-to-no information on the Think sound ON1, dalethorn. I will keep a look out for it though. Thanks. 🙂

  • Reply July 14, 2014

    Amirhossein Mohammadi

    Hi

    I own a Sennheiser RS220 and i’m very pleased with it , I’m looking for a headphone for outdoor use and have $250 budget . What do you recommend with comfort in first priority ?!

    I got my eyes on :

    Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO
    Yamaha HPH-PRO300
    AKG K271 MKII
    Sennheiser HD 558
    Sennheiser MOMENTUM On Ear

    • Reply July 14, 2014

      L.

      Beyerdynamic DT 770 32 or AE
      Beyer T51P
      NAD Viso HP50
      B&0 H6
      Philips L2

  • Reply September 18, 2014

    Muhammad Osama Khann

    The most beatifull earbuds experience. Now read all about earpiece in-details for first-rate headsets here at bestearbudreviews. We give all the analysis of some of the best earbuds available in the sound-system market. Read some of the latest and edifying earbud reviews here.

  • Reply October 16, 2014

    Robert Madison

    Here is an extremely creditable review about the Creative Sound Blaster E3. Check it out!

    Review: http://www.toptengamer.com/creative-sound-blaster-e3-dac-review/

  • Reply February 11, 2015

    GiantMuffinMan

    Hi guys!

    I’m thinking of buying a pair of portable headphones and a DAP – right now I’m deciding between a B&W P7 or a BD DT1350 to go with either a DX90 or AK120 II. Any thoughts on what the best combination would be out of those options? Any other suggestions are also most welcome!

    Thanks in advance!

    • Reply February 11, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I’d get the T51P for on ear but the DT770 for overear. DX90 and AK120ii are both really good, it depends what you want to spend. the DX90 does have more drive power than the AK

      • Reply February 11, 2015

        GiantMuffinMan

        Thanks for the advice! So I take it that even though DX90 has more drive power the AK120 II will have no problem driving the T51p?

  • Reply February 13, 2015

    Yavor Moskov

    Hi. I just bought KEF M500 which by my opinion sounded pretty amazing and while still highly tuned, sounded more natural and relaxing than Bowers and Wilkins P7. The vocals are more pronounced and forward than both BW P7 and Bang and Olufsen H6. Also, I do not know how but the soundstage feels bigger than it should be, considering the fact these are on ear closed headphones. Only small issue, not very stable on the head and can fell off, if you are too active. I like it a lot as a portable, easy to drive headphone (really easy), for people who wear glasses like me. They are super comfortable. Maybe same level as B&O H6. Check it out.

    • Reply August 28, 2018

      Gregory Wodark

      I too am a fan of the KEF M500! I generally like KEF speakers, having owned many of their products. I agree they are more comfortable than most other on ear designs, have great build quality, and sound quite satisfying. Especially, with a good portable AMP/DAC ( I use the Oppo HA2).

  • Reply February 14, 2015

    Yavor Moskov

    I want to find now over-ear style headphones for on-the-go and as well to use them at home. I have Momentum over ear but it is a way too uncomfortable for my ears and I just used for no more than 10 hours. I will sell it for sure. I am looking for headphones that can handle complex classical orchestras, jazz, female vocals, chamber music and choirs, new age and celtic music, some rock, pop, funk and instrumental music. So far my list includes:
    Sony MDR -1A
    Bowers and Wilkins P7
    Bang and Olufsen H6
    Philips Fidelio L2

    I can buy MDR-1A and Fidelio L2 for a lot cheaper than in USA, because I have friends in Netherlands and Japan but I never heard how they sound. I read already the interview about L2 on this website https://www.headfonia.com/the-phenomenal-philips-fidelio-l2-feat-fidelio-m1bt-review/ and is highly promising. I never had Sony headphones before and I don’t know. What do you think? Any suggestions or comments?

    • Reply February 14, 2015

      dalethorn

      Since you said before that you like the M500 better than the P7, I don’t think the P7 should be on this list – i.e. you should be looking for a better headphone for “around ear”. You do mean “around ear” instead of “over ear”, yes? Because the Momentum “over ear” never did go around the ear properly. I wouldn’t choose the L2 either – maybe the X2.

      • Reply February 14, 2015

        Yavor Moskov

        Yes, I meant “around ear” 🙂

        • Reply February 14, 2015

          dalethorn

          The H6 won’t fit around, the L2 is questionable, and the P7 is very, very snug. Sony sometimes has very good sound, but I don’t bother with them for various reasons. You’ll see some in studios, but other than that you’d be best to stick to models that have a good long track record. For home use, and comfort, I’d choose the DT770-32 or the AKG K712 (on a budget), or if money is available, get one of the better planars. Just get something with big earcups – it makes listening so much better.

          BTW, check the individual reviews here so you can read the user comments. That way you can get a better idea of the users’ experiences.

    • Reply April 25, 2015

      Jessica Ruby

      • Reply April 25, 2015

        dalethorn

        3 of the 4 headphones that Yavor enquired about are fairly bassy, while most of the competitive AKG’s (ex: K712) are much lighter in the bass.

  • Reply August 28, 2018

    Gregory Wodark

    What? No iFi Micro iDSD BL? Surely, it is in the same ballpark as the Mojo. Maybe, you have not reviewed it yet. From what I have read, it is a virtual “Swiss Army Knife”, of AMP/DACs ( portable or at least transportable). Also, it is said to be at the same level of sound quality as the Chord Mojo.

    Now that I think about it, what about the in-between iFi product? The new iFi XDSD portable. Does it not rate either? I find that hard to believe.

    The own two products on this list, the Audioquest Dragonfly Red, and the Pro-Jet Pre Box S2 Digital. So, I have some experience with how they perform. I suspect the iFi products are superior ( Dragonfly vs. Nano, and S2 vs. iFi Micro). I also have an Oppo HA2, and I wonder how the Nano, or the XDSD might stack up? Any thoughts?

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