Looking for Entry level DAC+AMP

Hey all, I’ve recently bought a pair of DT 990 Pro and it has become apparent the onboard sound is not up to the task on my motherboard.

So I’m looking for a entry level DAC+AMP to drive them better, thanks in advance for your help. :grin:

You say DAC but digital to analog converters don’t drive the power to the headphones. Maybe you mean an amplifier?

At any case, you need both.

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Ok, updated the post sorry audio is far from my wheelhouse thanks

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If you want to save money, you should probably gofor an integrated solution, something with both a DAC+AMP in one device.

How much are you looking to spend and is there any features you need besides a Heapdhone Output?

One thing I’d like to throw into the Conversation right now is that these Headphones are made for Studio Use and most mid-class Audio Interfaces have no issue driving them.

DT990 Pros are definitely a great choice though, I’ve used them for a few years in the past.


Well I would not be wanting to spend more than $250 USD for it, as the headphones where not that expensive.

is there any DAC+AMPs you would recommend?

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Maybe something like this, if it’s available for a good price:

If you’d ever be interested in the added featureset, here’s an Audio Interface that could drive your Heapdhons well:


thanks for the help the zen is now in my shopping cart

If it’s just the volume that’s a problem, you could probably get something like a Douk U3 for $40 and call it a day.

Zen DAC is fine.
On the Amp-front, the Monolith Liquid Spark could also be interesting.

I have heard of Mayflower and Schiit making reasonable lower-cost equiptment, is that still true?

Is there a rough definition of what constitutes DAC vs pre-Amp vs Amp levels of output?

The distinction seems a bit artificial to me; are we sure the DACs, for example, do not have any amplification circuitry between the DAC chip on the board and the final TRS socket on the box?

Depends a bit on personal tastes, prices and so on, but will be fine.
Avoid the audio gear throwing numbers in your face. >60dB S/R and <0.5% THD are good enough.

  • DAC (and ADC) convert from Digital to Analogue or vice versa, it outputs Line-Level.

  • Pre-Amp is a device to either get a mic or guitar signal (or phono) up to line level, control volume or route signals. It also outputs line level.

  • Amplifiers (as in speaker/power/headphone amplifier) take line-level signals and give it enough “oompf” to drive speakers or headphones.

Line-Level inputs are commonly in the two-digit Kilo-Ohm range, Line-Outputs are commonly around 600 Ohm.
Speakers and headphones are usually much lower impedance resulting in high currents.


My suggestion is to get the FiiO K3. It follows really well the Harman-Kardon curve and it has a tasteful bass boost mode that’s really nice.
It should be able to drive your 80 ohm headphones pretty easly. There’s a balanced output too if you want more power.

P.S. I’ve been using one for a couple of years and I’m still liking it. There’s a post I made on the new things acquired recently thread, but can’t find it anymore.


Yes it will alter the sound signature and real audiophile snobs will notice it. Because they have expensive speakers/headsets and sensitive ears. /s

But measurable distortions will happen if you alter the signal inside the conversion circuitry.

DACs output varies a lot depending on design, they may have just an Op-Amp there, or a buffer or line-driver.
They are all unsuitable to directly drive loads like headphones.

Depending on how resolving your headphones are and how well you know your music, you can hear differences between DACs. Nowhere near as big of a difference a headphone/speaker or amp makes, but there is a difference.

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All headphones, or just fancy higher impedance pairs? I had assumed that DAC output would be fine to drive lower-impedance; HiFiGuides even has a choice for amp-less headphones.

Although if using a truly strict DAC-only output, you would have no volume control, right? For best audio quality, the final volume control should be at the amplifier, right?

Regarding that thought, is there a way to have digitally controlled amps? I assume this is how laptops/notebooks control their sound outputs. If you do not have digital amp control, using the OS volume control would necessarily truncate the bit depth, since it would merely changing the signal sent to the DAC to have reduced (dynamic?) range?

If digital control of discrete amps is nowhere to be found, maybe combined DAC+amp devices would implement this, just as laptops (hopefully) do.

Maybe I am an oddball in the audio realm, but I do not want to have any sort of taste to play a role; I want a window into the bitstream, not an interpretive view on what it could sound like.

I want to be able to accurately control a laser if I really feel like it.

Whenever I read about audio online, it always seems like I am peering into a Stockholm Syndrome asylum, where everyone debates what colour of vaseline to apply to their televisions to make the colours “pop”, where it is taboo to wonder what it might look like to clean the screen and see what the image underneath actually looks like.

To compare to the video space, colour management is hardly perfect, but at least we are trying; there is unifying goal in mind of trying to achieve accuracy (with the exception of low-end television manufacturers and their pursuit of horrible vivid, sharpness, and contrast filters that default to “on”).

This is a long time exasperation in general, I do not intend to rant at you in particular @MazeFrame.


To drive a headphone, you always need some amplifier, be that the one integrated on your mainboard/phone or some dedicated device.

Ideally, the entire signal chain runs at unity gain (= same level) with the amplifier setting the volume.

Voltage controlled amplifiers can do that, is rare to see outside of Mixing consoles. Most consumer devices control volume in software by, like you said, taking the axe to the bits.

There are some solid neutral studio amps, like the LP G103-s or Lehmann Linear Pro.
Then there are some chinesium companies that do marketing by “higher numbers better” when the reality is that humans listen with their ears, not by looking at numbers on screen. Just like 60FPS is good enough for most people, I’d argue 60dB S/R is good enough for most people.

How did I not hear about this in the CRT era?

Apologies if merely my sarcasm detector is offline; to be clear:

That was never the case in reality, I was trying to make analogy to how much advice surrounding audio devolves into “finding what you like”; but your personal preference is only relevant for those particular pieces of music you have tested with; you do not know what music you will find in the future.

Unless you are buying an additional speaker/DAC/amp for a specific piece of music that you prefer being distorted in a certain way, and you will rarely play anything else on it, buying equipment with permanent distortion is stupid.

I might prefer watching certain videos at 1.5× or even 2× speed, but I would be a moron if I replaced my computer with something that was incapable of playing at 1× speed.

Perhaps a better analogy is a carnival mirror:

These can be amusing, and you may like it so much that you buy one to have in your house, but if you ask about buying your first mirror no one who is not malicious would ever recommend a funhouse mirror, except as a prank.

This I can completely understand, if accuracy is prohibitively expensive, but if we can encourage manufacturers toward continually better accuracy, I think we should.

To use your framerate analogy, 120 Hz is still better, but also: having hardware capable of 120 Hz can reduce latency, even if drawing frames at substantially less than 120 Hz.

It might be good to watch this channel if you’re interested in understanding how digital audio works. Or, maybe you already have, or have acquired it elsewhere. It’s pretty science first.
Also, reference audio analyzer and audiosciencereview forums are pretty good places to gather data from.

In terms of volume control, though, audio in software is typically mixed in 32 bit floats and then output to the dac within the volume range required. As long as you have 24bit depth, you’re not likely to encounter any audible loss of quality from “taking an axe to the bits”.
(removed explanation because it’s actually incorrect, as volume is not perceived on a linear scale. It’s actually between 3 ~ 4 bits worth of loss for each 6dB, or around a factor of 2 or less in volume. Still, you can maybe 1/3~1/4 your perceived volume and still be above “CD Quality”.)

Basically, don’t worry about loss of quality for volume control. That’s why your dac likely has more than 16bit output in the first place. Makes it a non-issue.
If it doesn’t have higher than 16bit output, you probably aren’t using something that has too much output voltage for your ears, unless your headphones are extremely sensitive, which probably means they’re also not that good. Not because sensitive is bad, it’s good, but it’s also hard to make highly accurate high-sensitivity headphones, part because physics, and part because you’ll start picking up background noise from the headphone wire at some point.

If you want a really good dac that’s not too expensive, though, Topping apparently just blows everything else away in terms of price to performance in an objective audio accuracy sense. D10S is around $100 and is much more precise than your ears will ever care about.

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Personally, I have the Fiio K7

But the Topping DX3 Pro+ is around a similar price point and it has Bluetooth as well

See here:

Topping DX3 Pro+ Review (DAC & Headphone Amp) | Audio Science Review (ASR) Forum