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Looking for new Headphone DAC/AMP


Paul R
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Requirements:

A. Must be small format, USB Stick size preferred.

B. Must be USB and handle high rate PCM and DSDX4.

C. Must enumerate as a volume control device. Do not want a volume control knob.

 

Desirable Price Range: $200-$500[max]

 

That turns out to be a tougher row to how than I though! Two serious candidates so far:

 

Resonessence Lans HERUS: Amazon Link

 

LH Labs GeekOut V2 USB: Amazon Link

 

Any other candidates that really meet the need? I love the sound of iFi, but don't want to have to reach for a volume knob. I want to control the volume from my phone or iPad. Peachtree and Oppo both have grand products, but they are both infested with volume control knobs, to theist of my belief. :) [Eh- Pun Intended!]

 

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Not entirely sure of the difference between them- looks kinda like power? I will study them later today. Thanks! -Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Apogee Groove perhaps or the new Dragonfly by Audioquest?

 

Looked at them, and like them both of course. Neither the new Audioquest DragonFlys no the Groove do DSD, which is what I am craving on the headphone rig. I own the current Dragonfly, and it is plenty good enough for listening restricted to 96K and under sample rates. :)

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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The Geek out V2 is really good and have a lot of juice for demanding headphones- they dont get really hot like the V1.

 

Ah, that's good to know. I was just doing a Google search on the heat problems with them Dale brought up, and not finding all that much. :)

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Wow - this is a LOT tougher than I thought it would be. I am unconvinced the HERUS or HERUS+ would be worth the cost, and the LH GeekOut V2 still has a lot of reports of heat. (And operating temp of 156F? Ouch!)

 

As I intend to leave it plugged in and on all the time, that worries me a bit, though it should cool down when nothing is playing.

 

I am driven almost to the point of despair- kinda wish Gordon would come out with that Neutrino DSD model sometime soon. :)

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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What about the Oppo HA-2? Bigger than what you want but still easily transportable. Performance is supposed to be great and price is less than both Herus models.

Auralic Aries G2, Ayre QX-5 Twenty, Ayre KX-5 Twenty, Ayre VX-5 Twenty, Revel Ultima Studio2, Iconoclast speaker cables & interconnects, RealTraps acoustic treatments, Sonore opticalModule (X2)

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What about the Oppo HA-2? Bigger than what you want but still easily transportable. Performance is supposed to be great and price is less than both Herus models.

 

If using a computer/laptop, the Dragonfly and other similar USB DACs would be better. The HA-2 was designed to be a native DAC for phones and iPods, not requiring the camera kit etc.

 

Edit: I didn't do a search for portable DSD DACs at Headfonia, but if I needed one, I'd look there first.

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What about the Oppo HA-2? Bigger than what you want but still easily transportable. Performance is supposed to be great and price is less than both Herus models.

 

I have an HA1 that I use in my office, and it sounds sweet. But this is to use late at night, when I want great sound but don't want to annoy my better half. I have not looked at the HA-2 seriously but I will give it another look.

 

Thanks

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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I have a pulse- you can use software volume control such itunes, tidal and amarra. But cant use my imac volume control. If you just want to use software volume, the Pulse need to be at 0.0 db (max volume).

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I have a pulse- you can use software volume control such itunes, tidal and amarra. But cant use my imac volume control. If you just want to use software volume, the Pulse need to be at 0.0 db (max volume).

 

I think this is probably what I will go with. It is a compromise, in that the size is much larger than I want. And the volume control is a knob... but since it is a digital volume control, I figure I can use JRMC or some other player than has really good digital volume control anyway.

 

I listened to a Resonance HERUS+ last night among a few other DACs, and it sounded really nice. Certainly the manufacturing and feel of the device is nearly perfect. It has a 1/4 headphone jack though, which would mean running an adapter.

 

The LH GeekOut V2 sounded a bit better to me, and the Pulse is (supposedly) just a GeekOut in a box with better power. The + version of the Pulse is selling for $695 right now, and it was very tempting to get the dual mono and the balanced headphone out, but honestly, I would probably just use the unbalanced output anyway. And, more importantly, it went over the top budget number I wanted to hit.

 

The Pulse is priced at $359 right now, so that slams right into the middle of the price range.

 

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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It is really a good value now- not at the original 999. As you probably know the company pissed a lot of backers with their overhyped campaigns. I am still waiting for a Geek Wave digital player, and mono amps. But to be fair products have good sq.

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It is really a good value now- not at the original 999. As you probably know the company pissed a lot of backers with their overhyped campaigns. I am still waiting for a Geek Wave digital player, and mono amps. But to be fair products have good sq.

 

Yeah, and no heat problems. I ordered it this morning, and have my fingers crossed it "just works." And of course,mthat it sounds amazing. It gets here tomorrow, so who knows? It it does bot blow me away out of the box, I will let it play for a hundred hours or so and try again. If it is still a nogo, i may appear in the forsale area at a handy discount price. ;)

 

I am of two minds about LH and their near scam promotions. People whose opinions I respect say they sound great, and there is no question that the GeekOut V2 sounds wonderful. I have resisted their Kickstarter campaigns because they always seem to be on the next great campaign, before they deliver on previous rewards. That and a never ending series f upgrades.

 

But I will see for myself. At least it will play my beloved DSD albums!!

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Oh my stars - new lesson. LH ASIO driver from Windows 10 does not appear to be compatible with USB volume control under Windows. Or DSD128 for that matter, at least on this GeekPulse. Hooked up via USB to Windows 10 NUC.

 

I loaded the driver, power cycled both the DAC and the computer, played some 16/44.1 AIFF, then foolishly selected a cut of Louis playing Avalon in DSD128. Immediate Train wreck!

 

Two full volume pops and the full volume white noise static. Bye bye one Oppo PM3 set of headphones. And my ears are still ringing.

 

Hooked the little thing up to my Macbook, plays everything, with USB volume control. Back to Windows, plays ok with WASPI, no volume control for DSD. Tried ASIO again, but this time cleverly using the volume knob instead of USB volume...

 

Noise, pops, full volume, but the Koss Pro4aaa survived to tell the tale.

 

Wow, I had forgotten how annoying Windows can be with USB audio.

 

More as it unfolds, and when my ears stoo sounding like sirens...

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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And as it turns out, the device can work perfectly. I guess it was just my assumption that it would use the ASIO driver for best sound that led me down the wrong path. For those interested, setting up the Geek Pulse (and incidentally, a GeekOut V2, borrowed for setup purposes) is a minor bit of a challenge. Here's how I finally got the beastie to work with JRMC under Windows. It is playing now to give it some hours before serious listening.

 

1. Download and install the LH Labs driver. Windows does not even recognize the GeekPulse as a USB Audio Class 1 unit, so it is absolutely unusable with USB unless you install the drivers. For Windows 10 use the LightHarmonic_DriverSetup_v3.26.0 or above. This version will not work with Windows 7/8 according to the notes.

 

2. Plug in the beastie, then reboot the computer. If you are like me, and are using a remote desktop, open a command window and type in the following command: shutdown /r /f /t: 0 This will force the machine to reboot immediately. If you are actually on the console, then you can use the GUI options to reboot.

 

3. Right Click on the Windows Icon in the bottom left corner of your Windows desktop, select Control Panel and Sound. Ensure that the LH Unit is showing up, select it as the default output, and under the Properties Tab, make sure the following settings are set:

 

[TABLE=width: 500]

[TR]

[TD]Tab Name[/TD]

[TD]Control[/TD]

[TD]Desired Setting[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]General[/TD]

[TD]Device Usage[/TD]

[TD]Use this device (enable)[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Levels[/TD]

[TD]Speaker Volume[/TD]

[TD]Set to 10 or so. *Warning, this setting may save your ears in the event of an accidental full volume strike against them. It happens...[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Enhancements[/TD]

[TD]Disable All Enhacements[/TD]

[TD]Make sure you disable all enhancements for the best audiophile quality.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Advanced[/TD]

[TD]Default Format[/TD]

[TD]Not important, pick whatever you choose. The player will adjust this for you based upon the music.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Advanced[/TD]

[TD]Exclusive mode[/TD]

[TD]CHECK "Allow applications to take exclusive control of this device." *important*[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Advanced[/TD]

[TD]Exclusive Mode[/TD]

[TD]CHECK "Give exclusive mode applications priority"[/TD]

[/TR]

[/TABLE]

 

Now you are ready to tangle with the J. River Media Center Settings. These are actually pretty darn simple. They are much quicker to do than to read about. Think about 3-5 minutes of work and you are done. :)

 

These are specifically for JRMC version 21.0.50 under Windows 10. You might see small differences in the Mac Version and if you have a different level of the software.

 

Tools -> Options -> Audio - this will being up a dialog box.

  • Under Audio Device -> Select "LH Labs Geek Pulse [WASPI]"
  • Under Audio Device -> ... Device Settings set your selections like the image below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 11.20.09 PM.png

 

  • Very important to select both "Open Device for Exclusive Access." Not important to select "Play a little silence on DoP stop", but it does not hurt either.
  • EXTREMEMLY IMPORTANT - DO NOT CHECK "Maximize device volume during playback". Double check you have this UNSELECTED.
  • EXTREMEMLY IMPORTANT - DO NOT SET THE BUFFERING VALUE ABOVE 100ms. (If you hear clicks and pops, check this setting.)

 

---

Under the DSP && output format setting, you don't have to do much. Just make it look like this:

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 11.25.26 PM.png

 

Important Points:

  • Make sure you enable the output "Output format"
  • Do not enable any other tabs at this time
  • Be sure to setup the changes for output greater than 384K as shown in the screenshot.
  • Very important - set the Greater than 786K setting to 176.4K as shown. (Really important. :)
  • If you enable JRSS mixing, USB volume control may or may not work for you. i recommend not to do so at this time.

Set the Bitstreaming to Custom -> DSD (If you don't do this, you won't be able to play DSD encoded music. If you have trouble with DSD, this is the first spot to check.

 

I strongly recommend setting the other settings to these values, though some of them are personal preference. If you do decide to set any settings differently, do not change the System Volume settings. This is for your own protection. :)

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 11.31.32 PM.png

 

Limit the volume to 80% at least to start. This will depend greatly on your headphones sensitivity. But play it safe.

 

  • You must choose Volume Mode -> System Volume
  • I highly advise selecting "Play Files From Memory" as well.

 

Only a few more steps and you are there. :)

 

Now click the volume setting icon on the main JRMC display.

  • Ensure that "System Volume" is selected
  • Ensure that "Volume Protection" is enabled
  • Ensure that "Enable Volume When Bitstreaming" is enabled. If you do not, you will have no USB volume control when playing DSD. **Important**

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 11.35.25 PM.png

 

Now you are done with JRMC! :)

 

On the DAC, press the volume button in and turn it until you see 'Volume Mode', press the volume knob again to select that option, and then turn the volume knob until it indicates the volume mode is in USB. Push the know again to save the setting. The volume on the device will immediately go to -0.0db.

 

Again on the DAC, follow the above procedure to find HP Gain. Set it to *low*. Seriously, this puppy can put out 3 watts of power - that is enough to shred ears, headphones, and certainly one's nerves. You can always turn this up later if you need more power to your headphones.

 

**WARNING WARNING WARNING**

Double check those volume and power settings before you test playback. Better yet, use a cheap set of headphones to test with!

 

 

 

 

**IMPORTANT*

 

Next, shut down the computer, power cycle the DAC, and then reboot the computer. **Do not skip this step. **

 

 

 

At this point, you can carefully start playing cuts from your JRMC library. Try PCM at various sample rates first. They should all appear on the DACs display with the correct sample rate. Ensure you have full volume control from the JRMC application, and from JRemote or whatever remote application you are using.

 

Once you are satisfied that everything is working well with PCM, try some DSD files. If they sound great, and you have volume control, you are done.

 

If something doesn't work, go back and double check the settings.

 

This will also work for the GeekOut V2 DAC, save you have to set the power level with the side buttons.

 

Just a very cursory listen to this, once my ears stopped ringing and I figured out my Oppo PM3's were actually okay, but it does sound nice. The display is not bothersome at all, even in a dark bedroom.

 

By the way, the procedure to setup JRMC is very similar on a Mac, save you don't need to load a driver and setup the defaults in the OS. Be sure to set the DAC to low power and for USB volume control. And be sure to enable "Enable Volume during bit streaming."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Just a really good tip. How many balanced small headphone battery amps do you find for a decent price ?

 

http://www.centrance.com/products/mini-m8/

 

I got mine and it sounds amazing, also AMK chipset which is a really good dac chipset. It gives great details, also runs my lcd3 just fine with the balanced cable I had made.

 

I looked very hard at the CEntrance products in this space. I just could not get a good opportunity to listen to one. Now hqving read your note, I am tempted....

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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And as it turns out, the device can work perfectly. I guess it was just my assumption that it would use the ASIO driver for best sound that led me down the wrong path. For those interested, setting up the Geek Pulse (and incidentally, a GeekOut V2, borrowed for setup purposes) is a minor bit of a challenge. Here's how I finally got the beastie to work with JRMC under Windows. It is playing now to give it some hours before serious listening.

 

1. Download and install the LH Labs driver. Windows does not even recognize the GeekPulse as a USB Audio Class 1 unit, so it is absolutely unusable with USB unless you install the drivers. For Windows 10 use the LightHarmonic_DriverSetup_v3.26.0 or above. This version will not work with Windows 7/8 according to the notes.

 

2. Plug in the beastie, then reboot the computer. If you are like me, and are using a remote desktop, open a command window and type in the following command: shutdown /r /f /t: 0 This will force the machine to reboot immediately. If you are actually on the console, then you can use the GUI options to reboot.

 

3. Right Click on the Windows Icon in the bottom left corner of your Windows desktop, select Control Panel and Sound. Ensure that the LH Unit is showing up, select it as the default output, and under the Properties Tab, make sure the following settings are set:

 

[TABLE=width: 500]

[TR]

[TD]Tab Name[/TD]

[TD]Control[/TD]

[TD]Desired Setting[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]General[/TD]

[TD]Device Usage[/TD]

[TD]Use this device (enable)[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Levels[/TD]

[TD]Speaker Volume[/TD]

[TD]Set to 10 or so. *Warning, this setting may save your ears in the event of an accidental full volume strike against them. It happens...[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Enhancements[/TD]

[TD]Disable All Enhacements[/TD]

[TD]Make sure you disable all enhancements for the best audiophile quality.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Advanced[/TD]

[TD]Default Format[/TD]

[TD]Not important, pick whatever you choose. The player will adjust this for you based upon the music.[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Advanced[/TD]

[TD]Exclusive mode[/TD]

[TD]CHECK "Allow applications to take exclusive control of this device." *important*[/TD]

[/TR]

[TR]

[TD]Advanced[/TD]

[TD]Exclusive Mode[/TD]

[TD]CHECK "Give exclusive mode applications priority"[/TD]

[/TR]

[/TABLE]

 

Now you are ready to tangle with the J. River Media Center Settings. These are actually pretty darn simple. They are much quicker to do than to read about. Think about 3-5 minutes of work and you are done. :)

 

These are specifically for JRMC version 21.0.50 under Windows 10. You might see small differences in the Mac Version and if you have a different level of the software.

 

Tools -> Options -> Audio - this will being up a dialog box.

  • Under Audio Device -> Select "LH Labs Geek Pulse [WASPI]"
  • Under Audio Device -> ... Device Settings set your selections like the image below.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]25368[/ATTACH]

 

  • Very important to select both "Open Device for Exclusive Access." Not important to select "Play a little silence on DoP stop", but it does not hurt either.
  • EXTREMEMLY IMPORTANT - DO NOT CHECK "Maximize device volume during playback". Double check you have this UNSELECTED.
  • EXTREMEMLY IMPORTANT - DO NOT SET THE BUFFERING VALUE ABOVE 100ms. (If you hear clicks and pops, check this setting.)

 

---

Under the DSP && output format setting, you don't have to do much. Just make it look like this:

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]25369[/ATTACH]

 

Important Points:

  • Make sure you enable the output "Output format"
  • Do not enable any other tabs at this time
  • Be sure to setup the changes for output greater than 384K as shown in the screenshot.
  • Very important - set the Greater than 786K setting to 176.4K as shown. (Really important. :)
  • If you enable JRSS mixing, USB volume control may or may not work for you. i recommend not to do so at this time.

Set the Bitstreaming to Custom -> DSD (If you don't do this, you won't be able to play DSD encoded music. If you have trouble with DSD, this is the first spot to check.

 

I strongly recommend setting the other settings to these values, though some of them are personal preference. If you do decide to set any settings differently, do not change the System Volume settings. This is for your own protection. :)

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]25370[/ATTACH]

 

Limit the volume to 80% at least to start. This will depend greatly on your headphones sensitivity. But play it safe.

 

  • You must choose Volume Mode -> System Volume
  • I highly advise selecting "Play Files From Memory" as well.

 

Only a few more steps and you are there. :)

 

Now click the volume setting icon on the main JRMC display.

  • Ensure that "System Volume" is selected
  • Ensure that "Volume Protection" is enabled
  • Ensure that "Enable Volume When Bitstreaming" is enabled. If you do not, you will have no USB volume control when playing DSD. **Important**

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]25371[/ATTACH]

 

Now you are done with JRMC! :)

 

On the DAC, press the volume button in and turn it until you see 'Volume Mode', press the volume knob again to select that option, and then turn the volume knob until it indicates the volume mode is in USB. Push the know again to save the setting. The volume on the device will immediately go to -0.0db.

 

Again on the DAC, follow the above procedure to find HP Gain. Set it to *low*. Seriously, this puppy can put out 3 watts of power - that is enough to shred ears, headphones, and certainly one's nerves. You can always turn this up later if you need more power to your headphones.

 

**WARNING WARNING WARNING**

Double check those volume and power settings before you test playback. Better yet, use a cheap set of headphones to test with!

 

 

 

 

**IMPORTANT*

 

Next, shut down the computer, power cycle the DAC, and then reboot the computer. **Do not skip this step. **

 

 

 

At this point, you can carefully start playing cuts from your JRMC library. Try PCM at various sample rates first. They should all appear on the DACs display with the correct sample rate. Ensure you have full volume control from the JRMC application, and from JRemote or whatever remote application you are using.

 

Once you are satisfied that everything is working well with PCM, try some DSD files. If they sound great, and you have volume control, you are done.

 

If something doesn't work, go back and double check the settings.

 

This will also work for the GeekOut V2 DAC, save you have to set the power level with the side buttons.

 

Just a very cursory listen to this, once my ears stopped ringing and I figured out my Oppo PM3's were actually okay, but it does sound nice. The display is not bothersome at all, even in a dark bedroom.

 

By the way, the procedure to setup JRMC is very similar on a Mac, save you don't need to load a driver and setup the defaults in the OS. Be sure to set the DAC to low power and for USB volume control. And be sure to enable "Enable Volume during bit streaming."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any idea how bizarrely convoluted and complicated that appears to be?

Really odd.

David

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Do you have any idea how bizarrely convoluted and complicated that appears to be?

Really odd.

 

Absolutely, and yet you can go from unconfigured to playing music in 4 mins flat, even counting reboot times.

 

I was wondering if someone else would think it insanely complicated. The DAC / Amp sounds very good, but at least right now, but t did take me almost three hours to figure out all those settings. Insane amount of detail and work - no wonder our hobby is considered insane. Like putting vodka in reef tanks. Insane on the surface of it, but gives good results.

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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