Please forgive the nursery school questions, but headphones and headphone amps are new territory for me. I can muddle through that but here’s where I’m confused:
I want to set up a single box “headphone station” in a room in my house where I can lay down and just quietly listen to headphones. My primary audio system is based on Roon, so naturally that’s what I would like for this situation also. There is no wired network in this room but I have WiFi available.
My thought is a combination DAC/Headphone Amp, which seem common enough. But how to stream my music (NAS, no online content) to that box without adding another box (wireless streamer/bridge)? Is it insane to consider Roon to my Android phone connected to the DAC via OTG-USB cable? If I do this will Roon allow me to output to the full capability of the DAC (DSD, etc)?
Or am I better off with a combination DAC/HP Amp/streamer that is Roon enabled/ready?
I really don’t want multiple boxes, just a single small simple box would be best.
I’m open to specific suggestions around $1000-1500 (not including headphone), but I really just want to understand my options particularly with respect to using the phone as the streamer.
I think there are plenty of options using a Raspberry Pi 4 with a DAC HAT and headphone amplifier and WIFi. Or, if you don’t mind plugging in a DAC such as a Audio Quest Dragonfly Cobalt (or Black or Red). You can stream your NAS content from your Roon core computer device to one of these using your network and WIFI. With one of these, you use your phone or tablet to control Roon and choose your music, etc.
Thank you very much for your reply. I hadn’t thought of the small “inline” DACs like Dragonfly but it makes perfect sense for plugging into a typical headphone amp.
I have typically avoided Pi solutions in the past for no other reason than a general impression I have of “tinkering” as opposed to professional presentation. At the end of the day it’s the sound that matters, but somehow clear plastic boxes don’t thrill me. To be fair, I know this sounds elitist and I do believe quality gear can be built on or around a Pi. Still can’t shake it. I should take the plunge even as an experiment - who knows I may just save a ton of cash and enjoy the heck out of it!
Most of the all in one streamer/DAC/amps are pretty expensive, at least $2k (and up). I recently put together my multi-room system and I think the best bang for your buck is to buy a standalone streamer, such as the Sonore UltraRendu or the SOtM sMS-200, and then hook it up to whichever DAC/Headphone AMP combo you choose. Of course they make combination DAC/Streamers, but overall they are focused on the higher end of the marker. They aren’t bad or anything, but you can get a lot more for the money if you are willing to do a 2 box solution.
Edit: Allo is another option for a streamer. They are based off the Pi, but are a bit less DIY
At the end of the day, some people are going to say they can’t hear a difference between a Pi based streamer and a high end streamer, while others are going to say the high end streamers sound better. Only way to know for yourself is to try it and it is probably worth it to try one first before going higher end. If you don’t like it, you can always return it or sell it and you aren’t out hundreds or thousands of dollars
I believe this type of unit will become more and more prevalent as time goes by. Right now, they are not as readily available, especially at that price point. You basically want three devices in one, and those devices need to be $330 - $500 each, but also combined into a single chassis, and have all the advancements needed to ensure that you get the sound quality you want.
The ifi Pro iDSD is one option, but that will set you back $2500. Has many, many features, but also a good list of issues.
Mytek Brooklyn Bridge is another great option, but same price issue, as it will set you back $3000.
Matrix Audio Element M is another option, is also Roon Ready, and will set you back about $1800.
In my price point, I wanted to also have balanced headphone option, so I went with the Topping DX7 Pro. I did have to add the RPi to get the streaming part, but it was worth dealing with the extra box than not have the audio options I wanted. For both units, $700.
I really wish Schiit Audio would have an option card to add a WiFi streaming module to their gear that has these add on bays.
Thanks guys, you make excellent points and I appreciate alternate points of view. To reveal a bit more of my “plan”, such as it is, the following is what I’m thinking.
I have no experience with headphones. As in: I’ve never used them. I may or may not enjoy the experience. But I’m kinda fussy about “audiophile” sound and have a reasonably good ear for an old geezer. My primary gear is not esoteric megabucks, but respectable. So I’m predisposed to want to give the headphone thing a reasonable opportunity to impress me.
My thought is, then, for this minimal setup, get quality headphones, DAC and HP amp. If I can get away with using a phone/tablet as the streamer, great - assuming that it isn’t limiting in terms of sound quality. I assume the headphones, Amp and DAC are far more important to sound quality.
Then, if I enjoy the experience I would move the HP amp to my main system so that I could listen to headphones there in my music room. And invest more in a higher end all-in-one for this bedroom system - such as a Brooklyn Bridge or that level of device.
If my original stated budget is too lean, I’m not opposed to increasing it.
I doubt you will get the sound quality you’re looking for using a phone or tablet. I use my iPhone 11 Pro Max and Sony WH-1000Xm3 headphones when walking the dog around the block, but sounds like you’re looking for something better. I also sometimes use my Dragonfly Cobalt plugged into the iPhone with a camera adapter for a wired situation, but that’s limited to 24/96.
Ok, well I won’t throw up my hands in disgust if the phone/tablet thing doesn’t astound me!
I think I’ll concentrate on a quality HP amp with DAC and if I don’t care for the phone as an endpoint I’ll just snag a Pi I can tuck away somewhere and feed the DAC via USB, just use the phone for control.
So… Quality DAC/HP Amp with volume knob on the front and ideally with a remote volume control also (in the event it ends up in my music room with the main system) .
This is where you will need to make the decision to get you where you are trying to go. You can use your phone as your streamer “end point.” You will get the audio quality that your phone can produce. You can enhance that by using Dragonfly type “inline” device, and it would have reasonably good sound qualities.
But, as you stated:
So, you seem to want the higher end of things, or at least a chance at it. So, this is where you may have to deviate from your plan, either in number of boxes, or in price range. This is why I mentioned the path I took for my bedroom listening at the end of the day: a moderate priced, well performing Dac/Amp combo, and then added the WiFi streaming option in a stable, yet inexpensive manner. Having an “appliance” streamer added to the DAC/Amp has been great, and now I have some streaming flexibility, as I can take the entire rig setup out onto the deck, if I want.
I then slowly migrated through a series of headphones, over 3-4 years, and going from $50 up to $900. The headphone upgrades have been interesting and enjoyable. Much more dramatic sonic changes than the changes to the DAC/Amp combos or units that I have had.
You can be ultimately happy after your first purchase. Or you can try different things to see what your tastes lean towards, in manufacture, design, technology and price ranges.
I can’t recommend the RME-ADI-2 DAC enough for a DAC headphone combo. It sounds amazing with any source and not prone to usb issues like other DACs that may favour one type of input over another. It’s not massively expensive either. I use a pi or nuc with it and sounds divine.
I have found that a Chord Mojo (a combined DAC and headphone amp) pair with a Chord Poly (a network streamer) works very well for me with Roon. The combination of the two fits together neatly into one small, portable unit. This is in the price range you were indicating.
Right, that has been my initial thought, short of an all-in-one solution. Use the phone or my tablet as both a control point and streamer with USB out via OTG cable into either a Dragonfly type of DAC or the DAC in a combination HP amp.
Exactly, though we differ only in the streamer itself. I can test the DAC/HPamp for acceptable quality of sound in my main system before placing it in the bedroom. Then I’ll get a better idea if the phone is seriously limiting my enjoyment. Ultimately, if I find I enjoy the headphone experience, this HP amp can go into my main system and I would get something higher end that is an all-in-one for the bedroom. Something like a Mytek Brooklyn Bridge or Gold Note DS-10.
Incidentally, I’ve been saying phone/tablet randomly and may have been unclear. I don’t mean one as control and one as streamer. I just mean I’ll choose to use one or the other as both control and streamer, tethered to the DAC/HP amp.
I’d also suggest the Chord Mojo, I’m too cheap to buy a Poly and just use the phone, tablet or an RPi Roon endpoint connected to the Mojo. The glowing marble aesthetics aren’t to everyone’s taste, but I really like them. The sound quality is good for the price.
Some would say, reasonably enough, that I should concentrate on headphones first because they affect the sound quality the most. But to test them I need something in place and I don’t particularly want to just grab something quick that I’ll ultimately just reject later. Rather I would choose solid, quality DAC/amp and then season to taste with the headphone merry-go-round.
I’ll likely start with something well known like Sennheiser HD800s which, used, are at the top of my justifiable HP budget - I won’t spend more than that. But that specific model is not decided, just an example. I listen to jazz, rock, fusion, ambient, electronic and avant garde/experimental. No classical. I’m a geezer, so I’ve lost the high frequencies and yet it’s brightness and higher treble that I try to avoid. Not a bass head, but I do love and appreciate tight, accurate bass. I want to say neutral and accurate, but we all know that is boring, so I guess I do like a little colour.
Anyway, as you say, that’s another thread and likely on another forum. I only started this thread here based on the Roon connection. And it’s been rewarding.
I went on the new headphones trail a year or so ago and I ended up with the previous HD800 not the S. Two reasons, I preferred the sound and they were a lot cheaper
I went and listened to a lot of high end 'phones and the sennheiser’s were the only ones that felt comfortable and that I liked the sound of. Hence my single piece of advice, go try on anything you are thinking of buying for sound and fit.