Possible headphone dac+amp upgrade paths


I currently have a set of Audioengine A5+'s setup on my desk fed by Roon => Roon ROCK (NUC7i5BNH) => AQ Jitterbug => AQ Dragonfly Red => 3,5mm jack in.

And the same speakers, connected from a Roon or general purpose audio like Youtube => W10 PC =>(Toslink)=> Audioengine D1 => RCA in. (USB 5V power also from the same PC, data through USB is too bad to cope with, Toslink is less bad)

I use a pair of AQ Nightowl Carbon’s, at my desk through the D1.

What I like:

  • Roon :slight_smile: (bought lifetime)
  • The SQ of the Dragonfly both through the speakers and the headphones
  • The volume control in the Roon app through the dragonfly when I’m not at my desk (important)
  • The physical volume control of the D1 when I am at my desk (especially with headphones).

What I dislike

  • SQ of the D1 (both the DAC and the AMP part can be better) + the device has some issues with skipping at 24/88.2, presumably a faulty unit.
  • The lack of physical “knob” on the Dragonfly
  • The ROCK is on my desk and makes audible fan noises (I want it gone to the server room, asap)
  • The jitter my Windows computer produces as an endpoint through USB
  • An iOS device + CCK + Dragonfly as a replacement i tried for the ROCK as endpoint, i don’t want to go wake it all the time, i need to be able to start playing music through the Roon remote any time.

I plan to upgrade my A5+'s to LS50W’s in the near future, but I want to replace the D1 first with something nicer for headphone listening through Roon with the pc as an endpoint, and also for general purpose audio (Youtube etc).

So, what are my options?

I know a Mytek Brooklyn has HID USB (Roon volume control) AND a physical control, but that thing is rather expensive and I don’t know if it synergizes well with a Nightowl. Also LS50W’s don’t benefit from a good preamp / dac much so I don’t want to go overboard with this purchase.
A Questyle CMA400i / 600i seems a really good fit with the Nightowls, but lacks the hid volume control and can thus not replace the ROCK + Dragonfly for when I’m not at my desk.

Are there any (clean looking) all-in ones or slick looking combo’s that are a sensible upgrade path for me?
Or, do I keep up a bit longer with the ROCK fan until I get the built-in streamer in the LS50W’s and get me a good, non hid-capable CMA 400i?


Changed my network hardware with new switches and AP’s and got the ROCK a nice spot in the server room, wired into a managed switch so I can look into the bandwith it uses. I started using the Dragonfly again hooked up to either a Macbook Pro or iPad Pro (AC wifi, never had a single issue) for listening through the speakers. The D1 still serves as a headphone amp/dac through optical on the pc.

As long as I don’t hook up my Dell monitor to the macbook, the noise floor on the DF Red is really low and with the pc off, the hardware is inaudible. So far so good.

However, I still have either a pc, a mac or an iPad running (and cluttering my desk) to be able to play tracks through Roon and my headphone experience is still not that nice through the D1… I want a better streaming experience, and better SQ through my headphones.

Are there any nice DAC’s or amp / dac combinations in the sub 1500 euro range (below Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ price bracket that can do all I want except being a streamer as well) that do both manual volume control through a knob AND hid usb control so I can control the volume through a roon remote AND the knob? Ideally I replace the D1 and the DF Red with one device, with both optical (PC - replacing the D1) and USB (external streamer - replacing the macbook + DF Red) or networked Roon Ready capability so I can easily switch the inputs?

I have contemplated buying a questyle CMA 400i, hooking it up through Toslink on the pc, and buying a Allo DigiOne USB streamer for the Questyle’s USB input so I can stream with the PC off, however I would sorely miss Roon remote volume control then…

I use an Audiolab M-DAC with Sennheiser HD800 via. A RPi , Allo Digione

The new version M-DAC+ does DSD as well

I use an Aq Red on my iPad too , the mdac is definitely better


Thanks for your input Mike.

Can you control the M-DAC’s volume through Roon or do you need it’s own remote control or volume knob?

No you use the remote for the dac

I have the M-DAC too and you can actually control the volume from Roon with device volume if you set the M-DAC to accept USB commands in it’s menu. I don’t use it that way because it only works from Roon and not the other way around. So if I change the volume on the M-DAC with the volume knob it doesn’t change in Roon. So I would also recommend using the M-DAC remote.

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Thanks for your reply.

My active speakers have a remote, so I can use that, but I really prefer the option to change the volume in Roon when I play through the speakers and on the device itself when I use my cans at my desk. That is if I end up using just one device…

I only know of the Mytek Brooklyn dac+ to have both Roon volume control + the knob, but this can’t be the only device that can do that?

There is one other way that might work: The Questyle CMA400i I’m very interested in has a toggle switch between (pre) amp and headphone amp. If it works as I suspect, It could remember different volumes for the cans and the pre-amp circuit. That way I can use the knob when I am at the desk and the speaker’s remote when I’m not without risking a heartattack or blown out cans when I switch output…

OR, just get the Questyle or a Burson Play or somthing for headphones and invent something else to stream to the speakers with…

About a year later, I still haven’t made a change…

The iPhone 5 I use as a streamer has “blown up”, not in an explosive manner, but the screen assembly seems to get pushed out by an abnormally inflated battery. I think the time is near to rethink this part, if I want to prevent a fire.

Any new insights on possible solutions?

I need in-app (software) volume control for the Roon endpoint (hard requirement) that has to be allways on and I want a manual control for the headphone amp that is currently a Audioengine D1 connected to my PC through USB). One device would be great, but not essential. I can re-use both the DF Red and the D1 but ideally I take both out of the loop eventually because I have other use cases for them, less focussed on quality and more on convenience (mobile use and 2nd office).

Further down the line I would like to be able to add an apple TV to stream video that also uses this set of speakers while displaying to an HDMI screen. It’s not necessary today, but I want 3 inputs (Roon streamer, PC and Apple TV) that I can output to either my speakers or my headphones in a convenient manner.

I don’t have a huge budget today 500 euro or so, can stretch to 1000 if really necessary…

Any interesting perspectives on what my options are?

Can I suggest you look at using any DAC/pre with volume ir and use a harmony hub remote and @Adam_Goodfellow Roon extension Deep harmony. It will give you what you want.

I use thIs on my QAcoustic powered speakers and Bluesound Node 2. You can configure it so that it controls the the volume on the speakers and the endpoint from within Roon or by using a harmony remote control so you get best of both worlds.