Really low cost headphone endpoint

I recently got the $350 AAA 789 headphone amp, recommended by a very demanding friend. Didn’t really need it but wanted to experiment. Impressed me when fed by the Hugo 2 or Meridian 818 but those DACs are engaged, and the price point didn’t match. I decided to set up a headphone zone, and needed a price-appropriate DAC. (The cans are Audeze LCD-4z, not price-appropriate, but I use them elsewhere.j

Just at that time Darko talked about the $99 Shiitt Modi. But I wanted something smaller and more invisible.

I got the $80 SDAC by Grace, also at Massdrop. Comes with a USB cable — not much room in that budget for a fancy cable.

I use the iPad as the network endpoint. Haven’t even gone upstairs to fetch the Jitterbug.

Overall, the endpoint is excellent. Gives me as much happiness as the Hugo 2, and much more than the Dragonfly and Geek Out and Geed Pulse.

I may suggest one lesson from my experience: we tend to obsess over the digital parts, oversampling or not, DAC chip, jitter, digital cables, cables, decrapifiers. But the amp, the analog component, really matters. In this case, I wouldn’t claim that the $80 SDAC is as good as the Chord or Meridian. Maybe, maybe not, not relevant. But it is good enough to hold its own, letting the 789 strut its stuff.

At $430 a very satisfying experiment.


My first headphone setup was a Schiit Modi, Little Dot tube amp, and a pair of Grado 60s.

Not top shelf (or even middle shelf), but acceptable for listening at the desk.

I’m interested in the feed forward amp technology that this uses. Despite reading quite a bit about it, I still don’t really understand enough about how amps work to know why it’s an improvement. However, I think it’s shared by Hegel amps, which I really like, as well as the brilliantly reviewed Benchmark amp and the new uber expensive Chord amp. Would love to know if it’s the main factor in the ‘Hegel sound’ which I’m drawn to.

Edit: Just came across this which does a pretty good job of explaining the principles, in case others are interested.

Interesting discussion.
For comparison, here is Amir’s review of the AAA 789. Similar distortion numbers (although Benchmark talked only about the power amp, not the headphone amp). One important number is different, $3,095 vs. $349.

Indeed…I’m hoping this marks the start of some further amp releases drawing on this technology at a more approachable price point :grinning: I see there’s similar chatter on that forum.

Massdrop only built 490 of them, all sold out.
Hope they make more.

A video review on YouTube: