My Current Budget-Fi Rig

I have a dream.

A portable stacked rig of a dedicated DAP, DAC, Amp, and a pair of studio monitors

And now, my dream has come true.

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Hidizs AP60-(USB OTG)->E17k-(Line Out)->A5-(HP Out)->DT990 250Ohm

I expected my gears to be moderately balanced, neutral sounding with a hint of fun, and hence that’s why I chose the DT990 over 880 for its V-shaped FR. However, I find my DT990 to be (only) a bit too bright with my ruler flat Fiio A5. I chose a Fiio E17k as my DAC because I thought PCM5102, with a bit darker than neutral signature, could tame the brightness and give better control over the boomy bass of DT990. The result was very subjectively impressive to me. The combo does rock well, can handle fast metal, and sounds good with Daft Punk. What follows is individual succinct reviews of the components

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Beyerdynamic DT990PRO 250Ohm.

“You can’t go wrong with Beyer”

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American v German

“You can’t go wrong with Beyer” kinda comments are everywhere on Head-Fi, and I support such claims. Be it a pair of closed musicians’ favorites DT770s, semi-open studios’ staples DT880s, or audiophiles oriented DT990s, you are going to be surprised by their wide frequency response, uncolored midrange, and supurb build quality and comfort. The living German legends of 770/880/990 lineup sound quite similar overall, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses. DT770 is noted for its immaculate bass reproduction (though not the most accurate), 880 for its accuracy, and 990 for its fun. DT990 is the most V-shaped of the trio, so V-shaped that midrange feels hollow and unengaging, but with clarity, details, and transparency. Bass response is sublime, though not flawless, because of the 5-7dB bump around 60-100Hz that makes mid-bass boom kinda hinder the underlying sub-bass. Trebles can be harsh and stupidly bright, but since these were made for critical listening, it makes sense to make some FR hills in certain regions to detect some flaws in the recording, and after a day of ‘head’ burn-in, you’ll be accustomed to the highs on these. Overall they’re very entertaining, fun, and one of the lesser colored headphones out there.

Fiio A5 Headphone Amplifier

A little amp that could. 

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A5 with rubber feet.

Well, with its powerful 800mW output into 32Ohm load, these lil amp are lil monster. Its chassis feels very robust, and the size is IMHO very compact for its capabilities. It is very neutral, and and with very low output impedance of 0.3Ohm, creates very little to no distortion regardless of load impedance. It gives you what you would expect from a powerful, well-designed solid state amplifier. If you want a dead silent, transparent, neutral amp from an established manufacturer, I’d highly recommend to give the A5 a try.

 

Fiio E17k DAC with Headphone Amplifier

A Digital Solution

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E17k with its 3M Dual Lock sticked onto its chassis

A DAC/Amp combo with some flaws, especially when used as DAC/Amp. PCM5102 is well known for not being as neutral as most modern DAC chips, and Fiio made it worse by making the amp stage of E17k darker sounding. However, when used as a DAC, it is a bang for the buck. You’ll get a well-built PCM5102 DAC for less than $100. I bought it so that I could tame the brightness and for its USB connectivity so that I could use it with my Hidizs AP60 (that’s obviously flawed in analog stage), iPhone, computers via USB (or USB OTG).

 

Implementation

All components are stacked together by low profile 3M (Scotch) Dual Lock tapes.

1. Without DAC

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Some sources exclusively output analog signal e.g. my iPod classic, iPod Photo, Xduoo X3. So in this case I’ll just hook a mini to mini analog interconnect from line out port of a source to line in of the A5. The results vary audibly between the sources, as you may have predicted. Xduoo X3 produces the most neutral and powerful output signal with its Cirrus Logic DAC and 1.5V line out voltage. iPod classic does impress me for neutrality, but output voltage can be too weak that I have to adjust the gain on the A5. iPod Photo is, audibly, as weak as its newer counterpart with some hiss and more ‘analogue’ signature.

2. With DAC

I normally use Hidizs AP60 with Fiio E17k because of the former’s ability to output digital signal via micro USB port (OTG). And the E17k is also used with my MBP when using Tidal Hi-Fi. After the source and DAC are connected, I personallydetaste E17k’s amp section so I bypass it by using line out to A5. The result is a fuller, more powerful sound. The AP60+E17k+A5 combo is currently my go-to, mostly for its portability. And because Xduoo X3 has some kind of absurd pitch error that force me to convert every files with 44.1kHz rate (or something with a multiple of that) to 48kHz base, I started to use my X3 exclusively with earbuds to avoid any audible artifacts introduced by conversion.

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