I would first upgrade the amp. 60 watts per channel isn't even close for what the Maggies need. You are hearing a lack of bass and power because your amp can't produce or control it.
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I used to have an Icon player and the MG IIIa's also.
I replaced it with the Denon player I use now and I thought that an improvement.
The mhdt Constantine DAC I use with the Denon currently in my system is the best combo that I have had yet.
You need considerable power I believe to get the best out of those Maggies, I believe though.
I don't want to insult you, please understand, but ditch the adcom preamp! I would start 'home trying' lots of other pre's or, try a really good passive pre with the cd player and your reaction should be WOW where have you been all my life? yeah the other guys are right about the maggies needing some power and current... 150 - 200 watts per channel and some current dumping ability.. THEN try out the Saturn!
I have a Rega Jupiter 2000 I am VERY satisfied with.. have tried it with various speakers and the whole sys. ROCKS with my vintage modded JBL Horizons...
BTW the Maggies are excellent! Keepers-- hang on to those.
Timoteo, like most previous answer suggest, you have a very serious bottleneck in your amplifier. I have used your very Maggies 3As for 20 years. . . All Magnepan speakers are major serious power hogs! Not even my original Aragon 4004 was making them happy at 200W per channel. They became a lot happier with the Rowland 7M monoblocks. . . plenty of power there. . . very effortless but not yet enough control for the bass region as their damping factor is only 175 or so. Besides, the old Rowland 7M run very hot to the touch and were simply not right for Texas summers. Your Maggies will truly shine if you feed them what they crave to recieve, lots of power and a relatively high damping factor of perhaps 250 or higher.
You may want to look at amps that are between 300 and 500 watts per channel. Such amps can be real drags on your monthly energy bills. . . unless you use amps that run cool to the touch: some class A/B amps with low bias, and most class D amps would fit the power requirement.
In pure amps I warmly recommend the Bel canto Reference 1000 Mk.2 monoblocks at 500W per channel over 8 Ohms and 1000W over 4 Ohms (the maggie's impedance) and a damping factor of 1000. . . don't be deceived by their small size. . . their sound's deliciously amazing and they even handle my current Vienna Mahler speakers, which may be even more difficult to drive than the Maggies 3As. See my review on Positive Feedback at:
If you were willing to consider an integrated amp, you may look the Rowland Continuum 500. . . same 1000W per channel over 4 Ohms and 1000 damping factor, with 40 Amps current of the Bel cantos, with probably a more sophisticated AC power rectification front end and more bulk capacitance in the output, combined with a killer linestage circuit. . . same found in the Rowland Capri pre.
If cool operation were a major factor for you, the Bel Cantos run cooler than the Rowland. . . the front end PFC-based AC rectifier in the Rowland Continuum 500 generates a fair amount of heat.
Only thing to watch out is that class D amps take several hundreds of hours of break in to sound at their best, otherwise they can sound EXTREMELY dry.
As the amp is definitely your weakest link by far, initially you may want to consider getting a relatively inexpensive CDp, such as an OPPO, which are reputed to be fabulous price performers. . . then invest in a higher quality CDp later on if you were not yet satisfied of the results.
I used a 360w/CH cARVER M4.0T WITH MY mAGGIE IIIa's (and Icon MkII). This was a pretty good combo that I lived with for over 15 years. That power did not go to waste with those Maggies at all.
For an inexpensive experiment that should offer an improvement, these or other high power Carver amps (some models which deliver higher current as well) can be had for not much used these days.
Next up the cost chart would be the high power Class Ds. Wyred4Sound offers a good, cost effective unit. BEl CAnto and then Rowland will cost more but perhaps offer even higher levels of refinement, if needed.
BTW, I am confident that once the power issue for the Maggies is resolved, most any well received modern CD player can outperform what you heard with the venerable Cal Ikon MkII.
As an alternative point of view, why are you using Maagneplanars for rock and jazz/fusion? In general I don't prescribe to components being music genre specific, but my experiences in listening to Maggies (store demos only), I wouldn't call them a rock/rhythm music oriented speaker. I think Maggies sound great, but like Quads aren't ideally suited for all types of music at loud to louder volumes.
My reaction is that 200wpc (@ 8 ohms) isn't enough for these speakers. I am using an amp with that rating on MMGs and get some clipping.
I'm glad you're on the forum asking questions - you have a world-class speaker with a c*** front-end. There's a B&K 4420 on sale right now here on Agon - my advice is put in a bid for it ASAP.
On the digital front-end, consider a separate CDP/DAC alignment. But that's the least of your problems.
" I wouldn't call them a rock/rhythm music oriented speaker."
A true statement in regards to low-end impact and dynamics if that is important to you, but they are still very versatile in all other regards and do very well with all kinds of music.
I'd still pick up a good affordable amp with enough muscle to make the Maggies sing first before doing anything else.
I recently picked up a used Jolida JD100, and with a good PC and the right interconnects and tubes, it sounds full, rich, rounded and makes huge beautiful music. It's been a joy to listen to. To date, it's the only digital front end I've tried that allows me comfortably listen to my maggie IIc's without my sub. The difference from my old cdp and a couple of dacs I've recently tried was dramatic enough to sound like I had upgraded to a better amp.
It's easy to make maggies sound bright and thin, with the wrong player, amp or cables. Personally, I would have never considered trying an Arcam, or any other player where some users reported thin or analytical sound in their systems, because I figured if one guy reported "to bright and thin", then that's what I would hear with my stuff. I've never heard anyone faulting the jolida for being thin or too analytical. Maggies natively produce great detail, and using a highly detailed player will get you "detail overload".
Be carful with amps, as well. For the past 3 years, I've been using a vintage Kenwood KA-9100 integrated, a late 70's dual mono beast with 90wpc, with surprisingly good results, first with my SMGa's and now with my IIc's. Well, I just recently picked up a used Musical Fidelity A300 integrated, hoping it would be an upgrade, but I was sorely disapointed. Sure, it does put out more power, and I can play stuff much louder, but the overall sound left much to be desired. After a few weeks of struggling with cable swaps, sub adjustments and speaker placements, I finally gave up and put the kenwood back in, and what a relief.
Since getting the jolida, I can finally sit down and listen to some music, and not be constantly thinking about what I need to try next, to make things sound right. Also, I'm not suffering nearly as bad with some cd's sounding good, and other's bad. I'm getting much more consistant sound accross a wide range of music types and recording qualities.
my friend biamps his mg 3s. he is using the dyna --mark 3's or sixes for the treble panel and a distech (modified b&k stereo 70) for the mids and bass, with an ace crossover.
i have heard his system many times. it sounds fine to me.
as for digital, he is using a g&d transforms transforms transport and modified art dio dac.
I think you are getting some pretty consistant, and good advice here, before you change out the disc player, check into a new amp.
First of all, I will admit that the best speakers I have heard for Rock music are not Maggies, that would be Klipschorns, period in my book.
Number 2 would be my 3.6R's, and I should know, I have had them for some time, and tried many other brands and types of speakers, always returning to the Maggies. If they have the correct amount of power, they will reproduce a kick drum, a bass line, cymbals, guitar and voices like nothing else. They have great impact, if you have the right amp, and that is the key.
My brother has some 20 yr old IIIa's driven by an Innersound ESL with a Vandersteen 2wq for the low end, and that's a truly spectacular combo with tons of impact.
Great for rock music or large orchestral pieces.
Other suggestions for amps:
Bel Canto Ref 1000 (agree)
Cary Audio CAD 1000 MB
Spectron Musician II
A number of people have said that my Maggies might be underpowered. My Adcom amp is 60w/ch into 8 ohms, but the Maggies are 4 ohm (and less sometimes), so my Adcom is probably providing more like 120w/ch into 4 ohms.
The second thing I wanted to bring out is that the Maggies with the Adcom and my CAL Icon Mk II can easily play at realistically live volumes with the volume knob on my preamp set at about 11 o'clock.
I like my CAL Icon Mk II CD player. It has plenty of bass for rock and jazz/fusion to suit me. Lots of "drive". When I say the Saturn and the Arcam CD players didn't have enough "power" or "drive" to suit me, I don't literally mean the player didn't have enough power. I'm talking about the feeling of "power" driving the music - maybe dynamic range, maybe bass. One thing I like about my CAL is that is sounds pretty "even" across the frequency range, while the Saturn and Arcam have detailed midrange but the midrange seems way to forward, in most cases, compared to the rest of the sound. Maybe this is just a lack of solid bass in those players.
I'll post some more responses to your great and very helpful posts when I have a little more time, probably tomorrow evening.
Timiteo, I think the point everyone is making, and it's the main point here, is that your amp cannot drive those speakers. 120 w into 4ohms for those large panels is very under-powered. The range and dynamics are greatly restricted due to the lack of power, especially bass.
All of your sources will wake up if you get a more powerful amp. I don't think the IIIa will really wake up with anything less than 300w into 4ohm, and more better.
To echo Macdadtexas, I have heard the newer brothers of IIIAs -- the 3.6s -- driven with both JRDG 201 monos (500W into 4 Ohms and same underlying power conversion module as Bel canto Ref 500) and JRDG 501 monos (same power conversion modules as Bel Canto Ref 1000 Mk.2s, and 1000W into 4 Ohms). . . the 201 were clearly underpowered and tended to get glassy at the least dynamic excitement. . . the 501 monos were comfortably driving the Maggies. Please note that I suspect Bel Canto Ref 1000 Mk.2 might be slightly more nuanced than Rowland 501s, unless you add a pair of external PC-1 rectifiers to the 501s, but that would drive up their cost by a further $3K.
This is new to me. Never heard of CDP to match one's speakers. Any plannar, electrostatic, ribbons will require some real juice to get their optimum SQ as most others have said. If you like the Adcom sound, step up to 200WPC. I would look at the Bryston sst line and a SS pre or tube pre . Frankly, the Adcom is kind of "RAW" sounding to me the Bryston sst line is more refined and better build. Not to mean bashing the Adcom since they made one of the hell good 200W amp back in the 80s ( do not remmeber the model). Please do not latterly side step to another B &K, Rotel, Parasound since you will want to upgrade later.
You might think that your 120 watts is driving those maggies, but trust me, no it's not.
I had 3.5rs a few years ago and was driving them with McCormack DNA-1 deluxe monoblocks. The maggies took all that power and didn't bat an eye. I tried driving them with my old Music Reference RM9, which has a "true" solid 100 watts of tube power. Pleasant for background music, but that's about it.
Power should be your first issue, THEN a seedee player. Actually a good turntable should come before the digital spinner.
Listen to me please. Do not go by spec since spec does mean much. I used to own the Martin Logan Aerius I and the SL3. While the Parasound & B&K & Sunfire could drive the Aerius I but not the SL3 to its optimum. I tried them in my own house. Only the old entry level Krell KVA 250 could drive the ML/ SL3 with authority in hi/mid/especially bass department. Literraly, others sound like a Marathon runner with emphysema . I know your speakers are not electrostatic loud speakers but just a thought to keep it in mind depending how near to perfect the sound you search for.
Hmmmm. A lot of people have said that I don't have enough power at ~120w/ch. into 4ohms for driving the Maggies. But they can be played very loud without any distortion that I can notice and I have plenty of bass with my CAL CD player. If I were underpowered, why would it only show up with the Saturn or the Arcam CD players? If I were underpowered, wouldn't this show up with my CAL with the Maggies sounding like it was lacking bass and drive also?
In response to Onhwy61's question, "why are you using the Maggies for rock & jazz/fusion" - I love the way they sound. I get a really "big" sound with them, and they're not too bright nor too laid back and they have a rather unique sound.
I listened to some Thiel's when I was evaluating the Maggies and, at first, I thought the Thiel's sounded great, but after listening for awhile they began to get on my nerves and I kept turning the volume down. They were just too bright and fatiguing for me after awhile. After listening to the Thiel's, the Maggies sounded dull, but after I adjusted to the difference, I found the Maggies sounded very nice and I could listen for a long time without getting fatigued.
Now I can't imagine owning any other type of speaker. Put on a live album and it feels like I'm really there in the audience. The sound seems to come from all around me - not just from the speakers in front of me.
Al Dimeola's "Scenario" CD has a song called "African Night" that has some jungle sounds at the very beginning. With the Maggies, this just surrounds me and is just amazing.
That's why I bought the Maggies. They help bring music to life.
As I said above, you THINK you have enough power. I guarantee that unless all you listen to is "little girl + guitar" music, you are missing out on dynamic transients big time. And your bass articluation and impact would be better with more power too.
And not to mention how Adcom amps provide only entry level sound. Ok, but you can certainly do better for not much more $$.
" If I were underpowered, why would it only show up with the Saturn or the Arcam CD players?"
The DACs in different players sound different.
You probably won't realize what your missing in regards to driving those speakers better with a better suited amp for better balance, impact, slam and all around low end authority, until you hear it.
Go to a dealer that might have Maggies set up optimally if you can and give a listen there to hear what you might hear.
You might find more CD players suitable with more juice driving those speakers.
A Cambridge Audio 640c or 840c is one player I have heard perform fantastically on larger Maggies properly driven and set up well.
Timoteo, find yourself a few players that you really like. . . play with them for 6 months with your Maggies.. . . after you throw in the towel when that your Maggies suffer of dry bass and turn glassy or tense at the 1st appearance of dynamic excitement no matter what CDp you use, consider revisiting the amp power issue.
That's right. You don't know what you are missing until you hear it. A side story but I thought I was getting full potential of my JM Labs speakers until I heard them driven by Pass. After hearing the truly dynamic sound I couldn't go back to other amps. I thought I was getting full range sound, but compared to what's capable now the sound was anemic.
The sounds are all relative. What you thought was full could have been due to bloated bass combined with underpowered amp. I agree with the others, the amp is the one needing an upgrade. A decent digital front end is cheap compared to decent amps. Get the amps first then look for the front end.
everyone recommends more power for my speakers. My Maggies are rated at 85db, which means they will produce 85db sound pressure at 1 meter using 1 watt of amplifier power. According to the inverse square law (and an article I read on the internet), power usage is like this:
85 db 1 watt
88 db 2 watts
91 db 4 watts
94 db 8 watts
97 db 16 watts
100 db 32 watts
103 db 64 watts
106 db 128 watts
109 db 256 watts
If my normal listening level is 85db, then I would be using 1 watt of power. At 90db, I would be using about 4 watts.
My amp is capable of producing 120 watts into 4 ohms, so my peak volume level without distortion would be somewhere between 103db and 105db. That's pretty loud, and I don't n normally listen to music that loud. 103db is as loud as a power wrench like they use to get the lug nut off your car wheels.
Assuming all the above is correct, I should be able to get close to 105db with my 120 watts of power. Supposedly this amp has further reserves for brief peaks (according to the what I read, written by the manufacturer, when I bought it centuries ago). So it seems like I have plenty of power.
just type in Maggies in any forum you care to name on the net and you will find people praising the moment they went for more power with maggies. frankly your calculations are meaningless i have apogees, at first i only had a small naim 40W unit. yes its played loud enough but i had no idea what it could sound like until i got a big krell.
your amp doesn't have enough power trust us on this...
Caveat in order: I've never owned Maggies.
Without repeating thoughts on increasing the wattage of your amp., might I suggest a bit of a gimmick? See if you can demo a tubed cd player. From what I have heard, it might be interesting to see if your sound is "punchier" for lack of a better word.
Have heard mostly good things about the Unison (I lhave and love its amp). I'm sure a search might reveal others. Demo one over a weekend. If nothing else, it will sound different.
"everyone recommends more power for my speakers."
In this case, "everyone" is right.
YOur problem is most likely that the speakers are not being driven to full potential. If you are really not happy with what you have, you need to address that first and then you will not find it so impossible to find a "matching" CD player.
Excellent point Timoteo. Your amp is obviously more than up to the task. . . time to start churning CD players. Please let us know when you discover one that has enough power for your maggies. Unfortunately we just have no experience in testing CD players for more power on big maggies. . . so we may not be able to offer much advice. You will be a true pioneer in this area. Please keep us all posted. G.
I have owned Plinius SA100 MKIII (100 wpc), Rogue 120M (120 wpc) and borrowed ML 383 (100 wpc) and they all got appreciably loud but sounded a bit sluggish. It was only when I got an Innersound ESL amp (400 wpc this special amp with a bigger than normal power supply had nearly 1,000 wpc into 4 OHMS) that is specifically designed for this type of speaker (current driven) that they really sounded alive and dynamic.
I agree with everything you say and thought the same things myself but learned I had not heard the Maggies at their best the expensive way!
It's not a matter of how much power, but what quality of power. Yes, you can drive the speakers with the Adcom, but it will be an entirely different experience with a more robust amp.
To the question: I used the CAL Alpha DAC a while back, and to my ear most all the new players have quite a bit more resolution, several of them would sound more "forward". If you are not accustomed to this, I'm guessing it will be unpleasant. I haven't taken the time to check on the specs, but if the CAL player has a digital out, you may have two channels available to run to a tube DAC. This might serve you very well. An econonmical one which I reviewed and has beautiful tonality is the Monarchy NM-24. There are many other decent DACs which might work. You could borrow one and see if the dig coax output of the player is intact. Might save you a lot of money.
Timoteo - I don't believe there would be an argument about the dB levels at the corresponding power levels, but that only applies if you are sitting 1 Meter from the speakers. Since most people sit much further away than that, I imagine the dB drops off rather quickly in a given distance. Having owned MG 1.6's I can't imagine 60 Watts/Channel Solid State being nearly enough for 3.6's at a decent listening level. The solid state amps I used with my 1.6's were always 100+ watts/channel (McCormack DNA 0.5, Bryston 3B, Audio Research D-300) and that was adequate, but during dynamic passages I would have wanted even more power not less. I also listened to the 3.6's and I imagine they demand much more power than the 1.6's. I heard them with 125 Watts/Channel 8 Ohms (250 at 4 Ohms) and thought they sounded weak and anemic.
Okay, guys, thanks for the advice about amps, but for now it is a moot point. The CD player is dying; it has to be the first item to be replaced. I can put in a 500w/ch. amp but if my CD player goes out, I can't listen to music.
I had sufficient bass and the undefinable feelings of "power", "drive", "fun" from my system.
I replaced my CD player with two different CD players and the feeling of "power", "drive", "fun" was gone.
Since I only replaced the CD player and nothing else, replacing the CD player must have been the cause of the change in the sound of my system.
ince I didn't change the amplifier, the amplifier is not the cause of the change in sound of my system unless there is some interaction between the CD player and the amp. Since CD players are designed to work with any pre-amp or integrated amp, this interaction seems very unlikely to me.
Analog circuitry differs from one CD player to the next. Seems to me that the analog circuitry in a CD player would be the cause of most of the "sound" of the player. There are only a relative few manufacturers of CD transports, but there are many analog circuit designs. The DAC chip could contribute to the sound too, I guess.
No one else in this thread has experienced a change for the worse in the sound of their system when they replaced their CD player with a newer and supposedly better player?
I have had seen recommendations for the Jolida CD player, which I have read very good things about, the Ayre, Muse (I don't know much about the Muse player). The Jolida I can probably swing, but the Ayre (unless used) is out of my price range.
I have a CD player I like a lot already, and has many good qualities, but it is dying. It does not have the clearness and detail as the Rega Saturn, but I like the bottom end with rock/jazz/fusion/etc. much better than the Saturn. The Arcam was so forward in the midrange it just about drove me out of the room and it wasn't "fun" to listen to.
I have a chance to listen to Naim CD5X and Primare CD21 and CD 31 players at a local audio store. I'm going to take my player into the store so I can compare on their system (they will have plenty of amplifier power). I can listen to my player and get sort of "tuned in" to their system, then switch my player out for the Naim or Primare and compare. If the Naim or Primare have comparable bass/drive/punch whatever it is to my player and I take one home and suddenly it sound weak, then maybe power is a problem too. I'm not convinced yet.
There is another thread that I started going on talking about impedance matching issues between amp/pre-amp and how a poor match can affect bass levels...some good stuff to know there.
Same can be true between source and pre-amp. Maybe that is part of your problem, the Cal Audio matched impedance to the pre-amp well and other other CDs did not? Something worth checking into before replacing the CD.
Also there are buffer devices available that can insert between CD and pre-amp to address this potential problem.
Isn't it frustrating when people don't listen to your needs? You have enough problems finding a replacement player, and you're gonna have the same problems shopping for "just the right" amp. One thing at a time. As I said earlier, I understand what you're saying about wanting your music to sound full, balanced and authoritative. You can get that without high spl's. You've already experienced it with your current player, so why is it so hard to get the same thing with a different player? I wish I had an answer.
You can get the biggest amp in the world, and still suffer from thin, bright and non-involving sound. Find the player first, and get settled in. You may have to experiment with some different cables to further enhance the sound character you're looking for. Once you're comfortable. with the sound of your system, AGAIN, then you can look into upgrading your amp.
Like I said before, I recently upgraded my amp to something that was supposed to be bigger and better, but ended up disappointed in the overall sound. Yeah, I can play it much louder, but at the expense of losing my well balanced, musical and non fatiguing sound.
I still love my Jolida, and if it broke today, I'd buy another one. Finding the right tubes is critical (and fun). I've tried a few different tubes, and some of them really killed the sound, but I'm pretty much settled in with a particular tube, now. I've been struggling with my system for a few years, but I can finally sit down and enjoy music. I can now listen to some Linkin Park, then jump to some Erich kunzel, and either is enjoyable. The Jolida may not work for you, but I wish I had bought one years ago, instead of a few months ago. I would have saved a lot of headaches.
Ok, so the question is then how to find a player that sounds like the old Cal Audio, other than trial and error?
TEchnically, impedance matching between source and pre-amp is the only thing I know of that matters, so if those specs look good, that is a first step, but stil not a guarantee. Individual CD players will still sound different from there, this just helps assure that the CD is a good match electronically to your pre-amp.
From there, it is mostly hearsay and trial and error, what you decide to try based on others comments, reviews, recommendations, etc. If you get lucky, you'll find something that sounds like what you had before.
I think the point is regarding the amp is that if you are in a good position to start with regarding the amp optimally driving the speakers, based primarily on amp power, current and efficiency at 8 and 4 ohms, then you will have a better chance of finding a player that sounds good rather than having to find a player that is not handicapped in your system and perhaps can make up for the shortcomings due to amplification.
The other fast track to the happy path would be to find another Cal Audio Icon MkII player used to replace what you had, but the challenge there might be to find one that is in good operating condition and stays that way. I had to fix mine twice at considerable cost before I finally decided to ditch it, so I would be cautious going this way as well if it were me.
Another thought I had is that perhaps if your current CD player finally died that perhaps it was not oeprating up to spec as well beforehand and that was part of the problem? That's just pure speculation on my part however though.
You asked: "No one else in this thread has experienced a change for the worse in the sound of their system when they replaced their CD player with a newer and supposedly better player?"
I replaced an Onkyo DX1800 with a Sony CDP-CX450 and noticed much less powerful bass, and less midrange detail. Although the Onkyo is a cheapie from my College days the Onkyo just sounds better on my MGIIIA's. I did learn that the Onkyo used a Phillips DA converter and in the future I will find out what converter is used before I buy another CDp. Best of luck with your equipment auditions! BTW, both CDp models mentioned above are long discontinued.
Timoko - "Okay, guys, thanks for the advice about amps, but for now it is a moot point. The CD player is dying; it has to be the first item to be replaced. I can put in a 500w/ch. amp but if my CD player goes out, I can't listen to music."
No, but you can order a $37 Samsung DVD player from Amazon and research how to spend your money on an amp and get much more sound improvement for your money.
This thread is pretty old now, but if anyone is reading this now I have learned more about powering Maggies lately.
The folks on this thread who said that my amp was underpowered for the Maggies are absolutely correct. I hooked up a pair of PSB Alpha speakers which are 89db efficiency rating (twice as efficient as the Maggies). I put on a CD and very slowly turned up the volume until the clipping lights on the amp started to flicker, at about 11 o'clock on the volume knob. (I would have done this test with the Maggies, but they are at Magnepan being repaired).
From this I would guess that if I set the volume knob at 9 o'clock or so driving the Maggies, I am probably at or near the threshold of clipping. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but there it is.
I am going to find a much beefier amp now.
As for the CD player, I "fixed" it by adding DAC for now.
have you ever connected your computer[ with good quality downloads or rips?] to your set up thru the usb/dac route? i would be interested in your opinion concerning the diference in sound quality. i use the mac with pure music with 500 watts per ch to magnepan mmgs and the sound is pretty good. i do have dual velodynes in the room also.
I have thought about playing music directly from my PC through a USB port into my DAC, but am not sure yet if that's the way I want to go.
My main concern is if USB output from the computer can provide CD quality sound. I bought a ~$100 U.S. headphone USB DAC that the audio mags and a lot of people on Amazon raved about. I plugged it into my computer at work, plugged in my Grado SR-325i headphones and found very little difference. Listening to the same music in my CD player at home us hugely better than the USB headphone DAC through my computer at work. I tried plugging the DAC into my laptop USB port and listening through my headphones again, and it actually sounded worse - I was getting noise as well as crummy sound quality. That, and some things I've read on-line, suggest to me that USB audio is not really ready for prime time.
I'd be very interested to hear what you find out if you decide to make the leap, and would be interested in hearing comments by others on this topic.
That said, you may get better information from people out there in a new thread on this topic.