Headphone amp + DAC + Volume + ROON READY


I am loving my newly purchased headphones so much now that I am thinking of getting a second amp to use in my bedroom.

I am currently using a Benchmark HPA4 + Benchmark DAC3B + Sonore microRendu + Meze Empy.

I was thinking a Benchmark DAC2 DX would sound good, but already have a DAC3B and the Benchmarks are not ROOD READY. So I am curious if there is any other small box solutions that has a headphone amp with XLR headphone output, a DAC with volume control that is also ROON READY. It does not have to sound good as the HPA4, I want convenience and small form factor as the most important requirements.

This does not require analog inputs. I am thinking all digital for the bedroom. I guess the ROON READY has to be accomplished my RJ45 Ethernet or WIFI.
yyzsantabarbara
This is 3 units but only 1 power supply to the wall. Not cheap, $6K, nor really that small (a little tall when stacked).

https://www.11stereo.com/product-page/audiobyte-hydra-vox-dac

Does not have the XLR headphone output but not a deal breaker. The HUB piece will have ROON READY Ethernet input though it is not released yet.

Anybody have any feedback on the AudioByte for headphones?

Need to search for something like this for less dough.
Post removed 
https://www.schiit.com/products/jotunheim
and a Sonore microRendu maybe a cost effect choice.

Anyone have this amp or compared with the Benchmark DAC2 or DAC3 with volume?
Did you take a look at Mytek Brooklyn Bridge?
Yes, that was another one I saw last night but did not post. Only concern on that one is that the DAC may sound very similar to the Benchmark DAC3B that I have (and like a lot).

The dealer that sold me the headphones suggested that I look into the following mobile player:

Cayin DAP

for a desktop or non-mobile solution he suggested the following (which looks interesting)

https://abyss-headphones.com/collections/abyss-electronics/products/broadway-by-eleven-xi-audio-full...

For streaming DAC he suggested the Lumin D2 which is a warmer DAC than the Benchmark and maybe a nice addition. A cheaper streaming DAC is something I will look into.

What do you think of the Cayin products?

https://en.cayin.cn/products_info?itemid=129

I was thinking about your Mytek Brooklyn Bridge  suggestion and it was starting to make more sense to. The fact that it is a neutral sounding DAC would work best with the warm sounding Empy. It is also a 1 box solution.
Looked at some DAC ad's here on A'gon and this ad was for the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge + Meze Empy combo deal. So this must be a good pairing. This DAC actually does everything I asked for in the OP except the XLR headphone connector, which is not a big deal.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9e2ai-mytek-digital-brooklyn-bridge-brookyln-amp-black-bundle-da-converters

@yyzsantabarbara  Since you were looking at the Chord Mojo, I was going to suggest that you also checkout iF Micro DSD Black Label. But to be honest, anything less than a thousand will not do proper justice to the Empyreans. 

The Mytek definitely ticks a lot of boxes, but you should also checkout the iFi Pro DSD. I was seriously considering it for my headphone listening, but ended up buying the Quicksilver Headphone amps -- by far one of my most satisfying audio purchases to date.

BTW, I am looking for a streamer+DAC for my 2 channel rig. I have narrowed my choices down to either Brooklyn Bridge, or Innuos Zen Mini (with a future DAC update). Just need to make up my mind and pull the trigger in a week or two.
The tubes on the Quicksilver would not work too well with the Empy. On a scale of 0 - 100, with 100 being very warm. I would say the Empy is about 65-70. So a neutral amp like my current HPA4 works very well. I think I am limited in my amp choices with this headphone, though the sound with a neutral amp is perfect for my long listening sessions. I have yet to have a headache or fatigue. I am really shocked by this.

Another option for you is a Lumin T2 which is supposed to be slightly warm and a very good DAC + streamer.

For my main rig, I stick with the Sonore xxxRendu’s. I think they are great and I can use any quality computer (ROON) with these Ethernet-2-USB converters.

For my main rig, the AudioByte stack is also very intriguing as a future purchase. It uses RJ45 Ethernet for streaming into the DAC.

The DACs and amps I have been discussing on this thread are things for a bedroom which will only get used when I sleep. So I am not interested in spending too much money. For the main rig, I am willing to open up the wallet a bit more. At the moment I am very happy with the Benchmark DAC3B paired with the HPA4 on my main rig.
Thanks, @yyzsantabarbara . I'm actually leaning heavily towards the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge. It offers a lot at a reasonable price. Lumin T2 is a bit outside my comfort zone price-wise. I was not aware of Sonore xxxRendu. Need to do some research before making the final call. Thanks for the suggestion.
@arafiq Sonore are leaders in streaming. There is much more info about them on Computer Audiophile web site. They participate in the Audio Forums there. For what it is worth, that web site selected the Rendu’s the Product of Decade.

I said this in another A’gon thread yesterday, and there was some rebuttal to it, but I feel that the USB input on DAC’s are considered the better quality one vs a RJ45 Ethernet input. USB is supposed to be a technically a bad choice vs Ethernet but I think most DAC manufacturers optimized USB over Ethernet. This may change in the future as more Ethernet options because available and issues understood.

Just look at the dealers who demo high end DAC’s. The ones I have heard have selected USB even when an Ethernet was available on the DAC.

I mentioned all of this because the xxxRendu’s are Digitial-to-Digital converters. I like the term Ethernet-to-USB to be more specific.

I was hoping I had a photo of my microRendu on the A’Gon Virtual Systems, https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/7605

Unfortunately, my camera skills cut of a good portion of the microRendu. I have been using this unit all the time since 2106. It works flawlessly.  This unit is about $450 now.

http://www.sonore.us/index.html

https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/forum/24-sonore-sponsored/


@yyzsantabarbara  Considering that this is a headphones thread, I don't want to derail your discussion. But I definitely want to pick your brain in helping me find a good streaming solution. If you don't mind I will message you directly later tonight. I've narrowed down my choices and would definitely welcome your opinion.
Decided on the Chord Hugo TT2 with my exisiting microRendu streaming to the DAC.
Congrats! I had a feeling you won't settle for a sub 1000 DAC ;)

I received the opticalRendu on Saturday and it's no doubt a step up from the Node in every possible manner.
Great to hear that you like the opticalRendu package. When I get the Chord Hugo TT2 for the bedroom I will pair it with my existing microRendu streamer. I will get the same opticalRendu package as you for my existing Benchmark DAC3B in the office rig. Looking forward to lying on my bed and listening to tunes at this level of quality.

Yesterday, I bought a new headphone cable for the Empy. It is the Wywire Platinum. It is copper with some graphene. I got a lot of positive reinforcement to buy it from Empy owners on a Head-fi forum, especially now that they have a 40% off sale. So cost with tax and delivery was $400. It is supposed to have more detail than the stock Empy cable and other positive attributes.

I will say again how amazing the Empy is. It is getting even better after 200 hours. It is the most non-fatiguing headphone I have ever heard. Just cannot praise it enough. This with the stock cable.

I have also been doing a comparison of some new Benchmark StarQuad XLR’s. Benchmark calls them professional grade cables (vs consumer grade). At first I was not that impressed compared to the much more expensive Audience Au24e XLR’s I was using. However, after about 100 hours these cables maybe good. I need to do some flipping back and forth with the Audience, but I do like these StarQuads now. Not sure which is better yet. Though the StarQuad cost $200 for 1 foot and 15 feet pairs. The Audience was over a $1000+ for 1 foot and 9 feet.
I just saw a review for this DAC + Streamer + ROON READY, under 1K from Germany.

https://wallofsound.ca/audioreviews/digital/lindemann-limetree-network-streamer-and-dac/

Easier on the wallet than the Chord for 5K. I am going to look closer on this one.
Gold Note's DS-10 is a DAC/Roon ready streamer/preamp/single ended headphone amp in a small chassis. Available in black, silver, or gold finishes, and has an upgrade path to an external power supply should you decide you want it.

Review in Mono & Stereo. Review in Positive Feedback.

Cheers,
Colin

disclaimer: I'm a Gold Note dealer. Please take this recommendation with the appropriate amount of salt.
https://gestalt.audio
@gestalt Well this does support all the features I was asking about. Looks like a excellent unit. Thanks.
@gestalt After some more reading on the Gold Note DS-10 it seems like a very interesting unit, especially the ‘Chameleon’ DAC part of it. Gives me some idea of also using this unit with my KEF LS50 speakers and some funky new amp tech such as GAN or Purifi.

I was just thinking headphone amp and now I am already thinking about spending more. Not good.
  
So I went a completely different way with this just now. I bought a 10/10 used Bryston BHA-1 headphone amp for a little under $1K USD. I will use my Sony SCD-1 SACD/CD player and give my old discs a workout with this amp. I love that disk player but have not played it as much as I should.

I am also first sending it to Bryston to have the gain adjusted so that the volume control will have greater range in balanced configurations.

So no need for a streamer at the moment, but I will have a Sonore microRendu freed up soon. The Bryston also has balanced analog XLR outputs to connect to an external power amp. I will hook up my KEF LS50's this way. Great thing with pro gear like Bryston and Benchmark is that you can run very long XLR interconnects.

There are some new and exciting amps technology coming out that I am interested in getting for this setup, GAN, Purifi or Benchmark AHB2. All under $3K each.
Got the Bryston BHA-1 today after Bryston factory made a mod to the gain on XLR. This makes the preamp also suitable for external speakers.

This is an really good headphone amp. A little warm sounding but very enjoyable. It is a nice complement to the Benchmark HPA4 I also have. I like the HPA4 more but the BHA-1 is very nice with that warm sound.
I Just pick up a Chord Hugo 2 + Hugo 2go for my bedroom. I got it because it's a one unit solution and it's Roon ready.  
I am doing a head-to-head comparison of the Bryston BHA-1 vs the Benchmark HPA4. The only external DAC I have today is the Benchmark DA3B. My headphones are the Meze Empy with the WyWire Platinum XLR cable. My digital comes from a computer via a Sonore microRendu.

I am testing with Neil Young’s "Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere" only because I played it last night on ROON + TIDAL and it was what was open when I started the computer. I also love this album.

The volume control on my BHA-1 is stuck at a very low position since it gets way too loud as I turn it. I am around 10 O’clock position, not happy about that, but not a deal breaker.

Before I get to the comparison with the Benchmark, I should state that this BHA-1 was used for the past month in my bedroom connected to a tuner and a Sony SCD-1 SACD player. The SCD-1 has been modified on the SACD circuit and it sounds great on SACD’s even though it is 20 years old. Every night I listen to some SACD’s or tuner and dose off in bed. It is a very relaxing sound, obviously to put me to sleep. The sound is not extremely detailed but rather warm and rounded. I kind of like it a lot. I am thinking of getting a R2R DAC to compliment this system.

Now to the listening session I am doing right now with the Neil Young album streamed via TIDAL to my Benchmark DAC3B (my digital streaming is very good, a 8/10). First up was the BHA-1. The sound stage was bigger than I remembered the previous night on the HPA4. The performers (Crazy Horse) seem farther separated out with Neil singing in the middle. The sound seems have the illusion of extending outside the headphones to the left and right of my ears. I like that. However, with DAC3B the sound seems to have a bit of a blanket around it. The bass is also rather pronounced. Meaning it takes more of an upfront role in the music. My ears also seem to be a little irritated by this bass. After listening to the whole album my ears are not relaxed, a bit of fatigue. This is a new thing with the BHA-1, never happened with the Sony SCD-1 or tuner.

Next, I removed the the power cord (stock Benchmark cord) from the BHA-1 and plugged it into the Benchmark HPA4. I unplugged the DAC3B XLR interconnects from the BHA-1 and into the HPA4. Queued up the Neil Young album and started listening. First thing I noticed was the blanket removed from the sound. The sound was beautiful, not soft or warm, but not hard either. Just crystal clear and non-fatiguing. The sound stage is smaller than with the BHA-1. The sound does not give me the illusion of projecting out to the left and right of my ears. Though the performers are separated and everything sounds correct. The bass is much different in the HPA4. It is not front and center. It is in the background, with clear delineation of the tone of the bass. It is also less powerful, but it seems more correct. Even after some fatigue from the first listen with the BHA-1 the second immediate listen with the HPA4 is fatigue free. Just an amazing feeling listening on the HPA4.

I sold my external 2 channel amps this week so I have been doing a lot of listening with headphones, not my preference during the work hours, but no choice. I get zero fatigue with the Benchmark DAC3B + HPA4 combo.

I am a little bummed today with the Bryston BHA-1 results but I must remember that it sounds great with my Sony SCD-1 SACD player and tuner, No fatigue with that combo, though the DAC in the SCD-1 is not as revealing as the DA3B. I will keep the BHA-1 and keep it relegated to second system duties for sleeping. I paid $900 USD for a used 10/10 unit so still happy about that.

If you are looking to get into headphones, give the HPA4 + DAC3B combo a 30 day trial from the Benchmark web site. Just brilliant.
An update to the comparison of the BHA-1 vs HPA4. I did some exercise and came back for a final listen with the Bryston BHA-1 before it is returned to the bedroom.

This time I decided to replace the upgraded Meze Empy XLR cable, the WyWire Platinum, with the stock single ended cable from Meze. Both are made from copper. The stock cable is not as detailed as the WyWire, that is why I upgraded from the stock. However, putting the stock back in and listening on the BHA-1 system was different than before. The bass, while still a little forward was less pronounced than with the WyWire. The sound stage was also a bit smaller and the best part is that my fatigue with the BHA-1 was greatly diminished.

Now I am not sure if it was the exercise that helped my head but the sound was very pleasant even though it was not a clear as with the HPA4.  So now the BHA-1 has lower fatigue vs no fatigue with the HPA4.  I can live with that. I will switch cables when I go back and forth to these 2 headphone amps.
It's going to take some convincing for me to pay for ROON + TIDAL when foobar2000 is FREE.
With Foobar2000 are you playing lossless music streams for free? You must be playing your ripped CD's for free.

After 4 years of using ROON my lifetime license is essentially free for me now. However, even if I had to pay I would for the following reasons:

- Great eco-system of gear that is ROON READY. So I can easily distribute my systems all over the house. I use Sonore Rendu products for the streaming work. 

- Great client GUI available in many device types (mobile phone, computer, tablet)

- Great discover feature in ROON. Most have this but ROON's one is what I know and like. I keep adding albums everyday based on the AI based recommendations.

- Ability to up-sample though I do not do so yet and it maybe better to do it in a DAC (due to network transportation issues with large data streams)

- Ability to run convolution files to taper the sound curve (bass) for your room. I plan on doing this with my next speakers which will be in a small room. JRvier is the other software that I know supports this. I plan on outsourcing the work to create the convolution files to professional sound engineers. They will do this with my microphone based sound measurement of the room.

- I actually pay for both Qobuz and ROON this year. I may continue to use both since I like how they play on ROON.

A little update to what I ended up with. The fatigue I was feeling with the Bryston BHA-1 was too irritating to ignore. Especially, since I listen to the BHA-1 in bed before I go to sleep.

I sold the BHA-1 and now have the Topping A90 headphone amp which is a great little headphone amp for $500. I pair it with a Matrix Mini-i 3 Pro DAC which has a great number of connectivity options. It sounds great with my Meze Empy headphones. It has volume (not used), it will be ROON READY soon and has a streamer built-in. It costs $899. A nice combo for the bedroom, which I prefer to the BHA-1.