Looks for Headphone Tube Amp

Hey everyone,

I’m not an audiophile, but I’m looking for help when it comes to finding a small tube amp for a pair of Meze 99 Classic closed back headphones. Something between $100 - $250, I mostly listen to indie, acoustic, pop, and hiphop

They don’t require much power to drive them--I could use them w/o an amp--but I’d love to have an amp simply to improve the sound quality as much as possible, within reason. Looking to use the headphones and amp for an iPhone and Macbook air.

Would love any suggestions and reasoning behind the suggestions.

Again, I’m not an audiophile, and know these aren’t audiophile quality headphones, but I like seeking the advice of experts!
What DAC are you using and what is your music source — ripped CDs, Qobuz, etc.?
I’d have a look at Schiit, the Vali 2 although the Valhalla is above your budget, but depending on your DAC and streamer may be worth considering.
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Not using a DAC, should I use both a DAC and an amp?

RN using Apple Music, but will be getting tidal once I get my headphonees
You have opportunities to get substantial improvements from upgrading the amp, DAC, and streamer (source). 

About fifteen years ago I bought a decent set of headphones for my iPod… then did incremental upgrades (each a step up) to my system….  7 different amps, 5 DACs, and 5 different streamers. You can see my current system by clicking on my user name. Each of the many upgrades was substantial and wonderfully rewarding. The more effort and money you invest can be very enjoyable. I think amp, DAC, and streamer in that order is the way to go until they have similar quality (think very roughly cost). Then do it again. When your system is getting really good, do not neglect the streamer… it is easy to think the streamer just forwards bits… how could that impact the sound… it does. I learned by delaying too long.
i got an aune t1 tube headphone amp on ebay for around a hundo and really like it
should I use both a DAC and an amp?
Absolutely — your headphones are plenty good enough to reward you significantly by feeding it a better signal, and the DACs in iPhones and iMacs suck and will greatly limit your sound quality. At your budget I’d avoid tubes and go with a combo amp/DAC like an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red or something from Topping, etc. And get Qobuz instead of Tidal if you can — it’s cheaper and better with none of the intrusive MQA crap to deal with. BTW, you’ll also need an Apple Lightening to USB 3 cable (about $30) to be able to bypass the device’s internal DAC.  You won’t hear much difference with crap MP3 tracks, but CD resolution and up will sound much better.  Hope this helps, and best of luck.

@soix also, totally fine shelling out more for a desktop amp, and dac/amp combo. Just piecing it together over the next month.

In that case, any amp suggestions? Or amps that would pair well w my dragonfly or the portable amp/dac I just posted?

My experience is portable are generally not nearly as good as desktop, I have tried a few.  I definitely include my own A&K Ultimate SP1000 (~ $3.5K) with attached extra amp. It is good, but not nearly as good as a similar desktop equipment.
Looking closer at your headphones I’m not sure the iFi would be the best match sonically nor would a tube amp given the 99’s low input impedance.  Personally I’d be looking to a more neutrally-voiced amp/DAC like the AQ Dragonfly Red that I own so know its sonic signature well, and the Stereophile reviewer who reviewed your ‘phones also used the Red and it seemed to work well with them so you might want to read the review.  What might be an even better option for another $100 if you don’t need portability would be the Topping E30 DAC and L30 amp separates.  Anyway, just some further thoughts FWIW. 
@soix thanks for helping w this! I bout a dragonfly Red and the Apple lightening to USB 3 cable last year around this time for a pair of speakers!

looks like I’m halfway there. 
I’m definitely going to check out the Topping E30 as well. I’m back in school for another degree so I’m always sitting at my desk. Having options will be nice! 
@soix one more question 

I ended up getting the Topping E30 and L30 cause 1) I already owned the Dragonfly Red, which is perfect for walking around and 2) im trying to get a more permanent set up. 
I was wondering if I should connect the Topping equipment to my computer w an HDMI cord? Just not sure how to bypass my MacBook’s DAC 
USB from computer to E30 should work fine.  The Toppings will probably require some hours of playtime to break in and sound their best so try not to judge too quickly.  Let us know what you think. 
@soix i hope it’s alright I keep running questions by you. If not, just lmk and I’ll stop blowing you up for advice haha

any RCA cables you’d recommend to connect the L30 & D30?

also, any USB to lightening male/male cables you’d recommend to connect D30 to a MacBook?
No prob whatsoever. I’m just hoping this all works out well as everyone’s tastes are unique.

Anyway, you’re probably gonna hate me for this, but to me cables matter like tires matter on a sports car — underspend and you can ruin the whole experience, so what’s the point? That said, if I’m you I get an Apple USB 3 adaptor ($30) and either an AudioQuest Cinnamon ($80) or DH Labs ($70) USB cable. And, to make it worse, I’d also strongly consider getting an iFi Purifier3 ($129) to insert between your computer and DAC because computers are very noisy sources for music and will degrade your listening experience. You can always return it if I’m a liar.

The only thing I’m not sure about is the USB 3 adaptor for the MacBook because I don’t use a MacBook, but you need a way to get from the Thunderbolt/Lightning port to USB and this is the only thing I know that does it unless there’s another/better option. Anyway, that’s my rabbit hole if you choose to jump in.
@soix i’m definitely going to jump in! This is all super helpful. I really appreciate your advice.

I was looking for a record system last year and tons of folks  had the same perspective on cables as you. Haha I think it simply means your opinion is in good company w me: I'm a believer in good cables after reading everyone's responses. I definitely want to invest in making this as nice as I can on my budget.

Slowly been assembling everything, i should be finished by the end of next week. I’ll keep you posted on how it all sounds when i've assembled It all! Thanks, again, for all your advice!
Yeah, don’t thank me til you’ve heard everything hooked up and run in a bit.  Realized I forgot to include interconnects — I think 0.5m Cullen Cable Copper Series RCA for $85 should work very well and hopefully not break the bank.  Look forward to hearing your impressions. 
@soix everything finally came in the mail. I havent been able to stop listening to music hahaha. For a budget headphone setup, I'm pretty stoked on everything I got, it's perfect for what I needed and exactly what I was hoping it would be. Thanks for steering me in the right direction, I love this setup!
Congratulations. One can get a rewarding system at most investment levels by carefully chosen components. Since some of your stuff is still new, it should sound a bit better after passing the 200+ hours on everything.
@ghdprentice Last year I was looking at an affordable turn table setup and most folks on the thread were thumbing their nose at me; it was pretty annoying tbh, since I admitted at the beginning of the thread I’m not an audiophile. It’s been refreshing to have helpful folks for this headphone endeavor.

For anyone who wants to know, here’s what I got, even though I kinda blew up my initial budget:

Desktop Setup:
- Meze 99 Classic Headphones
- Meze 99 Series Silver Plated Upgrade Cables
- Topping L30 Headphone Amplifier
- Topping E30 DAC
- iFi iPurifier USB Audio Filter
- Audioquest Golden Gate RCA Cables
- Audioquest Cinnamon USB B to C Cables

Phone (already had these components)
- Audioquest Dragonfly Red
- Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter