What music is best for life in a tiny box?

The US Navy is sending me to Japan. My family is going to stay here in the States. That means I get to live on the ship! Imagine a tiny stateroom; that will be home for the next 2 years.

So..obviously my vinyl collection will stay home. I am thinking of going completely medialess digital.

What do you recommend for:
DAC (are there any that can read from an external hard-drive?)
Headphone Amp?

Portable media player (when i get away from the ship. Must read FLAC, no Apple! :) )

Since my system will be so small, I think I can afford somewhat better gear. I am thinking in the $2k range.

Your thoughts?
Dude....whatever about your music....enjoy.

Thank you for your service.
Amen to that.

The Creek OBH-21SE is an excellent small headphone amp, and works well with Sennheiser 600 or 650 headphones, which I think are among the best available for combination of sound and comfort.

The portable unit that comes immediately to mind is the Hi-fi Man HM-801, which handles FLAC. As an added bonus, it also is a DAC with USB and Mini-coax inputs. You can read about it in great detail at audioadvisor.com.

Others will undoubtedly provide excellent alternatives.
I think that you might have better luck with this question on Head-Fi. A couple questions that come to mind. Do you need the amp and headphones and digital player to be portable? Do you need your headphones to block out noise? When you say a DAC reading from an external hard drive, do you mean without any computer involved? Do you have tube vs solid state preferences on the amp?

For $2k you can put together a great headphone set-up.
Some sort of MP# player, and a box to play the MP3 player to your good phones. and also a small pair of computer speakers for those non headphone moments.
So a pair of speakers ($500) phones ($500)
MP3 with a gazillion songs or at least space for them.
Even a spare MP3 player as a backup
Then a box, (DAC and phone amp)which can properly power your phones, or preamp the music to the speakers.
This is what i would want.
Some ideas, with the core being a computer and a real decent DAC:

Decent netbook with large solid state drive for media storage ($500)
CEentrance Dacport usb DAC/headphone amp ($400)
Sennheiser HD 600 Headphones ($314.95 on Amazon)
Etymotic ER4 earphones for when sound isolation is needed -or different flavor ($299)
Audioengine 5 powered speakers when you have had enough of headphone listening! ($325)
Total: $1840
Storage these days is compact and cheap: since you can afford some decent hardware, I should think you'd want to use media in lossless format like FLAC, not MP3. For the goods on the computer-based front end: computeraudiophile.com (though it is somewhat MAC-centric).

Thank you for your service.

I'm in a similar situation, but only for 5 months. I purchased a Cambridge Audio DACmagic from Audio Advisor, and paired it up with my 90's vintage Headroom Supreme amp and pair of Sennheiser HD600s. I've been very pleased with the audio quality of digital music played from my MacBook (but if you are new to hard-drive based audio, make sure you import music at a respectable bit-rate).

The new DAC has made a huge difference in listening to music from the computer...I found myself listening for hours, with no fatigue.

I also purchased a pair of Audio Engine model 2 self-powered speakers, for casual listening when I don't want to be tied to headphones. Just got them yesterday; very impressed with build quality, and they are nice and compact. Initial impression is very favorable, but I'll need to break them in to make an accurate assessment. But if you are in the market for an inexpensive ($200) compact speaker, check 'em out. The model 5s mentioned in Arni's post also get rave reviews, but they may take up a little too much desk-top real estate for ship-board living.

Good luck on your tour in Japan.
WOW! Thank you for all the great responses!

@Rdavwhitaker I have been eyeing the creek for a long time and have heard good things about the Sennheisers. I have also heard great things about the Grados, and they are a third the price.

@Roscoeiii All good questions. I am a solid-state guy (I have nothing against tubes..just never had the money to check it out...maybe now?) There will most likely be a computer involved. I have a great (good-enough) sounding 2-ch Adcom for an amp. Good question about noise. My previous sea tour I was on a submarine. Noise was definitely an issue. I would imagine while we are steaming, noise will be an issue as well. (they don't build them for comfort!)

@Elizabeth Agreed, but I am unsure about the usability of speakers, esp if i have a roommate. Also, the DAC or player must support FLAC. I have very little in MP3.

@Arni Interesting. I have never heard of CEntrance, but looks good. I do want an analog in for my headphone amp in case I take my PSX for a transport.

@Jdoris Agree completely. Thanks for your support.

@Rsuminsby Cool. Yeah, I need to see my living arrangements before I can settle on speakers. I like Cambridge (bang for buck) so I will look into that as well.

My problem with USB DACs (not that I have used them) is jitter. Plus, as a Linux user, driver support is also of concern. Something designed from the ground up to play digital music is kinda what I am looking for.

Thank you to all for your great comments! Would love to hear from more of you.
Wavelength Proton or Burson DAC/head phone amps with a laptop housing your music files.
Just a few further thoughts, partly with an eye to minimizing clutter is a small space:

I take it you'll be taking a laptop aboard? Then make that your transport, with as much memory (8MB?) as is feasible (a dedicated machine is better, but in your circumstances, multitasking makes best sense). If you have the machine, so far you've spent nothing, except perhaps for the memory, if you're short.

For file storage, an eternal Raid like this one (I use the non raid version) 1TB for 260 bucks at the Zon:


Might be a "portable" unit out there, but saving the original packaging cheaper ;)

Now, an outboard DAC, headphone amp. I don't have experience here, but maybe a one box solution like the Music Hall 25.3 (successor to the well reviewed 25.2), which the estimable Walter of Underwood HiFi handles: 600 MSRP. http://www.musichallaudio.com/detail.php?p=68

Now you've got DAC/Amp/Storage for less than 900, and server as well, if you've got the laptop. Leaves 1100 or so, which I bet buys some nice headphones. Might even be something left over for a decent wire from laptop to DAC (stock wire from drive to laptop fine), or an iPod type device if you need that too. If you need to buy a laptop, you've got some wiggle room.

The Music Hall isn't tiny (w8.5 x d13.5 x h3.75 in.
10 lbs. pkg), but still a low clutter set up for a small space, and I bet something along these lines gives nice sound.

Best of Luck, and let us know what you do!

I'm no expert on dedicated DACs...the DACMagic is my first....but Cambridge Audio claims that jitter reduction is one of it's advantages. And that might explain the big improvement I hear.

What ship? It's gotta be more spacious than a sub!
For whatever its worth, CEntrance Dacport got a stellar review by Atkinson in Stereophile, if jitter is your concern. For you information, Benchmark DACs, which greatest strength is low jitter, license the USB implementation from Centrance.
@4est Was just looking at the Burson; I like the build of it. I will look into the other as well.

@Jdoris I like Music Hall stuff. The build does not seem as impressive as Burson, I know, that is only part of the picture. Plus the MH looks deep. The laptop I am not including in the $2k, I need that anyway for chatting with the fam and gaming. I will let you guys know, but I do not report to the ship until January...so you may have to wait awhile.

@Rsuminsby I like Cambridge and have heard good things. I will be on a DDG. Yes a stateroom with, at max, one roommate is FAR better than a "closet" with 9 racks in it!

@Arni It is too funny, I was in my garage this morning, and in an old stack of papers, I found an old Stereophile I had not read...guess what, it is the one that reviews the CEntrance! Fate?

Thanks again. I think I am strongly leaning toward a DAC with USB connector. The Creek mentioned above I have heard great things about...any other headphone amps? Maybe I should go tube. What was that Chinese one reviewed several months back in Sam's Space?
Not sure about other DACs, but the DACmagic has both a USB input and TOSlink and coaxial digital inputs, switchable on the front panel. That at least provides the option of comparing the sound you get from a CD transport with what you get from USB.

If you haven't already, check out the Headroom website (www.headphone.com) for lots of great info on headphones and amps. In-ear 'phones like the Eytomic are great if you expect noisy surroundings, which seems pretty likely.
Okay, after days of research and playing the, "Well for only $100 more I can...."-game, I found myself seriously contemplating the Bel Canto DAC2.5.

Then reality set in, just too much for now.

So, as a start, I think I am going to go with the new V-DAC II and the Creek OBH-11. I will continue to use my AKG 240s. So $550 is a modest start, and I will see where to go from there.

What are your thoughts?
You may want to check out the Furutech Alpha DAC/PRE/HP amp that was written up in S'Phile this month.
It's called the GT-40, and even includes a phono stage and ADC.
"So, as a start, I think I am going to go with the new V-DAC II and the Creek OBH-11. I will continue to use my AKG 240s. So $550 is a modest start, and I will see where to go from there.

What are your thoughts?"

Sounds Fine.

I've heard some AKG phones require a lot of power to sound best (not sure if those specifically).

Assuming this is the case, the only thing I might consider otherwise in your case is that this may a good time to consider a tube based headphone amp, if you can find one that meets your overall needs.

Why? A tube amp etnds to soft clip, which might enable you to drive inefficient phones more effectively and with less fatigue from a small box than SS perhaps.

Tube amps and good headphones can be a match made in heaven and can be a great way to test the waters of tube amplification if interested, IMHO.

Just be sure to keep a few spare tubes around in case.

With a SS amp, you probably have less to worry about in regards to maintenance though, so in your case, that may well be the best way to go.
Benchmark DAC 1, Genelec 8020a and just use your laptop. For headphones I like the Sennheiser HD 25 Pro - nice clean extremely detailed but highly dynamic sound and the best thing is they block out 17 dB of outside noise (great in a noisy environment) - these headphones have been a pro favorite for decades.
@Swamp Thanks for the input. I found and read the review in SP. Looks interesting. I really like that is can be used to record from vinyl. It has made my short list with the V-DAC II and the Centrance DACPort(though I am very dubious about its ability to drive headphones. I may go with the LX).

@Mapman the original model of 240s I had were 600ohm. Definitely were hard to drive. My kids broke those. The replacement I bought are 55 Ohm, much easier to drive, but they sound no where as nice as the older ones :(. I have been interested in tubes for sometime now, so I agree, I might get into it! I know Sam Space in SP review a Chinese made tube headphone amp. I just need to find that old review.

@Shadorne I know I said $2k budget originally, but I don't think that is responsible right now. So, I think my budget is really about $500-700. So that kinda rules out Benchmark's stuff. Thanks for the heads up with Sennheiser. Those have made my short list too!