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Help me build my audio setup!

Apr 15, 2016
2
0
0
I have finished building my setup in overall (monitor, keyboard,mouse, etc), so now i would need some help on the audio side.

For the record, my setup is powered by 2014 MacBook air. And I already have the Bose SoundTrue II Headphones.

I would like to buy some good speakers (sub 300$). I really like the Polk Audio Hampdens. And i also would like to buy a DAC. It should have 2 outputs, so i could have my speakers connected all the time and plug my headphones in easily. One DAC that catched my eye is the Audioengine d1. But since this has Left and Right channel output, but the Polk speakers will have 3,5mm i would need an adapter.

So i need your help,

-first i wanna know if 3.5 to Left and Right adapter is bad for sound and would make the DAC pointless.

-And second, im open to suggestions for some good DACs (sub 200$) and some speakers as i already mentioned. The speakers should look nice also.
 

Barbapapa

Well-known member
Feb 13, 2016
1
0
4,520
So you're going for powered speakers? The Hampdens look nice, never heard of them before. You're in the USA? I assume you realise the Hampdens do have a DAC of their own, so you want a better kind of DAC and additional headphone output. This would mean a DAC/headphone amp. What kind of formats do you want? I'd personally recommend to go 192 kHz or more and DSD; even if you do not need it presently, you may want to play with such formats later on and it's a nice feature to have as it need not cost extra nowadays.

Your budget appears fairly limited. But then, nowadays good DACs can be had for little money. I've also been looking for a desktop set-up so can tell you about some of my findings. Haven't heard them myself, though.

I personally don't believe RCA to 3,5 makes a difference, but then I don't believe cables make any difference (unless they are really bad). I've used 3,5 to RCA to input a portable DAC to my amp, with good effect.

With respect to speakers: the Hampdens are quite large, so I assume size is not a problem? The size is such that you could consider passive speakers with a small Amp/DAC. The Elac Debut B5 is considered to be good but I read a review (noaudiophile) that stated it wasn't good for desktop use (but he is very picky). Would you keep your listening at low levels or rather loud? Going the powered route, I've seen the Adam speakers and the Swan speakers recommended often as being a good, cheap choice. A recent product which interested me was the LBM of Audiosmile, being a tiny real active A/B amped speaker. Admittedly the Hampdens beat all of these with respect to looks.

With respect to the DAC: I've lately seen a number of nice, cheap DACs with headphone output besides RCA. I've bought the Nuprime uDSD, which is portable (USB-powered) and goes up to 384 kHz and DSD. It is really nice. Similarly there is the Aune X1S, which is mains-powered. Both are I believe around $ 200 or even below. The iFi DACs have been reviewed very well, but are somewhat older: it seems to me newer may be better/cheaper. I must admit that I don't believe you're going to notice much difference between mid-fi quality DACs for desktop use; i think useability would be more important. The Nuprime for example has a real volume knob, which I personally prefer to solely digital volume control.

Are inputs important? You may wish to have additional Coax/optical inputs if in the future you'd like to connect other stuff (CD-player).
 

GustavAP

New member
Jan 15, 2016
2
0
0
Oskar Palm said:
I have finished building my setup in overall (monitor, keyboard,mouse, etc), so now i would need some help on the audio side.

For the record, my setup is powered by 2014 MacBook air. And I already have the Bose SoundTrue II Headphones.

I would like to buy some good speakers (sub 300$). I really like the Polk Audio Hampdens. And i also would like to buy a DAC. It should have 2 outputs, so i could have my speakers connected all the time and plug my headphones in easily. One DAC that catched my eye is the Audioengine d1. But since this has Left and Right channel output, but the Polk speakers will have 3,5mm i would need an adapter.

So i need your help,

-first i wanna know if 3.5 to Left and Right adapter is bad for sound and would make the DAC pointless.

-And second, im open to suggestions for some good DACs (sub 200$) and some speakers as i already mentioned. The speakers should look nice also.
Without saying this with any strong authority, I doubt that it would be a big problem if you use a reasonable 3.5 mm - RCA cable. Supra has one of those 'Supra BiLine-MP', not too expensive.

There are quite a few DAC/Headphone amps out there. The audioengine is one of the. I was looking for something similar a while ago and ended up with the Nuforce Icon HDP (discontinued). There is also the Nuforce Udac 3 as well as the Nuprime uDSD to consider in the same price range as the audioengine. The Arcam rPac is another (a little over your budget).

Regarding speakers, there are the different active Audioengine models, or for example these: http://www.whathifi.com/wharfedale/ds-1/review
 

davedotco

New member
Apr 24, 2013
20
0
0
I Oskar and welcome.

First up, the Hampdens are an 'all in one solution', you do not need anything else. Just connect up to a usb port using a standard usb (printer) cable, select the speaker in System Preferences > Sound and off you go.

Use the volume on the side of the speaker in combination with the volume on the Mac so that the settings are balanced, ie keep the volume on the computer reasonably high, but not so much that you have to turn the speaker all the way down.

Use the headphones on the laptop, the output is quite good and switch speakers on and off as required, simple and will work fine.

If you want a better and more sophisticated setup, the Audioengine D1 into a pair of basic active speakers such as the potent, but rather plain Presonus Eris 5 studio speakers can be had at a roughly comparable price.
 

GustavAP

New member
Jan 15, 2016
2
0
0
One note on cheaper models of studio monitors such a Presonus Eris and others. I have had a number of those, M-Audio BX5, Tannoy Reveal 402 and also used the Eris for a while. All of them sounds great, and is great value for money and of course, constructed for the purpose of near field listening. However one problem that you should consider is the amount of static noise on low levels (hiss and humming sounds) that you can tolerate. When I switched from using my active Tannoys as reference monitors and more for casual listening wile working on my dekstop, the noise became umbareable. This is a known issue and a consequence of cheap crossovers in those sub 1000$ monitoris. When looking for another pair of active studio monitoris I roamed around in the local store and listening to all of them on no or low level and most of them produced this loud hissing sounds. That is something to take into account, and from what I have heard, the active 'hifi' speakers fo not have this problem to the same extent as they are produced with a more domestic priority.
 

davedotco

New member
Apr 24, 2013
20
0
0
GustavAP said:
One note on cheaper models of studio monitors such a Presonus Eris and others. I have had a number of those, M-Audio BX5, Tannoy Reveal 402 and also used the Eris for a while. All of them sounds great, and is great value for money and of course, constructed for the purpose of near field listening. However one problem that you should consider is the amount of static noise on low levels (hiss and humming sounds) that you can tolerate. When I switched from using my active Tannoys as reference monitors and more for casual listening wile working on my dekstop, the noise became umbareable. This is a known issue and a consequence of cheap crossovers in those sub 1000$ monitoris. When looking for another pair of active studio monitoris I roamed around in the local store and listening to all of them on no or low level and most of them produced this loud hissing sounds. That is something to take into account, and from what I have heard, the active 'hifi' speakers fo not have this problem to the same extent as they are produced with a more domestic priority.
Though careful level matching and choice of cables and connectors will help, as will an electrically clean domestic environment. My own 'desktop' monitors are cheap but pretty quiet and few produce audible noise at the listening position in a 'normal' setup.

Early Eris 5s were notorious for this issue, though modern ones are much better. I find the use of balanced cables help a lot in some cases, though in hi-fi balanced outputs are less common.
 

GustavAP

New member
Jan 15, 2016
2
0
0
davedotco said:
Though careful level matching and choice of cables and connectors will help, as will an electrically clean domestic environment. My own 'desktop' monitors are cheap but pretty quiet and few produce audible noise at the listening position in a 'normal' setup.

Early Eris 5s were notorious for this issue, though modern ones are much better. I find the use of balanced cables help a lot in some cases, though in hi-fi balanced outputs are less common.
You are ofcourse right about this, I live in an obsurdly unprotected electrical environment. I never reflected upon this issue prior to the purchase of my first actives, and I was happy with this compromise for a long time.
 

davedotco

New member
Apr 24, 2013
20
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0
The other issue (mentioned above) that needs attention are the balanced inputs. When used with unbalanced hi-fi components only one phase of the differential input is in use, I think the unused phase contributes a lot to the noise performance.

However noise is an issue, it can easily catch out the unwary.
 
Apr 15, 2016
2
0
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Barbapapa said:
So you're going for powered speakers? The Hampdens look nice, never heard of them before. You're in the USA? I assume you realise the Hampdens do have a DAC of their own, so you want a better kind of DAC and additional headphone output. This would mean a DAC/headphone amp. What kind of formats do you want? I'd personally recommend to go 192 kHz or more and DSD; even if you do not need it presently, you may want to play with such formats later on and it's a nice feature to have as it need not cost extra nowadays.

Your budget appears fairly limited. But then, nowadays good DACs can be had for little money. I've also been looking for a desktop set-up so can tell you about some of my findings. Haven't heard them myself, though.

I personally don't believe RCA to 3,5 makes a difference, but then I don't believe cables make any difference (unless they are really bad). I've used 3,5 to RCA to input a portable DAC to my amp, with good effect.

With respect to speakers: the Hampdens are quite large, so I assume size is not a problem? The size is such that you could consider passive speakers with a small Amp/DAC. The Elac Debut B5 is considered to be good but I read a review (noaudiophile) that stated it wasn't good for desktop use (but he is very picky). Would you keep your listening at low levels or rather loud? Going the powered route, I've seen the Adam speakers and the Swan speakers recommended often as being a good, cheap choice. A recent product which interested me was the LBM of Audiosmile, being a tiny real active A/B amped speaker. Admittedly the Hampdens beat all of these with respect to looks.

With respect to the DAC: I've lately seen a number of nice, cheap DACs with headphone output besides RCA. I've bought the Nuprime uDSD, which is portable (USB-powered) and goes up to 384 kHz and DSD. It is really nice. Similarly there is the Aune X1S, which is mains-powered. Both are I believe around $ 200 or even below. The iFi DACs have been reviewed very well, but are somewhat older: it seems to me newer may be better/cheaper. I must admit that I don't believe you're going to notice much difference between mid-fi quality DACs for desktop use; i think useability would be more important. The Nuprime for example has a real volume knob, which I personally prefer to solely digital volume control.

Are inputs important? You may wish to have additional Coax/optical inputs if in the future you'd like to connect other stuff (CD-player).
So, no, i don't live in USA, but ill be going there in few months, so im planning already the items to buy. But it fhe speakers already have a DAC, is it necesary? I wasnt't aware of that. If its not higly needed, id just get a headphone amp.

These speakers yes would be on my desk and size of hampdens is okay for me. These others aren't really my taste.

Also, do you happen to know, it the audioengine a2+ are good also? And do they have a dac?

About the rca cable, i believe that if i would use like 1$ one from aliexpress it would be bad. ;)

For future inputs, id just need 2 in total. One would be preferably usb and other in case i get something else some day.

Huge thanks for all the help this far.
 
Apr 15, 2016
2
0
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davedotco said:
I Oskar and welcome.

First up, the Hampdens are an 'all in one solution', you do not need anything else. Just connect up to a usb port using a standard usb (printer) cable, select the speaker in System Preferences > Sound and off you go.

Use the volume on the side of the speaker in combination with the volume on the Mac so that the settings are balanced, ie keep the volume on the computer reasonably high, but not so much that you have to turn the speaker all the way down.

Use the headphones on the laptop, the output is quite good and switch speakers on and off as required, simple and will work fine.

If you want a better and more sophisticated setup, the Audioengine D1 into a pair of basic active speakers such as the potent, but rather plain Presonus Eris 5 studio speakers can be had at a roughly comparable price.
Thanks! If you believe that dac for these speakers isn't necesary, i'd just get a headphone amp. That i want. But you could also suggest some more speakers. But i wont be needing reference monitors, since they produce too flat music for me.
 
Apr 15, 2016
2
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0
So to make this clear, since the Polk speakers are powered/active there is no need for a dac? Will there me some difference or is it really minimal?

Also, f i would buy passive speakers, i would need just a dac? Or something else?

What are the major differences between passive and powered?

What happens if i use passive speakers without dac?

Sorry, but i new to this category. :)
 

Barbapapa

Well-known member
Feb 13, 2016
1
0
4,520
If you don't really need a DAC you could actually follows Davedotco's suggestion and simply use the DAC of the Hampdens, and for the headphone just use the headphone out of the Macbook. I have the same Macbook and the DAC/internal amp is quite good, it sounds to me close to well-reviewed DACs like the Dacmagic and the Dragonfly (both of which I own). The main difference is that there is slightly more noise with the internal DAC/amp.

Or do you have another reason for wanting a separate headphone amp? I've never been interested in that, so no suggestions ready. At head-fi.org there are lots of reviews/experiences. You could look for a DAC/headphone amp, or for a dedicated amp with some other feature you like (tube, wireless...).

The Audioengine A2+ I did consider in the past, but reviews/experiences seem mixed. As usual you should listen before deciding. It does have a DAC.
 
Apr 15, 2016
2
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Barbapapa said:
If you don't really need a DAC you could actually follows Davedotco's suggestion and simply use the DAC of the Hampdens, and for the headphone just use the headphone out of the Macbook. I have the same Macbook and the DAC/internal amp is quite good, it sounds to me close to well-reviewed DACs like the Dacmagic and the Dragonfly (both of which I own). The main difference is that there is slightly more noise with the internal DAC/amp.

Or do you have another reason for wanting a separate headphone amp? I've never been interested in that, so no suggestions ready. At head-fi.org there are lots of reviews/experiences. You could look for a DAC/headphone amp, or for a dedicated amp with some other feature you like (tube, wireless...).

The Audioengine A2+ I did consider in the past, but reviews/experiences seem mixed. As usual you should listen before deciding.
But if the Speakers internal DAC is good enough, maybe i could just get a headphone ampt then? Would it have an effect? For example some model from Fiio?
 
Apr 15, 2016
2
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davedotco said:
I Oskar and welcome.

First up, the Hampdens are an 'all in one solution', you do not need anything else. Just connect up to a usb port using a standard usb (printer) cable, select the speaker in System Preferences > Sound and off you go.

Use the volume on the side of the speaker in combination with the volume on the Mac so that the settings are balanced, ie keep the volume on the computer reasonably high, but not so much that you have to turn the speaker all the way down.

Use the headphones on the laptop, the output is quite good and switch speakers on and off as required, simple and will work fine.

If you want a better and more sophisticated setup, the Audioengine D1 into a pair of basic active speakers such as the potent, but rather plain Presonus Eris 5 studio speakers can be had at a roughly comparable price.
So you think that the internal dac is good?
 

Barbapapa

Well-known member
Feb 13, 2016
1
0
4,520
With regard to your other questions:

For most purposes two inputs (3,5 and USB) would suffice.

Forget about the passive speakers, that was just an offhand suggestion. You'd need a separate amp for those. Passive speakers are speakers without amplifier; powered means that the amp is built in (and nowadays often also a DAC, wireless etc.). Active speakers are a particular kind of powered speakers, which basically have a more sophisticated amp/cross-over set-up. But forget about that, for your case you'd best choose powered speakers (regardless of whether they're active).

Other suggestions to look at:

Mackie CR3

Mackie MR5

Eve SC204

Philips Fidelio E2

Wharfedale DS-1
 

davedotco

New member
Apr 24, 2013
20
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0
As I am sure you are aware, all music files on the computer are digital, so you need a digital to analogue converter to listen to them. 'Dacs' are mature technology and the difference between the dac in the Hampdens and a stand alone budget model are likely to be tiny.

So, I would suggest either the Hampden or the Audioengine A2+ as all in one solutions, or use the D1 as a dac/pre-amp/phone amp with a pair of active/powered speakers without a dac, such as the 'pro' models mentioned earlier or the larger Audioengine A5+.

The headphone situation is similar, I use a pair of fairly inexpensive 'giant killer' phones with a Macbook Pro and various iThings. I have tried various headphone amps and nothing under £100 makes much of a difference.

Of course all phones are different and seriously good models may well need a better amplifier to get the best from them but I am not sure you are at that level yet.

The other option, in an Apple environment is to use an Airport Express connected to a pair of actives, no dac required in the speakers, it is in the AEX. This is exactly what I do and it works really well. Everything is controlled wirelessly, so I do not need to move from the sofa to control every thing.
 

BigH

New member
Dec 29, 2012
97
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0
Oskar Palm said:
So to make this clear, since the Polk speakers are powered/active there is no need for a dac? Will there me some difference or is it really minimal?

Also, f i would buy passive speakers, i would need just a dac? Or something else?

What are the major differences between passive and powered?

What happens if i use passive speakers without dac?

Sorry, but i new to this category. :)
Powered are passive. Powered have the amp inside the speaker. Are you sure they have a Dac, some do some don't.
 
Apr 15, 2016
2
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BigH said:
Oskar Palm said:
So to make this clear, since the Polk speakers are powered/active there is no need for a dac? Will there me some difference or is it really minimal?

Also, f i would buy passive speakers, i would need just a dac? Or something else?

What are the major differences between passive and powered?

What happens if i use passive speakers without dac?

Sorry, but i new to this category. :)
Powered are passive. Powered have the amp inside the speaker. Are you sure they have a Dac, some do some don't.
No im not sure. I was told it here in this forum.
 

BigH

New member
Dec 29, 2012
97
0
0
Oskar Palm said:
BigH said:
Oskar Palm said:
So to make this clear, since the Polk speakers are powered/active there is no need for a dac? Will there me some difference or is it really minimal?

Also, f i would buy passive speakers, i would need just a dac? Or something else?

What are the major differences between passive and powered?

What happens if i use passive speakers without dac?

Sorry, but i new to this category. :)
Powered are passive. Powered have the amp inside the speaker. Are you sure they have a Dac, some do some don't.
No im not sure. I was told it here in this forum.
You have a Dac anyway?
 

davedotco

New member
Apr 24, 2013
20
0
0
The Hampdens have a usb dac as do the new Audioengine A2+, they have analogue in on mini-jack but are otherwise basic. The Hampdens are a genuinly active design, though not particularly powerful, the A2+ are powered passive.

Either, subject to the OPs approval, will make decent all in one solutions, both are way better than regular computer speakers.

The OP is also thinking about a headphone amp, given that the Audioengine D1 is a good example and an effective pre-amp, buying one of these allows the OP to buy any powered/active speaker without a dac as the D1 provides that function. Widens the choice.
 
Apr 15, 2016
2
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davedotco said:
The Hampdens have a usb dac as do the new Audioengine A2+, they have analogue in on mini-jack but are otherwise basic. The Hampdens are a genuinly active design, though not particularly powerful, the A2+ are powered passive.

Either, subject to the OPs approval, will make decent all in one solutions, both are way better than regular computer speakers.

The OP is also thinking about a headphone amp, given that the Audioengine D1 is a good example and an effective pre-amp, buying one of these allows the OP to buy any powered/active speaker without a dac as the D1 provides that function. Widens the choice.
Well thanks! I guess ill get the Polks and them only then. Perhaps ill upgrade in future. Thanks for the help!
 

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