USB/Bluetooth DAC Questions

Replytoken

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I know we have a number of headphone/portable audio folks in the forum so I thought I would post this question here as I have been dormant on Head-Fi for more years than I can count. I have been on and off looking for a portable DAC to use with my phone and on occasion with my desktop and powered desktop monitors (currently being handled by an old uDAC-2). I had considered the Firefly and Audioengine's D3 as possible candidates as they are small and reasonably well designed/built. Recently, I saw that there are now portable DAC's that connect via BlueTooth. I know that BT audio is usually not good, but a couple of the DAC's offered a decent selection of CODECs and could also be used as USB DACS with a cable. The two that have floated tot he top of the list are Fiio's BTR3 and Radsone EarStudio's ES100. Both are quite affordable and seem to offer decent sound, but opinions are a bit split on both of them. My portable headphones are Etymotic ER4's and HF5's and my home cans are Senn HD600's. I realize the Senns may be hard to drive so I am not really weighing them heavily in the decision.

The two things I am looking for are opinions on either DAC, and a better understanding about the relationship between audio files and BT transmission options. Specifically, if I am listening to Napster which uses the AAC format, will there be a difference in sound quality if the DAC and the phone connect over aptx, aptX HD or LDAC as opposed to just AAC? Napster is not my only source, but I have a very inexpensive subscription from way back and it is convenient when on the go without my own files. any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

--Ken
 

zzffnn

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Ken,

I have been dormant on Headfi for a long time (since 2010) as well, after getting my Audeze LCD-2s (and being happy with them forever) and some custom in-ear monitors.

I have never heard about Radsone (isn't it a new player in the field?). Fiio is a more established company and always offer great value, as far as I know (I do like Fiio and have two of their ampa/DACs).

A Google search says answer for your 2nd question may depend on implementation and equipment. Here is one of the articles that talk about Blutooth codecs :
https://www.soundguys.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-bluetooth-headphones-aac-20296/

I doubt I myself can tell quality difference on the go, between decent codecs. Please take this with a grain of salt, as my ears cannot tell the difference between high quality mp3 vs flac or wav, or between many decent DACs. I can easily tell the sound difference between headphones though.

You may indeed want a more powerful dedicated amp to "open up" your HD600. They are very good cans and still used by professionals.
 

Replytoken

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I was hoping to reply to your post earlier, but have been dealing with some viral crud the past couple of days. I have been reading some of the Head-Fi threads on these two units, and it reminds me why I went dormant after I got all of my equipment sorted out. The Radsone should handle the HD600's so that is a consideration, but as I am not in a hurry, I'll read a bit more of the threads (and your linked article) to see if there are any deal-breaker issues I should consider when deciding.

Thanks,

--Ken
 

ralf-11

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1. use lossless compression, like FLAC
2. the Topping is a very good DAC
3a. Desktop: most/many USB DACs can be influenced by noise that is transmitted along the USB cable ground wire - it is not incorporated into the digital info, but once inside the DAC can reduce SQ - there are numerous 'isolators' sold to cure this issue

if you can wait until 2020 Schiit is coming out with a new technology for their already highly regarded DACs, called Unisom - IIRC< they already have it on one DAC

3b. Portable - the iPhone's built-in DAC appears to be as good as many portable DACs.
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt is no better than their Red - there are many others up to $2,000....

This site is good for reliable information (many electronics engineers post there):
https://audiophilestyle.com

but there are also a number of nutball posters, as in most of high end audio - so you'll need to filter thru comments on any thread you start.
 

zzffnn

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Ken, either unit should make HD600 loud enough, but I am not sure either can provide enough dynamic peaks to HD600. Depending on what music and how loud you listen to.

@ralf-11 ,

I thought most people who believe in your point #1 won't believe in #3b. I had been using flac, but then I realized my ears don't hear that much difference (if any) between flac and high rate VBR. Difference is audio is not as huge as in photography; it is hard to pixel peep in audio signals, IMHO.
 

ralf-11

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As a biologist, I would never attempt to compare such disparate sensory systems.

A lot will depend on your experience, headphone quality and type of music. With today's storage densities I see no reason to use lossy compression.
 

zzffnn

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As a biologist, I would never attempt to compare such disparate sensory systems.

A lot will depend on your experience, headphone quality and type of music. With today's storage densities I see no reason to use lossy compression.
I don't disagree. It also depends on the listener 's amount of music to be "portable"; it makes a difference if you have 1TB vs 512GB. MicroSD cards are still not cheap at 1TB.

Hey, I am a biologist too :drinks:
 

Replytoken

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1. use lossless compression, like FLAC
2. the Topping is a very good DAC
3a. Desktop: most/many USB DACs can be influenced by noise that is transmitted along the USB cable ground wire - it is not incorporated into the digital info, but once inside the DAC can reduce SQ - there are numerous 'isolators' sold to cure this issue

if you can wait until 2020 Schiit is coming out with a new technology for their already highly regarded DACs, called Unisom - IIRC< they already have it on one DAC

3b. Portable - the iPhone's built-in DAC appears to be as good as many portable DACs.
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt is no better than their Red - there are many others up to $2,000....

This site is good for reliable information (many electronics engineers post there):
https://audiophilestyle.com

but there are also a number of nutball posters, as in most of high end audio - so you'll need to filter thru comments on any thread you start.
There is a bit of a balance here as while I would like to improve what I am hearing, mostly when I am not at home and can listen to my speakers or use my tube headphone amp, there is a bit of a convenience factor that I also need to account for. I like to sample lots of music, so my Napster subscription suits me quite well, especially at the price I am locked in at. So, FLAC is not really going to be in the picture. They do offer 320K AAC files, and I suspect they are probably not offensive, but I have no done any specific testing. The S8 phone is ok, but kind of flat and lifeless. I tend not to use any EQ on any of my music, so I am hoping for a bit of improvement from a portable amp/DAC, and the idea of BT with a decent CODEC for transfer has appeal. I finished one long thread on the FIIO BTR3 and think that as good as many believe it is, I am going to pass. But, I did see that Shanling has a UP2 that is similar, and I might give it some consideration. I had initially looked at dragonflys, but I have to admit that on my daily bus commute, having BT may make my commute easier, especially when the bus is SRO and it is quite crowded.

The other reality is that I am about 20 years older than when I was active on head-fi, and I am sure my ears are not what they once were. I do not need to extract every last ounce of sound, or money out of my pocket, to enjoy my listening time, but I also do not like to be offended my mediocre equipment that can easily be replaced at a reasonable price.

I appreciate the link above, but I am shocked to hear that there are nutball posters there. How could that be possible? :rolleyes-38:

As I previously said, this is not urgent and certainly not a necessity. What I am just hoping to avoid is a frustrating product that is half-baked.

--Ken
 

Replytoken

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Ken, either unit should make HD600 loud enough, but I am not sure either can provide enough dynamic peaks to HD600. Depending on what music and how loud you listen to.
Since I am leaning against the BTR3's, I am less worried about driving the HD600's. And, I do have home options for them if I do not want as much mobility as the products that I am currently looking at.

--Ken
 

jyc860923

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This probably isn't the answer you're looking for but I hope it helps you make a better decision.

Avoid the BTR3.

I've used the BTR3, let me start by its pros:

cheap; compact; most complete codecs ever seen in one product; built-in mic; colour indicator; configurable through phone app; good firmware upgrade; phone app with its own LDAC codec even if your phone doesn't support any fancy codecs natively.

But it might not be for you, I sold it because:

it's too weak to drive my Sony MDR-1A, even with the upgrade cable; USB connection no HD audio support due to the Qualcomm chip used.

And it's just not convenient. I wouldn't mind having it only for the bluetooth part and not using the USB with a computer considering its low price, but it's just not convenient, if I'm going for a partly wired solution I'll need it to properly drive an overhead.
 

archaeopteryx

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Noticed yesterday the IEMs I've been using for a decade have literally started falling apart. My USB DAC is of similar era and, whilst it's not in need of immediate replacement, it's been natural to check into the current state of DACs as well as IEMs. For me wired use is fundamental and Bluetooth is a bonus feature I'm unlikely to use much. I do most of my listening from a laptop. So my phones are good enough as extra-mobile DACs and a Bluetooth headset is more attractive to me than carrying another box with another battery to plug wired IEMs into.

The replacement IEMs are going to be 24 ohm and 108 dB SPL/mW, so only about 150 mV/6 mA/1 mW RMS drive is needed and pretty much any halfway decent DAC---such as the Audioquest, Fiio, and Topping options already mentioned---will work fine for wired use. One method of filtering is the extent of third party evaluation, which selects in favor of well known DACs such as the Fiio E10K and Audioquest Dragonfly Black, but there have been some efforts otherwise such as Amir's sub-US$ 100ish DAC thread at Audio Science Review.

One unusual DAC I find tempting is MiniDSP's IL-DSP. Doesn't do Bluetooth and downsamples internally to 44.1 or 48 but it is otherwise nicely speced, quite compact, and does per channel parametric EQ. That saves configuring EQ on each host device. I don't change systems much, though, so not sure it's worth the extra over a used E10K.
 

Replytoken

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This probably isn't the answer you're looking for but I hope it helps you make a better decision.

Avoid the BTR3.

I've used the BTR3, let me start by its pros:

cheap; compact; most complete codecs ever seen in one product; built-in mic; colour indicator; configurable through phone app; good firmware upgrade; phone app with its own LDAC codec even if your phone doesn't support any fancy codecs natively.

But it might not be for you, I sold it because:

it's too weak to drive my Sony MDR-1A, even with the upgrade cable; USB connection no HD audio support due to the Qualcomm chip used.

And it's just not convenient. I wouldn't mind having it only for the bluetooth part and not using the USB with a computer considering its low price, but it's just not convenient, if I'm going for a partly wired solution I'll need it to properly drive an overhead.
I had seriously considered the BTR3, and even worked my way through a 100+ page thread at Head-Fi while I was home sick one weekend. I thought about it and decided that I did want a DAC that could drive my Senn HD600's and this was not the unit that could do that well. I had still considered the ES100 until I saw that Shanling has a model called the UP2. I think that it should do the trick, but they are currently out of stock in the US. It supports a number of BT codecs, looks reasonably well designed and sized, has reasonable guts inside, and can be uased wired if I choose. Since it is $79USD, it is not a lifetime audio investment, so I may give it a spin when it is back in stock.

Thanks,

--Ken
 

Replytoken

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Noticed yesterday the IEMs I've been using for a decade have literally started falling apart. My USB DAC is of similar era and, whilst it's not in need of immediate replacement, it's been natural to check into the current state of DACs as well as IEMs. For me wired use is fundamental and Bluetooth is a bonus feature I'm unlikely to use much. I do most of my listening from a laptop. So my phones are good enough as extra-mobile DACs and a Bluetooth headset is more attractive to me than carrying another box with another battery to plug wired IEMs into.

The replacement IEMs are going to be 24 ohm and 108 dB SPL/mW, so only about 150 mV/6 mA/1 mW RMS drive is needed and pretty much any halfway decent DAC---such as the Audioquest, Fiio, and Topping options already mentioned---will work fine for wired use. One method of filtering is the extent of third party evaluation, which selects in favor of well known DACs such as the Fiio E10K and Audioquest Dragonfly Black, but there have been some efforts otherwise such as Amir's sub-US$ 100ish DAC thread at Audio Science Review.

One unusual DAC I find tempting is MiniDSP's IL-DSP. Doesn't do Bluetooth and downsamples internally to 44.1 or 48 but it is otherwise nicely speced, quite compact, and does per channel parametric EQ. That saves configuring EQ on each host device. I don't change systems much, though, so not sure it's worth the extra over a used E10K.
I'll check out the thread you linked, but I was hoping not to get sucked too far down into the rabbit hole again.

Thanks,

--Ken
 

jyc860923

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I had seriously considered the BTR3, and even worked my way through a 100+ page thread at Head-Fi while I was home sick one weekend. I thought about it and decided that I did want a DAC that could drive my Senn HD600's and this was not the unit that could do that well. I had still considered the ES100 until I saw that Shanling has a model called the UP2. I think that it should do the trick, but they are currently out of stock in the US. It supports a number of BT codecs, looks reasonably well designed and sized, has reasonable guts inside, and can be uased wired if I choose. Since it is $79USD, it is not a lifetime audio investment, so I may give it a spin when it is back in stock.

Thanks,

--Ken
The Shanling UP2 has far greater sound than the BTR3 in the same price range and form factor, some reported it comes with buggy firmware or quality control issues, but mostly very positive reviews.
 

Replytoken

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The Shanling UP2 has far greater sound than the BTR3 in the same price range and form factor, some reported it comes with buggy firmware or quality control issues, but mostly very positive reviews.
That is always a concern with many of these products. I was going to buy on Amazon, but may buy directly from their US distributor. They were quite responsive when I sent them a message from their web site. And it was on Labor Day weekend no less. Not a huge deal, but still nice nonetheless.

--Ken
 

jyc860923

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That is always a concern with many of these products. I was going to buy on Amazon, but may buy directly from their US distributor. They were quite responsive when I sent them a message from their web site. And it was on Labor Day weekend no less. Not a huge deal, but still nice nonetheless.

--Ken
I've read the same on Chinese websites about their customer service, really impressive. I wouldn't worry too much buying from Shanling considering they have been in audio business for over 3 decades, if I have to be nitpicky, they possibly haven't been as experienced with pocket sized products as Fiio.
 

archaeopteryx

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I was hoping not to get sucked too far down into the rabbit hole again.
I know the feeling. It'd be tempting just to update to a current version of the DAC I already have and save the shopping complexity but the manufacturer no longer makes anything like it.
 

Replytoken

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I know the feeling. It'd be tempting just to update to a current version of the DAC I already have and save the shopping complexity but the manufacturer no longer makes anything like it.
Keep us posted if you do decide to take the plunge "down the hole".

Good luck,

--Ken
 

archaeopteryx

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Already did, hence my first post in this thread.

The main class of devices not already discussed here is audio interfaces. They don't have Bluetooth and you've not indicated any need for preamps or line outs but they are sold into a more demanding market and are more likely to be well engineered. Used, the small interfaces are likely cheaper than DACs like the E10K but also necessarily larger.
 
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