Here's a pair of high-end yet affordable components from Schiit Audio
Schiit's cheap 'n' cheerful headphone amp and digital converter wow the Audiophiliac!
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
The Schiit Magni 2 Uber headphone amp and Modi 2 Uber digital converter are downright affordable, but still qualify as legitimate high-end audio components.
Five years ago, I reviewed the Schiit Asgard headphone amp, and since then every Schiit product I've reviewed boasted an extraordinary sound quality/price ratio. I also like that their products are all designed and built in the US. The Magni 2 Uber's all metal chassis houses a fully discrete FET/bipolar, class AB amplifier, it's built just like a miniature audiophile speaker amp.
The Magni 2 Uber has a 0.25-inch (6.3mm) headphone jack upfront, and the amp's rear-end sports stereo analog RCA inputs, and output jacks that can be used to drive either desktop speakers or a stereo power amp. There's also a high/low gain switch for running full-size or in-ear headphones. The little amp has enough power to drive inefficient high-end planar magnetic or very high impedance headphones with ease.
The Modi 2 Uber digital converter handles USB, Toslink optical, and coaxial inputs, so it can be hooked up to computers, AirPort Express wireless devices, TVs, games, CD/DVD players and so forth. High-res files up to 192 kHz/24 bit are welcome.
I listened to the two Schiits with a bunch of headphones, starting with my Grado RS-1, and the stereo soundstage was bigger and wider, dynamics hit harder, and the treble was clearer than what I heard from the RS-1 plugged into my Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player's headphone jack.
Next, I tried my Oppo PM-3 headphones with the Magni 2 Uber/ Modi 2 Uber stack, and the headphone's newfound transparency took by breath away. This headphone is the one to beat for the price (US $400, UK £349, AU$549). Pairing it with the two little Schiits is the most affordable way to unleash the PM-3's sound potential.
Then I tried the Ubers with my Hifiman RE600S in-ear headphones, which I usually listen to with my iPod Classic or FiiO X5 music players. The Ubers pumped up the RE600S' bass, it went deeper and had a lot more impact than it does with portable, battery-powered music players. Clarity and soundstage depth improved -- the RE600S/Schiit combo was a knockout.
Both Schiits are sold with two-year warranties, and they're the same size, just 5 by 3.5 by 1.25 inches (127 by 89 by 32mm), so the stack easily fits on desktops. You could start with just the Magni 2 Uber headphone amp and add the Modi 2 Uber digital converter at a later date.
In the, US Schiit sells direct from its website, where the Magni 2 Uber and Modi 2 Uber go for $149 each; in the UK they're £130 each; in Australia they run AU$279 each. The lower-cost Magni 2 and Modi 2 models have fewer features, different power supplies and sell for one-third less than the Magni 2 Uber and Modi 2 Uber models in each country.
If you don't like your Schiit, send it back within 15 days for a refund, minus a 15 percent restocking fee. You could buy the standard Magni 2 and Magni 2 Uber, or any two Schiits and compare them at home. That way you can hear the difference Schiit makes with your headphones for yourself, and return one or both units.