Top DAC & Amp Recommendations – Focal Elear Headphones

The Focal Elear is widely considered to be a popular upgrade option to mid-tier headphones such as the Sennheiser HD660s, Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro, and Hifiman Sundara. It does an excellent job of further improving the selling points of those headphones, unlike their respective higher-tier models that deviate from the general sound-signature of those models. 

The Sennheiser HD800s, for example, is the supposed upgrade path of the Sennheiser HD6XX line. However, since it has an entirely different sound signature, it is an altogether different beast and will likely not appeal to fans of the HD6XX sound. 

In terms of power requirements, the Focal Elear is relatively easy to drive. It only has an impedance of 80 ohms and a sensitivity of 104dBV SPL/1 mW @ 1 kHz. You can learn more about impedance and other power requirements in our dedicated article.  

Focal Elear Open-Back Over-Ear Headphones (Black) (Renewed)
Focal Elear (Image: Amazon)

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In theory, this headphone is very efficient. Most sources from smartphones to high-end DAPs and DAC/Amps should easily power these. However, to get the best experience, we still highly recommend getting a better source. 

The Focal Elear has an excellent dynamic range that can pick up micro details. This means that it can also pick up some minor imperfections on bad sources such as low-end USB Type C dongles found in modern smartphones. 

Aside from getting a cleaner signal, you could also have additional options for shaping the sound signature of the Elear, such as the ability to make the sound warmer using tube amplifiers or the ability to use the bass boost function that is included in some DAC/Amps. Also, the Focal Elear and other headphones in its price range are known to scale well with higher-end equipment. 

For the Focal Elear, we highly recommend the Schiit Magni 3+/Heresy and Schiit Modi for a DAC and amp stack while we recommend the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label for a portable DAC/Amp. There are, of course, still many options. We highly recommend reading the rest of the article to see what else pairs well with the Focal Elear. 

 

Best Amplifiers For Focal Elear 

Schiit Magni 3+/Heresy – Best Value Headphone Amplifier

Schiit Magni 3+ Headphone Amp and Preamp
Schiit Magni 3+ (Image: Amazon)

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The Schiit Magni and Modi have been a long time favorite for a lot of users. The original versions were the most recommended entry-level DAC and Amplifier combos since they punched above their price point. While the old models had several caveats that prevented them from competing with higher-end models, the new versions are even better. They have gotten rid of the negative aspects that prevented them from achieving greatness. 

When compared to the Magni 3 and other previous Magni iterations, the new Magni models have both eliminated the distortion that is found in the high gain setting, and the top-end harshness that was a known fault of the original units. This makes both of these models highly competitive with products that are even twice their price. 

The new Magni model also comes in two new versions. The silver unit is the Magni 3+, while the red unit is the Heresy. In terms of the difference between these two models, the Magni 3+ is a discrete headphone amplifier, while the Heresy is an integrated circuit amplifier, also known as an opamp.  

Schiit Magni 3 Heresy 100% Op-Amp-Based Headphone Amp and Preamp
Schiit Magni 3 Heresy (Image: Amazon)

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Despite having a different internal architecture, both the Magni 3+ and Heresy sound almost identical. The Heresy measures better in the high-gain setting but is otherwise indistinguishable from the 3+. 

These amplifiers provide a very clean sound that is mostly clear from distortion. Its power output is adequate for the easy to drive Elear. It is also a very neutral amplifier meaning it will not influence the sound signature of the Elear. 

Overall, both the Magni 3+/Heresy is an excellent option for bringing the best out of the Focal Elear. It is a highly competent amplifier that won’t break the bank. 

 

Pros:

The Magni and Modi combo is unbeatable at its price range. It presents a sound that has no significant flaws and will surely leave an enjoyable sound. 

Cons:

This setup is considered basic and does not have any features to shape the sound. 

 

Monolith Liquid Spark 

Monolith 133304 Liquid Spark Headphone Amplifier-by Alex Cavalli with RCA Input, Single 1/4 Output 1.3Watt@50R, 108dB
Monolith Liquid Spark (Image: Amazon)

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A good alternative to the Schiit’s Magni amps is the Monolith Liquid Spark. Both share similar qualities, such as the excellent metal build quality and solid feature set. They are also both found at the same price point 

In terms of power, it is slightly less powerful than the Magni 3+. However, it does not mean that it is a weak amplifier. It can comfortably drive high impedance headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800s. The power that comes from this amplifier is also very clean, with only a slight hint of distortion near its max volume. 

This kind of driving power means that the easy to drive Elear won’t be a problem. The main benefit of going with this headphone amplifier over the Schiit Magni 3+/Heresy is the sound signature. 

The sound signature of the Liquid Spark is relatively neutral and does not introduce any coloration. Unlike the Magni series, the Liquid Spark has a fairly wide soundstage. Schiit products are known to sound a bit cramped. These kinds of subtle details are important for higher-end headphones such as the Elear since they can easily pinpoint these kinds of micro details.  

Overall, if you want a wider sounding but still neutral headphone amplifier for your Focal Elear, then the Monolith Liquid Spark is an excellent alternative. 

 

Pros:

The Liquid Spark is a solid alternative to the Schiit Magni in the same price range. If you want an alternate sound signature, then this is your best bet. 

Cons:

It has the same downsides as the Schiit Magni. However, it is such a minor complaint considering the price point. 

 

Massdrop X Cavalli Tube Hybrid

Massdrop x Alex Cavalli Hybrid Desktop Tube Amp - Audiophile Headphone Stereo Amplifier (CTH), 8.3 x 9.1 x 2.2 in, Black
Massdrop x Cavalli Hybrid Tube Amp (Image: Amazon)

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Our last amplifier recommendation is going to be completely different from the previous two, both in terms of architecture and price. This is the Massdrop X Cavelli Hybrid Tube Amplifier. This incorporates the design of a tube amplifier as well as the design of a solid-state amplifier. 

The solid-state section allows the Cavalli Tube Hybrid to still perform well with planar magnetic headphones such as the Hifiman Ananda. This gives this amplifier the ability to sound like a tube amplifier without having the negative aspects of a tube amplifier. 

When paired with the Focal Elear, you can get that nice tube coloration, which makes the sound signature slightly warmer. This transforms the experience into a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. You can also choose to run the Elear in balanced mode via the XLR Balanced output. 

Running the Elear in balanced mode gives a slightly different experience that is neither better nor worst than the single-ended output (the Elear does not really benefit from the power of the balanced output since it is not hard to drive). The build quality is also nicely done. It shares the same materials found on the Drop + THX AAA 789, which was featured in our best headphone amplifiers

Another benefit of this headphone amplifier is its modularity. The stock vacuum change can be changed to alter the sound of the amplifier. Some models provide more distortion, while some models offer a more accurate sound. 

Overall, while this may not be the best value for the Focal Elear (since everything in this list can efficiently power it), the Cavalli Hybrid Tube is still a solid option for those looking for an alternate sound. Out of the three, it sounds the most unique and has the most features.

If you do not have a limited budget and if you are looking for more customizability in your sound, then we highly recommend this amplifier.   

 

Pros:

The Massdrop X Cavalli Tube Hybrid can give a unique sound that is different from the other two. It is also usable with other high-end options such as planar magnetic headphones. 

Cons:

If you just want an accurate sound for your Focal Elear, then this is not the best value amplifier. The other amplifiers that we mentioned can power the Elear efficiently. 

 

Best DACs For Focal Elear 

Schiit Modi 3- Best Value DAC

Schiit Modi 3
Schiit Modi 3 (Image: Schiit Audio)

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The other end of the famous Schiit stack is, of course, the Schiit Modi. Like the Magni, the Modi has a good reputation of punching above its price point by providing excellent sound quality that can compete with more expensive models. 

In terms of feature set, the Schiit Modi is very basic. It only has the essentials, which includes three inputs,  a line out, and an input switch at the front. Despite mainly being designed to be paired with the Magni, it can easily be paired with other amplifiers on this list, such as the Monolith Liquid Spark

In terms of the sound quality, the Schiit Modi beats any audio device that is not built for high-end audio. Onboard audio found on most motherboards and even the highly regarded built-in soundcard of most Macbook devices is no match for the Schiit Modi. The Schiit Modi provides a smooth and detailed sound, particularly in the midrange. 

When paired with the Schiit Magni, you get the Schiit house sound that pairs well with a lot of headphones. You can also pair this with the Massdrop X Cavalli Tube Amp in order to get an alternate sound signature caused by the coloration of the tubes. 

Overall, if you plan on going with a stack setup for your Focal Elear, then the Schiit Modi is a great DAC. It is versatile enough to connect with other amplifiers and has no significant flaws for its price range. 


Pros:

The Schiit Modi is unbeatable for its price point. It has all the essential features that you would need in a DAC. 

Cons:

Like the Magni, it is just a barebones model. It does not have any special features like the Topping D50.

 

Topping D50

Topping D50s DAC 2 ES9038Q2M 32bit 768kHz DSD512 XMOS XU208 Bluetooth LDAC HiFi Decoder (Black)
Topping D50 (Image: Amazon)

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If you liked the Schiit Modi but wished it had more features, then the Topping D50 is a good alternative or upgrade for you. It boasts several features, such as a small LED screen that shows information such as the bitrate of files. It also has several DAC filters, power options such as auto shutdown, output volume control, and a factory reset option. 

The DAC filters are similar to the ones found in DAPs such as the Fiio M11 and smartphones such as the LG V50. Like in those models, the filters provide a subtle difference that can be interesting to play around with. However, you have to listen very carefully in order to discern the differences. 

The additional options for changing power settings are also very nice. And, the information shown on the LED screen can be useful for quickly checking information on tracks. 

Aside from its vast feature set, it also has the edge over the Schiit Modi 3 in terms of the sound quality. Bass is noticeably thicker than the Modi 3. The highs are also slightly more extended. However, bass at times seems to be boomy, and there may be a bit too much energy on the high-end. This does not, however, take anything away from the Topping D30’s good sound performance. 

Overall,  the Topping D30 is a solid value DAC. The additional features and the improvement in sound quality make this a worthy upgrade from the Schiit Modi. 

 

Pros:

The Topping D50 has loads of features that can enhance the overall experience. 

 

Cons:

The low end has some boominess, and the high frequencies have a slight harshness. These are minor issues and do not take away from the overall experience. 

 

DAC/Amp

iFi Micro iDSD Black Label – Best Transportable DAC/Amp

iFi Micro iDSD Black Label (Image: Amazon)

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If you need a simple all in one solution to power the Focal Elear throughout different devices, then our number recommendation is the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label. If you have seen this one in our previous article, it is because it is simply that amazing. The number of features that this unit has and the amazing sound quality are all points that make us recommend this unit. 

The first question that you may ask is, why are we recommending a portable DAC/Amp for an open-back headphone? The answer to that is because this unit is a desktop-grade amplifier that has a built-in battery. This gives you a lot of versatility to use your headphones in different scenarios and with different types of devices.  

Using an OTG cable, you can connect the iFi Micro BL to your PC, Mac, smartphone, DAP, or any other device that has a USB input. The built-in battery also means that it does not need an external power source to operate on a desktop setting. The charging function is also automatically disabled when the battery is full. 

It also has a myriad of options that can help shape the sound, such as the 3D+ Holographic Mode and the Bass boost option. The Elear does not need these, but it is a good option to have the ability to slightly alter the sound signature and test it with different tracks without the use of a digital EQ or any kind of software. 

Also, the iFi Micro BL is designed for power-hungry headphones. This means that the Focal Elear, or any other low impedance headphones or IEMs will be a breeze for the iFi micro BL. 

In terms of the sound quality and sound signature, the iFi Micro BL has a neutral and accurate sound. It has a pleasing sound that is not too accurate to the point that most unique will sound bland. It manages to balance accuracy and enjoyment, making it synergize well with the Elear.  

Overall, the iFi Micro BL is an excellent match for the Focal Elear. You have all the features that you need for the Elear, and you even have extras that can be used with future upgrades. This is the most straightforward setup that you can get to enjoy your Focal Elear fully. 

 

Pros:

The iFi Micro iDSD Black Label has all the features that you need plus a few extras. If you want a compact setup for your Focal Elear, then this is all you need. 

Cons:

If you treat this unit as a portable product, then it is not exactly pocket friendly. If for some reason, you would like to use the Focal Elear outside, then the Chord Mojo may be a better option. 

 

Chord Mojo – Best Portable DAC/Amp

Chord Mojo Black DAC/Headphone Amplifier
Chord Mojo (Image: Amazon)

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If you think that the number of features that the iFi Micro iDSD BL is too overkill for your needs, then a popular alternative is the Chord Mojo. Before the iFi Micro’s release, this model was the undisputed king of portable DAC/Amps. Even today, there aren’t many DAC/Amps or DAPs that can rival the Mojo without going over its price point. 

The Mojo features a good amount of options for connecting with other sources such as a smartphone and a DAP. It even supports optical, a feature that more DAPs and DAC/Amps aren’t supporting anymore.  

One of the downsides of the Mojo is the fact that the controls aren’t intuitive. The volume control utilizes buttons instead of a volume wheel, which makes volume adjustment on a desktop setup a bit of a hassle. 

As for the sound quality, the Mojo has a slightly different presentation from the iFi Micro BL. It has a warm sound signature and slightly fuller bodied sound when compared to the iFi Micro BL. This can help tame the sound of bright headphones, but in the case of the Elear, it shouldn’t perform too differently from the iFi Micro BL. 

The Mojo is also noticeably less airy compared to the Micro BL. The soundstage also does not feel as wide as the Micro BL. Again, these are minor details that should not bother you too much. 

Overall, the Mojo is a solid alternative to the iFi Micro BL. If you need a similar sounding and similar performing DAC/Amp but has fewer features and has a smaller footprint, then the Chord Mojo is the DAC/Amp for you. 

Pros:

The Chord Mojo has been the choice of enthusiasts for years. It sounds similar to the iFi Micro BL. So if you do not need the extra features, then you are not missing out. 

Cons:

If we are talking about value, then the Chord Mojo looks outdated since the iFi Micro BL has more features. This is a matter of personal preference since the tradeoff is that the Mojo is significantly smaller. 

 

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