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  1. #1

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    Question Any DAC gurus around? Need advice!

    I'm looking for some recommendations from people who have actually owned certain DAC's, as I am currently shopping for a $1000 or less (used) one for my two channel rig. I was thinking about the Cambridge DAC Magic as far as cheap ones go, or the PS Audio Digital Link III, possibly with Cullen upgrades (v3 or v4). I've also read a lot of raving reviews of the Benchmark DAC1 but have noticed it is an older unit and am wondering if they have continually updated the DAC1 version and if there is a way to tell? Or if the new versions are the DAC1 USB, DAC1 Pre, and so forth, and whether or not those have different chips.

    I'd like to bring my electronics up to the standard of my speakers right now, i'm currently using my Rotel RSP 1068 as a DAC, though I also have a Mac C39 I can use as a pre with a seperate DAC. Amp wise I own a Rotel RMB 1075, Integra Research RDA7, Mac MC 7106, Anthem MCA20, and Anthem MCA50, haven't decided which one to keep of the lot but will sell the ones I don't. Source is a PC via Optical, speakers are Usher BE-718.

    So will it be worth spending $1000 vs $300 vs keeping what I have? I'm looking for the next major improvement in my sq. Any suggested DAC's would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  2. #2

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    There are way too many options under a grand. I tried the Benchmark and it just didn't do it to me. A bit sterile in the long run (great bass, lots of details, but it just leaves you wanting more out of the music, IMO).
    There's the Music hall 25.3 that everyone talks about if you want to add a tube in the signal path. I heard one last week right out of the box and it did sound really nice. I'm sure with some break in and a better tube it will be a sweet DAC.
    I own a Stello DA100 Signature from April Music and I am very happy with it.
    People seem to like the Cambridge too.

    My recommendation, by used and try them in your rig; you can sell them without a loss if you don't like them.
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  3. #3

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    Plenty of good options out there. I gave the Music Hall dac25.2 a try & was very impressed with it's performance right out of the box. Swapped out the stock tube with a NOS Bugle Boy, replaced the stock op-amps with Burson op-amps & "WOW". The difference was not subtle. Very, very pleased with the results!!
    "2 Channel & 11.2 HT "
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  4. #4

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    Well that's two for the Music Hall. I suppose i'm a bit of a skeptic of putting a tube in the DAC section rather than a tubed preamp, not that it should make a difference where it goes. My only "complaint" about my speakers is that the mids seem slightly lean and laid back, so that is what i'm looking to bring forward. Switching to the Mac amp actually improved that, but i'm hoping the big weakness is in the DAC. I suppose i'll keep my eye out for a used 25.2, but i'm still in the hunt!

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    It might stretch your budget a little bit, but I tried alot of dacs before going with the Bryston BDA-1. Used ones are about $1500.
    Anthem D2v
    NAD M50 Music Server
    B & K Reference 200.5
    Parasound A21
    B & W 804 (Mains)
    B & W HTM1 (Center)
    Polk Rti4 (Surrounds)
    PS3
    Seaton Submersive HP
    Pioneer PDP 6010FD Kuro

  6. #6
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    I really enjoy the Neko Audio D100 with its passive output stage, but it only has balanced connections.

  7. #7

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    If you can stretch your budget to $1,500, the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 has a very nice built in preamp section. If not, the W4S DAC-1 at $1,000 should fit the bill.
    "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." Friedrich Nietzsche

  8. #8

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    Oh boy, I'll be watching this one...

    If I don't get more confused by the end of this thread (like I did with all the others)...it'll be a miracle!

    TG Meat, what other ones did you audition in your system?
    ..... ><////(*>

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    Quote Originally Posted by sm88 View Post
    I've also read a lot of raving reviews of the Benchmark DAC1 but have noticed it is an older unit and am wondering if they have continually updated the DAC1 version and if there is a way to tell? Or if the new versions are the DAC1 USB, DAC1 Pre, and so forth, and whether or not those have different chips.
    The DAC1 USB, DAC1/PRE, and DAC1/HDR have the upgraded opamps throughout. The base DAC1 does not. I've been using Benchmarks' for 6 years, I now have the DAC1/PRE.

    Don't forget about the flexibility of the Benchmark; 1 toslink, 1 USB, 3 coax, 1 analog input. I connect my DTV HD STB to Toslink, my BluRay to coax, and my transport to coax. If I ever decide to go vinyl, I've got an analog input as well.
    Last edited by steveinaz; 10-07-2010 at 02:25 PM.

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
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  10. #10

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    I can certainly stretch my budget, but before I purchase a $1500 DAC i'll buy the Cambridge DACMagic for $300 as a test, just to see if the difference is so significant for me over what a processor like my AVM30 can do for 2 channel. Of course if it is, i'll sell the Dacmagic and blow the $1500 (the Cambridge is simply the cheapest DAC I've seen that has gotten very strong accolades). I'll take a look at the Wyred models, there was a lot of hype about them releasing a DAC if I remember correctly

    e: By the way Steveinaz, the driver on your Fritz Speakers looks awfully familiar, is it the same as mine in the BE-718?
    Last edited by sm88; 10-07-2010 at 02:36 PM.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by sm88 View Post
    e: By the way Steveinaz, the driver on your Fritz Speakers looks awfully familiar, is it the same as mine in the BE-718?
    Nope, they only look similar.

    http://www.parts-express.com//pe/sho...number=296-600

    http://madisound.com/store/product_i...roducts_id=938
    "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." Friedrich Nietzsche

  12. #12

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    Anybody here try the Scott-Nixon tube DAC? It's ugly, but very reasonably priced and some at A'gon highly regard it....

    A'gon review

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  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Face View Post
    If you can stretch your budget to $1,500, the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 has a very nice built in preamp section. If not, the W4S DAC-1 at $1,000 should fit the bill.
    Mike, I was actually looking at these after I heard yours, but noticed the balanced outputs are female XLR's. Is this a picture issue (they messed up and fixed later) or are they really like that? Seems odd..since the "standard" for output is male XLR's
    Last edited by Ricardo; 10-07-2010 at 02:48 PM.
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  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by sm88 View Post
    By the way Steveinaz, the driver on your Fritz Speakers looks awfully familiar, is it the same as mine in the BE-718?
    I have the ScanSpeak 18W/8545 7".

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
    DAC: Benchmark DAC/PRE
    Linestage: Placette RVC Passive
    Power Amp: Parasound HCA-1500A
    Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 Monitor
    Subwoofer: SVS PB12-NSD

  15. #15

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    Good catch, the image on their page is wrong. Maybe the image is of a pre-production model or just a rendering?
    "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." Friedrich Nietzsche

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Face View Post
    Good catch, the image on their page is wrong. Maybe the image is of a pre-production model or just a rendering?
    Every ad in Audiogon that has pictures has that.

    Anyway, what can you tell me about differences between the DAC 2 and the DAC 1? (Other than the DAC 2 being a preamp, which I really don't need).
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  17. #17

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    I recently acquired the Music Hall DAC 25.3, and also have a PS Audio DLIII for comparison. The 25.3 sounded good out of the box using the balanced output, which does not run through the tube section. Using the analog/tube output it just keeps sounding better as it breaks in. I have a NOS Mullard 6922 on the way to try as an upgrade to the stock EH tube. In the end I think it's going to be pretty close in SQ to the PS Audio DLIII. The DAC 25.3 also has a pretty decent headphone amp included.
    DKG999
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    Music System: Magnepan 1.6QR, SVS SB12+, ARC pre, Parasound HCA1500 vertically bi-amped, Jolida CDP, Pro-Ject RM5.1SE TT, Pro-Ject TubeBox SE phono pre, SBT, PS Audio DLIII DAC

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by dkg999 View Post
    I recently acquired the Music Hall DAC 25.3, and also have a PS Audio DLIII for comparison. The 25.3 sounded good out of the box using the balanced output, which does not run through the tube section. Using the analog/tube output it just keeps sounding better as it breaks in. I have a NOS Mullard 6922 on the way to try as an upgrade to the stock EH tube. In the end I think it's going to be pretty close in SQ to the PS Audio DLIII. The DAC 25.3 also has a pretty decent headphone amp included.
    Thanks, this helps; are you keeping one or the other or both? I'm also wondering if anyone has had their ears on a PS Audio III with the Cullens upgrades

  19. #19

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    I'm keeping both. The PS Audio is used in my main system, the 25.3 is for a SqueezeBox Touch in my office system.
    DKG999
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    HT System: LSi9, LSiCx2, LSiFX, LSi7, SVS 20-39 PC+, B&K 507.s2 AVR, B&K Ref 125.2, Tripplite LCR-2400, Cambridge 650BD, Signal Cable PC/SC, BJC IC, Samsung 55" LED

    Music System: Magnepan 1.6QR, SVS SB12+, ARC pre, Parasound HCA1500 vertically bi-amped, Jolida CDP, Pro-Ject RM5.1SE TT, Pro-Ject TubeBox SE phono pre, SBT, PS Audio DLIII DAC

  20. #20

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    fishbones, I tried an older parasound dac, Cambridge's DACMagic, and a music hall. Never got around to the benchmark, because I didnt need a preamp section. The bryston, in my opinion, took a little bit to get used or open up for me. I feel like the bass was better, not louder or not more punch, just solid and full. I justified the higher price for this purchase, because I can use it for many sources, my CAL CD Changer, my PS3 as music server and for computer audio, although the USB input is somewhat limited, but that is a well known weakness with the Bryston. You might look for some of the older Theta dac, I always wanted to try one. Good luck and have fun trying out as many as you can.
    Anthem D2v
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  21. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ricardo View Post
    Anyway, what can you tell me about differences between the DAC 2 and the DAC 1? (Other than the DAC 2 being a preamp, which I really don't need).
    Off the top of my head, the DAC-2 has a better power supply, more options to fine tune the sound of the unit(very subtle), and can do asynchronous hi res via USB.
    "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." Friedrich Nietzsche

  22. #22

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    sm88,

    I've had the Cambridge Dacmagic, PS Audio (stock) and Wyred4Sound Dac2 in my system. The Wyred4Sound is absolutely phenomenal! It will be staying in my system for a long time. It's a league above the first two I mentioned. Since the DAC2 is above what you want to spend, I would seriously consider the Dac1.

    The Cambridge and PS Audio sound quite different to my ears. Both have strengths and weaknesses. The PS audio really brings out percussion, but I find it to be a little bright in the higher frequencies. The Cambridge is fairly well balanced but is a darker sound. I'd classify it as slightly less detailed than the PS Audio. I'd probably recommend the PS Audio over the Dacmagic but it's really a matter of personal taste. That being said, if you decide to go the less expensive route, shoot me a PM. I now have a silver Dacmagic sitting around unused. As soon as I hit the proper number of posts it will be listed in the classifieds.

  23. #23

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    Make sure you upgrade your sound card. With out doing so adding a DAC will be one step forward, two steps backwards.

    PC Audio can be done but it has to be CAREFULLY integrated, IMHO it's harder to get right then finding the right cables for a system...so many steps must be taken from finding the SC to using the right encoding software and even the right playback software.

  24. #24

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    I was under the impression that the DAC takes control of the clock and all the soundcard does is pass the bits along, so quality is negligible. So I doubt it is an issue but I will look into it. I use lossless files, usually FLAC.

    Is there a quality difference between the DAC1 and the DAC2 from Wyred other than the addition of the Preamp section? I was thinking of going with a tubed preamp or using my matching McIntosh preamp which I would think to be better than one that is tacked onto the DAC

  25. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Face View Post
    Off the top of my head, the DAC-2 has a better power supply, more options to fine tune the sound of the unit(very subtle), and can do asynchronous hi res via USB.
    Face mentioned these things being better with the DAC-2 versus the DAC-1 sm88

    Jason
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    Quote Originally Posted by sm88 View Post
    I can certainly stretch my budget, but before I purchase a $1500 DAC i'll buy the Cambridge DACMagic for $300 as a test, just to see if the difference is so significant for me over what a processor like my AVM30 can do for 2 channel. Of course if it is, i'll sell the Dacmagic and blow the $1500 (the Cambridge is simply the cheapest DAC I've seen that has gotten very strong accolades). I'll take a look at the Wyred models, there was a lot of hype about them releasing a DAC if I remember correctly

    e: By the way Steveinaz, the driver on your Fritz Speakers looks awfully familiar, is it the same as mine in the BE-718?

    I don't care for the DACMagic because it uses a walwart rather than a dedicated power supply section. It makes a difference so I wouldn't use the DACMagic as any sort of becnhmark compared to the other's suggested in this thread.

    Trust me when I say a walwart is a weak link.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

  27. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by sm88 View Post
    I was under the impression that the DAC takes control of the clock and all the soundcard does is pass the bits along, so quality is negligible. So I doubt it is an issue but I will look into it. I use lossless files, usually FLAC.
    You are correct. If you are using usb, there is no reason to upgrade the soundcard. You'll most likely want to use kernel streaming and bypass your internal sound card, especially if your DAC is asynch.

  28. #28

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    sm88:

    Too many people are tied up in hardware. I've tested the following, Benchmark (owned over a year) Museatex...(0lder DAC that I won't even start on) Mark Levinson no. 512, Cambridge DAC Magic, Arcam's latest...rDAC...the soundcard is the most (and codec used) is the most important...everything else is simply chest beating...

    btw, Benchmark citing a transport doesn't make a difference is complete BS...Magic's and rDac's sound good but not great...just my experience.

  29. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by LuSh View Post
    sm88:

    Too many people are tied up in hardware. I've tested the following, Benchmark (owned over a year) Museatex...(0lder DAC that I won't even start on) Mark Levinson no. 512, Cambridge DAC Magic, Arcam's latest...rDAC...the soundcard is the most (and codec used) is the most important...everything else is simply chest beating...

    btw, Benchmark citing a transport doesn't make a difference is complete BS...Magic's and rDac's sound good but not great...just my experience.
    It would be interesting to test cards that can use external clock, if you could find any such cards that were sub-par, and A/B them against external clock (from DAC or dedicated clock) vs. their sub-par internal clock. Problem is most cards with that capacity have good clocks.

    If you had a DAC with adaptive USB and BNC input, comparing a HiFace vs. the USB would be interesting.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LuSh View Post

    Too many people are tied up in hardware. I've tested the following, Benchmark (owned over a year) Museatex...(0lder DAC that I won't even start on) Mark Levinson no. 512, Cambridge DAC Magic, Arcam's latest...rDAC...the soundcard is the most (and codec used) is the most important...everything else is simply chest beating...
    If usb asynch is used and the sound card is bypassed completely I don't understand how the soundcard is the most important (or important at all). Please fill me in if I'm missing something.

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