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  1. #1

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    Default Looking for a Balanced DAC

    I'd like to put a DAC between my PC and my stereo system. The two are on opposite sides of the room, so I figure balanced is best. And the B&K supports balanced input, so why not keep it that way throughout the chain?

    Some that I have looked at over the past couple weeks are:
    Audio-gd NFB-17.2
    Music Hall DAC25.2 or 25.3
    Stello DA100 / DA100 Signature
    PS Audio Digital Link III
    Cambridge Audio DacMagic
    Valab WM8741

    I just wanted to know if anyone had any experience with any of them or if someone could suggest another one in the ~$400 price range. Thanks!
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
    Amplifiers: PS Audio 200CX, DIY Class D Monoblocks ║ Speakers: Dayton RS621, Focal 807V, LSA1 Statement, Soliloquy 5.3
    Power: Yulong P18, Rotel RLC900, Cyberpower 1000VA PFC UPS

  2. #2

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    Build one. I did and am extemely happy with it. You can see it here. Mine cost me more than $400 (I believe it was around $800 for parts) but depending on the parts you use, could be done cheaper. Also, you can now purchase the Buffalo III.
    Taken from a recent Audioholics reply regarding "Club Polk" and Polk speakers:

    "I'm yet to hear a Polk speaker that merits more than a sentence and 60 seconds discussion."

    "Green leaves reveal the heart spoken Khatru"- Jon Anderson

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  3. #3

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    You might look into the High Resolution Technologies Music Streamer Pro.
    http://www.douglasconnection.com/HRT...o-HRTMSPro.htm
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    http://www.douglasconnection.com

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by headrott View Post
    Build one. I did and am extemely happy with it. You can see it here. Mine cost me more than $400 (I believe it was around $800 for parts) but depending on the parts you use, could be done cheaper. Also, you can now purchase the Buffalo III.
    I'm still a student, so I might not have the time or income for involved DIY projects in the near future. I've looked at both the Buffalo III and the RAKK dac multiple times before, but could never immediately justify the cost or time spent. It's always in the back of my mind, but I'm looking for a retail solution to this.
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
    Amplifiers: PS Audio 200CX, DIY Class D Monoblocks ║ Speakers: Dayton RS621, Focal 807V, LSA1 Statement, Soliloquy 5.3
    Power: Yulong P18, Rotel RLC900, Cyberpower 1000VA PFC UPS

  5. #5

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    Of the ones on your list I've only heard the PS Audio and the Canbridge Audio. Between the two the PS Audio wins by a good bit. I found the Cambridge to be a bit lifeless. It sounded accurate I suppose, but somehow seemed to suck some of the life out of the music. The PS Audio to my ears had a more engaging sound. The PS Audio is warm of neutral, but not overly warm, just has a very musical sound to it.
    Main HT
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    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

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  6. #6

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    Check out the Little Dot DAC 1. Under $400 for a balanced dac, and it sounds very good. I used to own it.
    Good music, a good source, and good power can make SDA's sing. Tubes make them dance.

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    How are you planning on hooking up your PC to your system? Depending on the method, it may be better for the DAC to be closer to your PC, or closer to your stereo.

    I was in a similar situation to you with my setup (computer desk on other side of room as stereo), but I wanted the best quality audio possible, which means short cables, so, since my PC is a desktop, I just put the actual computer tower right next to my rig, and then ran a 30ft DVI cable for my monitor and a 30ft usb cable for my wireless mouse/keyboard dongle, across the room to my desk, and it has worked out perfectly.


    Couple more ideas for balanced DAC's, if you can stretch your budget a little on the used market, the Benchmark DAC-1 and the Musical Fidelity M1. Both are excellent, but the M1 is smoother whereas the Benchmark is brighter, but not by a lot, so either could be better depending on the rest of your system.
    2-Channel:

    Source 1: PC
    Source 2: Rega Apollo CDP
    USB > SPDIF Converter: Stello U3
    DAC: Audio GD NFB-7
    Preamp: Audio Research LS-15
    Power Amp: BAT VK-500
    Speakers: Magnepan 3.7's

    HT:

    Source 1: HTPC
    Source 2: Oppo 103
    Pre/Pro: Marantz av8003
    Power Amp: Rotel RMB-1095
    Fronts: LSiM-705's
    Center: LSiM-704c
    Surrounds: LSiM-702's
    Subs: Dual SVS PC12-NSD's

  8. #8

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    Also, Schiit has a new DAC coming out that is balanced. It's over your budget, but may be worth looking at.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  9. #9

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    My computer will probably have to stay next to my desk. It has fan speed controls on the front that I like to play with depending on what I'm doing and stuff like that. I also have three monitors, so that'd be a lot of cabling that would have to go across the room.

    For that reason, I was thinking that a balanced DAC would be ideal since I will also have a headphone system at my desk. Any DAC with balanced output will probably also have unbalanced, so unbalanced -> headphone system, balanced -> stereo system.

    I've also looked at the Little Dot DAC before. My main problem with it was that it only supported it to 16/44k over USB connection. That isn't an immediate problem with my desktop since it has USB, coaxial, and optical out, but I'd like the added flexibility to ever use my laptop or something, especially for when my stereo system and desk are inevitably separated.

    As for the PS Audio, I've been eyeing one on Audiogon for $400, but I'm trying to hold off on buying something until some of my other equipment sells on Craigslist.
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
    Amplifiers: PS Audio 200CX, DIY Class D Monoblocks ║ Speakers: Dayton RS621, Focal 807V, LSA1 Statement, Soliloquy 5.3
    Power: Yulong P18, Rotel RLC900, Cyberpower 1000VA PFC UPS

  10. #10

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    So you never said how you're going to hook up your PC to this DAC. It will change the setup depending on the method you choose. What's it gonna be?
    2-Channel:

    Source 1: PC
    Source 2: Rega Apollo CDP
    USB > SPDIF Converter: Stello U3
    DAC: Audio GD NFB-7
    Preamp: Audio Research LS-15
    Power Amp: BAT VK-500
    Speakers: Magnepan 3.7's

    HT:

    Source 1: HTPC
    Source 2: Oppo 103
    Pre/Pro: Marantz av8003
    Power Amp: Rotel RMB-1095
    Fronts: LSiM-705's
    Center: LSiM-704c
    Surrounds: LSiM-702's
    Subs: Dual SVS PC12-NSD's

  11. #11

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    You will find a lot of 24-bit dacs that only support up to 16/44 over USB.
    Good music, a good source, and good power can make SDA's sing. Tubes make them dance.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by falconcry72 View Post
    So you never said how you're going to hook up your PC to this DAC. It will change the setup depending on the method you choose. What's it gonna be?
    My desktop will likely be hooked up over optical, just because it has that capability. My goal in searching for one with USB capability as well is so that I can use it with my laptop if need be in the future.
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
    Amplifiers: PS Audio 200CX, DIY Class D Monoblocks ║ Speakers: Dayton RS621, Focal 807V, LSA1 Statement, Soliloquy 5.3
    Power: Yulong P18, Rotel RLC900, Cyberpower 1000VA PFC UPS

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by blairfrischx View Post
    My desktop will likely be hooked up over optical, just because it has that capability. My goal in searching for one with USB capability as well is so that I can use it with my laptop if need be in the future.
    Ok cool.

    I have a couple pieces of input:

    1) Toslink (or digital coax) can sound very good out of a computer, but asynchronous USB sounds slightly better.

    2) If you're going to run Toslink out, I'd run a long Toslink cable across the room to the DAC (which would be with the rest of your rig), and then short balanced IC's from the DAC to the Pre, as opposed to a short Toslink and long IC's.

    3) A good alternative would be to use a USB>SPDIF converter. You'd put the converter close to your PC with a short USB cable, then a long Toslink or Digital Coax out of the converter to your DAC (with your rig), and short IC's to your pre. This is advantageous because you wouldn't have to run long IC's, and it greatly opens up your DAC choices on the used market because the DAC wouldn't need to have a USB input. There are some really stellar, slightly older DACs out there that don't have USB but sound better than a lot of newer, USB-having mid-level DACs. Also, with a separate USB converter and DAC, you'd have the option of running either USB out or SPDIF out of your computer. You could even have your Desktop hooked up SPDIF out straight to the DAC and your laptop hooked up USB out to the converter, if you wanted both to be hooked up separately.


    A good USB>SPDIF converter is the Musical fidelity V-Link, or the Audio GD Digital Interface. I'd get a V-Link because it's cheap, it sounds excellent, and you could flip it no problem if you ended up wanting to go another route.



    Hope this helps.
    Last edited by falconcry72; 08-06-2012 at 03:54 PM.
    2-Channel:

    Source 1: PC
    Source 2: Rega Apollo CDP
    USB > SPDIF Converter: Stello U3
    DAC: Audio GD NFB-7
    Preamp: Audio Research LS-15
    Power Amp: BAT VK-500
    Speakers: Magnepan 3.7's

    HT:

    Source 1: HTPC
    Source 2: Oppo 103
    Pre/Pro: Marantz av8003
    Power Amp: Rotel RMB-1095
    Fronts: LSiM-705's
    Center: LSiM-704c
    Surrounds: LSiM-702's
    Subs: Dual SVS PC12-NSD's

  14. #14

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    Given that you can find the original DacMagic pretty cheap (used for around $200 and open box with warranty for a little below $300), I think that it is worth considering if you are looking for one with balanced out.

  15. #15

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    Give the newer Cambridge Audio DACmagic Plus a look. It will do everything you want including high resolution over USB and mine sounds superb.
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  16. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by falconcry72 View Post
    Ok cool.

    I have a couple pieces of input:

    1) Toslink (or digital coax) can sound very good out of a computer, but asynchronous USB sounds slightly better.

    2) If you're going to run Toslink out, I'd run a long Toslink cable across the room to the DAC (which would be with the rest of your rig), and then short balanced IC's from the DAC to the Pre, as opposed to a short Toslink and long IC's.

    3) A good alternative would be to use a USB>SPDIF converter. You'd put the converter close to your PC with a short USB cable, then a long Toslink or Digital Coax out of the converter to your DAC (with your rig), and short IC's to your pre. This is advantageous because you wouldn't have to run long IC's, and it greatly opens up your DAC choices on the used market because the DAC wouldn't need to have a USB input. There are some really stellar, slightly older DACs out there that don't have USB but sound better than a lot of newer, USB-having mid-level DACs. Also, with a separate USB converter and DAC, you'd have the option of running either USB out or SPDIF out of your computer. You could even have your Desktop hooked up SPDIF out straight to the DAC and your laptop hooked up USB out to the converter, if you wanted both to be hooked up separately.


    A good USB>SPDIF converter is the Musical fidelity V-Link, or the Audio GD Digital Interface. I'd get a V-Link because it's cheap, it sounds excellent, and you could flip it no problem if you ended up wanting to go another route.



    Hope this helps.
    There's actually an Audio-gd Digital Interface I have been eyeing over on Head-Fi. It still leaves me in need of a DAC, but it would be a solid step in the right direction. If all else fails, I could just use my B&K Reference 50 for its DAC - the one downside to that is that it gets in the way of me having a headphone setup by my desk.

    While long runs of neither are ideal, I figure that running ~25 feet of coax vs ~25 feet of balanced cable is a fairly moot point. I don't have much experience with either one, so I may be completely wrong; I was just hoping that having balanced capability would allow me to keep my DAC local to my computer and headphone system, which will have to use unbalanced ICs regardless.

    The two systems will look like:
    PC -> DAC (possibly with USB/SPDIF converter) -> Headamp via RCA
    PC -> DAC (possibly with USB/SPDIF converter) -> B&K via XLR -> Amplifiers via XLR

    If I wanted a second, small speaker system by my desk, it would either require a preamp on that side (ideally) or using preouts on the headphone amp and forcing it to act as a volume control (less than ideally).

    Your contributions are very much appreciated. I am just wondering if you can expand on why it would be preferred having long runs of digital signal vs balanced interconnects.

    EDIT: As for the DACMagic, I've heard a lot of things about it being a little cold sounding. I'm relatively inexperienced with sounds, but I do tend to prefer a more laid back sound. I wish I had a way to audition several DACs in my system, but I really can't find a feasible way. I think I have a friend on Head-Fi who is willing to lend me his Valab NOS DAC until I find a new one, but that's not balanced and not really part of the holistic conversation.
    Last edited by blairfrischx; 08-06-2012 at 07:34 PM.
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
    Amplifiers: PS Audio 200CX, DIY Class D Monoblocks ║ Speakers: Dayton RS621, Focal 807V, LSA1 Statement, Soliloquy 5.3
    Power: Yulong P18, Rotel RLC900, Cyberpower 1000VA PFC UPS

  17. #17

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    Balanced needs to be true balanced for benefit. I have also come across many posts where single-ended has sound better in situations. In theory balanced should sound better, but see if you can dig up specific cases on the B&K Ref. 50.
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  18. #18

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    I found a decent price on a DacMagic Plus. I think if I can get my hands on it, that'll be a good starting point. It's supposed to have addressed most of the complaints people had with the original DacMagic.

    If not, I can just flip it.

    Quote Originally Posted by doctorcilantro View Post
    Balanced needs to be true balanced for benefit. I have also come across many posts where single-ended has sound better in situations. In theory balanced should sound better, but see if you can dig up specific cases on the B&K Ref. 50.
    I am thinking balanced because of the relatively long distance needed between DAC and preamp. Also because my desired setup requires two outputs from the DAC (headphone system + stereo system). Balanced + unbalanced seems a lot more common than having two unbalanced.
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
    Amplifiers: PS Audio 200CX, DIY Class D Monoblocks ║ Speakers: Dayton RS621, Focal 807V, LSA1 Statement, Soliloquy 5.3
    Power: Yulong P18, Rotel RLC900, Cyberpower 1000VA PFC UPS

  19. #19

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    In theory, a balanced system should gain some noise reduction but the benefits are only realized with the whole system being balanced, not just 2 pieces.....unless thats all you have in your system.

    Personally, I've listened to balanced systems, digital, analog, and for these old ears the analog wins 90 % of the time. Thats not to say your likes or dislikes maybe different from mine. I also like to find good analog cables that gell with the rest of the system, something a tad harder to do with balanced......cost wise anyway.

    If cost isn't so much of a concern, check out Burson. They have a great dac, headphone amp, with 2 outputs that would serve you well, no balanced however.

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    In theory, a balanced system should gain some noise reduction but the benefits are only realized with the whole system being balanced, not just 2 pieces.....unless thats all you have in your system.

    Personally, I've listened to balanced systems, digital, analog, and for these old ears the analog wins 90 % of the time. Thats not to say your likes or dislikes maybe different from mine. I also like to find good analog cables that gell with the rest of the system, something a tad harder to do with balanced......cost wise anyway.

    If cost isn't so much of a concern, check out Burson. They have a great dac, headphone amp, with 2 outputs that would serve you well, no balanced however.
    The system is balanced the whole way through. I also happened to pick up a Stello DA100 Signature on Audiogon. So now I should have PC -> Stello -> B&K -> Monoblocks -> Speakers.

    I have two other amps coming to compare alongside the Stello, both of which are single-ended only (Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-09 and Valab NOS DAC), so I will get to see a little of what sounds the best in my system.
    USB Interface: Stello U2, Nuforce uDAC2 ║ DAC: Stello DA100 Signature, Keces DA-151 MK2
    Headamp: Darkvoice 336SE, Bottlehead Crack ║ Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, Audio-Technica ATH-M50
    Amplifiers: PS Audio 200CX, DIY Class D Monoblocks ║ Speakers: Dayton RS621, Focal 807V, LSA1 Statement, Soliloquy 5.3
    Power: Yulong P18, Rotel RLC900, Cyberpower 1000VA PFC UPS

  21. #21

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    Wyred 4 Sound dac 2 has balanced out

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