DAC question

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DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:15 pm

I am a complete noob on this.

I am looking for a DAC to connect an old Krell preamp - or go direct to my monoblocks - from a computer source (FLAC and mp3 files). I don't really need amplification, just good signal path.

What do you audio geeks suggest for 1) quality of signal to cost ratio, 2) pros and cons of optical or other connections over USB, and 3) control of a large file set (80+GB). I'd go up to $1K US.

I just saw the NAD 50 which appears to be a computer interface, streamer, and CD ripper with a solid DAC - at $2500. I am open to spending some dough, but would like a good result and don't need yet another computer. I don't really need wireless either (assuming there would be some signal degradation or control slowdown). Products like this - though cool - seem really redundant to parts and functions I already have.

I am also open to things I've not considered as a noob. Quality of cables?

*Maybe TR should start a 'Sound' forum - there are lots of posts on such issues.

Thanks.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 5:28 pm

Well there is the Echo Vale subforum...

I've not started to look into DACs yet (just started with a headphone amp and have a sound card in my PC), but I hear good things about Schiit Audio. Even a full Gungnir (w/ USB) comes in at $850. Their focus is on headphones, but if all you need is the DAC, I don't see why you couldn't use it.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 6:59 pm

Quality of cables is largely irrelevant.

Look into ODAC or if you feel like you need it for some reason shell out slightly north of $1000 for a Benchmark DAC1.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 8:06 pm

I second Shiit audio. Their products are awesome.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 9:17 pm

TDIdriver wrote:Quality of cables is largely irrelevant.

Look into ODAC or if you feel like you need it for some reason shell out slightly north of $1000 for a Benchmark DAC1.


That ODAC looks pretty nice. I might have to pick one up for that price.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 9:31 pm

The Dragonfly is well-reviewed and very reasonably priced. It's core is a solid chip, and the product comes with a minimum of fluff (nothing here but what you need).
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 9:34 pm

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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Thu Feb 13, 2014 11:09 pm

The schiit modi is only 99 dollars
http://schiit.com/products/modi

The Shiit Bifrost is only 350.
http://schiit.com/products/bifrost
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:43 am

I rock an Arcam R-Dac and its well in the price range you've suggested.
http://www.whathifi.com/Review/Arcam-rDAC/
Its a little older now but its Hi-res, well built and I haven't turned it off for three years straight, operated flawlessly. It was fairly simple to get it running a bit transparent connection to my PC as well. Arcam have a long history of making DACs inside their cd players so they have the expertise and reputation.

Just a hedge though, its the only external DAC I've ever bought and certainly the only one I've ever really had any experience with so their may well be a better bang fo buck soloution. I think the Rega Dac looks nice as well.

For the money though that standalone USB Odac looks pretty tempting. Are you solely running out of a PC?
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:56 pm

I have some friends that think as long as you have something decent (probably $150+), you're fine.

Another of my friends that frequently receives DACs and other products for reviews says you get what you pay for, and he can easily tell the difference between a $400 DAC, a $1,000 DAC, and a $3,000 DAC. (Is that a blessing or a curse? I'm an audio enthusiast myself, and I'm honestly not sure.) However, he did say he really enjoys the MyDAC by MicroMega. He says it sounds a lot sweeter than anything else for the price. I could ask for more impressions if you like.

The MyDAC is $369 on Amazon now. I plan to buy one myself sometime in the next year.

I haven't gotten my paws on a wide variety of DACs, and I'm not going to start giving recommendations without evidence or experience. But if you want me to ask my friend for a recommendation at a higher price point, I'd be happy to.

Happy hunting. And, of course, let us know what you choose and how it sounds.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Fri Feb 14, 2014 2:25 pm

Even price not withstanding, the ODAC would seem to be the logical choice. Try finding detailed measurements on the Bifrost and others, that's what made me get it instead for my headphone setup.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Fri Feb 14, 2014 5:37 pm

I'm in the process of buying a DAC too, and the sweet spot for me seems to be around 400-500 EUR. Several DACs in this price range inspire confidence because of their very solid engineering and build quality, which matter to me more than those 140 dB or 0.0001% figures.

Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus - no switching voltage regulators inside, dual DAC chips, many of those film capacitors that I like to see, and the firm is proud enough to show off the innards on the web page.

Asus Xonar Essence One (inside photo)

Teac UD-H01 (inside photo) - no volume control though

Pioneer N-50 (inside photo) - I may go for this one if I eventually decide that I want the whole network player for the same money. Has some favorable reviews, seems to play every flavor of FLAC, can work as DAC only, even has a separate power transformer and linear power supply for the DAC part.

I'm hoping that I can get the DacMagic for a prolonged test against my ancient MSB LinkDAC and E-Mu 0202 USB.

Milo Burke - if you can get an informed opinion about these DACs, and others in this price range, I'm highly interested. And yes, it's a blessing. However, if one's too irritated by the sound of a $3000 DAC, and can't afford a $6000 DAC, then, well ... one of the remaining options are live jazz and classical performances with no electronics involved.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Fri Feb 14, 2014 5:40 pm

Ahh ... forgot this one ... mains part and switching power supply an inch away from the audio part. And yet it may sound better than the ones I mentioned. And this is a curse.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Fri Feb 14, 2014 7:11 pm

Thanks for the great ideas.

I guess a key difference among these is the types of inputs accepted - here the ODAC is USB only, the Schitt takes optical, etc as well.

The ODAC with RCAs may be my starting choice. Anyone have one? Or tried one and decided against?
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Fri Feb 14, 2014 9:05 pm

I've heard good things about emotiva. Their DACs are supposed to be built for maximum value for the price. They also have lots of inputs and many are DAC/Pre-amps with remote volume control if you're interested in reducing the number of devices in your signal chain.

For example: http://shop.emotiva.com/collections/x-s ... ducts/xda2

Milo Burke wrote:Another of my friends that frequently receives DACs and other products for reviews says you get what you pay for, and he can easily tell the difference between a $400 DAC, a $1,000 DAC, and a $3,000 DAC.


I'm always skeptical of these sorts of claims since I've never actually seen a test where an "expert" was able to distinguish this in a blind or A/B/X test. I'm betting your friend also swears by $1,000 cables.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 5:30 am

ordskiweicz wrote:Thanks for the great ideas.

I guess a key difference among these is the types of inputs accepted - here the ODAC is USB only, the Schitt takes optical, etc as well.

The ODAC with RCAs may be my starting choice. Anyone have one? Or tried one and decided against?


i have one. the ODAC is probably the only computer DAC you'll ever need tbh, unless you need something that can record as well.

as for schiit products... that name kinda describes their product quality perfectly. i remember they released one headphone amp that could destroy headphones on power cycles. schiit is frankly... ****.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 9:23 am

moriz wrote:as for schiit products... that name kinda describes their product quality perfectly. i remember they released one headphone amp that could destroy headphones on power cycles. schiit is frankly... ****.

Preventing power on/off transients from damaging the load is pretty basic stuff. Onboard and cheap soundcards sidestep the issue by using a lower-value DC blocking cap on the output, but this hurts bass response. Using a higher-value cap or DC coupling does mean you need to have at least half a clue though. IIRC even some of the better PC soundcards have relays on the outputs that disconnect them whenever the power isn't stable; leaving this feature off of an "audiophile" product is just plain sloppy.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 10:40 am

TDIdriver wrote:Quality of cables is largely irrelevant...*snip*



Really? I was under the impression that optical cables, like S/PDIF, were rather terrible due to being crap plastic, as opposed to copper. I just learned something new! :D

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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 11:21 am

Hz so good wrote:
TDIdriver wrote:Quality of cables is largely irrelevant...*snip*

Really? I was under the impression that optical cables, like S/PDIF, were rather terrible due to being crap plastic, as opposed to copper. I just learned something new! :D

Well... with all forms of digital cables (whether copper or optical) it tends to be an all-or-nothing deal. Either it works, or it doesn't. It is true that optical cables don't care much for being bent/kinked... but as long as the cable is up to spec, glass/plastic/copper really doesn't make a difference for digital.

For analog, cable quality matters a lot more since lack of shielding, connector corrosion, etc. can degrade the signal in subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) ways.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 11:31 am

Just bought a Schiit Modi less than a month ago to drive some Paradigm Mini Monitors... absolutely loving it so far. I didn't have incredibly high expectations for the thing, but it sure makes my speakers sing - and that is all that I care about. Great investment.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 12:12 pm

just brew it! wrote:Well... with all forms of digital cables (whether copper or optical) it tends to be an all-or-nothing deal. Either it works, or it doesn't. It is true that optical cables don't care much for being bent/kinked... but as long as the cable is up to spec, glass/plastic/copper really doesn't make a difference for digital.

For analog, cable quality matters a lot more since lack of shielding, connector corrosion, etc. can degrade the signal in subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) ways.

Yeah. The goal of a digital signal is that 1's are received as 1's and 0's are received as 0's. So the cable quality does have an impact, but you aren't going to see a real audio/visual quality difference unless you have a significant length on the cable (or some other situation where bit errors can be introduced). Basically, unless you're in an extreme scenario, a bargain bin cable will be just as good as the $1,000 ripoffs.

The goal of analog signals, on the other hand, is fidelity to the original signal. So in this case, anywhere you can see distortion on the signal is going to change the end result. Cables can make a pretty big difference. I still wouldn't spend $1,000 on cables, so just know what the differences between two cables are and don't spend more for a brand name.

The cool thing about analog signals--audio specifically--is that you can intentionally insert distortion into the signal for your listening pleasure. Transistors tend to be better at linearity (lower distortion), but tube amplifiers still have a strong showing because they sound different, and people like different. Heck, where would Rock n' Roll be without distortion pedals? :D
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 1:48 pm

superjawes wrote:Transistors tend to be better at linearity (lower distortion), but tube amplifiers still have a strong showing because they sound different, and people like different.

This is somewhat outdated, dating back to when most transistorized amps used BJTs (before MOSFETs became widely used).

Transistor amps can indeed have excellent linearity because you can apply huge amounts of negative feedback around a high-gain loop. But they also tend to have "crossover distortion" (a glitch in the linearity where the waveform crosses zero which becomes problematic for small signals), and BJTs also tend to clip "hard" when overdriven, resulting in lots of nasty odd-order harmonics which not only sound bad, they can damage your tweeters!

MOSFETs have electrical characteristics which are closer to that of vacuum tubes (like tubes but unlike BJTs, they amplify voltage rather than current). What matters for audio applications is that tubes and MOSFETs tend to clip "soft" yielding more even-order harmonics. These sound more pleasing to the ear, and (when intentionally taken to extremes as in a guitar amp) give that warm, fat "overdriven" electric guitar tone.

superjawes wrote:Heck, where would Rock n' Roll be without distortion pedals? :D

Yup. I imagine a lot of them use DSPs these days instead of analog electronics though!
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sat Feb 15, 2014 2:33 pm

IIRC optical SPDIF is supposedly inferior to copper because the optical receiver adds jitter, which affects the clock that times the DAC. I think this assumes an awful lot about the coax solution one would be comparing it to though: terminated correctly, no ground loops, etc. These days the good DACs are asynchronous and there's no compelling reason to use to a SPDIF clock recovery scheme.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sun Feb 16, 2014 1:04 pm

mako wrote:IIRC optical SPDIF is supposedly inferior to copper because the optical receiver adds jitter, which affects the clock that times the DAC. I think this assumes an awful lot about the coax solution one would be comparing it to though: terminated correctly, no ground loops, etc. These days the good DACs are asynchronous and there's no compelling reason to use to a SPDIF clock recovery scheme.



I'd always heard that it was because the optical SPDIF cables used cheap plastic cores, to keep cost down, instead of glass.

superjawes wrote:The goal of analog signals, on the other hand, is fidelity to the original signal. So in this case, anywhere you can see distortion on the signal is going to change the end result. Cables can make a pretty big difference. I still wouldn't spend $1,000 on cables, so just know what the differences between two cables are and don't spend more for a brand name.


Not sure if it's true, or just an urban legend, but there was supposed to have been an little experiment set up at an Audio Trade Show. It involved a speaker company setting up a blind test for supposed "golden ears". Two setups, with identical speakers, DACs, etc... The only difference was one setup used some $1000 gold-plated Monster cables, while the other setup used cables made from extension cord quickly obtained from a local Home Despot or Lowes. According to the story, nobody really could tell the difference between the two.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sun Feb 16, 2014 1:10 pm

moriz wrote:
ordskiweicz wrote:Thanks for the great ideas.

I guess a key difference among these is the types of inputs accepted - here the ODAC is USB only, the Schitt takes optical, etc as well.

The ODAC with RCAs may be my starting choice. Anyone have one? Or tried one and decided against?


i have one. the ODAC is probably the only computer DAC you'll ever need tbh, unless you need something that can record as well.

as for schiit products... that name kinda describes their product quality perfectly. i remember they released one headphone amp that could destroy headphones on power cycles. schiit is frankly... ****.


The initial shciit headphone amp had an issue where the power on thump could possibly blow headphones, but this was still rare.
They fixed the problem years ago. Their products are top notch.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sun Feb 16, 2014 2:22 pm

Hz so good wrote:Not sure if it's true, or just an urban legend, but there was supposed to have been an little experiment set up at an Audio Trade Show. It involved a speaker company setting up a blind test for supposed "golden ears". Two setups, with identical speakers, DACs, etc... The only difference was one setup used some $1000 gold-plated Monster cables, while the other setup used cables made from extension cord quickly obtained from a local Home Despot or Lowes. According to the story, nobody really could tell the difference between the two.

I remember reading that same story. Whether it is true or not, it makes sense to me. Heavy-duty extension cords will have very low resistance, since otherwise they'd get hot and/or cause unacceptable voltage drops when you try to run heavy loads on them. There will also be very thick insulation between the wires, and the relatively large physical separation will help reduce capacitive effects. The same features that make a good heavy duty extension cord should make a good speaker cable!
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sun Feb 16, 2014 2:47 pm

There is no difference in the sound of speaker cables as long as the gauge is appropriate for the length. For almost all lengths this is 14 gauge. If very long 12 or even 10 gauge can be used. Their is a myth that cables make a big difference but its been proven untrue by blind testing.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sun Feb 16, 2014 2:52 pm

Gandolf wrote:The initial shciit headphone amp had an issue where the power on thump could possibly blow headphones, but this was still rare.
They fixed the problem years ago. Their products are top notch.


From my observation from when this was still a thing, it wasn't the flaw itself that people still hold a grudge over. Its that Schiit flat out refused to acknowledge that the problem existed until they were publicly called out over it. I imagine that damaged their image and trustworthiness in the eyes of some people today. However, you are correct in that the problem was fixed a long time ago and, currently, I've not heard a single negative thing about any of their products.

BUT

I'd still recommend getting the ODAC. Just because its open source hardware (which is rare), that's competitive with professional gear (even rarer) and people can actually buy today (the rarest rare). I would get an ODAC as a show of support for projects like that (that its a very good USB DAC is also icing).
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Sun Feb 16, 2014 4:31 pm

Yes, if you want a pure DAC with no additional functions and are OK with only a USB input, the ODAC is a incredible value. It's also only a fraction of your budget, so unless you get the 'I wonder how <insert product> is...' itch, which if you do compare you'll probably find the ODAC is great as a pure DAC, you'll have saved quite a bit of money. And if you decide to get something else, you could sell the ODAC and lose little money in absolute terms.
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Re: DAC question

Postposted on Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:04 pm

kumori wrote:I'm always skeptical of these sorts of claims since I've never actually seen a test where an "expert" was able to distinguish this in a blind or A/B/X test. I'm betting your friend also swears by $1,000 cables.


No, he doesn't swear by $1,000 cables, or even use them outside of receiving them for reviews. He's a realist, not an optimist. And he's a troubleshooter for audio engineers more than he is an audiophile. Writing reviews is more of a hobby/side-gig for him.
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