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Good DAC w/ Volume for under 3k used?

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Hi Guys,


This is my first post, and I was wondering if you'd know any good dacs for under 3k used with a volume control.


My current system is (from source):

-Shunyata Hydra 4 power filter (powered by VH audio airsine power cord w/ rhodium connectors)

-PC (Zalman TNN 300 case) w/ rme sound card (powered w/ Zsquared power cord)

-Nordost optical cable

-Meridian 568 (w/ furutech fuse. Powered by VH audio Airsine Power cord w/ Oyaide P004/C004 connectors)

-Jena Labs symphony XLR's

-Pass labs X150 amplifier (w/ furutech fuse. powered by VH audio Airsine power cord w/ rhodium connectors)

-Nordost red dawn biwire speaker cables

-Apogee Stages Ribbon speakers.


Currently i use the Meridian 568 as my dac/preamp and i find it very musical. I've been able to get the best sound out of it by using a furutech fuse, Black racing diamond cones, and the VH Audio Airsine powercord. From my own comparisons of different dacs/cd players in my system, it beats the Meridian 508, Musical Fidelity A324, and Musical Fidelity nuvista. But compare to the Emm labs dcc2 it gets crushed of course.


I'm actually very happy with the dac except for the fact that it uses a digital volume control, and if i turn the volume down too low i can hear loss of resolution. So i was wondering if there was anything comparable under 3k out there that won't have that weakness.


Combining the preamp and dac together is a must for me since i don't want to spend money on extra cables for another component. And cause i know it'll be suggested, i don't think the Benchmark DAC is the answer for me. I've heard it's not very musical, and the number priority for me is the involvment. And can i listen to the music day after day without getting any listening fatigue? (i'm very sensitive to that and i've been able to get my current system to the point that it's smoother than my cheap tube unit (Dared) in the kitchen). Also i've heard the Benchmark is in the same ball park as the A324, and i don't think that dac is musical at all.


Anyways, thanks in advance for your suggestions!





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Isn't the highly-rated Weiss Minerva DAC's pro version (DAC2; cheaper faceplate and feet) under $3K new? The online user manual (DAc2 new) shows a volume control as part of their newest firmware.




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My advice would be not to change the DAC if you are happy with how your system performs now. I would add some in line attenuators (http://www.rothwellaudioproducts.co.uk/html/attenuators.html or you can make some, its only two resistors!) or something of that nature so that you can run your system with less use of the digital volume control.


The Weiss DAC2 uses a digital volume control. I have heard that the latest versions will include an output trim pot much like on the Benchmark DAC to enable system matching i.e. reduce volume in analog domain with resistive divider, use digital volume control as little as possible.


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It is true that passive attenuators like the Rothwell will impact the sound in SOME systems. The impact they will have will depend on a number of factors, namely: output impedance of the source, current driving ability of the source, input impedance of the destination, cable capacitance and inductance. These variables interact with the resistive divider in the attenuator. ALL passive preamps (except TVCs) will exhibit the same, system dependent, effects on the sound due to these interactions.


I see that the reviewer used them in valve based systems. The sonic impact would be different in your system, which is solid state. If you read the reviews for passive preamps you will see wildly different opinions about them. This is because of the aforementioned, system dependent, interactions.


Since they only cost a little, I would be tempted to give this a shot before changing DACs. But it is your choice.


The best way to do it would be to have a resistive divider like the attenuator with an opamp or other type of simple buffer. This would ensure minimal or no impact on sonics.


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Sixty9 unfortunately it seems like there aren't many options as far as a Pre-amp / DAC all in one box without a digital volume control. I know you said the Benchmark wasn't musical but their DAC1 Pre modded by Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio would certainly be an option in your price range. Steve has alot of experience with modding the Benchmark and could very well provide a musical solution. I am still exploring options for you besides simply using a transparent pre-amp which would work but is not what you want and I can't blame you. The search is what makes this fun though.


david is hear[br]http://www.tuniverse.tv

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I'm curious as to why a well designed digital volume control in a modern DAC will degrade the sound.

When Chris recently reviewed the BADA he much preferred the results when using the digital volume in the DAC and bypassing the volume control in the Pre- amp. In fact he suggested bypassing the Pre-amp

and feeding the output of the DAC directly into the Power amplifier.

The thinking used to be that decreasing the level in the digital mode reduces the bits and therefore the sound quality. Do the current digital volume control designs still reduce the bits and reduce the sound quality?

I'm just curious

David N


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A digital level control certainly can be made such that it is at least on par with an analog level control. It is all about proper wordlength reduction. Reducing the level in the digital domain means shifting the e.g. 24 bit digital word to the right and thus loosing the least siginificant bit(s) beacuse they drop off the 24 bit format. To explain it in the decimal system: Say we have a fixed wordlength of 4 digits, then we can represent the numbers 0 to 9999. Say we have a number (a sample value) of 1234. We now "level control" that number by dividing it by 10. That leaves us with 0123.4. As we have only a 4 digit system, the point 4 is dropped, leaving us with 0123.


What happens here is called "re-quantization" when we talk about digitized signals. If we would do the level control that way it indeed would leave the signal with quantization distortion added. Something which an analog level control would not show. But there is a great invention called "dithering", which in a nutshell, converts the quantization distortion into broadband noise. The level of that noise is about at the level of the least significant bit, i.e. in a 24 bit system this is at a very, very low level. Probably every recording (except maybe for some digitally generated music...) exhibits a far higher noise level due to microphone noise, preamp noise, A/D Converter noise etc. Plus the D/A converter used to play back that 24 bit signal most likely shows a much higher noise floor than the 24 bit format implies.

So if the digital level control is properly dithered it is like an analog level control, except that the noise floor stays at the level the D/A converter exhibits. With a modern D/A converter that noise floor certainly is not the limiting factor - or has anybody reading this ever heard the noise floor of his/her DAC under normal listening conditions?

The bad reputation the digital level control still seems to have is probably because of "early experiments" without dithering.

In one of our products we did, the POW-R dithering box for the wordlength reduction for studio use, we added a setting with an 8 bit output wordlength. This in order to show what even just 8 bits are capable to do. The music comes through crystal clear, no distortion, one can clearly hear into the noise floor. The noise floor is down like 48dB, i.e. like a mediocre analog tape.


So - nothing wrong with digital level control! (If it is properly dithered and the D/A converter is of decent quality.)

Dithering see: http://www.digido.com/media/articles-and-demos/13-bob-katz/16-dither.html






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I researched passive attenuators when I looked at the Weiss DAC2 - I came up with http://www.goldpt.com/sa1x.html (for balanced cabling, they also have unbalanced models). This is ordered with matched impedance to your amp / active monitors, and is highly regarded in pro audio circles.


You still need an extra pair of interconnects though.


For me the resolution loss is also relevant because I use active monitors (1200 watts total) that have no attenuation and I don't want to add a preamp in the chain. So for me normal listening levels require 40 Db attenuation, which causes bit loss in 24-bit sources.


Btw very interesting the internal pot in the DAC2 - now if Weiss only would put a knob on it ....


Hth Vincent




VincentH, Pro Audio and Headphone enthousiast. Currently using Vista + Foobar + WASAPI bitperfect --> FireWire --> RME FireFace 400 DAC --> Vovox unshielded balanced XLR interconnects --> Focal Twin 6Be active monitors + Focal Sub6 active sub; Grado RA 1 + Grado RS 1; Etymotic ER-4P.

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The Weiss DAC2 in the volume control mode has an attenuator with 250 steps.

The AES push button becomes the down volume control and the spdif push button becomes the up volume

control. More accurate than a single volume control knob.

We just need to convince Daniel to add a remote control volume control for the Weiss DAC2/ Minerva.

David N


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After doing a bit more research, i discovered that digital volume controls are more like active preamps vs passive preamps. My continued reading has given me the impression that passive preamps often alter the sound by reducing dynamics and thinning out the sound.


Considering my system is pretty sensitive i'm not keen on altering my sound. Ribbon speakers are very transparent.


For example, i've been trying a lot of power cable recently, my favs are VH Audio Airsines. But I found that Airsines with Gold connectors make my sound way too brash, while rhodium connectors provide more detail. Yet having rhodium connectors throughout the whole system makes the sound way too dry which has led me to modifying one of my Airsines with Berylium contacts which has led to a great balance. But we're talking about plugs! This hobby is getting ridiculous. But based on these results i have a little trepidation in putting my sound through another filter.


Concerning digital volume. My understanding is that the main issue is with lowering the volumes.. as you lower the volume you get extra bits left over. Perhaps i should have mentioned that the unity gain volume of my Meridian is 87db.. but my listening level is in the 50's. Meridian makes one of the best digital volume controls in the industry, but turning it down that low without losing bits is a challenge.


I think i'm looking at 2 options right now.


1. check out the weiss. If it's unity gain is low and it is considerable better than the meridian, i'll have to save up for a dac2.


2. Otherwise i might looking into seeing if my dac can be modded to have a lower unity gain volume. Apparently lowering the resistence in the feedback loops can lower volume?


BTW this thread is really helping me. Thanks guys. W/o this thread i wouldn't have looked more into passive attentuation. Right or wrong, i've now become more suspicious of it.. and i'm getting the conclusion that the best solution is an active preamp (such as the too expensive red wine isablella) or a digital volume control (if they come with low unity gain).


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"I know you said the Benchmark wasn't musical but their DAC1 Pre modded by Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio would certainly be an option in your price range. Steve has alot of experience with modding the Benchmark and could very well provide a musical solution."


Thanks for the plug, but I need to update this. Since Jan. 2009, I have stopped modding entirely. Now I only sell my own products.


My Overdrive DAC will do exactly what you are looking for. The volume control is neither all digital or all analog in nature. It does not insert anything at all into the signal path, nor does it truncate digital bits. No resolution is lost at all, any any volume setting. More info:






Here is how you do remote-control of the volume with the Overdrive:


Remote volume control capability can be achieved quite easily by using a combination of the manual volume control, a digital volume control (such as iTunes volume) and the USB interface. Because all 16-bit 44.1kHz sampled files (native CD sample-rate) that are streamed using the USB interface are converted to 24-bit 44.1kHz sample-rate (bit-perfect data), this provides 8 bits or 30% digital volume control before the data bits are affected. If one adjusts the volume to a comfortable listening level with the manual control, then only small reductions of the digital control from maximum are necessary to adjust the track-to-track amplitude variation. This is even better than having yet another remote control. Most of us already have too many of those. It allows you to use the player software for everything: song selection, muting and volume control, without any loss of resolution. This is the best possible scenario.


Steve N.

Empirical Audio



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"Steve, has your Spoiler DAC been discontinued? Is the Overdrive similar to the Spoiler or are they different animals altogether?"


The Spoiler is discontinued. It was a limited edition anyway.


The Overdrive DAC is a different animal. Solid-state with volume control. I'll put it head-to-head with anything out there, at any price.


The new website is in the process of being launched. Complicated because it has shopping cart.


Steve N.

Empirical Audio


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Update: I found a recession friendly solution to my volume troubles. I remembered xlr's has higher gain than rca's, so i temporarily replaced my xlr's with rca's and found that gain was approximately 6db softer, which means i didn't have to lower my digital volume as much. Now i just have to wait for jena rca's to come out in the used market.


thanks for your help!


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  • 5 months later...

This is my first post as a member, though I have been quietly reading for a few weeks now.

I thought that I might revive this topic, since the original poster has somewhat the same goal, though for a different reason. I'd like to upgrade my present DAC, a CA Dacmagic, and integrate the DAC and Pre instead of using an integrated amp (I'm using a CA 840A v2). I'm thinking of something in the price class of 1k-2k or (preferably) less and it would have to have a volume and balance control through a remote. I intend to use a modded SB Duet and my Oppo 980H as transport.

I've been looking into a few devices and have stumbled upon a few, though some don't seem to have a balance control (April Stello DP200, Empirical Audio Overdrive DAC) or I don't have information about that feature (BAD Alpha Dac, Cyrus DAC XP, PS Audio Perfectwave DAC). The balance control is necessary due to an assymetric and non-dedicated listening room. I prefer buying a used unit in good condition, since I believe that I would get more bang for buck that way.

Can anyone help me out? Should I start a new topic?

Thanks for your help in advance.




LDMS Minix Server>Lampizator TRP w/ VC>Gryphon Diablo>Heil Kithara

Cables: Douglas Cables 'Mirage'', (Power); Douglas Cables 'Mirage' (XLR); Douglas Cables "GLIA" (speaker cables & jumper); FTA Callisto (USB)

Accessories: Furutech GTX-D (G) with cover, MIT Z Duplex Super; Equitech Balanced Power, Sistrum (for Diablo & TRP)

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I would just get a dac and then use software to do the balance and volume control. You will likely have to spend a little on software in order to get one that won't degrade the signal, but I think it is the best bang for the buck and most versatile. If you buy a pro audio dac like Metric Halo's stuff, then it may come with the software you need.


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Mr. C

Your idea could work for the SB Duet, though I don't know how much the software volume and balance control would interfere (negatively) in the sound. Unfortunately that won't work for my Oppo 980H DVD-player.

thanks for taking the time


LDMS Minix Server>Lampizator TRP w/ VC>Gryphon Diablo>Heil Kithara

Cables: Douglas Cables 'Mirage'', (Power); Douglas Cables 'Mirage' (XLR); Douglas Cables "GLIA" (speaker cables & jumper); FTA Callisto (USB)

Accessories: Furutech GTX-D (G) with cover, MIT Z Duplex Super; Equitech Balanced Power, Sistrum (for Diablo & TRP)

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  • 9 months later...

Just updating this:

Now I'm driving a Camelot Uther 2.0 MkIV into a Gryphon amp.

Just got the upgraditis so any help on possible upgrades would be welcome. Interested in the PerfectWave DAC, Audio Aero Prima DAC, maybe a used dCS Delius and similar.

Ideas anyone?


LDMS Minix Server>Lampizator TRP w/ VC>Gryphon Diablo>Heil Kithara

Cables: Douglas Cables 'Mirage'', (Power); Douglas Cables 'Mirage' (XLR); Douglas Cables "GLIA" (speaker cables & jumper); FTA Callisto (USB)

Accessories: Furutech GTX-D (G) with cover, MIT Z Duplex Super; Equitech Balanced Power, Sistrum (for Diablo & TRP)

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