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Low cost, high impact DAC


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Chris, I think this is my first official post, but I've been reading and lurking for a month or so. Great site.

 

I just wanted to offer another view on low price DAC options. I've been doing some active and passive research over the last two months, since I set up my Vista based music server (Itunes, ALAC).

 

As others have, I was initially feeding the coax output from the PCs soundcard directly to a modern NAD A/V receiver. NAD is well known for a "music first" philosophy and minimal frills. Things sounded very solid through the NAD and I welcomed the NAD's remote volume control. I fed the NAD preamp outs to my integrated tube amp, the guts of the system. The tube amp has no remote volume control (and of course, you have to leave the computer/iTunes volume controls all at 100%). I am driving B&W monitors and a HSU sub.

 

I swapped my tube amp for it's direct cousin, the same amp with remote volume control capability (you can't have too many nice low cost tube amps around the house). So I was all set to go with a dedicated, simple DAC for this main 2 channel rig.

 

In any case, after much (enjoyable research) on this forum and others (Head Fi notably) I decided to wade into the dedicated DAC world first in a low cost way, with the KECES 151 USB DAC. By all accounts, thoughtfully designed and well made for the money ($230 US plus shipping to shipping to North America). Very strong reviews and comparos to DAC in the $200-$1000 range. A simple, dedicated device with all attention to high end parts and design. No amp, no volume control, nothing extra.

 

With 50 or so hours on it in burn in and listening, I have to say that even I was shocked at the delta between the solid sound quality I was getting through the PC-->NAD-->tube amp combo and the PC-->DAC-->tube amp direct combo. Everything is bigger - top and bottom extension. The bass response is dramatically improved - tighter and deeper. Everything "pops", in a good, not artificial way. It's also very quiet.

 

The DAC worked flawlessly - plug it in and go. 30 seconds of "set up". I expect after a couple hundred hours of burn in we'll hear even smoother sounds.

 

Note that I have a very nice modern Rotel CD (RCD 1072) player with excellent DACs for off line comparison. The PC/DAC combo sounds as good or better to my ear than the Rotel analog out to the tube amp. The Rotel is not "high end" but it's very good and was a TAS product of the year winner in 2003/2004 timeframe so it represents excellent midrange value for the money.

 

I would liken the difference I heard to the difference I first heard years ago with I got my first decent dedicated CD player and stopped playing CDs on a DVD player! In other words, significant. The NAD is a nice mid-fi A/V receiver - but no comparison to dedicated music reproduction hardware and software, in this case.

 

Thanks for reading. Paul

 

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Several Chris, including the Citypluse models 7.2 and 2.03 (non-USB and USB), Stereo-Link, various used options such as older Bel Canto's (different higher price range), Stello, and others.

 

It ultimately came down to the positive vibe and reviews on KECES. It appears to have been a good choice.

 

Paul

 

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  • 2 months later...

I read this thread with interest as I was trying to find a DAC to start out with. Did many searches and was interested in the Keces DA-131. At $320 USD plus shipping this was a bit more than I wanted to spend. Needed to stick with my original price point of around $200.

 

Almost went for the Lite DAC AH but read of reliability problems on some forums. What I ended up ordering was the Beresford TC-7510 from the UK. Reasonably priced and read some favourable comments on UK forums. The site is at http://www.homehifi.co.uk/main/main.html if anyone is curious about it.

 

I will post my impressions when I receive the unit.

 

Chris - the music server system is coming along now. In addition to the Win XP laptop with iTunes, the OpenSuse file server, the heart of the sound system is my recent purchase of a Cayin A-60t integrated tube amp. Currently use my older Harmon/Kardon HD 710 cd player as source. The amp is highly musical and I am very happy with it.

 

The DAC will allow me to access the file server thru the AE, and hopefully rejuvenate the cd source as well.

 

 

 

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Greetings,

 

I am new to this site and I find it to be very informative. I am new to the world of audiophilia - is that a word? :-). When I say new, I mean raw, green, newbie nook, baby-phile, neophyte. So, please be patient with me when I ask a stupid question.

 

I would like to improve the sound quality of my current system. Simple as it may be, I think it sounds pretty good as is. However, the overall consensus on this site leads me to believe a good dac will significantly improve my musical enjoyment.

 

Current setup:

 

1. Bel Canto e.One S300i amplifier

2. Polk Audio LSi9 Loudspeakers

3. Toshiba HD-DVD for digital playback (format discontinued - S.O.B.)

4. All connectors by BETTER CABLES

 

Well, I want to use a computer as my music server, with a quality dac that I will then connect to my IA. I have seen many standalone music servers, but I think the computer may be "my" best option. I will list the equipment I am considering adding to my current setup. All comments and suggestions are welcome - good, bad or indifferent.

 

Possible system additions:

 

1. Mac/Pc - I am leaning towards the mac mini w/usb 2.0

2. itunes regardless of computer

3. DAC:

a.) Benchmark DAC1 USB

b.) PS Audio Digital Link III

c.) Wavelength Audio Proton DAC

4. I'd like to upgrade my Better Cable interconnects too

 

Well, folks, that's my plan to reach musical ecstasy on a budget. I need as much input as I can get. So, holler if you hear me.

 

Thanks,

 

Mark Harris

 

 

 

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Welcome to Computer Audiophile Mark. The site is for people who no a little something and people who know next to nothing about this stuff.

 

A personal computer is a great option for a music server. Canned music servers like the McIntosh MS300 are really computers with an audio component look, but they are locked down with no ability or need to customize them. Both have their place in high performance audio.

 

I highly recommend the Mac for your music server. #1 and #2 go together perfectly because iTunes on Mac is bit-perfect all by itself. If you go the Windows route you'll need to jump through a few hoops and will most likely not want to use iTunes unless you use the Airport Express.

 

As far as DACs go, you won't go wrong with any of your choices. I haven't heard the Proton, but chances are nobody has since Gordon hasn't 100% completed it yet. Based on the other Wavelength products I am certain the Proton will be very good. I currently have both the DAC1 PRE and the DLIII in my system and they both are really good DACs. I just reviewed the DLII here on CA and really like it. The DLIII is a DAC only whereas the DAC1 has a little more functionality and options. The DAC1 also supports native USB 24 bit / 96 kHz audio.

 

I think you should give both of these a try before settling on one. I know Benchmark has a 30 day no questions asked return policy.

 

Upgrading your cables is a very personal decision as well. Recommending cables for a system I've not heard is pretty impossible. I used all Kimber Select interconnects and absolutely love them. One brand I've heard tons of good things about is Blue Jeans Cable. Many people in the industry consider BJC their go-to source to get the best bang for their buck.

 

Let us know what else your thinking or if I've missed the question(s) totally :-)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Chris,

 

Thanks for such a quick response big-guy. If nothing else, you sure have pointed me in the right direction. I am glad that you like the three dacs I listed. That will make my choice a little easier - and not having that feeling of regret, whether I chose the right dac or not won't haunt me like a "Halloween nightmare." I will also look at both Kimber Select & Blue Jeans Cable interconnects as an upgrade to my Better Cables. However, I cannot afford to stay on that proverbial merry-go-round of constantly upgrading my system. Although, having that kind of income would be nice, but I digress.

 

Also, before I purchased my Bel Canto integrated receiver, I almost pulled the trigger on the Red Wine Audio battery powered amp. Here's that feeling of regret I mentioned earlier. Do you have any experience with their products?

 

Thanks again,

Mark

 

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Hey Mark - In one sense I too wish I could upgrade whenever I wanted. But, that wouldn't be very fulfilling as far as listening to the music goes. My goal is to put together a reference system and leave it at that. Then see if I can fill up my 8 TB of disk space with great music :-) HDtracks.com is certainly help me achieve the music part!

 

I haven't really listened to the Red Wine Audio stuff much. I know RWA has a big following and many happy customers. They have a good reputation in the industry and Vinnie is a very stand-up guy as well.

 

I will say choosing the Bel Canto piece was not a mistake. BC has very solid products and people behind them. I'm not just saying that since they are 10 minutes from my house either :-) The BC DAC3 is another fabulous DAC, but a little pricier than the previously mentioned DACs.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Chris - an idea for an easy comparo. You are under the impression that iTunes on Windows will not yield the same results as iTunes on a Mac due to bit-perfectness. I'd love to know if you are right.

 

Could you do an easy comparo of the following: iTunes, ALAC running from your Mac setup into a selected external USB DAC/audio set up versus iTunes, ALAC, running on a stock Vista PC through the same USB DAC/audio set up.

 

As you recall, I am running the iTunes/ALAC/DAC/Audio set up and it sounds fantastic. I am running nothing special around Vista, just plug and play - no ASIO, workarounds, nothing. Out to a good USB DAC - the Keces 151 - mentioned above. You could use that USB Devilsound or any other USB DAC you have around to level it between the setups.

 

I would be extremely interested as would others I'm sure in this simple Vista option vs the Macs. You have steered folks to the Mac with good reason but I wonder if you would test your assumption around SQ and confirm that in fact the Mac-driven rig does really sound materially better than a Vista rig. This would give the board more choices and things to tinker with as we all love! If I had access to the Mac set up I would do this myself, but I don't - it sounds like you would have easy access to the necessary PC gear (I could be wrong)

 

Thanks for your consideration, Paul H.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

I would also highly recommend Signal Cables. You can get pure silver cables for a relative song, and they have other lower price increments which are extremely competitive. Also, they have more of an "audio jewelry" look compared to Blue Jean Cable, if you're into that. I'm in the process of converting all my cables to Signal Cable.

 

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Here's a great thread on "Cheap audiophile cables":

 

http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/cables/messages/13/136563.html

 

Based on this, I went with the Belkin PureAV Silver interconnects:

 

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue20/belkin.htm

 

Supposed to be a steal at $20-$30. They'll be here this week I hope.

 

I plan on getting some Belkin PureAV PCOCC speaker wire too. Actually, the speaker wire comes in a 30 foot bulk roll for like $30. Let me know if anybody wants in on that. I only need 5 feet total. It's supposed to be great stuff.

 

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