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A DAC appropriate for my system


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I would like the advice of the group regarding a new DAC. My primary system is below (more info on my profile page if needed). Specifically, I would appreciate opinions on what might be a balanced and appropriate DAC to add to my system. I now use primarily the DAC built in to my McIntosh C50, and want to continue to use the C50 as a preamp and the MEN220 with it for Room Perfect room correction. I would prefer to continue to use the RENDU (ethernet in, S/PDIF out) to provide input to the DAC, although I can just barely get a USB cable from a PC to my system. I like Jazz, female vocals, electronic, sampling, alternative rock, some classical music. I know this can be a very open ended question, but the idea of having my system consist of components of similar quality pleases me, and has a nice feel to it. Right now, other than the DAC, I think I am there. I may be there with the DAC in the C50, but just don't have enough data points to have a firm opinion on it. Thanks very much for your thoughts.

 

Sonore Rendu/JRiver; Synology DS713+

Microsoft Windows 7 (64-bit)

McIntosh C50 preamp (has the DAC I use now, I would want to continue using this as a preamp along with the MEN220)

McIntosh MEN220 Room Perfect

McIntosh MC302 amp

WilsonAudio Maxx2 Speakers

 

Mark

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What is it about your current systems' sound quality that you don't particularly like, or would like to see improved?

Mac Mini, Audirvana Plus, Metrum Hex NOS DAC w/Upgraded USB Module-2, UpTone Regen Amber, Pass Labs INT-30A Amplifier, B&W 802 Diamond Speakers, Shotgun Bi-wire Kimber 4TC Cables. Headphone setup: Burson Soloist Amp, Audeze LCD-3 Headphones.

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This is a hard one because of what people like.

 

You have Wilson Audio speakers that many find hard, brittle, and analytic, but others go ga ga over because of other qualities that surpass even my speakers (and without going into the details they are pretty wild) such as transparency and detail.

 

I know the sound I like and would want to have a source that is more musical feeding it. The most musical DAC I know is the Killer DAC but it is a hand made DAC built in minuscule quantities, and you will almost certainly only be able to check one out if you are in Australia. In fact the guy that builds them knows Wilson speakers very well and believes the Killer is the DAC for those speakers. But you would likely want a recommendation for gear you can actually audition.

 

My suggestion would be a Lampizator or AMR.

 

But again that's because my taste in system sound is more towards the musical than analytic - if analytic is your bag then the Phasure would be a good choice. Combined with the Wilsons I suspect it would then be very analytical - but, like I said, some really like that sort of thing.

 

To understand what I am driving at check out the following speaker review:

Lenehan ML1 Reference Speaker

 

The guy that thought those speakers blah has Wilson's and is an audio engineer, the guy that thought they were simply the best builds speakers himself. They have different expectations and hence different preferences.

 

Its exactly the same with DAC's - what suits you will depend on your expectations and preferences.

 

Thanks

Bill

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What is it about your current systems' sound quality that you don't particularly like, or would like to see improved?

That is a difficult question. It sounds very nice to me, but reading about the qualities of various DACs on this forum makes me wonder how much 'better' it can be. It may be that my room, my ears and the music I am playing matter a lot more than a different DAC, but I am curious. I suppose if I had to answer this, I would say a more defined sound stage, and on some content more separation/distinction among instruments and voice.

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Bill, thanks for the thoughtful reply and the link.

 

Hi Mark

 

No problems mate.

 

I muck around with a lot of audio gear and post about such a fair bit - especially DAC's.

 

Over time my views have evolved quite a bit.

 

I now understand the purpose of Hi Fi is to trick the brain into saying - this is real - I can close my eyes and think I am not in my room. But we all have different triggers for that.

 

This is an absolutely fundamental thing to understand IMHO.

 

In your situation it means you must audition the gear in your system.

 

The three DAC's I suggested, the AMR, Lapizator and Phasure are, from the many DAC's I have heard, and know about, the ones I believe you most definitely should audition.

 

And just as an aside write up what you discover - the collection of such experiences is valuable to everyone.

 

That's the reason I post a lot -I am retired now, but feel part of an audiophile community and want to pass on what I have experienced and learned.

 

Thanks

Bill

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Mark, I agree with almost everything Bill said. Except I haven't heard AMR/Lampizator/Phasure myself.

I know it's sometimes hard to find DACs for home audition. I was just checking out the websites of stereo stores based in Nashville (always wanted to visit). Vintage King seems to carry many DACs, including the Bricasti and Prestige Audio carries Bel Canto, presumably including DAC3.5VB. Maybe it's easier to get a loaner from these stores first to try out for synergy and to get a feel of what sort of sonic upgrade you can get from a new DAC first before committing to upgrading, be it a Bel Canto/Bricasti/AMR/Lampizator/Phasure...

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The some of MAC guys over on AudioAficionado seem to like the AMR 777 DAC which I own. Here is the thread

DAC Shootout: McIntosh MCD1100 MDA1000 D100, AMR DP-777, Music Hall DAC25.3 - AudioAficionado.org

AMR 777 DAC, Purist Ultimate USB, PC server 4gig SOTM USB, server 2012, Audiophil Optimizer,Joule Preamp LAP150 Platinum Vcaps Bybee, Spectron Monoblocks Bybee Vcaps, Eggleston Savoy speakers, 2 REL Stentor III subwoofers, Pranawire Cosmos speaker wire, Purist Dominus Praesto cabling, Purist Anniversary (Canorus)power cables and Elrod Statement Gold power cable, VPI Aries I SDS w/Grado The Statement LP, 11kVA power isolation, 16 sound panels and bass traps TAD,RPG,GIK and Realtraps

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I know it's sometimes hard to find DACs for home audition.

 

Yes it is hard.

 

However contact the manufacturer and if they cant advise on it move on. The good manufacturers will work with you to do just that.

 

It absolutely fundamental.

 

Another DAC to look into the the Tranquillity:

http://www.dbaudiolabs.com/tranquilityDAC.html

 

Beautiful and entrancing, in fact addictive, midrange, but not the last word in detail retrieval. And I know Eric will give you a free in home audition.

 

Thanks

Bill

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Mark,

 

We all are in your shoes. Auditioning a DAC or any high end gear is a challenge. My friends here in Portland, OR think I am loony-tune spending $$ for cables. I have some suggestions that you would be interested in. There are a lot of DACs out there that best EMM at half the price, which is a great dac. I agree with BobP63, learn what specific quality you are seeking, then move forward.

 

I am currently writing a review to post here on Empirical Audio Overdrive DAC SE fully loaded. I am writing this review exactly because of how hard it is to demo gear and I have the opportunity to compare a to b. I would give this strong consideration. I have three dacs and this is my go to DAC. Half of what I paid for EMM. I would also trial Steve Nugent's Final Drive passive preamp...it best my $12,000 Allnic L3000 and even between my preamp and amp made great improvement. Third great investment was the Plasmatron sold by VHaudio. That is another review that I need to post but have been busy on family matters and taxes. Audiophil's/W2012 was the forth great improvement to my system. Digital as analog as vinyl. Musicians in my living room.

 

PM me and we can chat...

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I am currently writing a review to post here on Empirical Audio Overdrive DAC SE fully loaded. I am writing this review exactly because of how hard it is to demo gear and I have the opportunity to compare a to b. I would give this strong consideration. I have three dacs and this is my go to DAC. Half of what I paid for EMM. I would also trial Steve Nugent's Final Drive passive preamp...it best my $12,000 Allnic L3000 and even between my preamp and amp made great improvement.

 

Most definitely audition the Overdrive - Steve makes good gear and has a fully refundable no questions asked refund and will work with you so you can audition it in your system.

 

Heard the EMM DAC the other day against my Killer DAC. It had a 'thick' kind of sound. Here is what the person whose system we heard it in said:

 

I was able to use Bill's Offramp to feed I2S to the Killer and AES to the EMM Labs XDS1 simultaneously and was able to A:B easily between the two using the ARC preamp.

 

The EMM does a lot of things right for me. But the Killer sounds more natural in the end. The XDS1 seems to exaggerate differences - higher highs and lower lows but the end result (which on its own doesn't sound bad to me) is less listenable to me than the Killer in the AB. I loved how the Killer reproduced guitars in Fourplay's 101 Eastbound (HD Tracks) which made it "easy" to follow. Where the XDS1 reproduced the music, the Killer sounded like it was an organised quartet led by the lead guitar, with the rest of band accompanying him. I really enjoyed that quality.

 

When we listened to the Phasure a while back, there was a similar disconnect - the Phasure reproduced voices like Pat Barber with a raspy or gravelly quality - was it more detail? I thought I heard that with Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now (DVDA rip) on the XDS1 today. The Killer was smoother but more natural. I've only heard Pat Barber once, in a club in Chicago many years ago and from memory, it seems to be somewhere in between. It wasn't quite buttery smooth, but it wasn't quite as gravelly as what I heard on the Phasure either. If I had to choose, I'd err on the side of the Killer.

 

When I first heard about the Killer, about how well it sounded with vocals, I can't say I was particularly keen to listen to it. I had written it off along with many warm syrupy slow Chinese tube amps I had heard int he past. But it wasn't the case. I even threw in a bit of Depeche Mode for good measure, along with FourPlay. Over the week, I am sure I can put it through the paces a bit more with some of my more familiar material.

 

If there is one downside, and actually it was more of a technicality, it was that we couldn't play hires material with it. But when we were playing HD Tracks material, even with the OffRamp downsampling to 44.1, the characteristics I liked about the Killer were still apparent, even when compared to the material in native hires on the XDS1. Maybe there is something to be said about hold outs like georgehifi Wink who insist 16/44.1 is good enough.

 

From your perceptive when auditioning DAC's don't dismiss DAC's that do just 44.1 - they can sound mighty good.

 

Wish you could audition my Killer, but that's not really possible.

 

Thanks

Bill

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I suggest checking out a dCS Debussy dac. Sounds fantastic (neutral, imho), very flexible inputs and outputs. Reasonable dealer network, sota engineering and company longevity.

 

Kenreau

Synology NAS> Aurender W20> AQ Wel AES/XLR> Devialet 200> AQ Castle Rock Bi-Wire> Vandersteen 5As.

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Not knowing your budget, I would suggest, for COTS hardware, trying out an Ayre QB9 model. They sound - to me - like they are not there at all. A little sensitive (I think) to the electronics they are feeding, but otherwise... near perfection at $2600 or so. Including in the newest model, DSD capability.

 

Going a little bit further upscale, the AMR777 sounds just melt in your mouth wonderful - but for me, the tubes are not so good. A few people here on CA own it and all of them rave about it. I heard one about a year ago, and I can see what they are raving about. Sweet, for about $5000.

 

The PerfectWave DACII sounds delightful, and for $2500 is a bargain. It has been recently replaced with the DirectStream DAC which I have not yet heard.

 

The ExaSound e20 MKII is another contender - it runs about $2800. This little guy really does up DSD right, though I have not heard it for an extended period or in my own system.

 

All the MBL stuff sounds fantastic, but the price tags are a bit fantastical too... :)

 

-Paul

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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If the OP uses the Mac room correction, wouldn't that put it back into the Mac's digital domain and defeat some of the benefit of a separate high end DAC? I've toyed with this with my Anthem Pre and decided just to keep my 2 channel completely separate... Maybe I'm missing a trick?

Equipment:

Auralic Vega DAC, Auralic Taurus Preamp, KEF LS50 Speakers, Hypex Ncore400 monoblock amps, CAPs V3, Paul Hynes SR5 (12v and 9v rails), Audioquest King Cobra XLRs, Signal Cable speaker cable, Furutech power and USB cable

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If the OP uses the Mac room correction, wouldn't that put it back into the Mac's digital domain and defeat some of the benefit of a separate high end DAC? I've toyed with this with my Anthem Pre and decided just to keep my 2 channel completely separate... Maybe I'm missing a trick?[/QUO

 

I don't think working on quality of the DAC is necessarily wasted or reversed by the room eq treatment downstream. If you are a purist you won't be in the digital domain at all I guess. If the improvement I see with a better dac is in fact undone by the men220, I will just keep it out of the loop, and be happy. I don't have to use it.

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I've been using a dCS Delius & Purcell combo since I bought them new back in the era. I'd choose a dCS Debussy or Vivaldi DAC today, depending on budget, because each includes a well-implemented USB input. I use my dCS combo with a Weiss AFI-1 FireWire converter and direct into Spectral power amps (currently own a couple). Externally clocked by an Antelope Isochrone Trinity studio clock.

 

Forget about what some people say about dCS: the sound I get in my current setup is so voluptuous that it makes even the worst recordings sound acceptable. I can listen to standard redbook format for hours and hours, which I simply can't with most digital gear (literally: I get migraines, feeling as if I were being pierced by "digititis", akin to staring at fluorescent light).

 

Of course high-resolution material will sound even better, but the point is, it's a system that won't make me not listen to anything because of inferior sound quality. It allows me to focus on the music, without looking for flaws.

 

Now, I've heard dCS in setups that sounded less musical, more analytic, technical, chilly, whatnot... Nothing to do with the source components, however. I've got several friends and audiophile acquaintances who own or used to own (different) dCS gear, all it ever does is complement each respective system.

 

In short, dCS is not what I'd recommend to anyone trying to achieve a specific kind of effect, as in the ultimately futile attempt to debug a system (or lend it a certain kind of character, same thing). Of the two philosophies building audiophile systems, dCS is clearly for those who, like me, have no patience trying to smooth away source-related problems downstream.

 

It's really less of a matter of potential system synergy issues than decision in principle to me. Just my opinion, of course, but matters of personal preference would be insufficient reason for me to spend much money on a source component (e.g. loudspeakers would be a different matter: I've built ones myself for too long to try and fool anyone - there's comparatively little "transparent" about turning electrical energy into sound waves).

 

Greetings from Switzerland, David.

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I see you are using the Auralic Vega. That is at or near the top of the dacs I am considering. Do you like it?

 

Fantastic DAC as you've probably read... Sound is unreal so probably definitely something you would want to keep in the analog domain (per my earlier comment in room eq). Plus great optionality with additional inputs and high quality volume control. No regrets and also nice plus of looks great with solid build quality.

Equipment:

Auralic Vega DAC, Auralic Taurus Preamp, KEF LS50 Speakers, Hypex Ncore400 monoblock amps, CAPs V3, Paul Hynes SR5 (12v and 9v rails), Audioquest King Cobra XLRs, Signal Cable speaker cable, Furutech power and USB cable

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Mark, this is a great photo. With wind chill, it is still around -40 degrees today (when it's this cold, Celsius and Farenheit don't matter). Nothing changes in Manitoba. I suspect if I were to drive to where you took the photo, I'll get the exact same snow-covered photo. Minus the solar eclipse, of course...

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As I consider a dac, would it be worthwhile to get a Benchmark DAC2 HGC to audition? It may not be up to some of the suggestions here, but I can get one quickly to try, and return it. I usually don't do that, but it seems to be the right thing when trying to decide how different dacs sound. It would at least be an additional data point to the C50 internal dac and the Loki DSD and Oppo that I have on hand now.

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As I consider a dac, would it be worthwhile to get a Benchmark DAC2 HGC to audition? It may not be up to some of the suggestions here, but I can get one quickly to try, and return it. I usually don't do that, but it seems to be the right thing when trying to decide how different dacs sound. It would at least be an additional data point to the C50 internal dac and the Loki DSD and Oppo that I have on hand now.

 

I have the Benchmark DAC2 in my setup for 1 year now and I love this DAC! It is versatile I have tried many different USB cables and settled on Mapleshade Clearlink USB plus which best fit for my setup. Right now I'm running Superdad's SD card running a stripped down Mavericks and CAD. I unmount the HD load a RAMdisk for music and I am astonished by the SQ I'm getting out of my setup now. The DAC2 has a lot of versatility with all the different ways to feed it. Its built well unfortunate you will need to listen to for at least a good 100 hours before you start hearing the benefits. That's not saying it won't sound good out of the box, but I always keep mine on in stand by mode. It does have any annoying click when you power it on. Leaving it always on in stand by is a good practice or power the Benchmark on first then the rest of your equipment eliminates the click.

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I also own the Benchmark DAC 2 and can offer that I have been very satisfied with it in my system. It is a great unit and in my opinion benefits from a cable upgrade. If you are considering the Vega, ExaSound or other higher dollar DAC's I think those are in another class ever so slightly above the DAC2. At it's price point the Benchmark is a solid purchase. From my experience there was no appreciable break in, however I do think it sounds better the longer it is played in a continuous listening session. The turn on click is not anything to fret over.

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