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Rethinking my system, Budget for DAC vs. Supporting Components?


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After the latest Jplay update 5.2.1 my digital system went from being slightly behind my turntable to leapfrogging it completely. I'm a millennial and I only got into records two years ago, and I have a total of 30 or so records to my name. Considering the cost of records(for the majority of music I'm interested in) is 3x the cost of the equivalent CD I did the only thing I could.

 

I made the decision to sell my table & DAC and put the money toward an all-around upgrade to my digital front-end. Seeing as this is the right section, I'll just note than my UltraFi DAC41 is soon going to be available for sale. At the moment I'm A/Bing it vs a low cost Sabre to see if I can wrap my head around the Sabre sound.

 

Before leading into my question allow me to outline my system and the issues I've been facing with it.

 

  • 'Gaming' PC, i5 2500K, mechanical drive(my SSD died, I'll probably replace as it did boost SQ,) Windows 8, Jplay. Somewhat optimized but it's not a dedicated audio PC by any means. Still it is leaps and bounds better than the Ultrabook I bought & returned last year.
  • Ultra-Fi DAC41
  • DH-Labs USB Cable
  • A collection of vintage stereo amps(I'm between amps at the moment.. I have a Bakoon HPA-01 in transit)
  • Ultrasone Edition 12 Headphones
  • CyberPower UPS Battery Backup(with minor filtering)

The largest issue I have is the quality of the power line in my house. For the time being relocating is not an option. Power issues include noisy components, JPLAY switching off occasionally(confirmed to be a power issue as it was caused by static discharge on various outlets in the house during the cooler/drier months.) As well as the semi-frequent death of components(routers, modems, external drives, RAM…) At one point in time I had a Burson 160DS which did not have a strong enough power supply to protect itself from the power-line.

Safe to say, my largest concern at this point is in hefty power filtering or battery powered components. Fortunately I am a headphone listeners and the ED12s are very sensitive so it is possible to get low powered equipment without compromising my system.

 

Essentially my budget here will be $1200-2500 depending on whether or not I keep the Bakoon headphone amplifier and depending on what I get for the components I am selling. I could go further if I sell my Solid Steel audio rack(which may no longer be necessary as I leave vinyl.) I'm looking for either a DAC or DAC/HP Amp combo unit. My issue is that I've made a bad habit of spending my whole budget on single components in the past, ignoring accessories or other parts of the chain(case in point my headphones being used with ancient amplifiers) and I'm ready to admit that it's never worked in my favor. I'll also openly admit that I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to supporting components. As always, I'd rather spend less than more, but I can tell from the Resonance Labs Herus that I am testing right now, that I need to spend more to drive the Edition 12.

 

A simple question would be, is it more intelligent to spend $1500 on a DAC, or to spend less on the DAC and get a JCAT USB card in there?

 

One thought I do have is getting a Resonance Labs Concerto HP as a DAC/amp because it is USB powered. That way I can focus all of my filtering on a single device(the computer) which is still having a few minor hiccups despite the filtered battery backup. And then I would have the budget to do just that with a JCAT card and possibly a new USB cable(if necessary.)

I'm hoping you guys here will have some better suggestions, or thoughts on the matter. My preferences in sound are for a 'digital'(not a fan of gear that advertises itself as analog sounding, that's just not what I grew up with) and 'wet' sounding equipment. At this point in time I've been dealing with dry and grainy sounding systems for so long that I can tolerate something a little glossy(as the RL Herus is) but I have no tolerance for 'warmth' which always ends up sounding like distortion to me. Smooth & velvety is a-ok. I'm a New Englander so that may help to understand my sound preferences. I also have a strong preference for gear made in either Europe or North America.

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Don't get too caught up in the "Sabre sound". I know it is talked about a lot (particularly on head-fi) but Sabre based DACs can sound completely different.

 

Generally speaking, you want to avoid devices that are completely powered by the USB port from the computer OR you can plan to use them with a dedicated USB power supply (iFi iUSB Power or Schiit Wyred.) They can make a huge difference. (They essentially inject a clean 5V into the line rather than using the noisey 5V from the computer.)

 

However, since your system is in flux and you are looking for a head-fi solution, I own this DAC and would point you to it:

 

Headphone Bliss: B.M.C. Audio amazes with PureDAC | Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile

 

The balanced headphone output is the one that is worth listening to, and it's REALLY good. So it would require getting a balanced cable. It is a fantastic all-in one solution that may leave you not feeling the need for the bakoon, but it is a fully functioning dac and it has great features and usability. Its sound is pretty much what you say that you want. It is smooth but not is definitely not overly warm or romantic. Highly resolved and natural sounding. I own 4 DACs of various expense and it is probably the one I would rate the closest to neutral.

 

On the USB issue, I think the PureDAC is fairly impervious to the computer side. I have a very good USB->SPDIF converter (which if nothing else, adds isolation by being another device between computer and DAC) and I found that it didn't really change the sound of the PureDAC. I wouldn't anticipate anyone having problems with the USB input.

Roon ->UltraRendu + CI Audio 7v LPS-> Kii Control -> Kii Three

Roon->BMC UltraDAC->Mr Speakers Aeon Flow Open

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