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Recommendation for usb dac candidates for low-powered tube system - 5k & Under


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Hi,

I wanted to line up some candidates to audition for my low-powered (25W per/channel) tube-based system. Both amp and preamp are pretty evolved and updated in their sound quality... and they drive a refurbished/updated set of Quad57s.

 

Given the limitations of MacBookPro as an audio server (although tweaked, dedicated and a SSD), I'm looking for those candidates whose designs are particularly effective in isolating their performance from the quality of their digital source. 5K or Under I'm looking to get as close to the purity of the sound that I can within that price range.

 

The primary attributes for me:

 

  1. Clarity

  2. Musicality

  3. Openess

  4. Dimension

 

I've been away from the marketplace for 3 years... and there is a whole bunch of new stuff out there, with a whole bunch of new capabilities. So, I would appreciate recommendations from those who have looked, hear and bought within a similar criteria. Thank you for your time on this.

Alex

Always on the learning curve...


MBPro i5 > Audioquest Coffee USB > Emotive Audio Customized Valve Preamp > Emotive Audio Custom E-Linear 6L6GA Amp > Modified Custom Quad57s (Wayne Piquet)
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With a $5K budget for a DAC, you have tons of choices. To help narrow down choices, it might be helpful it you provided some more information such as:

 

1) Given you have a preamp, volume control using the DAC is probably not important?

2) Do you want to play PCM and/or DSD formats? Some DAC's just do PCM, some DSD & some both.

3) Is the MBP the only connection to the DAC via USB? Most DAC's allow multiple connections (USB, Toslink, etc.) but some such as the Ayre QB-9 is USB only.

4) Outputs - single ended and/or balanced (XLR)?

 

In my case, I wanted a USB only DAC, remote volume control & both PCM & DSD formats and balanced outputs. I ended up going the DIY route with a Twisted Pear Buffalo IIISE.

 

Hope this helps.

Eric


Ubuntu Linux box (i7-12700K, 12 cores, 32GB RAM, Intel X520-DA1 NIC, HQP Desktop) > fiber > MikroTik CRS305-1G-4S+ > fiber > fitlet2 (HQP Embedded OS - NAA) > T+A DAC8 DSD > Rogue Audio DragoN > Klipsch La Scala — digital volume control with HQP, DSP with HQP convolution 

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With a $5K budget for a DAC, you have tons of choices. To help narrow down choices, it might be helpful it you provided some more information such as:

 

1) Given you have a preamp, volume control using the DAC is probably not important?

 

It is only in terms of giving me remote control of the volume

 

2) Do you want to play PCM and/or DSD formats? Some DAC's just do PCM, some DSD & some both.

 

From what I can tell most of the latest DACs are addressing both. So both

 

3) Is the MBP the only connection to the DAC via USB? Most DAC's allow multiple connections (USB, Toslink, etc.) but some such as the Ayre QB-9 is USB only.

 

Yes... so the DAC would have to allow USB input... even be the preferable or equal feed to the DAC in not compromising it's playback. I don't want to have to get into a USB>SPDIF converter

 

4) Outputs - single ended and/or balanced (XLR)?

 

Single Ended

 

Thanks for your questions and assist.

Alex

Always on the learning curve...


MBPro i5 > Audioquest Coffee USB > Emotive Audio Customized Valve Preamp > Emotive Audio Custom E-Linear 6L6GA Amp > Modified Custom Quad57s (Wayne Piquet)
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Thanks for the additional information.

 

Here is a starter list in no particular order & is based on comments on CA as I have not heard any of these personally.

 

Auralic Vega, Exa e22, Weiss DAC202DSD (might be out of price range), Lampizator (several levels available - not sure of price), Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2SE

 

These are some of the more "mainstream" but there are lots of small boutique DAC's as well.

 

Lastly, if you are open to going the used DAC market, there are even more options. Audiogon is a good resource.

Eric


Ubuntu Linux box (i7-12700K, 12 cores, 32GB RAM, Intel X520-DA1 NIC, HQP Desktop) > fiber > MikroTik CRS305-1G-4S+ > fiber > fitlet2 (HQP Embedded OS - NAA) > T+A DAC8 DSD > Rogue Audio DragoN > Klipsch La Scala — digital volume control with HQP, DSP with HQP convolution 

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Thanks, Eric.... I have heard the Weiss.. and it is unquestionably a fine DAC.... but I feel way overpriced.

 

But your list will help me build consensus.... The Auralic and Exa have been suggested.

 

One thing is very important to me... I learned it the hardway... 1. That the design of DAC is such that the failure or malfunction of a specific part can be isolated in its repair and won't require the pricey replacement of an entire circuit board... 2. The manufacturer will extend themselves beyond the warranty if a primary features fails way too early on. That they feel a responsibility to their product beyond the first year. We have plenty of access to reviews and evaluations of digital components, but there is no resource to evaluations regarding maintenance, repair costs... and manufacturer's commitment and service to their product after sale. Thanks again, and yeah.. I real familiar with A'gon :)

Alex

Always on the learning curve...


MBPro i5 > Audioquest Coffee USB > Emotive Audio Customized Valve Preamp > Emotive Audio Custom E-Linear 6L6GA Amp > Modified Custom Quad57s (Wayne Piquet)
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That's a great budget. Of the dacs I have heard, I really like the Ayre QB-9DSD. If USB is all you need, and you don't need a volume control, then the Ayre would be my first option. It supposedly has among the best USB implementations. The also have a reasonably priced upgrade program as new improvements are made.

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

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

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In the last 2 years I have brought in to my system the T+A DAC 8 and the E20 MK III. I have done a lot of listening to the Antelope Zodiac Platinum, so here is my 2 cents

 

it has been my experience that in this price category of DAC's which are DSD capable, nearly all Redbook content sounds better when converted to DSD 128/DSD 256 by software in ascending order of sound quality, JRiver, Foobar with SACD plugin and HQ Player

 

DSD 256 sounds noticeably better than DSD128, so I would focus on DACs that can handle DSD256.

 

DSD over DOP SQ suffers at the higher sample rates, so I would stay away from DOP only DSD capable DACS

 

The feeding of a clean, noise and ripple free USB signal has a big impact on the sound quality. A 2 computer solution has significant advantages

 

my casual listening is 90 pct Qobuz and Rhapsody over Sonos. Here the T+A is a champ, it takes the optical stream, up samples to 24/384 with Bezier style filters and sounds astoundingly good, not DSD 256 quality but more than good enough to enjoy the music

 

Listening to DSD content from 2L, Upsampled to DSD256, using HQPlayer's best sounding filters, is a religious experience. It is stunningly realistic, and there is an emotional connection to the music.

 

i am still waiting for the Linux driver for the E20 to be released and then I will go down the HQ Player NAA road.

 

Hope these musings from a 9Khz limited pair of ears is useful

Sound Test, Monaco

Consultant to Sound Galleries Monaco, and Taiko Audio Holland

e-mail [email protected]

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One thing is very important to me... I learned it the hardway... 1. That the design of DAC is such that the failure or malfunction of a specific part can be isolated in its repair and won't require the pricey replacement of an entire circuit board... 2. The manufacturer will extend themselves beyond the warranty if a primary features fails way too early on. That they feel a responsibility to their product beyond the first year. We have plenty of access to reviews and evaluations of digital components, but there is no resource to evaluations regarding maintenance, repair costs... and manufacturer's commitment and service to their product after sale.

You could just replace the Supreme outside of warranty twice and still end up being under $5k.

If you had the memory of a goldfish, maybe it would work.
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To all the above - Thank you so much for your input. Each is invaluable to my education and refining my choices... Much appreciated.

Alex

Always on the learning curve...


MBPro i5 > Audioquest Coffee USB > Emotive Audio Customized Valve Preamp > Emotive Audio Custom E-Linear 6L6GA Amp > Modified Custom Quad57s (Wayne Piquet)
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I'd like to second many of EuroDriver's points from his post above.

 

DSD upsampling is an option well worth exploring. It the only way I listen now. I opted for a Lampizator DSD only DAC with volume control and dual Windows Server 2012 servers optimized with AudioPhil's Audiophile Optimizer.

 

The sound is incredible.

Roon Server: Core i7-3770S, WS2012 + AO => HQP Server: Core, i7-9700K, HQPlayer OS => NAA: Celeron NUC, HQP NAA => ISO Regen with UltraCap LPS 1.2 => Mapleshade USB Cable => Lampizator L4 DSD-Only Balanced DAC Preamp => Blue Jeans Belden Balanced Cables => Mivera PurePower SE Amp => Magnepan 3.7i

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I'd like to second many of EuroDriver's points from his post above.

 

DSD upsampling is an option well worth exploring. It the only way I listen now. I opted for a Lampizator DSD only DAC with volume control and dual Windows Server 2012 servers optimized with AudioPhil's Audiophile Optimizer.

 

The sound is incredible.

 

I intend to. Thank you.

Alex

Always on the learning curve...


MBPro i5 > Audioquest Coffee USB > Emotive Audio Customized Valve Preamp > Emotive Audio Custom E-Linear 6L6GA Amp > Modified Custom Quad57s (Wayne Piquet)
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+1 again for the Eastern Electric Minimax Supreme recommendation.

 

And also +1 for k6davis' suggestion of a dual PC setup running Windows Server 2012 (Server 2012 R2 Essentials in my case) and AudiophileOptimizer. EuroDriver was actually the first to mention a 2 computer solution, which I'm a big fan of.

 

I think allocating some of the 5k to the DAC and some to the transport/server might give you more bang for the buck in this case (versus allocating all to the DAC).

 

Magnepan user here, so I appreciate some of the same things you say you're looking for...

 

Have fun with your search!

 

 

 

 

 

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Wish to stick with my MBPro... which is modded and tweaked for audio server. Looking at a DAC budget between 3 & 5K.. should hopefully open up some possibilities within that range.

Alex

Always on the learning curve...


MBPro i5 > Audioquest Coffee USB > Emotive Audio Customized Valve Preamp > Emotive Audio Custom E-Linear 6L6GA Amp > Modified Custom Quad57s (Wayne Piquet)
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If you can handle the hypefest, Schiit should finally release the Yggdrasil some time in the next month or two - the big downside from what you've written is that they made it very clear that they arent interested in DSD. I agree that the Weiss sounds fantastic but the pricing seems to be in the league that Lukasz Fikus likes to refer to as 'German dentist pricing' - that said, if you can get a pre-loved unit I would strongly recommend giving it a listen.

Just one more headphone and I know I can kick this nasty little habit !

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If you can handle the hypefest, Schiit should finally release the Yggdrasil some time in the next month or two - the big downside from what you've written is that they made it very clear that they arent interested in DSD. I agree that the Weiss sounds fantastic but the pricing seems to be in the league that Lukasz Fikus likes to refer to as 'German dentist pricing' - that said, if you can get a pre-loved unit I would strongly recommend giving it a listen.

 

Yes, I auditioned the Weiss, three years ago...was impressed... but felt that the unit didn't justify its price... felt Weiss was pricing himself right out of the market.. especially when he hiked it up another 1K. I think it would be nice to have DSD... but if a unit exceeded in its playback of PCM I would be satisfied. I'm not one of those audiophiles that needs to have the latest... only one who desire to be as close and intimate to the performance as possible. And have the rendition to be authentic as possible. My priority is the music... not the features of the processor.

Alex

Always on the learning curve...


MBPro i5 > Audioquest Coffee USB > Emotive Audio Customized Valve Preamp > Emotive Audio Custom E-Linear 6L6GA Amp > Modified Custom Quad57s (Wayne Piquet)
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