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How Many DACs Have You Owned? Your Journey


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I'm going to start and I'm excluding devices with built in DACs. I've had two sound bars that I have used with my laptop. They are USB so I count them as DACs. The quality of the Dell soundbar is much better than the Logitec which I gave away. These are basic junk DACs but they filled their purpose. I'm guessing I bought my first one four years ago. I still use the Dell since my crappy laptop speakers don't cut it.

 

I don't count my phones, but an honorable mention goes to my iPhone 6 which turned me on to the entire world of Computer Audiophilia. Plugged in my Grado headphones which I thought were "ho hum" since I got them for Christmas two years ago.

 

Then I heard music in a way I've never heard it before. I had to do a double take.

 

If a Phone can sound this great then how about real DACs. My experience with them until four months ago was looking at them in magazines. I'd never heard a real DAC. So... I had a problem. I'm under financial extreme pressure at this time and have no budget. So, it was Ebay for me. Chinese DAC boards. Eight dollar Muse board with a headphone jack. Then a thirty dollar Wolfson/Burr Brown board with RCA outputs. I also bought a twelve dollar DAC with digital input and a different Cyrix chipset.

 

Finally, I pulled the trigger and bought a Schitt Modi on Amazon.

 

This has been my journey so far. It's been three months basically. I like all of these DACS which all sound really different but all much better than my computer sound boards.

 

Thanks to CA I have started to learn from the smartest people in the world on a relatively new field of audio excellence. I have experimented with DACs and USB cables as well. I've never heard SPDIF or Coaxial output. I'm still in the testing phase and am making small purchases of cables etc. I have a crappy thirty dollar 9 volt battery headphone amp too that I purchased six years ago.

 

I'm interested in hearing other people's journeys. Where did you start, what are your experiences and where are you now.

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Six in 25 years.

 

Theta Pro Basic

 

Schiit Bifrost

 

Audioquest Dragonfly

 

Semi-Customized DAC (DIY project)

 

Geek Out

 

Pono (digital player that includes a nice DAC)

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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Six in 25 years.

 

Theta Pro Basic

 

Schiit Bifrost

 

Audioquest Dragonfly

 

Semi-Customized DAC (DIY project)

 

Geek Out

 

Pono (digital player that includes a nice DAC)

 

Impressive. Twenty five years. What's my next step beyond Schitt Modi?

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How about 6 in 5 years. Way more embarrassing...

 

Peachtree iDecco, Benchmark Dac2, Chord Hugo, Hegel HD12, exaSound e22, and the DAC in the Wyred mPre.

Mac Mini (+Tidal +Roon) -> WiFi -> Lyngdorf TDAI1120 ->JM Reynaud Lucia (Tellurium Q Black v2)

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How about 6 in 5 years. Way more embarrassing...

 

Peachtree iDecco, Benchmark Dac2, Chord Hugo, Hegel HD12, exaSound e22, and the DAC in the Wyred mPre.

 

What are you looking for in sound? You've spent many thousands of dollars I'm guessing. Is your experience getting better and better? Where are you in the journey.

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What are you looking for in sound? You've spent many thousands of dollars I'm guessing. Is your experience getting better and better? Where are you in the journey.

 

Very resolving speakers for one, so it took a very high quality DAC to show everything they could do. A couple came close: the Benchmark is incredibly clear but doesn't have enough boogie for me. The Hegel lacked something in image specificity. I feel I may have underestimated the Hugo, but it's form was not at all convenient. The exaSound has pretty much everything I want; it may still be improving -- hard to tell as I've swapped interconnects and that may have made a difference too. The best things: tonality, imaging, timing, resonant space. The mPre was just there because I was experimenting with a preamp, although the DAC is actually not bad at all.

 

I would have to add that there is a tremendous 3-way synergy among the exa, the Ellis speakers and the fabulous Job225 amp. It's astounding how much the sound seems NOT to be coming from the speakers. The exaSound's volume control is first-rate, as is the headphone amp. It may seem expensive, but given everything it does right, it's actually kind of a bargain, albeit in the audiophile sense ;-)

 

Hope that helps.

 

Gerard

Mac Mini (+Tidal +Roon) -> WiFi -> Lyngdorf TDAI1120 ->JM Reynaud Lucia (Tellurium Q Black v2)

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Very resolving speakers for one, so it took a very high quality DAC to show everything they could do. A couple came close: the Benchmark is incredibly clear but doesn't have enough boogie for me. The Hegel lacked something in image specificity. I feel I may have underestimated the Hugo, but it's form was not at all convenient. The exaSound has pretty much everything I want; it may still be improving -- hard to tell as I've swapped interconnects and that may have made a difference too. The best things: tonality, imaging, timing, resonant space. The mPre was just there because I was experimenting with a preamp, although the DAC is actually not bad at all.

 

I would have to add that there is a tremendous 3-way synergy among the exa, the Ellis speakers and the fabulous Job225 amp. It's astounding how much the sound seems NOT to be coming from the speakers. The exaSound's volume control is first-rate, as is the headphone amp. It may seem expensive, but given everything it does right, it's actually kind of a bargain, albeit in the audiophile sense ;-)

 

Hope that helps.

 

Gerard

 

YES !!! That's exactly what I was looking for Gerard. I'm completely intrigued by your journey. I've never heard of the equipment you mention, but I'm going to look up each brand you mention. You have found synergy which seems to be the PINNACLE of what experimentation will achieve. You are giving me a lot of hope here.

 

I have never heard of Ellis speakers. I am using PSB Stratus Goldi speakers which are older but goodies. So the sound seems to be not coming from the speakers. I'm blown away. What else have you done regarding computers, cables etc?

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Nine years of travel...

 

Lavry DA10 (2006 - 2007)

Wavelength Brick (2006 - 2007)

MHDT Paradisea+ (2008 - 2008)

Benchmark DAC1USB (2007 - 2009)

Apogee Duet (2009 - now)

Weiss DAC2 (2009 - now)

Wavelength Cosecant (2013 - now)

OPPO 105 (2014 - now)

Chord Hugo (2014 - 2014)

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Nine years of travel...

 

Lavry DA10 (2006 - 2007)

Wavelength Brick (2006 - 2007)

MHDT Paradisea+ (2008 - 2008)

Benchmark DAC1USB (2007 - 2009)

Apogee Duet (2009 - now)

Weiss DAC2 (2009 - now)

Wavelength Cosecant (2013 - now)

OPPO 105 (2014 - now)

Chord Hugo (2014 - 2014)

 

I want to hear about your journey. Where are you now that you've experimented and learned what you know now?

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I have owned 7 DACs over 23 years. Now I would preface that by saying for many years there were quite a number of active audiophile friends in my area. We often did extended swaps, listening sessions, get togethers etc. etc. So I had extensive experience with a much larger number of DACs. There also are a few I kept very briefly finding them not to my liking I am not counting on this list.

 

Meridian 263

Meridian 563 later abetted by a Meridian 518 to use with it.

Wadia 12 also used with the same Meridian 518. (the 518 did useful things for digital and was not a DAC).

Wadia 25

Tact RCS 2.0 (which also did room correction)

Tact 2150 XDM

Tact XP

 

Now as to someone's journey, having lots of audiophile friends to listen with and loan/borrow equipment with is very helpful, informative, encouraging, delightful (and economical).

 

Now I have owned the same number of speakers over that time and more than twice that many amplifiers.

 

Now vs then, DACs are still improving though basic sound quality probably has slowed in improvement. What is changing much faster is available formats to playback and how the devices work. What is a normal digital based front end is still evolving rapidly.

 

IMO, the message from such a journey relates less to DACs. It would be speakers matter the most.

 

Want to borrow more of my experience? Go back and read that sentence saying speakers matter the most. Or if you are sticking with headphones substitute headphones for speakers.

 

The other notable (goes for speakers and headphones), the amp driving these matters the next most. Hence how I came to own 7 speakers, and something like 18 amps over the same time period.

 

Speakers (or headphones) are the weak link, the bottleneck in virtually all audio systems both inexpensive and highly expensive. Does not mean upstream improvements are not heard or not worthwhile. The biggest gains are to be found in the transducers that make the actual sound you hear however.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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I am still on my first DAC a:

 

Wadia 12

 

If I had to guess I own it now for about 8 years, maybe longer or shorter. It's hard to guess. First I used it with a Marantz CD94mkII wich sadly broke down, then a CEC TL51z which I still own but now mostly with a M2 tech hiface and my laptop.

[br]

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I've upgraded directly to my current Exposure DAC from just a couple of months listening to an Airport Express analog out. I didn't have any active Hifi chain for years, and was just using a Bose sound dock with an IPod classic (I've been moving around for work for many years).

 

I'll probably stick to my current DAC setup for another 3-4 years, and even after that the biggest need for upgrade are probably the speakers first (as an interim solution, I got myself a nice headphone rig with a Sennheiser HD800/HDVA600 combo this year).

 

There is very strong sonic synergy between the Exposure DAC and amp. The Exposure DAC is relqtively average with regards to the digital implementation (but helped significantly by the Belcanto mlink USB-SPDIF), but is truly excellent on the all discreet analog side, including a very nice toroidal transformer.

 

From a convenience perspective I can control both with the same remote, which is nice.

 

I only occasionally miss native DSD, but then only have a handful of albums that don't justify a DAC change.

 

Maybe I'll throw in an Ifi Micro at some point or some similar low cost DSD wonder.

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I have owned and tried out quit a few combinations og Dac's and players over the last years. Linn Majik ds (streamer/Dac) maim unitiQute 2 (streamer Dac) squeezebox touch to deqx hdp-3 (streamer to pre amp/Dac) Zuma to deqx hdp-3 to Metrum octave Nos mini ( to Metrum Dac's in active system). The Metrum Octave Nos mini, is by far the best sound i have heard from a Dac in my system so far.. I would like to build Dddac (also Nos Dac's) becorse i have those in my friends system, and i believe that the "Nos Sound" is what comes closest to my sound ideal.

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I completely agree on the nos sound. I started with a modest setup using the hrt istreamer then moved to a Cambridge dac magic then ifi Idac. Nothing sounded as right and natural until I used a mhdt Havana nos dac. I took a risk on shipping a lampi to nz and haven't looked back. It allows me to connect with the music emotionally like never before.

Mac Mini 2012 SSD 8 GB Ram running Audirvana 2.1 > Music Library - Firewire 800 Lacie Rugged 2 TB External HDD > IFi iUsb > Gemini and Mercury Digital Cables > Lampizator Big 5 Dueland Cast Caps > New Audio Frontiers Supreme Special Edition 300b Integrated Amp > Bastanis Matterhorn Speakers > Antipodes Komako Speaker Cables and Interconnects > Home made power cords with Furutech sockets and IEC Connectors > Primacoustic Absorption panels

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I am a bit shocked at how many DACs people own in a short period of time. When I buy a piece of audio equipment I expect it to last for at least 5 years or longer. I'm in this hobby for 20 years or so and I have had only 3 different amplifiers (Proton, Rotel and now Symphonic Line).

[br]

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MF X-DAC3

Korg Ergo (DAC/PRE/RC)

Tact 2.2 XP (DAC/PRE/RC)

Mytek 192 DSD DAC

 

Present plan is to seriously upgrade DAC and AMP in about 2 years and then live with those till they go in my will to someone who will appreciate them.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Path: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Cayin iDAC6 MKII (tube mode) (XLR)>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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I am a bit shocked at how many DACs people own in a short period of time. When I buy a piece of audio equipment I expect it to last for at least 5 years or longer. I'm in this hobby for 20 years or so and I have had only 3 different amplifiers (Proton, Rotel and now Symphonic Line).

 

Close to 30 years and just two amplifiers for me. :)

 

(Professional Systems Engineering Studio IV; Spectral Audio DMA-150. Same with pre-amps, turntables, speakers - just two of each.)

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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I am a bit shocked at how many DACs people own in a short period of time. When I buy a piece of audio equipment I expect it to last for at least 5 years or longer. I'm in this hobby for 20 years or so and I have had only 3 different amplifiers (Proton, Rotel and now Symphonic Line).

 

I did say it was embarrassing... When I bought the speakers, after a fair bit of research, the one thing I hadn't noticed was how finicky they'd be about amplification and source. They are really tremendous speakers, but the whole point of buying direct was to save money, money which I've certainly somewhat piddled away in trying out so much equipment. That said, however, I know how neurotic I am and I probably would have juggled equipment even with a more easy-going set of speakers. Pretty much every piece of equipment that's been through here in the past few years has either been bought used or on sale, so I don't mind TOO much. But I'm glad that I've found the synergy I was looking for; it was all getting a bit exhausting emotionally.

 

If I think about it, I'd also probably say that when I started down the road I had very little money to play with, but then I started earning a fair bit more quite quickly. It took a while to figure out what constituted "value."

Mac Mini (+Tidal +Roon) -> WiFi -> Lyngdorf TDAI1120 ->JM Reynaud Lucia (Tellurium Q Black v2)

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Very resolving speakers for one, so it took a very high quality DAC to show everything they could do. A couple came close: the Benchmark is incredibly clear but doesn't have enough boogie for me. The Hegel lacked something in image specificity. I feel I may have underestimated the Hugo, but it's form was not at all convenient. The exaSound has pretty much everything I want; it may still be improving -- hard to tell as I've swapped interconnects and that may have made a difference too. The best things: tonality, imaging, timing, resonant space. The mPre was just there because I was experimenting with a preamp, although the DAC is actually not bad at all.

 

I would have to add that there is a tremendous 3-way synergy among the exa, the Ellis speakers and the fabulous Job225 amp. It's astounding how much the sound seems NOT to be coming from the speakers. The exaSound's volume control is first-rate, as is the headphone amp. It may seem expensive, but given everything it does right, it's actually kind of a bargain, albeit in the audiophile sense ;-)

 

Hope that helps.

 

Gerard

 

Yes this helps me. I have older speakers but I invested in them. PSB Stratus Goldi which I've probably mentioned previously. These are my dream speakers and I tend to be a bit brand loyal if I like something. I really don't have money to invest right now, but will keep making up a shopping list for the future. For me the formula was always to spend the most on Speakers as a percentage of the total system cost. I've just noticed such a dramatic improvement on sound from CD players on Computer Audio with DAC that I am really psyched. I feel like a prospector in 1849 now. I won't probably listen to a ten thousand dollar DAC for a while or 40K speakers, but may pick up some vintage speakers I always wanted on Ebay such as Snell or M and K. May try the new cheap Pioneer speakers people are raving about. My PSB alphas are starting to feel like the weak link now, so I may have to start the upgrade path there first. Can't move my Stratus speakers into the office. Thank you so much for helping me.

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If I think about it, I'd also probably say that when I started down the road I had very little money to play with, but then I started earning a fair bit more quite quickly. It took a while to figure out what constituted "value."

 

Can you share a a little more about what you say constitutes "value" for you. Are there certain minimum technological standards you use for DACs and other equipment. I mean things like power supplies, galvanic isolation, etc. Things you cannot sacrifice for your sweet spot of value versus performance.

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I am still on my first DAC a:

 

Wadia 12

 

If I had to guess I own it now for about 8 years, maybe longer or shorter. It's hard to guess. First I used it with a Marantz CD94mkII wich sadly broke down, then a CEC TL51z which I still own but now mostly with a M2 tech hiface and my laptop.

 

Would you ever consider buying inexpensive DACs such as the Schitt Modi or others just to see if modern tech is better or is your DAC still sweet for you.

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Over 8 years:

 

Beresford TC-7520

Weiss DAC2

Metric Halo LIO-8

BMC PureDAC

Twisted Pear Buffalo IIISE

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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