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Rookie needs advice - Do I need an external DAC?

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Hi everybody. This is my first post.


I'm in the process of setting up my first "real" 2.0 audio system. I'm debating on the right components. I'm considering buying the Bel Canto S300iu integrated amp. I'm also planning on buying a Mac Mini for the system. I know the Mini can be plugged directly into the Bel Canto using the USB DAC connection.


I'm wondering if this particular pairing is going to sound as good as an external DAC with either the same amp Bel Canto amp, or another amp. What is the argument for having an external DAC?


Any advice appreciated.




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If I understand your question correctly, it implies that the integrated amp has a USB DAC built into it. If that is the case, I would start by contacting the manufacturer and asking them what the difference is between the performance of the two. If you were to do an external, stand alone DAC, I would think that it wouldn't make sense to duplicate the function in your integrated. In general, a case can be made for separate power supplies for separate pieces, but sometimes that advantage can be offset by the elimination of the output buffers on the DAC and the losses caused by interconnects and connectors.


I don't have any experience with Bel Canto but they are a well regarded company and I would start there.


Happy hunting.


Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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I agree with what Rick said.


It would be a totally different story if you were considering the Mac Mini internal DAC. That for sure is a roadblock to audiophile sound quality.


The people at Bel Canto are very nice to talk to and I'm sure they'll be happy to answer your question. FYI - the Bel Canto office is ten minutes from my house!


In the end it will come down to your preference. If you have a local dealer I bet they would let you take the unit home with the DAC3 to compare the system with and without the DAC3 in the chain. That would answer all the questions for you.


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I totally agree with what's been said so far.


A couple more things:


If you do decide to play around with an external DAC, make sure the DAC built into the integrated amp can be bypassed.


Another argument one often hears for having a separate DAC, in addition to the separate power supply, is that a DAC in its own chassis may suffer less interferences from other components. Whether all that makes a difference depends on your perceptions.


Also, you didn't say anything about the quality of your speakers or whether you have good room treatment. Any potential benefit from using a high-end, separate DAC may be negated by other components in the system.


To answer your question whether you "need" an external DAC, this will depend on what your needs are. In the end, you will really have to find out for yourself by auditioning equipment. You can always start with a solid amp, excellent speakers, and excellent room treatment, and then add or swap out components (pre-amp, amp, DACs, re-clockers, cables, etc.) as you go along to see if they have any beneficial effect in your setup.


Good luck! Best - MM


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Thanks to everyone for their input. I plan to call Bel Canto tomorrow to get the scoop. I'll report back with the information they give me.


To reply to MM's question. . . my speakers are Vienna Acoustic Beethoven's. I just picked them up last week and have not had a chance to hear them in my own home yet because I am still shopping for an amp and a source. This is my first dedicated system for listening to music and i plan to take it seriously. I'm very much a novice, but I'm ready to learn.


I do not live in a major metropolitan area so demoing equipment is not an option. I'm going to be relying on the trial and error method, but I plan to stick with quality components and I'm not going to get into any rush.


This site is fantastic. It is providing exactly the information I was looking for. I'm a fan.


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I have had a fair amount of experience with the Beethovens. They are a good speaker but in most rooms they demand experimentation with placement. Their dual woofer format has been changed somewhat from their early days, but they can still sound a little chesty when not placed properly. Don't be afraid to spend some time with it. In general further out from the walls reduces bass reinforcement and further apart reduces bass coupling, unless you are starting to get close to the side walls and then you appreciate the concept of Catch 22.


I only mention it because you own good speakers but don't be discouraged if they don't dance for you if you just plop them down.




Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Thanks for the input Rick.


I had a chance to listen to the Beethovens to my satisfaction before purchase. IMO one of the best speakers available in their price range. I found them to be warm and inspiring. Very very musical. I'm prepared to do some tweaking. I may post back in the speaker forum if i can't get them where I want them.


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I spoke with Matthew at Bel Canto Designs today.


He tells me that all I need to plug and play with my Mac Mini is the Bel Canto S300iu. It had a USB DAC onboard. However, by bypassing the $200 USB DAC which is onboard and plugging in a more expensive external DAC I may get better sound quality. . . or I may not. Probably depends on the DAC.


Matthew was very helpful and I think Bel Canto has a first class operation.


Many thanks to everyone for their help and direction.


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