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High end system but Mac Mini analog outs..... what next?


Deyorew
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I am using the Mac Mini/HD as an audio server.

I currently have it hooked up with the standard analog adapter chord using the mini's internal DAC.

All music is AIFF

 

I own

McIntosh C45 analog preamp (~$4500)

Proceed AMP5 (~$5000)

Mirage HDT speakers (~$6000)

Velodyne HGS15 sub (~$2500)

 

So I am sure upgrading to a DAC will give me a great benefit in sound.....but I am new to computer based audio and I am curious if something like the devilsound will make a huge difference ($250)

 

I guess I am asking what should I expect at different price points for DACs with my system.

What does $250 give me? $750? $1000? $3000? in comparison to using the mac mini analog outs.

 

Samsung 2TB SSD external drive > Oppo 205 USB in > McIntosh C45 > Proceed AMP5 > Mirage HDT Speakers > Velodyne HGS15 Sub // Nordost Blue Heaven Cables, PS Audio Quintet, OWC 2TB Mercury Elite Pro Firewire

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Hi,

 

No experience with macs, well at least for audio, but have tried CA Dacmagic and Beresford with a pc and a couple of laptops and they both provided a huge leap in sound quality. DACs will be subject to the law of diminishing returns just like any other component but I can't tell you where the sweet spot might be in their pricing.

 

Piers

 

Laptop - Beresford TC7520 (lightly modded) - Rega Brio3 - B&W602 S3

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thanks for the reply.

so even taking a small step up to say a devil sound would be a decent change eh?

i was thinking of baby steps because its not in my budget to drops thousands but i would like to upgrade now...

 

Samsung 2TB SSD external drive > Oppo 205 USB in > McIntosh C45 > Proceed AMP5 > Mirage HDT Speakers > Velodyne HGS15 Sub // Nordost Blue Heaven Cables, PS Audio Quintet, OWC 2TB Mercury Elite Pro Firewire

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While there are a spectrum of solutions, at least in my mind there seem to be 3 price tiers. Here are some options you might consider (note that there are more out there, but here are some popular options).

 

Price bracket 1:

HRT Streamer (and plus versions) $100 and $300 respectively, these were just reviewed over at 6moons and given quite the thumbs up. No frills, good audio quality, but since you seem to have the rest of your system in place this might be just the ticket.

 

Creative emu 0404 is around $200. This is more aimed at the professional crowd, but has a wealth of features and has been generally reported to have solid sound quality even if it isn't the champ in the fit n finish department.

 

Kingrex (UD-01) and trends (UD 10.1) also make simple usb dac's in the $200 range. Made in china, taiwan, etc, but with solid build and good sound.

 

Price Bracket 2:

Benchmark DAC1 and spawn (from $1200 to $1800 depending on features). Clearly, a step up in sound and features, this might be the bracket to skip for you since it is more of a compromise in cost/ sound quality versus waiting until you can spring for the very best. Still, the benchmark has become kind of the measuring stick of the usb dac world and for what it does, the price is impressive.

 

Wavelegnth Proton ($900) The bottom of the ladder for the wavelegnth family of dac's, but built on the same core as the rest of the family which has garnered much praise.

 

Price Bracket 3:

Ayre QB-9 ($2500) Ayre's new usb dac built on the same usb technology as Gordon Rankin's Wavelegnth family, but for those who want to lose the tubes. USB in, analog out, sound quality paramount.

 

Weiss DAC2/Minerva ($3000/$5000) These two are the pro and audiophile versions of the same firewire dac. I think all versions of the mini kept firewire, but you would want to check on this. Another top flight dac, this one built upon a different technology (pros and cons of which can be found elsewhere on this site ad nauseam). I think if I had the money I'd save up for this one with a copy of Amarra lite ($400)

 

Anyhow, hope this wasn't too overwhelming. It can be a jungle. My money is on the first until you can afford the last. Apologies to the dac's who didn't make the list. Honorable mentions go to Bel Canto, Berkeley, and Empirical Audio.

 

PS Audio Quintet > Powerbook (iphone with apple remote app) > HRT Streamer II > Kingrex Pre-amp > Kingrex QS-01 > Devore Fidelity Gibbon 7.1\'s

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I think Audio Newb is pretty close with their assesmeny there but would add a few more bits...

 

Group 1: I would add in devices such as Cambridge Audio DAC Magic and Musical Fidelity V-DAC - both around £200/$450 connected via either USB or optical from the Mac Mini. Also worth looking at is the Apogee Duet at similar cost.

 

Group 2/3: Pretty much spot on. Also worth considering Bryston BDA1 and other "HiFi" DACs such as new Naim DAC. The "HiFi" DACs tend to benefit from using a separate FireWire interface or higher end digital interface card such as the Lynx AES16 though try can also be connected via optical from the MacMini.

 

Group 4: Above the aforementioned DACs come devices such as dCS's various offerings; Berkerley Alpha DAC; and many others which take your sound quality to another level. These tend to require a high end interface as very few are equipped with good computer interfaces.

 

Once you get to Groups 3 and especially 4 the difference tend to be down to preferences rather than one being clearly better than the other (at similar prices). My advice would be to start with something from group 1; then decide how much you want to spend and try to get some demos of higher end DACs; probably using the Amarra software.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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This is extremely helpful folks.

 

I think I will start with category one (which it hasnt been quite mentioned, but I am assuming this will be a noticeable upgrade to the mini outputs)

 

Then enjoy it for a year or more until some of the category 3 products start showing up on the used market for considerable savings.

 

Currently my HD is hooked up using firewire and only my USB is used for mouse/keyboard. With those high end fireware dacs and only one firewire port on the mini, is there a problem daisy chaining the HD and DAC? Also when i end up with my category one product, should I be thinkin USB? or Digital output from Mini. how does the "remote" app on iphone control voume with these devices?

 

Samsung 2TB SSD external drive > Oppo 205 USB in > McIntosh C45 > Proceed AMP5 > Mirage HDT Speakers > Velodyne HGS15 Sub // Nordost Blue Heaven Cables, PS Audio Quintet, OWC 2TB Mercury Elite Pro Firewire

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Connections: both USB and optical can give good results - at this level there's not a huge difference but if you get a device with both then worth the cost of a cable to try the alternatives. FireWire works fine daisychaining HDD and DAC.

 

iTunes remote: you're best to leave the iTunes volume at maximum and control the level on your pre-amp, however a small reduction (down to 75-80%) doesn't usually affect sound quality too badly if the convinience is important to you.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Most of the category one dacs I've mentioned are usb only, so not much choice there. Where computer dacs are concerned optical is becoming a somewhat secondary concern although I do agree with Eloise. If you get a dac that supports both, might as well try both and trust your ears. And yes, all of the products mentioned should be a solid step up from the analog outputs.

 

Also agreed on volume control, with a nice preamp you should set the computer to max and leave it. There are good setup guides at benchmark, wavelegnth, and ayre sites that will help you get the optimal sound out of any usb dac.

 

As for daisy-chaining, I would be a little hesitant to do this. In theory you should be totally fine, however, in the world of computer audiophilia and greater audiophilia in general i think the mantra is "everything affects sound quality." Thus at least for my money I think I might switch to a usb hdd if you go the firewire route. But again, you can always try it and see if you hear a difference.

 

PS Audio Quintet > Powerbook (iphone with apple remote app) > HRT Streamer II > Kingrex Pre-amp > Kingrex QS-01 > Devore Fidelity Gibbon 7.1\'s

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I'm a fan of pro audio gear when looking at computer DACs, as they seem to be best value (if not best looking) due to having been in use/development longer than audiophile 'computer' dacs.

 

What is a computer based DAC? - those which can connect to computers without special sound cards. I call those that cannot connect via the usual computer interfaces 'legacy' DACs, for the reason that they are a legacy of the audiophile industry's separation of the CD player into transport and DAC, and invariably feature their best sound via Coax S/PDIF or AES/EBU. (Eloise seems to refer to these as 'hifi' dacs above, but I could be mistaken).

 

Mac Minis can support Firewire, USB and TOslink / Optical output. That's three out of the four major types of DAC interfaces, so plenty to choose from without worrying about the 'legacy' DACs, IMO.

 

Back to the grouping of the AudioNewb: Apologies, but I'll be adding comments to both AN's comments as well as Eloise (Audio_ELF).

 

I would second the recommendation of the Apogee Duet as a very good 'entry-level' DAC, (i.e. group 1). Indeed, that would be my top recommendation to you. If that's too steep a price, the Music Fidelity would be secondary choice, again due to value - MF 'budget' gear usually eschews standard form factors in favor of the best sound (and of course, often looks unique). The Duet also looks a bit out of place in an audiophile setup, but in a space age, contemporary kind of way.

 

As for Group 2 (price wise), I would recommend the Metric Halo ULN-2 (another pro audio device) as most likely to keep you from wanting to upgrade. I own this piece, and it's kept me from upgrading thus far, but it's WAF is low. I'd second the Wavelength Proton as a nice piece of electronics especially if you can benefit - now, or in the future - from it's unique features (i.e. portable, great headphone amp, volume control). If you can, it will have a useful life as a second DAC after upgrading.

 

As for other gear (pro audio) in this group - the Lavry DACs are quite good. Despite my penchant for pro audio gear, I am NOT a fan of Benchmark, but those who prefer a lean, sterile sound seem to like it.

 

Group 3 - My personal choice in this range is the Weiss DAC2, although the Ayre Async USB Dac and the Wavelengths would be great choices as well, IMO. I would NOT personally invest in a DAC in this price range that was NOT either Async USB or Firewire, but that's just personal opinion.

 

Group 4 - I'll disagree with Eloise that this takes your sound to a whole new level (note I'm talking about $5k range here, not the exorbitant dCS gear). As an example, the Weiss DAC2 (aka Minerva in audiophile garb) holds it's own with the other DACs in the $5k range, indeed many prefer it against the likes of the Berkeley Alpha, but you're not ready for this category yet, so plenty of time to listen for yourself.

 

One thing to note about DACs, that might be obvious, but many seem to forget. DACs have both a 'digital' and an 'analog' section. Often I read the argument that DACs are not as different from one another as other gear - i.e., there's not nearly as much difference between DACs as between say, preamps, CD players, etc. I would disagree. Most of the discussion around DACs centers on the digital side of things, but each and every DAC also requires an analog section, and this is just as important a factor in the sound (more so at the higher price ranges) as the digital section.

 

I'd spend at least as much on an entry level DAC as you've spent on your most expensive set of cables/interconnects.

 

BTW, you didn't mention your source gear, which would give us a better clue about your setup.

 

Cheers, and don't forget to enjoy yourself.

 

All the DACs I've recommended, I would buy myself, or recommend to my best friend.

 

Clay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interesting device, but unless I'm missing something it's a brand new 'legacy' DAC, as it seems to only accept the S/PDIF variants as input, which for most modern computers means your choices as inputs are either Toslink or purchase of the $700 Lynx card.

 

Definitely one to keep an eye one, in any event.

 

Dan, any idea how this works? Do they just throw away the clocking info coming from the source (i.e. computer)? Otherwise I guess I don't see how you'd get true value of a super accurate clock.

thoughts?

 

clay

 

 

 

 

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The Devilsound, Bryston and Benchmark DACs are all available for in home evaluations with 30-60 day return policies. However any of the DACs on the CASH list are so highly regarded that even if you decided on a DAC without a return policy or you kept the DAC beyond the return period, it would not be hard to sell them on the used market at a slight discount (assuming you keep the equipment in mint condition).

 

I have two of the DACs from the CASH list and within the year I plan to get another. There are no returns here.

 

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my advice would also be group 1 ...

 

and here particularly the EMU 0404 (its as ugly as they come) ... but it is one of the few USB DACs that can play 24-96 and 24-192 files ...

 

I would hate to lose that ability, once you heard hi-res music, there is no way back! ... (i doubt it will sound better or worse on 44.1/16 than others in this group ... but the hi-res benefit is easy worth 50% of the emu's price (180 buck on amazon))

 

best of luck al

 

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Does the EMu support 24/192 on MacOS - I know it didn't when it first was launched and last time I lookedthe web site still gave MacOS as limited to 24/96.

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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I have the Devil Sound V2 DAC and I have been very impressed with the quality of sound it produces. It will be a large improvement over the onboard DAC on your mac. You should immediately hear a positive difference with your system.

 

You can certainly spend more money on a DAC but the Devil sound/Mac combo has rivaled my very expensive Meridian G08 CD Player, I now use my Mini Mac exclusively. Give the devilsound a try for while, it's cheap enough and has a 60 day trial. I purchased it for my laptop because it's portability & size but I now use it in my main system. Go figure.

 

Cheers

 

PS: Any well reviewed outboard usb DAC ($200+) (and there are many good ones to choose from) will sound significantly better than what you have in your Mini Mac. With the right $1000-3000+ DAC you should reach a level of digital nirvana.

 

Also, look into a Apple iTouch as a remote control for your Mini Mac music server. It's a very useful and practical feature.

 

Lyngdorf TDA2200 int.\ Accuphase E-211 int.~ Totem \Mani's & "The One\" monitors~Bryston BDA-1 DAC~Halide HD DAC~Micromega Transport~AnTi cables & Synergistic Research cables~JohnBlue JB3~(mod) Totem orig. Model One monitors[br]Mini Mac,1.8ghz Core 2 Duo

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