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Advice: buy a USB DAC or a USB - SPDIF Converter?


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I am a lurker on CA and am looking for some advice. My system consists of a recently purchased 2014 Mac mini music server connected by Toslink to an integrated amp/DAC, the Behold Gentle G192. My speakers are Behold Tanara. Because these speakers' crossovers are in the amp, not the speakers themselves, I need to keep the Behold Gentle in the system.) The Behold Gentle G192 DAC only has Toslink and SPDIF digital inputs, not USB. It also has analog inputs.

 

Currently, the sound quality of the Mac mini is not nearly as good as my Bel Canto CD3t transport. (I am using BitPerfect with iTunes.) Relative to my CD transport, the mini is lacking in dynamics and detail, while the frequency extremes, particularly bass, seem "truncated", for lack of a better word. I love the convenience of the mini, so am trying to figure out what I should do next to improve its sound quality.

 

The first path I am considering is to buy a USB-SPDIF converter, such as the Berkeley Alpha USB, Off-Ramp 5 + Dynamo, AP1 + PurePower, or AR-T Legato (if still available). My understanding from reading CA is that these improve sound quality relative to a direct optical connection between mini and DAC. The all-in cost of some of these converters, once cables are included, would approach or exceed $3K.

 

The second option is to buy a newer DAC with good asynch USB implementation and connect it to the analog inputs of the Behold integrated amp. I would consider DACs costing up to about $10K, but would prefer to stay below that threshold. The ones on my radar are the Schiit Yggdrasil, La Scala Acqua, Overdrive SE, Bricasti M1, or Totaldac (d1 single).

 

I know that, at least for some converters and DACs, I can take advantage of return privileges. But given the large number of permutations that are potentially involved, I was wondering if anyone can offer some guidance on which direction is likely to offer better sound quality: a USB-SPDIF converter or a new USB DAC? If anyone has any experience comparing these two options, I would love to hear about it! Thanks.

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Just looking up info on your Behold, it appears the digital to analog conversion is actually done by the output stage of the amps. Analog inputs are converted by an analog to digital converter and then back to analog at the output stage. I own a Tact unit which works in a similar manner.

 

So if you buy an external DAC, you will convert the digital signal to analog, the Behold will convert it back to digital and then the output stage back to analog. It seems unlikely adding an additional AD/DA stage in the middle would be helpful. So I would say it makes most sense to get a good USB to SPDIF converter. That way the signal stays digital until the output stage of the amp with no additional conversions.

 

Of the units you list I have only heard the Berkely Alpha. I can't compare it to the others, but the Berkely is clearly an excellent sounding unit.

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Esldude,

 

I guess I should have known more about how the Behold integrated actually works. Thanks for the explanation.

 

I guess the only way a USB DAC could possibly sound better than a USB-SPDIF converter is if the analog inputs of the Behold integrated somehow introduce less jitter than its SPDIF digital inputs. That seems unlikely, so I guess I will start shopping for a USB-SPDIF converter.

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Ideally you'd like to get a home demo or at least make sure your dealer has a fair return policy. Since your amp is doing the d-a conversion at the output stage a converter may not sound much, if any, better than the toslink output from you Mac.

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Another option: Sounds like your Behold amp will be best served by an SPDIF source. Have you considered an Ethernet Renderer, such as the Sonore Signature Rendu? An (well designed) Ethernet Renderer will remove your computer from anywhere near your audio system, and offer the best possible sonic performance, while reducing complexity and noise in the immediate environment of your audio system.

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Ideally you'd like to get a home demo or at least make sure your dealer has a fair return policy. Since your amp is doing the d-a conversion at the output stage a converter may not sound much, if any, better than the toslink output from you Mac.

 

I will certainly heed that advice -- I have bought a few audio components new over the years with no return privilege and regretted it.

 

But here is my thinking: My CD transport, a Bel Canto CD3t, was not particularly expensive ($1300) yet it sounds great through the SPDIF input on the Behold. My assumption/hope is that I can get the Mac mini to sound almost as good as the Bel Canto CD3t by adding a converter (or maybe an Ethernet renderer) to the mix. This hope is derived from various CA threads, including the epic "15 USB-SPDIF converters shootout" thread by Elberoth from a few years ago. He seemed to get great sound quality from some of the converters he tried, which roughly matched the sound quality of his CD transport, which is much more expensive than mine. Is this wishful thinking? (I know he was using a CAPS server, which is more optimized for audio playback than the Mac mini is.)

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Another option: Sounds like your Behold amp will be best served by an SPDIF source. Have you considered an Ethernet Renderer, such as the Sonore Signature Rendu?

 

That's an interesting possibility. At one point, I considered the Sonore Signature Rendu, given the fantastic reviews it has received, and was briefly in contact with Sonore about a possible demo. At the time, I hadn't bought a computer source yet, so a demo would have been pointless. I will let them know about my current setup and see whether they think the SSR would be a good possible solution.

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I'd try one of the better converters, but buy from a place with return possibilities.

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My DAC has a built in USB to I2S converter.

 

More info about h the converter.

 

It accepts USB without the 5+v, it's internally powered with very clean regulated power, it uses the Amanero USB chip, it's placed very close to the DAC chip for best performance.

 

Basically all Dacs have USB converters.

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That's an interesting possibility. At one point, I considered the Sonore Signature Rendu, given the fantastic reviews it has received, and was briefly in contact with Sonore about a possible demo. At the time, I hadn't bought a computer source yet, so a demo would have been pointless. I will let them know about my current setup and see whether they think the SSR would be a good possible solution.

 

X2!

that's the way to go if you wanna keep behold. By the way, seems a very clever machine.

 

Do you intend to use your mac as a server? Or do you have something like a NAS in the house?

 

You may find something like a used linn sneaky and use it purely as a renderer (there is good software to control it) but I expect that SSR has much better digital output.

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