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AMP vs DAC ...further exploration


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So it seems most people believe a DAC has a bigger impact on fidelity than the AMP.

I used to believe the same until I got a much better AMP.

 

Since it seems many people have an Ifi here, and they come pretty well respected, I am curious....

 

Do you think an ifi micro on a denon receiver will sound better than a ifi nano on a mcintosh amp?

 

I used think that a DAC would mean a bigger difference than an amp too, until i took a big step up in the amp dept.

I personally have tried many dacs from 200 to 2000, and i really could not say one sounded phenomenally better than the other...but going from a $1k marantz to a $2K mcintosh, i could tell a BIG difference.

 

 

I am curious what amps/dacs others are using that said the DAC made a bigger difference.

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A lot depends on the speakers.

 

I had a Marantz and the KEF Q series and it was a good match.

 

Once I upgraded to the KEF R series though the Marantz was out of its depth, could never get the KEFs singing like I'd heard at the demo and other places.

 

I needed to go higher up the amp chain to get the best out of my speakers.

 

This is especially true for some brands like B&W, not so much for KEFs.

 

That said I have seen huge disparity between DACs too. Rega, Arcam, Schiit are a few brands that make a huge difference even at a budget. I had an Arcam amp and DAC and it put out some of the best music ever and at real world prices too.

 

People pay 3 times that much for a server without streaming functionality and without a DAC. In this case they would be perfectly right in their reasoning that the source/transport has the most impact.

 

Anyways I've seen both, DACs and Amps making a huge difference, so it cannot be tied down to just one component.

 

Personally, I could go back to living with my Arcam DAC anyday... cannot think of an amp that did that for me.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world - Martin Luther

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I think the synergy between amp and speaker is key. So if you have an underpowered amp that struggles with driving the speakers vs. an amp that barely has to break a sweat to drive them, the result will be bigger than the DAC. But if the amp and speakers are matched well then I think the difference in DAC will be more noticeable.

 

But the old cliche, it sounds as good as the weakest link, likely holds value too. If your power supply is shite, will you hear the difference between a 1k vs. 5k DAC?

 

The other thing is that someone with a 10k€ DAC might say it was the DAC that made a huge difference but yet someone else with a 100€ DAC said that the Amp made a far bigger difference. Synergy in your system is important.

 

McAmps are well built and sound great, so I would not worry too much.

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A lot depends on the speakers.

 

I had a Marantz and the KEF Q series and it was a good match.

 

Once I upgraded to the KEF R series though the Marantz was out of its depth, could never get the KEFs singing like I'd heard at the demo and other places.

 

I needed to go higher up the amp chain to get the best out of my speakers.

 

This is especially true for some brands like B&W, not so much for KEFs.

 

That said I have seen huge disparity between DACs too. Rega, Arcam, Schiit are a few brands that make a huge difference even at a budget. I had an Arcam amp and DAC and it put out some of the best music ever and at real world prices too.

 

People pay 3 times that much for a server without streaming functionality and without a DAC. In this case they would be perfectly right in their reasoning that the source/transport has the most impact.

 

Anyways I've seen both, DACs and Amps making a huge difference, so it cannot be tied down to just one component.

 

Personally, I could go back to living with my Arcam DAC anyday... cannot think of an amp that did that for me.

 

This isn't the case in my scenario.

I literally test drove not less than 100 different pairs of speakers in my home over the last 2 years in ranges from $100 to $2000 with Denon, Marantz, NAD, Sony, and a few others within a 1K amp/receiver budget. The combo i finalized with sounded the best.

I tried several dacs from $100 to $2000. There was a jump from $100 to $300 (dargonfly to ifi), but nothing else i tried sounded significantly better. I couldn't even say that any dac sounded better than the internal dac in the marantz, and i finally dumped all the dacs, and just used the internal dac in the marantz, playing dsd,flac, and wav files from a flash drive. Didn't even need to worry about which cable to use (grin)... Then, after getting the mcintosh, even the one dragonfly (i saved for pc usage), connected to the mcintosh blew me away. It wasn't like trying to tell could i really say which dac sounded better, that i had difficulty with....it was a "WHOLE NEW BALLGAME". a new plateau.

 

I just summarize that if anyone is contemplating jumping the game from a $200 DAC to a $1000 DAC or more, consider putting that difference in the amp instead...you will be much happier.

 

It may be that people that said DAC over AMP already have already shopped $3K+ amps and they found bigger difference in DAC in that price range. But i would have a big time difficulty with anyone saying DAC over AMP in lesser systems...and if they still suggest DAC over AMP, i want to know what they have actually tried.

 

for the record the speakers I ended up with after over 100 models from $100 to $2000 were a used pair of B&W CDM 1NT. I also liked paradigm studios v5, and i think the marantz and mcintosh both drive them fine....the mcintosh is just a whole new level.

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I think the synergy between amp and speaker is key. So if you have an underpowered amp that struggles with driving the speakers vs. an amp that barely has to break a sweat to drive them, the result will be bigger than the DAC. But if the amp and speakers are matched well then I think the difference in DAC will be more noticeable.

 

But the old cliche, it sounds as good as the weakest link, likely holds value too. If your power supply is shite, will you hear the difference between a 1k vs. 5k DAC?

 

The other thing is that someone with a 10k€ DAC might say it was the DAC that made a huge difference but yet someone else with a 100€ DAC said that the Amp made a far bigger difference. Synergy in your system is important.

 

McAmps are well built and sound great, so I would not worry too much.

 

I haven't jumped from 1K dac to 5K dac, so possibly most people that said DAC over AMP have much higher priced systems....but i would have difficult time believing someone would say DAC over AMP on lower priced systems that actually tried a higher price amp...

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This isn't the case in my scenario.

I literally test drove not less than 100 different pairs of speakers in my home over the last 2 years in ranges from $100 to $2000 with Denon, Marantz, NAD, Sony, and a few others within a 1K amp/receiver budget. The combo i finalized with sounded the best.

I tried several dacs from $100 to $2000. There was a jump from $100 to $300 (dargonfly to ifi), but nothing else i tried sounded significantly better. I couldn't even say that any dac sounded better than the internal dac in the marantz, and i finally dumped all the dacs, and just used the internal dac in the marantz, playing dsd,flac, and wav files from a flash drive. Didn't even need to worry about which cable to use (grin)... Then, after getting the mcintosh, even the one dragonfly (i saved for pc usage), connected to the mcintosh blew me away. It wasn't like trying to tell could i really say which dac sounded better, that i had difficulty with....it was a "WHOLE NEW BALLGAME". a new plateau.

 

I just summarize that if anyone is contemplating jumping the game from a $200 DAC to a $1000 DAC or more, consider putting that difference in the amp instead...you will be much happier.

 

It may be that people that said DAC over AMP already have already shopped $3K+ amps and they found bigger difference in DAC in that price range. But i would have a big time difficulty with anyone saying DAC over AMP in lesser systems...and if they still suggest DAC over AMP, i want to know what they have actually tried.

 

for the record the speakers I ended up with after over 100 models from $100 to $2000 were a used pair of B&W CDM 1NT. I also liked paradigm studios v5, and i think the marantz and mcintosh both drive them fine....the mcintosh is just a whole new level.

 

Were you running the $2000 DAC's through the Marantz receiver?

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You know, now that I think back more, the speakers and amp were the first place I made changes. The DAC upgrade did come much later. The speakers and amp combo became so much more revealing, which then caused me to have go upstream to keep lowering noise floor.

 

And I agree with the McAmps sounding really good: smooth, effortless.

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I think the synergy between amp and speaker is key. So if you have an underpowered amp that struggles with driving the speakers vs. an amp that barely has to break a sweat to drive them, the result will be bigger than the DAC. But if the amp and speakers are matched well then I think the difference in DAC will be more noticeable.

 

But the old cliche, it sounds as good as the weakest link, likely holds value too. If your power supply is shite, will you hear the difference between a 1k vs. 5k DAC?

 

The other thing is that someone with a 10k€ DAC might say it was the DAC that made a huge difference but yet someone else with a 100€ DAC said that the Amp made a far bigger difference. Synergy in your system is important.

 

McAmps are well built and sound great, so I would not worry too much.

 

In my experience, it isn't really THAT simple (I wish it were). The first time I heard a pair of Martin-Logan CLX speakers, for instance, it was with a pair of big-ass Classe monoblocks, and they were simply the best speakers that I had ever heard. The next time I heard them, was at a Magnolia Hi-Fi (Best Buy) as part of a M-L traveling dog-and-pony show. Magnolia, being a McIntosh dealer had paired the CLXs with a pair of the big Mc SS monoblocks (which I notice, they no longer sell) and a McIntosh preamp. I thought the speakers sounded lousy. They were veiled, thick sounding (almost slightly distorted) and after a few minutes, listener fatigue got the better of me and I wandered into another room where a pair of Martin-Logan Summit X speakers were being powered by a Marantz 100 WPC Integrated amp. The Summit Xs sounded so much cleaner than the CLXs that evening, that I can't help but conclude that the Martin-Logan CLXs did not "like" those McIntosh amps! The third time I heard the CLXs was at a Hi-Fi show where they were being powered by a pair of John Curl designed Parasound JC-1 power amps and a JC-2 preamp. Again, they sounded like I remembered them sounding with the Classe electronics, the first time I heard them, I.E. simply transplendant!

 

The speaker/amp interface can be very critical. Most of the time it isn't the difference between good sound and bad, but it certainly can be and with certain combinations, speaker cables can be factor as well. Again, usually they aren't, but in some cases they can be.

George

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The speaker/amp interface can be very critical. Most of the time it isn't the difference between good sound and bad, but it certainly can be and with certain combinations, speaker cables can be factor as well. Again, usually they aren't, but in some cases they can be.
+1

Impedance, efficiency and damping factor are but three factors that can influence the speaker/amp interface. Some speakers are notoriously difficult to drive while the opposite is true of others. Which is why I have difficulty with reviews of amplifiers that use a single pair of speakers or speaker reviews that use only one amplifier.

"Relax, it's only hi-fi. There's never been a hi-fi emergency." - Roy Hall

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - William Bruce Cameron

 

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In my experience, it isn't really THAT simple (I wish it were). The first time I heard a pair of Martin-Logan CLX speakers...,.

 

in my particular case...everything was the same...

speakers, amp, cables, room, etc...

 

just talking swapping out the amp made a MUCH more significant difference than switching out any dac ever did.

 

to the op, yes, i used dacs from $100 to $2000 on the marantz...if i would have to say that ANY dac sounded "better" than the intenral dac on the marantz, i would suggest it was playing from a marantz sacd sa8005 player with analog out to the marantz (or possibly dlna out a sony bluray)...there was no appreciable benefit of any usb dacs over playing dsd from a flash drive using the internal usb port on the marantz....but once i swapped out the amp to the mcintosh ma6500, it was like a "whole new listening level".

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When I've upgraded, it's been the component that at the time I felt was the "bottleneck" limiting overall performance of the system. I've upgraded my amp once and my DAC twice in 25 years. Each time I was very pleased. :)

 

So I guess from my experience either can be a significant upgrade. Depends what you're upgrading from, and on the rest of the system.

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 -> USPCB -> ISO Regen -> USPCB -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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in my particular case...everything was the same...

speakers, amp, cables, room, etc...

 

just talking swapping out the amp made a MUCH more significant difference than switching out any dac ever did.

 

to the op, yes, i used dacs from $100 to $2000 on the marantz...if i would have to say that ANY dac sounded "better" than the intenral dac on the marantz, i would suggest it was playing from a marantz sacd sa8005 player with analog out to the marantz (or possibly dlna out a sony bluray)...there was no appreciable benefit of any usb dacs over playing dsd from a flash drive using the internal usb port on the marantz....but once i swapped out the amp to the mcintosh ma6500, it was like a "whole new listening level".

The Mcintosh MA6500 is an old model that you bought second hand right? Probably would cost at least 7000USD today. What Marantz amp do you use?

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Within a recent two month period I upgraded my DAC and amp. First the DAC, and it was hard to believe the improvement in SQ of the new DAC over the old. It was as if one produced "hi-fi sounds", and the new one produced music. Sold the first DAC and never looked back.

 

Then I realized that my amp was likely the next bottleneck, and upgraded that. I went for a well-known amp brand that went for 4X the cost of the first amp, and although I expected an improvement, the magnitude of that improvement was enormous. I often have to force myself out of the listening seat at night now. Best system I've ever had. Now I'm looking for new speakers to match the new amp, as the speakers now seem to be the bottleneck.

 

So both can make a huge difference, but addressing the biggest bottleneck first seems a good way to go.

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As mentioned above I think the synergy between the amp and the speakers would be most important. I've tried newer amps, but my 1959 Dynacos really work well with my speakers with solid state taking on the below 65 Hz duty.

Dahlquist DQ-10 Speakers DQ-LP1 crossover 2 DW-1 Subs

Dynaco Mk III Mains - Rotel 991 Subs

Wyred W4S Pre Gustard X10 DAC

SOtM dx-USB-HD reclocked SOtMmBPS-d2s

Intel Thin-mini ITX

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The Mcintosh MA6500 is an old model that you bought second hand right? Probably would cost at least 7000USD today. What Marantz amp do you use?

 

from what i understand the amp was 3500 new, but retains it value very well...still sells for $2500 to $3000 on ebay.

i got it from original owner (my brother) The marantz is either a SR5009 or 5008, i forget which.

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Within a recent two month period I upgraded my DAC and amp. First the DAC, and it was hard to believe the improvement in SQ of the new DAC over the old. It was as if one produced "hi-fi sounds", and the new one produced music. Sold the first DAC and never looked back.

 

Then I realized that my amp was likely the next bottleneck, and upgraded that. I went for a well-known amp brand that went for 4X the cost of the first amp, and although I expected an improvement, the magnitude of that improvement was enormous. I often have to force myself out of the listening seat at night now. Best system I've ever had. Now I'm looking for new speakers to match the new amp, as the speakers now seem to be the bottleneck.

 

So both can make a huge difference, but addressing the biggest bottleneck first seems a good way to go.

 

 

so what amp/dac do you have now?

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from what i understand the amp was 3500 new, but retains it value very well...still sells for $2500 to $3000 on ebay.

i got it from original owner (my brother) The marantz is either a SR5009 or 5008, i forget which.

Yes so the MA6500 is in a different league prolly 8 or 9 times the cost of the Marantz receiver if you take like for like products at current prices. The fact that your Marantz sa8005 sounds better with the better amp suggests it is a very good source. In which case what aspect of the sound are you trying to improve by adding a DAC?

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Yes so the MA6500 is in a different league prolly 8 or 9 times the cost of the Marantz receiver if you take like for like products at current prices. The fact that your Marantz sa8005 sounds better with the better amp suggests it is a very good source. In which case what aspect of the sound are you trying to improve by adding a DAC?

 

I am not trying to improve anything at this point..the point of the thread was that in the past i always believed the AMP would have insignificant improvement by upgrading. I never even tried to upgrade my amp past the 1K old budget, figuring the law of diminishing returns. I was willing to spend $2K on a better dac, but after trying about 10 different dacs priced from $100 to $2000, i was underwhelmed with any improvement over the fidelity i was able to get out playing dsd files on a flash drive of the internal usb port on the marantz.

 

I figured it was about as good as it could get short of a good listening room, and without spending tons more.

 

I was just extremely surprised at how MUCH higher fidelity i was able to get by the Mcintosh amp.

 

THe whole purpose of the thread was that i read so many times that an amp wouldn't do much for the fidelity of a system, that it was so far down the line of what can be used to improve a system, that i never even gave it any thought. I NOW believe that in my price range, that the AMP is much more important than the DAC for fidelity.

 

I may be a minority (looks like 20 say DAC and 7 say amp or preamp), but i don't know of those who voted what their system costs are.

 

I just suggest to anyone that is considering jumping from a $500 dac to a $2500 dac, to possibly consider an AMP upgrade first....they may be surprised as i was.

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I am not trying to improve anything at this point..the point of the thread was that in the past i always believed the AMP would have insignificant improvement by upgrading. I never even tried to upgrade my amp past the 1K old budget, figuring the law of diminishing returns. I was willing to spend $2K on a better dac, but after trying about 10 different dacs priced from $100 to $2000, i was underwhelmed with any improvement over the fidelity i was able to get out playing dsd files on a flash drive of the internal usb port on the marantz.

 

I figured it was about as good as it could get short of a good listening room, and without spending tons more.

 

I was just extremely surprised at how MUCH higher fidelity i was able to get by the Mcintosh amp.

 

THe whole purpose of the thread was that i read so many times that an amp wouldn't do much for the fidelity of a system, that it was so far down the line of what can be used to improve a system, that i never even gave it any thought. I NOW believe that in my price range, that the AMP is much more important than the DAC for fidelity.

 

I may be a minority (looks like 20 say DAC and 7 say amp or preamp), but i don't know of those who voted what their system costs are.

 

I just suggest to anyone that is considering jumping from a $500 dac to a $2500 dac, to possibly consider an AMP upgrade first....they may be surprised as i was.

Sure, was just pointing out the two amps are not in the same league and should be compared too much. Regarding how best to allocate budget, you're system might cost 10K new, so it's a question of how best to allocate those funds and spending the majority on the amp might be the way to go.

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Sure, was just pointing out the two amps are not in the same league and should be compared too much. Regarding how best to allocate budget, you're system might cost 10K new, so it's a question of how best to allocate those funds and spending the majority on the amp might be the way to go.

 

My stereo system is only my amp and speakers. I just sold my $1k turntable and $20K worth of vinyl. I do have a decent sub, but i get enough bass out of my bookshelves that i rarely even turn the sub on....so my entire system was $500 (SR5008 or 9) and $500 Speakers (B&W 1NT)....i ditched the DACs and opted to just play mostly DSD files (&some flac/wav) on flash drive and play in internal usb port on marantz. I was willing to spend $2K if i could get appreciable improvement, but was unable to with USB DACs.

 

So my stereo system basically went from a $1K system to $3K system with the amp upgrade....i will keep the marantz though for audio/video system.

 

NOTE: i just checked, my marantz is a SR5009 (bought openbox unit at bestbuy for 40% off when it was current model...i think it retailed for $900)

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My stereo system is only my amp and speakers. I just sold my $1k turntable and $20K worth of vinyl. I do have a decent sub, but i get enough bass out of my bookshelves that i rarely even turn the sub on....so my entire system was $500 (SR5008 or 9) and $500 Speakers (B&W 1NT)....i ditched the DACs and opted to just play mostly DSD files (&some flac/wav) on flash drive and play in internal usb port on marantz. I was willing to spend $2K if i could get appreciable improvement, but was unable to with USB DACs.

 

So my stereo system basically went from a $1K system to $3K system with the amp upgrade....i will keep the marantz though for audio/video system.

 

So what is your source now?

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So what is your source now?

 

at the moment, i am using the dragonfly which i kept for my pc usage when i sold the other 10 dacs.... I just (moments ago) repurchased a Korg Dac that i once owned. The Korg doesn't get great reviews, but what many people don't know (but paul here knows), that the software that comes with it is phenomenal for DSD. The software makes a much bigger difference than the DAC itself. Whether you use AUdiogate with an IFI or Korg, marantz, sony or whatever DAC, it makes the bigger difference than the DAC itself also. Sounds much better than jriver or foobar. It's simplistic interface is lacking, but i don't know what the hell it does, but it sounds great, and will upscale everything to DSD rates.

 

I also started a thread in the dacs forum to see if anyone has been happy with any dac upgrade to get more input. Regardless, if i use any external dac, i will also own a KORG for the audiogate software alone.

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I just summarize that if anyone is contemplating jumping the game from a $200 DAC to a $1000 DAC or more, consider putting that difference in the amp instead...you will be much happier.

 

Well, have you listened to a Lampizator Chipless, Tubed DSD DAC?

Dedicated Line DSD/DXD | Audirvana+ | iFi iDSD Nano | SET Tube Amp | Totem Mites

Surround: VLC | M-Audio FastTrack Pro | Mac Opt | Panasonic SA-HE100 | Logitech Z623

DIY: SET Tube Amp | Low-Noise Linear Regulated Power Supply | USB, Power, Speaker Cables | Speaker Stands | Acoustic Panels

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Of course you are entitled to your own opinion, but what you are taking out of the experience as you described it is not what I would. Upon testing 100 speakers and several DACs with two amps, you are stating that the amps are more important to the sound. My thought was that your first amp was faulty, shitty or had something set wrong (in the event that it had an internal processor) and it was masking the differences between things. It only takes one screwy component to wreck things IME.

This isn't the case in my scenario.

I literally test drove not less than 100 different pairs of speakers in my home over the last 2 years in ranges from $100 to $2000 with Denon, Marantz, NAD, Sony, and a few others within a 1K amp/receiver budget. The combo i finalized with sounded the best.

I tried several dacs from $100 to $2000. There was a jump from $100 to $300 (dargonfly to ifi), but nothing else i tried sounded significantly better. I couldn't even say that any dac sounded better than the internal dac in the marantz, and i finally dumped all the dacs, and just used the internal dac in the marantz, playing dsd,flac, and wav files from a flash drive. Didn't even need to worry about which cable to use (grin)... Then, after getting the mcintosh, even the one dragonfly (i saved for pc usage), connected to the mcintosh blew me away. It wasn't like trying to tell could i really say which dac sounded better, that i had difficulty with....it was a "WHOLE NEW BALLGAME". a new plateau.

 

I just summarize that if anyone is contemplating jumping the game from a $200 DAC to a $1000 DAC or more, consider putting that difference in the amp instead...you will be much happier.

 

It may be that people that said DAC over AMP already have already shopped $3K+ amps and they found bigger difference in DAC in that price range. But i would have a big time difficulty with anyone saying DAC over AMP in lesser systems...and if they still suggest DAC over AMP, i want to know what they have actually tried.

 

for the record the speakers I ended up with after over 100 models from $100 to $2000 were a used pair of B&W CDM 1NT. I also liked paradigm studios v5, and i think the marantz and mcintosh both drive them fine....the mcintosh is just a whole new level.

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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