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24 bit / 96 KHz USB DAC List


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I have been researching DACs for some time now and find it very interesting how many of them offer the USB and 24/96 but how few of them offer 24/96 through USB. Lets start a list of DACs that can do 24/96 over their USB connection. Please add to the list as you see fit because I only know about 1% of them.

 

1. Benchmark DAC1 USB

2. Empirical Audio Spoiler USB tube DAC

3. Wavelength Audio Crimson

4. E-MU 0404 USB 2.0

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

http://www.computeraudiophile.com

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Chris is correct (suprising!) in that many of the USB units seem limited to 48 KHz. There ARE a few 24 bit / 192 KHz units out there too though! - One quick way to scan around for USB DAC's is to surf to Musician Supply websites. Once you find something you are interested in, go do more research at the manufacturer's website. Here is one of my favorite online suppliers: Sweetwater Sound:

( http://www.sweetwater.com/c695--USB_Audio_Interfaces )

 

Another would be ( http://www.musiciansfriend.com )

 

I have never had any problems dealing with either of these companies. Great service from both. There are MANY other sites out there too ... Have some fun!

 

markr

"There are only two kinds of people: Those who understand binary and those who don't"

hear here

 

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I need a proofreader! Sorry, I chose a bad position for the placement of the " (surprising!) " portion of that post *LOL* . I MEANT that it was surprising that given that there are so many varieties of these out there, that so few of the USB DACs do more than 48 KHz sampling rate. _NOT_ that it was surprising that you were correct! That is what I get for posting first thing in the "morning".

 

Note to Everyone: please do your homework thoroughly when purchasing one of these units ( don't get in a holiday buying tizzy ) . It never hurts to ask the: "what are my options if I don't like the way it SOUNDS?" question when you order it - The two sites I posted are good about exchanges - I am sure that there are other good ones, AND bad ones out there too. ---come to think of it, your local music store (or national chain, like Guitar Center or Sam Ash, etc.) might have some demo units around the store too! Lucky you, if you live near Sweetwater Sound ( I THINK they have a 'brick and mortar' store......).

 

markr

"There are only two kinds of people: Those who understand binary and those who don't"

hear here

 

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Well I don't want to crap on this thread, but I am not ready to list a new topic on my own. The more I learn about the concept of replacing my CD/SACD players with one of my older Macs, the more frustrated/neurotic I become.

 

The question about DACs looms high in my list of priorities, though. As an audiophile veteran of more than 40 years, I would be reluctant to dispense with my highly modified CD player until I was convinced that the DAC I select is capable of reproducing vivid, natural sound equivalent to what I'm now getting. Conventional wisdom seems to prefer a few brands, of which the Benchmark seems to be at or near the top of everyone's list. At the same time, I recognize that the audio companies that have already begun to produce USB DACs add a little snake oil to their marketing. With units ranging in price from less than $100 all the way up into the mid- to- high thousands, one quickly realizes that you might be paying more for the sizzle than the steak.

 

The issue of 48 versus a higher sample rating may not be all that important to me since my personal goal is to archive about 1000 of my favorite CDs. Since the majority of these are of the original 16-bit variety (along with a very few HDCD oddities), my belief is that I would rather have a DAC that does 44.1 as best it can be done instead of one that's versatile enough to play back something I don't have.

 

Having said all that, I need to ask a question that deals with connecting the DAC to the home audio system. The consensus is that having the computer in one's main listening room introduces an unacceptable noise level. I see only two solutions to this: connecting the DAC to the audio system with a wireless device, or using an exceptionally long USB cable. Am I right about this? If so, can anyone tell me if there is a wireless device that can feed something like the Benchmark without imposing any sound degradation? If not, what is the longest that a USB cable can be?

 

Steve in Baton Rouge

 

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I think DACs are just like the rest of the audiophile equipment out there. Some is $100 and some is $100,000.

 

The sampling rate may not be that important to you, but I think if you spend a few thousand dollars it would be wise to have this capability. I do follow you line of thinking about getting one that does 44.1 at its best, but I don't think you have to chose between this and one that does 24/96. I guess we'll have to wait and see on this though. I am certainly no expert, but I don't think adding the 24/96 capability to a hi-end DAC would degrade 44.1 performance as long as there is no upsampling being done to 44.1 music. Again, just my opinion.

 

About noise level: There are many options here. The wireless devices are perfect for this. I would just use them as a transport and connect an external DAC. The long USB cable option can be done but the length limitation may stop you. Here are the specs from usb.org:

 

Q1: How long of a cable can I use to connect my device?

A1: In practice, the USB specification limits the length of a cable between full speed devices to 5 meters (a little under 16 feet 5 inches). For a low speed device the limit is 3 meters (9 feet 10 inches).

 

Q2: Why can't I use a cable longer than 3 or 5m?

A2: USB's electrical design doesn't allow it. When USB was designed, a decision was made to handle the propagation of electromagnetic fields on USB data lines in a way that limited the maximum length of a USB cable to something in the range of 4m. This method has a number of advantages and, since USB is intended for a desktop environment, the range limitations were deemed acceptable. If you're familiar with transmission line theory and want more detail on this topic, take a look at the USB signals section of the developers FAQ.

 

Q3: How far away from a PC can I put a USB device?

A3: With the maximum of 5 hubs connected with 5m cables and a 5m cable going to your full speed device, this will give you 30m of cable (see section 7.1.19 for details). With a low speed device, you will be able to get a range up to 27m, depending on how long the device's cable is. With a straightforward cable route, you will probably be able to reach out 25m or so from the PC.

 

Another option is to use a fanless or little PC (see the forum discussion) because the sound is almost inaudible. I lean towards using a MacBook because they are real quiet, you can connect it right to you DAC with a short cable USB or S/PDIF, and you have a monitor right there if you need it. Many external disks are very quiet as well. You can also connect NAS to your wireless router which puts your disks, presumably, outside your listening room. These are only a few of the available options, many of which I may not even be aware of. I am really interested to hear what you are thinking of doing because many of our readers are in the same boat or have already done something similar.

 

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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To answer your question, here are my thoughts on this project so far. Unlike many audiophiles, Chris, my budget is limited by the fact that I'm retired and living on a fixed retirement income. So, the money I can budget for this project is, of necessity, limited more than most others considering this possibility.

 

Given that, I'd like to use my older Mac Mini as the music server. But that, of course, means that I'd need to have a display sitting out in the LR, reducing the WAF (wife acceptance factor). I could store the Mini in a hall closet about 5 - 8 feet from the LR, then connect the video cable to the monitor when needed and store the display in the closet when the system is not in use. I haven't investigated how long a video cable can be, but I suspect this is not an issue. I've been using a Bluetooth KB & mouse with this Mini since the beginning. AFAIK this should be satisfactory to connect to the Mini in the closet.

 

I will be buying two large external hard drives, then mirror them so that I can have a backup. I had thought about network drives for this purpose for a while, but these are probably not as reliable (for my purposes) and they are certainly more expensive. A pair of terabyte drives is probably what I will use. Since I have a collection of more than 2000 CDs, it will be hard enough to decide what to eliminate, so smaller drives wouldn't make sense to me. If the Mini works well in the closet, I won't be faced with buying a fanless enclosure, so I would be able to select two less costly, but appropriate, boxes for the drives.

 

That leaves the DAC, and, maybe, a handheld device that would eliminate the need for the display in the LR. With so many forums with such disparate information is where my bewilderment comes into play. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I'm skeptical about 95% of the reports about DACs I've read, but I understand that most are well-meaning. (As an anecdote, back in 1969 I moved to a new city and was curious about reasonably-priced places to eat. When I checked into the hotel on the first day there, I asked the desk clerk where I could buy the best steak in town. She pointed out the window behind me to a restaurant across the street and said, "Most folks tell me that Bonanza serves the best steak they ever tasted." Maybe so.)

 

I'd like to keep my expense for this project to ~ $2500. The drives will take about a 40% of that, and I plan to buy an external optical drive (~$100) so as to keep the Mini's (brand new) internal drive untouched. The 60% left could be spent on the DAC and on any plausible wireless devices that would eliminate the need for long, unsightly runs of wire from the closet to the living room.

 

The hope is that everyone here will chime in to warn me of mistakes/disappointments that this setup would bring me.

 

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Hey Steve - This is very do-able. I certainly don't have unlimited funds either and I actually enjoy putting together solutions that are challenging instead of just buying "the best" and assembling it. I am with you 100% about the reviews on DACs and any other equipment. That is why I am limiting my personal reviews of products on the site. How helpful is a review that says the highs were thin but solid. That only means something to the writer. I definitely have some ideas and I too hope to hear from others on this. I would like to direct some users from other forums that really don't discuss this, but the moderators have really come down on me for this. I am certainly not attempting to take viewers away, but this is how it works I guess.

 

Anyway, I will post my thoughts in a little while. I just took delivery of a Benchmark DAC1 USB about 15 minutes ago and I have some listening to enjoy. Talk to you in a bit.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Steve - Here is what I would do if I were you.

 

Existing Mac Mini

Cost: $0

 

For a display what I would do is use a remote desktop application like ScreenRecycler or VNC to control your Mac Mini from another Mac somewhere else in your home. I am guessing once you rip all your CDs you will not be ripping as much. When you get a new CD put it in the Mini's external CD drive and then remote control it from your other Mac to run your ripping software.

Cost: $25

Another option here is to use software like netTunes that allows you to remotely control iTunes only. This is pretty slick and was designed for this exact situation. Cost is only $20.

 

Disk space and backup - I would buy a BUFFALO DriveStation Quattro. THis gives you 1 terabyte of disk mirrored (RAID 1) or 2 TB (RAID 0) but that doesn't meet your requirement for backing up.

Cost: $750

 

For your optical drive I would honestly use the internal Mac drive, but your requierment is an external and there are many options there.

Cost: ~$100

 

DAC - I thijnk this is the most important piece. I highly recommend the Benchmark DAC1 USB.

Cost: $1275

 

Total cost: $2,150

 

This leaves you with $350 to purchase a remote to control iTunes.

 

There are of course hundreds of options other than this proposed solution. It is just what I would do given the requirements.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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  • 2 weeks later...

 

Here are some other usb DACs I discovered.

 

This one has a very warm sound, upsamples and uses the Bur-brown chip:

http://www.psaudio.com/products/digital_link_iii.asp

 

Then Scott Nixon goes for the straight through- minimal signal path approach with this great little tube DAC:

http://www.audioreview.com/USBTDcrx.aspx

http://www.scott-nixon.com/dac.htm

 

The very high end USB DAC from Bel Canto:

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/bcddac3/dac3.html

 

And Finally, the USB receiver from Outlaw Audio- the world's biggest soundcard:

http://www.outlawaudio.com/reviews/reviews_990.html

 

 

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The Bel Canto DAC3 is going to be updated to support 24/96 natively over USB very soon.

 

The PS Audio unit intrigues me, but I am not sure about all the upsampling. I have heard good and bad things about it.

 

I have heard good things about the Scott Nixon products, but they get no points in the looks department. Fortunately most of us care more about sound quality.

 

I was unaware of the Outlaw product. For $900 it does quite a few things. I am interested in hearing if anyone has experience with it.

 

If anyone has additional info on these or other DACs, post away!

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

I've been researching DAC's and found a link to Head-fi.org/forums. They did a comparative review of 4 DAC's mainly aimed at headphone listening. They reviewed a Stello DA 220 MkII DAC with USB input and (I believe) 24/96 sampling. The reviewer preferred it to an earlier version of the Benchmark DAC1. Has anyone heard or had any experience with this DAC?

 

RHA

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I've been looking for the very detailed specs on this DAC and can't fid them. Specifically if it will do 24/96 over USB. Right now I don't think it does because there are so few DACs that do this and the ones that do usually make it clear they can do 24/96 over USB. Anyone got the manual?

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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There is a company in Cincinnati called UltraFi tha makes a USB Dac called the IROC. Their website is www.theultrafi.com . You can read about the IROC in addition the backround of the designer which is Larry Moore. I met Larry by accident when I was having problems with a vintage tube amp that I had purchased on Audiogon. That is when I heard his Mac Mini music server system with the IROC and his Monaco Amp(also described on the website). I was so impressed by the sound that I commissioned him to build a 4 watt S.E.T amplifier, a custom built IROC with a passive linestage and volume control to accomodate my phono preamp and a set of single horn speakers. This was completed with a refurbished IMAC fom Apple. I now find myself listening to the music server as much if not more than my vinyl.

 

iTunes->iMac->Uptone Audio Regen->UltraFi DAC 41->Bent Audio Tap->UltraFi S.E.T. Amp->Fostex BLH Speakers->Rythmik Audio Subwoofer

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I Googled the Stello DA220 MkII and found their website (aprilmusic.com). Their info states "Sample rate selectable: Bypass, 48, 96,192 default". "Supports up to 24/96 upsampling". "True 24-bit DeltaSigma DAC". But by their wording I'm still not clear if their claim of 24/96 is via upsampling. ( I know how you like converting the data). I emailed their headquarters and will let you know their answer. Cheers.

 

RHA

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markr

 

A different topic, one which I know very little about. There were some 24/96 reissues when DVD's first came out but it was really limited. I understand the issue of DAC's that can handle the higher resolution signal, I guess my question is how available the downloads are. I have read mixed info on it. I think Linn, a high end audio manfacturer who has done their own recordings for years has some stuff, but their offerings used to be their own talent with very limited catalog. It sounds like you have pursued this - Is Music Giants a valid source if you have a 24/96 capable DAC?

 

Sorry to be asking such a lame question, but I am in the early stages of my learning processes here and appreciate anyone who can help. I want to try to present this to our customers as a truly viable alternative to megabuck CD players and vinyl, not that they can't be great, and it is hard to do when you barely know what you are talking about. The ability to have access to high rez stuff would be a great enticement to people, I just keep reading conflicting things about it.

 

By the way, Musicians Friend is in our back yard here and we get ground service next day. Their return policy applies to virtually everything. I am a jazz guitar player wannabe and they even do high end guitars that way.

 

Thanks

 

Rick

 

 

 

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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just warmups to better ones, Rick. Not that that was a lame question, but we all do have to warm up. It is good to see you 'out and about' here! Come to think of it, lame questions are infinitely more useful than lame answers. Let's hope I do OK here.....

 

Well, the downloads are out there. There are undeniably not enough of them. Not for everyone anyway. For instance: I haven't found a high definition copy of Kim Fowley's "Animal Man" to this point. (note to self: Please use fewer obscure references) The selection is ....'growing'. I wish I could say that I had some information about Music Giants, but I do not. I have yet to 'get over there.' You must have missed, or not yet gotten to, the thread on CA about MG. Here it is: http://www.computeraudiophile.com/node/253

 

From reading your posts on CA, I know that you already 'feel' what 24/96 and beyond is capable of. For me, it is a Godsend. I really haven't liked CD's. To my ear SACD isn't really better. DVD audio is close, but like SACD the cost of equipment and media and then the uncertainty of the real future of the format doesn't warrant me spending my money on it. I was sick of the gimmicks to get me to purchase the same piece of music AGAIN quite some time back. I'll do it one last time, but only if it is 'right'. My heart is still back in the vinyl era. But I have been a popinjay on these subjects elsewhere on this site *grin*

 

I do like what I've heard at Linn and HDDT. Although the selection is limited on those sites, the quality of the sound is undeniable. I do so want this HD d/l thing to take off better than .... I don't know --- the ultimate noisemaker in d/l 'music' was Napster, right? --- that sort of selection- only this time making money for the artists too. So I will definitely get my digital butt over to Music Giants as soon as the budget allows. Yep - I was at work during the 'Free Music Friday' event yesterday (Free Music Giant d/l's) and MISSED it! (CHRIS.... ...... ............;)

 

We really have to get out and show the providers of this stuff that we want it by buying it. And then that we WANT MORE! That is how it is going to happen. This will require us to be adventurous. I'm working on that part of my budget now.....

 

markr

I spend WAY too much money at musiciansfriend.com/sweetwater/guitarcenter to not have a charting single......

 

 

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Hey Rick - MusicGiants is a valid source of 24/96 content. But for now it only works on a PC. They are working on Mac computability and should have it somewhat soon.

 

I think the high resolution factor will be huge in getting consumers to take the plunge. No physical media wars or physical media choices to make.. Just find any content up to 24/192 and you can play it.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Received a reply from April Music that the Stello DA220 MkII is fully 24/96 compliant and will upsample to 24/192. It has a multitude of input/output options plus USB and was the reviewers favorite. (He reviewed units from Aqvox, Meier Audio, Apogee and Stello). His review can be found at:

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f5/review-apogee-mini-dac-vs-aqvox-usb-2-d-mkii-vs-stello-da100-hp100-vs-corda-opera-226919/

 

Has anyone heard the Stello? Maybe you should get a unit for audition Chris??? Cheers,

 

RHA

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