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Help me decide upon a DAC?


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Hi all,


I'm totally stuck here, was hoping the house could help me out.


I have a new mac mini and I'm going to setup an audiophile headphone rig.


I was about to pull the trigger on a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic for £226 from Richer Sounds with a £340 + £95 mod from here:




Then a £105 PSU upgrade from here:



Bringing the total to: £766.


Or I could just say sod it and buy a Naim DAC for £1950 on 12 months interest free credit at a swallowable £162.50 a month.


I just can't decided, would like some comments for and against each one thanks, and be nice this is my first post here!




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Hi jw,


Greetings from Sydney.


I purchased the Benchmark DAC a month ago and connected it to a Dell PC using a Media Monkey / Vista combination and it worked straight out of the box via the USB. I am playing B&W Society of Sound 24Bit FLAC into Adam A7 active studio monitors...... and the sound is awseome.


I am not 100% sure if what I am playing is bit perfect but it certainly sounds stunning ...... as if the performers are in the room with me. My experience with audio goes back to a Linn LP12 turntable with ittok arm via a naim nait amp into Linn Kann speakers. I bought these in London from Graham hifi in the early 80's.


My understanding from forums on this site is that if you connect this DAC, using either the optical or USB inputs, directly into the Mac mini playing iTunes, and making some very simple settings, you could be reasonably confident getting bit perfect playback.


The HDR DAC has several inputs including 3 coaxial, optical, USB and analogue and two headphone jacks. It is really a very high quality pre amp with its own volume control. It is on Chris's CASH list - look for his review on this site. There are also cheasper versions available if you do not need to flexibility of all the inputs - it varies from about $US1,000 - $US1,500.


Here are some links.








Another much cheaper DAC getting good reviews using its USB input is the musical fideliy V3 - much cheaper but also with much less flexibility than the Benchmark.




You should aslo consder the AYRE Q9, Bryston and Proton DACs .... just search them on this site.








The new Benchmarks have a remote and if you do not need one you can save some money - have a look at their site. I also noticed a gentleman on another forum with an older DAC1 for sale (exactly same performace as the HDR).





LOUNGE: Mac Mini - Audirvana - Devialet 200 - ATOHM GT1 Speakers

OFFICE : Mac Mini - Audirvana - Benchmark DAC1HDR - ADAM A7 Active Monitors

TRAVEL : MacBook Air - Dragonfly V1.2 DAC - Sennheiser HD 650

BEACH : iPhone 6 - HRT iStreamer DAC - Akimate Micro + powered speakers

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like Sennheiser HD 600/650, HD800 , AKG 701/702, Grado etc :



Audition a DAC with coax in (24/192) + M2Tech usb/coax converter :

comp > M2Tech hiface > coax 75ohm cable > DAC coax in > Lehmann Black cube linear headphone amp > headphones .


Do not waste your money on expensive DACs , the most important is the headphone amp (I highly recommend the above mentioned from Lehmann).



Cheeper solution :

comp > M2Tech hiface > coax 75ohm cable > Matrix Mini i DAC with hphone (cca 350US$ check ebay) coax in > Headphones.

( I use this with mac book pro when on the go, it drives Sen.HD 800 quite good, whereby no 1. with Lehmann is a real revelaton !)






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As a rule of thumb, I would say that a manufacturer has lower manufacturing costs than modders. Therefore, it would suggest that a more expensive DAC to begin with will give you more bang for your buck. Personally, I would go for at least a degree higher than the Cambridge stock before modifying it because the Cambridge is meant as a budget dac, so will have a weaker base to mod.


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  • 4 weeks later...

Once all the mods are added it would appear that you're in a new price class for the DAC anyway. At that point you'd be better served by the Benchmark, PS Audio or Lavry DAC product line. These products rely more on power supply isolation and less upon math to keep the signal pure. They also have better output stage electronics which figures very high on the price of the unit (and why the DacMagic is so much cheaper). I originally went with a DacMagic for it's balanced outputs which is, alas, where I learned how a lesser output stage can affect the sound in a very revealing system. Best of luck.


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  • 1 year later...

My first, and strongest, impression of the EE DAC is that it excels at portraying the space associated with a recording. Specifically, it always threw a huge lateral soundstage with lots of depth. Sound cues that normally fall within the space between my speakers suddenly jumped outside the boundaries of my normal horizontal listening plane. I could also clearly hear the space, or cushion of air, that surrounded individual instruments in, say, a string quartet or small jazz ensemble.




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Serioulsy if it were me I would not bother spending all that money on the upgraded DM, it will be difficult to sell on at an inflated price when you decide to sell it, which at some time you probably will.


I tried the Naim Dac myself and was not that impressed to be honest, its not a £2k Dac thats for sure, if your going from a computer your also going to need a USB converter also.


I would look at an alternative Dac, the one I have just brought is the M2Tech Young, I have tried several Dacs in the past and found this one best to my liking, FWIW I have upgraded from a Dacmagic myself. The Young can be had for less than £1000 in the UK.


Dac technology has come on leaps and bounds and there are several Dacs on the market below £1000 which perform extremely well.


Hope this helps




Sources are: Mac Mini 2010 / Nottingham Analogue Hyperspace c/w Jelco 750 D and Denon DL 103 MC cartridge. Phono Stage: EAR 834P. Power Amp: Audio Note Empress Silver into a Hattor passive pre. DAC: Lampizator Atlantic and Humming Board NAA Speakers: Horns.pl Mummys. Cables: Duelund DC 16 GA  - Audionote AN-SPX 27 Strand RCA and Albedo Silver RCA and Western Electric WE 16 GA. All digital music played through a Mac Mini using Roon and HQP. Power Supply: Gigawat PC2-EVO

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in for eval, as noted in other threads, and it does not have a headphone out....nor does the Naim DAC that the OP is thinking of buying.....for a headphone system?? Sounds like there are more pieces to the OP's system, in which case spending big bucks on a DAC that will feed a headphone amp might be better served buying a Burson or another DAC/headphone-amp/pre kind of solution.


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Agree with ted_b that we need to know what is already in the system and what needs to be purchased. If headphones and headphone amp is already set, then that leaves the DAC (and of course the DAC interface via firewire, usb, or optical) to consider.


In my experience, headphones can be very revealing of weakness in the source. So, although a well-matched headphone-to-amp pairing is essential, I would not downplay the importance of the DAC and the music player software.


For example, if I'm listening as background music via speakers, I have no problem with iTunes. However when I'm listening with my AKG K-702s, then iTunes drives me crazy -- compared with what is possible via Pure Music, Fidelia, etc.


2013 MacBook Pro Retina -> {Pure Music | Audirvana} -> {Dragonfly Red v.1} -> AKG K-702 or Sennheiser HD650 headphones.

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