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Need some quick advice on DAC & Speakers

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I just bought a pair of Focal Professional CMS 50 speakers from the apple store and was thinking about buying a Benchmark USB1 or equivalent DAC from them or possibly even the Wavelength Proton DAC. I have just under 2 weeks before deciding to return the speakers.


My application is to play FLAC files through my macbook pro pulled from my NAS drive (I recently ripped over 400 CDs). I also would like a nice preamp for a good set of headphones that I will buy later this year.


I have a sick feeling that I might not be going about this the right way.


Any advice would be appreciated.


Thanks a bunch,






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A speaker recommendation, a DAC recommendation, or a head-amp recommendation? Seems like you've got a lot of moving parts here.


I'm sure those are very nice speakers, but I've never heard them, so I'll refrain from commenting on them. From the choice, I'm assuming that you're interested in near field listening (ie, desktop?) with those speakers. If you have something else in mind (studio work), then the following might not apply. But, FWIW, there are a lot of options in the monitor price point. Regardless, the speakers I recommend to everyone looking at stand-mounts are the following (in no particular order):


Usher Be 718



Reference 3a MM de Capo i



Merlin TSM-MMe



Focal 1008 Be



Of the 4, I think the Reference 3a's are the most affordable (under $2k). I highly recommend AudiogoN for all your used component needs.


FWIW, I'd recommend the Proton of the two you mentioned. I just like the way it sounds, relative to the Benchmark. But if you're interested, I think the Lavry DA-11 might be an even better bet.


That said, moving away from the Benchmark means that you're going to need a separate headphone amp (unless you get the Lavry, which has it built-in). Ray Samuels makes some very nice (and reasonably affordable) gear for that: http://www.raysamuelsaudio.com/.


Note that FLAC isn't supported on the Mac via iTunes -- you'll need to convert them to AIFF (recommended) or something similar. Not a big deal, but something to remember. MAX is a very nice and easy-to-use (and free) converter tool.


Last but not least, the preamp/amp to hook all this together, which brings up an interesting point. You have a lot of options -- not the least of which are integrated vs separates, or even an integrated that includes a headphone amp and a DAC. If the latter is interesting, the Red Wine Audio Isabellina HA rolls up the pre/head-amp/DAC all in one $2500 package. This would restrict you to Redbook resolution, but to all reports, it's very nice. All you'd need then is an amp, and RWA has one of those too, if you're into that brand. Shifting to a Wyred4Sound amp might give you more (way more) BANG for your buck, especially if you choose an inefficient power-hog of a monitor.


Ok, I'll stop there. Too many threads to follow out, with their various options and/or consequences.


HTH, and feel free to clarify your setup and goals so we can home in a little better.


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You are approaching this exactly the right way IMO. I haven't heard the speakers, but they come from a reputable company so should be fine. Remember that you can assess the speakers to a certain degree with just the output from your computer. It won't be as good as the dacs you mentioned, but you can get a rough feel for the character of the speakers.


On to DACs. I have heard some of the pro audio dacs at the $1000 or so price point and I found that of the Lavry, Benchmark, Apogee, or PS audio, the only one that was definitely less engaging was the Benchmark. The Lavry, Apogee, and PS audio were too different to say which one was better. For you needs, you will want a pre-amp built in which leaves the Lavry, the Apogee, or as you pointed out, the Proton. The Apogee (with Firewire) and the Proton should hold an advantage because they have connections designed for computer use, while the Lavry DA10 has no computer interface and the DA11 has an adaptive usb interface which is theoretically more prone to jitter than the Proton's async usb. I don't think that you can lose whichever one you choose. One thing to note is that the Proton will integrate more smoothly with your OS because it takes volume control signals from it.


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Those speakers are active, duh. All the speakers I mentioned above, you'd need a separate amp, as none of them are active.


FWIW, Focal is a very nice brand. I think the CMS65 might be "better" in that they're bigger, have more range and more power. But if you like the sound, stick with what you've got. The KRK Rokit 8's might be a less expensive alternative, but comparable in performance to the CMS65. Again, I've never heard the KRKs, but they get good reviews.


As for the Benchmark, it's very nice. Having heard it and the Lavry, I can say that, IMO, they have the same style of sound and are at about the same price point, I'd go with the Lavry as it's way easier to listen to. I think the RWA Isabellina is a very nice all-in-one alternative too. Either one should be able to drive any set of powered speakers.


Best of luck.




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I don't think you are going about it the wrong way. I have heard the CMS 65 and they are remarkable. A bit soft on images but that was through a Grace 902 dac. I think the Benchmark would put things a little more in focus pardon the pun. The Benchmark has more defined bass and much better top end than the Lavry which I have also owned. Pay attention to power cable and Toslink cables as they will affect sound slightly.


If I were you I might be more inclined to go up on the speakers and get the 65s and worry a bit less about super high end dacs. Regards the Focal vs KRK, no contest the KRKs are bush league. And FWIW the Benchmark headphone amp is no slouch. It sounds very nice. No need for a preamp as the volume control on the Benchmark is perfectly adequate for a good setup.


Good luck and let us know what you decide.


BTW there are lots of lower cost passive speakers that may work just fine with you MAC. I looked long and hard at actives for my desktop use but eventually went passive because of costs.


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