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Low-end recommendation


SouthernMan
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I'm a first-time poster with probably a pretty simple question. First, I'd like to note that I've found this site extraordinarily helpful driven largely by the deep knowledge of its contributors. I've thoroughly enjoyed coming up to speed here on the latest computer audiophilia.

 

I've recently acquired some "vintage" high-end consumer-grade equipment: Denon AVR-5700 (140 wpc, Denon's "flagship" AVR 10 years ago) and JBL L5 floorstanding speakers (http://j.mp/dpCLYd). My initial attempt at computer audio has produced reasonable results by connecting one of the AVR's Toslink inputs directly to the output from my MacBook Pro with a low-end optical cable (from monoprice.com). Compared to my previous setup, the sound is very full and enjoyable. I also have a dual-boot pc with OS X and XP Pro available (with Realtek ALC889A audio).

 

Given the limitations of these components, I would like to optimize the sound they produce. But I'm concerned about throwing good money after bad; i.e., if these are not audiophile-grade components, then it probably doesn't make sense to insert an audiophile-grade DAC.

 

Until I can afford a more substantial upgrade, in the near-term I'm considering a few incremental enhancements: 1) PC-to-S/PDIF converter 2) cables 3) DAC. My main question is, for the very near-term, should I expect adding something like m2tech Hiface will notably improve the sound of the current system without adding an external DAC? Note the Denon uses the Burr-Brown PCM1704 DAC chips. I understand that the hiface would reduce the jitter that is probably present in my system, but would the other parts of my system limit the benefits? Thank you -

 

 

 

Synology DS » Gustard U12 (on order) » Denon AVR-5700 (just getting started...)

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Of the three items you are considering upgrading, I would say by far the DAC will give you the most bang for the buck. I have a Denon AVR-3805 in my home theater, and the DAC is OK for music, but it is not stellar. Perhaps that is because the DAC is optimized for home theater duties.

 

While your equipment may not be the "High-end" of two channel world, it should be able to produce enjoyable results especially if you are running in two channel direct mode. I feel that the performance of low cost DACs has improved by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years and you should hear an improvement in detail and musicality. There are many good DACs on the market. Here are a few affordable DACs to consider along with my personal opinion for what it is worth:

 

HRT Music Streamer II + (USB only) (Not perfect, but very musical. I have not heard the new II version.)

 

devilsound DAC (USB only) (have not heard this one, but it gets good feedback.)

 

PS Audio DLIII (Very warm sound with good bass. Reminds me of good analog. Not perfect, but I can listen to this DAC for hours, its very fun.)

 

Musical Fidelity V-DAC (Clean, sweet, and ever so slightly bright, and perhaps a little soft on bass. )

 

Cambridge Audio DAC Magic (Have not heard this one.)

 

A little more pricey:

Benchmark DAC 1. (Very detailed, a little bright, and analytical. )

 

 

 

 

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I would recommend you take a low jitter S/PDIF, it will cost least, but gain most.

This is the impulse response of Accuphase DP-500 driven by my Mac Book Pro

 

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_QtIX994Ul0c/SwtYZFmCBtI/AAAAAAAAAxY/soEcICje--Q/s1600/DP-500vsEC.png

 

Looks terrible...What's the hell? That's the result of phase shift and the root cause is jitter.

This is phase frequency response of Philips CD482 vs NAD502, both cheap and old .

 

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_QtIX994Ul0c/Sz9UwrpSWRI/AAAAAAAAA6s/EYs3lz449Dg/s1600-h/NAD502+FR+phase.png

 

CD482 looks much better. That's why it's famous of good C/P.

This is impulse response of ideal vs my MacBook Pro drives AK4380 DAC, which is based on AKM AK4380 evaluation board.

 

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_QtIX994Ul0c/SwtYPwjxeZI/AAAAAAAAAxQ/g2ZyyLH3NvY/s1600/AK4380+88.2K+IR+high.png

 

Looks the same as expensive Accuphase DP-500.

And this AK4380 driven by EMU-0404 USB, optical & coaxial.

 

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_QtIX994Ul0c/SwtY-86TH3I/AAAAAAAAAyA/siqzDGLwHjg/s1600/EMU-0404+Toslink+vs+Coaxial.png

 

Very close to ideal!

Thus, we can see, even the expensive Accuphase DP-500 does not handle any jitter from S/PDIF. You know they just take a S/PDIF receiver chip, which costs a few dollars, that's all... What's it different with your AV amp? Just better power supply, which cause some improvement, but not much on measurement...

All of us agree that Human ears are much sensitive than measurement. In other words, any difference in measurement result will cause hugh difference hearing by ears.

 

Here's some posts on my blog, sorry, it's in Chinese, but you can check graphs.

http://records2ear.blogspot.com/2009/12/jitterdacimpulse-response.html

http://records2ear.blogspot.com/2010/01/denon-dcd-1650aesony-xa3essony-scd-1-vs.html

http://records2ear.blogspot.com/2010/01/philips-cd482-vs-nad-502.html

 

 

MacBook Pro 15\" -> EMU-0404 USB -> AK4380 DAC -> Audiolab 8000B mod -> Spica TC-50/PMC LB1

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I have and run several different setups all into my processor and they sound great! Sure one is better than the other, but that is the deal with different gear. If you like the sound of the gear you have (computer audio aside) computer audio will make it better not worse. Spdif from the computer MB direct into the receiver being the exception IMO:) At the same time if the gear you have lacks in some area this is not going to make it better. My speakers lack in the low base range (I have medium size monitors) and the better it sounds the more I can tell I need a sub. I say keep the gear and up the computer interface digital or analog. Check if the receiver has an analog bypass mode. I use mine in bypass mode to avoid additional processing when I use my dac!

 

Jesus R

www.sonore.us

 

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I would point out that the Music Streamer II+ is a new asynchronous transfer mode that should reduce the jitter issues inherent in the USB format. The results remain to be seen as this device is new on the market. On the other hand, the Benchmark DAC has a sophisticated re-clocking system that is highly renowned for it's immunity to input jitter. The Cambridge DAC Magic uses the Anagram ATF upsampling and reclocking algorithm and should reduce jitter artifacts from the optical output to minimal levels, thought the USB on the DAC Magic is not ideal. The PS Audio DLIII re-clocks the input and is rated around 50 ps for jitter.

 

So, If you opt for a newer DAC, you might not be gaining that much more by getting a hiFace, though the hiFace would probably help your Denon's DAC. I also wonder about the value of the hiFace if it is going to be feeding one of the newer up-sampling DACs. Aren't the newer DACs just going to re-clock the input signal anyway? If so, the end result is going to resemble the jitter of the DACs own re-clocking circuit and not that of the hiFace.

 

 

 

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My main question is, for the very near-term, should I expect adding something like m2tech Hiface will notably improve the sound of the current system without adding an external DAC? Note the Denon uses the Burr-Brown PCM1704 DAC chips. I understand that the hiface would reduce the jitter that is probably present in my system, but would the other parts of my system limit the benefits?

 

Yes, the HiFace will notably improve the sound and there will be no parts in your system that explicitly degrade that.

You can be sure !

Peter

 

 

Lush^3-e      Lush^2      Blaxius^2      Ethernet^2     HDMI^2     XLR^2

XXHighEnd (developer)

Phasure NOS1 24/768 Async USB DAC (manufacturer)

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I would suspect that adding the m2tech would improve the sound of the DAC in the receiver since it is probably more sensitive to Jitter than some of the newer DAC designs. I don't think that the equipment would prevent you from hearing an improvement especially if you added a new DAC. Part of the fun of this hobby is gradually upgrading things as time and funding permits. Audiophiles are always striving for incremental improvements and most are never totally satisfied.

 

I would suggest trying an upgrade in your system to hear for your self. That's the best way to decide. Both Music Direct and Audio Advisor offer 30-day trials on equipment, so you could give an upgrade a try for 30-days. As long as your don't damage an item, you can ask for an RMA and get your money back. The only thing you would lose is shipping costs.

 

 

 

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"I would suspect that adding the m2tech would improve the sound of the DAC in the receiver since it is probably more sensitive to Jitter than some of the newer DAC designs."

 

That's true.

But how's the price of those newer low-jitter DACs?

And, the question of SoutherMan is "Low-end recommendation"...

 

MacBook Pro 15\" -> EMU-0404 USB -> AK4380 DAC -> Audiolab 8000B mod -> Spica TC-50/PMC LB1

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If it were me, I would look at a few different scenarios that could possibly build upon one another. And they are at differeing budgets.

 

1. Get a proper Toslink cable. - Wireworld or Van den Hul- Glass fibre - about $100 used.

2. Get a better Dac- Benchmark Dac 1 used $700

 

Use 1 until you can afford 2.

 

3. Get a hiface interface and good coax cable - $400

4. Get a medium grade Dac - Lots to choose from with all sorts of sound signatures - about $400-$500 used.

 

Use the 3 the hiface and cable into your Denon- Assuming it can take coax until you can afford 4

 

Have fun! Sounds like a nice system to start out with.

 

Oh, I forgot, if using itunes, get an outboard drive - you may hear a noticeable difference. Then perhaps try Pure Music for even more refinement.

 

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lazycatken "That's true. But how's the price of those newer low-jitter DACs?

And, the question of SoutherMan is "Low-end recommendation"..."

 

Option 3 was a DAC and no price point was set forth to define low-end. So, exactly what's low-end for one person may not be for another it's hard to say. However, the V-Dac occasionally shows up in the demo section at Audio Advisor for $226 and the original HRT Music Streamer+ is on sale for $199. Comparing that to the price of the hiFace, I would say were probably in range.

 

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"Oh, I forgot, if using itunes, get an outboard drive - you may hear a noticeable difference. Then perhaps try Pure Music for even more refinement."

 

Makes me wonder about the hiFace. At the moment, there is a specific list of players that will work with the hiFace. It looks like iTunes is the only option for the Mac at the moment. So, depending on that options are selected, if you opt for adding the hiFace, then I wonder if Pure Music is out? Hopefully, that will change with driver development, but wanted to point out there may be a conflict between Pure Music and the hiFace at first.

 

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#3 for sure. And I highly recommend the EMU 0404-USB DAC for a low cost solution that is great. There is a huge thread on this forum if you search for the above DAC. I'm very happy with mine driving Klipschorns.

 

Good luck.

Rod

 

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Thanks to all for your thoughtful responses. To clarify the financial constraints, I can bear $0-200 in the short-term and $200-600 in the year. It seems to me the choices in DACs are broad and require a lot more research on my part, but the price range is outside my near-term level. So, in the short-term it's either hiface (or a better converter alternative) or nothing. And, assuming I will get a DAC at some point, I would prefer not to invest in equipment I will throwaway.

 

I was pleased to hear from another CA poster who is successfully running hiface with Pure Vinyl on the Mac, so I expect Pure Music should work as well - even though m2tech only lists iTunes compatibility for the Mac.

 

bsn, could you help me understand:

"I also wonder about the value of the hiFace if it is going to be feeding one of the newer up-sampling DACs. Aren't the newer DACs just going to re-clock the input signal anyway? If so, the end result is going to resemble the jitter of the DACs own re-clocking circuit and not that of the hiFace."

 

Synology DS » Gustard U12 (on order) » Denon AVR-5700 (just getting started...)

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Well, I'd recommend if you can use jitter, quality but still low cost. Anyways, my mind goes on Robert Harding's being the newly-elect official of transportation groups. It seems that President Obama is going to spend most of his first term appointing people, and having them confirmed. His pick for the head of the TSA, or Transportation Security Administration, Robert Harding is a good pick though. He's a retired Army General, he served in the Defense Intelligence Agency (the military counterpart to the CIA) and he's made more than a few payday loans worth with his own private security agency. Let us hope this guy is able to head off incidents like the Underwear Bomber – it seems the ball got dropped pretty hard with that little incident.

 

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Although the hiFace is a fine product, especially if you are looking to do hirez. I cannot help but think that you will get more out of your rig with a new DAC. I have not heard, nor am familiar with your AVR, but most seem to be lacking for two channel. Even the ones with a bypass (including mine). Secondly Toslink seems to be the worst sounding PCM connection. Don't get me wrong. The hiFace will improve your sound, but a new DAC will probably offer you more. Here a lot of people are fixated on jitter alone, however another really big factor in the sound of the DAC is the analog filters/outputs. There are many fairly inexpensive DACs that may work for you. Presently the music streamers and v-dac appear to be hot. Both can be had from Amazon (ms+ = $200)or purchased via Audio Advisor. At the least, try a real glass cable for your toslink and I'd also demo Pure Music!

 

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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"Secondly Toslink seems to be the worst sounding PCM connection."

 

I feel you may be trying to infer something from what you may have read. If you really have tried very good toslink, I don't think you would be making a statement like that. If you have then we hear differently.

 

I have used toslink and very high end spdif coax and in many implementations with very good glass toslink, it is not the worst sounding. In fact, in many implementations vs typical usb and spdif coax, it is the best sounding at least with my macbook.

 

 

 

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Bixby you are correct in that I have not tried a high a very good glass toslink, can you suggest one for me to try? (The OP was looking for budget recommendations for his system though). You are incorrect that I was inferring from what I have read. I am speaking from personal experience , not speculation. Furthur more I have a monoprice cable such as his and other regular plastic ones. In all instances with half a dozen DACs including a Berkley Alpha, the (cheap) toslink has been the inferior connection. Hence my suggestion at the end to at least start by buying a glass one. Mostly what I was attempting to get at was that AVRs are not known to have great DACs for two channel. The computer alone is typically a lot better (less jitter?) than cheap transports and his $200 would probably be best spent not on a adapter or reclocker such as a hiFace, but one of the hot cheap DACs. Later, the DAC could be sold or used on a secondary system when replaced by another (more expensive?) one. I was not attempting to knock toslink, but take into account the options with $200 to spend and I still think a new DAC would be the best bet over something like a hiFace.

 

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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Hi Forest:

 

Hope that take on your handle is okay. Toslink cables vary as much as tires for a car. Think of your Berkley as a Porsche or Ferrari and your Monoprice Toslink as a set of re-tread stock car slicks. You probably will not get the handling you desire. Other plastic Toslink cables may sound better and some ebay medical grade glass Toslink cables may even sound worse than great plastic ones.

 

As for budget suggestions, for me I would buy a Wireworld 6 or the older 5+ which is on closeout right now or Van den Hul glass Toslink (the Optocoupler II, I believe). About $100 -$125 or less. That would give him a taste of what could follow and allow him to get the max out of his AVR dacs. Some are not too bad, especially considering the vintage speakers he will be using. It would be a good interim step.

 

And do not be too quick to put low jitter in the computer camp. A number of lower priced cd transports can have lower jitter specs than the pcs.

 

I agree, perhaps the hiface is not the best use of money when on a budget, but what it does do is get the bits out without adding a lot of jitter. He could go with a good lower end hot dac later but I am not sure they sound that great. A decent one is the E-Mu 0404 USB.

 

I would save up for a good DAC that rejects jitter and sounds very good, but again that is me. But there are lots of other choices than what I would do and that is up to the user.

 

cheers mate!

 

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"bsn, could you help me understand:

"I also wonder about the value of the hiFace if it is going to be feeding one of the newer up-sampling DACs. Aren't the newer DACs just going to re-clock the input signal anyway? If so, the end result is going to resemble the jitter of the DACs own re-clocking circuit and not that of the hiFace."""

 

The hiFace has a superior clock circuit when compared to the average USB bus, so it should output a stream with less far Jitter. This can improve the the sound coming from a DAC that is sensitive to input jitter. However, some newer DACs buffer the data in a memory chip acting as a buffer and re-clock the data internally via up-sampling, etc. So, if you have a DAC that does this, the buffer is going to largely negate the advantage of a low jitter input device as it is stored momentarily in a buffer. The DAC is then going to reprocess the stream using its own clock circuit and the jitter is going to be product of the DACs circuits, not the input device.

 

Also, check here for an affordable glass Toslink Cable: http://www.lifatec.com/toslink2.html

 

 

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No worries bixby, Forrest it is.

Thank you for the cable suggestions. Is there one you prefer over the other? Due to this discussion I will certainly experiment with this fuller. I still am not convinced about this being an appropriate expenditure for him.

 

If I assume you are correct in your analogy, then wouldn't this be putting Pirellis on a Pinto (more accurately on an old Cadillac). Do you have a $50-$75 toslink suggestion for him? $100-125 would be what, 5-10% system cost for an item that may well end up on his TV later. I am sure there are times when toslink may be the best solution- galvanic isolation for instance, but I don't hear people suggesting it over spdif, async usb or firewire.

 

I believe in source first, and prefer vinyl to digital. Due to living conditions, vinyl has been out for a while and I have spent a few years attempting to be satisfied with digital. It wasn't until I heard a mac doing decent usb that I could live with digital. I don't know why they sound better (hence the "jitter ?"), I chimed in here because I have direct experience that I thought relevant. This includes using a mac>hiFace>Halo C2 AVR connection and DACs in the aforementioned price range. I do not know how the Parasound would rank with the OP's Denon, but I do know that odds are a modest well implemented usb DAC could better his AVR for the $200 he wanted to spend.

 

Computer audio is hot, and it should be easy to sell/use it later if he decides to invest further. I agree entirely with you on him saving up for an even better one, hence my suggestion for a "glass" cable. I guess I should have phrased it more accurately and used"good". Really, all I was attempting was for the poor bloke to not spend what little he had (just yet) on a such a specialized device as the hiFace- as good as it may be for what it does.

 

Southernman, my apologies. You were asking for a simple suggestion for a budget recommendation and I thought it was getting out of hand. I remember when I started, and it was really confusing and I wasted a lot of money and time. Dip your toes in farther, a cable or a DAC. Do some research and buy it used off of Ebay or Audiogon and you should be able to unload it for not much more than shipping and Paypal fees. If I may take a stretch, a non-oversampling DAC with good PRAT might be nice with your speakers. You may also want to think about your future. If you are going 2 channel only, consider a DAC with good variable out.

 

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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Re 4Est comments:

Tire analogy is more like putting Michelin or Pirellis on an Accord or Mustang. Give the car a fighting chance in the handling department. And then move the tires to your Acura, Infinity, or WRX if you don't like the old car. I don't care what percentage the cable spend is, if you want to hear what your source and dac are capable of you have to spend. Why waste time trying $50 cables when $100 will get you near the best in the Toslink category. And I don't care what the masses want to suggest. I have heard a number of USB dacs and even the USB version of the one I own does not sound as good via USB as it does via Toslink! And don't just take my opinion, look at what some other folks say about many USB implementations. As for Coax Spdif, it's fine if you computer has it, but Macs don't so that is out for me. And there is no way I am adding another interface with their exorbitant costs to see if it sounds a smidgen better. I would rather use my firewire port for the external drive.

 

As for decent USB, yes it is only the recent hiface and other "good" implementations that have shown the real weakness in the old USB implementations.

 

You did suggest glass, but all is not equal. The medical grade stuff sold on ebay is pretty veiled when compared to the ones I mentioned. I own the Van den Hul , but my friend has the Wireworld and it sounds great and no, I have not compared them.

 

As for Southernman, there are lots of opinions on how to spend your money, but you can take them and filter them the way you like. In any case please let us know what you do and how you like i t.

 

cheers

 

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It is nice to know that you can still buy quality audio for $100! I took your advice and ordered a Wireworld Supernova 6 for $109. If you are correct in that this gets you near the top, then it is probably worth it to him to have that base covered. Later it affords an opportunity to try many more DACs including the ones with poor usb implementations.

 

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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Let me know how you like it. I have to see if I can con my friend into lending me his so I can hear it in my system. I may replace my $30 ebay glass jobbie with a Wireworld or another Van den Hul. I use the cheaper toslink in my office system which uses an Apple TV to stream from my Macbook in the sound room to my Dac.

 

cheers

 

 

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I second that the first thing is to acquire a usb outboard DAC.

 

Trying to get better results from a better glass cable will only give you diminishing returns using the computers dac. Using an outboard DAC, even a bad one will be a big improvement over the best Toslink cable/onboard-computer dac combo. Please don't get too consumed by the jitter talk. A outboard DAC is easily the biggest improvement and the simplest path to good music. You can later get involved squeaking & tweaking out the best performance of your gear like some above have written about

 

In regards to cost you need to factor in a usb cord, interconnects & DAC in total the cost of using an outboard DAC. All of this can add up but not much if chosen wisely and cheap ones can be improved later in upgrades. The DAC is the most important piece.

I have a Devilsound that has excellent built in interconnects and usb (does not need a powercord) but it's now just out of your price bracket since they raised prices. There are $100 DAC's that are getting good reviews like the HRT and others. You can find great deals on Audiogon for cheap interconnects like Kimber PBJ.

 

Check on Audiogon & eBay for cheap USB DAC's. Look for a used Valab or a Scott Nixon, it will give you more than enough sound improvement in your rig.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Lyngdorf TDA2200 int.\ Accuphase E-211 int.~ Totem \Mani's & "The One\" monitors~Bryston BDA-1 DAC~Halide HD DAC~Micromega Transport~AnTi cables & Synergistic Research cables~JohnBlue JB3~(mod) Totem orig. Model One monitors[br]Mini Mac,1.8ghz Core 2 Duo

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All this talk about using an external DAC with your Denon receiver is all well and good, but you will then run into another barrier for good sound - the analogue pre-amp (and power amp) stages of the receiver.

 

You will probably find that (for example) if you have $2000 to spend, that spending 1/2 - 2/3 on a DAC, and the rest on a stereo amplifier will pay bigger dividends. If you are spending considerably less ($500 e.g. Cambridge Audio or Musical Fidelity V-DAC level) then I really would make sure you demo them against pure digital into your receiver - it's usually the ANALOGUE stage NOT the DIGITAL stage that is lacking with receivers. If you have the budget - something like the Peartree Nova Chris recently reviewed might suit you well.

 

I think you will have to be content with small increments from a HiFace or better optical cable, or be prepared to spend considerable amounts to get much improvement.

 

Eloise

 

 

 

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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