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Newbie Advice for Audiophile setup


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Hello.

I'm 17 years old, and for a long time I've been listening to 128kbps mp3 and never realised the difference between lossless and compressed music files. I now only listen to lossless music and there's no turning back. I love it :)

 

My computer is a Macbook Pro (Dual Core - Mid 08' - Non unibody).

 

I have it set with :

M-audio Firewire Solo external sound card,

connected to Denon AVR-1802 receiver and Roister Status speakers.

I convert FLAC's to AIFF and play them with iTunes and Amarra Plugin. I also rip CD's via iTunes to AIFF.

 

I want to ask, whether a DAC is necessary and how I can improve my sound, not that it's bad but I'm new to all this audiophile equipment.

 

 

Roister is a Greek company.

Speakers details : http://www.roister.gr/status8.2_en.htm

Roister Company details : http://www.roister.gr/company_en.htm

 

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There is a lot you can do to improve your sound, but it boils down to how much you want to spend. You could spend money on a DAC, but then to get the best out of it you would be needing to add a stereo amp to it as the Denon receiver would then be the bottle neck.

 

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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The Denon receiver combines the functions of a DAC, pre-amp and power-amp (along with various signal processing for the surround functions) into one box. Generally where an AV receiver is weekest (and this is my opinion though it's held by others too) is taking an analogue signal and amplifying it transparently for the speakers.

 

So yes you can buy just a DAC, but without looking at other equipment you will never make the most of your purchase of the DAC.

 

As an example - I have listened to £1000 DAC through an AV reciever, and compared it to spending £3-400 on the DAC and a stereo integrated for another £4-500, and the latter was a clear winner (to me).

 

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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Yes I understand now. Of course though, a better amplifier has better DACs, pre-amps and power-amps, Right?

I have an old Sony Stereo Amplifier that is very good which I replaced it with a second hand Denon just because I was about to buy surround sound speakers. But I didn't in the end. Having said, It's a good idea to replace the Denon with the Sony one.

 

I cannot provide you with the exact Sony model because it is shelled in the basement. But I will tomorrow.

It's a hi-end model my father bought about 7 years ago.

 

Also about the DAC, because my budget isn't high, I'm thinking of buying Musical Fidelity's V-DAC. I've read reviews and they say it's really good and can be compared with the hi-end models. Would you recommend it? Would you recommend any other model in the same price range?

 

Thanks again

 

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Eloise and AudioElf have neatly nailed some of the problems with your current system: AV amps in general are surprisingly inept as two-channel devices.

 

The good news is that even on a tight budget you'll find that you can exceed the performance of your AV amp by using dedicated components.

 

Your transport (computer) sounds well fettled. If you're happy with the speakers (which I suspect are an unknown quantity to many here), focusing on a proportionally-priced DAC will let you experiment with your old Sony (which may or may not be helpful) or other, budget amplification.

 

The MF V-DAC is popular, sweet-sounding and responds well to power supply upgrades, but ultimately it's a little rolled off in the treble. If you shop around, there are some fine-performing DACs below £200: lots of choices.

 

I should point out that I do deal in DACs, but actually my favourite cheap converter is one I can't sell, therefore OK to talk about here! The PopPulse 1796 is ROHS certified for sale anywhere in the world, except Europe, so no EU distributor can technically resell them. CryoParts distribute them in the States. However, you can order from their website and have it shipped direct: http://diykits.com.hk/wai_wai_valve_company.htm . . . swapping out the (socketed) op-amp in the output stage for a Burson, AG, or dual OPA627 transforms it, too.

 

For budget amplification, it's hard to beat Tripath: a half-decent DAC plus any TA2020, 2050 or 2024 chipset amp is surprisingly great for very little outlay. Also energy efficient and upgradable with better PSUs.

 

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Thank you for replying :)

 

I looked at your site, what do you think of :

http://www.itemaudio.co.uk/kingrex_t20u.html and http://www.itemaudio.co.uk/kingrex_psu.html

 

How good is the KingRex that is both Amplifier and DAC? Usually products that do 2 more of things together, aren't as good as the ones that are dedicated to only one task, Right?

 

Also, I'm abit confused on how you connect a DAC and a Amplifier with the computer?

I can see DAC's have USB inputs, but I have a Sound Card. How will that work?

If I buy a DAC and an Amplifier, I won't be needing my Sony amp, right? What did AudioELF mean when he said "use your Denon as a bottle neck" ?

 

And what's the difference between a Pre-Amp and a Amp? Would I need both?

 

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Here is a quick primer that will hopefully answer some questions that you raised. On to basics (we all started here at some point). Basically speaking there are four parts to modern audio systems. Your source (in this case your computer but also cd players, dvd, etc), a dac which takes the digital bits and turns them into an analog signal, a pre-amp (more on this stage in a second, but historically pre-amps are used to gather multiple sources and to control gain [think volume knob]), and an amp to amplify the signal and feed the speakers.

 

Your receiver acts as everything but the source, doing all the remaining tasks fairly well. Dedicated components may not always be better, but they usually have the advantage of doing one thing very well. Now on to your situation more specifically.

 

Today's usb dac's are designed to bypass your soundcard. I won't go into the pros and cons here, needless to say at a starter level this is probably the way to go.

 

If your only source is your computer, you may find that you don't need a pre-amp. Again, this is a much larger discussion (of which there are many good threads), but your computer can act as a volume control. I say can because it does this by messing with the bits (without getting too complicated let us say that while there are more expensive components that do this better, itunes itself will give you lower sound quality if you change the volume in significant ways). Again, you spend more money on a pre-amp and then you would set the itunes volume to max.

 

I've actually had and enjoyed the t20u, but to be honest, if I had to do it again I would go a different route. Let me elaborate a bit. Firstly, although this may seem silly, there are disadvantages from a hobbyists perspective. If you do get in to this hobby, there is oftentimes a bit of looking for the next piece of gear to upgrade on the quest for ever greater sound. It is a fun road (sometimes expensive but often rewarding). The t20u will most likely be a noticeable upgrade from your receiver, but again it is an all in one design where you can't really upgrade any of your system (although you can bypass the dac section by using the analog inputs).

 

Still don't let me scare you away, the t20u is a great starting place. Although you should know that it does not put out a lot of power. I'm not familiar with your speakers, but this is something to consider. Depending on budget however, here are some other options.

 

USB dacs HRT streamer II and II+ ($150, $350) just upgraded with asynch usb and can play up to 24/96 (more info on this in the rest of the forum)

 

You might also look at trends amps and if you go the separates route the kingrex preamp is quite good (and may make it easier to drive your speakers). Ok, that was a lot to digest so I will let you take that in for now, but feel free to ask away. Although looking back at old forum posts from other people starting out might also help. There are a lot of topics to go into and hopefully you will enjoy both the music and the art of system building.

 

PS Audio Quintet > Powerbook (iphone with apple remote app) > HRT Streamer II > Kingrex Pre-amp > Kingrex QS-01 > Devore Fidelity Gibbon 7.1\'s

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Then, I'm going to take the separate route and going to buy the KingRex Preamp because I want to have the best possible that I can afford and I also use a Technics Compact Disk player and a playstation. So I would be needing that extra input.

 

I looked at the HRT Streamer DAC II+ and I cannot find it somewhere that ships to Greece. Do you suggest any other DAC's?

Also, as you said; I would be needing an Amplifier aswell as a Pre-amp. So could you recommend any Amplifier or I'm good enough with my Sony one? I don't know if I mentioned this before, but the Sony one is 7-year old Stereo amp and was a audiophile product when it was available. I still didn't get it out of the shelves but I will probably tomorrow.

 

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Here's a few more suggestions and a little list of possible options. First, take your time. Think about how much you want to spend, both now and in the near and long term. Check out what you have. Definitely pull out the sony, make sure it works, see how it sounds just from your sound card. Think about how many sources you want to connect. The kingrex pre-amp only has two inputs so keep that in mind. Here are some companies and products that I think give a good bang for the buck, although the audio hobby isn't cheap so be warned.

 

http://www.musicdirect.com/product/87045 This is a link to the hrt streamer on music direct. I think they ship internationally so you might be in luck. The devilsound dac is also a no frills usb dac.

 

http://www.wyred4sound.com/webapps/site/74030/117839/shopping/shopping-view.html?pid=396494

This is the brand new wyred4sound dac. There is also a more expensive version with a beefed up usb implementation, but the base version would probably do you well. It also has a volume control built into it so as long as you only have digital sources you could use it as a preamp as well. They also make a well regarded pre-amp and several amps and seem to ship internationally.

 

The benchmark hdr dac might also be something to look into. This combines a usb dac with analog inputs as well.

 

Back on the lower priced end the Trends TA-10 is both an amp and a pre-amp (the limitations here are only one input and low power) very similar to the non usb version of the kingrex amp.

 

If you do decide that all these separate parts are driving you crazy, but want something more than a receiver, outlaw makes the RR-2150 which is a dedicated stereo receiver including a usb input and marantz makes the pm5003 which is an integrated amp with only analog inputs. Both these would be other all in one options, although you would still want a usb dac with the marantz.

 

Again, there is a lot here with many choices. You'll need to look at what you have and what you ultimately want. If you can afford it, the wyred4sound dac might serve you well. It will serve as both a top flight dac and pre-amp and allow you to upgrade your amp at a later point in time.

 

In my own setup I have the kingrex pre and the new kingrex amp (although there was a problem with the first batch of amps so mine is being replaced). In the meantime I am using another t-amp (like the trends and kingrex units). Just for reference my speakers are pretty efficient 90db/w. If yours are much less efficient you might need something more in the amp department.

 

 

 

PS Audio Quintet > Powerbook (iphone with apple remote app) > HRT Streamer II > Kingrex Pre-amp > Kingrex QS-01 > Devore Fidelity Gibbon 7.1\'s

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Because I realise that this is an expensive hobby, I think for start, I'm going to buy a DAC to connect it with my Sony Amp and see how it goes and if I want something better in the future I will invest into to it.

 

The DC1 HDR looks good but it's too expensive. Could you recommend any other DAC option in the price range of 200$-400$ ?

Like the HRT Music Streamer II. Do you know about Musical Fidelity's V-DAC is good for it's price?

 

Also, are you said before; the USB DACs bypass your soundcard. So that means that they work as a soundcard, right?

 

Thank again for helping me!

 

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"..I looked at the HRT Streamer DAC II+ and I cannot find it somewhere that ships to Greece.."

 

 

I bought an HRT Streamer II+ from Audiofreaks in the UK, and they shipped it to Spain for me (329 pounds including postage). I would think they would be able to ship it to Greece too. It isn't very big and fits into a large padded envelope.

 

System (i): Stack Audio Link > 2Qute+MCRU psu; Gyrodec/SME V/Ortofon 2M Black/EAT E-Glo Petit/Magnum Dynalab FT101A) > Glow Amp One > Klipsch RP-600M/REL T5x subs

System (ii): Allo USB Signature > Bel Canto uLink+AQVOX psu > Chord Hugo > Tandy LX5/REL Tzero v3 subs

System (iii) KEF LS50W/KEF R400b subs

 

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There are some okay to quite good DAC's in the $200 to $500 range (Maverick, Valab, DACMagic, HT Streamer+, to name a few). Beyond these, you are starting to get in something more like the $1000 and up range.

 

Since your budget is limited, I suggest also trying the used DAC market. There is a lot of good equipment sold online by audiophiles who are upgrading. As a rule of thumb, you can get a used component for about half it's cost new. It's a way of stretching your budget and getting something better sounding than you could afford if new.

 

DAC's aren't complicated in terms of number of parts, etc., so you should be able to buy a used one that will work fine for a long time.

 

Another consideration is whether you have a need to play hi-res files. If you are sticking to 16/44.1 rips and mp3s, an inexpensive DAC like the Valab may be all you need. It sounds good, and costs from between $200 to $300 on eBay, depending on which model you get.

 

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Path: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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