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Looking for guidance & advice on system replacement

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I spent last night drinking Scotch & listening to music. Put simply, it was good.


I am fortunate (and financially deficient) enough to have a few music systems. Every now and then my brain decides to kick into gear, and I realise there is something I can change, modify or do differently within one or more of these systems to get a better result. I use a portable style setup comprising of a Headamp Pico, ALO dock, iPod, and Shure SE530 or Etymotic ER4 IEMs. My primary use of this system is at night when I go to bed so I can listen to music without disturbing my wife. It sounds great, but I realised that for the same price I could probably get a better result.


I use a Benchmark DAC1 USB in my main speaker and headphone systems, controlled by an iPod touch running 'Remote' software (thank god that finally got to see the light of day - and is so damn good!) So last night I had the (somewhat obvious) revelation that I rarely actually use my portable rig outside my damn bed, and never use the DAC in the Pico either... what a waste! It got me thinking that I would be better off selling some of the portable gear and going for more of a 'bedside rig'.


At this stage I plan to purchase a DAC1 (non usb version), into which I will connect an airport express optically (I have one sitting in a box collecting dust). I'll use my iPod touch to control the tunes sent to the express by my server, and continue to use the SE530s and ER4 as IEMs because I need the isolation.


So I guess my reason for posting is to get some feedback on a few areas:


1 I have a DAC1 USB and think it sounds great, which is why I plan to buy another (non USB) to use in this new setup. I don't feel the need to use an external headphone amp, the internal unit sounds fine to me. I wonder though, if I might be best to try a different DAC, and if I did, which DAC that might be? I could either go for a comparable DAC with built in headphone amp like a Lavry, or get a cheaper DAC that may not have an internal amp, and pair it with an external amp. Unless the sound quality is noticeably better, I would prefer to stay 'all in one' I guess. Assuming I would be using the Airport Express, the DAC would need to have an optical input. I would like to keep under $1000 USD (a second hand DAC1 is likely to be around $750).


2 My understanding of the Airport Express is that it is capable of sending bitperfect audio, limited to 16/44.1 which would be fine for my use in this case. Any reason I should have reservations about using it?


3 I presume my IEMs are nowhere near as demanding to drive as my Sennheiser 650s. When using my IEMs, a small change in volume on the DAC1 makes a huge difference. It would be great to change that so the change in volume is not so significant, pretty sure I read once ages ago that there are jumpers within the DAC1 to control this?


4 Feel free to point out any shortcomings I may not have considered, or suggest alternative gear.



Thanks for taking the time to help out...


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Hey Poo - I think a Lavry unit would be a wise choice if you want to change things up a bit. You could also look at a Grace 902 (I believe it's a 902, maybe 901). If you go the DAC1 route I suggest getting the USB or PRE version because there were major upgrades after the original DAC1.


Your right on about the Express. If you don't need anything beyond 16/44.1 you should be just fine. The AE is not a high performance component in my opinion, but it's certainly up t the task.


There are jumpers on the DAC1 models to adjust the output from -10db, 0db, +10db (i believe these are the increments).


I think you're looking in the right direction.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

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Thanks for the reply.


I know I probably should go USB or PRE if I end up with a DAC1, but I really can't justify the extra cost when I won't be using the features. I already have a USB version in the main system, and (although not a direct comparison at the time) when I have compared the output of a DAC1 to a DAC1USB the difference in sound quality has been insignificant to my ears (if there at all).


I have had a brief listen to the Lavry at a meet, and found the internal headphone amp a lesser beast than that in the DAC1... would still be nice to do a better comparison though.


Will look into the Grace 902 - never heard of it, so will be great to investigate. Thanks again!


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Thought I'd post this comment from Elias (of Benchmark Media) about the difference between DAC1 and USB version (might help others in the future who are unsure)


"There are several features on the DAC1 USB which are not available on the DAC1, and they are as follows:


- Selectable gain range for headphone amp

-- Lets you select the optimal range for your specific headphones so that the volume knob can be utilized more optimally


- Main output mutes upon headphone insertion (defeatable)

-- The analog outputs on the rear of the DAC1 USB will be muted when you insert the headphone plug if this feature is enabled.


- High-Current output drivers

-- The XLR and RCA outputs can now drive longer cables, low-impedance loads, high-capacitance loads, and/or high-inductance loads without any loss in THD+N performance


- Advanced USB Audio for true native 96/24 bit-transparent playback

-- No drivers or configuration necessary...plug it in and immediately get bit-transparency at rates up to and including 96/24


Unfortunately, the DAC1's are not able to be upgraded to include these features.







"We are using the new LM4562A in the DAC1 USB. The LM4562A is pin-compatible with the NE5532, but you can't just drop it in and get all of the advantages of the DAC1 USB. We changed all of the resistors in the XLR output pads to take advantage of the high drive capability of the LM4562A"


Still unsure which way I'll go, but leaning towards Benchmark if I can find one about at the right price...




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