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sub $1000 DAC? Help me out here?

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Hi everyone! I just can't seem to decide upon a DAC. I want to run music from my Apple Mac mini to a high end headphone amp and I'm in the market for a DAC.


I was thinking about the Cambridge Audio Dacmagic followed by some extensive modding and an updated PSU? The unit would cost £250, then the modding is £300 followed by a PSU of £200. But then this puts me in reach of the Benchmark DAC1 USB?


I just can't decide. Help me out here?




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I agree with the Proton recommendation. It is asynchronous, it has a computer-controlled analog volume control, 24/96, Linux compatibility, and it's portable and even has a Kensington lock socket. Add a diyparadise.com Ultravox USB isolator and an SLA battery and you've got a setup that costs less than $1000 but sounds amazing.




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Hi everyone, thanks for the help and guidance. I was thinking about the following:


Mac mini USB >> M2tech Hiface >> Van Den Hul the wave coaxial >> Lavry DA11.


However the Lavry DA11 only has balanced outputs and I would need some XLR to RCA adapters. As this man is using here:




Would this hinder the sound quality? I would imagine so?



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If I only had $1000 to spend on a DAC, I'd buy one that connects directly to a computer without the need to spend (waste, IMO) money converting the signal from USB or Firewire to S/PDIF or AES.


Ditto for a $2000 budget, or $3000, or ... I think you get the idea.




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All kidding aside, you got some very nice recommendations. With your last item you have deconstructed an idea like the proton and have added the potential for more jitter. Then you have to get adapters. Most sound like crap unless you get some nice Cardas ones.


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I've been using the Mini (playing FLAC) with various players (right now AyreWave, simple and and transparent) into a HiFace RCA into a NOS MHDT Havana for about a year now, just love it. Have used various 75 ohm cables (waiting for Blackcat Veloce to arrive). The Hiface/Havana setup will run you about $1100. Imo, as good or better than the Krell SACD Standard that I had prior to this setup.

Just for kicks I might check out the M2tech EVO, but battery setup does not appeal to me. Let me know if you want any more detail.



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If the USB Isolator was actually needed in your setup, you'd insert it between the computer and the Proton.


Can't say that I've ever considered something like this with my Proton.


It's battery-powered and doesn't draw power except when recharging the battery. I suppose this (i.e., not drawing power during playback) wouldn't eliminate all possibility of getting noise from the computer, but would seem to minimize the chances.


You certainly wouldn't want to power the Isolator via AC, as then the cure would be worse than the problem (if a problem even exists).


Perhaps ask Gordon Rankin - just send him an email. His site is Wavelength Audio on USBDACS.com.


The battery would hook up directly to the Ultravox, of course. The battery will need to be charged as well.


In my opinion, all these extra contraptions sort of defeats the purpose of having a small, self-powered, self-contained, portable (when needed) DAC w/headphone amp.


I'd personally be concerned that running this setup would be as likely to diminish as to improve the sound, but I supposed it's not a huge expense. Just be aware that the results will be very system dependent, i.e., just because it might help for one system is no indication that it would help another.









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Clay, that's a well thought out and logical post, but the fact of the matter is that the ADUM4160 USB isolator chip, which the Ultravox uses, and battery combo was recommended to me by GR himself and it sounds incredible. I won't bother describing the sound change. It's across the board and it's very large. It takes the Proton to another level to be sure.


I use an 8Ah SLA battery and it does need to be recharged every few days. A full recharge take longer than I'd like (hours) so I'm going to switch to this battery pack:




and this charger:




It will charge in about 15 minutes. It uses the next generation A123 Nanophosphate batteries. This is not the previous generation LiPo batteries that can explode.


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If this isolator kicks a top notch product like a Proton up to another level, it is no wonder I like Toslink better than USB in so many mid priced implementations. That and battery powered dacs or converters point to one of the potential big issues in digital audio.


Electrical noise!


Maybe that is the biggest USB problem that needs to be solved.


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I'm wondering if the difference between an isolated and a non-isolated link is because the device requires and draws power via the USB cable. Not sure they all do, but if they don't actually require power to operate, then I wonder if clipping the power leg would result in similar sonic benefits to running an isolator. Anyone know?


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Well, the chip Gordon recommended to me is the ADUM4160 which isolates the data lines only. It does nothing for the power so I take that to mean Gordon at least believes it's important to isolate the data lines along with the power line. There's some interesting discussion on the Ultravox here:








On mine, I desoldered the USB female A socket and soldered a USB male B socket in its place. Now the Ultravox plugs straight into the Proton with no cable or adapter in between.


By the way, I tried using NiMH batteries in place of SLA with bad results. I think A123 Nanophosphate batteries will be another story.


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Go for one of these:




and attach the black and red wires to these disconnect terminals:




with these crimpers:




and then attach the disconnect terminals to this battery:




which you can charge with this:




and this:




That should be everything you need except for a screwdriver to attach the charger cable to the charger.


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