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Shangri-La

Suggestions for a low-cost DAC?

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I'm building a desktop system for computer and casual music listening (streaming and CD-ripped tracks). The speakers are ELAC Debut 2.0 bookshelf B6.2. Amp will be most likely the Akitika GT-102 which is a recent Stereophile Class B power amp at amamzingly $500. It's proabaly a bit overkill for the ELAC but it's too tempting to resist. 

 

Now I need a DAC. I was leaning towards the Musical Fidelity V-90, which was a Stereophile Class A DAC, which I assume will be enough for the new setup. But it's a 5-year old product and I'm hoping if there a are newer DACs around that perform nearly as well at a lower cost. Any sugguestions? Thanks. 

 

PS - I was also considering the PS audio Sprout 100 integrated amp, but believe the seperates will give me better sound. 

 

PPS - what about the Schiit Modi 3? It measures very well and gets a great review at audio science review. 

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1. So you will not want to go beyond Redbook for several years(?)

 

2. And are looking for something in the $300 range?

 

3. What interface will you use?  (USB?)

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The Sprout will probably be the best solution at that price point, and even higher. Plus, it can play Hi-Res music files, and will grow with you when you want new speakers.

 

Honestly, at that price, I don't know why you wouldn't go with the Sprout.

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2 minutes ago, Ralf11 said:

1. So you will not want to go beyond Redbook for several years(?)

 

2. And are looking for something in the $300 range?

 

3. What interface will you use?  (USB?)

This new setup won't be used for critical listening, for which I have a main setup.

 

Yeah, under $300. For $300 I can get the V-90 DAC, which although being 5-year old, will still be more than good enough for the new setup I believe.

 

USB for computer, coaxial for Allo DigiOne Signature stream. And maybe Toslink for my Macbook pro.

 

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5 minutes ago, AudioDoctor said:

The Sprout will probably be the best solution at that price point, and even higher. Plus, it can play Hi-Res music files, and will grow with you when you want new speakers.

 

Honestly, at that price, I don't know why you wouldn't go with the Sprout.

 

I believe Akitika GT-102 plus V-90 DAC will give better sound quality. And the Sprout doesnt have coaxial digi in.

 

But the Sprout is less expensive and a very nice and neat-looking package. Choices...

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The Topping D50 could be a contender. It’s reasonably priced, is tiny, has all of the inputs you mention, contains two DAC chips, is easily powered and able to cope with quite high resolution music formats.

 

I have two of them: one in my computer system using USB and one in my headphones system connected via coax. Both systems sound good to me.

 

Moreover, it measures very well on science-backed audio sites too.

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13 minutes ago, Shangri-La said:

USB for computer, coaxial for Allo DigiOne Signature stream. And maybe Toslink for my Macbook pro.

 

Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC has these 3 inputs.

 

Measures well and sounds very nice (designed by the well respected John Westlake).

 

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1 hour ago, Shangri-La said:

PPS - what about the Schiit Modi 3? It measures very well and gets a great review at audio science review. 

 

I love the Modi series so much, I own four! One Modi 2U and three Modi 3 units, all in regular use, one paired with a Magni headphone amp of course. Modi DACs are good representatives of the AKM "velvet sound", and at $99 I feel the 3 is the best value around. I own another AKM-based DAC as well, the midrange NuPrime DAC-9, plus speaker amps that offer a warm forgiving sound.

 

I also own the ESS-based Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 and the matching Amp Box S2. They offer a very crisp, neutral, resolving sound that does not appeal to me, but the little S2 has a lot of features and is very popular, and like the previous poster I am a big fan of the designer John Westlake even if we seem to prefer a different sound signature.

The influence of a DAC is much more subtle than an amp, but if any of this sound signature discussion is interesting to you, I suggest paying careful attention to this aspect in owner reviews.

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10 hours ago, left channel said:

 

I love the Modi series so much, I own four! One Modi 2U and three Modi 3 units, all in regular use, one paired with a Magni headphone amp of course. Modi DACs are good representatives of the AKM "velvet sound", and at $99 I feel the 3 is the best value around. I own another AKM-based DAC as well, the midrange NuPrime DAC-9, plus speaker amps that offer a warm forgiving sound.

 

I also own the ESS-based Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 and the matching Amp Box S2. They offer a very crisp, neutral, resolving sound that does not appeal to me, but the little S2 has a lot of features and is very popular, and like the previous poster I am a big fan of the designer John Westlake even if we seem to prefer a different sound signature.

The influence of a DAC is much more subtle than an amp, but if any of this sound signature discussion is interesting to you, I suggest paying careful attention to this aspect in owner reviews.

 

I'm very interested in this 'velvety sound'. My Topping D50 has ES9038Q2M2 DACs that produce a beautifully clear and detailed sound and works great with my speaker-based system. For my headphones system, as it's a bedside listening system, I'd prefer a warmer sound - closer to a tube sound.

 

Is it the case that almost any AKM based DAC would produce this velvety sound?

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22 hours ago, Taz777 said:

The Topping D50 could be a contender. It’s reasonably priced, is tiny, has all of the inputs you mention, contains two DAC chips, is easily powered and able to cope with quite high resolution music formats.

 

I have two of them: one in my computer system using USB and one in my headphones system connected via coax. Both systems sound good to me.

 

Moreover, it measures very well on science-backed audio sites too.

 

Yeah the D50 is looking really nice. Just that "hump" bothers me a bit. Not sure how that translates to realworld listening.. 

Topping D50 DAC SMPTE Intermodulation Measurement.png

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55 minutes ago, Shangri-La said:

 

Yeah the D50 is looking really nice. Just that "hump" bothers me a bit. Not sure how that translates to realworld listening.. 

Topping D50 DAC SMPTE Intermodulation Measurement.png

 

I'm told you'll often see/hear that IMD hump from budget ESS-based DACs. Not so in comparable AKM DACs.

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3 hours ago, left channel said:

 

I'm told you'll often see/hear that IMD hump from budget ESS-based DACs. Not so in comparable AKM DACs.

 

Yeah I read about that too. the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 doesnt measure that well either in the same test, and I value these measurements especially when evaluating DACs. What should I do now, maybe just get the Schiit modi 3 and call it a day...

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4 hours ago, left channel said:

Go for it, @Shangri-La! Modi and call it a day.

Lol, thanks! I think it's the best option currently. I've placed the order for the AkitikA GT-102 amp, which will take 1-2 weeks to deliver. If nothing changes, then the Modi 3 is it!

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Is the Modi 3 the only 'reasonably priced' desktop DAC using the newest AKM chip? I'm keen to listen to a DAC with a different chip compared to the Topping D50 to see if it produces a nicer sound.

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4 minutes ago, Taz777 said:

Is the Modi 3 the only 'reasonably priced' desktop DAC using the newest AKM chip? I'm keen to listen to a DAC with a different chip compared to the Topping D50 to see if it produces a nicer sound.


I haven't heard this one, but how about the Topping DX3 Pro?

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On 1/2/2019 at 3:59 PM, Shangri-La said:

This new setup won't be used for critical listening, for which I have a main setup.

 

Yeah, under $300. For $300 I can get the V-90 DAC, which although being 5-year old, will still be more than good enough for the new setup I believe.

 

USB for computer, coaxial for Allo DigiOne Signature stream. And maybe Toslink for my Macbook pro.

 

 

As one alternative at your price point, though by far not the only one, you might look for a used iFi micro-iDSD DAC on eBay, and think about doing upsampling with Audirvana+ or other player software to feed it.

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Appreciate the comments, guys. A bit about how I aproach my search. I know I'm a little obssessed with measurements, but 1) I believe these numbers for the most part do translate to realworld listening experience. and 2) this is the most readily available way to compare different products.

 

Most of the reviews I read all praised whatever is being reviewed, saying the product "sounds great", followed by "for the money". And I believe that. But I want to know the performance between different products, price no object. Measurements do that for me, as does Stereophile's class rating. In the mean time, I tend to prefer newer released products, as I believe DAC (along with high res source) is proabaly the component in a hifi system that benefits the most from recent technolygy improvements.   

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2 hours ago, left channel said:


I haven't heard this one, but how about the Topping DX3 Pro?

 

2 hours ago, Taz777 said:

Is the Modi 3 the only 'reasonably priced' desktop DAC using the newest AKM chip? I'm keen to listen to a DAC with a different chip compared to the Topping D50 to see if it produces a nicer sound.

 

It measures pretty well and I was actually considering that  https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-topping-dx3pro-dac-and-headphone-amp.4967/ It doesnt have that ESS hump with some trade-off in other measurements. But I never use headphone, and its headphone amp outperform its DAC part... 

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2 hours ago, Jud said:

 

As one alternative at your price point, though by far not the only one, you might look for a used iFi micro-iDSD DAC on eBay, and think about doing upsampling with Audirvana+ or other player software to feed it.

 

Thanks, I will research on that iFi. What's the benefit of "doing upsampling with Audirvana+ or other player software to feed it"? And can you suggest some other options?

 

During my search for the DAC, I've looked at products beyong my budget just to see what I can get. The Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 uses the same ESS chip I think and doesnt measure that great. I could spend more if I find something that I like. But I havent. So why not get the least expensive one that measures well. 

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23 hours ago, Shangri-La said:

 

Yeah the D50 is looking really nice. Just that "hump" bothers me a bit. Not sure how that translates to realworld listening.. 

Topping D50 DAC SMPTE Intermodulation Measurement.png

 

I'm very intrigued by this graph. I will try to listen out for this during this evening's listening session on my headphones system, which is more detailed than my speaker-based system.

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36 minutes ago, Taz777 said:

 

I'm very intrigued by this graph. I will try to listen out for this during this evening's listening session on my headphones system, which is more detailed than my speaker-based system.

 

That would be great.

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Here's a site where you can actually listen for SMPTE IMD:

 

https://www.audiocheck.net/testtones_imd.php

 

I tried this out on my desktop system (speakers) and it sounded fine in that there was no discernible 'warbling' of the two frequencies (60Hz and 7kHz). My desktop system uses a Topping D50.

 

I'll try to figure out a way to run this same test on my headphones system which is being fed from a network streamer.

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