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Suggestions for a low-cost DAC?


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If you need a new amp, I highly recommend the Akitika GT-102. Plenty of performance to match even several thousand dollar speakers for under $400. $500 if you want it pre-built. 

Setup #1: GoldenEar Triton Reference --> Parasound Halo Integrated --> Allo DigiOne Signature

Setup #2: ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 --> Akitika GT-102 --> ???

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On 2/8/2019 at 8:52 PM, Ottoa62 said:

AS I drill down on this, * WITH ALL of the folks contributing; I should keep the Lionn LK 140 and get a DAC/PRE amp  it's either the S2D or the Dac magic plus  the former being the Sabre chips and MQA  vs  dual wolfson. Both pieces are attractive.

 

I would hesitate with the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus - if that's one of the DACs that you're referring to. It's a design from (around) 2011 or 2012 so quite old tech. Today's DACs are miles ahead! The sound was okay though. I returned the DacMagic Plus for two reasons: old tech and permanent upsampling, and bought a cheaper DAC (Topping D50) that produces better sound than the DacMagic Plus (to my ears).

 

I didn't want a DAC that upsampled everything and provided no way to switch off that upsampling.

 

My advice would be to get a recent, modern DAC that sounds good to you and then get Amarra Luxe as your software music player for Tidal (assuming you're interested in Tidal Masters tracks). Amarra Luxe produces sound that is an improvement over the Tidal desktop app. MQA is neither here no there for me personally, and is a bonus if a song that I like is also available in MQA format. A very well recorded 44.1kHz/16-bit song sounds as good as I could ever imagine it to be and over 90% of my Tidal collection is Tidal HiFi CD-quality.

 

I also wouldn't worry about the DAC chips too much. As an experiment, I ordered a Topping DX3 Pro as it has AKM chips in it. It sounded worse in my headphones system versus the ESS-chipped D50. I put it into my desktop (speaker-based) system and it appeared to sound nicer - probably expectation bias on my part. But after a few weeks of listening of up to 5 hours per day, I'm not overly happy with the sound now and my second Topping D50 will be going back in once my linear power supply arrives. The DX3 Pro is just a little too polite and soft to me.

 

You can definitely improve the sound of a DAC with a decent software music player (like Amarra Luxe that supports both Qobuz and Tidal - there are many software music players on the market) and a linear power supply for the DAC. Both would provide incremental improvements in sound quality. The desktop apps for Qobuz and Tidal aren't the best in terms of sound quality. In fact, the Qobuz app doesn't even have direct control of the DAC (exclusive mode) if you're using a Mac when I was evaluating Qobuz a few weeks ago. The sound goes through macOS' CoreAudio layer. The Tidal app at least provides exclusive access to the DAC. However, both Tidal and Qobuz sound better through Amarra Luxe.

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Great Post. I fired up JRiver and upgraded my version from 22 to 25. I am using a hard drive with 1k tunes and it sounds very good through the DF Black. I forgot how Jriver can do room correction and sound enhancements.

 

I will put Dac Magic Plus aside, great feedback on that! I have been leaning to the D50 as the best of the bunch. I will just have to get a pre amp, instead of a DAC/Pre. I am using a Schiit SYS and for a passive, it's very good. I found a Proton 1100  pre amp in my museum and I'm going to throw it into the rack for an "active" pre amp and see what happens. My last ditch effort at a dac / pre could be Project S2D? I will keep looking into DAC/Pre's before I settle on the D50.

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15 minutes ago, Ottoa62 said:

I will just have to get a pre amp, instead of a DAC/Pre. I am using a Schiit SYS and for a passive, it's very good. I found a Proton 1100  pre amp in my museum and I'm going to throw it into the rack for an "active" pre amp and see what happens. My last ditch effort at a dac / pre could be Project S2D? I will keep looking into DAC/Pre's before I settle on the D50.

 

Do you just need a volume control on the DAC side so that you can vary the line out volume on the DAC's RCA jacks before it goes into your amplifier? If so, the D50 operates as a pre-amp too - in fact I'm using it as a DAC/preamp in my headphones system currently, and it's set to -3dB as that seems to be the sweet spot for my headphone amp (Arcam rHead) to take in. There's a volume control stick on the D50 and the way it alters the volume level on its RCA jacks is supposed to be quite clever to minimise distortion to almost nothing (apparently it uses the onboard volume control functionality of the ESS DAC chips). If you set the volume at -0.00dB then that would be the same as having no volume control on the RCA output jacks (i.e a full line out signal).

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TAZ777, GEE  I must have missed that completely, * about running it as a Pre amp out, this is exactly what I need. I have a Schiit SYS between the AQ DF Black for volume control, come to think about this again, I can run the volume with the PC volume control, which would control the "output" of the DF Black LOL, I'm just not thinking these days, I'm running the output at max, then using the SYS to control volume. Today I will remove the and another set of cables. Looks like I will NOT find anything that will match the D50 in the sound dept. I will to other devices for BlueTooth and Keep the Black for MQA when I want too. I need a dac to replace the V90 for my CD player.

 

TAZ, and all thank you so MUCH for your conversation and comments. I was getting very close to buying a Project S2D  399.00 and its pretty loaded. 

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On 2/7/2019 at 10:14 PM, Ottoa62 said:

Thank you good to know. Maybe the upgradeable Bitfrost could be the way to go.

 DAC or DAC/pre amp that is the question. Back to the DAC magic. 349.00. Hard to beat.

I've been enjoying a Bifrost Uber for about a year now that I picked up locally on Craig's List for around $200. I just stream Tidal HiFi to it via MacBook Air connected via USB. I've been very happy with it for the money. That said, I can't help but wonder if I'm missing something since the Bifrost isn't MQA-enabled. The Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 has my attention right now, too. Wondering if I should sell the Schiit and try the S2? OTOH, I've been testing Qobuz for a few days thinking that their HiRes capabilities might render the whole MQA thing moot. Honestly, I can't tell much difference in my current system as far as Tidal MQA vs Qobuz. They both sound really good. Winning!

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best advice is to just avoid MQA if at all possible

 

as to possibly missing better SQ, you could try another DAC that has a return privilege

 

I am having good results with getting better versions of masterings/recordings on music I like...

- and also found an amplifier that sounded better to me

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9 hours ago, Ottoa62 said:

TAZ  does the remote raise and lower the output volume? Or only manual with the joystick

 

The Topping D50 does not come with a remote control. it has a manual volume control operated via the multifunction joystick. I've only ever had to set it a couple of times and then it's never set again as I'm using a headphone amp which has its own volume control.

 

The Topping DX3 Pro does come with a small remote control with which you can control the volume. It also has a rotary knob on the fascia of the unit for this.

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 Would go for the Dx3pro, but you felt it was too polite etc..and you ordered another D50...I hear you on that. Inmay have lost this somewhere.. could you please recommend a linear power supply... and the LAST product that is heavy on my mind is the Project S2D..which would give me everything the volume control and MQA which I am willing to give that up but functions as a pre amp....and Bluetooth...also don't know if I got your comments on this particular piece but anybody would please like to make some comments between theD2D and the D50 would be very much appreciated.

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26 minutes ago, Ottoa62 said:

Any suggestions?

 

Well, if you prefer matching design, the Pro-Ject Accu Box S2 or Accubox S2 USB (battery banks) or Power Box S2 (linear PSU): https://www.project-audio.com/en/category/hifi-electronics/s2-line/power-s2-line/   I believe the designer of the S2D had a hand in, or at least had input into the development of, those three products. There are many other fine products with the same features available from China and elsewhere too though of course.

 

Everyone wants to date my avatar.

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The ability to be a pre amp with a remote is tipping the scales in that direction. Another thought, instead of a linear power supply I was thinking about using one if those cell phone charging power banks. Project makes one and says it really adds to ever cleaner sound due to no AC mains pollution. Theirs is around 200.00.  It's 2600 rating.   Maybe I'll contact their support and ask.

 

Taz do you have a suggestion for a linear power supply under 100.00. I looked at Amazon.  The nobsound is unavailable at this time.  There are a few on eBay.  The cell power bank was the outcome of my thoughts.

Absolute Sound in January issue reviewed the S2D and really liked it. That's a plus one. thank you

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I can only recommend the one I use: an LKS Audio linear power supply. It powers my Topping D50. It's a Chinese-made LPS and is rated at 25VA with a decent Talema transformer in it. I have another 5V LPS on order which I cannot rate yet until it's been wired into my desktop HiFi system.

 

Now, something you need to research is this: if you use a USB source in to the Proj-Ject S2D, then it will take power from the USB source via the USB cable that is delivering the USB Audio signal. the S2D appears to have an external power capability via a micro-USB jack. Hence, in theory, you could use a linear power with a cable that terminates in a micro-USB connector to feed into the external power supply jack of the S2D.

 

However, and this confuses me somewhat, the user manual for the S2D doesn't recommend using an external power supply if you are using the USB port as your music source.

 

Source: https://www.project-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Manual_Pre-Box-S2-Digital.pdf

 

Quote

Mains power connection

The unit offers 2 possibilties:
1. USB input is not used: Connect the low voltage plug from the power supply to the micro-USB socket Power 5V DC before connecting the power supply to the mains.

2. USB input is in use: Unit can be powered directly from computer via USB input. In this case is highly recommended to disconnect Power 5V DC cable from the unit - power disturbances from two power supplies could affect sound performance.

 

Note point (2) in that quote.

 

What I read from that is that you shouldn't use an external power supply if you're using the USB audio input, as the S2D will take power from the USB line.

 

Perhaps someone on here who actually owns an S2D can comment?

 

Of course, this also suggests that if the other non-USB audio inputs are used then an external power supply is required and you could use an LPS or Pro-Jects own external power supplies connected to the micro-USB external power input on the S2D as @left channel suggested earlier.

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33 minutes ago, Taz777 said:

Perhaps someone on here who actually owns an S2D can comment?

 

The manual does not provide enough information.

The PSU included with the S2D is intended for use with the coax and optical inputs. When connected via USB, power is drawn from the USB source and in that case the use of the included PSU is not recommended.

After the S2D was released, the designer — John Westlake — posted additional information in an online forum: when connected via USB, if you connect an external PSU the S2D will automatically switch to the PSU for power, but he does not recommend using the included switching PSU then. He recommends only a linear PSU of the types I linked to above from Pro-Ject or other manufacturers.

 

In general, most of us have found that any external PSU will improve the sound quality over using only USB power. Although John is adamant that we should not use switching PSUs of any kind, I've seen a report that the iFi iPower does offer improvement even though it is filtered but not linear. However, most of us did go with linear PSUs. I use a cheap linear "wall-wart".

Everyone wants to date my avatar.

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@Paul R I have the iFi Nano iDSD BL. It's really a transportable DAC (portable at a pinch). Sound is okay and it does have a 3.5mm line out. Not really a desktop device, although it does do MQA decoding in hardware. My opinion of it is that it's really a DAC to get the most out of mobile phones when you're on the move. It works well in that respect and there's some clever tech in it to cope with headphones that use balanced or unbalanced cables.

 

@left channel Okay, so it looks like the device will auto-switch power inputs. Perhaps the manual is out of synch? I noticed that the manual is dated 2017.

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