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Why not use a top-tier DAC from 1990s? Looking for your comments...

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I was wondering why not buy one of those top-tier DACs from the 1990s which had high end op amps and other goodies, good sound quality and save a few dollars for music?


What would be the key issues? How would the system deal with high resolution files (does itunes, the computer or the DAC resolve the downgrade automatically, is a manual adjustment to computer required or do things like 24/96 files just not work?). What about those streams from iTunes radio that come in different resolutions?


For example, the Mark Levinson No 36 looks like it has 24 bit architecture and 32(!)/44.1/48khz sampling and stated jitter below 20ps.




The Cambridge Audio $400 DacMagic can deal with all kinds of input cables and music formats but I can't believe that sound quality can approach that coming from what once was a $6,000+ unit, at least at redbook level.


Any thoughts would be welcomed!




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I think you could compare using an old dac to using a digital camera from the 90´s.

A $400 camera from 2008 camera easily beats a $12.000 camera from 1996.






BM DAC1/HDR --> ATC SCM 100ASL[br]BM DAC1--> Genelec 8020/Beyer T70[br]Apogee Duet2 --> Stax 007T/404[br]Apogee Duet2 --> Genelec 6010A/Beyer DT1350[br]

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Hi Steelman,


With you all the way on this one. I've been having a look round and I must say I am finding it really difficult to choose new or old. The way I see it at the moment is that DAC chips have come on a long way in recent years and even 'mid-fi' stuff can now be the equal of say, 5 to 10 year old high end stuff. Or so the folk-lore goes! There is also the issue of bit depth/resolution. Much, if not all, of the older dacs operate at 16/44 max, so that then rules out acquiring high res stuff via dvd-a and download. The computer can be set to output 16/44 but if you're starting off with a pristine 24/96 it seems a shame to then end up downsampling it so the dac can cope!


My brain keeps swimming around between '16/44 is fine, don't worry about it' and '24/96 has got to be better and you'll be missing out'! Then there's the issue of getting the sound out of the computer. USB would be ideal for my set-up, which means either buying a newer dac or buying something to convert usb data to something an older dac could cope with. Nightmare!


I would also be interested to know what other people around here think.


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Found Audiogon to be a useful tool for tracking down high end DACs at more "realistic" values..


Picked up a well preserved, 5yo dcs Delius (24/192 - Dual AES) for a fraction of its original list.


Couples very well with the lynx AES16


Would love to back to back against a Berkeley - not the easiest DAC to borrow for try out - as I am intrigued as to whether DAC technological advances have indeed been substantial over the past half decade...as I have my doubts.



Speakers: Avalon Acoustics Indra; Preamp: Spectral Audio DMC-30SS; Amps: Spectral Audio DMA 360v2 Monoblocks; Analog Cables: MIT Oracle; Power Cables: MIT Oracle; Digital: Bespoke Server [AO WinS16, HDPlex 400 LPS, Pachanko Loom, JCAT FEMTO NET & USB Card / Regen Isolator --> Vivaldi DAC and Clock [ChordMusic Clock Cables; Vertere HB Pulse USB]; Racks: Finite Elemente Pagode Edition HD4 and HD9 Amp Supports. Power: Shunyata Triton v3; DPC-6 v3

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...if anyone fancies my Meridian 566 24bit DAC it is now looking for a good home :-) I have compared it to the Chord 64 and the PS Audio III - could hear no difference through my system of Meridian 502/557/Ruark speakers. I now have a pair of AVI ADM 9.1's so the whole lot is redundant I am sad to say - obviously the older DAC's don't understand about USB but you can get converters or for my money I prefer optical toslink (after years of believing coax sounded better!). I am in the UK though, but if you are passing through lovely Devon one day soon before it goes on eBay you are welcome to a listen - bring a beer...! :-)



Qobuz -> Auralic Aries Mini -> Chord Mojo DAC -> Heed Obelisk SI -> Mark Audio Pluvia 11 Custom Built  Mass Loaded Transmission Line Speakers

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I still have an old modified Stax Dac Talent (early 90s) and it is still much more musical than the Logitech Transporter Dac (that I bought used, kept 3 weeks and sold).

I am still looking for a nice replacement Dac for this old one.


Had I known at the time, I would have come and bought the Meridian, I use to work in UK Somerset :-D




Digital Drive = Netgear NAS -> Mac Mini -> Kharma Firewire Cable -> Weiss AFI1 [br]Anti jitter = Stealth Varidig Sextet AES EBU -> Genesis Digital Lens [br]Dac = Audioquest Eagle eye -> Stax dac Talent [br]Pre/Amp = Transparent Ultra RCA -> Conrad Johnson CA200[br]Speakers = Stealth Jr -> Wilson Cub (Sound Anchor stands)[br]Power = Goldmund, Verastarr, Tara labs, Fadel Art, Shunyata Hydra/ PC, APC Smart UPS[br]Isolation = Clearaudio, Goldmund, Acoustic System, Gflex

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I am using a Timbre TT-1 that is now more than ten years old. I was taking the USB out through a HagUSB, and I thought the sound was quite good, but the audiophile bug bit me. I assumed, like one of the other posters, that surely digital technology had greatly improved, so I tried it against a used Wavelength Brick v.1. I thought that if the Brick sounded okay I would get it upgraded (the price is reasonable), but it wasn't in the ballpark. The same with a Benchmark DAC1.


I listened to a Wavelength Cosecant at Stereo Exchange in New York, and although the system in their listening room was pricey compared to mine, I came home, and my system still sounded okay. So I replaced the HagUSB with a used Empirical Audio Turbo II, and it was a substantial improvement. I would like hear the Cosecant and the Wavelength Crimson in my system, but I think I will wait until banks stop collapsing. The Turbo II scratched my itch for the present.


I don't think the comparison to cameras that one of the posters makes is quite accurate. Digital photography is great, and I have sold my Hasselblad 500cm, but there is no digital camera under $10k that will make better, big prints than it did. To be sure, making good prints from negatives is a pain in the backside, but the image quality is hard to beat. And there is no digital camera that will make as good an image as a 1950s Speed Graphics with a top quality lens, which you can pickup for well less $1000 and have enough left for a dinner for two in a decent restaurant. I use one regularly.


One reason I think exploring older DACs makes sense is that there really hasn't been a major change in the digital format. There are specialty companies selling a few high-rez recordings, and they sound great, but most of the music that I listen to is still distributed exactly as it was in the 90s, and the recording industry seems to be doing nothing much about, so we will be stuck with this format for some time to come. The market for high-end recordings is very small. I heard some time ago that the Itunes Store was going to sell in Apple Lossless format, but nothing yet.


Of course, non-oversampling DACs are very fashionable now, and rightfully so, but I suspect that the TT-1 is not the only great, classic DAC. It doesn't cost much to give them a try and resell them if you don't like the performance.



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I just hooked up An Audio Note Kits Dac 2.1 Level B Signature Dac. This unit uses an 18 bit Analog Devices 1865N NOS Dac. Audio Note employs a 1 times overssmapling filter and there is no analog filter.


I am waiting for the USB board to arrive. So far, I have hooked up my trusty Modified Denon DVD player (D-Clock) and I use a Stereovox XV2 digital coaxial cable. The results have ebnn marvelous so far. I rolled the output tubes so now I have to evaluate them.


Powerbook G4 15 inch Aluminum, \"Fidela,\" M2tech EVO (BNC)with RF attenuator,dedicated PSU, Stereovox XV Ultra (BNC) Audio Note Dac Kit 2.1 Level B Signature Upgraded to 12AU7 tubes, ARC SP-16L Tube preamp , VAC PA100/100 Tube Amp), Vintage Tubes, Furutech ETP-80, (Alon 2 Mk2, (upgraded tweeters, Usher Woofers), Pangea Power cords, Omega Micro Active Planar PC. Signal Cable Silver Resolution ICs.

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There's a little sub-community of vintage Parasound users. After hearing the DA/C 1500, I knew I needed the single-ended version. Have now bought two at $200 a pop which you wouldn't get a mile to new. Of course there are sampling rate limitations, but there are killer deals if you go best of the 90s. Much more organic sound than some of the biggies currently (thinking of you DAC1).


\"Science fiction tends to be philosophy for stupid people.\" - Chuck Klosterman

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Hold on to your Blad Chris. I still have a Speed Graflex 4 by 5 in my collection and also some wooden/brass 8 by 10 cameras, but are currently using a 3 year old Nikon D2X which is already obsolete. I you read my original post you can see that I wasn´t comparing old analogue camaras to new digital cameras. But old digital cameras to new digital cameras in order to illustrate my point that digital technology is developing very rapidly. I wouldn´t hesitate to by an old ML amp, but I certainly wouldn´t be i the market for old primitive digital gear.








BM DAC1/HDR --> ATC SCM 100ASL[br]BM DAC1--> Genelec 8020/Beyer T70[br]Apogee Duet2 --> Stax 007T/404[br]Apogee Duet2 --> Genelec 6010A/Beyer DT1350[br]

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I think the camera analogy is useful, but I think the wrong conclusion was drawn. First, let's admit that there has been a ton more advance in digital photography than in digital audio in the last decade--it's a much more competitive field with much more money involved.


Still, I would assume that a $12,000 camera from ten years ago has an absolutely top-quality lens, and that lenses of the same quality cost more today than they did yesterday. The lens on my $300 dig camera cannot compare. Similarly, any DAC has an audio section. How is a run-of-the-mill op-amp fed by a wall wart going to compete with the multiply regulated power supplies of the Levinson? I doubt it can. The dacs might have higher resolution and be smoother, but with a wall wart, in my experience, you cannot get excellent dynamics or the type of solid, physical sound I enjoy. I've been wrong, and I'd love to be proven wrong, but I am skeptical of today's cheap DACs. Of course today's masterings have no dynamics so maybe no one can tell the difference.



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Newer DAC's, like cameras have higher resolution, so you will get more detail. Not always more musical however. The AKM 4396 for instance is one of the most detailed D/A chips out, but totally non-musical IMO.


The biggest problem with older DAC's is the aging capacitors, old capacitor technology and the old Op-amps in them. Fortunately modders can upgrade all of these and improve them significantly. I dont mod anything anymore, but I can tell you from modding 15 different DAC's, that some old DAC's such as the Thetas and the top of line Assemblage turn-out really stellar. Many of these use the older ladder D/A chips. These of course are not up to modern standards for 3-D and detail, but are very musical.


Steve N.

Empirical Audio


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I think the key to your question may have been the term "top-tier." Start with real top-tier stuff from the time--anything lower I suspect will be a waste of your time.


I had this same question three years ago when I had spent all my stereo money building a system, then found I hated getting up to switch CDs, lost interest in SACD, found iTunes and CD ripping and was a DAC separate short from a decent computer-based system. Given my remaining low budget I then went through 3 non-top-tier DAC separates from Denon, Adcom and Proceed and also tried the DAC in the Krell HT unit I temporarily used as a pre-amp. The Denon sucked, the Adcom was a fair bit better sounding, and the Krell was just slightly better still. But not great. The Krell was one of their $5K new units from about 5 years before, so it was respectable even at the time I used it, but as a two-channel music DAC, it didn't suit my system. I got the Proceed DAP having read a couple reviews at how it was just short of it's much higher-end ML brothers, had digital volume control so I could run it straight to the amp, and got one for about $600 used. Only marginally better still--again, not great, not super musical, but better I guess. I stopped there for about 9 months, saved a little more cash, and bought a Benchmark and it was a gross improvement over the Proceed, at least in my system with my tastes in sound, new at about only 2x what I paid for the used Proceed.


Now, there were DACs built in the same era as the Proceed DAP (which I think sold for $2300 new?) which sounded better, many of which also cost a lot more. Proceed would still be a junior brand of ML had they sounded better than they actually did, I'd guess. Top-tier? I doubt it, but maybe close for the time technology wise?


I may sound like I'm dissuading you from trying the experiment. Not at all--I actually think you should try, and I am anxiously awaiting your results. I ended up selling all those DACs (short of the cheap Denon which I actually broke) and the Krell for more than I paid for them. I think if you can find used stuff and good- to great-prices, then your chances of being able to break-even if you don't like them kind of means free-experimentation if you don't mind tying up some cash for a while. Just hope you're not the only guy that was interested in trying the once-super-expensive-boutique-DAC-from-the-90s and now you have a vintage system for the kids with a 90s DAC no one has heard of and you don't like the sound of.


For the sake of "don't spend more money than you have to for great sound," I really hope you have better results than I did. But save some time and go right to the top-tier stuff off the bat.


Let us know your results!


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A newbie here with a No1 post. I've been checking this site for a month or so now, quite handy, cheers Chris.


I have a mid 90's Arcam Black Box 50 (first consumer DAC with sync lock?), a new Beresford TC7510 and a 5 year old Yamaha AV amp as DACs.


The Beresford seems to have a rather sterile feel but eeks out more information than the Arcam.

The Arcam seems to be much warmer but lacks the detail of the Beresford.


I think that which sounds best depends on the sound signature of the source fed to these DACs.


The Yamaha sounds worse than either, just rough round the edges.


I attribute this difference to the newer Beresford doing a better job of conversion whilst the formerly expensive Arcam has a nice sounding analogue side.


How off the ball am I on this idea? Is there much going on in the analogue side of a DAC?


Feeding the Arcam a none 44.1/48 source results in a rapid clicking sound, like having 1000 crickets inside your ears.


I'm currently speccing up a new HTPC since one of my old PC's has died. That's a story for another thread.




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You know, this difference between DAC's is interesting, and it is both the analogue side of things and the susceptibility to timing errors in the digital interface that can colour the sound. If a DAC is one of those that is pretty robust when it comes to jitter (please excuse the terminology as what some people call jitter others do not, but we all know what we mean here I think!) you should hear pretty much what is on the disc or in the file. I have come to the conclusion, after many, many years of listening to the sound of the components, that what I actually want to hear is the truth, what's on the disc, not a coloured, sanitised version created in the circuits of "hi-fi".


There will always be variations in what you hear, every transistor, diode, resister or capacitor operating in the analogue domain, whether imprinted onto a minute integrated circuit or "grown" to full size as a discreet component, will have a "sound" signature. That's where the snake oil of high end "hi-fi" really comes into it's own - and, sad to tell, I love all that too :-)




PS. Having said all that, when I sit listening to my ADM's thinking how "accurate" they are, I often wonder what monitors the studio technicians used to put down the final mix - they most likely were not AVI ADM's, and probably sounded "accurately" somewhat different. I would love to take, say, George Martin and get him to listen to The Beatles Norwegian Wood on my system, and then ask him if it sounded like it did in the abbey Road studios :-)



Qobuz -> Auralic Aries Mini -> Chord Mojo DAC -> Heed Obelisk SI -> Mark Audio Pluvia 11 Custom Built  Mass Loaded Transmission Line Speakers

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I've been getting back into Hifi lately and run a set of maggie 1.6's and PSB platinum bookshelves. I've been trying to figure out what to front my systems with. In the past I would have went and bought a transport / DAC setup and been done. I find myself confused now, but this discussion makes me think I have a Muse model 2 in the garage. I'm going to look for it tonight and give it a try. It was a top rated DAC in the day for about $2k. My transport was stolen by the furniture delivery guys, so I put it somewhere thinking 10 years+ makes it obsolete anyway. My system doesn't have the involving quality it had back then. In the meantime, what is the setup I want? I'm sold on running the library out of the computer, I'm an idiot though and don't know what files to rip to "apple loseless or wav ect." use a squeezebox, my Denon 3808, buy a DAC, transporter? I'm totally confused and looking for a step by step "how to". This site seems the best I've seen. My traditional audio part is good "Amps and speakers" the computer file part is confusing for the computer novice. At this point in my life a 1k DAC seems more my speed, not the 5k Berkeley I see recommended. Where do I turn???


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Get the Muse out of the Garage, and start with it. You will need someway to get an output from your computer to it. You can get a sound card, like the Lynx (about $700, I think) or the the Juli@ (a lot cheaper) and connect from its SPDIF out to your dac, or you can pick up the HagUSB (something over $100), and use a USB output. Trends Audio has a unit that I think is not much more expensive the the HagUSB.


I used an older sound card that I had around at first, then the Hag, both seemed better to me than any CDP I'd ever used. I am now using an Empirical Audio Off Ramp Turbo II, which is considerably more expensive (I got one on Audiogon for $450), and it is excellent (see the Empirical audio site for the details on the various devices).


I am mystified about DACs. I have been wanting to replace my Timbre tt-1, but I have been having trouble finding something that sounds better at a price that seems reasonable when the economy is tanking.


Benchmark has a free trial. Or you can buy and sell used DACs on Audiogon until you find something that sounds right to you.




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I'd caution against buying older electronics anyway and DACs in particular. Quite apart from the fact that DVDA is 24 Bit and CD sales are falling fast, so it may become the standard, you also need to consider that they weren't only susceptible to jitter, most spewed RF and didn't filter out of band hash terribly well. None can compare with the least expensive of today's offerings and their nasty emissions can upset some amplifiers.


There are constant advances in electronics and all are devoted to reducing price and consumption and increasing performance. None are designed for the hi end Industry because they don't sell enough, therefore they have to use the same stuff as everybody else and hope they can find something in the applications notes that gives them a perceived USP. The rest is a beautiful box.


All these improvements mean that the life cycle for components is short and repairs may not be possible if anything fails. This situation has been made worse by the Lead Free Directive, which killed off thousands.






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That Muse is very smooth and resolved but a little overblown in the bass for a Naim person like myself. If you are interested, I have the matching transport with I2S bus that I many be getting rid of in the next few months.


With all due respect, Ash, cheap used Dacs made to high standards when they were expensive in the 1990s seem like as good a reliability bet as cheap cheap new Dacs from today. In either case the initial outlay is cheap so no worries.


As for hi-rez fear mongering, for years everyone said don't buy a good CD player because SACD is coming. Well, I own 10,000 albums on cd or vinyl and I don't think 200 of them ever made it to SACD or DVD-,A, and many more of them saw vinyl re- or sometimes first ever release. It's true that a few audiophile companies are selling hi-rez, but most of the world isn't up to hi-bit mp3 (i.e. 320 or 256) much less redbood Flac. There is exactly one hi-rez downloadable album that I know of that I personally would care enough to repurchase in that format, the latest Shellac release (ironic). To put good money now into a hi-rez dac, unless one is eyeing the Linn catalog with envy (to each his own) seems premature. Sorry but I find your comment entirely self-interested.


What's more, in many cases there is good reason to believe that redbook versions out there are already the best sounding digital version that may ever be available, except for high quality hi rez dubs from original vinyl, due to current mastering trends.


The jitter point is valid, which is why I look forward to the PS Audio Digital Lens.


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It's a mistake to assume that hand made "high quality" electronics of ten or more years ago could have been as reliable when new as modern robot built electronics are now. Things have improved dramatically in performance and reliability and costs have fallen equally dramatically.


There's nothing wrong with buying old and out of date gear as long as you understand what you're letting yourself in for, that's all I'm saying.




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I don't doubt robot assembly. However, when you take a $2,000 DAC like the Muse just mentioned, much less something like a Mark Levinson, you get over-specified parts that are unlikely to fail, whereas the manufacturer of a $169 or $469 box or what have you is much more likely to cut corners on a part that may be adequate, but have a higher chance of failure in the long-term. And if there were a problem in assembly, it's probably long-since revealed itself.


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