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For modest budget: V-DAC-II or DacMagic or new Integrated with built in DAC??


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Hello,

 

I have enjoyed my current system for a while but am now looking for a way to improve it without spending a lot more money. I listen to mostly classical and jazz on lossless (apple) files which are streamed from my MAC through a Squeezebox3 to a Marantz PM7001 integrated amp. The IA drives a pair of KEF XQ40's.

 

My room is fairly large and this system is used exclusively for music: mostly classical, jazz, folk, blues and a mixture of other stuff.

 

So the question is whether to spend the money for a relatively inexpensive DAC such as DACMAGIC or VDAC? Or instead purchase a 2 Channel stereo receive with built in DAC?

 

And now I see that there is a V-DAC-II which is even better than VDAC. Can anyone tell me how this would compare with DacMagic and which would be a better choice? ( I do not use USB but the SB3 for my source material instead).

 

Or, perhaps I should replace my Marantz PM7001 Integrated with one like PeachTree Nova with a built-in DAC? Any thoughts on this????

 

I would appreciate opinions and experience that could help me with the decision, and also any comparison between the DAC's i mentioned.

 

Thanks

 

Larry

 

Larry

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I think your basic system is fine and would highly recommend an external DAC like the DacMagic (it was my first external DAC). I see zero gain by adding a receiver with internal DAC versus your current integrated with an external DAC.

 

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open."
Frank Zappa
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Hi Larry

 

In my experience an external DAC is by far the better choice. Most people say an amp makes a bigger improvement over a DAC however the experiences I have had of recent times tells me the opposite. Get a better DAC. I will attach an interesting story about that at the end but IMHO in your situation I would look at an Audio GD DAC rather than a VDAC or Dacmagic. Neither really impressed me but the Audio GD stuff always does:

http://www.audio-gd.com/Pro/dac/NFB3-2011/NFB3.1EN.htm

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net.au/index.php/audio-reviews/digital-source-reviews/item/177-audio-gd-nfb-2-dac-19-series

 

Feeding it with a digital interface will improve things as well:

http://www.audio-gd.com/Pro/dac/USBface/Digital1EN.htm

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net.au/index.php/audio-reviews/digital-source-reviews/item/283-audio-gd-digital-interface-%20-class-a-psu

 

What you can do is get the NFB 3 then later get the digital source. I think you will find it a step up and later you may think about getting an even better DAC and device to feed it with - it really does make a big difference IMHO.

 

And now for the interesting story. The local Hi Fi store I generally use not only sells stuff but makes it as well and that includes a DAC called the PDX. A guy that heard the PDX in the store (I happened to be down there about another matter when he heard it which is why I was later told the story) had its maker come around to compare to his new $4K Primare CD32 connected to a top flight balanced pre (I can't recall exactly what it was) and to some top of the line Xindak mono-blocks. Evidently it sounded wonderful and it was thought the PDX may have a real hard time of it. Anyway they connected it and used the USB input fed from a Mac Mini (the PDX has a USB input). Then wham - one of the mono-blocks decided to pack it in (evidently smoke came out of it) and it was thought that was that. But the guy remembered he had some other relatively cheap amp tucked away - an Adcom if I recall correctly. Anyway they connected it up not really expecting much compared to the much more expensive set-up heard previously. Well guess what - it slaughtered it - evidently it was not contest - way way better.

 

The moral here is spending more on the DAC will reap benefits over and above anything except perhaps new speakers.

 

Thanks

Bill

 

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Thanks Bill,

 

I have read all of the links you supplied and really appreciate it.

 

It is very confusing to read the reviews and to make the right choice of DAC. I have been reading about:

 

vdac2

dacmagic

Audio-gd NFB-2

Maverick TubeMagic D1

Peachtree DACIT

 

How does one choose? From what I gather, most of these are better choices than DacMagic and VDAC. But what about the V-Dac II? The review I read seemed to think it was quite improved.

 

The Audio-GD NFB-2 seems pretty darn impressive .. but here are some followup questions:

- is the vendor reliable in terms of shipping to the USA? Is his testing and QC thorough?

- does it have a good power supply and is it OK for USA voltage?

- What is the difference between NFB-2 and NFB-3?

 

The other DAC's seem to be tube based but also well reviewed. Would one of these be a better choice compared to the Audio-GD? I listen mainly to Classical and Jazz and don't know if that makes much of a difference?

 

Thanks for being patient.

 

Larry

 

Larry

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Hi Larry

 

Indeed it is very hard to choose - there is so much stuff competing for your Hi Fi dollar. What most people do is leave it to a reviewer and get some well reviewed stuff.

 

Regarding the NFB 2:

- is the vendor reliable in terms of shipping to the USA? Is his testing and QC thorough?

 

I know a number of people, including myself, that have ordered stuff from Audio GD and I have never heard of anyone having any problems.

 

- does it have a good power supply and is it OK for USA voltage?

 

It has and excellent power supply - in fact the best I have ever seen at this price point. 120V US version available.

 

- What is the difference between NFB-2 and NFB-3?

 

Slightly better parts such an an R-Core Transformer instead of a Toroidal Transformer. IMHO the NFB 3 is the better deal.

 

Modern tube output stages are very nice, very transparent and not like the ones of yore that were slow and dripping in honey. I am a big fan of tube output stages but at this price point I am not sure the money is available to produce a really top notch one. I would stick to the Audio GD NFB 3. A friend of mine, John Darko, has reviewed a lot of those DAC's you mention and he believes the Audio GD is the pick of them:

 

'Detail retrieval is very good (whatever that means), as is timing. It had better pace and more snap than the Maverick TubeMagic and is more on par with the MHDT Paradisea NOS DAC when comparing PRaT prowess. With no tube in its output stage, the NFB-2 has the superior bass definition and is comparatively less murky than both the MHDT Paradisea and (especially) the Maverick. The Maverick might be just over half the price of the NFB-2, but Kingwa offers another member of the DAC-19 family in the (limited run) NFB-3 for a paltry US$300 that is said to be excruciatingly close to the NFB-2's sonic performance. If this is even halfway true, the NFB-3 has the potential to overthrow the Maverick at its ~AU$300 price point. When sat side-by-side, Audio-gd's engineering renders the Maverick as Meccano-esque. In short, the Maverick should consider itself "on notice".'

 

Thanks

Bill

 

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Hi Bill,

 

What still mystifies me is the idea of "burn-in". Some of the reviews talk about the NFB-2 as "opening up" etc. after 200 hours. Do you know what actually causes this to happen? Is it real?

 

I am stuck on the NFB-3.1 vs NFB-2. I do not want to be "penny wise". Do you think with my other components I would notice the difference?

 

Another question: what are all of the different user configurable filter options about? What setting is the best (I do not use USB)?

 

Larry

 

Larry

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Larry: there are some discussions on head fi regarding the filter options. I think the conventional wisdom is that you just have to try them out for yourself but the difference may not be great. In any case, I have an audio gd fun that I've been very impressed with and would seriously consider buying one of their products again. Miguel

 

Macmini (as server)-> AE Express/SB Touch-> Dacmagic plus -> Outlaw RR2150 -> PSB Image T6 (dedicated 2 channel audio system)

Macmini (via toslink)-> NAD T747 -> PSB Imagine B/SVS SB2000 subwoofer (home theater)

Macbook Pro-> Peachtree idecco->PSB Imagine Minis, Energy ESW-M8 subwoofer, Beyerdynamic DT880 (home office)

IMac->audioengine D1 dac->airmotiv 4 (work system)

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Hi Larry

 

Burn in is real but the exact cause is not well understood. Some theroies are, for example, capactors are micropphonic tranforming unwanted vibrations to coluration and noise but as they burn it at the molecular level some things become more alligned and less susceptable to microphonics.

 

You will not be penny-wise getting the NFB 3 instead of the 2, by reputation it is excruciatingly close to the 2. You probably will notice a difference but I think a bigger bang for your buck would be getting a Audio GD Digital Interface to feed it.

 

I was just with a guy today and we checked out a $2K Off-Ramp against a $575 Audiophilleo - the Off-Ramp murdered it - what you feed it really is that important.

 

I never really got my head around that filter stuff either - I havent found it makes much of a difference but then again I have only really had one DAC that had it my WFS DAC2.

 

Thanks

Bill

 

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I don't know if you can get the XTZ 100D3 where you are, but it's an integrated with inbuilt dac, £620 in the UK and it's spectacularly good - you can see many rave reviews on forums. You'd probably need a USB SPdif converter, but it's very good for the money.

 

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I recently was in a similar position except that I also needed to buy a new amplifier/receiver.

 

I was looking at the same DACs you mentioned (along with the Arcam rDac) and weighing them against buying an integrated amplifier with a solid internal DAC. For integrated amps, I looked most closely at the Peachtree iNova and the Bel Canto C5i.

 

I ended up choosing the Bel Canto C5i for a few reasons. I dug the sound, the simple interface, the company's philosophy and location (in my hometown), my desire for a straightforward computer-amp-speaker set-up, and a desire to avoid buying another expensive set of expensive interconnects (with a potential price equal to several of the DACs under consideration).

 

I am somewhat anxious about how future proof my system will be because I see DAC technology developing pretty quickly over time, and it could be easier to swap a separate DAC than the amp. But I'm happy with my decision so far.

 

At Home: 10x12 listening room -> Asus G74Sx laptop -> Windows 10 -> Foobar 2000 (WASAPI output) -> Audioquest Cinnamon USB -> Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier -> Audioquest Rocket 33 bi-wired speaker cables -> B&W CM9 speakers & B&W ASW10CM subwoofer. At Work: Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro -> Windows 10 -> Foobar 2000 (WASAPI output) -> Audioquest Forest USB -> Rotel RA-1570 -> Audioquest Type 4 speaker cables -> Magnepan Mini System.

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It will be interesting to see whether dacs become more common in 2 channel rigs. I suspect this will become the norm over time. Onkyo has done this with their last few offerings which is why I suspect this will become fairly mainstream over time.

 

Macmini (as server)-> AE Express/SB Touch-> Dacmagic plus -> Outlaw RR2150 -> PSB Image T6 (dedicated 2 channel audio system)

Macmini (via toslink)-> NAD T747 -> PSB Imagine B/SVS SB2000 subwoofer (home theater)

Macbook Pro-> Peachtree idecco->PSB Imagine Minis, Energy ESW-M8 subwoofer, Beyerdynamic DT880 (home office)

IMac->audioengine D1 dac->airmotiv 4 (work system)

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Some DAC's have a built in Jitter reduction scheme. The Dac Magic uses asynchronous reclocking and upsampling via a digital signal processor using technology licensed from Anagram Technologies. Its actually quite good. The issue with the DAC Magic however is it uses a switching power supply and an op-amp output stage which are generally not considered audiophile quality - and it sounds it - bright and hard to my ears. The NFB does not have a jitter reducer but has a higher quality power supply and a discreet output stage that audiophiles generally prefer - as the review of the NFB attested to:

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net.au/index.php/audio-reviews/digital-source-reviews/item/177-audio-gd-nfb-2-dac-19-series

'Instead, there is a distinctive analogue quality that immediately puts it head and shoulders above the Cambridge DacMagic.'

 

That's without a jitter reducer - with something like the Audio GD Digital Interface should be even better again.

 

Thanks

Bill

 

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Again thank you. I had not realized that these were 2 separate functions. I guess I am now sitting on the fence between a couple of solutions (am I the only one who agonizes over these seemingly trivial decisions?)

 

Audio GD NFB-3.1. Vs something like PeachTree DacIT

 

My hesitation on the NFB is only that it is not commonly available and that I will need an additional unit for the jitter reduction.

 

The DacIT is readily available (CRUTCHFIELD) with easy exchange if I do not like it, claims jitter reduction, and also has a remote which is a nice feature if I want to switch from my Squeezebox to airport express. But then it looks like it has an inferior PS and only 120db s/n (vs 128db claimed by the NFB.... ). Does this matter?

 

But ultimately I want the best sound so I wish there were reviews and direct comparisons between these 2 units. I have not been able to find any. Perhaps I shoul re-post as a separate thread to find out if anyone has made the comparison?

 

and how does the WM 8741 chip compare to the ESS Sabre 9022? Which is more advanced and which better specs?

 

See what I mean about agonizing:-)?

 

Larry

 

Also I do not know how the 2 DAC

 

Larry

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thank you so much.

 

The Audio-GF NFB-2 DAC arrived today and I hooked it to my Squeezebox3 with a piece of digitalcoax to my Marantz Integrated. When I turned it on it began playing a classical music FM station i had been streaming this morning at 128KBPS. And holy cow ... it sounded so much clearer and in focus. So I then put on a lossless file of Beethoven Triple Concerto and YOWZA!. I am sitting in my living room and it is like a whole new HiFi system! I hear the instruments in specific places and even the bass sounds more like real notes on key. I had no idea that a DAC could make this kind of a difference.

 

Thanks for your help.

 

Larry

 

One question: Does it matter which of the integrated amp inputs i use for the DAC. I have it going into the AUX/DVD input. Would it make a difference if I used the CD input?

 

Larry

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Hi!

 

IMHO:

 

@ $350, go with the Musical Fidelity VDAC II

@ $1,119, go with the Benchmark DAC 1 and Musical Fidelity V-Link; or the Benchmark with USB: $1,300. The Benchmark in either configuration is a top flight unit with a top flight headphone amp. It also is very flexible in terms of operation.

 

I would recommend that you also invest in a Logitech Touch, which would provide you with a very rich source of programming on Internet radio from around the world.

 

 

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