My first DAC

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Ice10

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My first DAC
« on: 11 Feb 2021, 04:47 am »
I’ve recently upgraded my integrated amp (Pass Int-60) and my streamer (Bluesound node 2i) and I think I’d like to add a DAC.  Never having owned one I’m pretty clueless about which to consider.  Does anyone have suggestions for DAC’s in the $800-$1,200 range?  I’m open to new or used, simple is best, and a headphone jack isn’t needed.
Thanks!

Nsm1979

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #1 on: 11 Feb 2021, 05:01 am »
I have a Nuprime Dac 10 that I will be putting in the classifieds in the next few days.  It will be listed at the lower end of your price point.  Many very favorable reviews out there on the web.  If you are interested,  let me know.

mresseguie

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #2 on: 11 Feb 2021, 08:33 am »
Iceman,

Do you know what kind of sound you're hoping to achieve with the new DAC?  Some DACs are warm sounding - very analog sounding; some DACs produce super detailed music; some DACs produce an almost metallic sounding music. There are NOS (Non-OverSampling) DACs which reproduce CD music (also known as PCM or 44.1khz). There are DSD DACs and MQA DACs. There are solid state, tubed, and hybrid DACs.

What kind of connectivity are you looking for - USB, SPIDF, etc.? Will you use a computer as source? A CD player? A streamer?

I went through several different DACs during my journey. I began with a DacMagic Plus which was adequate for my needs until I bought a really nice tube preamp. That's when I realized that DAC was acting as a bottleneck. My next DAC was an ESS9018 DAC which was very revealing, but had an almost metallic sheen to the music. I initially liked that sound because it revealed so much more detail, but I began realizing that I suffered listening fatigue after only an hour or so. From there, I tried two very different DACS - a NOS DAC called the dB AudioLabs Tranquility SE DAC based on the TDA1543 chip, and a Nuprime DAC-9. The Tranquility was a huge 'ear' opener for me. With it in my evolving system, I experienced a real warm 3D soundstage and great detail, but none of the metallic shine that had plagued me before. I posted a fair amount about my impressions of the Tranquility DAC on AC. I really fell for that DAC. I still own it, though it is no longer my primary DAC. The DAC-9 was pretty nice sounding - a little warm without providing a lot of detail(?). I guess that's how I'd describe it. It has a volume control, so it can be used without a preamp. I probably would have kept it if I hadn't decided I "had" to have a preamp in my system.

The DAC-10 Nsm1979 mentioned is more refined (?) cleaner (?) sounding than the DAC-9 and has a bigger soundstage. I briefly auditioned one, but it didn't mesh well with my system, so I returned it. That's not to say it wasn't good. It just didn't work really well with my other components. This mismatch can happen with any DAC, so don't read too much into my decision.

I do not listen to DSD or MQA music, so I have zero need for a DSD or MQA capable DAC. I really like high quality NOS DACs that excel at reproducing Redbook CD music. After enjoying the Tranquility DAC for a couple years, I went off the deep end <in a BIG way> and bought a tubed NOS DAC (SW1X Audio DAC) that is way above your budget, so I am not suggesting it here.

So what are you thinking? NOS, DSD, MQA? Solid state, tubes, or hybrid? USB? SPIDF? AES/BSU?

Michael

Edit: I forgot to mention that I bought a Chinese made Sabaj D5 DAC (which is DSD capable even though I don't need that capability) based on the ESS9038 chip a couple years ago. I bought it for my vacation system. At the time, that system didn't have a dedicated preamp, so this DAC filled an empty spot. It also has an optical input, so I can connect it to a TV in order to get 2-channel TV audio. I still have this DAC, but I haven't used it this winter because I brought my lovely SW1X  DAC along (cuz I can't bear to be without it).





« Last Edit: 11 Feb 2021, 12:00 pm by mresseguie »

Ice10

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #3 on: 11 Feb 2021, 10:59 am »
NSM1979, thank you for the information on your Nuprime, I think I’m too early in my DAC adventure to pull the trigger, but I’ll keep an eye on the ad and an open mind.

Michael, thank you for the very detailed response.  Please excuse me if I don’t answer correctly as I don’t understand some of the terminology used.  I’ll explain what I have an maybe that will fill in the picture? I’m streaming Qobuz via WiFi into the Bluesound then to the amp via RCA cables. Everyone would cringe if they saw my set up as I’m using the RCA’s and power cord that came with the streamer.  Interconnects and power cords are on my ‘to purchase’ list but that’s on hold until I learn more about the options. And I’m not married to RCA’s so maybe a DAC with a balanced IC option is good?

MQA doesn’t hold any appeal to me and I don’t know what DSD is so it’s probably safe to say that I will continue to enjoy living without it.  I would prefer no volume control and the DAC will never be used as a preamp.  Purely because I’m lazy and like to keep things simple I think I would prefer a solid state DAC. Tube rolling or tube biasing (if needed) has no appeal to me but if it’s a matter of throwing the provided tube in and calling it good, then that’s fine.

I’d like to stay somewhere between too warm or too analytical in the DAC.  The only thing I wont enjoy is listener fatigue so I want to avoid that end of the spectrum and would take warmth over analytical. Maybe too simplified, but I would like the DAC to ‘reveal’ more of the music but stay out of the way.  I don’t want to hear the DAC designers idea of what the music should sound like.  The way I look at it is I have Nelson Pass’ idea of what an amp should sound like and soon I will have Lou Hinkley’s idea of what a speaker should sound like so everything else should get out of the way.

I would prefer a US made product. And while I provided a budget and would like to stay in that, if a bit more brings a lot more in the DAC world I’d be open to it.  Again thank you for your help, hopefully I helped fill in the picture.

 



Escott1377

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #4 on: 11 Feb 2021, 11:59 am »
I own an MHDT Orchid which is right at the top end of your price range unless you can find used.  I also was considering the Border Patrol DAC when I made my purchase.  These are both NOS (non over sampling) pieces that use an R2R network for their conversion.

Lots of You Tube videos out there on this type of technology.

I do not listen to DSD so like you, not a concern for me.

Others to consider are the Musical Paradise MP-D2.  There are lots of good reviews on this forum about this piece.

I know you wanted to stay solid state, but all of the above mentioned are tube models that do not require biasing.

As for solid state, the Denafrip Aries is worth a look.  Lots of reviews on You Tube for this 1.

Finally, the Topping D90 is another that I would research.  It uses the latest AKM chip and has lots of reviews out there as well.

You will probably gets lots of answers on this 1 :). Good luck!

JLM

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #5 on: 11 Feb 2021, 12:15 pm »
DAC made in the USA, that will limit your options.  Think Schiit, used Benchmark, or Channel Island Audio (here at Audio Circle).  Schiit follows their own paths, tried a $1250 Gungnir multi-bit years ago, did nothing for me.  Benchmark is a quality company, edges on the professional scene, and sell factory reconditioned used DACs.  Channel Island Audio is a good company, but not sure they still sell pure DAC's. 

Thinking outside the USA, one of the current darlings in your price range is the German RME ADI-2 FS.  Another promising one is the Chinese Denafrips Ares II.  Just to confuse you more, active loudspeakers like KEF LS50 Wireless II often have DACs built into them.  Plus there is a whole realm of streamers/DACs most of which include volume control (like your Node 2) to save boxes/wires and having to match components. 

DSD is a family of different style high resolution digital formats, which like any higher resolution formats is only available via download.  Many digital formats available, from MP3 (low resolution only suitable for noisy environments and/or cheap gear) to Redbook (commonly known as CD quality), higher PCM formats with numbers like 24/192.  And then there's MQA, a Meridian invention (that reportedly compresses higher formats into Redbook size files) that is primarily available on some Tidal albums. 

IMO resolution beyond Redbook is unnecessary (no one in my small audio club uses it).  Have owned NOS (non oversampling) DACs which I find very warm and undynamic.  Have owned a DAC that could be used with or without a tube (nothing special and the tube did nothing).  Have owned an R2R style DAC, very vinyl sounding in a smooth way, not my cup of tea.  One of the best I've owned was a DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core (in your price range).  It's tiny but includes a rudimentary preamp, bass EQ/mike, and sounds good. 

Craig B

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #6 on: 11 Feb 2021, 12:22 pm »
One option for US-made is Schiit (though I think some of their components may be sourced worldwide). They have a pretty broad line, and their Gungnir model fits your budget at $899. People think pretty highly of their products in general.

I was going to suggest Channel Islands Audio, another small outfit putting out great, US-made products, but in looking at their current model lineup, it appears they no longer have a free-standing DAC anymore. You might post in their circle here - owner and designer Dusty Vawter is very responsive and great to work with (I have one of their old DACs, one of their old phono preamps, and one of their current phono preamps, so I know their work pretty well).

Ice10

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #7 on: 11 Feb 2021, 12:37 pm »
Thank you everyone, I appreciate the suggestions and I’ll research each.  One thing I think I noticed is that I prefer a basic DAC without a lot of lights.  I looked at the RME ADI-2 that was suggested and I almost had to take a motion sickness pill because of all the flashing and non flashing lights.  I’m not opposed to buying a can of flat black Krylon to solve that problem but would prefer not to.  :)

One of the DACs I borrowed a long time ago was a Bel Canto DAC1. It was as basic as can be and I thought improved my crummy CD players sound back in the day.  Does anyone have experience with their more current offerings?  Or perhaps Wyred4sound? I don’t mean to generate negative reviews if people didn’t like them, they’re just two others I have seen in my search.

And Schiit has always caught my eye.  It appears they have a pretty divided audience with some enjoying them and others not but they’re always in the conversation.

Nsm1979

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #8 on: 11 Feb 2021, 03:01 pm »
Another suggestion to research is Digital Amplifier Company DAC.  They currently have three versions with a fourth soon to come to the market.  They definitely fit the bill of basic and in your price range.

TomS

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #9 on: 11 Feb 2021, 03:29 pm »
I'd second the Cherry Amp DAC DAC, which fits your criteria well, made in the US, reasonable price, high performance, no MQA nonsense, etc. Plays nice with the BlueSound Node2i as Tommy, the founder, has that setup himself. Another good choice might be one of the AVA DACs, perhaps a little more money, but great support.

garyalex

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #10 on: 11 Feb 2021, 03:34 pm »
Border Patrol DAC SE-i.  A bit over your budget but you might find one used for less.  If 24/96 is ok for you the BP is worth considering.  Gary Dews of BP offers a 14-day return option if you don't like it.  I have one and like it very much.

http://www.borderpatrol.net/DAC.htm

sounddog

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #11 on: 12 Feb 2021, 01:33 am »
I highly, highly recommend the Ayre QB9 USB DAC. While the QB9 is no longer being made, it’s relatively easy to find on the used market within your price range. There are essentially 3 versions: the original QB9, which might be fine for you, then the QB9 DSD, and most recently the QB9 Twenty (basically a QB9 or QB9 DSD that was sent to Ayre for upgrading to the Twenty; Ayre frequently makes products that can be upgraded later). I bought a used QB9 (which had been upgraded to the DSD version - the upgrade involves several significant improvements, not just DSD) and I truly think it was the biggest bang for the buck change I ever made to my system (I have since moved up to Ayre’s top of the line DAC, at a much higher price). The QB9 has very good detail and is neither warm nor bright, but has what I would call a rich, full sound. It’s very easy to use and has a compact size that makes it easy to place. Ayre is made in Boulder, Colorado, and I have found Ayre to be very service oriented (I should add that other than being a satisfied customer I have no relationship with Ayre).

Ice10

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #12 on: 12 Feb 2021, 04:31 am »
Thank you all.  I liked what I saw with Digital Audio DAC’s so I sent an email to them a week or so ago about possible demo units but haven’t heard back.  I will look closely at the Ayre units, I’ve always been intrigued by the brand and this may be the opportunity to give them a go.  Again thank you, I appreciate all information and suggestions.

sunnydaze

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #13 on: 19 Feb 2021, 02:03 am »
Border Patrol DAC SE-i.  A bit over your budget but you might find one used for less.  If 24/96 is ok for you the BP is worth considering.  Gary Dews of BP offers a 14-day return option if you don't like it.  I have one and like it very much.

http://www.borderpatrol.net/DAC.htm

Can definitely get one of these used within OP's budget.  Within the past several months I've seen at least half a dozen pop-up FS in the 800 - 900 dollar range.  I bought one of them!    :thumb:

Use Hifishark.com to see current and historical listings.

 

mr_bill

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #14 on: 19 Feb 2021, 02:12 am »
Second Vote for the Ayre QB-9 and in my situation the Twenty version - it’s incredible and a $1500 to the base model. Nice of Ayre to offer this upgrade.

deauguie

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #15 on: 31 Mar 2021, 09:41 pm »
Hi Ice10,

Here’s my 2c worth.  I purchased my first DAC from Wyred4Sound, a DAC1 8+ years ago.  It worked very well at the time i purchased it, but once i joined the Qobuz family, and purchased an Innous Zen MKII, i became frustrated with the DAC1’s limited USB input/output (96K). I subsequently purchased a Topping D10s to convert the USB output of the Zen to coax at 192K.  Curious, i tried the DAC in the Topping unit and was amazed at the increase in overall sound quality.  I sold the DAC 1 and subsequently was able to obtain an Ares II DAC.  As you might guess, the Topping is up for sale.  My point is, even though you want to stay US made, there are a lot of options out there for your first DAC.

W4S is a USA company, and the DAC 1 they currently offer may well fill your needs and pricei point.  However, branching out beyond the USA may give you more options. 

Again...just my 2c worth. Hope this helps.

Auguie

I.Greyhound Fan

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #16 on: 31 Mar 2021, 11:50 pm »
Definitely look at PS Audio, Schiit Yggdrasil  or Gungnir Unison, Cary Audio, Ayre, Exogal Comet, Berkeley Audio Design .  Bel Canto makes good DAC's. I have heard most of these DAC's.   These are all american made and sound great.  I would also include Bryston even though they are in Canada so service should still be accessible.

fittebd

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #17 on: 2 Apr 2021, 11:23 pm »
I am too new at the DAC thing.  I had 55 SACD and I wanted to use Tidal.  So I wanted something roon ready with MQA.  I can see how others dont care.  If you have a large CD library, and thats all you do, no need what so ever. Get the best red book capable DAC with good clock. 

I got the Chinese Matrix Mini Pro 3.   I saw someone suggest PSAudio. I will probably upgrade sometime next year to that.  Its quite a jump.  but they do trade in and now factory direct. 

Going used is also a good way to experiment.  Not paying full price and can unload if its a good brand. 

I had a processor and went to DAC right to AMP and wow, wonderful.  Sort of like the whole concept of separates taken to the next level.  You can do DACs Clocks etc....  get the sound you want.

mcmusicman

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Re: My first DAC
« Reply #18 on: 3 Apr 2021, 01:17 am »
OP,
     I also listen to the NuPrime DAC10 and have no intention of ever parting with it. The soundstage is amazing. It sits in front of a Freya Plus with Melz Tubes and then on to a Bryston 4B3 finishing up with Magnepans.  It just clicks...and no matter what the measurement folks say, SINAD is not the end all be all of a good DAC. The output stage, power supply and the synergy with the other components all play a part in the end result. The transparency is so good that you can hear clear differences when rolling tubes...which is my preference for adjusting "color".  Best of luck....I would only say that a good DAC is much more than a chip, and newest is not always the best ...like previous posters mentioned it must fit your system. 

Tyson

Re: My first DAC
« Reply #19 on: 3 Apr 2021, 01:31 am »
OP,
     I also listen to the NuPrime DAC10 and have no intention of ever parting with it. The soundstage is amazing. It sits in front of a Freya Plus with Melz Tubes and then on to a Bryston 4B3 finishing up with Magnepans.  It just clicks...and no matter what the measurement folks say, SINAD is not the end all be all of a good DAC. The output stage, power supply and the synergy with the other components all play a part in the end result. The transparency is so good that you can hear clear differences when rolling tubes...which is my preference for adjusting "color".  Best of luck....I would only say that a good DAC is much more than a chip, and newest is not always the best ...like previous posters mentioned it must fit your system. 

WAIT, are you saying that you should actually LISTEN to a DAC to see if it sounds good.  Man, the SINAD people are going to burn you at the stake....