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High-End DACs. Worth it?

post #1 of 52
Thread Starter 
So I'm moving to this small flat where space is an issue. I though that a mini computer setup with a small high-end DAC could do the trick. It would be small and I could send my big CD collection to my parent's (plenty of space there) after converting it to Lossless.

I was considering the Zanden as my number 1 candidate but I was wondering if DACs at this level really need high-end transports to shine. If that's the case perhaps a small one-box solution would be best (Nagra perhaps. Is there any device with better sound/footprint ratio?). But I wouldn't want to give up on a high-end computer setup (if possible) because of convenience and all that space-saving I can get.

Any experiences on this? Thoughts? Redirections to articles/posts about it. It would be highly appreciated.

Cheers.
post #2 of 52
oh yes they are worth it
post #3 of 52
Computers as transports aren't nearly good enough for the TOTL models and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. Computers are much too noisy with the horrible switch mode powersupply's and other nasty things. Something like a Transporter, fully modded, will help a lot here and also give the smaller form factor.

With these high end products their flavor becomes much more of an issue rather then ultimate performance. You should read a thread over on Audiogon titled "High end DAC's" or something like that. The Zanden is very colored and if you like that it will be great for you.
post #4 of 52
The Zanden sure is shiny. You might want to look into Empirical Audio's I2S USB transports if you haven't already. http://www.empiricalaudio.com/frComp...Off-Ramp%20I2S
post #5 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by spritzer View Post
Computers as transports aren't nearly good enough for the TOTL models and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. Computers are much too noisy with the horrible switch mode powersupply's and other nasty things. Something like a Transporter, fully modded, will help a lot here and also give the smaller form factor.

With these high end products their flavor becomes much more of an issue rather then ultimate performance. You should read a thread over on Audiogon titled "High end DAC's" or something like that. The Zanden is very colored and if you like that it will be great for you.
That's what I'm afraid of. To buy a Zanden in order to feed it by a computer might be a waste of money. I want to believe it is not true and that something can be done about it. Thats why I'm asking. I'd take a look at the transporter option.

I agree on the flavor issue. I was looking into the Zanden as it is one of the smallest, best-looking of the lot. But I think that the final setup might be too "romantic" for me. It is likely that I will end with a Big O setup (It might have be best sound/space ratio and it is pretty) and I think it is euphonic enough already. Something a bit more on the analytical side (Esoteric, dCS, EMM) could be a better match but all of them are quite big.
post #6 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dept_of_Alchemy View Post
The Zanden sure is shiny. You might want to look into Empirical Audio's I2S USB transports if you haven't already. http://www.empiricalaudio.com/frComp...Off-Ramp%20I2S
This is a very good advice. The Zanden MkIV actually has an I2S input and I always thought that Computer>I2S>Zanden could be the ultimate computer setup (almostt no jitter). The problem is that Zanden says on his web that they are using "I2S (Zanden Implementation)" so I don't expect it to work with the interfaces from Empirical Audio. Anybody tried or know something about it?

I don't expect Zanden to be helpful on information here (in the end they want to sell their own 2000 Transport with I2S interface) and the guys from Empirical Audio will say that they don't know if it works due to lack of information and that they don't have a Zanden in order to try it (and I wouldn't like to buy one just to try it and discover it just don't/can't work).
post #7 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nomad View Post
That's what I'm afraid of. To buy a Zanden in order to feed it by a computer might be a waste of money. I want to believe it is not true and that something can be done about it. Thats why I'm asking. I'd take a look at the transporter option.

I agree on the flavor issue. I was looking into the Zanden as it is one of the smallest, best-looking of the lot. But I think that the final setup might be too "romantic" for me. It is likely that I will end with a Big O setup (It might have be best sound/space ratio and it is pretty) and I think it is euphonic enough already. Something a bit more on the analytical side (Esoteric, dCS, EMM) could be a better match but all of them are quite big.
While it might not be a waste of money you aren't receiving all that they can give. A fully modded Squeeze box with a good linear PSU would also be a good candidate as a transport.

The older Mark Levinson dacs, the 36,36S,360,360S, are all relatively small and still sound great. While they are old the build quality is superb and the so is the layout. The dac chip is only one small part of the whole puzzle and newer isn't always better.

You can always do better then the HEV/HE90 setup. It is very euphonic but at the same time if you put a very neutral and revealing cable/source combo in front of it all the flaws shine through.
post #8 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by spritzer View Post
While it might not be a waste of money you aren't receiving all that they can give. A fully modded Squeeze box with a good linear PSU would also be a good candidate as a transport.

The older Mark Levinson dacs, the 36,36S,360,360S, are all relatively small and still sound great. While they are old the build quality is superb and the so is the layout. The dac chip is only one small part of the whole puzzle and newer isn't always better.

You can always do better then the HEV/HE90 setup. It is very euphonic but at the same time if you put a very neutral and revealing cable/source combo in front of it all the flaws shine through.
Yes, I forgot to tell that it will be likely to be fed by a SqueezeBox or Airport Xpress (which I'm using now with the MiniDAC and DHA3000).

I'd look into the Mark Levinson. Thanks! No need to tell me that newer isn't always better. I was aiming for a Stax X1t > SRM-T2 > SR-Omega setup, which is plain silly on my new flat, and I'm still finding very hard to give up on it.

I must be one of the very few that thinks the HEV90/HE90 is not almost perfect, but I think it will be a good compromise size-wise and looks pretty. I know it sounds mega-snobish to call the Big O combo a compromise solution but that's the way I feel about it. Not that I will be that unhappy/frustrated with it, though.
post #9 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nomad View Post
Yes, I forgot to tell that it will be likely to be fed by a SqueezeBox or Airport Xpress (which I'm using now with the MiniDAC and DHA3000).

I'd look into the Mark Levinson. Thanks! No need to tell me that newer isn't always better. I was aiming for a Stax X1t > SRM-T2 > SR-Omega setup, which is plain silly on my new flat, and I'm still finding very hard to give up on it.
The old Stax lineup would be an awesome setup and will breath life into the SR-007 as well but from a pure performance standpoint you can do better for the price. I will buy that setup one day but it won't remain in stock form for very long.

There are some other good older dacs out there and they are cheap because people think that there has been actual progress in the dac chips over the years. Sore digital is better now then it has ever been but the chips are only a small part of that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nomad View Post
I must be one of the very few that thinks the HEV90/HE90 is not almost perfect, but I think it will be a good compromise size-wise and looks pretty. I know it sounds mega-snobish to call the Big O combo a compromise solution but that's the way I feel about it. Not that I will be that unhappy/frustrated with it, though.
I'm also one of them. The HEV isn't a bad amp but some bad compromises were made to make it look pretty. It isn't the same beast a Blue Hawaii is in terms of size and brute power but then again the phones suffer for it. The He90 and the O1 should be ok with the amp though but if you buy the new SR-007 MK2 it isn't likely to play ball.
post #10 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by spritzer View Post
The old Stax lineup would be an awesome setup and will breath life into the SR-007 as well but from a pure performance standpoint you can do better for the price. I will buy that setup one day but it won't remain in stock form for very long.

I'm also one of them. The HEV isn't a bad amp but some bad compromises were made to make it look pretty. It isn't the same beast a Blue Hawaii is in terms of size and brute power but then again the phones suffer for it. The He90 and the O1 should be ok with the amp though but if you buy the new SR-007 MK2 it isn't likely to play ball.
Of course, I'd have O2 with that Stax setup too. There are some genres better suited for the O2.

The O1 are not that great with the HEV90. Amazing realism, specially with vocals, but the sound is a bit on the lean side. I'd get a HE90 if I buy an HEV90. It had better sinergy.
post #11 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nomad View Post
Of course, I'd have O2 with that Stax setup too. There are some genres better suited for the O2.

The O1 are not that great with the HEV90. Amazing realism, specially with vocals, but the sound is a bit on the lean side. I'd get a HE90 if I buy an HEV90. It had better sinergy.
The O2 is a must with the T2 and here's hoping the new model will be even better!!

All Stax headphones crave extra power even though they are easy to drive. The SR-Lambda bass is transformed on the BH compared to the T1 and the same goes for even a lowly SR-3 or an SR-X.

The BigO rig does sound good because they play to each others strengths but it isn't a contender for the ultimate headphone rig title. A fully modded HEV90 might be an interesting concept because it is let down by parts quality.
post #12 of 52
Why is it you have already decided on the Zanden? Have you heard one?

There are other DAC's with I2S inputs.

Steve N.
post #13 of 52
Glad to hear you found a nice apartment. You could use the Slim Devices Transporter as the transport and hook up an expensive dac to it.

As for the DAC, I've seen a few Emmlabs DCC2 on ebay.uk, so that might be worth looking into. If you don't care so much about looks there are a lot of pro audio solutions that might be worth it. Apogee recently came out with a Mac-dedicated DAC solution. I'm still on the lookout for a decently priced Weiss DAC1 (gotta cater to my nationalistic sentiments. ).

I really have to hear the Omega I someday. A less euphonc HE90 with more PRaT sounds just like what I'm looking for.
post #14 of 52
If you are going to get an Emm labs DAC definitely get the SE version as most feel its a significant upgrade. If you are looking for a computer based set up then I would definitely go with one of the top flight Empirical Audio set ups as his designs/mods are specifically geared for computer as a source set ups while I kind of feel that any other top end DAC is going to just have an at least slightly better synergy with the transport the company undoubtedly also markets.
post #15 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioengr View Post
Why is it you have already decided on the Zanden? Have you heard one?

There are other DAC's with I2S inputs.

Steve N.
Hi Steve. I'm glad you jumped in. I'm considering the Zanden for various reasons:

- Regarded as one of the best Redbook performers. For many the best.
- Reviews on its sonic signature matches the kind of sound I'm looking for.
- It is one of the smallest high-end DACs. Space is important, unfortunately.
- It is beautiful and it almost matches the HEV90. Being a bit silly here.
- Has an I2S input that hopefully some day somebody might get to use.

Have you ever considered to offer an I2S solution for it? Everybody says that the combo 2000-5000 is amazing through I2S. If it was possible to use that connection and make it work, combining the sound of the Zanden 2000-5000 with the convenience of a Computer Setup, the impact on the HiFi comunity will be huge, finally placing the Computer as a Source on the spotlight as a true alternative for the hardcore audiophiles.

If Zanden is not really short-minded they should help any person up to the task. It is true that they would lose some sales on its 2000 transport, but it will become the default high-end reference DAC for Audiophile Computer Setup, boosting the sales on the 5000. Not only that, after the success of Zanden, some other high-end vendors might jump in, changing the way of enjoying HiFi as we know it today.
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