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Recommend me a DAC [Grado RS-1, ~$1000]

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Yes, another thread in the "recommend me"-series. Yes, I did my searching without avail.

I'm looking for a DAC in the sub-1k price range that would connect with my headphone rig (Grado RS-1 + Mapletree Ear+ HD). USB input is mandatory.

Are there particular DACs that "synergize" well with the RS-1? I'm looking for a detail-rich sound that's not overly dry or analytical.

Since money is a factor to me, please do not recommend stuff that exceeds my budget. Having said that any input is much appreciated!
post #2 of 18
What do you feel is missing from the MF V DAC you are using now? I'm not sure how well the USB input is implemented on that particular device but I get the impression most USB inputs on sub $1k DACs aren't so hot, and a good coaxial source would compare favourably. As such if USB were an absolute requirement, I would probably go for something like a Bel Canto USB Link (which is a well implemented USB-->coaxial converter) and go a little cheaper on the actual DAC.

If you are not into a dry, analytical sound, I suspect a Benchmark DAC1 will not be your cup of tea...

if source=digital then musical+detailed-dry=$$$$...

If you are trying to get away from "digititis", the best way is by lowering jitter in your digital source...

All this said if I had ~$1k to spend to feed my RA1/RS1 combo from USB, I'd get a Bel Canto USB link and an old CAL Alpha DAC off AgoN, preferably the 24/96 version for me as it's more resolving.
post #3 of 18
i would pick an Stello DA100 for sure, it's 700$ new
post #4 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by DarKu View Post
i would pick an Stello DA100 for sure, it's 700$ new
Sounds like a neat piece of kit. I'd like to hear one!
post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 
feckn_eejit, perhaps I should rephrase. As a Grado guy, I do lean towards the analytical side of the sound spectrum. However, I'm worried that a too analytical DAC would effectively sterilize the sound of my headphones. I love extreme precision and detail, but not if it renders my music lifeless.

The V-DAC is a neat little box, but leaves something to be desired... perhaps a bit more accuracy and punch at the lower end? I also feel that using a $200 source with a $1400 headphone rig is bit inbalanced.

Lastly, as much as I appreciate your input, I'd rather stick to "one box"-solutions. I doubt getting a USB/coaxial-adapter with an expensive cable would be worth it - at least to me.

DarKu, I've been eyeing the Stello DA100 as well. It looks and sounds very promising on paper, but people often seem to pair it with HD650's which makes me ponder whether it's a good pick for Grados.
post #6 of 18
My opinion which I have developed by trying numerous transports, DACs, and digital cables is that a cheap DAC with a low-jitter source will be at the same time more detailed and musical (with more accurate, faster tighter bass... but not as boomy!) than a multi-kilobuck DAC fed jittery junk... further you don't need an expensive cable with the Bel Canto USB Link - it comes with one! I haven't heard it but if it isn't so hot, the DH Labs D-75 is fabulous and very reasonably priced. For me, if I were wed to USB output, something like the Bel Canto would give me the flexibility to play around with different DACs buying used and selling until I found one I really liked. I've learned through experience that price isn't everything - there is well thought out cheap stuff that sounds great and there is expensive rubbish... my RA1/RS1 rig has spent most of the time I have owned it hooked up to a DAC (Assemblage DAC-2) I bought used for CA$300... lashed to the RA1 with cables that cost more than any other part of the rig!

Some might argue that John Grado's cans lean more towards euphony than accuracy... either way I do own RS1s and I am a detail nut. I think it depends largely on what sort of music you listen to... the RS1s are tough (read: expensive) to beat on highly produced close-miked multitrack recordings. As always, if you want something that does everything well with no compromise, the price goes up...

I owned an early Benchmark DAC1 and fed it from a half decent transport with the aforementioned DH Labs cable... it was very very good but for me the "musicality" was not there with the RA1 as the amp. Your Mapletree amp would probably fit much better between a DAC1 and RS1s! For me however I like something to sound great in more than one rig so I went up up up the food chain...

The USB in the DAC1 is supposed to be pretty good. You could probably find a USB DAC1 used for under $1k if you are a bit patient, and if it is too harsh, do some cable rolling for the run between the DAC and Mapletree...

You have a great amp/headphone rig... as far as figuring out your source, the best advice I can give you is to be patient slow and methodical, and buy used! The only purchases I have regretted in this hobby have been knee-jerk trips to the shops on a whim to buy something brand new...

Good luck and happy listening!
post #7 of 18
Vote for the GDA-700.
post #8 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alai View Post
Vote for the GDA-700.
A fine old piece given its price range but does nothing to address the OP's USB requirement...
post #9 of 18
I got a stello da100 last week. I like it very much. I primarily use the d7000 as this is my favorite headphone. But it also sounds very nice with my akg 701. Very clean but musical sound. I wouldnt mind a bit more bass pressence with it, but that might be the deficit of my ef1 amp. The compass i used before was very warm compared to this and not as clean and balanced. I especially like the upsampling to 24/192 on it gives it a little air and more dynamics.
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clubcard View Post
I'm looking for a detail-rich sound that's not overly dry or analytical.
I was looking for something pretty similar and found the MHDT Havana. I haven't tried it yet, but it might be worth reading about it to see if it might fit the bill.

here's a review which states it sounds highly musical but also very detailed:

MHDT Labs Havana Non-Oversampling Tubed DAC With USB Input CD players are absolutely dead! Review By Scott Faller

good luck in your search
post #11 of 18
Thread Starter 
feckn_eejit, thank you so much for your lengthy posts. Your advice is invaluable to nooblets like me.

I do not want to exclude the possibility of investing in better transport (the Bel Canto USB link or something similar) in the near future. I'd like to do one thing at a time without blindly rushing into alien solutions, however.

Quote:
I owned an early Benchmark DAC1 and fed it from a half decent transport with the aforementioned DH Labs cable... it was very very good but for me the "musicality" was not there with the RA1 as the amp. Your Mapletree amp would probably fit much better between a DAC1 and RS1s! For me however I like something to sound great in more than one rig so I went up up up the food chain...
I guess it comes down to a showdown between Benchmark DAC-1 and Stello DA100. If your assumption is correct, the DAC-1 would be ideal for me since I am a detail freak as well. MAD's tubes would likely breathe some "musicality" into the equation, and thanks to my limited budged I don't have other rigs to worry about. At $1300 it's a tad steep, though.

The Stello's priced more fairly and has none of that unnecessary stuff (I have no need for the integrated headphone amp or the balanced outs the Benchmark offers). The way it's sound is described makes me wonder if it's too lush for my tastes, though. If had to pick between detail and warmth, I'd definitely pick detail.
post #12 of 18
PS audio digital link III
post #13 of 18
I've done a lot of research on this lately and decided to go with a Stello DA100 Signature when I have the money - in another month or so. A lot of reviews favor it over the DAC-1, and it's just under $1000. Some people have even reported getting $100 knocked off when asking for a discount over the phone.
post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clubcard View Post
feckn_eejit, thank you so much for your lengthy posts. Your advice is invaluable to nooblets like me.
Cheers!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clubcard View Post
I do not want to exclude the possibility of investing in better transport (the Bel Canto USB link or something similar) in the near future. I'd like to do one thing at a time without blindly rushing into alien solutions, however.
Fair enough. My hard core "source first" philosophy means trying to sort things properly at the very beginning, which in a digital rig of course means the "transport"...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clubcard View Post
I guess it comes down to a showdown between Benchmark DAC-1 and Stello DA100. If your assumption is correct, the DAC-1 would be ideal for me since I am a detail freak as well. MAD's tubes would likely breathe some "musicality" into the equation, and thanks to my limited budged I don't have other rigs to worry about. At $1300 it's a tad steep, though.
Is being patient and looking for a Benchmark DAC1 USB to crop up used not an option? Someone just STOLE one on AgoN for US$850... I gather the newer DAC1s are a bit less brittle sounding than the early models like I owned... further even though you are only worrying about one rig right now you never know how it might change and evolve...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clubcard View Post
The Stello's priced more fairly and has none of that unnecessary stuff (I have no need for the integrated headphone amp or the balanced outs the Benchmark offers). The way it's sound is described makes me wonder if it's too lush for my tastes, though. If had to pick between detail and warmth, I'd definitely pick detail.
I don't know a thing about the Stello so can't help you there... but chances are the USB input on the DAC1 is superior to the DA100... I haven't heard a DAC1 USB but from what I have read it is superbly engineered and implemented...

The headphone amp in the DAC1 is not too terrible really and makes a great backup if your primary ever goes down for some reason. Plus it's really easy to lug around - plug into any computer and you've got a great one box solution for your headphones without carting around your MAD... great for work, meets, a killer hotel rig, etc etc...

The balanced outputs may not be of any use now but you never know... I've even heard of people connecting cans that have been converted to balanced directly to these outputs and it sounding quite good!

If you are a one-box solution kind of guy, I'm not sure it can get any better. The DAC1 USB offers so much flexibility and doesn't box you into a particular path... Buy it used and you won't lose a penny if you sell it.
post #15 of 18
fellow head-fier decur appears to have a stello da220 mkii on audiogon for $975 if you should decide to go the stello route...
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