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DAC advice requested!

post #1 of 43
Thread Starter 

I'm trying to think of a way to phrase this the whole question as succinctly as possible, but knowing my own self, that is unlikely.

 

Alright. I'm really looking at a nice desktop DAC so to speak. I've done a fair amount of reading and to be honest, I've made little or no head way towards a decision.

 

I do have some preferences, but as you will see from the DACs being considered, I've more or less thrown out the preferences from time to time:

1. I'd like a dedicated DAC, not a DAC/amp combo if possible.

2. I'd prefer if the price was below 500USD. I considered the Audio-GD unit due to the great amount of praise it has received, but I'm thinking that if I get it, I will still need a device like the HiFace which only increases costs to amounts I'm not willing to spend. That and the fact that I will achieve better synergy with an Audio-GD amp which I currently do not possess.

3. Another preference is usb connectivity as I only have that from my laptop. I have a Creative X-fi card with digital out, but I'm not exactly sure whether the digital out bypasses the sound card.

 

the DACs that I am currently considering:

NuForce HDP

Matrix Mini-i

Gamma 2

Audio-GD DAC19-DSP

Maverick D1

DacMagic

Musical Fidelity M1

 

I haven't seen many comparisons with other units out there though I know individually those units are value for the amount of money spent, but I have no clue how they perform against each other or even with higher end models, especially the Audio-GD which whilst receiving a lot of praise individually, I have not seen much comparison of it with the more well-known brands in the market.

 

Also, Matrix are working on a new DAC, but I've received word that it is also another DAC/amp combo unit and will have a better amp this time. I'd really really like a really good DAC honestly. Not saying that DAC/amp combos aren't better, but I'd rather the emphasis on the amp, just be placed instead on bettering the DAC.

 

The new DAC/amp offering from Matrix will be smaller than the current market model Mini-i, contains an SRC chip that will support 24/192 and will have a price of around that of the Mini-i.

 

Basically, I'd welcome any response from anyone who has some experience with either of the DACs mentioned and other DACs and is able to do a nice comparison of the merits. I understand this may require a fair bit of work on the part of anyone who answers, but any help is much appreciated. Other recommendations are welcome and quantification of why would be helpful. I'd still be willing to save up for the DAC19-DSP, but only if there is a significant or quantifiable difference. But that is really as far as my budget will go on the uptake.

 

Anyhow, I think that's it from me for now, will edit if I think of anything else, but I've got a minor headache coming on. I just thought I'd post this up first and see if anyone takes the bait.

 

Thanks for reading this and helping out if you do!


Edited by cravenz - 7/20/10 at 3:36am
post #2 of 43
Thread Starter 
Morning bump
post #3 of 43

I believe your over thinking this, any of those dacs should work well and perform very close to each other the only major point of difference  are the features. Do you need balanced connectors? Volume control? What types of inputs/outputs do you need?

 

The Gamma2 on the list is a DIY unit, so you'll either have to find a builder or a used unit.

 

I would hold off on the USB interface device like a hiface until you've heard the usb input on your listed Dacs. This area of technology is still developing and there are new products being release daily.

post #4 of 43
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by francisdemarte View Post

I believe your over thinking this, any of those dacs should work well and perform very close to each other the only major point of difference  are the features. Do you need balanced connectors? Volume control? What types of inputs/outputs do you need?

 

The Gamma2 on the list is a DIY unit, so you'll either have to find a builder or a used unit.

 

I would hold off on the USB interface device like a hiface until you've heard the usb input on your listed Dacs. This area of technology is still developing and there are new products being release daily.


Yup. I'm sure they are all good, but at the same time, I don't want to spend too much time upgrading either. So comparatively, I'd like to find something that would be most beneficial to me at this point in time, or in that sense, the most value. They all have subtle differences at the end of the day.

 

I do know I'm over thinking, but it's also because it is a significant amount of money to splash out on my part and I have to be sure I know what I'm getting and am making the right choices. I know this can be countered with, but any of those could be the right choices. But I really would prefer not coming back the next day and having a what if situation. I'd like peace of mind so to speak.

 

I'm aware that the Gamma2 is a DIY unit, I'll be looking to get one from MisterX if I do decide to go down that route.

 

The reason for HiFace is to be able to send out HiRes music as most usb interfaces at the moment only support 16/44 or 48.

 

I'll be hooking up the unit to the Matrix M-stage so the amp will be useless to me more or less, but if I do go the route of the HDP, it might make my D10 obsolete. I definitely am in no need of balanced connections either at this point in time. Inputs again, most importantly will be usb, unless I have the HiFace equivalent interface or unless the SPDIF bypasses my express card to accept digital in. Output will be to the M-stage.


Edited by cravenz - 7/15/10 at 10:28pm
post #5 of 43

Check out headfonia.com they have reviews on a bunch of your listed Dacs.

 

Also look into a Twisted Pear Audio Dacs, like the Opus. They are semi-DIY and are modular so you can upgrade only the parts you need in the future with just at bit of soldering knowledge.

post #6 of 43
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by francisdemarte View Post

Check out headfonia.com they have reviews on a bunch of your listed Dacs.

 

Also look into a Twisted Pear Audio Dacs, like the Opus. They are semi-DIY and are modular so you can upgrade only the parts you need in the future with just at bit of soldering knowledge.


Yup. I read their take on the

 

Matrix Mini-i, but didn't realise they did a recent one on the DacMagic so I'll get to reading that now.

 

I'm a klutz with DIY, but perhaps I should learn it some day :)

post #7 of 43

You have a challenging situation.  Most likely once you get started you will be upgrading.  The big challenge is you will not get to hear most of these dac before buying and that means you will have to rely on reading about the differences.  The challenge there is that many impressions or opinions are available, though in my book you should possible concentrate on the ones form folks who have reviewed or wrote about the sound signature of many.  All to often a less experienced writer will not be able to contrast the dac under scrutiny with other known dacs and that makes it hard.  Even with an experienced listener/writer you will from your own impressions with your own system.

 

On to your challenge.  From what I have heard listening to USB dacs, there are big differences.  Most standard implementations on lower priced goods are not very good and in fact many folks say they prefer spdif instead (eg. DacMagic).  As for new USB implementations, there are several to choose from and a few in your price range.  Your choices are custom driver ( Musiland, EMU, M2Hiface),  or standard Driver (Wavelength, Halide, Art Legato, Ayre, Centrance, dcs, HRT streamers).

 

And a lot will be how well the dac synergizes with your AKG cans.  When I owned the AKG 601 for example, I could not get them to sound anything other than ruthlessly bright with my system.  So a lot will depend on the character of your signal chain and do not forget that cables will have an impact.  On a recent dac event where some pretty high end dadcs were being switched out in a revealing system, we heard more difference with a single cable swap than we did with all the dacs.

 

So on to some thoughts.  EM 0404 USB and Musiland 02 I think would be decent starting points.  After that some folks like good USB to spdif adapters like Hiface with good low cost dacs like the nos Valab.  With the nos you have to like that type of sound (too laid back for me) although it may work well with a revealing phone.  Also a few folks I trust have said the HRT Streamers are really good performers.  I have heard the Centrance and it is a good unit and my negate the need for an amp, although it's signature is a bit forword in the mids.

 

I can only hope this helps and wish you well on your journey.  Let us know what you end up with and how it sounds in your system.

post #8 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by francisdemarte View Post

any of those dacs should work well and perform very close to each other


i can't say i agree completely.

from all i've read, and from looking at the specs, the audio-gd is a better dac than, say, the cambridge dacmagic.

 

the dacmagic, i believe, uses wolfson wm8740 dac chip.

which is nice and all, but wolfson now makes the wm8741 chip, which from all accounts is more dynamic and more resolving.

for instance, a pair of wm8741 are used in the meier stagedac.

i have the stagedac, and it is a wonderful sounding piece of equipment.

and, from all i've read, it's safe to assume the dac19 and stagedac are on equal footing.

 

the dac19 uses the famous burr-brown pcm1704uk.  this alone makes it worth getting.

 

heck. pacific valve says the DF model of the dac19 is really great.  and they pushed that model over the DSP version because it was more to their taste.

just to show you that you shouldn't discount getting the DF model, which is cheaper...

 

and, you can do what i've done, which is get the dac with plenty of input options, and you can upgrade from usb audio to coax later.  i'm waiting for the m2tech evo and audio-gd usbface to come online so i can utilize the latest usb/coax converter...

 

best of luck w/ your dac search!!

post #9 of 43

I can't comment on the dac19DSP, but I can see why pacific valve likes the DF1704 version. It may not be neutral, there's an emphasis on high frequencies, well-formed and clean macrodetail and quicker than normal decay time, it's an interesting way to hear music. I think if your amp and headphones aren't too revealing of decay and timbre resonance, the df1704 filter sounds great. If you have amp and headphones that like to linger on such notes you might tire of the not so complex decay.

post #10 of 43
Thread Starter 

Guys, hope you don't mind that I did the replies in bold, made it a tad easier for me.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bixby View Post

You have a challenging situation.  Most likely once you get started you will be upgrading.  The big challenge is you will not get to hear most of these dac before buying and that means you will have to rely on reading about the differences.  The challenge there is that many impressions or opinions are available, though in my book you should possible concentrate on the ones form folks who have reviewed or wrote about the sound signature of many.  All to often a less experienced writer will not be able to contrast the dac under scrutiny with other known dacs and that makes it hard.  Even with an experienced listener/writer you will from your own impressions with your own system. My sentiments exactly!

 

On to your challenge.  From what I have heard listening to USB dacs, there are big differences.  Most standard implementations on lower priced goods are not very good and in fact many folks say they prefer spdif instead (eg. DacMagic).  As for new USB implementations, there are several to choose from and a few in your price range.  Your choices are custom driver ( Musiland, EMU, M2Hiface),  or standard Driver (Wavelength, Halide, Art Legato, Ayre, Centrance, dcs, HRT streamers).

 

And a lot will be how well the dac synergizes with your AKG cans.  When I owned the AKG 601 for example, I could not get them to sound anything other than ruthlessly bright with my system.  So a lot will depend on the character of your signal chain and do not forget that cables will have an impact.  On a recent dac event where some pretty high end dadcs were being switched out in a revealing system, we heard more difference with a single cable swap than we did with all the dacs. I'm probably looking towards a neutral DAC for a few reasons. One is that the 70x is infamous for being more analytical and a neutral DAC would be true to that. Also, should I also decide to get something to compliment the 70x, which I am currently contemplating due to restrictions over what I listen to with the 70x, it gives me some lee-way. I think neutral is the way to go rather than getting something coloured and having to tailor something to it.

 

So on to some thoughts.  EM 0404 USB and Musiland 02 I think would be decent starting points.  After that some folks like good USB to spdif adapters like Hiface with good low cost dacs like the nos Valab.  With the nos you have to like that type of sound (too laid back for me) although it may work well with a revealing phone.  Also a few folks I trust have said the HRT Streamers are really good performers.  I have heard the Centrance and it is a good unit and my negate the need for an amp, although it's signature is a bit forword in the mids. Definitely taking that into consideration. In the event that I have to avoid usb connections, I'll look at something like those that you mentioned to bring a digital out though at this moment, I can't see myself utilising anything else due to my restrictions of space, etc.

 

I can only hope this helps and wish you well on your journey.  Let us know what you end up with and how it sounds in your system. thank you and I will keep everyone informed on the decision I end up making.




 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheWuss View Post




i can't say i agree completely.

from all i've read, and from looking at the specs, the audio-gd is a better dac than, say, the cambridge dacmagic.

 

the dacmagic, i believe, uses wolfson wm8740 dac chip.

which is nice and all, but wolfson now makes the wm8741 chip, which from all accounts is more dynamic and more resolving.

for instance, a pair of wm8741 are used in the meier stagedac.

i have the stagedac, and it is a wonderful sounding piece of equipment.

and, from all i've read, it's safe to assume the dac19 and stagedac are on equal footing.

 

the dac19 uses the famous burr-brown pcm1704uk.  this alone makes it worth getting. implementation is important though which is why I guess I'm looking for people who have used the stuff in a way.

 

heck. pacific valve says the DF model of the dac19 is really great.  and they pushed that model over the DSP version because it was more to their taste.

just to show you that you shouldn't discount getting the DF model, which is cheaper... that's a bonus . Did read people who think the DSP was better though; ughhh....decisions.

 

and, you can do what i've done, which is get the dac with plenty of input options, and you can upgrade from usb audio to coax later.  i'm waiting for the m2tech evo and audio-gd usbface to come online so i can utilize the latest usb/coax converter...I'm probably leaning to this as well, but I'll have to see how the options go. The M2Tech Evo and the Audio-GD equivalent are rather pricey, but the Audio-GD version might be more affordable. Will see how the reviews go!

 

best of luck w/ your dac search!! Thanks. I'm going to need it and happy to hear you are enjoying the Stagedac!


Edited by cravenz - 7/16/10 at 9:06am
post #11 of 43
Thread Starter 

*bump bump*

post #12 of 43

You don't NEED the Hiface with the DAC19, any more than you do with any other DAC.  Where did you get that idea?  Get it (or something else) later on if you want. Just use the USB input that's built in. 

post #13 of 43
Thread Starter 
Pardon my lack of smiley faces on this due to replying from my mobile. I know I don't need the HiFace, but I'd like to listen to hi-res music and the usb output at the moment only supports 16/44. Do correct me if I'm wrong though. Open to ideas :)

hope I don't come across as trying to say that I need the hiface. My bad.
post #14 of 43

From recently USB inputs on all A-GD gear accept 24/96, if that is enough hi-res for you.

 

Even RE-7 has such USB option which implies that KingWa finally considers it good enough to be implemented in his flagship DAC.

post #15 of 43
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by FauDrei View Post

From recently USB inputs on all A-GD gear accept 24/96, if that is enough hi-res for you.

 

Even RE-7 has such USB option which implies that KingWa finally considers it good enough to be implemented in his flagship DAC.


Yup, that is good enough for me, but the problem is, to captialise on that, it effectively rules out the DAC19DF model due to it being 16/48.

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