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Help me find a USB DAC (most "analogue" sounding)

post #1 of 37
Thread Starter 

I need some advice to get me started.


At this point I have read a little about sampling, but there's a lot left for me to work on, before I feel that I actually understand the basic issues... So I'll clarify a little bit of my listening preferences instead. My favourite set up is vinyl. I mostly listen to jazz, soul, r&b, reggae - but also rock/pop and sometimes classical. It's primarily older records. Some REALLY old and a lot 1950's, 1960's 1970's. But also newer stuff.


Listening preferences with my vinyl setup:


My source could be better. It's a sansui sr-222 mkv. Pick up is Denon dl-110. Riaa is obh-18 with obh-2 power supply. I need to upgrade these later on. But at this time I'm very satisfied with Woo Audio WA2 (with tung-sol 5998 power tubes) and the favourite can is HD650 (apuresound v3 cable). I actually prefer hd650 to hd800 and I sold hd800. I loved the hd800's details and soundstage, but in the long run I just found hd650 to be more musical in my setup. I know the term "musical" is not very precise, but it's hard to explain. While I'm not a "detail freak" but more leaning towards a smooth sound for comfortable listening, I certainly appreciate that the recordings are presented with everything there is. I don't want to miss anything! But If harshness is the price for details, I'll go without. I think that with my vinyl setup I get lot's of details and a great soundstage presented in a warm, lush sound. And it is very dynamic/organic/lively. .......................this is hard to describe. 


Considering this leads me to think, that I should look for the most "analogue" sounding DAC.


Is the most "analogue" sounding DAC a NOS (non-oversampling) DAC?


My digital setup will be like this:


PC>Foobar2000 (Kernel streaming, flac files)>USB DAC


I'd like to use the dac with different amps, but if there is a good dac/amp combo to fit my needs, this would be just fine:-)


I will pare the DAC with Lisa III. I just love the sound of this amp. It has got great synergy with Beyerdynamic DT770 Manufaktur 600 ohm. I love this headphone. Sometimes it's just a tad to bright, and Lisa III does warm things up just the way I like it. And I think that this will be the no. 1 setup. I also consider using SR325is and DT880 vintage (also 600 ohm).


Please help me find a USB DAC to complete this setup. I'm pretty much blank. I have read a lot of reviews about dacs from Audio-gd, Meier Audio, Burson Audio, Yulong among others - and of course Red Wine Audios Isabellina - could this be it? (it's way too expensive, but I could save up... - I want this to be GOOD) But I don't know how any of them sound.

post #2 of 37

I'm not sure what your budget is, but my suggestion is to see if you can't find a second-hand Audio-gd DAC19 with the PMD100 chip. It's a touch more "old school"-sounding than the later version with the DSP, though the DSP is technically better, especially the latest version.   If you want to go nuts, occasionally the huge (both physically and in soundstage) Reference 9 shows up second-hand as well.  Similar results can be had with old Assemblage DACs as well, which appear on Audiogon. If the Lisa III is already a bit on the mellow side, it might be a better match to go with the more modern-sounding DACs though.

post #3 of 37

The best DAC is a neutral, transparent DAC. You shouldn't know it's there.


Since you are happy with the 'analogue' sound you get from your current transducers (and amp??) Why take the risk of adding too much of a good thing? You can always massage the sound if you really feel the need by using an after market plug in suite. Also, if you are prepared to pay a little over the minimum most good quality DACs come complete with optional, sophisticated software. I got 7 band parametric EQ with variable high and low pass filters, 2 compressors and reverb with a MOTU Ultralite and other manufacturers offer similar suits.


Top rated manufacturers of premium gear include RME, Benchmark, Drawmer and Apogee.



ed: formatting.

post #4 of 37

I have a crappy Ion turntable and also want that "analog" sound to an electronic source. From what I've gathered (which isn't much) I'm getting the feeling that the NOS DAC may be the way to go, and I'm personally leaning towards the RWA Isabellina as it throws tubes into the mix which may give some romance to the music as well.

post #5 of 37

Analog sound?: MHDT Havana DAC

post #6 of 37
Thread Starter 

@currawong: Audio-GD should give a good bang-for-the-buck, right? I'll read up on these models, thanks! About Lisa III synergy: It would be nice if the dac had good synergy with Lisa III, but I'd like to try other amps as well. So this is not a must. Also considering dac/amp combos - are the Audio-GD amps any good?


@ronaldumsfeld: Yes, I have heard this many times, that a good dac is a neutral dac. But I'm not sure. I think I'll like some coloration of the sound. I like the purist point of view, but I don't think it's the way to go for me...Thank you for sharing anyway:-)


@alfredo: Hey, we are looking for the same thing;-) I also get the impression from my reading, that NOS dacs could be it (and maybe tube dacs - but Isabellina doesn't have tubes). As far as I can tell it's a very old school design (NOS, no opamps etc.). Looks good and reviews are making me very tempted. On the other hand I sense that you pay a very high price for this unit...compared to other brands.


DarKu: I'll look into it, thanks!

post #7 of 37

PS Audio Digital Link III hands down for a top end analogue sound. The DL III doesn't use op-amps which are responsible for that digital sound, so whatever DAC you end up with look for ones without.


You can read more about the DAC here: http://www.psaudio.com/ps/products/description/digital-link-3-dac?cat=


Oh and it's made in the USA!

post #8 of 37

For a NOS USB DAC, I'll second DarKu's Havana recommendation.

post #9 of 37

You not ought to be consider another DAC then Audio-Gd. Trust me, or trust The "Mutual Admiration Society". Howgh!

post #10 of 37



Top rated manufacturers of premium gear include RME, Benchmark, Drawmer and Apogee.


The only problem is they tend to have the least analog-like sound. Pianos and violins sound harsh and unnatural with them and they don't sound "neutral and transparent" in my opinion. The Audio-gd Reference 1 was the first DAC I owned that truly, to my impressions, disappeared.  Now I think of it though, a similar-sounding piece of gear is the Cambridge 840c CD player, which works as a DAC as well. It can be found second-hand for about $800 or so, which is great value. However, it doesn't have USB input, so you'd have to use a converter.


NOS is fine...IF, and it's a big if, you don't mind sacrificing detail. The "natural sound" comes as a result of severe distortion.  I'm a detail junkie, so I know that a NOS DAC wouldn't suit me, for example.

post #11 of 37

The RWA isabellina HPA is the most analog dac I have heard. I brought mine to a lot of meets where other people have also commented that it is the most analog setup they have heard. If you want a little more detail with it, throw a offramp4 in front of it to pull out even more resolution and clarity while still maintaining the smooth analog sound. I still havent tweaked my new setup to get the analog sound that I used to have with the isabellina.

post #12 of 37



Is there a waiting period for new orders or does he have units ready to ship, do you know Kingstyles?

post #13 of 37

I dont know what his waiting time is. Just send him a message. Vinne is good to responding to his emails. He might have units ready to go.


I used to have an offramp 3 hooked up to mine and had all my music upsampled to 24/96. Created a nice smooth analog sound. I would imagine his new version of it with tubes is even better. While it drops the extra 8 bits off, (which is fluff anyways) it can utilize the 96 sampling. Basically it would be 16/96.

post #14 of 37
Thread Starter 

Thanks for these suggestions. It is all very helpful. At the moment I'm leaning towards a NOS DAC. 


I have my eyes set on a used Isabellina, the Havana is also interesting.


I'll read up on the PS Audio Digital Link III, thanks.


More suggestions are very welcome :-)


post #15 of 37
Thread Starter 

Anyone happen to know how big the difference between the old Isabellina and the new LFP-V edition is? I have found a good deal on the old model. (and sorry alfredo, I just realized, that the NEW version HAS got tubes.....my bad).


If I ever need tubes in the rig badly, I can allways use my WA2 and only use the dac in Isabellina...so it's more the other upgrades I'm concerned for - the battery... I'll try and find answers in the threads about the Isabellina, but if anyone reading here has something to share on this topic, I will be grateful. Thanks.

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