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Need your HELP with DAC selection

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

I've become cross-eyed from running search upon search and reading thread upon thread. All good info, but I think it's time to pose a question and uncover options I haven't found yet.


I need a high quality DAC and I've narrowed down my requirements and haven't quite found the right match. Hoping someone can suggest some DACs that check off everything on my list...

  1. Budget - I see myself spending around $600-$2,500 based on what I've been reading about and listening to
  2. USB performance is critical because that will be the only input I intend to use (via 2011 MacBook Pro)
  3. I listen to roughly 50/50 regarding headphones and active monitors so headphone output quality is important (using HD600)
  4. Balanced XLR L/R output to go to my Focal CMS active monitors
  5. Volume control built in for use with both headphone output and active monitors (will not be using a separate preamp, just MBP to DAC to speakers/headphones)
  6. Smaller the better - this is going to sit on my desktop so size is very important
  7. Exceptional build quality, fit and finish
  8. In terms of sound (I know this is subjective) - very detailed, crisp, clear, not too bright, as 3D as possible, huge soundstage, musical.


Let me know if I've missed anything needed to make suggestions.




post #2 of 4
Thread Starter 

Anyone have any suggestions? Thanks.

post #3 of 4

it seems as though the most knowledgeable head-fi'ers don't usually reply to these post.  I don't blame them actually as searching and researching brings you up to speed quickly.


in any event, i started a thread a couple days ago with a similar topic, along with my preliminary findings.


here is my short list:


Lavry DA11  $1,428   hard to find used or discounted.


Wyred for Sound DAC2  $1,499   hard to find used or discounted.


CA DacMagic Plus  $579   no remote


Benchmark DAC1 USB   no remote  $1200


NuForce DAC9   ($1,695 MSRP; used on A-gon, $900 good price, but bad resale value!))


Bel Canto e1.5   $1,500  or used Bel Canto 3 $1,000 (msrp $2500 in its day, but may not have USB)


last but not least.......Emotiva  XDA-1   clearance price only $249....has it all, feature-wise....also gets decent reviews, but i an nearly positive i will be disappointed like i was when i bought one of the early Chinese dacs year and half ago.   prob can resell it for $50 loss only.


by the way i am using the PS Audio DL III, which i really (really) like, but now i need volume control too....can't swing the PerfectDac though.


also...i have the CMS50s....unbelievable...right???   i want to save for the Solo BE6.  they never show up used.











post #4 of 4

Check this list: http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/HW/USB_DAC_Async.htm


Since USB will be your main input, I would rule out almost all non-async DAC´s entirely. That site has a good list of products, works nicely as a starting point. With your requirements these come to my find first, not in any order:


(1) Audiolab M-DAC (600 pounds in the UK, so maybe 800 dollars or so in the US). It does everything you need, and is small too. I haven´t heard it though, but its predecessor (8200CDQ) was good - I liked it. The M-DAC sounds superior to it according to the designer. If interested, check the Pink Fish Media forums. You´ll quickly notice JohnW posts a lot there. He is the M-DAC designer. The headphone output should be pretty good too. Extremely good value if the sound signature is your cup of tea.


(2) Eximus DP-1. Highly positive early reviews and impressions, and uses the acclaimed XMOS USB chip with dual clocks (for 44/48 multipliers). Ayre and others use that chip too. Quite expensive though, around 2500-3000 dollars. No idea how it sounds, only leeperry on these forums has one so far. Looks great on paper though, and the casework is exceptional too.


(3) Mytek Stereo 192. There is a version with headphone output (three versions, same price I think). Seems solid, comes from a good pro audio company. Just launched so no reviews anywhere. Costs around 1700 dollars. Studio aesthetics, so the case isn´t that nice.


(4) Benchmark DAC-1 PRE. Pretty expensive, and not async. Some love it, some hate it. It works very nicely with studio monitors, and the headphone out is nice with the Sennheiser HD 650 too. It´s too neutral (bright?) for some gear though if you ask me. Or at the very least you might notice that you don´t really want studio-transparency for your music in the end. It´s subjective. The company behind it is trustable (engineering based, targeted mostly at the studio folk) and friendly in my experience. 


(5) Grace 903. Around 1700 dollars I think. Another famous pro audio company, never heard their gear though.


All of these have pre/headphone out functionality along with the DAC. Happy hunting - just remember that never buy gear blind. Home loans (preferably a week or so) and comparisons are the key. Buy what sounds the best to your ears, because forum opinions in the end are just that: forum opinions from people who may or may not have the same taste in sonics. You can find any gear praised and slammed here.

Edited by vrln - 1/4/12 at 2:18pm
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