Long time without spending money!! Now I need help, as there is a ton more hardware on the market than a couple years ago.
Right now i am using a PS Audio Digital Link III as the DAC and it feeds the Focal CMS50's which have volume control. A recent move has put these active speakers somewhat away from my desk and therefore can't really adjust the volume easily. Moreover, the fixed analog output of the DL III (via balanced) gives the speakers a signal that allows minimal volume control (from 7 o'clock off to 9 o'clock only) before being way too loud in an office setting.
So in a different setup, i used Airport Express via Toslink into the PS Audio, and adjusted volume via iTunes (uughhh...i know, i know!!) and left the speakers alone. Sometimes i would use USB into the PS Audio, trying out other media players for fun....but i digress!
Back to my current situation: i bought Pure Audio digital dock (only about $100), and use Toslink into the PS Audio and then run balanced into the speakers. Again i keep the speakers somewhat fixed in volume, but the Pure Audio dock actually has volume control. In fact the Pure Audio even has its own DAC, so for a real minimalist approach i could theoretically run the iPad (using only Apple lossless, when i rip and 256vbr MP3 when i buy) directly from the Pure Audio's analog out (RCA) to the Focal's and be done.
Of course...the Pure dock's dac is not great, and that combo, while simple, is not good enough. As an aside, i have also just hooked up the iPad via headphone output (not lineout, since i want volume control) directly into the Focal's....and the result was similar to the Pure analog output....in other words, not great.
SOOOOOO.....here i am now looking for suggestions for a new volume-controllable DAC with (ideally) a balanced digital input and balanced analogue outputs, and remote control. As for sound preferences, i guess i would characterize myself as liking accuracy, excellent transients, and soundstage. Analytical in a word, which is what the Focal's are. Professional musician sound.
I am buying the $299 digital output ipad dock from Cambridge Audio. it has balanced output, in addition to toslink and coax.
then down the road...when i can afford it...i want to replace the Focal CMS50's with the Solo BE6, which has the berrylium tweeter and are highly regarded by studio engineers. So thinking ahead, while the 50's have single ended and balanced inputs (and a front volume control), the Solo BE6 has just balanced input and no volume except for attenuator screws in the back.
Basically i want a DAC that will provide great conversion and volume control without losing bits. then when i get the Solo BE6, i will have minimal electronics to impact the sound i hope, while having real control. i don't really need a headphone jack (or at least one where its quality matters to me) nor even USB. i see from reading, that's the opposite of most head-fi'ers in that the headphone amp section is very important. also much of the controversy (opinions) of DACs stem from their implementation of USB, rather than "regular" digital inputs.
depending upon whether i get remote control, the location will be either right next to the ipad dock on my desk, running about 20' of wiring to the speakers; or running the iPad dock output about 20' to the new DAC, and then only like 5 feet to the speakers. in either case, the dock is nearby.
here's my research so far:
Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 $1499 with remote
AES in+out (Cullen expertise) some used $1200, go fast.
Bel Canto 1.5 $1350 new with remote
AES in+out (Bel Canto 3, older model with msrp of $2500 easily available used for $1100)
Benchmark DAC1 $1,000 no remote; variable out; AES in+out
($1900 for HDR version with USB in, preamp, and remote, but no AES in -- not worth it i think)
Cambridge Audio cheap $579 new
no AES in, no remote
I always thought the big benefit of balanced is for longer runs. so if no remote...like the DacMagic Plus, it will sit literally under the dock and require a half meter cable only. then the 20' runs can go balanced to the speakers. but then i heard that the whole end-to-end should be balanced....
as for aesthetics...i do like the W4S Dac2 in all black, and the DelCanto 1.5 can be had now in all black.
i like the look of the DacMagic Plus better than Benchmark if it sitting on the desk, but have never seen in person and have heard it is a bit cheap looking. then again it is by far the cheapest!!
WHEW>>>>>>thanks in advance!
Edited by Robster1958 - 1/1/12 at 1:36pm