I need a new piece of equipment to tie my setup together and possibly upgrade my digital source. My budget is $500 max but preferably less.
My current equipment:
Pro-Ject RM 1.3 turntable
Pro-Ject Phono Box S phono stage
Swan M200 MKIII powered speakers
Alessandro MS2 headphones
The uDAC, speakers, and headphones predate the turntable setup. The turntable has introduced two wrinkles:
(1) The Swan speakers have only one RCA input and the uDAC obviously has none, so I am forced to swap cables around when I switch between sources. Clearly I need something with preamp capabilities.
(2) The turntable + phono stage BLOWS AWAY the uDAC in terms of sound quality. I am skeptical of the pseudoscientific arguments that vinyl is inherently superior digital audio and so it seems to me that the solution is probably to step up to a higher quality DAC.
So what I think I'm looking for is a unit (or combination of units) that combines a DAC, preamp capabilities (most important being analog input, which would seem to rule out the cheaper Audio-GD options), and a headphone output. Digital sound quality and preamp function are MUCH more important to me than the quality of the headphone amp at this point since I have no plans to upgrade the Alessandros and they seem to do fine with the relatively meager uDAC amplification. I do, on the other hand, plan to replace the Swans with a traditional power amp and speaker setup (scale and budget TBD, though the speakers will likely be Swans) at some point in the next year or two and would like whatever I buy now to continue to be the preamp for that rig.
So far I have identified the Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 and Nuforce HDP as meeting my needs. Which would sound better given my other equipment? What other options am I missing? Are there two units I should combine that would still fall within my $500 budget? Is a <$500 solution here going to be a huge bottleneck if I end up spending a couple grand on a power amp and speakers?
If it's relevant, I predominantly listen to rock, classical, opera, and to a lesser extent ambient.