I have been meaning to do something about getting a new DAC+Amp for some time now.
The problem is that any time I think I have made up my mind, I read about problems someone is having with it, or something new comes along that is supposed to be better.
I had almost convinced myself to buy a DAC2-HGC as it seemed to tick most of the boxes, but I'm just not sure that I need it, and even at that price it's not ideal for my setup. (I would really prefer to be using HDMI)
Other than that, I keep leaning towards the O2+ODAC combination. At 1/10th the price it seems to offer most of the performance of the DAC2, and while you lose some flexibility, I am willing to compromise when the price difference is that great.
But I really don't like the DIY look of the O2+ODAC, I'm concerned about channel imbalance as I listen at low volumes, and I especially dislike how all the cables except USB connect to the front of the device. It's a shame that nwavguy disappeared before finishing the desktop variant.
My main headphones are 24Ω and quite sensitive, so the amp needs to have a maximum of 3Ω output impedance, preferably below 1Ω.
It needs to have a very quiet background, because I hear noise from everything I have used so far - which is mostly just connecting up the headphones directly to devices. (and it gets even worse with my IEMs)
I really don't want separates; I would prefer to have an integrated unit, and it needs to be made to sit on a desk, rather than in a rack. (being portable would be a nice bonus, but that usually means compromising on quality)
I want verifiable performance - I don't want to go on hearsay about what is or isn't a good device, and I want performance that matches or bests the O2+ODAC.
I would prefer independent data, but most manufacturers don't seem to post datasheets advertising their performance now, and some don't even list their output impedance. (to me this suggests that it's high)
I really only need a single input, as I have moved all my AV to a PC-based solution. (using JRiver Media Center) but I'm unsure about USB.
I would prefer to at least have the option of a 24/96 driverless USB solution (and entirely driverless on OS X) with an optional ASIO driver to go beyond that - though I'm not sure that I really need anything more than 24/96. (the sound science group suggests that 24/44 is enough, the audiophiles would probably agree that there's not much difference beyond 96)
My concern is that on my PC, when I'm really thrashing the CPU, the mouse cursor will start to skip around. Audio playback (via HDMI) is currently unaffected, but I am worried that USB audio might also start to skip when that happens.
I'm also wondering about DSD.
There seems to have been a resurgence of the format recently, with people finally figuring out a way that we can rip our discs via a PS3, and a number of sites starting to sell DSD material; but then you have papers like this, and comments from people like David Weiss, saying that 24/96 is better, and that the only reason they are including DSD in their products is because the market demands it - not because they think it is better.
DSD seems to be considered a high-end feature when it comes to DACs, with people going as far as buying three Myteks and linking them together, even though most of Sony AVRs include multichannel DSD support. (even the cheaper ones)
So is there anything in-between the O2+ODAC and something like the DAC2-HGC, or should I just buy an O2+ODAC?