Best DAC < $400 (for DT 880 and Little Dot MK III)
Jan 16, 2012 at 11:07 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 12

vs17

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I recently bought a pair of DT 880 (600Ohm) headphones and a LittleDot MK III tube amp to go with them, and I was looking for a nice DAC to complete my setup. Any suggestions?
 
I'm a relatively new audiophile and have almost no experience with DACs. I've been doing research for a few months, and have read a range of reviews, but haven't found a standout DAC yet that would complete my rig. I really just don't want to sell short my new beyer headphones or little dot amp in any way.
 
I was ready to pull the trigger on a Zero DAC after reading Penchum's review, but I thought it best to get some head-fi advice first.
 
All of my music will be FLAC files served from my computer via S/PDIF or USB. I don't really have a budget in mind, but I don't think I'd go with anything more expensive than the Cambridge DacMagic, and honestly that is pushing it.
 
I've considered DACs across a wide range of price points:
 
Fiio D3 ~30
Fiio E10 ~80
NuForce uDAC2 ~130
Zero DAC ~150
Little Dot DAC_I ~300
Beresford TC-7520SEG Caiman ~ 325
Music Fidelity V-DAC MKII ~350
Cambridge Audio DacMagic ~ 430
 
I assume that these are not my only choices, just the few that I am aware of and have looked into. The one thing I like about the DacMagic over just a dedicated DAC is that I could plug in my 2 computers and PS3 and use it as an input switch for my Logitech Z-5500s, but that hardly justifies the price.
 
The main thing I want is a quality DAC (or sound card I suppose) to use as a source to my new tube amp and 600 Ohm headphones.
 
Thanks for any help!
 
 
Jan 16, 2012 at 10:38 PM Post #2 of 12

vs17

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At this point I'm mainly wondering how much of a gain I'll hear by choosing a Beresford, V-DAC, or DacMagic over the cheaper but possibly less reliable Zero Dac 09 Edition.
 
I was pretty excited to buy a Zero because of its price point and positive sound reviews, that is before I read the lengthy thread on its build quality failures. I'm still unclear if these problems have been resolved in the 09 edition or not, but I certainly don't want to pair anything of low build quality with my new Beyerdynamic headphones and Little Dot Amp.
 
Jan 18, 2012 at 1:38 PM Post #3 of 12

vs17

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Friendly Bump.
 
I think I've narrowed my choices to the Little Dot DAC_I, Cambridge Audio DacMagic, and the Music Fidelity V-DAC II, pending any other suggestions. Any thoughts on that matchup from owners?
 
Another Head-Fi'er posted this elsewhere:
Quote:
The DacMagic is said to be dry and clinical.  Since you have a tube amp, it won't be as much of a problem, but not many people like the DacMagic DT880 combo because their synergy exacerbates dryness and treble. 

 
Can anyone comment on this as it is something I'd like to avoid in my setup?
 
These DACs are all a little bit more than I was originally planning on spending, but I'd rather spend more now for quality than save a little bit of money on a possibly unreliable product (Zero DAC). Though, it somehow feels wrong to spend more on the DAC than the headphone or amp...what do you think?
 
 
 
Jan 18, 2012 at 1:42 PM Post #4 of 12

liamstrain

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What about a good dac with a SS amp in it - you can switch between tube amp and SS amp for more listening options. 
 
The Audio GD NFB 5 - for instance hits most of my marks for what I expect in a @ $300 DAC, and happens to also have a decent amp inside it. 
http://www.audio-gd.com/Pro/Headphoneamp/NFB5/NFB5EN.htm
 
Jan 18, 2012 at 1:51 PM Post #5 of 12

vs17

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I'm definitely not opposed to a good DAC / Amp combo as long as the quality of the DAC does not suffer from the included cost of the amp. In my OP, I was considering the Zero Dac and uDac2 which have a built in headphone amp. It would be neat to do some A/B testing of the included SS amps vs my new Little Dot as well, but that's not really a selling factor to me.
 
I will look more into the NFB 5, thanks for the suggestion.
 
Any other recommendations or comments?
 
Jan 18, 2012 at 1:56 PM Post #6 of 12

liamstrain

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The biggest benefit to the Little Dot or DacMagic over the others, for me, is the option to go balanced. Which also brings to mind the Matrix Mini-i 
 
I'm intending to pick up one of those myself, in the next couple weeks. (Was looking at the Audio GD 10SE, but really shouldn't spend the extra dosh right now).
 
Jan 18, 2012 at 11:40 PM Post #7 of 12

frenchbat

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As far as suggestions go, you might want to had 2 models to your research :
 
HRT Streamer 2+ (which I have) and Centrance DACPort.
 
Good luck in your chase.
 
Jan 19, 2012 at 11:55 AM Post #9 of 12

vs17

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Quote:
As far as suggestions go, you might want to had 2 models to your research :
 
HRT Streamer 2+ (which I have) and Centrance DACPort.


Thanks, I had been looking into the HRT Streamer 2+ and I hear its performance is great. Not necessarily a bad thing as I really just want digital to analog conversion, but it does lack many of the features and inputs that I would find useful on other DACs.
Quote:
How about the Audio GD NFB 3.1? It's pretty popular here.
 
http://www.audio-gd.com/Pro/dac/NFB3-2011/NFB3.1EN.htm


This does look intriguing. So much for my productivity at work today, looks like I'll be reading more reviews and threads on head-fi all day...
 
 
Anyone have experience with the NFB 3.1, DacMagic, or Little Dot DAC_I?
I've been reading a lot of reviews and comments recently and I'm starting to wonder: It's 2012, is the DacMagic still the king of DACs for under $400?​
 
Jan 19, 2012 at 7:43 PM Post #10 of 12

frenchbat

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Re-read your OP and it's true that the Streamer 2+ is a minimalistic offer. Problem is, it's difficult to have consistant performance across different types of input, as you may already know. Especially when the DAC is less than say 500$ - 700$. IIRC the DACMagic has that problem, with the Toslink being the least performing input, and the USB not being as good as the SPDIF.
 
Also I'm a bit wary of products designed more than 2-3 years ago when it comes to USB link, as the technology has improved a lot on that front. Since the SPDIF has always been easier to implement, it's been the best performer on a lot of products until the last years. Hence my advice on the Streamer 2+ and the DACPort, which are products from the last USB generation. Well, anyway you decide but sometimes more is less.
 
Quote:
Thanks, I had been looking into the HRT Streamer 2+ and I hear its performance is great. Not necessarily a bad thing as I really just want digital to analog conversion, but it does lack many of the features and inputs that I would find useful on other DACs.



 
 
Jun 22, 2012 at 8:41 AM Post #11 of 12

Archerious

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If someone hasn't already said, for under $500 many would take the Schiit Bifrost. Not only is it upgradeable down the road, it has good synergy with the other Schiit audio things. For example, the Schiit Valhalla is similar to the Little Dot, so if the Bifrost has good synergy with the Valhalla then it will definitely go good with the Little Dot MK3. 
 
Jun 22, 2012 at 8:44 AM Post #12 of 12

Archerious

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Quote:
Thanks, I had been looking into the HRT Streamer 2+ and I hear its performance is great. Not necessarily a bad thing as I really just want digital to analog conversion, but it does lack many of the features and inputs that I would find useful on other DACs.

This does look intriguing. So much for my productivity at work today, looks like I'll be reading more reviews and threads on head-fi all day...
 
 
Anyone have experience with the NFB 3.1, DacMagic, or Little Dot DAC_I?
I've been reading a lot of reviews and comments recently and I'm starting to wonder: It's 2012, is the DacMagic still the king of DACs for under $400?​

I prefer the Music Fidelity VAC2 over the DAC magic, its cheaper too. Look at the Schiit Bifrost, its a very good value for the money.
 

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