Getting the most from the Apogee Mini-Dac
Feb 12, 2008 at 5:51 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 22


New Head-Fier
Nov 16, 2006
Hi Everyone... Well, it's time to give back to the Head-Fi community. So, here is what I've learned about the Apogee Mini-Dac and how to make it really sing.

The most important thing to know about the Mini-Dac is that the sound quality of its XLR balanced outputs are far (way, way far) superior to its mini-jack 3.5mm outputs (both front & rear). If that's all you have been listening to, then the boat has sailed without you... but you can still get back onboard and here's how...

So, if all you have is RCA inputs, here is option one...

1 - You need to get yourself an XLR (female) to RCA (female) cable adapter so that you can take the output of the Mini-Dac's XLR output and adapt it to either the RCA input of your preamp/amplifier. Most of these adapters short the (-) line to ground. The Apogee is actually OK with this (I have talked to their TS staff), though I still find it kind of cruel. So, I took my adapters apart and cut the shorting jumper. It was easy to do. Either way, you can use a standard set of RCA cables to bring the audio to your preamp or power amp. Be sure to keep the Mini-Dac's volume control low (at first) as the drive level on even just half of the XLR will be considerably higher then the standard RCA drive levels. More good news for headphone listeners... the Mini-Dac XLR output has some real muscle behind it... in fact, you can then use another adapter to directly covert the RCA drive to a 3.5mm stereo female jack and then drive headphones! I had excellent results driving my Westone UM2s in this way. Optionally, you can also use the RCA cables to drive a high-quality headphone amplifier and then use it to drive your headphones. I have done this with incredible results using a RSA Tomahawk. Ok... but what then is option 2 you ask?

2 - Here's what I am doing right now... it is even better. Get yourself a Jensen PC-X2R Iso-Max. This is a small box that contains two very high quality impedance matching transformers. And don't start thinking transformers are evil, because they are not. This device accepts XLR inputs and delivers RCA outputs. The transformers are of a 4 to 1 step-down design, which means that the XLR outputs are converted-down to standard RCA drive levels. Using the Iso-Max, both sides of the XLR output are now used. In addition, there is no longer a hard ground between the components. It sounds fantastic... music emerges from utter and total silence. I purchased my Iso-Max for a little over $100 through the internet (do a Google search). I'd do it again in a heartbeat. The output of the Iso-Max can either go to your preamp/power amp or to your headphone amplifier. But it cannot drive earphones directly.

So... if you are using the Mini-Dac's front or rear mini-jack ouputs, you have no idea of how good the Mini-Dac really is. Trust me.

Best Regards & Happy Listening,
Feb 13, 2008 at 8:58 AM Post #3 of 22
Along with OP's post, another improvement is in the power section. The included convertor works okay, but I've found that clean regulated DC power makes the miniDAC sounds much better.

On connectors, I'm feeding it AES3 and swapped out the original adaptors. Build your own with some higher quality cables and most importantly, remove the second AES3 input.

I've been pretty unsatified with the USB input. Anyone have any suggestions for improving it?
Feb 14, 2008 at 8:39 AM Post #5 of 22

Originally Posted by mikeliao /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I've been pretty unsatified with the USB input. Anyone have any suggestions for improving it?

What seems to be the problem? Mine works perfectly, also the use of a non-USB device through the Mini-Dac. That's an awesome feature by the way. You can make SPDIF rips with your CDP without the need for an SPDIF connection on your computer.
Feb 15, 2008 at 8:43 AM Post #6 of 22
Yes, the USB format conversion on the mini-DAC is useful. I've a mini-ME that I connect to the computer this way, although I'm seriously thinking about spending the 300 dollars or so to get it the firewire upgrade.

Regarding my USB input issue, my music just sounds dead and uninspiring through USB. Also I get hiccups in the USB music stream with the mini-DAC that I don't get with USB to a DA220 or toslink out. Traded a few emails with tech support but truthfully I was too lazy to mess with the Win driver issues.
Feb 18, 2008 at 11:29 PM Post #7 of 22
For getting your computer/SW player configured correctly, checkout the following link from Benchmark. I normally drive my Mini-Dac on a Macintosh, using iTunes and USB... which sounds fantastic. The other day, I also loaded iTunes on a Dell laptop. It sounded terrible until I followed the directions found at the link below:

Main Page - Benchmark
Mar 10, 2008 at 1:36 AM Post #9 of 22
My experience makes me believe that the Mini-Dac's XLR's balanced outputs would drive the HD600s superbly. Be sure to start with volume control all the way down, until you find the right setting. As noted above, the SQ of the XLR outputs are far superior to the 1/8" mini-jack outputs.
Apr 22, 2008 at 2:46 PM Post #10 of 22

Originally Posted by mriguy2 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
... the sound quality of its XLR balanced outputs are far (way, way far) superior to its mini-jack 3.5mm outputs

Can anyone else confirm or comment on this?
Apr 22, 2008 at 4:51 PM Post #12 of 22
Apr 22, 2008 at 6:22 PM Post #13 of 22
Would this be the case for Grados, too, or just for high-impendance cans?
Apr 22, 2008 at 7:14 PM Post #14 of 22
This is to connect to an amp.

Under no circumstances do you want to run grados directly from the balanced outs on the minidac, they lose all life. It's just not something that works well at all. The headphone amp in the minidac sounds worlds better, and I'm not even a fan of that.
Apr 22, 2008 at 7:20 PM Post #15 of 22
Thanks, grawk.

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