Newb question: "Good enough" DAC or USB sound interface for Prehead/HD-650
Jan 24, 2004 at 10:53 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 12

zum

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Hi,

I'm planning to upgrade my PC system to include decent headphones and a headamp (I'm very seriously considering Corda Prehead with HD-650). However, I strongly suspect that my current sound output interface, M-Audio Transit, is not quite up to par with the rest of equipment.

Here are some figures of the Transit, whether they ultimately tell anything I can't know:

dynamic range: 104dB (typical, -60dB input, A-weighted)
signal-to-noise ratio: 104dB (typical, A-weighted)
thd+n: 0.00316% (typical) (= 90 dB)

At least some sound cards/DACs that people here have recommended have figures way beyond the Transit, and the really top class equipment can have < 0.0001 THD+N.

So, the question is, which USB sound card or DAC do you recommend? Or would I even hear the difference between the Transit and, say, Weiss Medea D/A Processor?

Oh, and the PC in question is a laptop, so normal PCI sound cards won't do. USB, Firewire and S/PDIF outputs are available.

I'm ready to pay as much as I need to meet the requirements of the rest of the equipment, well at least if the price is not downright shocking (otherwise I'd go for the Medea
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I'm intend to do everything with the system - listen to music, play games, make music... I don't need dozens of fancy knobs, mic inputs and several outputs though. The perfect thing would be a simple box with two RCA line out connections and excellent DAC quality, but they don't seem to exist!
 
Jan 25, 2004 at 9:55 PM Post #3 of 12

zum

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Thanks for the reference. At least the Benchmark DAC-1 seems to have received a good amount of praise.

Another contender that I've found out would be Apogee's Mini-DAC.

Any comparative opinions on the two?
 
Jan 25, 2004 at 10:57 PM Post #4 of 12

zum

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Found yet another alternative, and I'm now considering Grace 901 + HD650...

That would probably better suit my digital needs, and the desire to have as few expensive and quality-degrading interconnects as possible.

But the search goes on!
 
Jan 26, 2004 at 12:17 AM Post #5 of 12

Wodgy

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The M-Audio Transit is a good digital source -- it is bit-perfect, which is what you want. All you need is a good DAC and you're set to go. You have many choices there. The Weiss Medea is a good choice, as are the Bel Canto DAC 2, the Musical Fidelity unit, the Ack! Industries dAck!, etc. There are a lot of threads about quality external DACs -- do a search. My own leanings would be towards the Bel Canto DAC 2 because I've heard it and like it. Also, it has a PLL-based asynchronous upsampler on the front end so any digital jitter from the source (the Transit) will be essentially eliminated.

Most of the USB and Firewire devices that would allow you to skip the Transit and plug in directly to your laptop are designed for the pro audio market and have a bit more analytical sound than you probably want. (If analytical is your taste, by all means consider it one of the pro units, like the new Firewire device from M-Audio.) The pro units also tend to include A->D converters (which you don't need) and a bunch of dials (which you said you don't want). Personally, I think you're better just going with a standard 2-channel stereo DAC designed for Hi-Fi. The Transit is a fine transport. In general, optical S/PDIF is a better choice for interfacing with external DACs with a computer-based source than coaxial S/PDIF, because computers have exceptionally dirty grounds with a lot of digital switching noise. The exceptions are cards that have transformer-isolated coaxial outputs, but only the most expensive devices have those. So your Transit's optical out is a good choice for using as a transport.
 
Jan 26, 2004 at 7:46 AM Post #6 of 12

asdfeproiu9

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If the optical S/PDIF output on your laptop is bit-perfect, why don't you spend the money on a reclocking jitter-reducing device, such as a Monarchy DIP? The older version can be had for $100 used, and the new DIP Classic (good for non-oversampling DAC's) is around $250. I think this would be the best solution in terms of sound quality. Then, you can add a high quality two-channel DAC designed for music and be done with it.
 
Jan 26, 2004 at 6:26 PM Post #8 of 12

ryoanji

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these days most modern dacs at any level have jitter reductors. benchmark dac1 as example (850$) claims to have " Total jitter immunity via UltraLock technology". hard to believe but we can be sure some kind of jitter minimizer is present
 
Jan 26, 2004 at 7:59 PM Post #9 of 12

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While Medea or Zanden Audio's delicious-looking Model 5000 Mk III certainly would be quality pieces of hardware, but being a bit budget-limited I'm probably going for something under $1500.

Indeed every DAC that I have looked at has a patented proprietary SomethingLock(tm) technology, the quality of which seems to vary from product to product though. Benchmark DAC-1 claims "complete" jitter-freeness but it seems that jitter's not problem for Grace 901, either:

http://www.stereophile.com/digitalso...02/index4.html

I'm not so good in deciphering all the technical terms therein; but it certainly looks like that jitter levels stay under 113 dB in their test, which says "good enough" to me.

All in all, the more I read about Grace 901, the better it seems. All the features I need and no more - in one good-looking package.

Any opinions/experiences of Grace 901 as a DAC?

And where can I find a web store broad-minded enough to ship one to Finland? Not many resellers around here
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Jan 26, 2004 at 8:38 PM Post #10 of 12

NetRunner

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Well, I don't know how much you can say, at least from the fig. 10.. That PS Audio Lambda they used for input is pretty low jitter source, more so than some general piece of gear. *Hopefully too.. So I might gain something.* Maybe if they had measured the same with some worse gear too.. (Like that crappy RS transport they had.)
 
Jan 26, 2004 at 8:50 PM Post #11 of 12

raif

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I did alot of research on this here at these boards. It seems that the dac on the grace 901 is not exactly up to par with it's amplifying capabilities. The most common statement I saw, was a wish for the grace 901 with the Benchmark's DAC. So I am assuming that would be a better DAC.

I am trying to move to an all computer audio solution myself. The problems with DACs like the benchmark and grace is you can't make music with them. The problem with firewire/usb soundcards is that they don't usually sound as good as an audiophile DAC. I don't think there is a way to get incredible sound out of a laptop without having a card/dac/amp connected.

If someone knows a way of recording music through the Benchmark, or Grace let me know, because I could be wrong on that.
 
Jan 27, 2004 at 12:39 AM Post #12 of 12

zum

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Maybe I misunderstood, but...

To me, M-Audio Transit (or similar sound device in the computer) and a quality DAC/AMP connected digitally to it, seems like a perfect-ish solution.

In addition, Transit is quite nice for making music since it not only has 24/96 digital sound, but also ASIO compatibility (latency in compatible audio software as low as 1.5ms).

(Even more ideal and complete solution would be a quality DAC/amp connected directly into the computer, but I didn't find any considerable candidates.)
 

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