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Do I Need a New DAC? Or Not?

Discussion in 'Streamers & Network Music Players' started by kelly200269, Feb 4, 2013.

  1. kelly200269

    kelly200269 Member

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    Hi,

    I'm new to the forum, and wanted some advice on the following please.

    The digital sources in my system are a Denon DCD-SA1 SACD player, and a Cambridge Audio NP30 network player/player. These, together with my vinyl analogue source drive Aktiv Linn Majik 140's.

    I love my Denon for its SACD capability, and have been an avid collector of SACD's, which I think rival my vinyl source for SQ. However, I 'dipped my toe' into digital downloads a few months ago, hence the purchase of the NP30. I currently use the NP30 to wirelessly stream my iTunes collection from my NAS drive in 128kbs AAC when 'knocking around the house', cooking, reading etc, which is adequate for non-critical listening. But I have also downloaded some 24-bit/96khz FLAC files from Linn, B&W and HDTracks, which I want to hear the best from. Because the NP30 is connected to my home network wirelessly, and streaming 24-bit files wirelessly is ill-advised, I store these high-Rez files on an extremal hard-drive (WD passport) which is connected to the USB socket on the rear of the NP30, making them directly available to the NP30 as an external drive/source. The NP30 is currently connected directly to my pre-amp using RCA analogue cables, from the NP30's own internal DAC and analogue outputs.

    Don't get me wrong; I think the NP30 does a great job with streaming and digital output generally, but I think it's probably the 'weak link in the chain', and I thought about upgrading it to seek better performance, especially from my FLAC files. The obvious thing to go for is a Linn Majik DS, but I resist this almost on principle as I regard it to be extortionately priced for what it is, plus most of my non-physical collection at the moment is 128kbs AAC, with only a relatively small number of high-Rez FLAC files (which, admittedly will probably grow in time).

    I have considered two options to upgrade, and get the most from my FLAC files (both of which will effectively bypass the NP30, which I intend to keep to stream my iTunes collection and Internet radio), and wondered which members think is be best:

    Option 1: The internal DAC in the DCD-SA1 is meant to be pretty good (using Burr Brown DSD1792 DACs) and should accept 24-bit LPCM/WAV files up to 192khz via SPDIF, so my initial thought was to use a spare Windows laptop I have, and buy a Musical Fidelity V-LINKII or V-LINK 192 USB/SPDIF converter to stream the FLAC files from my PC to the Denon via the MF V-LINK. This option would give me the advantage of minimal outlay/cost, and the ability to use the equipment I already have.

    Option 2: Rather than use the Denon's internal DAC, invest in both a V-LINK AND in a new DAC to be fed by it, and send the analogue output from the DAC direct to my pre-amp. This would cost more, but my question is: Would it be worth the extra outlay over Option 1? Are the new DACs that much better than the one found in my Denon SACD player, for example the Musical Fidelity V-DACII also uses Burr Brown DSD1796 DACs. Would the MF (or an alternative DAC) be that much better than the DAC inside my Denon?

    Many thanks for your thoughts, in anticipation.
  2. Crocodile

    Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    Why not try feeding the NP30 into the Denon & see how that sounds? If you like the sound of the Denon anyway this may give you a more consistent sound & will cost little to try.
  3. kelly200269

    kelly200269 Member

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    That's nice and easy, and wouldn't cost more than a coaxial digital cable. Thanks :)

    But would using my spare PC and an asynchronous USB/SPDIF converter like the MF V-Link produce a more 'accurate' digital stream for the Denon to decode? From what I understand, this asynchronous signal would have less digital jitter, and hence better SQ?

    I don't have any experiences is using this type of equipment, so it would be good to hear from others who have.
  4. amcluesent

    amcluesent Moderator

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    IMHO, linking your PC directly to the hi-fi is 2nd best to using a decent streamer, they can all produce a bit-perfect feed on S/PDIF up to the sample rate they can process, although some still struggle with gapless.

    You are buying Linn's digital signal processing skills as well as their DAC, IIRC the Magik upsamples everything to 24/384.

    N.B. wi-fi is fine for hi-rez, so long as it's not a cause of re-buffering and drop-outs.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2013
  5. Crocodile

    Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    The problem with taking Internet advice, especially when it's so freely available from those not necessarily qualified to give it*, is a lot of it will simply be regurgitated from somewhere else but stated as fact.

    No one can tell you with any degree of certainty what is going to sound good to you on your equipment in your room & with your ears. And the more advice you get the more confused you end up. Will asynchronous sound better? Maybe. Will you hear the difference? Maybe. Will you prefer it? Maybe.

    Personally I wouldn't entertain the idea of a PC as a source as there's too much dicking around involved for my liking. Both in getting a bit perfect output to start with & then finding a convenient way to control it. Others will disagree.

    If you really want to hear what alternative kit can do for YOU then I would suggest that trying it is the only way. If you have access to dealers to dem then take advantage of that. If not then look to simply buy used kit & sell it on if there's no improvement. I guess what I'm saying is that a past-time that relies largely on the ears to enjoy can be over-complicated by what we read with our eyes...

    *Myself included. ;)
  6. kelly200269

    kelly200269 Member

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    Hahaha! Yes, couldn't agree more :)

    Maybe we should all resign from the forum and use the time to listen to more music instead ;-)
  7. PeterCraig

    PeterCraig Member

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    My suggestion is to buy the V-Link 192 and a coaxial cable (if you don't have one handy) and try using that with your existing DAC. It is a very inexpensive way to get started, and the V-Link is a great performer.

    I use Foobar on my computer to stream music to the V-Link; it is pretty easy to setup but you will need to invest a few hours doing some research to get it all set-up. ASIO is my preferred streaming format, but you can get started with Wasapi with little effort.

    The V-Link takes at least 50 hours continous play to sound good, and 150 hours to fully burn-in. Don't expect much until you pass that 50 hour mark ;)

    If you still feel like you want to upgrade than a new DAC may be a good idea. The USB inputs in most inexpensive dacs won't compare to a separate USB to S/PDIF converater (like the V-Link) so no expense would of been wasted.

    I like the Audio-gd reference 5.32 for about $1000 USD delivered. It really brings the music alive, especially live acoustic and electronic, and I'm very happy with the unit. Highly recommended.

    Hope that helps.
  8. kelly200269

    kelly200269 Member

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    Well, rather than buy a Musical Fidelity V-Link II/192, I've just connected my NP30 up to DCD-SA1 with a Chord Prodac Pro Digital cable, to see what exactly the SA1 is capable of of. All I can say is: WOW! The results are truly astounding, and for the first time I think I'm 'hearing the music' in my FLAC files. I can now, at last, sit and listen to my FLAC music without thinking that something is missing?

    I always thought that FLAC downloads couldn't challenge SACD for quality, but now I think the difference is indistinguishable. In fact, I think some of my FLAC music sounds better than the same music on SACD, so much so I have difficulty in tearing myself away from it. Success!

    I think that jitter in the data stream should also be minimal, because I have my files stored on a WD Passport drive connected to one of the USB inputs on the NP30, so the master clock in the NP30 is in charge of the data stream, rather than the hard drive itself. I suppose the ultimate quality of data is dependent on this clock's accuracy.

    I will now spend what I would have spent on a V-Link on more music! :)
  9. Crocodile

    Crocodile Well-Known Member

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    :smashin:
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  10. Steven

    Steven Senior Moderator

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    Have demoed a selection over the years from budget v-dac / dacmagic to the Invicta. In my experience budget dacs do not offer substantial gains, if any, to the built-in dacs found in mid-tier plus home cinema / audio separates

    Generalising of course. We all have individual perception and ears etc

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