Getting back into HiFi - old vs new DACs

imightbewrong

Distinguished Member
I am looking to get my system back to being good for high quality music - previously I had a Chord DAC64 and Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista integrated amp, and still have a a pair of B&W 805s stand-mount speakers. I really enjoyed the sound of this system. I swapped the DAC and amp for an Arcam AVR600 for AV - it sounds ok but very boring for music compared to the old system.

I'm starting a project to make a semi-dedicated AV room and will be getting a decent HiFi two-channel amp with HT bypass mode to drive the fronts. Maybe/probably another Musical Fidelity. The system will be fed by some streamer - previously it was the optical feed from a Sonos - and it probably well be again, but doesn't have to be.

Primary use-case is for feeding the amp. A headphone port would be a bonus but not essential.

I am wondering how all the many DACs stack up, in particular in the Chord line-up, and old vs. new. The current DACs being:

Qutest. c. £1000
Hugo 2. c. £1600 (same as above but with headphone amp)
Hugo TT2. £3-4K (as above but bigger / better)
Hugo Dave. £too much

Or the 'last generation' on the used market:

Hugo (1) - c. £600
Hugo TT (1) - c. £1300

Or really old
DAC64 - c. £500
QBD76 - c £1200

So given that my old DAC64 sounded pretty good - and I am happy to go second hand, how would some of these stack up? e.g. Qutest vs TT1 vs TT2? The TT1 seems at a pretty attractive price point.

Will try to find some places to demo, but not that easy with the second hand pieces.

Any thoughts welcome on the differential between some of these.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
Although I'm probably the last person that should give advice about a streamer would a streamer with it own DAC and analogue inputs be a good starting point? Leave the digital domain there and have a pure analogue amp with HT by-pass to do the driving.

Musical Fidelity amps would then the next step as I believe most come with HT by-pass.
 

imightbewrong

Distinguished Member
Although I'm probably the last person that should give advice about a streamer would a streamer with it own DAC and analogue inputs be a good starting point? Leave the digital domain there and have a pure analogue amp with HT by-pass to do the driving.

Musical Fidelity amps would then the next step as I believe most come with HT by-pass.

Thanks for the suggestion. It's a good idea. My concern with that would be that streaming technology would seem to be something that ages very quickly, where as the DAC itself is still largely decoding the same file format since the 1980s, so I think it would be better to keep them separate.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I like to keep everything separate but streamers are going to have a DAC onboard anyway. DACs have progressed somewhat over the years as well as the processing onboard amps. The Denon PMA 2500 NE has a very good processor in AL32 plus as well as a PCM1795 DAC. It also has HT by-pass. I have the sister SACD player and it is superb. There are so many combinations that you can look at.

You could look at building everything around a good analogue amp as that is really going to be the heart of the system and is unlikely to need changing for many years and not be effected by varying new formats that come along. I intend my Rega Elicit-R to be the centre of my system for many years to come. Only mention it in passing as it doesn't have a headphone amp and I had to buy a standalone one.
 

muljao

Well-known Member
If you listen to some older cd players they still sound superb. It's obviously an integration of how good the digital and analogue sections work together.

If you have a dac that sounds good,even though it's old, as long as it has the inputs or functions you require, I'd hold onto it. More modern dacs have usb inputs and can decode signals that hardly exist. A dac would be the last thing I'd look at, if you need to get one there's great ones from 100-10000 euros/ pounds, some people will tell you there's very little difference.

The musical fidelity ms2i amp seems to be one of the few amps that just gets universal praise, if I was looking for something reasonable with hot bypass I'd definitely look at this one

I'd bet it'll leave most avrs in the dust for music unless you spend very big
 

imightbewrong

Distinguished Member
If you have a dac that sounds good,even though it's old, as long as it has the inputs or functions you require, I'd hold onto it.

Great advice but sadly ten years too late for my DAC 64.
 

muljao

Well-known Member

Hianholland

Active Member
A fairly comprehensive list of amps with HT bypass here: Amplifiers with HT-bypass - update 18. September 2020
If you already have a Sonos connect, it's probably worth using that as a feed into a DAC, as the Sonos interface is pretty good.
I've recently moved away from Sonos to use Roon, and a number of Raspberry pi endpoints connected to a DAC with very good results. You'd need to consider what app to use if you went this route e.g. Roon, volumio.
Although for my main system I still have a dedicated streamer.
 

imightbewrong

Distinguished Member
A fairly comprehensive list of amps with HT bypass here: Amplifiers with HT-bypass - update 18. September 2020
If you already have a Sonos connect, it's probably worth using that as a feed into a DAC, as the Sonos interface is pretty good.
I've recently moved away from Sonos to use Roon, and a number of Raspberry pi endpoints connected to a DAC with very good results. You'd need to consider what app to use if you went this route e.g. Roon, volumio.
Although for my main system I still have a dedicated streamer.

Thanks for the link. I think I am reasonable comfortable with the amp part, but really wondering what the last 10/15 years has done for DACs.

e.g. if one was to spend £1K on a DAC, would it be better spent on a new Qutest or a used Hugo TT from the previous generation, for roughly the same money. This is what I am trying to get some insight into.
 

karlsushi

Active Member
Hi @imightbewrong

perhaps a little late in the day and you may have progressed your purchase now, but I have just today sold my Chord Qutest to @robbo 123 who currently uses the DAC 64. I suppose in a matter of time, he might be able to provide you with some insight into the very question you have.

He certainly has a very fine revealing system to allow for comparison!!

I moved to the Qutest from a 2Qute and found the jump to be noticeable, but not huge, to the extent that I think a second-hand 2Qute probably represents incredibly good value for money if you are in the market for a Chord DAC and don't mind second-hand.

I'm afraid I haven't heard the DAC64, but I did have the opportunity to compare one of the old Chordette DACs a couple of years back and the step-up from that to the 2Qute at the time was quite significant.
 

imightbewrong

Distinguished Member
Hi @imightbewrong

perhaps a little late in the day and you may have progressed your purchase now, but I have just today sold my Chord Qutest to @robbo 123 who currently uses the DAC 64. I suppose in a matter of time, he might be able to provide you with some insight into the very question you have.

He certainly has a very fine revealing system to allow for comparison!!

I moved to the Qutest from a 2Qute and found the jump to be noticeable, but not huge, to the extent that I think a second-hand 2Qute probably represents incredibly good value for money if you are in the market for a Chord DAC and don't mind second-hand.

I'm afraid I haven't heard the DAC64, but I did have the opportunity to compare one of the old Chordette DACs a couple of years back and the step-up from that to the 2Qute at the time was quite significant.

Thanks very interesting - I would certainly be keen to know @robbo 123 's thoughts on the comparison.

And no I haven't got that far yet - still finalising the building design.
 

wine man

Active Member
I still have a DAC64 MK2, a classic in it's day and I won't be changing it anytime soon despite hearing a few more 'up to date' DAC's. A QBD76 would be the minimum I would consider.
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
It would take a very special CD player to make me switch from using a DAC now although many years ago, I was always uninspired by DAC's I tried and felt they didn't bring enough to warrant them being needed. But when I tested the Teac UD-501 at home, I owned an Arcam CD36 and when I pushed the Arcam through the Teac and back onto my Arcam Amp, the sound was transformative. As it was a USB DAC, I thought I'd quickly connect the laptop to it via a printer USB cable, open iTunes and see what the same CD sounded like via the PC compared to the CD36. To my surprise, the Arcam sounded lifeless in comparison (even though I'd always enjoyed it in the passed). I tried a few more CD's and it was the same result. I switched the Arcam off and purchased a UD-501 for home use and subsequently sold the CD36 after not even powering it once for a few months. So for me to answer this question, it depends upon your usage and the quality of what you are using, but old standard DAC's are poor whereas new DAC's which include a USB and have ASIO software are outstanding.

I know my old boss has an esoteric DAC worth about £4.5k and I asked him to take the UD-501 home and when he complained that he could hear no difference, I did remind him that he was used to a £4.5k esoteric DAC compared to this budget model (as it was priced at the time) where he smiled :rolleyes:
 
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Ugg10

Distinguished Member
Got to agree with @ShanePJ, Dacs are now at a point of vanishing returns with spec chasing being in the inaudible category. I compare the DAC in a Rotel RSP1066 (mid/high av processor c.2002), Fostex A3 DAC, Audio GD NFB3.1 dual Wolfeson DAC (as used in the top end Arcam cds) and a new Khadas Tone Board. I couldon’t tell the difference between the Rotel and the Fostex, the Audio GD was different but not better (more bass, slightly better mids) and the Khalsa for £100 was better than all of them, better bass, clearer minds and non fatiguing highs. So Dacs have changed but a £150 DAC now will probably compete and may be beat multi £1000 Dacs of twenty years ago.
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
What was your experience like @Ugg10, I know I ended up building myself a Media Server (using jRiver(everything switched off and outputting ASIO kernel set to 0.5ms)/Fidelizer/Process Lasso(Real Time and Bitsum Highest Performance)/Audiophile Optimizer/TX-USBexp/Stripped Windows 10/All files WAV or DSD).

Since then, music to my ears is just fantastic and unless its a system costing £25k+ I just cannot hear as much information and it usually sounds sluggish compared to what I'm getting at home (Media Server/DAC combo I'm sure is the key (although to replace ) which is why I'm still surprised every time I power it up at the layers it brings. Its a system that I'm really going to struggle to recreate when a component fails (I'm sure)
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
Biggest difference in my system was adding the mini dsp system to remove bass nulls (my room is far from ideal). I chose the Nanodigi with four Kadas boards, this is fed by a Chromecast Audio so digital end to end. I did used a passive preamp for volume but found the nanodigi volume quite good, may revisit that again. I suspect if I compared a Topping E30, Smsl Sanskrit 10th mk2 and a Soncoz LAQD1 then I doubt I would be able to differentiate and I suspect I’d have difficulty telling them from a Audiolab MDAC or a Chord Mojo (next step up). I also found if I volume matches the Dacs there was even less chance of telling the difference.
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
The room is one area I feel I'm either very lucky or I'm just sat in the right spot for it not to effect me.

I love how we all go down different routes to find the best sound for ourselves. I did for a time think about running down this modification route with my DAC, but I think I'd have to get a donor one first before I did :eek:
 

wine man

Active Member
Shane PJ.. you mentioned the UD-501. I think that series of Teac stuff is highly underrated - I have the headphone amp from the same series (HA-501), it sounds fabulous and it's built like a tank. I had considered the NT-505 as I don't have a streamer/internet radio yet and that does have a decent spec DAC built in.
 

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