Recommendations for upgrading hi-fi system

ValloM

Novice Member
Hi! I am thinking about upgrading my hi-fi system, and wanted to ask for recommendations on where to start.
I currently use Foobar2000 program on a old laptop for playing FLAC/CD quality files, via USB to a M-Audio FastTrack Pro external sound card, via RCA to NAD c162 preamp + NAD c272 power amp, then QED Revelation Signature cables to a pair of Tannoy DC6T SE speakers.

It seems having a dedicated DAC would be an obvious improvement. Or would a integrated amplifier e.g. replacing three components with one, be even better for overall sonic quality? And a AptX BT-connection would be convenient to have for web streaming etc.
Happy with the speakers, and maybe the speaker cables are even a bit overkill for a relatively budget system such as this.
Would be thankful for suggestions on good value products also (ca 500€ budget).
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Get a decent DAC - there are many great options in the 200-500 price range depending on your exact needs. Everything else looks decent.

Or maybe consider a streamer - Node 2/3 for eg if you want to get music playback off your PC entirely.

Personally I dislike having to be dependent on a desktop/laptop computer for music playback as it means fiddling with the computer for everything and much prefer something that is standalone maybe with a smartphone UI. Personally I use Roon for streaming with a separate DAC (currently Project S2 digital, but there are better options now for the price). I have Roon running on its own dedicated intel NUC running linux (Roons own 'ROCK' OS) so it is basically a standalone streamer with control from any smartphone/tablet or windows/mac in the house and can playback to anything in the house over network.
 

Hear Here

Active Member
It seems having a dedicated DAC would be an obvious improvement. Or would a integrated amplifier e.g. replacing three components with one, be even better for overall sonic quality?
That's the route I'd take. Get shot of your PC (apart from for control) and look at possibly the NAD M33 if that's within your budget after selling the rest of your electronics and cables!
With that (or the less costly 2-box combo of C658 + C298) you get streaming services from Tidal, Qobuz, your own FLAC files, etc, plus the best Class D amp technlogy on the market (Purifi), all the analogue and digital inputs you're likely to need and Dirac Live room correction. The BluOS control app is second to none and the huge touch-screen LED display and IR remote that comes with the M33 are also great bits of kit. Peter
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
If you want to do it properly, try and find a DAC which uses an asynchronous clock. Not everyone does, but it makes a difference. They do tend to be a little more expensive, but you'll only buy once and if its a good one, you'll most likely never upgrade again.

I've been using a PC with a DAC since 2013 since the DAC I use was launched and it still surprises me how much of a price it commands even though it was to well received with the expectation of those who really owned it like me

As for software, I use JRiver which doesn't allow streaming from any streaming services other than what they have just launched themselves (haven't tried it). The software is fantastic for locally stored music though and they have an app for compatible devices which is so easy to use. I did try some of the other software and always end up going back to it
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
DAC which uses an asynchronous clock

Seems an odd way to describe this if you are saying what I think you mean?

I assume you mean that while the DAC is being controlled from USB it uses a fixed internal and independent clock that does not sync with any other clock (USB clock for eg). I guess you probably dont want it to be re-sampling either to fit it internal clock (I believe quite a old delta sigma DACs did this for eg?), so it should be capable of operating in USB audio class 2 async mode.

I am struggling to think of a hifi or pro-audio orientated DAC in recent times that does not operate like this unless it came out of a christmas cracker or amazon/ebay bargain bin. Maybe some cheap nasty gamer orientated external USB connected sound card replacement devices do?
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
Seems an odd way to describe this if you are saying what I think you mean?

I assume you mean that while the DAC is being controlled from USB it uses a fixed internal and independent clock that does not sync with any other clock (USB clock for eg). I guess you probably dont want it to be re-sampling either to fit it internal clock (I believe quite a old delta sigma DACs did this for eg?), so it should be capable of operating in USB audio class 2 async mode.

I am struggling to think of a hifi or pro-audio orientated DAC in recent times that does not operate like this unless it came out of a christmas cracker or amazon/ebay bargain bin. Maybe some cheap nasty gamer orientated external USB connected sound card replacement devices do?
You could be right on that, but its just in case and to make the OP aware that differences are available. P.S. You've also made me chuckle with this comment "unless it came out of a christmas cracker or amazon/ebay bargain bin" :laugh:
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
You've also made me chuckle with this comment "unless it came out of a christmas cracker or amazon/ebay bargain bin" :laugh:

Well - when trawling the depths of ebay/amazon I never cease to be surprised at the levels of utter garbage on offer ;)

Re the OP: for <500euros, I might look at something from Topping, SMSL, iFi etc. They all have various decent DACs from 100-500+ depending on what you wish to spend and each have something that may be regarded by some as a best at a price point with iFi probably being better at the low end and topping/smsl at the middle and higher ends of this range. If you may want a device that can be useful while mobile (or in a car with a phone), then audioquest dragonfly series are worth a look too, but I wouldnt use them for a fixed hifi setup, but would recommend them for mobile use.

There are some really excellent and very similar DACs around based upon ES9038Q2M chipset or AKM44xx etc chipsets and most reputable implementations of either are often excellent for the money.

I would avoid unheard of brands off amazon/ebay etc. Maybe have a look around AV Online, Peter Tyson, Henley Audio web site (to name a few that immediately come to mind in the UK that I have made purchases from in the past) which all seems to stock reputable hifi brands and products. I guess you probably bought your existing m-audio interface from someone like Thomann in the EU who tend to be musician/DJ orientated rather than Hifi and so tend to focus on a different feature set for a price point.

Having chosen a DAC shortlist, I would suggest also asking about the specific models on here or elsewhere just to sanity check their are no known USB issues with the software and/or features that you use. Sometimes new DACs can have USB issues until a firmware fix is release around using a specific feature - MQA often being a culprit for eg which would be annoying if you decided MQA functionality was important to you.
 

ValloM

Novice Member
Thanks to everyone who replied, from the OP!

I was aware of the async USB benefits, luckily it's a standard more or less, as said.
I started to compile a shortlist of DACs, will return to this thread when I've checked out the market incl those brands recommended here.

The NAD M33 is way over my budget, but liked the (very similar imo) NAD M10 features (incl DIRAC and BluOS) and it's 2x100W power should suffice also.
NAD 3045 would also do the job at 1/3 the price of M10, but less options in terms of connectivity, and probably has lower SQ as well.
 

Hear Here

Active Member
The NAD M33 is way over my budget, but liked the (very similar imo) NAD M10 features (incl DIRAC and BluOS) and it's 2x100W power should suffice also.
NAD 3045 would also do the job at 1/3 the price of M10, but less options in terms of connectivity, and probably has lower SQ as well.
Sadly in life you get what you pay for, although of course there are bargains and rip-offs too. The M33 is very much better than the M10, the C series combo I mentioned earlier is also better than the M10, but not quite as good as the M33. The 3045 is hardly hi-fi - more mid-fi. But that's fine if your speakers are such that they will sound the same with the 3045 as with the M33 up front.

The speaker / amp match is important - there's no point in using a megabucks amp to feed a crap speaker or vice versa. My speakers sound very much better with the M33 than they would with the 3045. They'd probably sound slightly better still if I spent as much on my amp / streamer as I did on my speakers - but tht's out of the question!
 

ValloM

Novice Member
Thanks @Hear Here for the comparisons, and of course your magnificent speakers deserve the best hi-end amps.
Generally it seems the amp/dac value should be least half of the speakers value. The musical amp-speaker match is very subjective, especially in this digital age where most innovation goes to the interfaces, but I think its still worth to look at the components and design quality. I like the NAD sound characteristics, hopefully they are relevant also in class D amps.

Also for power, settling with the 3045 (60W), C700 (80W) or M10 (100W) would not get the best out of the Tannoys (a 8 ohm 100W speaker), as I have the 150W c272 class A currently.

But in terms of budget it would be most improvement to just upgrade the DAC, which has BT at least.

From reviews so far, I like the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M.
Will try to visit a listening room soon to get some comparisons.
 

Hear Here

Active Member
Thanks @Hear Here for the comparisons, and of course your magnificent speakers deserve the best hi-end amps.
Generally it seems the amp/dac value should be least half of the speakers value. The musical amp-speaker match is very subjective, especially in this digital age where most innovation goes to the interfaces, but I think its still worth to look at the components and design quality. I like the NAD sound characteristics, hopefully they are relevant also in class D amps.

Also for power, settling with the 3045 (60W), C700 (80W) or M10 (100W) would not get the best out of the Tannoys (a 8 ohm 100W speaker), as I have the 150W c272 class A currently.

But in terms of budget it would be most improvement to just upgrade the DAC, which has BT at least.

From reviews so far, I like the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M.
Will try to visit a listening room soon to get some comparisons.
I hear what you say. In fact my speakers are listed at about 8 times my amp/streamer/DAC cost. However I'm very happy with the sound, though I'm sure it could be slightly bettered if I hugely increased my investment in the front end. One advantage (and part justification for such a high cost ratio) is that I'm paying for a single enclosure, single power supply and no cables. This, in my view is a very good reason for choosing a good all-in-one over a pile of separates and snake-pit of cables!

I don't know your NAD amp, but it appears to be Class AB rather than Class A. That's no bad thing in my opinion. Class A wastes 90+% of the energy it takes from your household power supply compared with what it sends to the speakers! They get insufferably hot, which may be no bad thing in winter when you can turn down your central heating, but it's a pain in summer! I home demo'd a dozen solid state amps when I decided to move away from valves. These were Class A, Class AB and Class D. In the end I chose the excellent Class D NAD M32, although I've recently changed this for the even better Purifi-based M33. Good luck in your search. Peter
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Generally it seems the amp/dac value should be least half of the speakers value.

I wouldn't hold that generalization to heart. In the end you want speaker you like and an amp that can handle them. Some speakers are easy to drive and can yield great results with a less capable (and cheaper) amp whereas others may really need a much more capable (and more expensive) amp.

To my mind, full range floor standers tend to demand a capable amp regardless of price and with such speakers in the sub 2k price range, I would probably be looking at various amps in the 1-1.5k price range (or even higher mostly because my favoured amps range that used to be in that price band has been replaced and the new models that replace then are way way more expensive - that said I would happily pair the amp with speakers costing 4x as much...).

As for power output, a 200W capable speaker (IMHO) does not absolutely need a 200W amp to get the 'best' out of it. You will almost never run an amp with anywhere near that power output level, though its great to have plenty of headroom for peaks. If it can very comfortably manage studio reference level (about 83dB - which is too loud for home) at a listening position with plenty of headroom to spare, then all should be good.

With those speakers, assuming 90dB, listewning distance of 3m (10ft) and a reference level of 83dB and a peak headroom of 20dB then 100W is what is needed at most.

In practice, 83dB with 20dB peaks is really loud, most likely you will rarely push more than 10W per channel assuming a nominal level of around 73dB, though I dont suggest getting a 10W/c amp - good to have a bit of grunt for low impedance zones :)
 
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