Upgrade Dilemma - DAC or Pre-amp?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by bluedroog, Jan 12, 2012.

  1. bluedroog

    bluedroog
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    As the title suggests really, in March I'll have up to around £800 to spend on an upgrade and am debating between a new DAC or pre-amp. My current system is a Squeezebox Touch > Beresford Caiman DAC > (direct into) Quad 909 > B&W 602 S2. I plan to upgrade the speakers next year so for now am only interested in DAC or pre-amp.

    The Beresford is fine as a DAC but completely under whelming as a pre-amp, I had put a Croft valve pre-amp right to the top of my wanted list but with reports of the Audiolab M-DAC so favourable both as a DAC and a pre-amp(?) this has turned my head. I had put the Audiolab on a shortlist of potentially DAC's for an upgrade much further down the line but it wasn't a priority. Given I can get one of these now but any further upgrades will be perhaps a year off where would the money be best spent between the two for me in the short to medium term assuming I buy both ultimately. Or would adding the Croft be futile with the M-DAC in place?

    Any thoughts greatly appreciated.
     
  2. ozzzy189

    ozzzy189
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    I bought a linn exotik with the Dynamik power supply upgrade. It was 800 quid, private sale. It's in lovely condition and had had a new display fitted. It's basically a stereo version of the first generation akurate Kontrol in this guise. The AK were 3.5 k, so this is a very good buy, but hard to find. Linn stopped supporting the Dynamik exotik because sometimes after a full power down, it would lose the settings. This is a non issue, I never turn mine off unless I'm going away, and you can load them back in via the installer menu in a few seconds.
    It's a stunning pre for the money.
     
  3. ozzzy189

    ozzzy189
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    [​IMG]

    Source and pre most important in that order, then amps, then speakers. No point at all having the strongest links at the end of the chain.
     
  4. PhilCTTE

    PhilCTTE
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    MDAC all day long.

    Really has been jaw dropping performance. It has plenty of input options usb spdif coax/optical and i/o for clock syncing. The USB interface has a nice little touch that you can control your music player with the MDAC's remote.

    Great headphone amp.

    I think you have to spend a great deal more to get better performance.

    There also an up and coming PSU and switching box which will improve sound quality even more and allow analogue input swtching for AV bypass requirements to allow to use it as a pre-amp for your streaming device.

    Also theres a SBT mod to sync it with the i/o of the MDAC to improve jitter performance.

    :thumbsup:
     
  5. bluedroog

    bluedroog
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    So you think in the context of my system the M-DAC would yield the more obvious results. I suppose what I need to weigh up is...the audiolab will obviously be a better DAC than the Beresford but just how good is the pre-amp stage? The alternative is to get the Croft which is a very good (tube) pre-amp and use the Beresford just as it's primary function as a DAC. There's nothing wrong with the Beresford as a DAC but it's a lousy pre-amp. It seems to really divide opinion this!

    Ozzy - I'll keep an eye out for the Linns on the used market and certainly add them to my shortlist of possible pres. Thanks for the tip.
    Although I have given specific examples of DACs and pres I'm still unsure on which to go for between X DAC and X pre.
     
  6. PhilCTTE

    PhilCTTE
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    Yes its a stunning DAC and pre-amp.

    There will also be no problems with attenuation for use with your Quads.
    You get an even better performance using it directly into your power amp , extremely transparent. In fact so transparent that it will show up poor source and poor recordings. There are filters to compensate for this.

    It even patches up dropped sequences from poor stream using its D3E decorrelator engine. Spotify and other internet sources seemd to have improved with this feature swtiched on.

    Plus don't forget there are mods to be had soon with the SBT to allow you sync clocks between the DAC.

    ** edit as always try and demo it first , but it does take several days to burn in. I promise you, you won't want to return it !
     
  7. bluedroog

    bluedroog
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    I'm so torn, I would like to get both at some point but in your opinion you think I'd better removing the pre from the chain and utilising the M-DAC direct to the Quad? They are so different, the Croft is quite romantic, almost a cottage industry item, hand made by the man himself void of any gimmicks what so ever. Then there is the M-DAC which is obviously going to sell extraordinarily well, looks really slick and has some great features like the remote and a performance to match by all account as you'd expect from Westlake.

    I'm leaning toward the M-DAC as I can get this in place and then demo the set-up with a pre added to the loop to see how things change and decide accordingly.
     
  8. ozzzy189

    ozzzy189
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    I went direct into my three power amps, then the sound was very detailed, but bit harsh and 'glassy' sounding. It just showed me how dated the linn kairn was, it was great in its day, but things move on, and the new amps are far more detailed. It's more musical and easier to listen with a pre amp, your music should always, always sound better with a bloody good pre.. Mine does.
     
  9. PhilCTTE

    PhilCTTE
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    I'm assuming the quads are leaning slightly to the warm side , so shouldn't be any harshness. Make sure the MDAC you dem has been well run in. Adding a another pre-amp will only add a layer of unnecessary fuss which will have a negative effect. Unless you have analogue sources do not bother and stick with the MDAC (less is more argument rules here). Plus you'll save on cables.

    The MDAC has a far superior output stage to many DACs in that it uses a special CROSS output stage , there will be no harshness here. Do a search on PFM Forums for CROSS for more details.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  10. bluedroog

    bluedroog
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    I suspect top quality pre-amps / DACs with digital inputs will become the norm in the near future. At the moment the M-DAC is marketed as a DAC that is also a very good pre and you also have a few amps that have DACs incorporated, it will perhaps take a while for people to adjust to no comprise units that excel in both areas and are market as such.
     
  11. ozzzy189

    ozzzy189
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    I think my situation is different in the fact that I don't really need to buy an external dac, whereas the OP would benefit from a much better one very much indeed.
     
  12. Mr_Sukebe

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    If you're happy to go s/h, then you could consider a legacy AV processor. They have lost a lot of their value and are now a lot of kit for the dosh.
    e.g. recently saw a s/h Meridian 568.1 processor going for £400. They were close on £3k when new. Even if you exclude their AV capabilities, they make fine DAC/pre-amps, can handle 24/96 high res audio via SPDIF, do a good job of upsampling and also include fully balanced outputs for if you add a power amp with that kind of capability later (IMO, it's a positive benefit).
     
  13. Ianfromnotts

    Ianfromnotts
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    For what its worth I sold my Mdac and went back to a Caiman Gator, but then again I have a brilliantly transparent pre in system
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2012
  14. bluedroog

    bluedroog
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    I was leaning towards the DAC but have since veered back towards getting myself a decent pre. I did have my heart set on the Croft Micro 25 valve pre-amp and think I may well still go that way. I've still got a couple of months to change my mind! No doubt I will more than once by the time funds are in place. :rolleyes:
     

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