What's a suitable DAC for a $1500 audio system?

runesvend

Standard Member
Hello all!

I've been reading a bit on the forums about various DACs. I'm thinking of buying one myself to improve my system which consists of two B&W DM603 S3 speakers and an NAD C352 amplifier. This is currently hooked up to my PC via the mini jack output of my sound card which is a Terratec Aureon Space 7.1. I originally chose this becuase it received quite good reviews considering it's a PC sound card.

Two things I'm not sure of is how much a good quality external DAC will improve my setup, and in what price range this DAC should be in to match my amplifier and speakers. I have no idea if a relatively cheap Silverstone Ensemble EB01 (~$100) (http://techgage.com/article/silverstone_ensemble_eb01/1), a Cambridge DAC Magic (~$400) or an even more expensive DAC is suitable for the system I have.

I'd very much appreciate if I could get some input on this.

Also, I'm planning on using my computer as the transport. Probably the digital coaxial output form my motherboard to the DAC. Would there be any problems with this? I could also use the optical output of the Terratec sound card. I've heard of jitter but, again, I'm not sure if this is noticable in a system like mine or if this is only noticable in systems ten times as expensive as the one I have.

Terratec Aureon review: http://www.digit-life.com/articles2/terratec-aureon71/index.html
 
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Kane D Williams

Active Member
I would say the coaxial and optical ouputs into a decent DAC will better your soundcard's analogue output. All being equal, Coaxial SPDIF is better than Toslink, but then again, in your case, it may not be the case. It may be that the soundcard handles digital audio better than the motherboard?

You always have the opportunity of getting a USB DAC, or one with both USB and Coaxial/Optical (or both) inputs. This will give you a few connection options to try.

There are loads of DAC's on the market and loads of reviews and opinions on them on the net. I have not used many DAC's so can't really give you many pointers. However, I will say, I hardly ever read anyone claiming something is bad any more.

If you give us a price range, you will get more recommendations. The cambride Audio DAC should be pretty good I would have thought and a bargain for the money.
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
PCs are generally electrically problematic, leading to ground loops. The simplest way around such problems is the use of the optical connection, and if you have the choice, then I strongly recommend use of the optical connection for this reason.

When using a PC as a transport, it's sensible to check the transport's published jitter figures -some PC transports have problems here as they're designed as data rather than audio devices.

As for how noticable jitter is. Jitter manifests itself as distortion, and only you can say how it sounds to you.
 

runesvend

Standard Member
I would say the coaxial and optical ouputs into a decent DAC will better your soundcard's analogue output. All being equal, Coaxial SPDIF is better than Toslink, but then again, in your case, it may not be the case. It may be that the soundcard handles digital audio better than the motherboard?
That's what I though as well. All things being equal I would prefer coaxial, but I figure the digital controller in my sound card is a lot better than the one in my motherboard. Also, I've discovered that my motherbaord doesn't support coaxial output anyway. It has optical SP/DIF output and input so I'm definititely going with the output from my sound card. But I think it would be interesting to test if I can actually differentiate between the two outputs at all.

If you give us a price range, you will get more recommendations. The cambride Audio DAC should be pretty good I would have thought and a bargain for the money.
Well, actually, the reason I didn't state a price range in my original thread was because I was looking for one :). I'm unsure of how much to spend on a DAC and I'm interested in knowing if I can get some pointers on what probably would be insufficient for my current system and what would be overkill.
When I bought the B&W speakers the salesman recommended the NAD C352 amplifier as a good choice to match the speakers. I'm wondering if the same is possible with a DAC.

Mark Yudkin, I'm glad you say that because as I've already written my only choice, as I've found out, is optical output :). Unless I invest in a new sound card, of course... but I think I'll leave that as a future upgrade.

I haven't been able to find any figures on jitter for my sound card or the digital controller in it. But as you say I'll just have see how it sounds which is probably a lot more useful than any published figure for some chip anyway.
 

Kane D Williams

Active Member
Remember if you get a USB DAC, you would not be using the soundcard at all.

However, most affordable USB DAC's will not accept anything over 16 bit 48KHz singnals. However, those that have both USB & SPDIF (coaxial or toslink) will usually take higher res audio via the SPDIF.

So, even if you are using the DAC with only your computer, you could have both USB & optical from your soundcard connected up and chose between them depending which file type you are playing. USB for standard ripped CD files and SPDIF for anthing high res. Of course, you may find the optiacl sounds better with all files and so switching will not be needed.

The other option that I mentioned before is using a USB to SPDIF converter wth a DAC. Same thing applies though, that the USB is limited to 16/48 in most cases. The Lilo III may be worth looking at. It's a DAC and converter and is cheap.

The Cambridge DACMajic I think will be a big improvement on the soundcard and for the money will be hard to beat.
 

runesvend

Standard Member
You mention the possibility of switching between USB and optical outputs. Are there any advantages to using the USB output - for people like me who already have a sound card - since you mention this possibility?
I'd like to be able to play back 96kHz, 24bit audio so I think I will use the optical connection. But again, I think I'll try switching between the two outputs to see if I can hear a difference.

By the way, I can see that the output on my sound card is "Toslink" and the output on my motherboard is optical SP/DIF. Is there any difference between these two? When it says that my soundcard has Toslink-output, is this just the same as optical SP/DIF?

The Cambridge DACMajic I think will be a big improvement on the soundcard and for the money will be hard to beat.
I'm very interested in this DAC, and I think I'll wait until some more people have bought it to hear their opinions. But it certainly looks interesting.
 

Kane D Williams

Active Member
Toslink and optical are the same.

There may be an advantage using the USB output (with ASIO drivers) over the optical, all depends on the soundcard and the USB DAC.

I have optical on my laptop, but bought a HagUsb USB to SPDIF (coaxial) converter, as the converter should have lower jitter etc. I have not compared them yet though, but using the HagUsb with my parents PC, with headphones, I can say that it is about 10 times the quality of the onboard headphone jack! That's no joke!
 

runesvend

Standard Member
Hello again. I've just read a thread you made about the Xindak DAC-5 (http://www.avforums.com/forums/hi-fi-systems-separates/812042-xindak-dac-5-1st-impressions.html) and I just wanted to hear if you have any experience with other DACs.

I'm thinking of buying a used DAC, the Xindak for example, since I believe I'll get more value for my money compared to buying a new one. Because of this I'm interested in DACs that cost the same used as the DACMagic does when new. Do you know other DACs in this price range besides the Xindak?
 

Kane D Williams

Active Member
Hi

Well I bought my Xindak new for £208! Got it from Ebay. The normal price is upwards of £300 (up to £500), so I got a DEAL!

I do not have much experience with DAC's. I have some experience with soundcards and the DAC's built into AV amps etc.

Have a look at Lite Audio DAC's. Decide if you need balanced outputs or not, as this will may be an added expense you don't need?

There are lots of good Chinese Hi-Fi manufacturers offering great value now. Have a look at Pacific Valve's website.

Cheers
 

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