Question Which DAC and Active Speaker for laptop in office?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by johnnymaelstrom, Apr 23, 2016.

  1. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    I've been mulling over how to arrange my office audio. Primarily I play music through my laptop and want better sound than the laptop provides. The variables I've thought about are:

    Laptop->Active Speakers
    Laptop->DAC->Active Speakers

    I've a variety of formats including DSD and high res PCM, but mainly FLAC 16 bit/44.1 kHz.

    Options I had in mind are:

    KEF Egg with built in DAC , but ignoring the DAC they seem decent stand alone speaker.
    Ruark MR1

    DAC is either Draginfly Black or new Beetle or Oppo HA-2 (allowing headphone use too)

    Any thoughts on the best combo?
     
  2. Bbos37

    Bbos37
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    Laptop DAC Active Speaker
     
  3. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    I feel the KEF eggs are a lifestyle product that will always sell at a premium price compared with non-lifestyle speakers of similar performance - fine if that's the type of product you want.

    The Ruark MR1's seem like a nice speaker - though I've never heard them - but Bluetooth connectivity is surely a bit dated (even with aptX). Also, unless you need a speaker this small, a 3" bass/mid will likely miss out the final two octaves entirely. Is that HiFi?

    For superior, cheaper alternatives there are near-field studio monitors. Available from professional music outlets, there is a wide choice to suit all applications, e.g.

    Gear4music | Shop Music Equipment & Musical Instruments

    IMO, a true active speaker (with a 5" bass/mid driver) at around £100 each is likely to give very good performance on the end of a laptop>USB DAC system.

    As for USB DAC's, the Dragonfly is well-reviewed but I sometimes wonder why those same reviewers rarely take a look at sub £50 models. Is the sonic performance worse than models such as the ones you mention? Interestingly, an avforums reviewer did review a £50 Lindy USB DAC (multiple inputs and headphone amp too which probably dilutes audio performance somewhat) and it came out very well (though not so convincing with headphones, evidently). Makes you think that the law of diminishing returns sets in very early with DAC's. I'd like to know how these relative cheapies sound:

    SMSL Sanskrit 6th USB Decoder 24bit 192kHz Coaxial Optical DAC SD-1955+ upgrade

    Douk Audio DSD1796+XMOS-U8 USB DAC 384K/32bit Audio Decoder Hi-Fi Headphone Amp

    SMSL M3 USB/Optical fiber/Coaxial Function Hi-Fi Audio Decoder All-in-one Amp

    In my (albeit limited) experience with cheap SMSL amps, they're nicely made and reliable.
     
  4. Hillskill

    Hillskill
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    I currently have a pair of Genelec 6010s running just via a 3.5mm to RCAs > Genelecs. Audio quality via Tidal and some DSD playback off the network sound really nice. Can't wait to add a decent DAC into the flow as this should bring out even more in the Genelecs. Been umming and ahhing over tons of boxes but still got my heart set on an HA1. I do actually already own a pair of PM3s and an Oppo HA2 but never bothered trying them out with my desktop PC and Genelecs.
     
  5. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    I always thought that KEF were rated as a good brand, lots of people love the LS50s so I thought this would be good too. Is it that they are overpriced or too stylised? I don't mind the style as long as they sound good. Point taken about the size of speaker though.
     
  6. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Not thought about Genelecs, will do some research thanks.
     
  7. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Thanks for the comments everyone. As always thoughtful and providing a lot of food for thought.

    Is it worth to splitting the discussion off from here to focus on DACs and Active Speakers in the respective forums?

    Originally I had decided on the two speakers based on price, quality and some aesthetic for my office. It was not exclusive, so I'll continue with a search for them.

    As for the DACs I'd got the specs for each DAC chip to compare and then started looking at the real need I had. The additional DACs listed here need a good look at.

    Watch this space and I'm looking forward to researching this further.

    Does anyone else have some combos that they have they could share?
     
  8. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    When considering purchase of a product, any product, we first determine our requirements and then work to a budget - usually. With active loudspeakers, such requirements may include sonic ability, cabinet styling/shape/colour and quality of finish, connectivity options, volume control, remote control, size, footprint etc etc.

    Many of us will have different priorities when purchasing a speaker. A heavily stylized speaker such as the KEF Eggs will likely appeal to those who place 'form' towards the top of their requirement list, possibly even above 'function' (i.e. audio quality). And the extra cabinet work necessary to give the visual wow factor usually increases manufacturing costs.

    I'm certainly not suggesting the KEF Eggs offer poor sonic performance merely that, IMO, equally capable sonic performance can be had elsewhere at lower cost, albeit with (possibly) less appealing aesthetics, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Sometimes, a speaker designed purely for sonic ability, with little or no emphasis placed on appearance, looks more attractive than one that tries too hard to visually impress (me thinks that applies to humans too!).

    Although the Genelecs mentioned by HillSkill in post#4 were marketed as 'Multi-media speakers', Genelec are renowned for their studio monitor range and are the type of product I would recommend. I believe you'll get better audio quality for any given budget by choosing active nearfield studio monitors over products marketed at hobbyists (i.e. hifi products). I'd suggest to look at active studio monitor ranges from Genelec, Event, Adam Audio, KRK, Mackie, Eve Audio, Focal, Neumann, Dynaudio, Fostex, Behringer, Tannoy. Bound to be something there that meets your requirements. Maybe a good place to read a few reviews:
    Search SOS Articles Database

    Happy hunting.

    I'm not aware there's a current Active Speaker or DAC thread let alone forum - but maybe I've missed something?
     
  9. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Your advice has taken me down a new route, thank you, where I'm learning about monitors and drivers etc.. I like the distinction between amateurs (hobbyists/HiFi) and professionals. As you say there is no Active Speaker forum, so perhaps you can help me with my very nearfield situation.

    My desk is ~100cm wide and the speaker cones are likely to be 90cm - 95cm apart with me in the middle of the listening triangle about 70cm (so ~83 cm cone to ears). Is that too small? Does that rule out certain monitors or does it not matter that much?
     
  10. Hillskill

    Hillskill
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    More or less the same sort of dimensions set on my desk. I went for Genelecs as historically, all the places I have worked used them. Just sort of formed a brand loyalty out of it...but at the same time, performance is also exceptional so never thought to demo anything other then these. I have heard/read great things about Adam, Focal and Dynaudio nearfields too. I'm still seeking a desktop DAC and Amp combo. Keeping coming back to the HA1 but I'll need to save a few more months yet.
     
  11. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    I'm no expert on listening at 'nearfield' distances but having a look around the internet, 'nearfield' seems to mean between 0.9m and about 1.8m - but to some extent, that depends on the listening environment. I also suspect the ideal 'nearfield' listening distance depends upon speaker size too, specifically the number of speaker drive units (per cabinet) and their relative spacing. Experience tells me that sitting too close to a large speaker doesn't allow the drive units space to sonically integrate - if that makes sense?!?

    Seeing as you will be sitting very close - even by 'nearfield' standards - you may be best served with a minature speaker which will minimise distance between the (typically) two drive units, e.g. the Genelec 6010's already mentioned.

    Trouble is, I can't bring myself to suggest any speaker with a bass/mid driver less than about 5" diameter because there is usually insufficient bass extension for many types of music (although sometimes tricks are used to extend bass which can adversely affect performance elsewhere in the frequency range).

    The solution could be speakers with a co-axial drive unit (can't say I've heard one close up though). The highly rated Equator Audio D5 springs to mind:

    Ten Of The Best: Studio Monitors - Attack Magazine

    There is also a 'niche' product, the KEF X300A:

    KEF X300A review | What Hi-Fi?

    ...includes a digital input - but the price!

    If you opt for a miniature speaker, don't expect it to fill a room with sound but it will sound good in close 'nearfield'. However, something like the Equator D5 should sound good in close 'nearfield' and would fill a small room too. There are some very expensive coaxial studio monitors from PreSonus, Geithain and others.

    By the way, larger active nearfield studio monitors (6.5"+ bass/mid drive units) sound great at conventional hifi listening distances (i.e. 2m - 3m) as well as 'nearfield'.
     
  12. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Thanks again for the links, the Equator seems an interesting option and one i've not heard of before. My office is pretty small, 3.5m x 2m roughly, and I'm not expecting to fill it. I just wish to have an alternative to wearing headphones all day that provides a good audio experience when I'm sat at the desk.

    It seems something like the smaller Genelecs will fit the bill. I did see the KEF in my research, but that price is crazy. If I can get something in the £150 to £250 price range I'll be happy.
     
  13. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Good to know someone with similar set-up. I've looked at all the brands mentioned and I'm not sure I can afford them at the moment.
     
  14. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    Much as it hurts me to suggest these miniature nearfield studio monitors, I concede that they may be the best option for you:

    Tannoy Reveal 402 (£140)
    Tannoy Reveal 502 & 402

    Fostex PM04-D (£175. Has a particularly small footprint. There's an even smaller model in the list with a 3" bass/mid drive unit but it isn't an active speaker)
    Fostex Studio Monitors For Sale at Gear4music.com

    SubZero SZ-4A/Studiospares PM4A (£120. Own brand products which are versions of a Seiwin speaker. A true active monitor for the price of a powered passive. This would be my pick of the bunch for a £150 budget.)
    SubZero SZ-4A Studio Monitors, Pair at Gear4music.com
    https://www.studiospares.com/Headph...spares-SN4A-Active-Studio-Monitors_248050.htm

    There are a good few miniature speakers around the £100 mark that are powered passives rather than true actives. Manufacturers of some of these products are honest enough to avoid describing them as active but other manufacturer's persist with this incorrect label.

    The main reason that powered passive speakers are cheaper than their outwardly similar active counterparts is because they contain half the number of amplifiers and don't have an active crossover. Examples of powered passives, typically described as multi-media speakers:

    Fluid Audio F4
    Fluid Audio F4

    Denon DN-304SAM
    Denon DN-304SAM Active Multimedia Monitors at Gear4music.com

    Mackie CR4
    Mackie CR4 Multimedia Monitors, Pair at Gear4music.com

    Other reputable names selling £100 powered passive speakers are Behringer, Samson, Alesis, Tascam and M-Audio. There may be others I've overlooked.
     
  15. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Thanks dogfonos these really help. I have a long list now, which already include a few of your suggestions, my aim is to whittle that down to a short list, which I'll share and make a decision from there. This is not my primary or rather preferred listening place, which I reserve for my HiFi in another room and I won't always be paying attention/actively listening, but I do want to enjoy the music I do play while working and the laptop soundcard is just not doing it for me.
     
  16. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    After a lot of faffing about with placement and sizes involving cut out speakers in cardboard of various sizes, I realised I'm actually quite constrained by space. Naturally this points to the Genelec 8010a, but I can't afford them at the moment so I've worked out a size and price I'm happy with and I'm going to trial the M-Audio BX5 D2 and the Tannoy Reveal 402. They are both just a little too big, but seems worth is based on the size of unit, price and speaker cone size. Hopefully one of them will be perfect.

    Next up I'll be off to find a DAC.
     
  17. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    I've gone for the M-Audio over the Tannoy. The choice was made on how they sound, but after that the Tannoy don't look so nice in situ and also hum. Tannoy say that the hum is standard and it annoyed me so they have to go.

    Great discussion and thanks to everyone that helped me get here.
     
  18. mossym

    mossym
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    on the DAC, i run a HA-2 for my office setup. using it with headphones, but i'm pretty impressed with the DAC quality. had a HRT streamer prior to this into a headphone amp, using the HA-2 now on double duties and very pleased. the portable nature of it is a bonus too if you were heading off on hols or anything
     
  19. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Do you use the HA-2 with a laptop at all? I'm trying to find out how each DAC performs via USB when connected to a laptop. Particularly if it replaces the output from the laptop speakers or not.

    With my StreamMagic 6 V2 I've used the USB input, but had to use a specific driver and then use foobar2000 only to output to it rather than replace all laptop sounds. The reason I want whole laptop sound is that I have three sources I want to use:

    foobar2000 my local and streamed FLACs
    Spotify for streamed audio I don't own
    VLC for BBC Radio and other high-res streams

    I want all of them to benefit from the DAC. The fact I can use it as a spare battery for my iphone and play on the move is a great benefit too.
     
  20. mossym

    mossym
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    i have it hooked up to a Lenovo e50 laptop (company has a contract with an IT firm that only supplies Lenovo so no choice) via USB. So far from a high spec laptop, but the HA-2 works as an external soundcard, all sounds come through it. windows sounds, spotify, foobar, streaming vidoes on chrome, everything. very handily, turning it off via the volume knob reverts the laptop to the internal soundcard, and back on switches back to the HA-2, meaning you can switch without messing with wires.

    currently using with B&W P5's, but have a set of Senn HD650 at home i just ordered a 6.25mm to 3.5mm adapter so i can try them with the HA-2. they like power in the amp so will be interesting to see how they do
     
  21. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    Sounds like they will suit me well, but at that price I'm going to check on some SMSL and other makes that I've seen around.
     
  22. johnnymaelstrom

    johnnymaelstrom
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    I've just had the SMSL M6 delivered and I'm impressed. I bought the wrong cables and have only listened via headphones, but can't wait to plug them in to the M-Audios and have completed my set-up.
     

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