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Will Arcam please make a stand-alone DAC?

Discussion in 'Arcam Owners' Forum' started by gregeas, Sep 21, 2005.

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  1. gregeas

    gregeas
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    One thing that definitely seems missing in the Arcam lineup is a stand-alone DAC to be used with transports and PC-based audio.

    I have two Arcam systems, but only one set of CDs, so I can only justify one CD player. If Arcam made a DAC that reached or surpassed the performance level of Benchmark DAC1, I'd buy it in a second. I know the market may not be huge for this, but I did read on 6moons.com that Benchmark has already sold 2,000 DAC1s at $975/each... Hm.

    I also believe that the PC-audio market is expanding quickly, as products like the Squeezebox2 can serve as low-cost, high-quality transports. Right now I have an SB2 outputting digitally to my AVR300, but I know this can't produce the same quality audio as my CD33.

    Is there an Arcam DAC on the horizon?
     
  2. fabfour

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    Yes, what he said. :smashin:
     
  3. tvh3ad

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    You don't say what kind of computer you have, but in the Mac world a standalone DAC isn't necessary unless you're a) connecting to an analog-only preamp, or b) not satisfied with the onboard DACs in your receiver/processor.

    If you already have a digital receiver or processor with decent DACs (e.g., an AVR300/AVP700) you can connect a toslink cable from an Apple iMac or Apple AirPort Express into any optical digital input on the receiver/processor and use the onboard DACs already available. I have an iMac and use iTunes / AirTunes / AirPort Express for this very purpose and it works like a champ.

    I haven't tried it, but I bet that if you had a wireless-enabled Windows PC running iTunes plus an AirPort Express base station, you could do exactly the same thing without an actual Mac.

    A caveat: the sound quality depends heavily on the source material. For example, anything you download from iTunes will be imperfect as the files are already lossily-compressed (for iPod users, presumably). If you import music from CDs or other sources into iTunes, you either need to use Apple Lossless or import the full file in order to retain the original information.

    HTH.
     
  4. gregeas

    gregeas
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    I stream losslessly compressed FLAC files from my music server to my Squeezebox2, which outputs a bit-perfect digital signal to my AVR300.

    I haven't directly compared my CD33 with this setup (because the systems are in different rooms), but I have little doubt that the CD33 is superior.

    What I have in mind is a no-compromise PC-music system. A growing number of audiophiles believe that hard-drive-based transports are superior to disk-based ones. Then you have the convenience factor of PC playlists, sorting, etc. But you still need to convert the digital bits to analog. This is where an excellent stand-alone Arcam amp would be a godsend.

    Until then, it looks like I'll be using the DAC1.
     
  5. gregeas

    gregeas
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    PS: There's something about the DAC1 that doesn't look right in the midst of Arcam components...
     
  6. RumNYC

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    This has nothing to do with PC or mac (I have both and an airporexpress). Source material issues aside (as in encoding of the files), the issue is having a CD33/36 quality DAC to feed the digital signal outputted from the pc. Two things come to mind--one is the burwen bobcat made by the mark levinson dude, and the second is the new creative labs xfi cards. The latter will upconvert all signals to 24/96 like the cd36/192 and is quite cheap, at around $150.
     
  7. hedrick@rutgers

    hedrick@rutgers
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    I have an Arcam 250 and a Benchmark DAC-1. The Benchmark is fine, but I don't see any improvement in quality from using it compared to feeding the signal directly to the 250 and letting the 250's DACs handle it. In fact I slightly prefer direct input to the 250.
     
  8. gregeas

    gregeas
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    Well, the advantage of the Benchmark in my system would jitter rejection -- I'm not sure how the digital signal from the Squeezebox2 compares to a higher-end transport. But it is encouraging to hear that the Arcam 250's internal DACs hold their own against the Benchmark. How revealing is your system?
     
  9. hedrick@rutgers

    hedrick@rutgers
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    PowerMac using iTunes with lossless encoding from CDs, Arcam 250, Paradigm Studio 20s. That's for stereo. For home theater I add a pair of Vienna Acoustics Haydns for the rear, and a Rel Q150E sub. The Haydns are about the same quality as the Paradigms, but in my opinion not quite as good for music. I don't seem to need the sub for music, and prefer to keep things simple.
     
  10. Mr Perceptive

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    gregeas

    I usually use an SB2 into a Meridian 568.2 (I have other Sb's as well on feeding directly into some Meridian D600 speakers)

    I tried an SB1 --> AVR200 digital, and that was a long way behind an SB1-->Meridian 203DAC --> AVR200

    Anywahy last weekend, we demmed an SB2 against a Wadia270 transport, I'm afraid the Wadia was far better until we:

    1) Put a an Apogee Bin Ben between the source (Wadia or SB2) and the Wadia DAC. This is a reclocking device and is nothing short of amazing.

    2) Changed the Digital Cabke for the SB2 from my £40 Chord one to a £325 Chohresent Systems one

    3) Put the SB2 PSU on a full mains filter box.

    Then the SB2 was within a knats cock of the Wadia, (but then we were running effectively a £2.5K SB2 not the £200 box! I reckon by improving the PSU for the SB2 (making a linear one instead of using a switched mode one) would bring the SB2 pretty much up to the level of the Wadia.

    Its obviously all about system levels and balance, because in my system the SB2 at least matched the Meridian 200 transport, not excatly a new transport but one of the best of its generation (circa 1990)

    If you are serious about audio quality with the SB2 then Iwould recommend looking at the Apogee Big Ben, its not cheap but its effects are amazing.

    Mr Perceptive
     
  11. tvh3ad

    tvh3ad
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    ...and...

    RumNYC and gregeas, I understand the issues you raised -- I really only meant to illustrate that you don't need an external DAC to get up and running from a PC in fine fettle, not that such an item would have no useful purpose regardless of cost and other factors.

    Specifically: I have no tools to evaluate the digital signal itself, but I *can* A/B/C between the PC signal as decoded by the AVR300, a digital signal from my 27A, and the analog signal from the DV27A using the same original source material. To my ears and with my rig (Arcam/Thiel), there is an audible difference in favor of the 27A's transport/DACs over the same material generated by the PC and decoded by the AVR300. However, the two digitally-sourced signals decoded by the AVR300 are pretty much indistinguishable. I'm sure that there are better outboard DACs to be had -- including the CD33/36, which in turn might be bested by the Wadia mentioned elsewhere, etc... -- but, that said, the AVR300 DACs are pretty darn good, hence my original post.

    So...definitely not a "no compromises" full-blown audiophile solution, but it ain't half bad! :smashin:

    Logistically, if Arcam were to offer a standalone (and presumably multi-input) DAC to the level of the CD36, wouldn't that significantly undermine their ability to sell their other players and processors/receivers?
     
  12. gregeas

    gregeas
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    hendrick@rutgers: in my PC system I'll be using Paradign 60s with the AVR300... So we have very similar setups.

    There are a few companies doing relatively inexpensive mods to the SB2. The first move is to replace the power supply. This route might be an interesting alternative to buying an external DAC.

    Agreed that an external DAC may be overkill from a value perspective. I will test out the SB2 into the AVR300 this weekend. I also have a Denon DVD3910 to toss into the mix. The fun thing about receivers is that they open up the comparison possibilities. I like switching from analog to digital input at the press of a button.
     
  13. MrKegFlex

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    I've been playing around with the squeezebox2... I've also paired it up with an P3A MWII DAC. I've primarily been using the squeezebox2/P3A DAC to feed my A65+ with very nice results... but, haven't done any testing with this setup feeding my avr300. I keep putting this test off, might have to try it out this weekend.
     
  14. brokenhat

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    Well I'll add my 2 cents here if I may.... I have an AVR300 with a Soundbridge playing lossless only. The AVR300's DAC was better than the Soundbridge's but still not very good! So I purchased a DAC1 after all the rave reviews and it is fantastic. It is so superior to the AVR300's DAC that to mention them in the same breath is blasphemy IMHO. The DAC1 is that good. Arcam probably doesn't want to get in this market as it would be very hard for them to compete with Benchmark at the sub $1000 price point. I love the look of my silver DAC1 in the rack with the Arcam as well.
     
  15. Steve.EX

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    Forgive any apparent 'attitude' but why be so set on an Arcam only DAC. There are plenty of good quality second hand DAC's at ordinary money about. The Tag and Musical Fidelity A24 for instance.
     
  16. Timmy C

    Timmy C
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    Arcam certainly used to sell stand alone DAC's and cd transports as I've still got one somewhere. They were part of the Delta range but they stopped them years ago. I guess they weren't making the right sort of money on them.
     
  17. John Dawson

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    Arcam was the first company in the world to make an outboard DAC - the original Arcam Black Box introduced IIRC in 1989 (!). It had its own Arcam designed custom IC for the SPDIF interface as none were commercially available at that time. It retailed for £250 (later models had more inputs etc and cost a bit more) and we certainly made money on them :)

    More to the point the whole reason for stand alone DACs 15 years ago was to improve the sound of the typical CD players of the time. The reason we made money at a very competitive price is that we sold many many thousands of these.

    Over the next few years we saw demand steadily fall away as CDPs got better. In the end it became uneconomical to design new stand alone DACs for this reason. A good example is that about 8 years ago we were often asked to make a stand alone DAC using our Ring DAC technology but again we unquestionably got a better return from the sheer numbers of premium CDPs sold based on this system (well into 5 figures). The incremental sales of a stand alone DAC would just not have been worth the extra effort involved (IMO, naturally). We have not lost the art (witness the AV8/9 in particular) but the technology now forms just one subsystem of much more versatile products.

    I have absolutely no doubt we could design a stunning stand alone DAC today but I am also absolutely sure the demand needed to make a proper return on the exercise would not be there. Additionally there is something called opportunity cost - if we spent precious resources on such a project we would have to sacrifice something else which would probably be of more interest to our distribution chain and make us more money to reinvest in the never ending technology race (or should that be treadmill?).

    I hope this helps illuminate the very real problems faced in deciding what products from one's wish list should actually be put into production!

    John Dawson (Arcam)
     
  18. gregeas

    gregeas
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    John:

    Thanks for the honest answer... I currently own six Arcam components, and would certainly add a stand-alone Arcam DAC to my collection, but one guaranteed sale probably won't change your mind. ;-)

    My theory is that PC audio is catching on in a big way here in the US. For whatever reason, this doesn't seem to be the case in Europe and the UK. Devices like the Squeezebox, combined with decent PCs, make it very easy to bring collections of lossless audio to stereo systems. The problem is that DACs in these devices are lacking. Many people are using Benchmark DACs and others designed for the pro market with good results, but I've become spoiled by the Arcam aesthetic.

    Best of luck.

    Greg
     
  19. Palu

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    Hi John,

    I have a Arcam Black Box 3 for your museum. :)
     

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