Ive owned the same audio rig for 8 years or so (Rega Mira 3 amp> Rega RS5 speakers)
My source into the Mira3 amp is a headless fanless micro windows7pc I built running jrivermc> musichall Dax 25.3
i am reading some phenomenal things about some of these Dacs in the 10K range ( Chord Dave, Ayre, Lampizator,PS Audio, etc).
My question is a simple one: the other pieces of my system sound great to me, but are at a much lower price point collectively than one of the dacs mentioned above. Do I need to be concerned about my Amp/speakers being fast/dynamic enough to facilitate a Dac like the Dave? Or could I plug a top notch Dac like that into my system and hear the same things I've heard described in the reviews (but on a relative level) ?
While this would not be the most efficient allocation of resources, yes, a better DAC will make a noticeable improvement in even a quite modest system.
At the Washington DC area Capitalfest audio show, a few years ago, one of the best sounding rooms had a low-budget set of components on display. The speakers were ProAc Tablettes, and the amp was an integrated tube amp from Synthesis. This seemingly modest system was putting out beautiful music. The source, I believe, was CD quality files on a laptop. Hidden from view was the DAC, which was an Audio Note DAC 5 which costs may multiples of the combined value of the rest of the system. I think the point was to show that even a set of small speakers and a fairly low-powered tube amp can be really capable, but, it also showed off what the DAC 5 can do.
Nothing ever sounds like what the reviewers write! They are wordsmiths who have fabricated a "language" that purports to describe music as reproduced via electronic transducers. It's a consumerist fantasy whose purpose is to make you unhappy with whatever level of equipment you already have.
You don't have to spend $10k on a DAC, there are very good quality converters for $2k. Schitt is a brand that comes to mind.
Hi Larry, That listening experience you described is a good example of favorable sound quality/cost ratio. Some modestly priced audio components are well engineered/implemented and are capable of preserving the audio signal from a high quality source.
I've also heard audio systems that were a mixture expensive and modest priced components that produced very impressive sound quality. Performance and cost isn't always a linear relationship. Charles
@dia123 - I have owned the Rega Mira3 recently. I have never heard the Rega RS5, but my understanding is that it is a fine speaker. I currently own/use Rega Elicit-R Integrated Amp and Rega Saturn-R CD Player/Transport/DAC.
You would likely hear an improvement in Sound Quality with a top-notch $10K. However, I think your overall improvement opportunity would be limited by your existing system. The Mira3 was a nice sounding, musical amp, however it lacked overall resolution in my system. Ultimately I upgraded to the Elicit-R and it was a big step up in overall resolution, power and drive.
Personally, I would never spend $10K on a DAC in a $3K system. If you have $10K burning a whole in your wallet, I would recommend you upgrade your integrated amp first, then upgrade your DAC with a comparably priced unit, maybe $2K-$3K.
Don’t believe the hype. Firstly your speakers do not merit anything like that kind of expenditure. Ratio of $ expenditure should be more like Speakers 10, Amp 2, Source 1. So consider a $10K DAC merits $100K ball park on speakers.
My speakers are around $100K ball park but I use a $2K DAC.
Electronics is so much easier to get right than speakers. So save your money and don’t let the hype scare you - a good $200 DAC is all that would be worthwhile for your set up.
I can only speak from my experience. I made many, many changes over the years. In my experience, changing speakers and the source has had the most impact on my system. I recently changed my music server. It's so hard to describe the differences without individuals thinking that I'm exaggerating or lying. I don't know if it's because the new component has synergy with the rest of the components, the music server that it replaced was so bad, or the new music server is just that good. The only way to find out if it's worth spending 1K or 10K on a DAC is to get a home trial...let your ears decide.
Dragon_vibe, Yes, my comments were precisely based on listening experiences of many different audio systems over the years. I must respectfully disagree with shadome’s post. I don’t believe that you can accurately apply a rigid cost ratio amongst audio components when constructing a system, far too many variables and exceptions to account for.
Speakers are often said to be the "most" important link in the audio chain and thus require the greatest expenditure. Yes they’re important but so is "every" component link in the audio chain. The weakest link will by default be the bottleneck.
You can develop an excellent sounding system with the speakers being less expensive than the source, preamplifier or power amplifier. The truth is that there are multiple methods to allocate money toward assembly of an audio system that results in terrific sound quality.
My contention is you have to actually listen to components/speakers rather than make determinations based on solely preconceived price points and ratios. I do believe that generally speaking quality increases with cost, however High End audio has numerous exceptions to this rule. Successful synergy isn't exclusively tied to spending ever more money. Charles
I agree that spending $10k on a DAC for that particular system would not be the best way to spend that kind of money. I would say that the buyer would certainly hear an improvement with a much better DAC, but, money spent elsewhere would improve the sound even more.
If the OP is planning on further improvements to the rest of the system down the road, then the purchase of a really good DAC might be viewed as a really big first step in that direction. I can see the logic in starting with really good source components first, provided that you can reasonably assess what is a really good source component when the rest of the system is not at a comparable level (a chicken and egg dilemma). But, my own preferred approach would be to find speakers that I really like, and then build the rest of the system around what works with that speaker (e.g., efficiency and level of difficulty in driving the speaker would set parameters around the kinds of amplifiers that should be in the system).
I note that your Rega integrated amplifier has a rather low line-level input impedance of only 10K, and that it provides only unbalanced RCA inputs. I couldn’t find an output impedance spec or measurement for your DAC, but it appears that its RCA outputs are driven by a capacitively coupled tube-based output stage. In many designs that kind of output circuit will not be able to drive 10K with optimal results, rolloff of the deep bass being a particularly frequent consequence. Although that may or may not be noticeable depending on the deep bass extension of your speakers.
(It also appears that the DAC’s XLR outputs are driven by a solid state output stage that probably has significantly lower output impedance than the RCA output circuit. But for several reasons I doubt that it would be desirable to use the XLR outputs via any kind of adapter arrangement or transformer).
So while I would certainly expect introducing a 10K DAC into your system to make a difference for the better, I wouldn’t be surprised if a leading contributor to that improvement were simply that the upgraded DAC would provide lower output impedance and better drive capability. Which of course is readily obtainable at vastly lower price points.
Aside from that consideration, it seems to me that in determining the weakest link in your system one need look no further than the fact that your box-type (non-planar) floor-standing 3-way speakers weigh only 26 pounds.
Good luck, however you decide to proceed. Regards, -- Al
"I don’t believe that you can accurately apply a rigid cost ratio amongst audio components when constructing a system, far too many variables and exceptions to account for."
Agreed. My ratios were a rough guideline rather than a rule that must be followed for optimal sound. Of course I was thinking digital rather than vinyl as the source (given the OP original request). A good vinyl TT could easily cost more than the amp and be quite appropriate synergistically
Perhaps we can agree that my suggested ratio is more in line with a sensible allocation of budget then a 10K DAC in a $3K system??? Do you agree on that?
Hello shadome, Yes, in this specific situation I wouldn’t match a 10 K DAC with the 3K system if that were my ceiling for a spending budget. In this case I’d spread the money around in an attempt to achieve more of a system balance.
On the other hand if there are plans to upgrade the current associated components and I believe the 10K DAC is absolutely world class and transformative then it’d be the focal point or foundation to build around. It would all depend on the final objective.
I agreed with Larry’s comments in that strategic mixing/matching of well chosen audio products can cross price barriers more effectively than some might appreciate. His example was a good one IMO. You could use a 5K amplifier successfully with 20 to 30K speakers. Or 20K amplifier driving 5 to 10K speakers with equal success, it really depends on the particular products in question. Charles
A few thoughts here: 1. Nothing is "wrong" it’s your money do as you wish. 2. That being said and all things being equal, DACs generally display the least degree or perhaps the most subtle degree of difference. Meaning the qualitative distance between a good DAC and a great DAC may be substantially shorter than with other components. 3. If you do decide to buy a new DAC buy used. The degree of depreciation of digital gear is both swift and sharp. 4. Really sit down and think about what you like or don’t like about your system and where you want to go with it. Reviews can make gear seem super tantalizing trust me I know. But taking a more measured approach and spending your money the right way in the first place can save you bundles in the long run.
Good luck and I hope it works out well for you whatever you end up doing!
Having owned a audio store the sourse CD- Turntable is very important If you can afford better buy a good dac , reason being if the clean signal does Not reach the preamp correctly everything else down stream is Lost. This too applies to quality cables including digital the AQ Diamond is plenty good I just bought s Anticable 3.1 Ref to check out s bit warmer sounding. Let's see if better then my Diamond USB cable,if not I send it back. I got s great deal on s PS Audio direct stream new under $4k with new firmware upgrade . Doing much better always eject card after down load ,I DID not and the Huron upgrade sounded crappy , now much more uniform and detailed.
Hi dla123, Here's my rule; buy the DAC you want to hear. Because your ears are tuned to your set up, the difference will be clear. Buy the DAC at a price that you can afford to sell it for and not loose much if you want. It's the ONLY way to know if you really want it or not. (However,it may lead you to want to upgrade other components in time.) My first high end system was put together by SoundEx in Philadelphia (1995) with no regard to cost ratio. It was my Snell Type B's, Krell KPS 20i CD player, Threshold T2 preamp, Threshold T400 amp and all Transparent Reference interconnects (balanced). I never heard such a glorious sound! I never knew that music could sound so good. I have yet to hear better. Good luck. Joe
Thanks guys, jond and Almarg's advice makes sense. I guess I always assumed that the source is the most important part of the chain, as that is where the signal comes from. Jond's perspective is that the speaker is where there is more variance. Almargs post I guess would kind of support that I guess
Sure. Been doing solid state lately, and vintage to boot.
Sansui BA-F1 with the matching CA-F1 preamp, because I cannot beat these damn things. Joseph Audio Pearl 3 speakers Totaldac D1-Twelve DAC, 4 box with Server Using a NOS Valves NBS preamp tape loop just for the phono stage VPI Scout with a HANA Shibata.
I guess I always assumed that the source is the most important part of the chain, as that is where the signal comes from.
@dla123 , there are those who feel that the source is the most important link in a stereo system chain, as you do. Others, like @shadorne , consider the speakers to be the most important link. Some feel that the amp is the most important link, others the preamp, while others yet may feel that cables are the most important link.
Then there are others, like myself, who feel that a balanced system works the best.
The point is that no one is right, and no one is wrong. It's your money, spend it however you want to.
Don't let anyone else tell you what flavor ice cream will be your favorite.
If you must spend $10,000 get speakers that knock you out. Speakers contribute more to the sound of your system than any other component or combination of components. The right power amp with the speaker is also very important Alan
Almarg, would you mind elaborating on the following comment? Pardon my ignorance. Seems like you can educate me a a bit on this topic. Thx in advance...
"Aside from that consideration, it seems to me that in determining the weakest link in your system one need look no further than the fact that your box-type (non-planar) floor-standing 3-way speakers weigh only 26 pounds."
@dla123 The 26 pound weight of each of your speakers is much less than the weight of any other 3-way floor-standing non-planar speaker of comparable dimensions that I can recall, that I would consider to be of reasonably good quality. Such speakers commonly weigh two or three times that amount, and in some cases considerably more than that.
In most speaker designs a fundamental goal is for the cabinets to be as rigid and acoustically inert as possible, which usually means a good deal of weight relative to overall size. Also, I would expect that in general there would be some degree of correlation between the weight of the drivers, especially the woofer, and their quality.
On the other hand, though, there are a few designs which rather than attempting to suppress cabinet resonances attempt to have their effects complement the characteristics of the drivers. Many Audio Note models fall into that category, for example. But even in the case of many or all of the various versions of their popular AN-E model they have produced over the years, which are comparable in size to your speakers (and only have two drivers, rather than the three that your speakers have), weight is in the vicinity of 40 pounds.
So I would have to think that the 26 pound weight of your speakers, given their dimensions, driver complement, and 3-way crossover, most likely reflects significant compromises that were made in the design in the interest of minimizing cost.
Sometimes a $10k DAC is a $5k DAC after the dealer and distributor take their cut. Take away from that the labor and material cost of a fancy case, lights, feet and lettering and you may have a $2500 DAC.
Cost is not related to sound quality. As was stated above, listen to a Schiit Yggdrasil and get state of the art for $2300 plus shipping.
Most speakers use cheap parts in an aesthetic box. The Aesthetic look is what sells. Very few companies put a lot of $ into the drivers and fewer still actually make anything themselves except the crossover and box. Speakers are much more a dogs breakfast than any other component in audio systems.
With most companies issuing new models every year the speaker market is more like Imelda Marcus shoe closet - full of fashion accessories rather than performance gear.
Do yourself a favor, as I did. Buy an Oppo UDP-205. With two ESS Sabre Pro series ES9038PRO DACs, all the other features of the unit - not to mention the outstanding 4K UHD video - all for $1300 you'll be more than glad you did.
Well I build DACs as some of you already know. Yes a better DAC will improve your systems sound, IMO a better source is what starts it all. What I hear is tone - every instrument has its own tone, nothing melds together, separation, dimension - layers, clarity with details, space around instruments and vocals/piano like I never heard before. Worth the money, that is your call. BTW my build parts costs alone for the DAC is close to $4K!
I have not posted in some time so I'll shoot you straight! Everything in this world is relevant to ones own prior personal experiences including Audio. Source is the perfect way to start your upward mobility. Start with a great DAC and then feed it the cleanest music signal you can next via a decent transport and you will love it. Don't listen to the people that say your speakers are not good enough. You like them and enjoy the way they sound so they are fine for now and your system to you (the only one that matters will sound WAY better) as the source is the most important in my opinion at least to the person that is making a huge jump like that. If you have $10k to spend on a DAC and you love digital music then that's a great way to spend the money. It's how I spent my money and I LOVE my DAC! Love it! I like it better than my car and I have a decent car. Every single upgrade down the line will shine and each incremental improvement will all be laid bare as the source will be the high water mark. Pick up a mint, used Bricasti for $6,500 and blow your mind. That Shit gear - wrong spelling is solid mid fi and will be a nice improvement over what you have but you will grow out of that quick. Once you a own a big daddy DAC you will be running with the big dogs and you'll love it. I assume you have the funds so as long as the doe involved isn't personally prohibitive you will love it. Don't be surprised though that the bump in Performance is so sweet you will start chasing more resolving amps and speakers but tying down the source up front is the way to go. It's like starting a new football team - what's the first premium chip you want to add? A quarter back - everyone will say but you need receivers and an o-line to block for him etc etc but you get that quarterback first if you can. The DAC is the quarterback that you build around as you go while loving each improvement along the way! Careful though - it's a slippery slope - once you get a taste of the good stuff you keep Jonesing more and more and the chase is on so beforwarned a killer DAC can be like opening Pandora's box but heck that's where it's at! Good luck - Buy used on here - Bricasti $6500 - DirectStream $3,500 - Meitner $4000 - EMM Labs - $6000 - DCS $5000 - MBL - $6000 I'm not a lampi guy because they come out with a new model every other week and the old one drops in value but they make nice sounding stuff for sure but $4000 - $6000 can get you a seat at the table. Good luck!
Can't agree more with fsmithjack, that the source first approach is the right one and with bigkidz. If you leave your source and upgrade downstream, it will sound different and maybe even "better", but the limit will always be the signal fed into the chain of equipment. I guess: It's possible that you like your current system because you can listen to it for long periods without getting tired. If so, then it is probably because it sounds natural to your ear - good musicality (described in more detail by bigkidz). In my experience it is very easy to mess this up when you upgrade downstream (cables of equipment) only as better downstream equipment may sound more impressive and revealing etc, etc, but it cannot improve the fundamental quality of the sound - the musicality - coming from the source. Only a better source can do this. As a matter of fact I found that even though a downstream upgrade sounds all that better at first, it leads to listeners' fatigue quite quickly. The example mentioned by larryi has been experienced over and over many times and has been reported on by many audiophiles around the world - this may be a hint in itself of where to look for the best upgrade path. Once a source of the right "level" (as can only be judged by yourself wrt money, musicality etc) is in place, the enjoyment will improve significantly. This should last for a long time. Then a cautious selection of the right downstream upgrades (as per almarg post) will yield improvement without degrading the musicality of the system. All this of course IMHO.
I have the dave dac and see it as sort of an end game dac. It is much better than my previous dac (ayre codex) and it will probably stay in your system for many years while you start upgrading the other components. Also-just add a pair of top line headphones to the dave and you have a state of the art system for headphone listening while you save your other pennies.
I think Jond hit the nail on the head. DAC's are the fastest evolving - and the fastest depreciating audio equipment category. In my experience, you are going to want to buy used....and you will still lose money. Trickle down has made most lower priced DAC's sound decent such that on mid-fi systems most comparisons will be slight; one might sound a tad fuller. The best advice is to have a listen to several contenders (throw in a high priced DAC too). Still, in expensive systems, that tad of fullness translates into a huge soundstage and disappearing speakers that make a good DAC purchase rational. (P.S. How's that retirement fund coming along?)
In my humble opinion one part doesn't equal same performance. Based on my understanding, the power supply is very important with so many components, including digital. Maybe Al can chime in, he has way more technical knowledge than I have.
In my humble opinion one part doesn’t equal same performance.
No question about it. There are of course countless variables and tradeoffs that contribute to the overall performance of a design. And, hypothetically speaking, even if the entire design of a DAC from each of two manufacturers was totally identical from an electrical standpoint, the two components still would not be likely to perform in an identical manner. Even differences in how signals are routed within the printed circuit board, and how the board itself is constructed, can affect performance significantly. That is especially true when digital signals are involved, which have very high frequency components associated with their risetimes and falltimes (i.e., the amount of time it takes the signals to change between their two voltage states). And even more so when that circuitry is in close proximity to analog circuitry.
The kinds of effects that can be involved are not even well understood by many practicing EEs. Which is why a textbook and course on High Speed Digital Design that were created by a noted authority on such matters, which I took in connection with my work a couple of decades ago, was sub-titled "A Handbook of Black Magic."
Power supply design sign is very important especially if you want to avoid power conditioners, fuses, after market power cords and all kinds band aids. (Another discussion for another time might be why high end boutique manufacturers so often get power supply design aspects so badly wrong - creating a "band-aid" market)
The Benchmark DAC3 and their ABH2 amp achieve performance standards that exceed everything else and one of the reasons is a Switched Mode Power Supply. In fact there is an interesting article devoted to debunking the myth that Switched Mode Power Supplies are noisy. I am not sure I entirely agree, as I have found SMPS to be troublesome in the past, however John Siau explains why SMPS done correctly can lead to tremendous reduction in the noise floor.
almarg Hi Al! long time no see. lol Pay attention to almarg posts. Especially his words on matching system impedances.
audioman58 +1. correct. Source is the primary key to any good, great or fantastic system
Wow. There’s an immense amount of great info and texture here, despite the philosophies. I like the Oppo sug, but would opt for the 203 and a DAC vs the 205 alone. If 4K video interested me at all. With a good DAC it is a capable disc spinner.
OP… I did not hear you actually had $10K burning a hole in your pocket. If so, I apologize. On the premise that you actually do have a wad ready to pitch in them my exp says this:
Crap in and crap out. Though, do preceed prudently.
Outstanding speakers will never make up for crap signal integrity, or so so signal (system) construction. Lack of adequate power, poor room acoustics, etc.
Top notch front ends affixed to capable speakers will always perform better than lower end, or entry level front ends attached to superb speakers. Great front ends however are made up of more than just the source.
Though, I’d not rec you drop it all, speculatively or in fact on merely a DAC. Here is why….
$10K DACs don’t sound twice as good as $5K DACs, or five times better than $2K DACs. But, each will sound different. I guarantee it.
if you’re front end isn’t up to the task of providing revealatory, engaging experience, to the speakers, then what? Speakers ain’t magical critters. They appear to become magical, when the signal and room deliverd to them is unblemished.
I’ve heard more than substantial systems. Rigs with $40K speakers plus a pair of subs running in total $56K. applying different $10K DAC solutions to such rigs has shown me first hand you’re gonna get different results. From various DACs. Different ain’t always better but it sure is different. Always.
It was in these sorts of $70K to $100K rigs however, one could easily hear the diffs between DACs which cost $5K, $10K, and $20K.
Unless, there is more room in the wallet for updating the balance of the system, or very very soon, there definitely will be, I’d refrain from dropping every dime of the 10K into a DAC right now.
What to do: is all about your own goals, and how deep you want to wade into the audio waters. Also, just how soon you will strive to achieve them. Pre-owned gear aids the system building effort tremendously.
The issue is not that in a year or two your ??? new DAC will sound worse, it is that other DACs for less than what you spent will sound as good or better and maybe have more functionality in time.
The wheels of progress seem to be slowing down on the Digital vehicles hitting the market these days. Yet they do continue to turn and the associated peripherals attached to the “DAC du jour” can make one sound superb, or keep it from an outstanding level of performance.
in one system I wrote a review on these pages about a couple years back, a $5K DAC IMHO, sounded better than a $10K DAC. BC DAC vs Mitner. Although, the BC DAC was configured better with a $2K SPDIF IC from a Gordon Rankin USB converter, and the BC had a Nordost Valhalla PC on it. Don't recall the DAC to preamp cable exactly.
check the review for more info
A variety of DAC sellers/makers are catching up to the top tier DAC performers and as such provide a far, far greater cost to performance ratio than ever before.
Merely keeping a close eye on impedance matching throughout the system will yield outstanding results. Thanks again for that info, Al.
I’d actually spread the funds around, IF, 10K was the end of the cash pile.
Maybe think about Selling some or all of your current outfit, or slip it into a another room or try to add it to a deal to lower your costs. Gifting comes to mind. Really, I’d keep it myself and later get better speakers as was said.
Go with pre-owned recent gear and I’d pitch $2K or so into a very capable DAC, $3K or so into a nice Integrated amp, and the rest into cabling, a PL cond., rack and speakers. Then as is the normal case for most of us, treat the room to suit.
The outcome will then be a rig worth in the area of $15k to $20K, and ‘should’ be far more fun and revelatory than is the present one, so better gear as it comes along, can be better appraised.
You might only wind up with $3K for speakers, but that’s about a $5K to $7K MSRP pair of squeakers with any luck. Ensure too the speakers love your power amp.
$5K to $7K speakers routinely are not slouches.
All or part of that then rig will either keep your knee bobing and a grin on your face, or it will slowly trickle down in part or whole to another room or office aIF you remain on the terrible audio treadmill.
BTW audio treadmill of ‘dragon slaying system’ chasing does not always land in paradise. It just keeps spinning along until you come to your senses, or to the end of all available financial resources and maybe even an eventual treatment center. Lol
seanheis1 $4K in build parts for a DAC? What parts are so costly?
My design is a two chassis design. Power supply alone is over 30lbs. lets see chassis $1000, transformers $250, custom choke $100, V-Caps $250, RCA sockets, tube sockets, IEC, high end quality $100, circuit breaker (no fuse) $25, 101D tubes $300, 4 tubes power supply $100, R2R DAC $300, large clarity PS caps $125, military grade connector $25, resistors, caps, chokes, solder, wire, flex covering, feet, LED bulb, the list goes on and on, so just about $4K in total cost.
Someone mentioned that a $10K DAC won't sound twice as good as a $5K DAC, I would have to disagree with mine. But it is still just my opinion and the opinion of the customers who have purchased one. The only way to tell is to try something in your system and let your ears decide.
AL has some very good advice above.
"Even differences in how signals are routed within the printed circuit board, and how the board itself is constructed" - yep that is why my components are point -to-point wired.
Well, I settled on a Gingnur Multibit dac. Just hooked it up yesterday and while it sounds great, I'm not sure I can tell a discernible improvement over my MusicHall 25.3 dac. I haven't A/B'd them yet and perhaps that's what's needed to really tell a difference. Or perhaps I'm just not very good at this :/
Well glad to hear you are being honest with yourself, it may sound great but is it better? Or just different? You own it so take sometime let the Gingnur burn in do some do some A/B comparisons and let your ears be the guide. And don't worry about being "good" at anything its your ears and your happiness. Good luck and happy listening!