Well, you need a DAC of some sort in order to convert digital to analog. Whether or not the hardware that your DAC is part of also contains a streamer or has volume control or other functionality is a question you'll have to answer for yourself.
You don't need an expensive DAC (or streamer) to enjoy music, but you will have more options for higher-quality sound as your budget increases. Particularly given your choice of KEF Ref 5 and Pass Labs Int-250, you wouldn't want your other equipment to be less than up to the task.
The benefit of a network streamer is of course the convenience of listening to digital music either from your local library or one of the streaming services. Generally speaking, a network streamer does make the the music listening experience more enjoyable than connecting a regular computer.
+1 @fuzztone — keep DAC and streamer separate if for no other reason than it opens up tons more options on DACs you can choose from to best suit your particular tastes. I would, however, strongly consider a streamer/server that allows you to rip CDs into it (Innuos, etc.) because once you get used to having a world of music at your fingertips, the act of getting up to load a CD will seem absurd. Best of luck.
go to youtube
watch john darko audio 3 part series on basics of music streaming - good tutorial for beginners, well explained, easy to watcg -- so you are not shooting in the dark
Thank you so much for everyone's weighing in and all the opinions and information. Curious to know opinions on separating DAC's and streamers. In addition to my original question.
raw33, I had the same questions you do about streaming, I also have an extensive CD collection in addition to vinyl. I purchased a Marantz Network CD player (ND8006) 14 months ago without auditioning first (60 day return policy). This ND8006 is like a Swiss army knife: CD player/DAC/Bluetooth/Wireless connectivity/HEOS app controlled to Spotify, Tidal, etc. It also has Internet Radio and Apple Air Play. I ended up using a Windows 10 computer as a dedicated music server , following Marantz instructions, the Windows 10 computer passes the digital signal unaltered to the ND8006 and the end result: it sounds really, really good for $1100. I am sure others will disagree but at the end of the day, I will always find a good use for this ND8006 even if I decide to upgrade to separates down the road.
Streamers are Computers masquerading as Audio Components. They can be optimized for sound by eliminating some of the noise a PC puts into a system, but the more important component is the DAC. You can also use a DAC with other digital sources to enhance all of them.
I have 3 systems in my home, with 3 different types of streamers.
In my basement HT system a use an old MacAir with a software program, Audirvana Plus, that optimizes the PC for sound. DAC is an Audiquest Dragonfly. In my living room HT I have a Bluesound Node2 that feeds an Anthem AVR. My two channel system uses a Bryson DAC3 and a Bryson BDP3 streamer. The Bryston sounds the best but it cost 10 times more than the Bluesound. The PC was headed for the recycle bin. Files are from a Synology NAS.
Sonically when played through the same DAC, as noted earlier, the Bryston gets the nod, but I could live with the other two as well.
My take-spend well on a good DAC. If you buy a combo DAC/streamer and you wish to upgrade one of the two entities within then you have paid for some functionality that is not being used. Either use a PC or a mid level streamer. If streaming is for you upgrade later.
Great comments. I have decided to separate out the DAC and Streamer. I thank the person who directed me to the you tube videos to try to understand the basics of streaming and DAC's. Now I have to make the decision what products to purchase. Listened to a Chord Qutest yesterday and the dealer introduced us to a Bluesound Node 2 but have more research to do prior to finalizing a decision so any comments are all read and taken into account and greatly appreciated for those of you who take the time to express your experiences and opinions!
Knowing a budget would be helpful.
Node2 has a DAC which you won’t be using, but it’s still a good introduction to streaming. It has one of the better software packages, which is very important in streaming, and it’s a good enough streamer that many people never feel the need to upgrade. It also does Bluetooth.
Many people don’t find the DAC to be adequate, but some find it sufficient. One suggestion would be to see what return policy the dealer has. If he will give you a few weeks then purchase the Node2 and the Chord. Try the Node2 first by itself for a few days and then add the Chord. If the Node2 is adequate return the Chord, and if you later hunker for an upgrade, there are many fine DACs in every price range, or just purchase the Chord. Later on you may feel the need to change the streamer and at least the Node2 is a relatively small investment.
Another option is to purchase the DAC and try it with a PC for a while before deciding if you need a streamer.
I am thinking of spending under 10K for both items together. Your thoughts?
There are tons of great DACs and streamers. I of course like the brands and models that we've chosen to carry, as well as many others that we don't carry.
In addition to the budget, it would also help to know what kind of sound character you're looking for. We can make a guess based on your choice of KEF Reference 5 and Pass Labs INT-250, but maybe picking gear that also provides a similar sound would be pushing you too far in one direction, and you'd instead prefer adding more neutral gear. ???
What sound qualities are you looking for and are most important to you?
10K is a healthy amount of samolians to heave at this issue. Still, I recommend being cost effective, in case you want to upgrade.
As indicated earlier I would buy a great DAC and start with a budget streamer, possibly even a PC. With that budget I would do something much better than the Chord. So ask yourself what features you want in a DAC. I use a Bryson DAC3, which besides being a great DAC, as 4 HDMI inputs. I have many Blu Rays/DVD-A and Blu Rays and the DSD and other high res formats can be sent to the DAC over HDMI (a television can also outputHDMI). Perhaps this HDMI feature has zero relevance for you, but the Bryson at about 3.5K is still a great DAC. The Bryston USB inputs are not inferior to their other digital inputs. Many DACs have an Achilles Heel and that is unacceptable, because many streamers only stream over usb. I have also owned the Mytek Manhattan, which has no HDMI but retrieves an unbelievable amount of detail.
Anyway, I would spend 3-5K on a killer DAC, and start slow on the streamer. A PC optimized with a program such as Audirvana Plus or the Bluesound Node2i.
Another 1-2 K on a NAS (Synology or perhaps a Melco N100) if you have a big CD collection to convert to streaming files
What sound qualities am I looking for was an interesting question. I guess my answer is I would like to compliment my component sounds that I already have in my speakers and the amp/preamp. I love to hear the individual components of the music I am listening to and feel that the other equipment I have purchased are able to do so. I like to listen to jazz, classical, and rock. I am not sure that is what you are asking but there you have it. I like the warmer tones and like to be able to hear the bass also.
There’s a plenty of good advice here. I’ll add my own $.02 as I have a bit of a different view than some. We all agree on the importance of the DAC. However, if you have a $10k budget, and given the high quality of your other system components, I’d suggest you can skip budget server/streamer. I had a Node 2 going into an outboard DAC and have upgraded twice.
The primary difference between a budget unit like the Node 2 and a better unit is in information, and particularly spatial information in the music, not in tonality. Your KEFs are very, very good overall, and better than most at reproducing spatial information. As you like jazz and classical, it’d be a shame to hamstring them. Since you’re asking for input, I’d budget a similar amount for the server/streamer and for the DAC. Some would say the DAC is far more important than the server/streamer. They may be right, but at least a few of us in these forums have found them to be equally important.
@raw33 if you're looking for a DAC that is similar to your existing gear, then I'd recommend researching the following options:
- Prism Sound Callia
- Musical Fidelity M6 Encore (streamer) or M6sR (DAC)
- CH Precision C1
- Lumin S1 or X1
- Soekris dac1541
There are more I could list, but those are the ones I thought of quickly off the top of my head.
In your budget of 10K for DAC and streamer, my choice will be (assuming you will get deals rather than full price):
1. Chord DAVE with Innuos Zen Mk3
2. Bricasti M3 with Innuois Zenith Mk3 or Lumin U1
3. Chord TT2 with M scaler with Lumin U1 mini
4. Lumin X1 with fiber optic ethernet switch
5. Mola Mola Tambaqui
can't say i have tried any 10k dacs but i would say there must be rapidly diminishing returns over 3-4-5 grand
maybe i am wrong - no doubt owners of 10k dacs will say so :)
I am not looking for a 10k DAC. Instead I expressed my budget of purchasing separately a DAC and a streamer for under 10k! Sorry for any confusion as I am in an information gathering mode from those with much more expertise and experience than myself
Thank you to everyone who has shared their experiences and opinions. I hope to hear more!
With the rapid advancement i’ve seen/heard in DACs, diminishing returns will hit you like a brick wall on well made stand-alone DeltaSigma DACs beyond a 1000 bucks. This is not the year 2000 when it actually made sense to dump significant cash into a standalone dac. I can gaurantee you this. When PS Audio snake oil DACs charge you 5k for deltasigma, it is just a pathetic attempt in coloration and tweaks to make it sound more "analog"!. They are able to fool the older guys out there with this crap. Examples of astounding non-snake oil stand alone deltasigma dacs are Topping D90, Aune S8, etc. If you want to spend more than that, I would recommend you go for a good DAC implementation in a CD player, network player etc for the added functionality (Yamaha CD-S2100 @ 3k, Marantz ND8006 @ 1.2k etc....The Marantz is a phenomenal value unit.
Remember, when you go separate streamer transport, separate CD transport, separate DAC, etc, you are also paying for the extra/redundant fancy chassis, knobs etc. Sonically, this is also an area in hifi where separates ’can’ sound worse than a well integrated cdplayer+dac or streamer/networkplayer+dac. In other words, separates are not always better here. So be careful.
The only exception here is R2R DACs. They are in a class of their own and deserve the stand-alone DAC purchase.If you are a big fan of the analog like sound (but without all the pestilence of a turntable setup), go with the R2R offerings like Denafrips Ares II, Denafrips Venus, Musician Pegasus, etc and prepare to get mind blown.
So, in short,
IF you’re looking into Delta Sigma DACs, buy a good DS dac implementation in a streamer or CD player/streamer/combo unit instead.
IF you’re looking into R2R DACs, but strapped for cash, buy a cheap streamer or cd player for use as a transport and buy a good stand alone R2R DAC.
My recommendation would be that you get something like a Marantz ND8006 (streamer+cd player+dac), which has digital outs. This unit will get you to the peak of what DeltaSigma can get you. When you have cash and looking for a separate DAC, get a R2R Denafrips Venus or similar (in this case, the ND8006 will serve as a transport). This will have all bases covered. Don’t throw your cash on a standalone DeltaSigma DAC.
Thanks to Raw33 for starting a great thread and all those who've contributed. I am where you were last fall. Cheers.
the voicing of modern dacs goes well beyond the specific d-to-a conversion technology used -- modern bitstream chips can be voiced to sound very very analog-like (and virtually indistinguishable to r2r conversion units, be it through discrete resistor ladders or on silicon equivalents) -- it is mostly about the power supply design and analog output stage design ... smart designers often bring the tonal ’magic’ of high quality output transformers, or vacuum tubes, or just a plain ol’ super high quality, ultra clean amplifier circuit -- to enhance the sound to be pleasant to the ears
I would say the key is getting figuring out what sound profile you enjoy. Pass with Kef Reference 5 is brilliant match. The question becomes are you looking for something to add a hint of warmth, dead neutral or a bit of brightness.
Everyone says they want neutral, but in practice, few things are actually neutral. For instance, your Kef Speakers are generally considered forward/bright but you are pairing them with an amp that is generally considered warm. The net effect is likely neutral to somewhat forward/bright.
The Qutest and Node 2i are a wonderful test. Get those into your system and see if you like the system better. Chord's sound is a bit forward with a focus on clarity while remaining musical and dynamic. This can be a bit "in-your-face" in the wrong system or to a person with taste leaning toward laid back to neutral.
If Chord is appealing, then it is easy. You get a TT2 or wait for a deal on a Dave and then pick a steamer/server to match. Roon Nucleus or something of that sort. That really depends on your system, proximity to an ethernet cable, etc...
If Chord is not appealing and is too bright...then you need to look at warmer options and there is a lot of choice. There are literally too many products to list. The question is then, how warm? Could be dead neutral is fine. Could be you need something a it warm. It is very difficult to tell without you testing something in your system.
On a side note, PS Audio's Directstream DAC is an FPGA DAC rather than delta-sigma. There are wild differences in terms of quality and sound among delta sigma, R2R and FPGA DACs. I can show you brilliant and awful examples of each. We will do our best to steer you toward the brilliant options. The key is finding one you like the sound of, you like the looks of and integrates nicely in your system.