Bel Canto Dac 3

Does this simply combine the Dac 2 with a pre amp? Is the Dac tube?
No, the DAC3 is entirely different from the DAC2 and sonically is a big step up. There are no tubes in the DAC3. It works very well as a preamplifier/DAC if you are only using digital sources.
when you say that it is ' sonically is a big step up'... what do you mean exactly.

AND is anyone able to definitively say whether USB is more accurate than S/PDIF (ie... is airport express an inferior technology to a direct USB ---> USB connection.)
I'd say that pretty much everything across the board has improved. I'm having to go by memory with the DAC2 since it has been discontinued for quite a while so I haven't played with one recently. So, I definitely can't give a detailed comparison. From memory, it has higher resolution than the DAC2 while remaining very smooth and unfatiguing. Tonally it is balanced more neutrally than the DAC2 as well. I personally found the DAC2 to be slightly overly warm and the DAC3 isn't. Don't misinterpret that as meaning that the DAC3 is cool, because it isn't at all IMHO. Considering that it is almost twice the price of the DAC2 it is no surprise that it is a considerably improved piece.

Sorry, I don't know the answer to your USB question.
Is it signature similar to the dac 2 or is known for being more analtical? have you seen any reviews out there?
Regarding the USB question - I just got back from the RMAF (Denver audio show) where they had done a test of the airport express with a top-of-the-line toslink cable vs. a direct usb cable and the USB cable was the clear winner...

Anyway, it appears that the DAC3 has 5 different digital inputs so I guess one can do one's own shootouts...

Good luck!
I have a Dac 3 in my system right now and am not sure it's that big of an upgrade over my Jolida JD100 w/upgraded tubes!
I can see it's convenience factor if using as preamp but I also use phono and it doesn't work that well with the Pre 3.
That said I only have coax out of my Jolida so I can't speak for the other inputs. Bel Canto suggest on thier website that USB isn't as high sampling as the other inputs and suggest using a good audio card with SPDIF. Whats the point? If you have a good audio card, generally there is an excellent Dac that comes with it. Check out RME or M-Audio.
I really like the new Bel Canto equipment but honestly with the Dac, I'm not so sure. Upgrading tubes in my CD made a profound change for the better in sound quality for about $40. A speaker cable and power cord change moved things up the scale as well. A $2000 DAC had better be leaps and bounds ahead of my stand alone and it just isn't.
That's an interesting observation and I am considering the DAC3. Is it possible that your unit is not broken in as yet where tubes generating more heat can break in faster? I am looking at simplifying my system as I only run digital and although most people indicate that it is better to have a preamp I would prefer to sell my preamp and put the cash into a better DAC with volume control.
They have a new cd player coming out,it would be nice to see a price well under 2 bills,otherwise i think they might be in for some competion from a whole bunch of other stuff to pick from.It at the least will be interesting to see the final price.
It could be true that the DAC may not be fully broken in yet but I know that it had some hours on it as a store demo and I've had it now for a week.
Maybe I should have been a bit clearer about the sound quality however. It was a bit late and I rushed to post my findings.
The Bel Canto DAC3 does sound very good. So does my Jolida. My point is that for a $2000 change in my gear, I expect fairly substantial changes in sound. This was not the case with the DAC3. The changes were very subtle at best and considering the DAC3 is going into my Pre3 via balanced cable and my Jolida is strictly single ended I must assume that some of those changes can be accountable to the lowering of noise floor and increased gain from the DAC. Now on the other hand maybe the DAC would sound even better when using a balanced input or BNC or even USB. I cannot comment on what it may ultimately sound like used in its best environment. As it stands it does sound very good and possibly in an all digital system the volume controls and it's versatility of inputs make it very attractive indeed.
As for the new CD player soon to be released, I would like to hear it as well as it is obviously designed to be a great match for the DAC3. I think it is a top loader which is a bit unfortunate for myself but many may really like the design. I like the small enclosures and having the Bel Canto REF1000's makes for a unique looking system that sounds fantastic too! Again, the CD player would have to bowl me over to shell out the hard earned scratch to displace my ageing Jolida. I wouldn't mind hearing their full sized multi format players but my dealer is sold out, so I'll have to wait! ( I'm also waiting to hear the new phono )
With this in mind I wonder if, other than the PC, are the advances in digital front ends really that superior to those of 3 or 4 years ago? I guess I'll have to listen to some more units but so far nothing has been all that groundbreaking.
Same here for the cd player.It will have to have blow me away,state of the art sound,otherwise its just wont be happening.I love the int,there is no doubt there,and its improved in sound as ive used it.But the cd player its going to have to be special,sound wise price wise the whole thing,I think they have their work cut out on this one.
Coffeey, in this price range you cannot expect wonders to happen. I wish it was different, but in reality they are no "giant-killers". One cannot expect that a $1,500 unit would sound as good as a $6,000 unit, that is an illusion.
If let's say the Paul Speltz Anticables were really sounding as good as Nirvana SL cables, Nirvana would go into bankrupcy. But you and me know that this isn't gonna to happen because of that.
Differences between units in the same price range are only incremental. Units can differ in sound, yes, but none is superior to a costlier unit.

Alun, if you are willing to experiment, try different digital cables on DAC3. I don't know how DAC3 reacts to digital cables, but when I had my DAC2, it sounded amazing with Virtual Dynamics NiteII and later (a much bigger leap forward) with Virtual Dynamics Master coax cables. I know they are crazy expensive, but when I linked the dac and transport with these, I couldn't go back. And as I remember, DAC2 sounded great with Audience powerChord on it. Stock cord doesn't cut it there. A nice aftermarket power cord will make the dac sound smoother.
I heard DAC3 several times but not next to DAC2, so not sure of improvements.
Thanks Audphile1 for the cable info but I've returned the DAC3 to the dealer for now. I'm still awaiting the newer Bel Canto CD player to audition.
I still feel a little guilty for my first post because I feel in the right system the DAC3 offers excellent value due to it's variety of inputs, volume control capability and ultimately sound quality.
I hope its closer to 2 g instead of 2.5,that would certainly be nice on my cash flow,.I know you cant have everything at those prices,but its nice to hope for.
I'm a little curious as to why they wouldn't make just a transport to go with the Dac, rather than a cd player.
Another option to try might be the Grace Audio M902.
I am happy with my Lavry and had to cut the cost of my system at some point but next time around this might be the one I'll go for.

Regarding cables, there is a lot of debate as to how much of a difference they make. Recently I changed my speaker cables and it's made a massive change. My amp was lifeless before but there is only so much trial and error we can do otherwise it becomes a costly habit.
The DAC3 is an incredibly great piece. My friend & I compared it to his $7000 Ayre, and it was a close race. We used a Pioneer as a transport for the DAC3 in the comparison. It's also a beautiful piece with very thick casing and faceplate.

It also sounds quite dynamic and has powerful bass used without a preamp, which may make this a piece for those wanting not to invest in a preamp. Still, to my ears, I find an active line stage gives even more dynamics and larger, more fleshed out instrumental timbres. The large power supply in the DAC3, and its unique digital volume control must be responsible for this. It is the first piece I have used direct that doesn't have: (a) a collapsed soundstage, (b) substantially limited dynamics, (c) rolled off treble, (d) weak, undynamic, & unextended bass.

The digital volume control with 200 steps in 0.5 db increments is a joy to use. The remote, although small and cheap, works fine, and controls volume, input, mute, and standby. Do be wary of static, however. Mine has shut down from touching it when the air is very dry from heating season, but it must have some type of protection circuit. All I had to do is unplug it, plug it back in, and everything's fine...
Easrlier this year you posted a very favorable review of the Benchmark DAC1. Can I assume that you prefer the Bel Canto? Can you talk about how they differ?
In your earlier post, you have mentioned you preferred the Benchmark DAC-1 over the Bel Canto DAC2. How would you compare the Benchmark with the Bel Canto DAC3? How do you characterize the sonics of the Bel Canto DAC3? I am leaning more towards detail, slam and dynamics rather than sweet and mellow kind of sound. My initial plan was to get a Theta Gen Va or to a lesser extent the Benchmark DAC-1 but was thinking a lot on getting a DAC with a built-in pre so that I could eliminate an extra component in the chain. Your favourable comments on the positive attributes of the Bel Canto DAC3's preamp section are a plus side for me.

Any opinions from others would be most appreciated.