Built-in vs. Standalone DACs

The general consensus here seems to be that standalone DACs are generally better than those built into an integrated amplifier. Many also agree that standalone DACs provide more flexibility, i.e., you can swap DACs without changing the amp.

For the sake of discussion, let’s set aside the flexibility argument and only focus on sound fidelity for now. The primary advantage of a standalone DAC is that it provides better isolation (reduction in electrical noise) since it’s not sharing its architecture with other shared components like power supplies and chassis, etc. I’m also assuming that service and repair is a bit easier as well. What other technical advantages can you guys think of?

Another salient point that I’ve come across is that many manufacturers treat a built-in DAC as an afterthought, and so while the DACs might not be bad per se they are never the star of the show. As a result, the manufacturers don’t go the extra mile in a way that a company producing standalone DACs might. I think you can put Krell, Hegel, McIntosh in this bucket. If you disagree, feel free to correct me.

But on the other hand, we see some high-end manufacturers providing built-in DAC modules and charging quite a bit for it. Examples include Accuphase, Gryphon, Aavik, Soluution, Audio Research, etc. In many cases, the addition of a DAC module can set you back an additional $5-7k. Do you guys think the high cost is basically a ’convenience’ surcharge, or can these high-end built-in DACs compete with DACs that cost about the same, e.g. standalone DACs in the $5-10K range.

So let’s say someone is ordering a Gryphon Diablo 300 and have to decide between adding their DAC module, or buying a separate DAC. Ignoring the flexibility argument for a minute, which route provides better SQ?



it really depends on the manufacturer we sell krel hegel and avik

all the dacs in these pieces are stellar the dac board in the krell is a 1k add on and you would have to spend 5k to beat it so the krell k300 i is just a steal for what itis 


the avik electronics are among the best we have heard and their built in dacs will blow away many really expensive dacs 

we just became dealers and their s180 streamer reminds me of an really good analog  playback system just amazing super liquid and involving 

probably the best sounding dac/streamer under 10k

so it really comes down to engineering prowess and intent


Dave and Troy

audio intellect NJ

krell,hegel and avik dealers


I have the Hegel H390 and the built in DAC is actually pretty good, but it’s no match for let’s say a Denafrips Pontus ll. Now they say the DAC in the H590 is even better, but I doubt it is better than the Pontus ll either.

Dave/Troy you are not helping anyone. Seriously you need to spend 5k to beat the dac in a Krell they sell for 1k extra in an integrated! Not according to the reviewers but you must have golden ears. According to who and how did you come up with 5k. You are seriously full of s..t Bud….. 

Diablo 300 owner here, when I auditioned the amp it had the DAC module and I really liked the sound/synergy, awesome scale and dynamics, like it was on steroids. But I ultimately didn't get the module and spent the $5K on a Terminator II, not because it's better but because I was looking to bring balance to my system by adding some refinement - plus I knew I would buy other external DACS too for variety.

The DAC in my Boulder 866 is the same as their stand alone. It’s fantastic!