CDP or DAC with high end volume control

Hi Guys,

I was wondering what you guys think would be a good choice for CDP or DAC for an all digital setup? I want to run without a dedicated preamp (straight into amp with volume control). I know most people here would say a dedicated preamp would sound best though. What I'm looking for is a CDP or DAC that has a volume control that can "drive" an amp similar to an active preamp. One which has the sound quality to rival a very high quality dedicated preamp.

A couple that I've been looking into are the Vitus RD-100, Aesthetix Pandora/Romulus Signature, and Ayon Stealth or Stratos DAC (or current, Ayon top of the line CDP). Any others? Pros/Cons in terms of sound, especially when connected directly to an amp sans preamp? I have not heard any of these components yet either. I'm looking to build a list of possible components to try out. My price range is probably about 10k used.

Solid state or Tube is OK, as long as the sound is quick, natural, maybe slightly on the warm side of neutral is OK. Holographic 3D soundstage with good layering is important. USB input or DSD support is not that important, but a welcome feature for a modern product. I use mostly redbook.

The rest of my system consists of Berning Quad Z tube amps, and Nola Baby Grand Ref 2 speakers.

I think this is my first post. I'm a long time reader of these forums, and buyer/seller of equipment here. I'm starting to research for a purchase a lot further in the future.

Thanks for all of your help!
Manthik, I have looked for something similar in the past and am back to looking now. Did your quest lead you anywhere?
At the moment I’m using a Resolution Audio Cantata into an integrated, but would love to have a very high-quality DAC with equally high-quality pre into my integrated’s AV entrance, bypassing the pre altogether, since I believe its pre is the weaker part of the deal.
I’ve looked at Audio Aero, Bricasti and others, but was not sure that was the way to go, since I was not sure the preamp would be superior to my current solution. Tubes are not out of the picture, since my amp is SS, since I'm trying to get a little more texture, timbre and color into a very fast, transparent precise sound.
I’d appreciate your experience.
Look for a CDP or DAC that has a max gain adjustment, so the digital volume control can be used at or almost full on your system. Because in most cases if the volume is too low it can lead to "bit stripping", this can happen if below 75%.
Wadia, Mark Levinson, and Bricasti have this maximum output setting, so the volume can be used at or near full, there are bound to be others as well.

Cheers George  
Hi George,
I've been a longtime adept of a "direct DAC" approach, but at the moment I feel that, in my current system, I would like to have an analogue pre with a DAC.
AFAIK, the Bricasti has a digital solution, but I also believe that my Cantata does the same and I would prefer to have an analogue option at the moment. Any ideas?
Any ideas?
Spring $49 for the Schiit Sys passive, which is also refundable.

Or go the switchable passive or tube output Saga $349 refundable.

Or the switchable passive, tube or solid state output Freya $699 refundable.

Cheers George 
Spring $49 for the Schiit Sys passive, which is also refundable.

Or go the switchable passive or tube output Saga $349 refundable.

Or the switchable passive, tube or solid state output Freya $699 refundable. 

Cheers George
Thanks George, but I'm trying not to add another piece of equipment. Would actually prefer to get the same quality with one piece altogether, but haven't found anything suitable yet.
And a remote is a must, cedargrover. ;)
Hi Reverendo,

I totally forgot about this thread, since I did not get any replies when I originally posted in 2014.  Interesting this thread picked up a bit.  In a round about way, a dealer sent me a PM this morning, and referenced this thread, which is the reason I even found it again now.  

There have been some changes to my setup since I last posted.  I am currently using a Aqua La Scala mk2 with a Tortuga LDR passive preamp.  Although the La Scala is very good, I feel it is not resolving some details, and the high end appears slightly rolled off.  The presentation is a tad forward for my taste as well.  Of course, there are a whole lot of positives to list about this DAC too.  I'm also not completely sure that the passive preamp and/or cables may not be causing the rolloff and lack of detail.  I haven't played around with my setup much to see.  In comparison, my old Resolution Audio Opus 21, with GNSC upgrade, (going direct to amp) does not exhibit such deficiencies.  

I'm in the process of trying out an active tube preamp (Linear Tube Audio MZ2-S).  It is on order, to be delivered some time this month.  Once I get this into the fold, I will evaluate the passive vs. active preamp situation in my setup, and I'll be better able to tell whether the deficiencies I've noted are related to the DAC or elsewhere.

I've also tried a Vitus RD-100 (direct to amp connected), and although it is very good as well, the sound stage was a bit narrower and less spacious than with the Aqua in my setup (Aqua going through passive preamp).  The dealer I bought the Vitus from said he was using an active preamp with it.  In my brief listening, I also felt that the Vitus would open up with a good preamp behind it.  Since I still have the Vitus (haven't been able to sell it yet), I'll probably try it out again with my active preamp.

So, in summary, I'm still looking for the right combination of front end pieces.  I'm still looking to try out a few more DACs in the process as well.  Since I have a few more pieces of audio gear than when I started out on this journey a couple years ago, I have a lot more options now.  Of course, I would still prefer the most simplistic DAC to amp setup, for cost and other reasons, if I could achieve the best sound that way too.
just saw the answers now. it's a pity that agon doesn't offer an alert when new answers are posted on threads we participate in. hope you are listening, agon developers.
@cedargrover I do see now that I might have been unclear in stating my interest: I'm looking for a DAC with integrated analogue pre as a one box solution, preferably with tubes. I already have a very good DAC with integrated digital volume control, but am thinking of switching to an amp + DAC w/ analogue pre. In that case the Ayre doesn't quite fit the intent, although it looks like a very interest
@manthik thanks for updating us. please report your experiments. the Vitus looks very interesting and always thought that it would fair better as a pre than as a DAC. your first-hand experience is appreciated.
it's a pity that agon doesn't offer an alert when new answers are posted on threads we participate in.
To the right of the original post in any thread there is a clickable green box labelled "Follow this discussion."  Under that box it says "Get notified when someone responds."  While I haven't used that feature myself I presume it would provide what you are looking for.

-- Al
@almarg thank you for that one... :D there used to be a feature like this a long time ago, but it never worked. hoping this will. again, thank you very much.
For 2 ch., using bel canto's CD-2 and CD3t transports with DAC2.7 and DAC3.7 and Woo Audio's WTP-1 with WDS-1. Those DACS have digital VC. The bel cantos even have an analog input! Own and use them direct into tube and SS and Class D amps that allow for volume settings above 75.  Also VG for DVD/ Bluray HT, use an OPPO 105 (later modded) with its digital VC. While not for me, others praise it's audio chops.      

Manthik, Don’t be surprised if the Linear Tube Audio preamp actually improves the sound quality when mated with the Aqua La Scala and the Vitus, you never know. I look forward to reading about your listening impressions.


Hi Charles,

I totally lost track of this thread, and its been a while since I last posted.  I did make a successful switch over from a passive preamp to the LTA MZ2-S with NOS rolled tubes.  Huge difference over the passive.  The sound stage opened up considerably and the music just flows naturally now.  I could go on and on about the MZ2 as a preamp, but I think there are already many other threads to review this preamp/amp's merits.  The synergy is excellent with my Berning Quadrature Z's.

Also, to back track on the La Scala.  I learned through experimentation that the USB input was the way to go.  I now use HQPlayer to feed the DAC (upsampled), and the difference is huge compared to using a transport at 44.1kHz.  No more complaints about the La Scala.  It is a keeper.  No more lacking for detail, rolled off top, or forward sounding.  Everything I said in my post from a while back, I now take back.  This DAC is a totally different animal with USB vs SPDIF.  I sold my transport and have moved to computer based audio now.