Choosing a Network Player/DAC


I finally have the audio setup I want for vinyl. I’d like to add digital to the system. I’m finding it very difficult to choose a product and any help would be appreciated. I have a McIntosh MA5100 paired with PSB Stratus Mini’s. The best way I can describe the sound I’m wanting to achieve is smooth reference..I favor a bit of brightness and separation is important to me...none of that information may be important when choosing a digital component but I thought I’d share. I have a media server, mainly for video, running PLEX. I have like 500gb of FLAC files on that hard drive. I also have a Tidal Account. I’m looking to add both to my audio system. My budget is around $700 but I could do more if that doesn’t cut it. So Network Player? DAC Attached to my Laptop/Server? Buy a mac mini and attach to DAC? Tubes (since this is a vintage system)? There’s so many ways to slice this up..I’m having a hard time. If anybody has experience and can recommend the merits of one over the others, it would helpful...also, this isn't necessary, but multi-room/zone would be nice.
eli_tackla

"The best way I can describe the sound I’m wanting to achieve is smooth reference..I favor a bit of brightness and separation is important to me...none of that information may be important when choosing a digital component but I thought I’d share."

Brightness in a digital system is not always the same as in an analog system. There's several reasons for this, so just keep it in mind as you do your research. Separation, dynamic contrast and imaging are definitely qualities to consider when selecting digital gear. Analog tends to replicate these things with very little trouble. Digital can do them as well, but you have to work a little harder. It doesn't come as easily. Where most people tend to go wrong, is not giving as much attention to the analog portion of a dac as they do the digital side. Both are equally important.

". So Network Player? DAC Attached to my Laptop/Server? Buy a mac mini and attach to DAC? Tubes (since this is a vintage system)?"

With a budget of $700, I would get a dac and use it with the laptop you currently own.

@mgreen27...thank you for the advice. I'll narrow my search to DAC's
eli,

Is your 500Gb of FLAC on a NAS or just an internal/external HDD connected to your laptop? Is this server going to sit stationary on your audio rack or does it need to be portable? Just curious because using NAS storage opens up more potential options for you.

I'm going through the same exercise right now. I just put together an open source music sever using a Raspberry Pi 3b, HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro, iFi Power Supply and I'm currently running MoOde OS. It's really inexpensive and it sounds Great! And it was super easy to assemble and set up. However, I'm not sure you can listen to Tidal using it. I haven't really fully configured it yet. But I can tell you it sounds great streaming Aiff files and internet radio. Heck, Radio Paradise typically shows up as a 320kbps stream and it sounds really good.

That said, if you aren't interested in building/experimenting, getting a USB DAC to connect to your laptop is a simple way to go. You might want to also look at the various digital USB filter devices like the Audioquest Jitterbug. It's only $50 and has gotten good reviews.

Good luck in your quest.
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I'd recommend starting with using the laptop with a USB dac. 

The new Soekris has gained a lot of attention. Uses a R2R multibit chip. For ~$400 shipped it seems like a good value. So good I bought one a couple days ago.

You might also benefit using a USB isolator between your laptop and dac. Intona gets pretty high marks. 

No affiliation with either company.

Soekris USB dac with Intona isolator would be right around your $700 budget.

Hope you find what you're looking for.

-Tom

http://www.soekris.dk/products.html


https://kitsunehifi.com/product-category/brands/intona/



@reubent Thank you for the response and help. My music is on a laptop with an external. I may be inheriting a sinology server but that isn't guaranteed. I've never messed around with raspberry pi but I definitely enjoy tinkering (especially cost effectively) so that might be a good option. I'll demo the jitterbug too...nothing wrong with staying under budget.

@4hannons Thanks for the help-I had no idea a usb isolater existed. I would've assumed any value from that product would be handled by the dac...but you learn something new every day. Does it provide that much of a benefit?
You may not need the USB isolator. Lots of people report however the isolation improves overall sound. YMMV
@4hannons Very interesting. I'd love to give it a try and find out.
I have 3-5 terabytes on HDD most Hi-RES , and a vinyl playback system as well. I added a Cambridge Azur 851n  which works as streamer, DAC, and preamp. I use it as preamp for Jolida vacuum tube amp in bypass mode. The sound is amazing. Way over 700 dollar budget at 1799.00 however would solve all your issues.
Tom,

I'm very interested to hear your impressions of the Soekris DAC.

Gary
@gaareneau I'm burning to hear it myself.  I received the Soekris (took only 3 days-amazingly fast shipping) last week  but my 2009 Mac mini is running Snow Leopard and won't play the Soekris. I suspect some sort of incompatibility with older OS X. Tonight I purchased Mountain Lion, should receive it tomorrow and begin listening.

As I'm evaluating the Soekris I am also preparing for major changes in my system; adding a Microrendu audiophile-grade micro computer for network audio streaming. This will fix a major system flaw having my computer and stereo together -- I expect vast improvement removing the computer and hdd away and into a different room.

Lastly, I also have a Schiit Yggdrasil on its way to compare. So to recap, my current Centrance Dacmini CX, which is very under appreciated in the audio community, will go head-to-head against the Soekris. The winner will go against the Yggdrasil. 

I have some initial impressions of the Soekris I can share. To avoid hijacking this thread, I will post here: https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/soekris-aps-dac1101-another-discrete-r2r-multibit-dac.