DAC advice for the non-tech-savvy


Hello,

I am less an audiophile than a music obsessive, and I'm looking for
DAC advice as I am ripping all my CDs to FLAC and plan to get rid of
my CD player.

My system is a Unico Unison integrated amp, Monitor RS6 speakers and
(for now) an NAD C545BEE CD player. As I say, I'm not really an
audiophile, so I don't know how well-synergized this system is, but I
love the sound for the most part. If I can find a DAC that gets more
low end bass definition that would be great (though I'm guessing this
is largely a limitation of the speaker).

More than specific recommendations (though I'd welcome those as well),
I'd be eager for general advice about what kind of DAC technology
would be best for me. I find all the info about oversampling vs.
upsampling (or are those synonyms?) vs. non-oversampling, different
bit rates, etc., pretty bewildering. I listen mostly to rock, with a
little bit of everything else thrown in. So pace, rhythym, dynamics
are more important to me than neutrality, harmonic resolution, etc.
I'm pretty happy with the soundstaging and imaging of my system as it
stands, so improving that is not a huge priority.

What do these preferences (and my current equipment) dictate about
what kind of DAC I should look for?

I'd spend up to $1000, though I'd rather keep it around $600 (and it
seems like there are a lot of good options at that price point.) Also:
my computer has a coax digital out, so I don't need a USB input
(though it might be nice for the flexibility)

Many thanks for any advice!
Mike
msonnensch
pacificvalve&electric will help you , they are very knowledgeable and reasonable.....
I can't say that one technology in itself would answer your needs better than another. Other factors influence the final result so that two units can sound different whether or not they are both OS, NOS, US or whatever.

IME the ideal DAC for rock was the old Apogee DA-1000E-20, an oversampling design. What a punchy piece of gear. Great harmonics too, for those times when the guys sing in chorus.

Hard to find that DAC today in working order. To judge by it, though, there's no reason to avoid oversampling. Upsampling (not the same thing as oversampling) in my book is not worth going out of your way for. It just comes along with many DACs today, since the chips are made for 24/96 anyway.

There's an Apogee Mini-DAC up for sale here right now. Not the same design as the DA-1000, but actually I think it's better in the highs. It's a dual-clock design, it re-times the signal in the DAC to squash jitter.

Use a 1.5 meter-long coax digital cable to get the best definition out of your setup, at any frequency. The extra length keeps reflections within the cable from upsetting timing at the DAC end.
Thanks for the responses so far. Tobias, you write
"Use a 1.5 meter-long coax digital cable to get the best definition out of your setup, at any frequency. The extra length keeps reflections within the cable from upsetting timing at the DAC end."

I was actually planning on using a much longer coax cable than that to run between my computer and the DAC (maybe 5 meters). Is that a bad idea?
Thanks for the responses so far. Tobias, you write
"Use a 1.5 meter-long coax digital cable to get the best definition out of your setup, at any frequency. The extra length keeps reflections within the cable from upsetting timing at the DAC end."

I was actually planning on using a much longer coax cable than that to run between my computer and the DAC (maybe 5 meters). Is that a bad idea?

The cable between your computer and your DAC would be a USB cable, not a coaxial. The coaxial cable would go between your DAC and your system (into your preamp or integrated amp). USB cables do have a length limitation (can't recall what it is, but I think 5 meters is probably over it). You can use some sort of signal booster to extend your USB further. You may want to check into that if you are needing to run 5 meters between computer and DAC. I'm not sure if it has any effect at all on sound quality.

Sub $1k DACs for USB use? I'd suggest MHDT Labs Havana (a couple on A'gon right now), or April Music has been recommended highly to me by someone I respect. Others seem to like the Benchmark USB version but I could never get it to sound good in several systems....still, it's highly respected by many. The DAC will really have quite a profound effect upon how the music sounds so you may want to buy used and sell if you don't like it to find out what appeals to you.
Jax, my computer actually has a SPDIF out, so I was planning on using a coax rather than a USB. That said, is there a problem with using a 4 or 5 meter coax?

thanks!
Your coax cable is a transmission line at digital-signal frequencies. In this circumstance there are reflections generated within the cable if the impedances at either end are not exactly 75 ohms. That is the case with all RCA-terminated cables and also with some that are not.

You want to avoid having the reflected wavefront arrive close enough to the incident wave that it registers on the DAC's clock as a (spurious and jitter-inducing) timing event. The 1.5m length places the reflection out of the danger range but a longer length might bring it back where you don't want it.

I would suggest asking Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio about your 5-meter coax S/PDIF cable. He posts here and at AA as "audioengr"
Benchmark Media doesn't seem to think the length of the cable makes any difference to their DAC1 product. See page 37 of the manual -- no performance change with 1000 feet of cable. Just use a well shielded cable.

I love the DAC1, but it may be too revealing for some people.
I agree with Bob....the Benchmark doesn't sugarcoat lousy source material but it's sweet with good recordings. Of all the dough I've spent on audio gear in the last 20 years or so it's given me the best bang for my audio buck. I'm primarily an analog guy so that's pretty high praise.
I suggest you send an e-mail to Pacific Valve&Electric and a second one to Steve @ Empirical Audio asking for their advice.