DAC as a preamp?

I need a new DAC. I use my computer for volume control, but do not trust it. I want separate volume control. The 90s me would have immediately thought preamp. But since I need a new DAC, my question stands ... DAC as a preamp?
I've posted more info about my system below.
I need some advice on the best way to go about getting volume control for these powerful asp1000 amplifiers. I've read about the high input impedance. I use a computer for my source playing Flac, wav or hi-res audio files. I'm using a very simple dongle Style USB DAC that sounds okay. I have choices, but do not know what my best bet is. For simplicity, it would seem I should just buy a better desktop DAC, such as and SMSL M500 and use the volume control knob on front. Or ANY other DAC with a volume control for that matter. I know I can use my volume control the USB. Provides through the keyboard on my computer. But with amplifiers this powerful, I figure I should have a volume control to prevent issues such as full volume noise blasts, which have happened before when the computer glitches. My second option would be to purchase a regular preamp. This would be the most expensive option, as I would want something at least as good as the Schitt Freya +, and that is $900! I would still need a decent DAC upgrade. This gets expensive with my health issues at hand. The last way I could go, is something like an all tube gain stage. I would still need a DAC, but a simple gain stage kit should only be a few hundred at most. The other two options I can think of, would be the pass B1 buffer clone kit preamp for 150 dollars, but I don't know if it would play nice with a high input impedance of the icepower amp. The most simple and cheapest route, would be be using the Sure digital volume control option. But I do not know how high fidelity that would be. I could really use some help. I've been out of this hobby for about 10 years now. I feel a bit lost and appreciate everyone who has helped so far.

Showing 28 responses by flaxxer

What is really neat about this solution, is that it is the exact same size and look as the topping D90 I just received in the mail yesterday. They even make a two shelf rack that would fit these perfectly.
Well then George... you may have just made another way to use the DACs volume control. BUT a person still has to buy a passive preamp for gain setting, in order to use the DAC as volume control. So at that point, I tou may as well set your DAC volume to 100%, and just use the preamps volume again, lol
That would be awesome if this were so. I'll give it a try and we'll see what happens! Thank you very much
@antigrunge2 .... really? You can't just say that without leaving your top recommendation for what you're telling me is the best solution.
I'm looking at the topping pre90 preamp. It has a 40K output impedance. Is this going to be an issue with my 8K impedance amplifiers? If so, what output impedance am I trying to find with a preamp? Thank you
But I only need to attenuate my volume. Not increase it.
I get it. The RME DAC is amazing. I've been helping my daughter with a serious legal issue, and money is very tight. This would be at the extreme reaches of my current budget. If I bought this, I would have zero money left for a preamplifier if needed. I was looking more along the lines of the smsl products under 500. And adding that to something like a pass DIY buffer amp for 150, or a simple stepped attenuator volume control. About half the budget of the RME. I never planned on spending a thousand for a DAC unless it doubled as a preamp, without hurting the sound..

@nsm1979... thank you for your reply. This is kind of what I've been thinking. While I have seen the Small Tube preamps under $100 on Amazon, I figured they were all real trash. You make me figure I should go ahead and try one though. What I would really love, is to be able to build and all tube gain buffer 4 less than $300.
I may have messed up. The input impedance of the asp1000 amps is just under 8K
I really could be wrong, but I truly believe this is what I need most. But it is very expensive for what it is. There is a view with the top off if you scroll down the page. Does anyone know if I could pay someone from The Forum to help me design something like this gain stage with tubes?http://https//www.decware.com/newsite/zstage.html
@oldhvymec ... does the insides look like $700 to you? Don't you figure that could be figured out fairly easily by someone who hand builds DIY amps and preamps here on the forum? Or is that really special magic they are doing, and can't be easily cloned? My ignorance is deep.
@jjss49. I realize it has been covered, but my 500 watts at 8 ohms, and 1000 Watts at 4 Ohms is in my opinion a different and unique set of circumstances for home audio in my experience. I remember having computer audio setup through my laptop, and occasionally a full volume burst of noise would come through. This was with 50 watts per Channel. At 1000 watts per Channel I would lose my ceramic Accuton drivers. So I would rather run the computers volume wide open, barring clipping oh, and have a volume control for regular use. I do know how to use the search function though. I will use it when I can. Thanks for helping
Hey YYZ... thanks for the insight on the DAC as a volume control.
And I will check out the SU9 Loomis. Thanks

Hi brockwired. I see you're a Schiit fanboy indeed! Someone recommended one of their $400 preamps. But after reading numerous comparison reviews between the Schiit preamp models, I realized I would have to have the Freya +. Because the rest all are reviewed to be a bit lean on the lower end, with the Freya+ sounding more fleshed out. After adding a new DAC, that is out of my budget range. I'd seriously be looking at the Musical Paradise MP-701 MK2 Tube Preamp. It is balanced, and uses boutique high end parts inside. I feel it's a steal at $700. I may just sell my Focal Flax drivers to aid in affording one. I'd love to see how it would compare with the Freya+
What I have gathered is it is better to have a separate DAC and preamp. In that case, a volume control or gain stage woodwork the same. So would a buffer preamp such as the pass DIY for $150. I just don't see spending over $1,000 on a preamp , just to have volume control. Considering I only need one input, any simple desktop volume control solution works. That also opens up almost Endless Options.
@deep333, you win! Lol. I decided on a Topping D90. If I find the volume control position out of whack with my amplifiers, I will grab the $60 Nobsound to see what happens. If it’s an improvement, I will look into Preamps under $700. I can NOT imagine the D90 sounding that badly when using the volume control function unless there’s an impedance mismatch, and I’m only using the first half of the volume to get really loud already. I want to really thank everyone! You guys have been a huge help no joke! Most of you kept your recommendations in my price range, and you guys gave me a huge selection to look at. In the end I went for Simplicity to try first. I looked at the RME, but read not one, but three comparisons to the D90. All agreed both DACs did certain things better than the other, and sounded VERY similar. I’ll choose almost half price for the win all.day there. I’m very intrigued with Preamps. In my experience, they sound very differently from each other, and make or break good systems. I’m mostly piqued with the Musical Paradise, then the Decware Zstage if that is even a preamp, and maybe Schiits headphone amps as a preamp. The Musical Paradise wants to work with amps with above 10k input impedance, and the Icepower ASP1000 amps are only 7k input impedance. Schiit spooks me just a little, because I’ve read several places that it leans to cool over warm, and I’ve read several reviews where the bottom end was questionable on the Freya+. I hate wooly bass! But we will see if I need one even with the D90. Thanks again!

Hey deep_333, do you want to be my life coach? LOL. You know how to make a guy feel good about his purchase, don't you? I sure appreciate you turning me on to the D90. I've decided I am going to probably use the DAC in the DAC only mode. I'm looking at simple balanced volume control, such as a stepped attenuato. Since the DAC in balanced mode puts out enough voltage to drive my amplifiers to full power. My only goal in this is to try to get volume control that will not degrade my sound any more that it has to. And I need remote control do to my setup, and being crippled up. I'm waiting on surgery with broken bones, but not willing to go in while Covid is crazy. 
@unsound .... I have four pairs. 80db at 4 ohms, 85 db at 8 ohms, 95db at 6 ohms, and 93db at 4 ohms.
As the OP, I pray my D90s volune control is in the perfect place for proper gain, but I doubt it. 
I do NOT want to bit strip after paying $750 for the DAC.
Why use a Schiit buffer for $49, when a Pass clone is $150? Or a Marantz 7 clone for $400?
What makes one buffer better than another, if all they do is attenuate?
AND I need remote control too.
@unsound .... 1 watt one meter. Those are nominal impedance numbers. BUT, none of my speakers dip much lower than 3.7 ohms. I KNOW they can be driven by a single watt. THIS IS WHAT SOME ARE MISSING ... The lower powered boards cost $600+, and were back ordered.... The 1000 watt boards are ON SALE for only $500 per pair, instead of the normal $770 per pair, and in stock. THIS is why I own these very powerful amplifiers. NO other reason.
Headroom is a good thing on digital amps. Huge headroom on Class AB amps can create noise issues (see Pro amps). But digital has a black background. SO I just need a way to control the volume, without degrading the sound quality, to prevent accidentally getting full volume, if my cat crosses my keyboard!
I have already purchased the D90. I guess I can send it back and by an R2R instead. Or I can buy a balanced headphone amplifier with remote control, if one can be had for 400. That would also be the same price. Just add that to my D90.
@unsound. I'm only doubtful because the DAC outputs 4 volts. Which is what the amps need to achieve full volume. BUT I would probably be using the first half of the DACs volume, instead of the last 30% of 100%. From 70 to 100% being quiet to thunderous with 1000 watts.
I'm not opposed to the Schiit at $49. I enjoy learning, and was wondering what the actual best option for my situation really is. There are walwart powered stepped attenuators, alps set ups, buffer like the Pass clone, whatever the Schiit is, etc. I figured there was a rank from best to worst options. It was just curiosity to be honest. I love this audio stuff, and this is something I truly don't know.
It's been pointed out this is a very technical forum. I am new to this part, having never owned a setup like this before. I believe I understand the most basic parts. My amps need 4v to achieve full volume. The DAC outputs 4v . Used as a straight DAC out at 4v, it would immediately produce full volume, without a way to attenuate the 4v. But you want to use between 70 percent to 100 percent on your DAC volume control to prevent sound quality loss from lowering the bit rate. Also, keeping your signal high allows for lower noise floor. Is this correct?
ALL I want is remote control volume control that won't degrade my sound quality. That is it.

Computer to DAC to attenuator of some kind to the amps, right?

And only curiosity makes me ask ... with Nelson Pass a legend, why wouldn't the kit at $150 be among the best options possible? Or is this going to harm my sound? Wanting to learn if you're willing to educate me.
I could always control the volume on my keyboard. BUT, when I was doing this about 10 years ago. Once every couple of weeks, I would get an immediate full volume blast of noise, until I could turn it down real fast. Now I'm using 1000 watts per speaker. This would destroy most drivers. THIS is the ONLY reason I am looking for different ways to control the volume.
@unsound ... I made my decision to buy a separate preamp, based solely on user reviews which concurred the D90 sounds better when used as a DAC only, bypassing the volume controls.
I’m going to sell my Focal Flax speakers I haven’t used in years, and buy something I’ll use now. I think I’ll get the Pre90, and justify it with the knowledge some of it was paid with the sale. What makes this funny is, I just found them in the box yesterday. I spent time wondering what I was going to do with them, now that I can no longer drive a stick, lol. Perfect solution!
Just wanted to thank all the people who have helped so much. I just purchased a topping pre90. We'll see how it works out.