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.
flaxxer
Another option:

get one of these for $60.

https://www.amazon.com/Nobsound-Fully-Balanced-Single-Ended-Pre-Amplifier-Controller/dp/B01MXC9HHW/r...

It is passive, dead silent, and compatible with balanced and unbalanced cables.  It played very well with my Cherry mono amps that are Class D.


Then, put the rest of your budget into the best DAC you can find.  Save some more here buy obtaining a preowned unit.


I have also had a Nuprime DAC-10 which is a preamp/dac and would recommend you take a look at one of these.



@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

@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
Decware is really nice. If you get on the list right now. If your lucky they will be pulling parts in 4-6 months. No that doesn’t mean it will be finished.

They are really SLOW, now. The first time I ordered from them 10 plus years ago. 3-4 weeks. Now 6 months.. If I wasn’t into this for 4 months and didn’t need a direct head out tape preamp. I’d be on someone else’s list. That guy needs to hire some help.. You’d think it was a Dodd special or something..

He is loosing a ton of sales, behind it.. I know a buddy just dropped 25k on new MB. Decware would have gotten the business. He got his MB in 3 weeks. I haven’t has a chance to even see them. I think it was Triangle Art. He has 2 or three of their TT, I'm looking at one of their TT myself.  That same guy has 3 Dodd units.. One of my top 5 picks of all time.

Regards
All of Schiit Audio's headphone amps can be used as a preamp. I own a Modi Multibit (DAC)/Vali(tube headphone amp/preamp) combo that I am using in my bedroom. It sounds fantastic. 

In my main system I am using a Schiit Jotunheim with a phono card. It gives me one phono input, one RCA input and one XLR input. It has XLR and RCA outputs. You could substitute a DAC card. I went external with a Gungnir Multibit. If you want a DAC that is the same size that would stack with the Jotunheim you would be looking at the Modius or Bifrost DACs

My living room system...the system I have had the longest...has a Saga and Modi3. I really like all of them. I also admit to being a Schiit fanboy that prefers tube amps. 

On the low end you could have a Modi 3/Magni combo for $200, a Modi 3/ Vali for $250 or a Magnius/Modius for $400. The Jotunheim is the only headphone amp/preamp that has three inputs. The $100 DAC card is a USB only Modi. The $200 Multibit DAC card is a USB only Modi Multibit. 
@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.
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+
Smsl su9 is incredible for $400
Low volume listening is usually not that great with a DAC direct to amp. Though I did setup my Matrix Mini-i 3 Pro with a Benchmark AHB2 amp 2 days ago. It is played in a big room at medium volume. I am not too concerned about the best sound for this system so I used DAC direct.

A great preamp for $2500 is the Benchmark LA4. It is easy to hear how much better this preamp makes a DAC sound better. It is quieter than any other gear you will find.
Hey YYZ... thanks for the insight on the DAC as a volume control.
And I will check out the SU9 Loomis. Thanks

OP there is no magic, just a lifetime warr. and great support. 
Their equipment is very simple and clean.
SQ is above the norm. and DEAD quiet.. 

You get your moneys worth with Decware, there is no doubt about that..
American made, start to finish.. There is a reason for the wait times..

Schitt for the money, pretty good SQ. They do run a little warm, though. They are a HEAVY little piece too. They have good customer and tech support. Everyone I deal with has good service. No shady suckers for me..

Regards


Low volume listening is usually not that great with a DAC direct to amp.

Simple fix
Most likely because it was "bit stripping" (lower resolution), for digital domain volume controls in dacs to give all bits (resolution), they need to be at or over 70% in volume, if this is too loud for you, simply insert a $49 Schiit Sys passive between the dac and poweramp.

Set the Sys volume control once only with the dac at 100% so you’ve got just over the loudest you’ll ever need, then back off the dacs digital volume, so then you’ll use it as the master volume in the top 1/3 of it’s volume range.

Cheers George
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
So at that point, I tou may as well set your DAC volume to 100%, and just use the preamps volume again, lol
Nothing worse than not having a remote for volume.

The $49 Sys does not have remote control, I was saying to do it this way so you can still use the dac’s remote volume control.
Forest and trees?
http://corrimalregion.unitingchurch.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/image2.jpg
Cheers George
For about $1100.00 the RME-ADI 2dac fs. Multiple filters, bass treble volume. Right or left, 5 band EQ. Too much to list. The nos filter put me on the rampage for an all tube system. Almost there. I would sell you mine, but I'm keeping it. Did I mention headphones and iem.? 30 days trial at Amazon.
Second the Schiit SYS...currently use in injunction with Gustard A18 DAC and output SYS to amp...yes, one loses convenience of remote, but alternative was to offset DAC by ca. -30dB, with possible bit loss on lower vol. playback.  
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.
+2 RME. Great on its own but upgrading the power supply steps it up considerably.
+3 RME DAC. It goes directly into a Pass Labs power amp with balanced interconnects. Sounds great. Upgrading the power supply is intriguing but probably way above my pay grade. The RME has a remote so no need to leave your chair that's in the sweet spot.
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..
You won't need a preamp unless you have analog inputs. You will not want one IME. I believe most places will have a 30 trial where you could send it back. 
Choosing a DAC with with extra bits such as the plethora of 32 bit DAC's available and a maximum output voltage that is commensurate with the input sensitivity for full output of your amp, will give you greater range of your volume control with less chance of bit stripping without sacrificing the power potential you paid for.
If further attenuation is needed you can try something like this:
  Attenuators (rothwellaudioproducts.co.uk)
Generally, preamp mode on a standalone DAC is an afterthought. But, considering your budget, the Topping D90 would be a good bet. It is a top notch sounding DAC and preamp mode on it is ok!
https://www.amazon.com/TOPPING-D90-Bluetooth-Balanced-Decoder/dp/B082PX5JX7/ref=mp_s_a_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=topping+d90&qid=1614211254&sr=8-5
Generally, preamp mode on a standalone DAC is an afterthought.
Sorry to correct you, there is no "preamp" in a dac it’s the same output stage, just that the volume is controlled in the digital domain before the D/A converter

Cheers George
@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!

@georgehifi , sorry to confuse you...If you look at my comment again, you would note that i never referred to it as a true preamp. I referred to it as "preamp mode" (a confounding term), which is what the different manufacturers call it these days 
@flaxxer.  I have the Topping D90 in my bedroom. My reference is a R2R Denafrips Venus that i have in my main room. The Topping D90 is touching the peak of diminishing returns as far as DS dacs are concerned (to my ears). 
Generally, preamp mode on a standalone DAC "is an afterthought".

sorry to confuse you

No confusion, "an after thought" infers something has been tacked on, this is not the case with dacs digital domain volume controls.
As the digital digital volume option in dacs is either there or it isn’t.
If it’s there it can be activated or not and left at full output. Sorry but nothing gets "tacked on"

Cheers George
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. 
A true active preamp of quality is noticably better then a digital volume from the dac. ,for having an active preamp it has transformers ,capacitors, Mosfets, or FETs to stabilize the performance the soundstage is more stable, as well as dynamics and imaging .
I have tried a bunch of digital volume controls that are respectable but having a good active class A preamp in the mix always sounds better from my experiences . 
But I only need to attenuate my volume. Not increase it.
But I only need to attenuate my volume. Not increase it.
So all you need is an attenuator.
Not more gain/distortion/colouration that an active preamplifier gives.

If you have a digital volume control in a dac, all that does is attenuate the dacs full max level. Which is what your after.

Or if the dac only has a fixed max level (no digital volume), then all you need is a passive attenuator like a $49 Schiit Sys passive. 
https://www.schiit.com/products/sys

Cheers George 
I like my Benchmark DAC-1 HDR. No digital volume control here. It has a remote control motorized Alps potentiometer for level adjustment. Works great in my system. I get a cleaner, less cluttered sound than I had with my Audible Illusions 3b tube preamp in the signal path. 
I get a cleaner, less cluttered sound than I had with my Audible Illusions 3b tube preamp in the signal path.

I'll always agree with that.
One of the few later ones that are analogue domain volume controlled.
I prefer this "only if" there’s a chance of "bit stripping" with a digital domain one then, (still not called a preamp) more like an internal passive.
That’s why the $49 Schiit Sys is great to have, just in case the digital domain volume is too low (<70% of full) and could be "bit stripping"

Cheers George
Easy answer...I use the Cambridge Audio CXN V2. You get a Streamer/DAC, and a PreAmp...Sounds great with my Acoustat Spectra 33’s and Roy Esposito rebuilt Acoustat TNT200 Monoblocks.  The CXN V2, is an all digital unit. If you need Anolog Imputs, they also make the 851N. $1100 vs $1500.
@georgehifi, would there be less impedance variability with a DAC’s digital volume control than through a typical passive analog volume control?

@georgehifi, would there be less impedance variability with a DAC’s digital volume control than through a typical passive analog volume control?


Yes the output impedance would remain constant and lower with a digital domain vc what ever the ss output buffers (opamps) impedance is, usually 100ohms or less.

Where with an analogue one if the vc is on the output after the output buffer (opamp), it would vary a bit, and if 10kohm in value, be suited better to amps with input impedances of 33kohm or higher.

If the analogue vc is before the output buffer it would then need more complex circuity, and an input buffer (opamp) as well, as the I/V stage or da chip would need it, the output impedance then would be constant and low as in the digital one. (but this way there is an extra (opamp) buffer in the signal path, I don’t like that)

The very best is what Wadia did with their flagship CDP’s and DAC’s, use a digital domain vc but with analogue stage gain setting links inside so you set the digital vc to be used in the top 25% of full volume into that system, so there’s no chance of "bit stripping" They state this in their setup user manulas that it's the best sound to go direct into poweramp, using this system

Cheers George


@georgehifi, Would that in turn mitigate the interconnect capacitance concerns associated with passive analog volume controls, allowing for greater choices and useable  lengths for interconnects?
Simple answer.  DAC with built in preamp is way to go.   I’ve tried super preamps but prefer my MSB DAC direct to power amp. It also has analog input for my Phonostage 
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.
@flaxxer, technically the $49 Schitt is not a buffer. A buffer is an active stage without gain. Schitt offers a buffer option on their more expensive units.
Why are you so doubtful? What is the input sensitivity for full output on your amp? 
The standard output of 2 Volts single ended and 4 Volts balanced of your new DAC would work with most amps. The DAC has 32 bits, the highest commercial rez media uses 24 bits, and in practice the maximum number of bits used is 21. One can usually expect about 12 dB attenuation per bit. You'll probably have plenty of bits to spare before bit stripping occurs. Again, if you do need further attenuation you can do so without the redundancy of extra volume controls with attenuators such as the Rothwell's;  
Attenuators (rothwellaudioproducts.co.uk)

@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.
@flaxxer, what is the sensitivity of your speakers?
One of my systems is an RME-ADI2 amp to two Schitt Vidars.  Linn LP12 for analog, Audirvana for digital.   I use a MacBook as front end.

I recently deleted my preamp.   

Pros:
- You can really invest in interconnects, since there is only one set of analog interconnects in the chain.
-  Clean, clear sound.
- More dynamics
- Save money.... in theory.

Cons:

- Volume control affects the sound more than with a preamp.   If you are at -30db on the DAC... there's going to be some issues.
- A bit of a dryer, more analytical sound than we a pre.

I run my LP12 through a D-A converter at 24/96.   Maybe it loses some immediacy vs pure analog, but I enjoy the tone control of the RME for it, and it's a fuller sound than when going through a pure analog path.

Overall, there is no right answer.   You need to experiment.   If you can't afford great interconnects, then definitely try to avoid a preamp... running through an extra set of mediocre cables will hurt your sound.  

I've played with attenuators - they did more harm than good for sure. 

In an ideal world - you would pair your speakers, amp and room so the DAC is at a reasonable level at the volume you tend to listen at.