DAC as an upgrade

My CD player (Denon cdrw1500) has both coaxial and optical digital output jacks.

I'm wondering if there are any issues to be concerned about with using this with a separate DAC unit rather than the Denons built in DAC.

I'm thinking that this would be a practical first step to explore the advantages of different DAC technologies with my player for now and then even provide the option to add a separate transport if needed later.

I am not very familiar with digital connector technology commonly used in audio equipment these days, so I am mainly concerned to know what DAC digital interfaces are compatible with the the Denon outputs and the differences if relevant so as to identify a DAC that will work OK.


Either the co-ax or optical will interface with most DACs.I prefer the co-ax.There are specialty digital cables to experiment with,but in a pinch any standard RCA cable will work.


Any DAC with a coaxial Digital input will work with any source with digital coax out then?

Any exceptions to look out for?
As standard as RCA interconnects; the standard for digital signals (okay, one of them but always a safe bet) is the 75 ohm, spdif connector. (looks like an rca female, but there is only one, usually labeled "digital out"). Rule of thumb is that its a better sound than the optincal "toslink" (tolink looks like a small plastic box, sometimes has a plug in it and transmits light (looks red if you peak in the small box). You connect the dac with a 75 ohm digital cable, not a regular interconnect. The premise is than in your denon, the denon reads the CD (transport section) and than converts from digital to analogue (DAC section), which is outputted through the RCA outputs (left and right). The DAC bypasses the digital to analogue conversion in the Denon to an outboard (hopefully better) converter. It will all work. DACs go by costs and individual preference of sound, techology (upsampling) but most attributed to the quality/make of the chip used in the dac.

Thanks for the explanation. Very helpful.

So my next question is what are some good upsampling DACs out there these days to consider as an upgrade to whats on-board the Denon and what do they sound like, if possible to explain?
Mapman - Many DACs these days have built in jitter reduction circuitry allowing to use anything as a transport. I use Benchmark DAC1 with sony DVD player using 75 Ohm coax. Toslink connects my TV to Benchmark and I have still have one more unused digital input left. Since Benchmark has volume control I have it connected directly to power amp. This arrangement allows me not only to listen to TV but also to DVD, play MP3 (inherent in DVD players) and eliminate preamp+ICs. If you decide to built your own coax use quality cable like Canare, keep distance to minimum and obtain 75Ohm RCA connector (standard are not). Most likely you will have RCA on one side and BNC on another.
Check also Bel Canto DACs - warmer presentation (not to my taste).
Audition the DAC(s) in your system before you purchase. You may be surprised at how little difference you hear. I don't know how old your Denon is, but many of today's CD players utilize excellent DACs. Do use a 75 Ohm digital coax cable (Stereovox XV2 is very good for the money). I would recommend including the PS Audio DL3 on your short list.
Mapman, what is your budget?
No set budget at present. All options open.

The Denon CDR1500 is only 2-3 years old and is still sold new on Amazon and other locations.
The Bel Canto DAC2 sells for less than $700 used here regularly. Pick one up with a digital cable and determine for yourself. If the difference isn't enough or if you don't here a difference you can resell the dac. You won't lose much. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Be careful with used DACs. Old Benchmarks had worse op-amps and other problems. Many companies like Benchmark and I am sure Bel Canto offer free trial at home (30 days in case of Benchmark) - you like it you keep it - if not send it back. Difference will be dramatic in my opinion - there is even huge difference between different DACs. My main objective at the beginning was to be independent of the transport (mechanical component) and the same time DVD players have excellent tracking. Sonic benefits I realized later.
I notice my Denon has both digital out and digital in connections (both coax and optical for each).

Rather than changing DACs, I could try hooking up a digital processor of some sort with these connections and run the built in DAC for now as a first step.

I have some CDs that sound flawless to me and others that I have some issues with. Are there digital processors out there that can be introduced to help with common problems associated with lesser CD recordings, like sibilance, excessive brightness, etc.?
I would go with a Benchmark Dac 1 ($1,000 - $1,300 with or without usb input), of Bel Canto Dac3 if you can swing $2,500.

As for the digital processor issue, I'm a purist at heart. If CD is recorded with sibilance, etc., my system will reveal it and I haven't tried to make my system do anything than reveal the good (and, unfortunately, the bad). I'm a little out of my league here. I would listen to the problem recording on a high end cd player (and equivilent system) and see what you hear. I'm not one to try to color sound with an outboard processor. If the CD sounds good (or better) on the high end player, maybe a change in cables may help-not really sure. My point is that you need to ascertain if it's the disc, or your player/system. I have a CD with a bit of sibilence and on my Esoteric X03-SE, you hear it-it's there; on my squeezebox/benchmark, the sibilence is greatly reduced-you only hear it if you really try, and it is barely noticible. I don't think thats a plus for the benchmark--to me, it's just that the benchmark is not as revealing as the Esoteric. I'm sure there are others here with alot more experience than me about this.

You're right, of course, but I find it hard to determine when a deficiency is in fact in the recording when the only way to tell is to listen on a player. Even very high end playback systems like DCS employ digital signal processing algorithms to some extent to produce those smooth results. If I don't hear it on a DCS, for example, I don't necessarily think that proves its not there.

I think its all in how smart any particular playback system is in handling the more common issues found in CD recordings to produce the sound they are shooting for.

With vinyl, in many cases, when something didn't sound right, I could visually inspect the grooves and detect damage like wear, scratches, dirt, etc. pretty accurately, actually.

No way to do that with digital. You hear whatever the system gives you after its done converting the bits to a waveform, and that's pretty much it.

I can't look at pits on the surface of a CD and tell whether they are right or not. Sounds like a useful talent, though, if someone out there can!

I read something very enlightening recently in a magazine. The guy who is the talent behind the rock group Boston was lamenting the shortcomings of digital technology in discussing recent remastering of his old material. HE pointed out that the world, sound and music is analog in nature, not digital, and that the whole concept of digital music is an artificial man-made approximation of reality and very hard to get right as a result. Interesting stuff.
I read that same article. I think it was Scholtz (has his own studio and that where the 1st Boston album was recorded-think it was in his house). (and I do agree with that).

A pyhsical defieciency in the disc is absolutely an issue, but I don't think the result would be sibilence; it can be (greassy finger, piece of candy (long story), but I think that would be a skip or stutter). You could always try a friends disc of the same recording to see if it is a physical issue. I was talking about the actual recording. To me, my pursuit of hi-fi goes along with Robert Harley's analogy. I want my system to be as transparent a "window pane" as possible into the original recording. RH said that with each component a window pane is added, with each, somewhat, taking one away from what was recorded. I want as clear a window pane as I can possibly achieve. I suggested trying the disc into as most a revealing system as possible, so you can hear as close as possible, what was recorded.

There was a recording studio in NYC where, on some recordings, you could (on a very revealing system) hear the train passing underground. It may be silly to some fellow audiophiles here but I want to assemble a system where I can hear that train-I wish to be able to hear everything picked up by the microphones (I said it may sound silly). On Jacintha's disc, Jacintha Goes To Hollywood, one of my references is to be able to hear the accordian keys hit their rests (on the upstrokes) on Que Sera Sera. To me, hearing that shows me that my system is revealing even the slightest sounds recorded. I can (and want to) hear a singers lips sticking; the (sorry to be crude) spit going through Gene Aammons sax. I know some may say it is distracting but, to me, it brings me closer to that holey grail of the absolute sound. Now, great recordings absolutely sound great, BUT, lesser ones don't get as much play as they used to when I had a less revealing system, as I now hear all of the defeciencies. But I also hear all the incredible details. CD's I have heard for years are now an indepth experience.

I'm with you regarding what makes for a good listening experience.

"RH said that with each component a window pane is added"

True, but with digital, it doesn't take a component to do this. A lot can happen within a tiny chip embedded within that component, similar to like a function within a larger computer program.

For example, what you hear when the digital signal is upsampled, interpolated and perhaps dithered is not what you would hear at the original sampling frequency. That is a type of signal processing enhancement designed explicitly to make the signal sound different in a better way.

If the detail is missing in those original bits recorded however, no processing after the fact can bring them back. All that can be done is either leave it as is or play signal processing tricks to make it sound more digestible before hitting the DAC.

Then of course, the DAC is the device that has to take the digital bits and accurately construct the waveform. There is a lot technically that can go right or wrong here that can also make a big difference in resulting sound, but the DAC as well cannot recover bits of information that were not there in the first place.


Absolutely, 1000% agreed. Personally, I think the digital medium is crap. I fought CD's for years. Back in the 80's, I was kind of insulted when I started seeing CD's for sale in my local record shop. I thought that they should be sold in a softwear store, not a record store.

I know that vinyl is far superior and my modest TNT turntable still blows away my CD rig. BUT, convenience and availabilty and my unfortunate neverending quest for trying to make sense of the silver disc has prevailed, and I felt I had no choice to accept the the CD. I am finally happy with my CD playback, though I know (1) vinyl is still better (warmer, more real, just a truer sense of actually experiencing the performancd) and, (2) somewhere out there (at probably $60,000+) is a CD player that will bring me closer. I do feel that if technology isn't there now, it wil be in a few years, where the gap between vinyl and CD will be greatly deminished (or, at least, I hope).

SACD has been a pretty good experience for me with the Esoteric. While still different from vinyl, I actually enjoy listening to music in that format and do have the little hairs stand on my neck during a great recording. I understand that it is still an unnatural medium, but, at times, I am tired of the 20 minute ritual of cleaning a record for 30 minutes of playing. But, there is something truly magical about vinyl.

I really do think, though, that an outboard, good dac, will make the CD experience better for you. If you're ever on Long Island, NY, please come by for a listen.
Meanwhile, right now I'm watching a Three Dog Night Live DVD playing on the Marantz DV-4200 DVD player in my separate 2 channel A/V system (vintage Yamaha receiver driving Triangle Titus 202 + M&K sub) and its sounding pretty sweet. Digital can be pretty darn good when done right.
It really can be. If you haven't heard the new audio codecs on Blu Ray (or HD DVD), it's simply remarkable (True HD Master Audio, etc). I never realized dolby digital was compressed until we upgraded to Blu Ray. I hope for some nice Blu ray converts in the future.

Enjoy your music.
Blu Ray is an interesting technology to keep an eye on.

Can it do for digital audio what it does for video? I would have to think so.

HD DVD isn't going anywhere at this point, is it?

I wonder if there is an audio only format in the works for Blu Ray? That could be something.
I'm getting some good tips here and on some other threads regarding various DACs to consider.

BEl CAnto and Musical Fidelity are some of the names I am familiar with that seem viable for me and worth considering. Some other lesser known specialized vendors like BEnchmark seem to have some very good feedback as well.

I've even seen a few older DCS units not too far beyond the price range I would consider. I've heard newer DCS gear recently and would probably have to consider that my reference at this point.

Need to do some more research, but I'm thinking an experiment with an outboard DAC could well be in my immediate future.
Mapman - external DACs can play pretty much anything in up to 24bit/192kHz delivered by SPDIF or USB (Benchmark). CDs might be replaced in future by downloads to hard drive bypassing unforunate redbook CD format with limitation of 44kHz carrier. Many DVD players can also play Audio DVD and SACD (converted to SPDIF) and even HDCD. External DAC opens many possibilities and makes you independant from transport/source. Quality of dedicated external DAC is higher - just show me CD player with measured -140dB signal to noise ratio (Benchmark).

Most of CD players use mute clamping circuit on the output (to mute gaps) that is affecting sound quality. External DACs do in digital processing.
After doing some research on DACS and some more critical listening today and some needed fine tuning on speaker positions (they were inadvertently moved a tad recently), I've decided what I have sounds fine + will most likely stay put.

Most issues I hear appear to be unique to specific recordings.

If I were to invest more in my system at this point, I think it would be in a more powerful amp to flush out the low end even further with the Ohm 5's. Those babys love the juice man! They suck up the power and convert it into increased presence and dynamics without going the slightest bit harsh.

My only urge is to perhaps be able to add even more impact to the recordings that have good dynamic range, like the large scale symphonic works, to see how far things can go.

If I bumped up my amp, I'd probably stick with a larger Musical Fidelity in that things are sounding, dare I say, near perfect.
OR more reasonably, I should probabably say things are sounding near perfect TO MY EARS!

The more I listen,, the faster I always come back to the conclusion that in the end, other than having decent components that work well together as a system, all that really matters otherwise is what sounds good to each individual.
Mapman, if you're not hearing glare or haze and you can listen for hours on end, then you've got a fine setup. The fact that a small move of the speakers made a significant difference to you tells me that you're really tuned into small distortions. If those are removed, then a system change can make things sound "different" but it becomes agureable if they're "better." That's for you to decide. I think you've gone about this logically and reached an appropriate conclusion.

Hi everyone,

I'd like to suggest just for the fun of it and for the seriousness of it a link to ponder the psychology of the audio and music experience...

this link is in three parts....

it's thought provoking and, yeah, a little provoking to our usual assumptions about many things audio, musical, and pyscho-acoustical... happy reading!


Interesting article. Lots of truths.

All the factors that go into good sound or perception of good sound, except $$$s, are very hard to quantify meaningfully and I believe no two people ever really hear exactly the same thing at the same time.

I also believe that no two systems sound the same yet most can be "tweaked" somehow to sound better or different.

You have to try to keep an open mind which can be hard sometimes and take all factors including those external to the raw technology, into consideration.
Mapman... good to hear you liked it... things get pretty "far out" (late 60s early 70s if you catch my drift) at this link... all related stuff to your chair and what the article was discussing...

hold on to your ears though




Shades of Machina Dynamica!
Hi Mapman,

Yeah, I know... very, very odd... "the truth is *out there*" in an XFile-ish sorta-way.

It's so odd that it's very tempting to try, but then, of course, you've entered the insanity... but just being here on the 'gon and interested in various components etc etc tells us we're a little "gone" already... LOL.

The one that creeps into my brain is the one that suggests freezing the CDs, and then playing them after a slow thaw...

I'd try it, but if I did, I would know I'd entered the "dark force" Yowza!

Enough already!

It's your da***d chair and moving it that got it all rolling!

Remember that Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner and the little tabletop fortune teller device that freaked him out with its nebulous yet seemingly relevant predictions?

Well, I'm the opposite of Shatner in that episode (most of the time at least).

I believe in Karma and such when it comes to people but when it comes to audio, the engineer in me kicks in. If there is not a definable technical basis for asserting that something sounds "better" as opposed to just different, I am a skeptic.

For example I know that my Ohm 5'speaks are largely omni-directional (but attenuated somewhat by design in wall facing directions) and much, but not all, of the sound that reaches my ears arrives indirectly.

In order to sound "magical", they have to be a couple of feet away from a wall minimum and you sort of have to position the speakers in a location that supports the bass appropriately and "focuses" the reflected sound in a manner so most of it reaches your ears pretty much at the same time at your listening position or positions.

You can get the big soundstage omni's are known for without attention to this, but you cannot get the detail and imaging accuracy needed for "magic" without achieving this "sonic focus", as I'll refer to it.

That's what made the difference for me in this case.

There is a method behind the madness, but the process is still largely one of trial and error.

I also use a test recording that lends itself easily to hearing solid tight bass and positional accuracy within the soundstage.

Of late, I've been using a 1990 CD recording of "Donovan's Greatest Hits" for this. Several cuts on the disk feature a sparse variety of clearly identifiable acoustic instrumentation spread cleanly across the soundstage.

I've listened to several cuts many times on various properly set up systems that sound great. When the bass in the cut "Season of the Witch" is tight and punchy, and when the individual instruments in that tune and "Jennifer Juniper" and a couple others can be identified and located clearly. Then things are tuned in very well for pretty much any kind of music, equally simple or more complex, like symphonic, from there.
One other note about the Ohm Walsh speakers is that a single driver produces most of what you hear (save the very top end) and delivers the sound as a phase coherent line source (hence the name CLS).

However, just because sound is produced in a phase coherent manner doesn't mean it reaches your ears that way. That is where the sonic focusing exercise I described above comes in...to make sure that everyhting reaches your ears still in a phase coherent manner (like focusing a camera or projector).

Other more conventional, less omni-directional, speaker designs that also feature a good degree of phase coherency at the source in particular can benefit from a similar attention to these details, I believe.
The McCormack DAC 1 has caught my eye as a reasonable unit to try based on reviews and value.

Anybody know what the difference is between a "McCormack DAC 1" and "DAC 1 Deluxe"? How is the "DAC 1" deluxe better or different from a basic "DAC 1"?
here's the difference between DAC1 and DAC1 Deluxe:

The chassis is copper plated steel. Separate digital and analog boards - each with its own transformer - are used, along with five voltage regulators. A Crystal Semiconductor CS8412 "E" Version receiver and CS4328 DAC are used in the DAC-1. The CS4328 is an 18 bit system, which includes 8X oversampling digital interpolation followed by 64X oversampling, one-bit, delta-sigma modulation - a lot of technobabble that translates to killer sound. For $250, the standard DAC-1 can be sent back to McCormack Audio and upgraded to the Deluxe Edition which has Cardas Jacks, Caddock and Vishay resistors, some high speed, soft recovery diodes, different op-amps, and some FET current sources to push then further into Class-A operation. Our unit had these upgrades (installed before the unit was initially shipped to us), and we feel it was worth the expense.
To the extent that you may still be interested in exploring Dacs, I am using BelCanto2 for one Sonos unit and Apogee Minidacs for two other Sonos units. Had tried a Benchmark, but felt it was not better than the Apogee. I have to say that the Apogee, which is used in pro audio (like Benchmark and Lavry), is an outstanding dac and a great value (available for roughly $800 new at B&H Photo). I have not used them as outboard for my current CDP or DVP. I had a Pioneer DVP in my HT system, but swapped that out for a used Denon 3930ci modded by Dave Shultz at the Upgrade Company. I was about to buy a used Esoteric DV50, but took a risk here since other agoners said he can make any denon sound like a 5k cdp. Apparently he benchmarks his sound against higher Esoteric models (UX??). Mine is not even broken in yet but the SQ is amazing, detail, texture, wow! Just another avenue to explore. Cerrot, I'm in Seaford LI. Where are you?

Thanks for the additional info.

Ive researched both the Bel Canto and Benchmark DACs of late and both are leading contenders currently in my mind.

There is still not much I can truly fault with my stock Denon, though I'm sure I can do better or at least different in a constructive way.

I am still in the mindset that an outboard DAC could be a next logical step for me and a building block for the future. I'm also learning a lot in the process.