DAC evaluation vs interface evaluation.


There is no denying that Streaming music from your own lossless library and online sources adds a level of ease that makes the listening experience better for some of us. This allows us to also explore new music that we may not have heard and add it to our library. I am listing things I have learned in the process and why "I" (your milage may vary) have come to some of the conclusions I have while looking for another DAC to add to a second system in my home office. 

1. Digital SQ is dependent on the physical network. If you know networking this is not really that hard, if you do not... call someone who does. Every device you physically connect to the network can and in most cases adds noise that if you cannot isolate... will be heard through your speakers. Also If you are doing wireless as your network transport do not waste money on a high end DAC. The source of most noise will be the power supplies in each device. enough blah blah blah.
2. The interface you use will have a large influence on your enjoyment of the music, just like some people want to hold and spin vinyl and hold the cover and look at the art work as part of their experience, the Software interface holds the same influence. 
3. A lot of Streamer/DAC devices work with products like Roon and help to simplify the interface issue but information displays and software interface issues can make or break a system for some people. 

Today my main listening room (small) is driven by a Linn Akurate with Katalyst DAC and acts as the Preamp in my system. It connect directly to my ATC19A's and to be honest I have no complaints. I was originally running the SCM19 passives through a ATC P2 amp and "I" find that the Active in an A/B test provided better lows without any sacrifice of the rest of the range. This leads me to my Office system... obviously it will be SCM19 passives through the P2... (maybe:-) So now I am looking for a DAC not to break the bank but I want an interface that plays with Roon. As I started looking at various DACs it is always about the Streamer and filters via the manufactures software that is being compared. This starts moving the cost up. Enter the SoTM streamer. I found a decent deal on an Ultra Neo special addition with the clock and switch mods and the external Sp500 PS. Now I can evaluate more resealable priced DAC or DAC/Preamps with a consistent interface and not worry about the overhead of each manufactures interpretations of the Software etc. I started by getting the deal on the SoTM in the used market and then connecting it to my Network and verifying it worked (trust but verify) it was simple I had a dragonfly USB DAC and thought WTH lets see if this thing works. and plugged it in and connected some powered computer speakers to it and opened Roon and there it was... hit play and it works :-) Not real hard considering all the problems people describe with network issues online :-) Techno flunkies. 
Now I have a way to test USB connected DACs and DAC preamps. SoTM>DAC>Preamp>P2>ATC SCM19.

Finding a DAC that sounds good in your Kit can be difficult and one that sounds good to "You" It is worth experimenting to find what you like and can afford. Using a Streamer in front of your DAC is not for everyone and some calling it Tinkering or DIY, I for one think the SoTM is a great way to build a great sounding affordable digital system interface. However it is not for everyone. I am a Network Engineer and my physical network is sorted out. I look forward to the experimentation that I can do with things like the Bel Canto DAC and PS or even the ATC CDA2 MK2 because of its analog volume control and other great sounding DACs. 

-M
mtj
@mtj  Thanks for your Opening Post. Good information and helpful.
"Buying a DAC: Know What You Need" overview from Rafe Arnott / AudioStream adds to your post and may be helpful to members:

https://www.audiostream.com/content/buying-dac-know-what-you-need