DAC recommendations for CDs in 2-channel system


Can anyone share suggestions for a DAC to go with the following setup:

Odyssey Audio Kismet monoblocks
Odyssey Audio Tempest pre-amp
Dual 1229 turntable with Shure V3
crappy CD player (used as a transport)
Schiit Modi Uber (current DAC, OK not great)
Klipsch Cornwall I speakers

I listen primarily to CDs and some vinyl at fairly low levels. The amps and preamp were recent major upgrades, so I'm thinking about getting a DAC that will hold its own with the new components.

I don't have a budget in mind, but prefer a high value for dollar. Thanks in advance!
scoran
There’s a Bel Canto DAC3VB with virtual battery power supply for sale here now at $1149. Original list was about $5000. I had this in my system on extended loan and was extremely impressed with its open and natural sound, and if I could’ve afforded it at the time it would still be here. Read the reviews. Unfortunately I don’t know how it would compare to the current R2R dacs, but I couldn’t find any faults with its sound and would be surprised if you weren’t likewise impressed. Certainly a good value at this price and certainly comparable with the rest of your system. Just one option FWIW. Best of luck.
Thanks for this. So far reviews look pretty good. This is probably the top end of what I'd spend, especially for an older model in a fast-changing category.
What about using a OPPO 105 or 205? $1100/1200 new, Its a awesome universal player (sounds like you spin discs) and has more connections then you’ll need or want,connects to your stereo with a pair of RCA’s or XLR’s nice :-) Built in dual ESS Saber dac’s make it sound very good indeed not to mention the video you get. You can connect a server/streamer too with its USB audio input, future proof!

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/oppo-bdp-105-universal-blu-ray-player-and-dac

https://www.oppodigital.com/blu-ray-udp-205

P.S. no better value out there right now (105), for $1100 (new) you get a 3K player.

Matt
Buy the OPPO 105/205! Chris Martens review in TAS is RIGHT ON! A superb sounding player that can serve as your media hub for ALL digital formats!
Oppo or something similar may be a good way to go in your case since you say your CD player is crappy and Modi Uber is not particularly high-end. That said, if I were in your position, and had a moderately decent CD player, I would get a Denafrips Ares R2R DAC. Its's under $700 and should be a great upgrade from what you currently ave. On the lower end of the scale, I've had good experience using a Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus with my semi-crappy CD player. Its under $350. Or, you can just change course completely and get a streamer for under $500 and a Tidal subscription and hear most if not all your CDs at equal or better quality plus an additional huge catalog of music from all over the world.
+1 Oppo 205
@mattmiller - I wondered about this. What about all the comments on Audiogon from folks saying "no" to Sabre DACs?
Why not upgrade to one of Schiit's multibit DACs the fits your price range. One can always find a replacement for a CD player to be used as a transport when yours 'craps' out. 
@mesch - that was my initial plan, to go for something like the Multibit Bifrost. Then I read reports of high distortion levels and started having  doubts about build & sound quality of Schiit in general.

Here's an example: https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/measurement-and-review-of-schiit-bifrost-mult...
@mattmiller - I wondered about this. What about all the comments on Audiogon from folks saying "no" to Sabre DACs?

I thought about Sabre chips before I took the plunge but finaly got myself the Oppo Sonica DAC and have never looked back.I use it between my PC and amp and have found it to be highly detailled and very robust sounding when it has finally broken in as it takes a while. Just feed it a DAB radio signal for a couple of weeks then listen, I am sure it will impress. That said from a man who uses a Gryphon Mikado Signature as his CD player and digitally the Oppo holds up very well especially from Hi Rez files or streams.
The nice thing about something like an Oppo 205 is that you get a better transport and don't have to deal with jitter reduction or digital interconnects and that potential added expense.  Another bonus is that when funds allow you can have it modded by someone like Ric Schultz at Electronic Visionary Systems and bring performance to a much higher level for relatively little added investment.  Yet another option...

Your "crappy" CD transport will do fine, as long as you add a good reclocker and a good S/PDIF cable. Then the disk does not matter, the transport does not matter.

Driving a new DAC with the stock transport will be disappointing IMO, no matter what you get, except maybe Benchmark DAC3. Too much jitter from the transport. Here is typical jitter from a transport, even a decent one:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154408.0

The other advantage of the Synchro-Mesh reclocker is it upsamples to 24/96, so a better sounding digital filter will be used in the new DAC. IT also provides galvanic isolation, so the transport to DAC ground-loop is eliminated, lowering the noise floor.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

The nice thing about something like an Oppo 205 is that you get a better transport and don't have to deal with jitter reduction or digital interconnects and that potential added expense.
  

In your dreams.  It still benefits greatly from reclocking and good cables.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

@audioengr - some questions, since you're covering topics I don't know much about:

- Whose filter and what method of filtering is used on the Synchro-Mesh reclocker?

- Do some DACs not play well with certain reclockers? I'm wondering about the upsampling feature and what to do if the DAC is doing the same thing.

- Why S/PDIF cable instead of Toslink from the CD player/transport to the DAC?

Finally, how much improvement am I likely to see from this approach vs. simply upgrading the DAC or using an Oppo multidisc player? The setup in my room is less than optimal - all of gear I mentioned in jammed into my 12' x 10' home office with wood floors, which I'm sure vibrate since the rack sits two feet directly in front of one of the Cornwalls.

I'm intrigued by what you're proposing, but just need to understand it a little better.
@audioengr - one more question for you: my preamp (Odyssey Audio Tempest) has only analog RCA inputs. Reading the Six Moons review of your device (congrats, btw), it appears your device has only digital inputs and outputs. Will analog output from the DAC to the preamp reduce the performance gains of the Synchro-Mesh?
Might want to take a look at Resonessence Labs DAC's, I'm using the Vertias, for CD play back and this DAC is a great little gem.  Good luck in your search.
Wow - Resonessence prices seem to push up against DACs from Pass Labs. If I were going to spend that kind of money, I'd either go Pass Labs or Mytek Brooklyn!
some questions, since you're covering topics I don't know much about:

- Whose filter and what method of filtering is used on the Synchro-Mesh reclocker?

It is not a filter.  It converts S/PDIF to I2S and then this is reclocked/upsampled to 24/96 and then converted from I2S back to S/PDIF.

- Do some DACs not play well with certain reclockers? I'm wondering about the upsampling feature and what to do if the DAC is doing the same thing.


There are no incompatibility concerns.  However there are a couple of DACs out there that will probably not benefit from the Synchro-Mesh because they already have very effective reclocking internal, including the Benchmark DAC3.


- Why S/PDIF cable instead of Toslink from the CD player/transport to the DAC?


They are both S/PDIF.  The output cable should preferably be coax rather than Toslink because Toslink adds significant jitter due to the two conversions.
Finally, how much improvement am I likely to see from this approach vs. simply upgrading the DAC or using an Oppo multidisc player? The setup in my room is less than optimal - all of gear I mentioned in jammed into my 12' x 10' home office with wood floors, which I'm sure vibrate since the rack sits two feet directly in front of one of the Cornwalls.

The room will not have that much effect on the spectral response, only the imaging and bass.

Upgrading the DAC will not make a huge difference unless you spend maybe $8-10K.  The Oppo player will have high jitter compared to the Synchro-Mesh, so even a better DAC will likely not sound that much better.  You need to start with a low-jitter signal before you listen to any new DACs anyway. The low-jitter signal will improve the sound quality of all DACs, and allow you to compare their analog and filter sections rather than just hearing the jitter from your transport.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio


my preamp (Odyssey Audio Tempest) has only analog RCA inputs. Reading the Six Moons review of your device (congrats, btw), it appears your device has only digital inputs and outputs. Will analog output from the DAC to the preamp reduce the performance gains of the Synchro-Mesh?

No.  The analog signal from the DAC will be improved by having lower distortion.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio


My short list of competitors DACs includes: Chord DAVE, Resonnessence Invicta or Mirus Signature Pro, Light Harmonic DaVinci MKII, TotalDAC, Aqua LaScala MKII.

On a budget: Border Patrol, Exogal Comet Plus, PSAudio Directstream

Steve N.

Empirical Audio

Good stuff, Steve. Thanks for the thorough answers. It's given me something to think about...
If you have a chance, you might want to take a listen to an older DAC with 20400 'chips'.  They were made when the money was spent on making the chips great, rather than applying a lot of technology to make lesser chips sound better.  There are often some Sonic Frontiers DACs available from the usual audio sources (eBay, here on Audiogon, or US Audio Mart) and they are not outrageously expensive. 
I really enjoy my PS Audio DirectStream Sr.  It fits squarely in the big bang-for-the buck (high value) box in my opinion.  Lots of rave reviews out there...  Here is one of the latest asserting that it compares well (competes?) with very expensive kit: http://www.tonepublications.com/review/ps-audio’s-directstream-memory-player-and-dac/  The PSA team consistently tweaks the programable "chips'" code and provides updates, FOR FREE.  Give it a listen on trial.  PSA has a generous trial and trade in policy.  

From the review:

"the $5,000 to $15,000 range is somewhat vacant. A few boxes come to mind, but they are mostly DACs. Simaudio’s 780D is exceptional at $15k, but it doesn’t play shiny discs."

Here’s something in that range, even better:

Overdrive SX DAC - $10,995-$12,995

Oppo Transport - $1200

Synchro-Mesh reclocker - $599

Total - $12,794 - $14,794

https://www.audiostream.com/content/empirical-audio-overdrive-sx-ethernet-dacpre

Unlike the PSAudio DAC, the ODSX has Ethernet input for the best sound quality.

Jitter from the Oppo with the Synchro-Mesh is ~20psec:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=154408.0

IMO, It’s a big mistake to spend a lot on a transport that you could put towards a better DAC. It is relatively inexpensive to transform a decent transport into a world-class transport.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio


Why not move up the Schiit line of DAC products?
Border Patrol.  Check them out carefully.
@twoleftears that Border Patrol DAC (eg. on the LTA site) has made me drool. there was a used on the classifieds recently that got snatched up.

@sorcan. I would support the Oppo suggestions. Transports are not created equal from CD player to CD player. there are big differences in the sound quality. about 3-4 years ago I did an "A/B" Transport test b/w the Oppo 95 MULTIPLAYER ($1000) and my DEDICATED SimAudio Equinox SE CDP ($2500). the Oppo was humiliated. 

But in your situation: you have a self-professed crappy transport, which tells me that if you use a crappy transport with even very good DAC like the Schiits that have been suggested above, you will still get inferior sound for what you have already paid for.
Because in the electronic chain from source to speakers, the SQ Sound Quality can only degrade and get worse, it will NEVER get better per se. I mean, it might get "different" and you may like that "different", but it will never recover resolution that has been lost earlier in the audio chain. 

So your best bet, if you have $1000, is just to pick up an Oppo to get the CDP and transport in one unit. Down the road, your upgrade chain would be to perhaps use the Oppo as transport only, and hook up to a dedicated Schiit DAC and/or use reclocking devices to clean up the signal as Steve has suggested. 

But sorcan, what is you budget?
and are your ears sensitive to higher frequencies? perhaps not.
when I ran Klipsch HORN speakers with SS, made my ears hurt.
I too am using Odyssey Kismet Mono Blocks driving Maggie 3.7panels with DWM woofers in parallel. I also owned Cornwalls in the late 70'S. The Dac I purchased a couple of years ago is the PS Audio Direct Stream Junior. Great sound in every respect, and I came off f a Benchmark HGC 2 Dac to switch. No one but no one does customer service like PS Audio. Call them up,They are the friendlies folks around and will answer any and all questions, never rushing you.T
ry their website and chek out the Forums. Again very informative. That Dac sells for $4000.00 but with a decent trade can be had for $3000.00.
Down the road, your upgrade chain would be to perhaps use the Oppo as transport only, and hook up to a dedicated Schiit DAC and/or use reclocking devices to clean up the signal as Steve has suggested.

+1

That is precisely what I’m doing, albeit minus Steve’s suggestion of a reclocker. I maintain the "clean up" (jitter) is successfully handled by the DAC itself. No need, IMO, to clean, and then re-clean again.
that Border Patrol DAC (eg. on the LTA site) has made me drool. there was a used on the classifieds recently that got snatched up.

I am the one who bought the Border Patrol dac. To my ears, in comparison to my Yamamoto YDA-01 dac, the BP is more holographic with more meat on the bones. In addition, it does more to get my toes tapping and my head bobbing. This dac is right up my alley, well suited to my listening style and preferences. If you are the type that likes to close your eyes and completely relax while listening, the BP dac might also be a worthy consideration, but you might also want to audition other dacs. The BP dac perhaps is not the last word in detail. There is not the blackness and air between images that one might hear in systems that are geared toward extreme high resolution. Turning off the EZ80 tube rectifier tube, which can be done by pressing the front button, well get you in the direction of blackness, air and endless decay, but the magic is not quite the same. For me, the BP dac in EZ80 mode is quite engaging. Mesmerized is how I feel, YMMV. I have already had a few listening sessions of 5-6 hours in the short time that I have owned it. I have a strong feeling that it is a keeper.
I have no love for the Oppo.  If you like your digital to sound like digital that’s the one for you.

My suggestion is get rid of the transport period.  Load all your cds into a Blue sound Vault 2.  It sounds better than my Oppo 105D.  Plus now you have all your music accessible from your iPhone or iPad.  Then if you want to really bump up the performance, add a Chord Hugo.  The Bluesound has a digital out so no problem.

The Hugo is really small so space will be no problem, plus you basically get a free headphone amp with an awesome dac.  No fancy power cord is needed so you get to save some dollars there.

Btw, the Bluesound is very compact as well measuring approximately 8X8X4 inches with 2 TB storage.

This will be my primary playback source for my new summer home.  

Approximate pricing, Vault 2 new 1299.00, Hugo used 1100.00.  
Scoran, sorry so late in getting back to you. I understand your hesitation after reading the technical review.  I own a Schiit Bifrost w/o the usb input, purchased used. I use a M2tech Hiface USB/SPDIF converter with it. Seems to sound OK to me in a second system. So many DACs to choose from. I currently use a Bryston BDA-1 in my main system, it has several inputs and dual outputs which I need.

I think if I were looking for a DAC to pair with a transport I would look into the Border Patrol that has coax input only.

Good luck in your search. 
@ thaluza,

Change the fuse and tube with a Mullard square getter and this awesome Dac will even be more magical...

Wig
Huh, those measurements of the Bifrost MB are pretty eye opening. I’ve listened to it during headphone meets and found it to sound a little steely and didn’t quite like it. I’ve also listened to the BorderPatrol DAC connected to a disc transport at an audio show and found it to sound quite good - organic and natural.

S’phile measurements of jitter through the USB interface seems to confirm the somewhat subpar engineering. Schiit’s latest Gen 5 incarnation claims to ’fix’ USB, for what it’s worth.

I wouldn’t worry about the ’debate’ between resistor ladder and sigma-delta DACs. There are examples of good and bad sounding designs utilizing both types of technologies.
Mojo Audio Dac 
the best I have heard and own 
45 days money back guarantee 
enjoy the music 
I thought the point of a dac was to reclock on its own to cut back jitter 
The Border Patrol DAC is, in my estimation, a bargain for the sound it delivers. I am not comparing it to other DACS, but to a high level vinyl front end over a system using Lamm SETs and Avantgarde horns. I have used it in a couple of configurations so far, including with an Oppo as a transport (BDP 95- my impression is that the video was improved on the 105 but that the sonics of the 95 were still pretty good).
The Oppo was "good" but it didn’t break the sonic barrier for me--CDs didn’t sound nasty (like they did to my ears when the format was first introduced), but there was still a "contained" aspect to the sound. Using the transport from the Oppo into the Border Patrol wasn’t a huge improvement, in part b/c I think the transport was a choke point. Redbook ripped to a lossless file sounded better into the Border Patrol from a Mac laptop running Audnirvana (and that inexpensive usb to coax converter from Schitt, the Eitr).
I just received a much better CD transport- the entry level C.E.C. and even though it has barely broken in, running it directly into the Border Patrol via coax, made a considerable difference in sonics- far more relaxed and less constrained sounding.
I am not using any reclocking device at this stage-- this is my initial entry into digital after more than 3 decades of avoiding it in my main system.
I do think the Border Patrol is rolled off on the high frequencies-- but I made a tube substitute on my amps out of necessity and am waiting for a couple pairs of my beloved old Tele 12ax7 to arrive (I think they have more high frequency information than the very good tube I am using as a stopgap, so this variable may be in play on the high frequencies right now).
What the Border Patrol does do is sound organic and vivid without sounding artificial or processed. And that says a lot for the price of a unit which is less costly than a piece of fancy interconnect. FWIW, i did no tweaks to the BP- fancy fuses, tube rolling, etc. I stuck a decent aftermarket power cord on it and let it burn in. It’s a winner at its price point if you are mainly interested in Redbook playback.