DAC's with volume control question


it's been a while since i researched/purchased DAC's. grabbed a new PS Audio PWDII w/Bridge about 10 years ago and it has kept me happy for a long time. need a short term replacement (meaning inexpensive) and am looking for info regarding current DAC's that can be used stand alone without a preamp for volume control.  the PWDII had a shortcoming that would do "something bad" when operated below 50% volume. losing bits or something like that??. 

my question is .... has this issue been resolved in general? 10 years is alot of time in the digital realm and would like to know if modern technology has eliminated this problem with volume control/loss of sound quality.

have three on the list but see nothing disclosed regarding volume control short comings. is it safe to assume no such issues exist anymore? thus not even mentioned?

this is a temporary replacement. probably only 1-1.5 years. don't want to add a preamp so my list is limited to inexpensive options with preamp/volume control so far 

Peach Tree Decco125 SKY
Cambridge CNX V2
Cambridge 851N

seems the 851N might be more of what i need but am concerned about mid-fi integrated preamp hardware making things sound worse. the CNX V2 seems to be more like my PWDII and is preamp-ish with volume control. no real dedicated/integrated preamp hardware. the CXN V2 has me concerned about the volume control having shortcomings like my PWDII.

thanks in advance for any help/input

levy03
The Soekris and the new Mytek II are great but you can hardly get your hands on one.


https://reverb.com/p/rme-adi-2-dac-fs?hfid=37472133&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm...
in the digital realm volume levels can be attenuated but there will be a loss of bit-detail resolution if the attenuation is significant from full volume -- whether you can hear this clearly as compromising sound quality is another matter entirely, but there can indeed be a loss of info in the last few bits of the datastream at low volume levels

this having been said, there are dacs that do the attenuation post d/a conversion (metrum jade, ayre codex, sonnet morpheus are three outstanding dacs that do this) ... i.e. at the analog output stage... this is hard and expensive to do (the same reason why good preamps are often expensive, there is real skill, technical savvy and often expensive parts involved in implementing analog domain volume attentuation without hurting the purity of sound)
I did a trial of the Cambridge V2 I sent it back because I didn't like the volume control. It jumped in 1db increments instead of .5db it was either to loud or to low and felt clunky. For more money Benchmark DAC3 is good so is the RME ADI 2. 
jjss49: that was exactly it..." loss of bit-detail resolution if the attenuation is significant from full volume"

so the top tier guys can minimize it at great expense. what about  lower level gear? never really noticed it with the PWDII but that was well above the price range i'm looking at now. i vaguely remember PSA saying they did something to make it "near perfect" above 50% volume....but that was also 10 years ago. 

are these modern, mid-fi DAC's anywhere near what older/higher end DAC's could do regarding the bit loss issue?. i understand that 10 years hasn't eliminated the issue ( agree theoretical/practical?) but has it gotten "better" across the board or just with higher end gear?.

if lower end modern gear can do what 10 year expensive gear did, i'll be one happy camper 

The RME does volume after but nowadays even $200 DACs will have good volume control. It's not something to worry about. The Cambridge had good volume control I didn't like the large steps. 
It can depend on the DAC and the sensitivity of your amp.
Djones51: thanks for the heads up. that's exactly what i don't want. CXN V2 is off the list. wrestled with getting a separate DAC and Streamer setup early on. this being a temp setup made me decide to keep it simple and cheap. need an all in one DAC/Streamer with good volume control. something to get me by/through an untimely hi-fi emergency. all my new gear will end up in the living room eventually. complete listening room/hi-fi rebuild planned for early 2022. simple and inexpensive for now.

any thought on the 850N ?


Unsound: Amp is a new  Adcom GFA575se  Input Sensitivity1.90V rms, 350 W into 8 ohms.100mV rms, 1 W into 8 ohms

am i looking for something in particular in the DAC's volume control spec that will work better based on the amps sensitivity?


Ideally the DAC would have a max voltage output of 1.9 Volts. This would allow for maximum range of volume control and no chance of bit stripping, while still allowing your amp to provide all the power you paid for. You’re not likely to match that exactly perfectly. Not to worry. Depending on the implementation, some DAC chips such as some of the Sabre DAC chips have up to 32 bits available. Each bit is capable of of 12 dB of attenuation. As most commercial music media is limited to 24 bits, in such a case you’ll have plenty of bits to spare without having to worrying about resolution loss due to bit stripping. Your amp’s input sensitivity should make it easy to match with many if not most DACs that have enough bits to spare.
I compared the volume control on the respected Benchmark DAC3 HGC (DAC/preamp) with the Benchmark DAC3B (no volume) + Benchmark LA4 preamp. The DAC3B + LA4 combo was so much better with volume,  especially at low volume levels. I only use a DAC for volume control when convenience factor out weighs sound quality, such as in my bedroom headphone system.
Own a RME ADI 2fs and the preamp volume is extremely smooth and if anything is maybe a little slow to ramp up and down but not complaining. The RME in my system as a preamp definitely has a wider range than my ModWright LS36.5 preamp. As far as the DAC in the Cambridge 851N, the RME will pounce all over the Cambridge... they’re not even in the same league. I own a Cambridge 851C, pretty sure same DAC, which is very good and I used to run my BS Vault 2 through. The RME is far better, especially if you throw out the switch power supply and add a linear supply. The RME has much more fine level detail, pace and bottom end punch over the Cambridge, and in comparison as good as the Cambridge is it sounds like good digital. The RME is very revealing but not aggressive or harsh but very neutral. Going direct without adding a preamp takes it to even another level. Highly recommend the current RME fs model. It might actually embarrass your much higher PS Audio... I bet it does.
yyzsantabarbara: went through 5 different preamps the first couple years of owning the PWDII. some higher end ones at that. Pass, Levinson, AR etc. none sounded bad but none sounded better. decided to go pre-amp-less and have been happy since. do plan on trying preamps again when i build my next/real listening room setup but right now, it's just simplicity, cost and get it done quick. like i mentioned above, this new system will be pushed to my living room once i have the time to to build one right in my listening room (research/auditions/much bigger money). this entire ordeal is do to my older system taking a crap on me. just purchased amp/speakers in a matter of days, sight unseen with minimal research. (adcome gfa875se and sonus faber sonetto viii's).  don't have the time to do it right so i'm just putting together a decent system to get me by for 1-1.5 years with minimal expense/effort. terrible timing but i gotta have some decent tunes until time allows me to do it right. 

adg101: that RME sounds like a nice one. got my work cut out for me when i do get around to building my listening room system.  so many different choices now-a-days compared to 2010 (streaming DAC's). but again, this will be a secondary system in my living room when all is said and done. plug and play/all in one/inexpensive/quick and easy is what i need now (with decent volume control)
could be wrong but i'd kinda expect any decent modern DAC to outshine a 10 year old PWDII. 10 years seems like such a long time in digital. i'll be a little disappointed if whatever inexpensive modern DAC/streamer i end up with doesn't sound as good/better then my old PWDII. maybe i'm expecting too much?. will find out soon enough. will consider separates (Dac/Streamer/Preamp) on the next system but gotta admit i do love a single box that dose everything good

unsound: output voltage doesn't seem to be a commonly disclosed spec. couldn't find it for the 851N. thx for the tip though....in case i do ever find it. =)


found this regarding the Cambridge 851N volume control.....

" Keeping the signal digital to the last moment makes it less susceptible to analogue deterioration, while a 32-bit SHARC DSP controls the volume output; by keeping the entire signal digital the best possible sound is achieved, even at very low volume levels.

jjss49: this kinda alludes to what you mentioned above regarding later in the chain?. but then "alludes to" vs stating/explaining are two different things. i have no clue what most of the above means. it just reminded me of what you pointed out. or is it just the typical marketing wanna-be spin?
They're talking about using the 851N in preamp mode. If you don't connect it to a preamp you are keeping the signal digital until the 851N converts it to analog then on to the amp. Instead of having 851N>Preamp>Amp you have 851N>Amp. They're claiming bypassing a preamp results in less deterioration. It does digital volume control in 32bit which is good there shouldn't be any audible resolution loss. 
Asking the manufacturer for a Voltage output isn’t too much to ask. I certainly would. Standard CD output via RCA is 2 Volts, standard HDCD output via RCA is 2.2 Volts. Not all manufacturers play by the rules.
@levy03

to be honest with you, i don’t have a solid, confident answer for you on this subject

early last year, i had a RME ADI2 dac in house, it did have built-in digital volume control, but i did not use/test that aspect of it (now i regret not doing so)... i just ran it at full volume to hear its sound quality compared to other dacs i was trying, which i assume is how it would sound best... overall it is a good sounding, feature packed (if complex) unit, and many headphone users love the unit... i sold it as i felt it had a very nice clean clear crisp sound, not too lean, but head to head against the chord dacs it did not image nearly as well and the chords were a little more refined - i do remember reading in its (huge) owners manual that they painfully engineered its digital volume control to sound very good - maybe this one is worth your trying... maybe you just pick up one used (they appear on AG or USAM reasonably frequently) at a decent price to try (~$800) - easy to resell - i think at that price the sound is very good and the volume control could work for you

since that time, i moved on to some more expensive dacs, with built in remote volume in the analog domain and they are great, i did not try other lower cost ones

separately, i would mention that when it comes to digital volume attenuation, one needs to leave behind the paradigm of traditional volume control where the ’comfortable’ setting is around halfway or so... with digital you would ideally match the output of dac such that it runs much closer to full output when playing music at your usual listening levels (or at least 80-90%), for the reasons i described earlier

finally - this short video is the best i have seen explaining digital volume control and the considerations therein ... hans really knows what he is talking about and presents his thoughts in a mature, humble way
https://youtu.be/hni1ToR308o
I had a Bel Canto DAC3 in my system a while back and I couldn’t tell the difference using it as a preamp vs. my Bryston BP6, which was shocking to me.  The Gustard A22 might also be worth looking at as the guy at Soundnews.net found it to have a good preamp section.  Best of luck. 
jjss49: great video. had to watch three times but i now get the jist of it.....or somewhat understand the topic at a very rudimentary level. thank you!

djones51: thank you too. that's what i was looking/hoping to hear.....the volume control should work ok/decently without a noticeable degradation in sound.

understanding there are much better ways to get this done, i've decided to take the quickest/easiest path. 12-16 months is all i need to get outta this rig so i should be good. just ordered the 851N. should be here tomorrow. all in one plug n play box with tons of features for dirt cheap. will check back in and update the thread on my thoughts/findings.

will probably be posting many more stupid questions in about a year when i get into building a new/nicer system. hoping this emergency/quick system build will keep me happy until then. 

thanks to all 
cheers
Lev
+3 or 4 rme adi-2. Great dac and very transparent volume control. Love the basic treble and bass on the remote although is has 5 band PEQ that you can turn off and on as well. Actually its got so many damn features it gets a little confusing!! Normally stuff like this would be a gimmick but just icing on the cake for the rme. 
quick check in for those who might be interested. am 24 hours into my Cambridge 851N ownership. gotta say i'm definitely not thrilled but will give it chance to burn in a little an see what happens.

first off the volume control is OK at best. no where near as precise as i had hoped for. my PWDII was/is much better at volume adjustment/precision. especially at low volumes.

sound wise....it's a 7/10. not bad but certainly not as organic/smooth sounding as the 10 year old PWDII it replaced. exceptable for now but not hifi imho (probably shouldn't be hifi at this price point but i was hoping). the old saying you get what you paid for and the effort you put into it seems to be true at this point. couple days of research and $1500 is what i have invested. mediocre/ok sound is what i have now. 

have had differing experiences with "burn in" in numerous components over the years. sometimes i notice a big difference. other times near nothing/no improvement. lets just say i'm hoping "burn in" smooths out some of the rough edges here. if not??....i think i can make this work for a year or so.....but definitely not a long term keeper.

on the big plus side, the features and setup are fantastic and easy to use (again, coming from something 10 years old here). spent a few minutes setting it up and it's done. Cambridge app is kinda weak but still very user friendly and very quick/seemless. love having all the music access this box provides. radio and tidal hifi is very enjoyable even with average midfi sound

oh well....at least i have some music playing again.
Every dac up to my current one (Lumin X1) that had volume capability seemed to reduce detail (reduced bits).

ozzy

Every dac up to my current one (Lumin X1) that had volume capability seemed to reduce detail (reduced bits).

You turn them down too much. < 75% of full up = "Bit Strippping"

In that case, use a $49 Schiit Sys after the dac, to set the level, so then you can then use the dac’s remote volume control at >75% and over
Cheers George
George,
Probably a poor choice of words on my part. I meant to imply that the Lumin X1 volume control is unique and does not loose digital bits in its operation as the other dacs I have used. The volume is controlled by a process called LEEDH. With this unit I have been able to eliminate the preamp.

ozzy
I have always been a firm believer in leaving the digital volume at full. Recently I purchased a blue sound node 2i and started getting a popping noise randomly on digital coax or optical connection to my Jolida tube dac. The forums are full of threads for this issue and one of them mentioned attenuating the digital output as a fix. Sure enough, changing the automatic level control from off mode to smart mode reduced the problem by 90%. I then lowered the master output by 5 clicks and the popping noise is gone. Planning to meter the coax later to see what the difference is between the two settings.