I've just started looking into what DAC's really are. And I now have a question that I would like some opinions on. I've heard that DAC's can make a CDP sound great, but what if, for a few more dollars, I just got a new (or very nice used) CDP with the very latest DACs already inside? I have a Classe .5 CDP, about seven years old. I know it doesn't have the modern DACs in it so I would think it's sound isn't as good as it could be. I'm wondering if I should look at a DAC to help the sound (CDP only has a AES/EBU output) or purchase a new or newer CDP. I've been looking at the Cambridge 840, Krell 280, Sim Audio, Bryston & Classe, all in the $1,500 to $2,000 range new or used. I know that the Benchmark DAC will cost around $1,200 new. Very few less expensive DAC's have an AES/EBU output.
My system is: Krell KAV 2250 amp, Krell KAV 280 pre, MF phone amp & headphone amp, Rega P1, Paradigm Studio 60, Kimber and RSCables.
The primary difference is whether you want a one-box solution to play exclusively CD's, or whether you anticipate that you might want to play music files from the computer. In the latter case, the separate DAC provides you with that flexibility.
If I may, just because a cd player is a few years old does not mean it does not sound as good as a new player. Your unit may sound better, worse or more likely just different than others especially new choices at your disposal. But this is a crux of many in hifi thinking a newer product must be better. Well no, digital audio in the Redbook form has been around for almost 30 years now. DACS are not really just getting better, they are more likely being made more cost efficiently for the most part and in reality the algorithms of the Redbook CD format are well known today. How a CD player is designed and built from the ground up is more of a determinant than as to if it's a 7 year old machine with 7 year old DAC's or even a 27 year old machine DACS.
Now if shopping around for either a new DAC or CD player gets you to liking the sound of one or more well that is great but likely not because your current unit now sounds bad or otherwise obsolete. Odds are your current machine sounds just fine. Buy another 7 year old machine and it may sound different to you with either you liking it or not but only because it is different. Buying a new cd player or an add on DAC may give similar results. I'm not trying to talk you out of buying a new player or DAC, only pointing out that any one you buy is likely going to be more because it sounds different and not likely better to you than your current machine which you are now use to after all these years.
IMO DACS are not really getting better, but change due mostly to home theatre needs in decoding and as a result made to do more. Audio side uses these DACS to tune or retune CD playback but in reality maybe a 20 year old machine well made and tuned may also blow you away.
I am currently playing around with a 2nd generation Philips CD player, it has TDA-1541 DACS in dual DAC setup and is 16 bits with 4 times over sampling. I bought it for $10, after cleaning it up, doing some screw tightening and adding some damping as well as spiked feet it sounds pretty good. It even has a coax digital out so if I want to add another DAC I can. It has the well respected Philips CDM-2 transport which tracks my artificial disc tracking test up to 2.5mm wide and the dual defect tracks of 2 - 2mm wide defects in a row. No other CD payer I have ever owned was that good and this is a 1986 used player.
Anyways I'd if in your shoes likely look at a new DAC because knowing Classe as an audio buff I bet your machine is pretty well built.
"One advantage of a separate DAC is if/when the transport dies, you only replace the transport and for some DACs the transport can be inexpensive."
Exactly. That was my reason for buying Benchmark DAC1. I use DVD player and HDTV as sources and will connect computer as well. Benchmark tolerates low quality transports (jitter suppressing) while DVD players have very good tracking. In addition I can play DVD movies and MP3s (inherent in DVD players).
My Benchmark also serves as a preamp since it has volume control. If you decide to get Benchmark get new one possibly with USB - there are some technical reasons for that (there were many revisions). Benchmark has 30 day no cost loaner program and 5 years warranty (but only for the first owner). Headphone amp is nice addition too.
Yep, all great advise so far. I'd say go with the DAC due to flexibility. Buy it from somewhere you can return it if you don't like what it does to the sound of your CDP or you don't think it's worth the money (for the change in sound).
If you really don't care about flexibility and you just want a change (I'm with Les that it won't necessarily be an improvement) then I'd also add the Musical Fidelity A5.5 CDP. There's a great review of it up on 6 Moons.
Me? I'm waiting for the release of the new Oppo BDP-983. I'm going to get it modded (like my current Sony CDP) and retire the Sony from daily SACD duties.
I had the fantasy of getting a DAC and a Mac Mini to replace my CDP. I thought it would be a good way to play back hi rez digital. But then I found out that most "hi rez" downloads are CD equivalent and there really aren't very many titles available even at that. The true hi rez titles only number in the hundreds. It seems to me that we're several years away from getting hi rez downloads to any substantial degree.
Meanwhile, I already have a great sounding CDP, don't have to fuss with some funky interface, and don't have to have a computer in my listening room. I'm sticking with my CDP for the foreseeable future.
If I may, just because a cd player is a few years old does not mean it does not sound as good as a new player. Your unit may sound better, worse or more likely just different than others especially new choices at your disposal. But this is a crux of many in hifi thinking a newer product must be better.
That is an excellent post. A cdp made 10 years ago by a really good company probably had a lot of effort go into the "sound" portion of the construction. That extra effort put into making it sound right might more than make up for whatever small changes that have been made to the latest DAC in a more cheaply executed unit.
Some say the Golden Age of the standalone player was 10 years ago. :) As others have said, I would keep the Classe as a transport to a new DAC. This still gives you the option of switching back to the Classe if you get bored or if you miss some of its old attributes.
Fritter5, Here are some of my comments on your situation. If you go with a DAC, you will have the added cost of getting a quality digital cable and power cable (They do matter, IMHO) and also have to store it on an additional self. If you are OK with that... Who knows the transport on your classe may go and you may have to replace that in a few years. I would go with a new CDP unit. The new CDP units from Simaudio and Bryston are outstanding and have many great reviews. See Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. Try them on loan from a dealer that has a return policy and see for yourself. The Krell 280 is good but I feel the newer technology from Simaudio and Bryston are better. I used to own a KAV 2250, PRE 280 and CDP 280 system. Also, when you upgrade use the balanced outputs from the CDP to KAV 280 pre. The Krell system works optimal with balanced connections. Good luck and have fun with your reseach and findings.
"If you go with a DAC, you will have the added cost of getting a quality digital cable and power cable (They do matter, IMHO) and also have to store it on an additional self."
Not exactly - if you need better power cable for DAC then you need it for CDP as well - no savings here. I agree about digital cable, but with upsampling jitter rejecting DAC like Benchmark cable quality doesn't matter (Benchmark tested it with 1000' of cable)and you can get the cheapest one in Radio Shack or make one yourself (as I did). Next - you can sell Clasee CDP and buy $70 DVD player (as I did). Very good tracking and MP3 playback.
My previous CDP was Cambridge CD4SE - one of the best Cambridge ever made but transport failed. Combination of DVD player with Benchmark is hands down better (clarity, transparency). If you can spend more try Bel Canto DAC3 - also jitter rejecting (I think)and a little fuller sounding. Both have reviews on "Stereophile" website. They like DAC3 a little better (for twice the cost) but Benchmark was once "component of the year".
If someone was looking for an across the board improvement, and had the budget, wouldn't it make the most sense to address both the dac along with the transport? There seems to be little concern given to the sound quality of the transport.
Goatwuss - There are two schools (as usual). One says - get asynchronous upsampling DAC (jitter rejecting like Benchmark DAC1) and cheap transport since the only virtue of the expensive transport is lower jitter while the other school says - get NOS (non oversampling) DAC and better transport.
Cost wise first solution is better and that's what I did but you'll find many audiophiles who like NOS better. It is personal/subjective. NOS DACs are not as common as oversampling or upsampling DACs but you might like them.
No contest on this subject to me. IMHO the dac is everything in the final sound and transport really doesn't matter. I just got a bel canto dac3 today and it is phenomenal. I ran various cd players into it and you cannot tell any difference no matter the cost. Cables and power cords don't seem to matter much with this unit. Unbelievable soundstaging, imaging and definition with a nice warm sound. No digital nastiness whatoever. Get one. It is worth every penny! My next steps will be to set up a computer, digitize my cd collection and use a squeezebox into the dac. My wife is gonna be happy since there wint be cds everywhere and so will I because it will sound so damn good! This is the future and most flexible option long term.
Swanny - these upsampling DACs have so much jitter rejection that cables or transport don't matter and your Bel Canto confirms this. The only type of transport that will sound different is the one that is not "bit transparent" by means of DSP processing or digital volume control. As long as all bits are there there is no difference.
Goatwuss - I forgot to mention savings on digital cable with upsampling DAC and good digital cables are not cheap.
Thanks to everyone for your responses to my question. As I imagined, I now know more about DAC's but ultimately have to make a decision (as we all do) about whether the change brought about by the DAC is worth the effort and the $'s. In this case my CDP is just getting back from Classe for a check-up. I've been told (as I already have known) that this CDP has a very good DAC. Since I'm not into change for change sake with this hobby, I'm going to keep just the Classe and enjoy it's sound on my system, until I feel I want a different type of sound.
This was my first question on Audiogon so I really appreciate so many great thoughts and ideas.
I've been trying to make up my mind on this subject myself. I've decided to go with something like a Cambridge Audio 340/540 used. I think I can go this route relatively cheap. I want a dac to run my computer through during parties and what-not. According to their website, a DacMagic and a 340/540 is near equavilent to a 740. Then I can take my Marantz cd5001 and put in my bedroom with my 2226 receiver as a small second system. I know there are better dacs out there, but in comparison to my current system I think this Cambridge Audio pairing should fit nicely.
You can roll your own op amps in many DACs too. Some have tried the Burson duals with satisfaction. I am considering doing this too when my DACMagic arrives tomorrow. :) I intend to use it to upgrade my Marantz 4300 CDP changer (cringe) and my DVD player. The DACMagic can accomodate both and has a USB port too.
It's time to update. I'm from the camp that believes that modern upsampling DAC are way ahead of the last generation. A really great DAC is all you need, BUT you might consider getting a CDP with a great DAC, but make sure that it has a digital input.
I use a Playback Designs MPS-5 with digital in. It's out of your stated price range, but being able to run an iPod or Sonos into its exceptional DAC gives me incredible system flexility. I can play CD, SACD and three possible digital-ins (iPod, server, etc.) all either using the PD's internal transport or external devices.
If I couldn't find a CDP with digital-in, then I'd get a DAC only and use my old CDP as a transport.
BTW, I own a $200 Oppo universal player. When I run the Oppo through the PD's DAC it sounds almost as good as when I use the PD's internal Esoteric transport.
Audiotomb - Benchamark will do it. It has three inputs (Toslink, S/PDIF, AES/EBU) and each of them with proper adapter can go to any format (same chip) as I understand it.
People who oppose oversampling in general are against digital filtering and not the oversampling/upsampling itself. Latest Stereophile review of upsampling Meridian 802.2 player (different digital filter) proves otherwise (and only for $17k). Benchmark is very good and practical for what it is. It is on neutral/cold side.
Sprink, I'm using the CA 540 v2 + DacMagic combo and I'm extremely pleased, I think you will be too. Be prepared to revisit all your CDs and have fun. And of course you can add your computer as second source.