DAC vs. Preamp


I have just purchased Parasound JC1 Monos and will be getting Triton Ones soon. I will be using an Arcam cd player and Macbook Pro. I think I'm done with vinyl. Too much work. Would a good DAC be sufficient in this configuration or is a preamp still the way to go. I don't want the DAC to be a weak link yet money is definitely a concern. This is a brand-new system so I'm wide open to suggestions. Help,please.


                                                                                                                             Thanks, Mike

bubba12
Unless your DAC/CD player has a volume control, you'd need a preamp or passive line stage to adjust the volume to listen at least to CDs.  As for the question of using a preamp or going direct into your amp with your source, there are a lot of threads on this, check the archives.  I still use a preamp, I find it gives the music more color, life and drive, but many disagree.  Ultimately, I'd suggest you go listen to a system with and without a good quality preamp and let your ears decide.
I would definitely get one with volume control. I'm leaning toward everything separate. Thanks for the reply.
There are four functions that any line stage of a preamp has to be able to do:
1) provide volume control
2) add any needed gain
3) select inputs
4) control the interconnect cable to the amp/prevent it from having a sonic artifact

Its the last function that is the least understood, and thus not realized by many preamps and DACs. A passive control could otherwise do the job if the DAC had enough output (which it should; Redbook standard sets it higher than the overload voltage of most amplifiers).

The problem is coloration from the cable and proper volume control in most cases. Individual results can vary quite a lot due to installation so really the only way to deal with this is audition.

I myself prefer to use a preamp as I have yet to find a DAC that really controls cables and I still have other sources (I still listen to the FM radio, tape and LP). Many DACs are great but have poor volume control systems (IOW, cause a loss of resolution as the volume is reduced). So I generally run them at full volume and control the volume from the preamp.
Thanks Atmasphere! That is a great answer. I was leaning that way. Any suggestions for a stand alone Dac? 

If you go the route of a DAC plus Preamp, what is your projected budget for both?

I have a Bel Canto Pre2 that i bought on Audiogon to start with. I’m not sure how it will match with the rest but it will be fun trying. I would probably go with the Parasound J2 for continuity sake and it gets really great reviews. I guess I’m more stuck on the Dac part. Maybe up to $2000 for the DAC.
With that rig, your budget and that you were into vinyl, Id look at a Lampizator Amber or up the budget a bit and look for a used Level 4 Lampi. 
I'd highly recommend you check out the Ayre QB-9.  The downside is it's USB only, which is fine for your Mac - but if you want to use if to something like your cable box, it's not going to do anything for you.

Another budget option that I've used for years and still really impressed by is the Micromega MyDAC.  A steal at around $250 brand new.  It's a very impressive unit.

I agree with Atmasphere, I've tried to live without a line stage and never found it to be as good as with a good LS.

Congrats on the JC1's... I've also owned them for many years and am very happy with them.
Thanks everybody that has answered. I'm going to go with a preamp and get the DAC. I'll check on all suggests. Has anyone used the Exogal Comet. its gotten some good reviews.
Another option worth looking into is a DEQX unit. HDP-4 replaced my prior preamp (the excellent Musical Fidelity kW which I need to get around to selling) and DAC. Gives you multiple digital inputs, 2 analog inputs, and digitally corrects for your room and your speaker. Pretty amazing unit. And very transparent. I notice no degradation of sound with my vinyl rig running the DEQX in bypass mode (which still involved ADC/DAC conversion. 

Gives you unbelievable flexibility in fine tuning the sound of your system, and you can program in multiple profiles that you can switch between at the click of a button. There is a long thread on DEQX here on Audiogon. There you'll see the super-member Almarg has also gotten on the DEQX train. 
That sound intriguing. I'll check out some posts on that.

I've tried DAC only twice; first time with a PS Audio DSD, second time with the Bricasti M1...my ears prefer the sound with a preamp in the system. I currently have a Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC and Jeff Rowland Corus preamp. It's sounds much better than a DAC functioning as a DAC/preamp.
Thanks for the knowledge. I'm getting the opinion that almost no one thinks going without a preamp is a good idea. I thought that would be the case.

Ricred1,
Congrats on the recent upgrade to your system.
Can you please describe the difference between going direct from the Aeris dac to power amps vs through the Corus preamp?
I have heard the Corus in my system but not the Aeris dac.
Thanks in advance.
J. :)
i'm also firmly in the 'better with a dedicated preamp' camp.  wanting to simplify my system as much as possible, i've tried several times to remove the pre and use a DAC (wyred, weiss, etc, etc) to control volume, but have always found that i prefer my system with a dedicated linestage.  while there is seemingly consensus in this thread, if you search the archives, you will find opinions do vary on the subject.  in my case, i absolutely prefer my system with a dedicated pre.  YMMV!!
I have a Bryston BDA-1 which I bought used on AG. I often see a used BDA-2 for sale also. I have the Arcam 137 used as a transport and USB?SPdif converter for my MAC Mini.  The Bryston products lean toward the analytical/transparent side. I use a tube preamp.  Several inputs on the Bryston, XLR and RCA outputs. 

jon2020,

I can't speak on the difference between going direct from the Aeris dac to power amps vs through the Corus preamp. The only dacs I experimented with going direct were the PS Audio DSD and Bricasti M1. I already had the JR Continuum S2 integrated amp when I purchased the Aeris and never had an opportunity to try it direct. The JR 625 S2/Corus combination is a significant step-up from the Continuum S2, but I can't honestly say which component(625 S2 or Corus) has the most impact, because I received them at the same time.

I will say, in my system the Aeris DAC has more detail, images better, and has a slightly larger soundstage than the Bricasti M1. 

In addition, I will admit that I prefer a sound on the slightly warm side of neutral and that's what my current combination provides.   
[...] I'm getting the opinion that almost no one thinks going without a preamp is a good idea. I thought that would be the case.

I beg to differ. Check out Srajan Ebaen's review of the SOtM sDP-1000 DAC/preamp with volume attenuation in the analogue realm:

http://www.6moons.comreview/sotm2/1.html

For the single digital source approach I find there are (potential) advantages to be had omitting a separate hardware preamp, going instead with a dedicated DAC/preamp like the SOtM reviewed above (which I own). Could it be a lucky/stand-out combination here that isn't at all representative of what's generally the sonic outcome with DAC-direct approaches? I don't know, except that in my specific setup (and to my ears) this combo is the preferred solution. There's a school of thought indeed that holds the importance of an active preamp to be essential in acquiring the life and dynamics of live, acoustic music (or simply any kind of music in general), and while exactly the live imprinting is something I aim to achieve via my setup I don't find the integrated DAC/preamp solution (rather than "preamp-less") to be at odds with this quest. I'm saying this to make it clear that I don't pursue any particular "starved of life, meager, bleached, thinned, clinical, in-organic, dynamically robbed" sonic imprinting here  - on the contrary.
Ricred1,

Thanks for the reply.
Maybe one day you can try the Aeris direct to the 625s and let us know the difference.  
Enjoy!

J. :)
bubba12, I've heard very good things about the Exogal!
I'm in the midst of figuring it all out. It's a little overwhelming.

Why limit yourself?  


https://orangecounty.craigslist.org/ele/5394980280.htmlDoesnt get much better than these.


http://www.soekris.dk/dam1021.html this guy makes a kit for a reclocker dac. top notch.


these two things together, would brighten any system.

That link sucks.



here, I hope, is the link.
Look up craigs, accuton speakers orange county.
Mike,

Have you tried a Devialet D200?  After hearing one, you may be like others Devialet owners who are done with separates. It'll take care of your amp, pre-amp & DAC and will drive any speaker load. Prior to the Devialet, I've had separate high-end amps, pre-amps and DACs and the Devialet trumps anything I've owned,  Most people on this forum won't believe it but you owe it to yourself to give the Devialet a try. Before purchasing the Devialet I auditioned a $30K Burmester 911 MkIII amp and decided to go with the Devialet.  I'm now off the separates merry-go-round and enjoying music rather than always seeking the next piece to upgrade.

Instead of a Macbook Pro, I suggest an Aurender N100H streamer. I used to use a Mac and the Aurender blows away any computer-based music server in sound quality and ease of use. And Aurender's integration with the TIDAL music subscription service is amazing. In case you're not aware, TIDAL offers a redbook CD quality subscription option (no compression) and there's no sound quality difference I can tell comparing TIDAL to CDs. IMHO there's no longer a reason to purchase CDs, unless you have a sizable SACD collection. Once TIDAL offers hi-rez service, (expected in Q2 of 2016) the SACD argument lessens and purchasing $20 hi-rez album downloads from HDTracks isn't needed.
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What type of speakers do you have?
Right now I have some old Dynaudio Audience 72s. I'm looking at the Golden Ear Triton Ones. Open to suggestions though. I listen to a lot of rock.
I hope the speakers are my weak link because the system definitely needs improvement.
I was interested in the Devialet but its just too difficult to find a place to hear one.

For speakers, if you have the room, there's a pair of JM Lab Utopias on A'gon.  The seller is asking $12,500.  I recently sold a pair in terrific condition for $10,000 so the seller may have some room to lower his price. These speakers are well worth the price and play all genres of music very well.  

You could consider them the last set of speakers you may ever need.  They're very efficient at 94.5 db and your Dynacos are only 86db so your Parasound JC1s will easily drive them. I've successfully driven them with a 25 watt per channel 845 SET amp (New Audio Frontiers SE). IMHO speakers are the best bang for the buck upgrade you can make in a system.
I can't spend 10K. Not to mention i won't even entertain an ad without pictures of a used item. It makes no sense.

If you have heard the Triton 1s and like them, go with them. Their woofers are active so your power requirement is for the mid/upper registers only.  You are still looking for a Pre and DAC?
I bought the Bel Canto pre2 for a preamp. I'm buying the Exogal Comet on Wednesday so I guess I have that covered for now. I do like the Triton Ones. I guess I wanted some other views.

Congrats on you pre and DAC. 

Thank you. I will check in when I've got some news.

Emotiva DC1 is a great choice, same volume control chip as some $20,000 preamp...

If money is no object, then NOS R2R + resistor ladder volume control (Eg: Goldpoint). The XLR cable also matters a lot, go with UPOCC copper wire, traditional stranded twisted shielded design, eg: Neotech.
I was in the same situation as you. I am recently sold a superb BAT VK-42SE pre-amp because I decided to use a DAC with a digital volume control as a pre-amp. I decided to keep the signal path simpler.

My current office system, is a KEF LS50 speakers and the following. a FM Tuner that I use regularly (for KCRW from Santa Monica, CA). At the moment I have a Benchmark DAC2 with my Magnum Dynalab FM Tumer connected to 1 of 2 available analog inputs on the DAC. The rest of the inputs are all digital. I USB from the PC to the DAC and another coaxial from the PC (Jule sound card). The USB is for the ROON/Tidal music server. The coaxial is for things like YouTube and such from the internet.

The Benchmark DAC2 is superb, the sound is clear, fatigue free, and just plain enjoyable, I do not miss the BAT pre-amp at all. I am waiting to get the Benchmark AHB2 amp to pair with this DAC. The noise floor on this combination is supposed to be the lowest of any amps you will currently find AT ANY PRICE. I think the BAT sound was a little fuller sounding in my system, but I am not sure if it was the correct sound. It was enjoyable as heck and I loved it but the current setup I have is also amazing and simpler.

I also need to get a second bigger system for another room and I will do a similar setup as the office. I was looking at the following:

1) Devialet (to keep things even simpler, DAC + pre-amp + amp all in one)
2) PS Audio Direct Stream DAC
3) Resonessence Labs Invicta DAC
4) Another Benchmark DAC2 + AHB2 amp

I have heard 2, 3, 4 (minus the amp). I was all excited about the Devialet but after a lot of online research I got the impression that Devialet is not as responsive to their users as the other 3 companies. Things like the wifi connectivity issues on the Devialet and the Devialet user feedback from the online forum turned me off. The other 3 are just DACs with digital volume control and they sound just incredible.

#3, is a sleeper, just a beautiful sound on that DAC. #2, the PS Audio DS is very intriguing and I like the fact that PS Audio seems like such a progressive audio company. They listen to customers and are continually improving the DAC (for free). The Benchmark + AHB2 may win out just based on reviews I have read.

There are a lot of good DACs out there (my suggestion is the 3 I have listed) and I think that in the $2-5K price range you will get a DAC that will make you forget the need for a analog pre-amp.

Great reply YYZsantabarbara! Many choices. I'm checking out the Exogal Comet right now.

Hello,

I just signed the petition "Bring together Roon & PS Audio Bridge II" and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.

Our goal is to reach 100 signatures and we need more support. You can read more and sign the petition here:

https://www.change.org/p/brian-luczkiewicz-paul-mcgowan-bring-together-roon-ps-audio-bridge-ii?recruiter=281600666&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

Thanks!
Mark
This is the letter on the petition that is addressed to PS Audio’s Paul McGowan and Roon’s Brian Luczkiewicz

Many of us own PS Audio PerfectWave DAC products. The PS Audio Network Bridge allows the PerfectWave DAC to operate at its fullest potential, and that potential is a force to be reckoned with! For many of you, I am preaching to the choir. This DAC & network enabled Bridge is one of the best available on the market.
Roon is simply the most impressive music management software that I have ever seen, and I think I have seen them all! It is beautifully designed so the experience of listening to music is enhanced while using it, rather than countless other programs that are a tedious distraction. Roon is not overcomplicated, yet it allows us to correctly configure the precise controls that a proper hi-fi DAC such as the PS Audio PerfectWave DAC requires.
For those of you who are Roon users, I urge you to check out the PS Audio PerfectWave DAC. For the PS Audio owners, you MUST download the trial to Roon right away! It will change your life!
This petition is to show support to the good people at Roon & PS Audio. They are already working together to try to figure out how to integrate Roon & the PS Audio Bridge, so this petition is to help them give the project some steam and get it done! Please sign this and forward it to any Roon or PS Audio user that you feel is appropriate. The more support we demonstrate may just push this past the tipping point!