DAC/w Volume control + Power amp or DAC + Integrated?

Doing lots of research for complete new set up from the scratch but very confused about DAC /w volume control section. 
Does the Volume control mean actually a preamp section? So a DAC + Preamp all-in-one box? 
Or are there any DAC with pure simple volume control knob exist? 

One of the systems I am eyeing on is LTA Ultralinear power amp. Source is digital only (Qobuz, local files network streaming via Chromecast audio to DAC via optical, for now) so I may not need separate Pre-amplifier. 

There are couple of options.
1) DAC /w built in volume control + UL Power amp
2) pure DAC + Standalone Volume controller + UL Power amp
3) pure DAC + UL integrated amplifier
Which one is the best setup SQ wise? Or Cost-Performance?

Built in volume control affects sound quality of the DAC? 

Is UL Integrated inferior to power amp by a margin?

I would like to go simple as possible because of limited funds (DAC & Amp for < $9k) so assume that going from DAC to Power amp directly is the way to go. All used gear will be more than welcome.




search - there are several recent threads that cover the territory you are inquiring about

short answer is digital volume control as part of the dac has certain compromises and may affect sound quality

i personally would use a fixed output dac feeding an integrated amp with its own analog volume control (not to mention additional inputs for other sources)... lta makes integrated models

Built in volume control affects sound quality of the DAC?

No they are better, if not used too low down.

I use an MSB discrete dac with volume direct into monoblock poweramps, and the sound has never been better.
But if you have to use the dacs volume below 2/3rd because it’s too loud, you will start to slowly loose resolution (bit strip) depending on how low you go.

The answer to fix this problem insert a $49 Schiit Sys passive between the dac and poweramp/s and preset the volume on it. so then you can use the dac’s volume above 2/3rd

This way you’ll get better poweramp/s for the same money as an integrated and also save big on not having a preamp if you were going separates.

Then some good dac manufacturers like Wadia have thought about everything so you don’t need the Schiit Sys, in using a volume control in dacs only up high for maximum sound quality in all systems, as they have gain links inside so you match it to your system gain and use the volume only in the top 1/3rd of full up, as you can see from the setup instructions when you get it. (Read the paragraph that starts "Premium sonic performance is achieved")

Cheers George
It really depends on the DAC.  I had a PS Audio DSD which is an awesome DAC but the volume control in it is not strong.  There are a couple reasons for this, but it was inferior to my preamps.  

I have since moved to Chord and Rockna DACs and the volume control in them is completely different.  Right now, going direct from the Hugo 2 or Wavelight into my amps from DAC is dramatically better than the Schiit preamp I currently have in the system.  

An LTA Ultralinear with a Chord Hugo 2 would easily be on budget and will sound amazing.  

That being said, the UL integrated is not even close to inferior.  The line stage in it is tremendous and the volume control is a superb R2R.  An Ultralinear Integrated with a DAC like the Chord Qutest which would be brilliant.  

In both cases, we could definitely keep you on budget for new gear. 
If using a DAC with volume control I would want one where it was in the analog output stage. 
Another approach would be a passive pre between Dac and amp. If using a DAC with tube output stage into a tube amplifier one has plenty of tube driven gain. 
One can find tube amplifiers that have variable input gain to better control system gain. The maker of my presmp, Aric Audio, makes tube amplifiers that have this such that one can run a fixed gain DAC directly into the amp. His amps have 6SN7 tibes in the input and driver stages. 
@Jiss Sorry to bother you. Ye I did read a lot of discussions but my question was more related to cost savings. 

I was looking for significant savings over going Integrated.
Thanks guys
@ verdantaudio. That combo is exactly what I am considering, Chord Qutest (or Tubadur) & UL Power amp. I think this the most money saving way.
But the lack of volume control forces me to spend more on either a volume controller(cheap) or UL intergated(expensive), unless replacing with different DAC.

So tight budget in mind, I wanted to know which one is the smartest move not sacrificing too much of SQ, : DAC -> DAC + cheap volume control (ex Schiit SYS) . Or UL Poweramp -> UL Integrated

At first I leaning toward the cheap volume control, but now I'm totally lost
I almost always listen low to moderate volume.
I guess inserting the SYS between QUTEST and UL Poweramp is the best, since there is no audible compromise?
Get the LTA Ultra integrated and match it with the Chord D/A.  It gives you the most flexibility and no compromise in sound quality.
I almost always listen low to moderate volume.
I guess inserting the SYS between QUTEST and UL Poweramp is the best, since there is no audible compromise?

The QUTEST has 3 output voltages to choose from 3v 2v 1v choose the one that gives you the loudest you’ll ever listen to, with the volume control of the Schiit Sys at around 3/4 of full up

Cheers George
@czar2000, As was posted above, I also recommend you use a fixed output DAC feeding an integrated amplifier with its own analog volume control.   

I experimented with a DAC using its volume control and the resulting sound quality was poor.  Of course, maybe you should experiment and see what you like.   This is NOT an easy decision and many users on Audiogon have strong opinions one way or the other.  
Common wisdom is to put dac's volume on max and use preamp's volume control. But I have no experience with dacs in my main system.
I have experience with analog source, tape deck with volume control.
I compared playing deck directly into power amp and with active preamp in between. The result was interesting. When putting the same, not the best, interconnect cables on deck and putting best interconnects between preamp and amp, I clearly preferred the sound with the preamp. However, the very best sound was when I ran deck directly into the power amp and used the best cables.
Anyway, the cables on the source are extremely important.
Looks like an Integrated amp is the answer.
I will need more money, Or get the less expensive amp.

Some integrated amps have passive preamp section and some active. It is probably next to impossible to know which one, other things being about equal, will sound better. Maybe not better/worse but different. It might sound fuller with active preamp but more transparent with passive.
czar2000 OP13 posts03-02-2021 10:16amLooks like an Integrated amp is the answer.
I will need more money, Or get the less expensive amp.
Spend the same money on just a power amp, and you'll get a much better amp for the same price.
Feed it from the Schiit Sys.
And choose one of the 3 fixed output voltages of your Qutest.

Result will be bliss compered to an integrated. 

Cheers George  

do you need remote control for volume?

what are the speakers you plan to drive?
No question about it if, the integrated amplifier has a true active class A 
preamplifier section such a the excellent Coda CSIB 
or Pass Labs 60
then no question , you didnot say hello he price point.
a quality classA  preamp is far better then a passive preamplifier ,
or as in a dac with a volume control ,it just loses. The soundstage depth ,and imaging. I have tried this many times with the same
Well I lasted a few days using the Matrix Audio Mini-i-3 Pro DAC direct to amp, a Benchmark AHB2. I am going to order a Benchmark LA4 preamp for $2500 and use this same DAC with fixed output. The LA4 is going to be so much better than this DAC direct sound I am listening to. I already have the HPA4 preamp (same as the LA4) in my office to AHB2 monos so I know exactly the difference.
I’m using a Weiss DAC502 with built in volume control - no degradation of signal. It comes with a handy hi- quality remote control. I feed this directly into a Marantz 8b vintage tube amp driving a pair of ProAc D30r. The overall system performance is stunning.  
Speakers will be Spatial audio Sapphire M3 open baffle.

Remote volume is a plus but not a must.

If I can not afford LTA Ultralinear int then I’m open to any amplifiers out there.
Raven nighthawk, Devialet 200, Dynaco ST70, Luxman 550s come to mind.
I’d strongly consider the ML 585 used for 6-7k. Excellent integrated amp with a good dac built in. Try music direct as they have a good price on them w a 60day return policy. FWIW


Don't know anyone that went direct that didn't end up getting a preamp.

Speakers will be Spatial audio Sapphire M3 open baffle.

Remote volume is a plus but not a must.

If I can not afford LTA Ultralinear int then I’m open to any amplifiers out there.
Raven nighthawk, Devialet 200, Dynaco ST70, Luxman 550s come to mind.

i have the m3 sapphires, have run these tremendous speakers with a wide variety of amps

key point of note is that the towering strength of the m3s’s is their amazingly full, natural, impactful bass imparted by clayton’s open baffle design... followed then by their excellent, open treble and full bodied dimensional midrange

that being said, these speakers have 4x 15 in woofers, presenting a load of 4 ohms in the bass region despite a seemingly quite efficient 93 db/w/m... thus they are actually quite a challenge for many tube amps (read, most lower powered, inexpensive ones) to deliver the current and damping factor (woofer control) needed to reproduce the truly wonderful bass response, the speakers’ key strength

as such, i recommend you get a high quality ss integrated amp with built in onboard dac, if you need to stay on a tight budget - imho it is the most cost effective path of excellent sound using these speakers

a lower powered current generation hegel (h95 or h120), or a small devialet (which i have - the 120 - which drives the m3s’s brilliantly), or a similar offering from ps audio or others...



at $2000-2400 for hegel (new) or devialet (used) above, i promise you will have a hard time beating it with $4000-5000 of standalone dacs and tube amps... digital volume controlled dac or not :)

you have wisely chosen such truly outstanding speakers... but a tube amp on a budget is not the right answer to make them sing at their best

good luck, have fun

Avoid a cheap volume control.  That really matters and a bad one will lead to underwhelming performance.  I have a Schiit Freya + here and even in passive mode it sucks the life out of my music. 
Hugo 2 and LTA power amp vs Qutest with LTA integrated.  I feel like the line stage and volume control in the LTA is very good.  I have had that exact amp connected too Avantgarde Zeros and they highlight anything in your setup that is an issue.  It was incredible.  
That being said, the volume control in the Hugo 2 is VERY good.  I use a Hugo 2 and 2Go for everything at home.  
The DAC in the Qutest and Hugo2 are the same.  The Hugo 2 has a volume control and headphone amp.  

I think LTA integrated with Qutest will be absolute best sound.  With Spatials?????   LTA and Spatial were in the room next to me at CAF and they sounded really good.  This is an A+ system you are putting together.  
As someone who sells both products (LTA and Chord), I am 100% sure you can be on budget with either combo.  The real question is if you want the flexibility the Hugo 2 provides
Reach out to Tommy O’Brien over at Digital Amplifier Company.  He believes in the shortest signal path, and designs his amps and DACs to this belief. I have a pair of his mono amps, his DAC, and the synergy with my Spatials produce the best sound I have had in my room.  Highly recommend you give his products a look.

Lyngdorf TDAI 1120 ... integrated amplifier .. I’m very happy with mine.. for less than 1/3 of your budged.. take a look as there are excellent reviews ..
The Aesthetix Mimas Integrated Amplifier with the built in DAC card will meet your requirements and budget very nicely. 


Good Luck!
Hello czar 2000.  I'm using choice 1, keep it simple. SMSL M500 hs volume control and headphone amp, not pricey, sounds good. 
Thank you guys for inputs.
I decide to buy Integrated. All in one system such as Hegel, Devialet would fit my needs.

Jiss49. Do you think tube integrateds don’t have enough juice for M3 Sapphire? Clayton at Spatial claims that low powered tube works nicely though.
As usual, the answers given here are wrong. They are wrong because no one can tell you which combination of gear will work best given the wide range of available DACs (dedicated or integrated), preamps (passive or active), amps (integrated or dedicated, A, A/B, Tube, D, etc), and cables, not to mention sources. 

Anyone who suggests they know the answer is deluded. One may find a general pattern - maybe - if they build many systems of a variety of configurations, but recommending one setup over another simply by making one or two changes is weak, and it is more personal preference than any meaningful principle guiding setup. 

The fact is that any given set of gear, cables, and speakers in one configuration could be bested by another set of gear in a different configuration. There is no other correct general answer. 

The Hegel and Devialet will sound somewhat different than the LTA Ultra.  The Spatials are reported to work quite well with moderate power, say 20 to 50 watt, tube amplifiers.  I would suspect that the LTA would be a very good match.  There are advantages to an integrated with an internal D/A, but the Chord is probably better sound quality than the internal D/As in this price range.

And just in case you're wondering, my answer is more correct than most!

Jiss49. Do you think tube integrateds don’t have enough juice for M3 Sapphire? Clayton at Spatial claims that low powered tube works nicely though.

a tube amp can certainly drive m3 sapphires but it needs to be a relatively powerful tube amp imo and one that has 4 ohm taps -- if you have a medium to large room

one must not generalize about what it takes drive spatials... those who do don’t know the line...

- m5 sapphire is 8 ohm load, one 15 in woofer on each side 92 db/w/m eff
- m3 sapphires is 4 ohm load, two 15 in woofers on each side 92 db/w/m eff
- x5 is 8 ohm load, two 12 in woofers but with self powered built in sub for the lower woofer, 97 db eff 8 ohm load as seen by your outboard amp
- x3 same as x5 except with larger 15 in internally driven woofer instead of the 12 in unit

so the m3 is the most challenging of the lot... m5 you lose 2 woofers and their output, but sure, it is easier to drive by a tube amp as impedance much more friendly at 8 ohms

x3/5 different can of worms totally - your amp only sees the tweeter and one 12 in woofer... so, easy-breezy to drive above the low pass filter cut off by a connected tube amp, the internal solid state amp doing all the heavy lifting in the low frequencies where the current draw and damping factor is most needed - flea watt amps thus CAN apply for the job successfully here

clayton has indeed used the 13 wpc lta zotl tube amp to drive m3 sapphires at audio shows, but it should be noted that

a) the lta’s are NOT everyday transformer based tube amps... the lta’s use a trick power supply and no output transformers and are a special case and can grip the m3’s woofers especially well

b) note that this set up is being played in a small room, two speakers stradding a single wide equipment rack, side and rear walls nearby... listening was semi nearfield


FWIW: I bought the Nobsound passive amp because of the discussion in this thread about bit-stripping. The Nobsound was only $60 and it was for sale on Amazon. So, for once, I could try something without consideration of restocking fees, etc. I was thrilled to get it today. And then I put it into my system. No doubt there are superior passive amps. This one reduced the soundstage in my system to 2 dimensions. So, back to Amazon it goes. 
Two components that have added more ‘bloom’ and expanded the height and depth of the soundstage was; An all tube preamp and tHe Audio Mirror Tubsdour III DAC having a tube output stage. 
Thanks that is absolutely helpful. 

Understand now. I am going to research Hegel vs Devialet. 
That was my initial plan, DAC + Schiit SYS + Power amplifier within my budget. 
but the cheap volume controller seems like not a good option. 
I'd get Integrated & simple DAC combo
Can't comment on what will work for you, rather what I have found.  I have a Mytek Brooklyn Bridge.(Streamer, dac, and volume)  I can select analog or digital for the volume control.  Analog seems to sound better.  I believe that anything you run the signal through will only degrade the sound.  No matter how good an integrated is, you are running your source through its preamp adding color of some sort.  If the dac has volume control and it is somewhat lossless, then run it direct to the power amp just make sure you match in/output impedance. I've done this mismatch thing and it wasnt great.  Some say 10/1 is a pretty good starting point on impedance matching and I agree.

If you do get an integrated, some have a preamp "sweet spot" say 12 oclock for example on the integrated.  Try setting the pre there and use the dac as the volume control.  This way the integrated is "sounding it's best" and the dac is lossless, so in the end you have the smoothest sound. Learned that from Paul at PS audio.   I had decent results with the Krell KAV 400xi that way.  Now I have a Naim integrated and it sounds best fed full dac signal using the int as the volume. 

You could also try, if the integrated has this, run the dac direct into the amp side of the integrated(bypassing the pre), and then compare with running the dac "normally" into the preamp side of int.  Then you have both scenarios in one place.

In the end, less is always more in this hobby so the right power amp would be cleanest but integrateds will give you the extra inputs.

Georgehifi. Are you using Schiit Sys with your MSB DAC ?
No at the moment, as my MSB dac’s volume is close to full up for the loudest I need, direct into these NC500 amps (no Buffer used).
But I do use a passive as a volume preset with different amps I have, which have higher gain.

Cheers George
George.  Thought as much. I use my MSB Analog DAC direct.  No problems.  With my Wadia 301 and Wadia 521 DAC I needed to set the gain such that low volume started at 60%. That way volume was always over 67%.  
With the high gain amp I use my own, but any 10kohm one will do Schiit, Dact, Alps, Black Beauty, Blue Velvet, etc etc.

Cheers George 
I found the Mytek Liberty + Plus Dac to be quite full featured with an appreciable analog / digital volume control and a preamp section that is no slouch in any way. Any notion of so called “bit stripping” appears to be nonexistent to my ears.
I run the dac directly into my MC75 monoblocks ...and get to omit an extra physical space robbing box (preamp) ... and am very happy in general.
Another recent convert here for DAC direct to power amp. I much prefer it at least with my RME. In the past with and old Wyred 4 Sound I didn't really care for it but I dont think at the time I got into the sweet spot on the volume without getting too loud with the setup I had at the time.

George hifi makes a lot of sense with what he keeps bringing up that as long as you can run the DACs volume high enough to prevent bit stripping the only thing a preamp can do is degrade the signal. Obviously a preamp can also add flavoring you may prefer. 
George hifi makes a lot of sense with what he keeps bringing up that as long as you can run the DACs volume high enough to prevent bit stripping the only thing a preamp can do is degrade the signal.
Not just me saying it, but in so many words also Nelson Pass, if you to use a passive pre to pre-set the level, if the digital volume is too low and "bit stripping", then it can be used in the top 1/3rd if you pre-set the level with the passive pre.

Nelson Pass: On Passive preamps
"What could be better? Hardly any noise or distortion added by these simple passive parts. No feedback, no worrying about what type of capacitors – just musical perfection.

And yet there are guys out there who don’t care for the result. “It sucks the life out of the music”, is a commonly heard refrain (really - I’m being serious here!). Maybe they are reacting psychologically to the need to turn the volume control up compared to an active preamp."

Cheers George
There are integrated amplifiers that have a passive preamp stage. I believe this to be true with at least some of the Line Magnetic (tube) and Pass (SS) integrateds. 

I also would be hesitant to use a passive like the SYS with an amplifier of the quality of the LTA. There are superior passive units available.

I currently have an all digital system based on a DAC having a tube output stage feeding an active tube preamp into a SS amplifier. I often consider going back to an integrated amplifier. There are so many very good ones available.  

I guess I am saying that I do appreciate your situation. I have been taking advantage of the used market to explore these options. Buying and selling quality components at fair prices for the learning experience. If done right adds flavor to this hobby.

Good luck in your endeavor.