DAC with volume control under $250

I have a friend asking for a DAC, equipped with volume control, he could connect to his Airport Express via optical (mini toslink).
The budget is pretty tight, only $250.
Is there anything out there to fit this tight bill?
Thank you very much.
Matrix Mini-i on ebay.Pretty good for the money and balanced outputs too if you need them as well as a headphone amp.
Check out Grant Fidelity's DAC-09 or DAC-11.
Never heard it but it fits the budget. Emotiva XDA-1 with 5 year warranty.

Thank you very much to you all.
A used Sony SDP-EP9ES would do the trick.
My friend has ordered the Emotiva which definitely did fit the budget. Even shipping was included in the $249. It's on its way to him now.
Thanks again.
That's great. I considered getting one myself to use the balanced outs into some amps I have, but will probably just get an all in one integrated instead to save space. Please be so kind as to update us with some listening impressions when you have a chance. I hope your friend enjoys it. Seemed to get a lot of positive feedback on various forums, especially for the price.
I'll do my best. Probably I won't get to hear it, but I'll post his impressions.
We both "owe" this to those who helped us in the search. ;-)
I don't know about "owing" but I'd gladly thank you for those impressions. I have a buddy looking in the same price range and I'd probably just forward him the thread if your friend has a favorable impression. :)
OK, here it comes. I had the chance to listen to my friend's Emotiva DAC. First and foremost, he is very happy with it.
I, one, less so, but I have to admit that feeding the DAC from Airport Express may not be the best solution, jitter-wise. And I wasn't cutting it the "for the money" slack.
For the $250 (shipping included) my friend paid for this unit new, not quite sure one could get much more. Thus, bang-for-the-buck, the unit scores well and deserves consideration. It's a handsome unit too, this might score well with WAF.
But I strongly believe that those who compared this unit with the likes of Benchmark and said it comes close were incorrect. I beg to differ. It's not close at all in my opinion.
All-in-all, this DAC, I believe, is very good for the money and nothing more. One should not expect miracles.
It worked very well for my friend who sends his thanks to the Audiogon community for the advice, and so do I. It was the perfect solution for his problem.
Thank you for that. I'm not too surprised that a) it's nothing more than good for the money and b)your friend is very happy with it. As far as the Benchmark comparison, that seems like wishful thinking or confirmation bias. It seems rampant on internet forums. Based on your report, I think it'd still be a win for my friend, who would never think to spend $1000+ on a DAC, but could actually benefit from the feature set this one provides. Mihaitaa, thank you so much for taking the time for the update. I, for one, really appreciate it.
Anonymoustao, looks like your friend and mine share the same goals when it comes to audio.
My friend's system was'n too bad at all, only old. Carver power amp and Infinity Reference Kappa speakers, with a delicious EMIT tweeter.
The system, with the Emotiva playing, was by all means listenable and enjoyable.
Here's his email to me:


THANK YOU for your suggestion and guidance, this is absolutely fantastic. Now, I know you did not want any feedback before it burns in for 200+ hours, but nevertheless:

-- My original goal, as I will remind you, was to have better volume control. Well, now I have from 0 to 80 in 0.5 increments. There is no gain issue, 40 is right about medium. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. I don't need 200+ hours to tell me that.

-- Now, as to sound. I also don't need 200+ hours to tell me that it blows away my previous DAC and sounds phenomenal to these untrained ears. I am going from black to white, from night to day. I spent last night listening to all kinds of stuff and it's amazing all the detail I never heard before. Stuff that was muffled or kind of just "there" is now crisp and clear. And this is with the playpen partially blocking a speaker :).

-- Interestingly, I find that some of my music sounds crappy. It's such a huge difference that it must be related to the album or way I ripped it or something like that. It doesn't seem to correlate with bitrate. There are some things that are 800+ kbps that sound crappy. Must be how I imported eh?

-- I took this as an opportunity to check connections on speakers, I need to redo some of the cabling. My speakers have some funky controls on the back, not sure what to do with these. I will send a photo in a minute.

-- The "downstairs" system is now:
Infinity Reference Series 8 Kappa speakers Carver M-1.0t amplifier Emotiva XDA-1 DAC
Well, I ended up ordering one to use in my office system. The preamp capability/balanced output/price made it a no-brainer. My girlfriend and I share the office and we'll be using it with Hibachi monoblocks and Ohm speakers. And the multiple inputs mean we can have both of our laptops plugged in atthe same time.