I have owned quite a few dacs with volume control: Ensemble hi dac, wadia 521, msb power dac, bel canto dac 3. I liked the sound better when not using a pre with all of the dacs i listed. Other dacs with volume controls: Theta gen VIII 2, esoteric D-70 and msb dac 3.
In latest issue of Audio Advisor there is a DAC from Music Hall that can function as pre-amp. Volume control of course. $600 I think. MH seems to have reputation for quality. Maybe comparable to level of Parasound, Rotel ect... I've never used MH myself. Good luck.
I have the Music Hall 25.2 USB DAC at home for a tryout right now. Yes it has a volume control (and a headphone output).
I also have an Apogee Mini-DAC, which has a volume control too. The Mini-DAC can be had with or (more cheaply) without a FireWire port, if you don't need the computer connection. It can be jumpered internally to place the volume control in or out of circuit.
I don't want to start any controversy here but may I suggest that the sound quality of the Berkeley surpasses most or all of the DACs discussed so far? Mjmch2003, IMO this DAC hits the price/performance sweet spot. It has volume control [volume on each channel can be controlled individually from the remote for balance] which could eliminate a pre-amp if you have a digital only system. Plus it's virtually future proof as far as formats. Definitely worth an audition and consideration if you're in the market for a new DAC. Not cheap but far from the stratospheric prices that some others are going for. Or you could wait until some used units become available.
I have to agree about the berkeley Dac. I was in the process of going back to vinyl, because frankly, I was sick of listening to music using cd's and only being reminded of emotion. I am now using the berkely dac with a g5 apple as server, and I get goosbumps once more. I think it's a ground breaking piece of equipment, and to top it all, I don't have to re-invest in software again, and as a plus, using to 24/192 is a revelation. My hat goes off to the designers, who seem to truly understand the potential of digital playback.
Been listening to a Transporter XLR into ARC 100.2 into Dynaudio S3.4s's. About as detailed, transparent, and pure as I've ever heard. I have noticed though, that a very good preamp, like a Pass X2.5 or X1, or a tube job like an LS25 does a better job at detail retreival when listening at night time (when the kids are asleep). Perhaps a smidge sweeter (rolled off is not exactly what it is, something else) too with the LS25. Other than that it's hard to tell if I am imagining things or if there really is a difference. It will be a sad day when I have to give the transporter back to my buddy! At one point I was running a Bel Canto Dac3 direct into my Pass x250.5--same speakers; I would say that this combo had the most sheer detail and accuracy, but i'm getting a more tube like (by that I mean sense of open midband with no SS chalkiness) sound that I like better with the ARC 100.2/Transporter combo. Of course not really fair since digi sources are different...and I moved (but I can still guess from memory)!
Anyway unless the manufacturer has implemented a stellar line section in the DAC, a very good preamp will usually sound better; this has been my experience--ymmv
Dpac996, I have a Pass 105.5 running into Piega C8s. Trying to get that ribbon tweater to come to life. I have been thinking about the Belcanto, but have not heard it run directly, so you vouching is extremely helpful.
I saw/heard a PWD dac that was upstream from some big Maggies, recently. It looks cool as heck, system seemed to sound pretty good. I was not able to audition it, though. It looks GOOD. Did I say that already ? Touchscreen...
Give the CEC DA 53N a try. Compared to my stock transporter, which sounds really big, clean and detailed albeit a bit 2D-like, the CEC renders the stage more in a 3D-manner. Very refined sound as well. However it needs 2-3 days burn-in. And it doesn't sport remote control - unfortunately!
ok, i broke down and picked up a benchmark dac1 hdr (remote volume an absolute must for me).
I am running it straight into my arc 100.2 via el cheapo cardas XLR. When I first got it I was using my squeezebox (w/linear ps -- I don't like switching ps's close to my audio stuff, makes me paranoid ;) ) running true 75 ohm coax over s/pdif. Straight away it was a big improvement over running the SB3 direct via rca into the 100.2 (not surprised--actually I was quite pleased at just how good the solo sb3 direct to amp sounded, a true marvel at $299, been running this way for quite some time). The sound cleaned up, seemed more coherent and focused. Bass definition was improved--basically the whole sonic presentation grew in resolution.
Then i connected my dad's Oppo 980H s/pdif. Now i'm screwed and can't listen to the sb3 anymore, except for Pandora and Rhapsody which are killer music services.
The Oppo as transport is a definite leg up over the sb3 in quality of sound. I am beginning to wonder if my sb3 has a compromised s/pdif connection (internally) that cheap rca connector has a slight case of the wiggles from all the connection swaps made over the years.
All my files are FLAC. Speakers are dyn s3.4.
I am very impressed with the DAC1 HDR. The sound is absolutely crystal clear with a huge sense of refinement and resolution. Things just seem snappier and more 'in focus'. Now I have to figure out how to force the Oppo to not read the SACD layer on my sacd's (no s/pdif)....and of course i'm back to square one with music server. Perhaps the mac mini running usb? the dac1 usb does 24 bit/96 khz over usb which is a pretty big deal.
The PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC sounds awesome with the Perfect Wave Transport. Truly the best digital I have ever heard, and blows away my Northstar M192 DAC. The Perfect Wave has a volume control. I am using it without a preamp, as I find it sounded better than with a preamp inserted in the system.