From PC / Mac to DAC into Monoblocks, Direct?

Hello Everyone

For a newly reconfigured system (although keeping my Tympani IVa's) I want to use PC/Mac only as a front end, with monster monoblocks to ensure ample power to the Magneplanars.

With one source, I have no real need for a preamp, so I have been intrigued by other threads on Audiogon praising the performance of direct from DAC to amplifiers. (?)

Having always admired the looks of the Pass amps, I am thinking about a pair of X600's or 1000's.

From there, however, I would appreciate any advice on

1) PC vs Mac?
2) PC / Mac Interface?
3) DAC? (which can work with only an amp, obviously)
4) Cables?

to try and get as good as it gets with PC audio.

Extra credit for anything as impressive looking as the Pass monoblocks.

Happy New Year,
CW- How are you going to attenuate volume?
If you use a PC Foobar has a volume control.

Was hoping by now there might be a wider range of choices for the DAC to handle volume as well?

Or as lustformusic points out, that the software might handle the volument control?

If hardware, how about the Antelope Zodiac? Benchmark?

Dont mind buying a dedicated PC or Mac (mini?) for this set up, and happy to spend a fair bit on the DAC and amps....from there however, mainly looking for music server type ease, convenience, and simple clutter free set up for a new library room.

Would be great if the front end might extend all the way to an iPad, if anyone has had any success with that?

If software addresses the volume, perhaps there are also controller devices? Or "control surface" devices that would synch with Apple?

I want to add back vinyl and reel to reel at some point just for fun, but it's now 2013 and this is the future.

Happy New Year,
Swampwalker is correct, you will need a DAC with volume (or gain) attenuation. There are several models that will do this, and a few that feature a remote control in case that's important to you.

I use an Antelope Zodiac Gold for this purpose for my digital only system in my living room; the DAC becomes the preamp. I am going from a mac mini to the Zodiac Gold via USB, then out via XLR to a pair of active speakers. My wife likes it because it is easy to hide the small components - it is almost invisible. All she sees are the speakers, for which she is still trying to find a way to do without.
My personal setup is a PC server built into an Antec Case, So it looks like a piece audio gear, this is run wireless with a laptop at my listening position using windows remote desktop. This means the remote laptop is the monitor and keyboard to the server. I connect USB to an Audio Research Dac 8 then direct to a VAC PHI 300.1, The VAC is one of the few power amps that has attenuators so I use those although I used the volume conrol in foobar before I purchased the VAC without issue. I have found a difference in the sound between attenuators and digital volume controls,they both have their strengths and weaknesses. I don't know your budget but the Weiss Dac 202 could be ideal in your situation as it has a built in digital attenuator and remote or the Weiss Dac 2 is cheaper and both of these can be had here on Audiogon secondhand. MSB make a dac that doubles as a Pre but I don't know much about them. Either way to drive directly to a power amp you'll need a Dac with a strong output stage , capable of driving 5 or 6 volts into a low impedences no more than about 500 ohms and preferably lower, The weiss will drive 50 ohms. I'm sure others on this forum will know more of other Dacs and other relevent options, I hope this helps.
All very helpful - thank you everyone so far.

Lustformusic, nice idea to use a good case for the PC which I have also considered.

Br3098, how do you like your Antelope gear? And further to wives, mine has been very supportive of wires and clutters for years, but this seems to be changing as we approach our 10th anniversary.

Hence, this approach!

I haven't found a DAC that sounds better, is built as well or has all the features of the Antelope Zodiac Gold for anywhere near the price.
I fully second BR3098 on the Zodiac and suggest to get the Voltikus power supply while you are at it
Re attenuator

This weekend, I managed to experiment with my trusty Audio Research DAC5 in the following configuration:

1) Mini Mac - USB out to Hagtech interface box
2) Hagtech interface box out to SPDIF input on ARC DAC5
3) DAC 5 direct to Levinson 23.5 power amp

To my surprise, (and as per Lustformusic's Foobar suggestion) I was able to easily adjust volume using the software when surfing around iTunes and Pandora, suggesting no preamp required?

Having said that, it did not sound great - just pretty good, so would appreciate any clarity on how attenuating the digital signal (?) might be compromising sound quality and how to improve upon that.

A friend from Audiogon has told me he has come close to perfected bit perfect rips to iTunes, which can be controlled using an iPad.

That too is of interest if anyone is using an iPad to browse their collection?
Hello Cwlondon, all volume controls including digital are not created equal. Digital volume controls literaly throw away resolution as they attenuate, although dynamics seem to be untouched. Analog depending on the quality seem to retain resolution but dynamics can suffer so it would seem on the surface you may as well toss a coin. I've also used passive attenuators which you can try between your Dac and Amp, some prefering TVC types over RVC attenuators.I had an interesting coversation with John from Bent Audio, he told me if you use both digital and analog attenuators at the same time each padding down the signal and operating toward their upper limits where both loose the least and operate at their best. I do this myself and find it's better than either attenuator types used on their own and dynamics timber and harmonics are preserved. I also see you are restricted to 20 bit because of your Dac of choice, upscaling both bits and frequency will give your digital volume control somthing to loose and retain more bits. I use Saracon or r8brain, the latter is free and easy to use.Please be sure your SPIDIF cable is 110 ohm , DH Labs make a good one for reasonable money but I know there are many others. I hope this will address at least part of of you needs.
Perfect - thank you so much. And I may have been imagining it, but just took the amp out of storage for this project and the whole thing seemed to sound much better last night after > 24 hours of warm up.

Nonetheless, fun and convenient to listen to, so look forward to further exploration of Mac to DAC.