Hi-fi digital front end suggestions for my system

Hi everyone,

I don't know much about PC based sources and was hoping for some suggestions on a reference quality digital front end. I would like something that sounds as good as my modded Sony XA9000es SACD player with a budget of up to $2000 or so (used). I really love my CDP for solo listening but I need a digital source for entertaining.

I have read some of the forum postings and it seems that the Apple is better suited for high end digital? Unfortunately, I have an IBM Thinkpad, so I don't know if that's a non-starter without going way over budget. Also which DAC should I get?


I love the sound of my Wavelength Cosecant USB DAC. I thought it equalled the soudn of my 10K Ayre CD player.
Well, there's one initial choice to be made ... do you want a computer in your listening room? If so, then integrating one (Mac or PC) directly into your system using a good USB DAC would be the way to go. As I understand it, a Vista based PC will sound as good as a Mac.

However, if you don't want the computer in your listening room, then solutions such as the Squeezebox or Transporter would be the other path.

For an investment of $2k, I think you could get excellent sound quality (albeit not SACD). But you could do very well for well under $2k via a stock Squeezebox. For me, the Squeezebox is ideal for entertaining and its definitely a low cost of entry if you already have wireless networking in your home and a sizeable hard-drive on your Thinkpad (and the patience to rip your CDs). Then there are very nice mod paths for the Squeezebox to take it up to an even higher quality if you're so inclined...

Good luck and have fun!
Thanks for the responses so far. It appears that there are two very good USB DACs in my price range - the Benchmark DAC1 and the Bel Canto DAC3. The Wavelength Cosecant seems awesome but at $3500 is out of my range.

The Bel Canto is a bit over my budget but I would willingly stretch a bit if the difference in sonic performance between the two is significant. From what I have read, the power supply and the clock are both very high end which may justify the difference in price vs. the Benchmark. In either case, I plan to run the DAC into my Manley Shrimp tube preamp, so performance as a dual purpose DAC/preamp is not really my main concern. As an added benefit would the Bel Canto substantially boost the performance of my modded XA9000es (just using the Sony as the transport)?
I heard the Transporter in a very good hi-rez system and it was great as a standalone unit. Sounds like the Transporter has excellent built in DAC.

I am also familiar with Benchmark and Bel Canto. It is very questionable to me if either of these dacs can be better or can even compete with the Transporter. But listen if you can before you buy.
The Apogee Mini-DAC is another excellent USB DAC in the price range you are considering.
Mdht Laboratory makes the Constantine non oversampling tube USB DAC. Enjoythemusic.com gave it good reviews. Designed and made in China and costs $550+-
I just picked up the latest issue of Stereophile today with a review of the Bel Canto DAC3. The review suggested that the Bel Canto would be a good deal at half of its $2500 retail price and that the performance from its USB input fell short compared to the digital input side. By comparison, Stereophile reviewed the Transporter earlier this year and gave it a glowing review in terms of value and sonic performance for its $2000 price. I also like the fact that Modwright offers a reference modification package for the Transporter if I ever have another $2k burning a hole in my pocket...Looks like the Transporter is the way to go in the $2k and under range.

Does anyone here have a Transporter in their system? How does a stock Transporter compare sonically to your reference CD/SACD player?
When I heard the Transporter, it was in Philnyc's system, and it ran into Dodson DA-218 dac. I am pretty familiar with Phil's system and can tell if he changed something from the last time I heard it. Anyway, this wasn't an extended audition, but enough time to get an idea of Transporter's capabilities. We ran it into Dodson via Acoustic Zen Silver Bytes digital IC, AZ Silver RefII from Dodson to preamp....and Phil, correct me if I'm wrong here, but I recall the ICs as either Silver Ref II or AZ Absolute. Anyway, we then ran the Transporter using first the AZ Matrix II and then the same ICs as were used from the Dodson direct into the preamp without the Dodson dac and to say that I was impressed with the sonics of the Transporter is an understatement. The sound was great. Yeah, the Dodson provided more depth to the soundstage and a bit bigger images(that's what I noticed the most) and the Dodson sounded a bit more refined overall, but that's to be expected when you compare an $8k Dodson DA-218 dac to a digital to analog conversion section of a $2k Transporter. But if the Dodson 218 wasn't there for comparison, I doubt that I would be able to pick any shortcomings in the Transporter's performance. Again, you have to listen to it in your own system, but as far as I'm concerned, this piece is a great value and an outstanding performer. I'd not even hesitate to compare it to a solid state cd players probably in the $3-4k range. I found no serious faults in its performance.
Do a search on Audiogon for Transporter in systems....perhaps e-mail few Tranporter owners here and ask them what they think and what they compared it to.

Good luck.
Thanks Audphile1. If you are comparing the sound of the Transporter to CD players in the $3-4k range it is obviously a very nice sounding unit strait out of the box, especially for $2k. I don't have an external DAC in my system, and while my modified Sony XA9000es is great, its certainly not the ultimate player. It sounds like the Transporter might do just as well as my player (excluding SACDs).
it is still better if you evaluate the Transporter in your own system though, if possible.
I think slimdevices may offer some kind of a trial period...check it out.
My Wavelength Cosecant has outperformed just about any CDP player I have listened to. Which included a side by side with the Meridian G08 with a whole room full of Audiophile store workers who agreed.

Depending on your budget, the Cosecant is simply magical and worth the budgetary stretch or patience to wait to get it.

I wouldn't trade it as a source for ANY CDP thats for sure.
The Wavelength Cosecant seems like an outstanding USB digital source, but at $3500 the price of entry is rather steep for me. I wonder if anyone has compared the Modwright Transporter ($4000) to the Cosecant? If I was to go the Transporter route, I could always upgrade with Modwright mod package down the line....
Hi Latinsamba1
I just want to add alternative to above choices.
It is a Sonos system with Nixon Scott tube dac.
It is a easy almost plug&play setup
Easy to use with a very cool wireless controler.
Works with pc/mac - wmp and itunes.
I have it setup with my wireless 1T-bit hard drive.
A big plus of this set up is that you do not have to turn your comuter on to have access to your music library.
Nixon's tube dac makes the music a little less grainy/digital. This is only my opinion based on my own exp.
The whole setup will cost you about $1500 and if you decide to add huge ext. wireless hard drive - $300 more.
If you ask me how does it sound.....well... it sounds great.
It is at least as good or better then my Rega Apollo but not as good as new Prima Luna's ($2500) new CD player, which in my opinion beats everything up to $5000 and will be my next referance CD player.
I purchased over a year ago a Non-OS DAC called the Constantine from some gentleman in China. It is available generally on eBay around $300. (I've never seen one used). I have a Moon I-3 SE, Aerial 6's, AQ Bedrock, and a Consonance CD 120 CD Player. In addition I have a Dell PC as a dedicated source component.

The Constantine is made, I have read, by a company called Mhdt. My model offers USB inputs as well as the other two styles of digital, with switching (back panel) between. Powered by a standard IEC removable cord. It is hand-made, and a beautiful unit.

Well, what about the sound? I like it very much? As I have said, i have had it well over a year. I find it very musical and detailed at the same time. It throws a nice soundstage, and really doesn't seem to do anything wrong. For the price, it is a very good deal, and it holds its own with the DAC on the Consonance (which replaced a Jolida). I have used it for USB off the PC, and it is a plug and go set-up. I've also used it with a Sony cdp (quite an improvement), and with a Roku (quite an improvement).

The gentleman ships them very quickly and very cheaply. They don't come with power cords, but that would only increase the price of shipping and the unit. Lately, I've been thinking about buying a second one.

I know, when i first saw the thing on eBay, I was hesitant for a number of obvious reasons, but I have never been sorry I bought it. My feeling about all the talk between OS/Non-OS/1-bit and whatall is that the execution of the basic technology is more important than the technology itself. I think the Constantine is very well executed.
Now that both the Wavelength Cosecant USB DAC v3 (now with ASYNC mode) and the Benchmark USB DAC 1 and DAC 1-PRE support 24-bit audio at sample rates up to 96 kHz without the installation of any drivers or other special software. I am having a hard time choosing between them. My primary headphones are the Ultrasone UE 9 and the Grado GS 1000. Has anyone out there heard both side to side at any of the meets??? Are there specific advantages of one over the other?