Higher End DACs


I am looking for a DAC (potentially streamer&DAC) to be paired in a mcintosh system (c1100/611). Its my first foray into digital streaming and I have no need for a CD player.

I see a lot of love for Esoteric, however, most seems to be around their transports? Are they not as renowned for pure digital streaming and/or standalone DACs? I see DCS (for instance) often referenced for standalone DACs - how does Esoteric compare?
ufguy73

Showing 36 responses by djones51

I might be wrong but I believe ufguy73 was interested in streaming from the internet not from a server since he didn't have CDs to put on one. If you're going the server route then yes it can make a difference but streaming from the internet a server isn't in the equation unless you intend to buy downloaded music or CDs to RIP to it. 
Streaming something like Tidal or Qobuz over the internet is one of the least CPU intense things you can do. Take the server away with the need for intense data base management and you could knock about 70 pounds off that 90 pound thing. It's  the same with roon if you have very few files for roon to manage you can run it on low end computer the database is what eats up memory and processor. 
Streaming from the internet is not a CPU or memory intense application it can be done with a raspberry pi. I stream high resolution and don't even use a computer simply a streaming device with a Qualcomm chip in it. The database with all the metadata needs the memory and CPU power. If you don't use a server there is not really a need for a computer and actually I could stream from a NAS with what I use but the NAS is a type of computer. 
What’s this a sales pitch for a over priced computer to stream Qobuz? If you really want to keep all that noise down have the server in a different room and connect through ethernet problem solved. CPU latency isn’t a problem streaming over the internet neither is execution time they use ARM chips for the most part not x86. 
Just for the record the OP was asking about DACs and internet streaming since he said he didn't even have CDs. Why in the world anyone would need a computer that could run SQL server for a small company and yes I have personal experience is actually outside the point of the thread. I said the computer mentioned looks to be a great product but IMO is a bit much for simply streaming over the internet into a decent streamer/DAC. I imagine if he is interested in it he'll look into it. 

How do you know the sun is hot? Read it somewhere or have actual experience? 
 -200dB ? Noone hears that. I'm not saying  the computer mentioned above isn't a good product IMO it's a bit much for simply streaming over the internet. For running roon or other DB's I am sure they don't  even come close to stressing that computer. 
OK, I understand dmance now he's selling a $4000 box that eliminates RF that only bats could hear. 
You must have a lousy internet provider soundtest to have enough latency to interfere with your music streaming. I can ping Baidu in China from the southeast US  from a wireless tablet between 79ms to 83ms. If your home network has enough Lan activities causing noise get yourself a $50 netgear managed switch and put your streamer on a VLAN giving it priority. I wouldn't worry to much with latency unless you start getting dropouts and yes it's good to have an open mind I try to learn as much as I can but as the saying goes try not to let your mind be so open your brains fall out. 
False dilemma fallacy, EITHER all these people hear it so the device really works OR it’s a conspiracy. There could be a third choice perhaps your tests are not controlled for biases, maybe you didn't match the sound level and louder was considered better. 
but when so many people hear the same thing then either there must be a huge server conspiracy or these devices really do affect the sound quality.
I guess engineers that design and build DACs, amplifiers, preamps, streamers, CD players, etc... never considered RF, EMI and other causes of distortion or interference that could pose problems they all assumed we would buy isolation boxes, rewire our homes, hook everything to batteries? I guess I must be lucky I have a modest system don't employ any of these things and somehow manage to stream and get at least to me excellent results. I also get great results from my CD player. Of course I keep any computers, routers, switches, NAS in a different room pretty good distance away. 
@rms456 
Not real sure what you're saying but DACs aren't measured in isolation chambers as if it was connected to nothing but a power supply.
I don't  doubt that the SGM Extreme is a great server streamer but dual Xeon processors and 48 gigs of ram? All you're doing is storing and streaming music not 3D rendering and  VR design and video editing,  isn't this thing a bit of overkill? 
Servers do heavy lifting in heavy lifting environments, streaming music files is not one of them unless you're  Tidal or Qobuz. You’re better off keeping the server side completely away from the audio components connecting to a good streamer DAC like some mentioned here. Good DAC’s today filter noise and distortion and reclock the stream from the internal embedded clock as long as you’re not feeding it a garbage signal, use a decent NAS or server on a good strong network there’s no need to go bonkers price wise with the server side.
The SGM Extreme  doesn't  even have a DAC for $20K and no DAC I don't  know. I read the thread posted on it and from what I gather he built the thing as overkill. The reasoning is this computer which could run a midsize  company  basically  runs in idle. Streaming music from your library which you're encouraged to move to the server or from Tidal or whatever  streaming services you use doesn't  even cause this machine to use 10% of it's power. The reason given is it cuts down on noise that is inherent in typical computer  systems and I am sure that's  true. Whether noise is actually  a problem in lesser priced solutions I saw no measurements  to back that up just subjective listening tests. I would have to think long and hard before I spent $20K on a massive computer with no DAC and software that will probably  be outdated in 4 or 5 more years. 
The OP was asking about DAC's and streamers not an over built boat anchor computer running some modified windows OS. Anyone who thinks tossing a server computer in their audio rack is about 5 years behind stick the thing in another room. The only thing I can find on this thing is a bunch of fan boys gushing over how neat it looks inside and sounds better than anything at any price without any sort of objective testing or measurements and a few units have been sold in a poor country so it must be good. I am sure this is probably  one of the best, quietest servers out there, it should be it's  built  like you're  using it to launch a rocket to Mars. If the OP wants a 100 lbs boat anchor than I say go for it if he wants an actual streamer and DAC I would look elsewhere.  There have been some pretty good possibilities mentioned so far. 
I know roon needs a lot to run but I don't  think  it needs 40 threads and 48 gigs of ecc. I transitioned  from vinyl 20 years ago. Once again the OP is looking for a DAC and streamer not a 100lb block over built to the point of absurdity to do the job of delivering music. 
In the first place you don’t need a computer to get excellent sound from digital. At least not the type of computer we’re talking about here a lot of things like phones and tablets , streamers are ’computers ’. True if you want to use room you’ll need a computer to run the OS but you don’t need dual 10 core hyperthreading Xeons for 40 threads and 48 gigs of ecc ram. I don’t really like roon so why would I need a computer? I use a NAS and rarely use that mostly I stream tidal. Digital has RF emission computers are about the worse for this so if you use one don’t stick in your audio rack. Vibration control has been taken to extremes but the OP is looking for a DAC and streamer no mention of a server how does the Extreme alleviate vibration in a DAC attached to it with a cable? I said the Extreme is probably a very good server one of best I imagine but it isn’t what the guy asked about. Lumin x1  is about $14K has a great dac ,dual mono design, femtoc clock, optical network to isolate digital noise, great user interface, streamer.  Matrix Element X one of the best measuring dacs with top of the line ESS chips , xmos USB prossecor , linear power supply, isolation ldo, hook it to a good home network with a quality NAS and you’ll get excellent digital sound for $3K. It even has a micro sd card slot just put your music on those. These are not servers will not run roon core but at least they are a dac/streamer what the OP asked about.
If you don't  have CDs I would go with streaming. It would take a lifetime to accumulate the music you can access.
If you go with the Esoteric streamer/dac the top of their line is the N-01XD. The older version is the N-01 they are built around different DAC's. The N01 uses an AKM 4497 chip which is a few years old AKM 's newest chip is the 4499. The N01XD uses what looks like a proprietary FPGA Esoteric developed, their Master Sound Discrete DAC. I have no idea which would sound better or the prices I happened  to notice the recently came out with this new piece might get a deal on the N-01. 
Cal3713 thanks for the info I have been wondering about the Matrix ElementX as it  is a one piece streamer/ dac. I use a benchmark dac3 now which some consider very neutral and not very engaging, they both use ESS chips,  which is what I look for I like the dac to not add anything, flat, neutral, no noise,  great measurements sounds good to me.
If I was spending that much not really, maybe if you already had the T+A preamp or one comparable. 
Ufguy73

Here is a link to a short stereophile clip  from APOXNA 2019 showing a system very similar to yours, C1100, MC611, and B& W 802D. Notice the streamer they used. I am not recommending any streamer over another nor am I trying to sell you anything.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/mcintosh-mc-611-monoblocks-bowers-wilkins-802d-loudspeakers-aure...


T+A uses a ladder DAC which tend to not measure very well, some do not sure about this one. A lot of people like them as they lean more to the polite/ warm/ relaxed side where Delta Sigma DAC's are usually more analytical and neutral though they can be implemented more to the warm side depending on the filters. Personally I prefer the DS neutral DAC's if I want to add " warmth or coloration " I would rather do that with tubes in the pre or amp section. 
Well in this case the source is the servers at Tidal or Qobuz and to add a little perspective I am not trying to sell anything if the OP ends up with a mega buck T+A or a NAD C658 as long as he is happy with the sound then it’s all good.
@ufguy73 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with your McIntosh system, you must have enjoyed it for some time now not only do you have people suggesting $35,000 streaming dacs and $5000 reclockers but saying you need to sell off what you have and start over. Auralic, Lumin, Innous, Aurrender as well as other streamers in the $7K- $12K range will give you great sound. Ones cheaper than those will as well. I have no doubt an uber expensive  streamer dac will provide you with a great listening experience but once the noise, jitter, distortion is below human hearing and a $2200 Benchmark DAC3 will do that the rest is eye candy and hyperbole. I'll  get flack for saying all this but try something like an Auralic Vega G2 for $6500, forget what they cost and just listen to streamers in that range against the others costing 4 times as much as then ask yourself are they even 5 % better? 
If the upstream signal quality is compromised you cannot somehow miraculously correct the shortcomings further downstream,???

 But this is exactly what people are telling ufguy73 he can do with a $35000 streamer/dac. Digital streaming is a whole new ballgame, it’s different from vinyl and CD where your front end piece the TT/cart/arm or CD player is the front end in streaming the front end is a room full of servers sitting hundreds if not thousands of miles away. So if this signal is compromised before it hits your modem how is a mega $$$ streamer going to miraculously fix it any better than a Sonos? If the signal isn’t compromised which means you actually get the signal in digital you either get it or you don’t. Now what that streamer does with it is what matters and until it hits that dac which changes this digital to analog has more to do with not messing up the signal in any way and as long as the dac can do its job the streamer did its job. How easy the user environment is is one of the most important aspects of the streamer that and not degrading the digital signal beyond repair by the dac.
In a home environment the " front end" component is your modem. It takes the analog signal and turns it into digital by MOdulate and DEModulate. In other words it’s basically a ADC incoming and DAC outgoing. So the signal sent to your router then streamer is only as good as that analog to digital converter in your $100 modem, either it works or doesn’t. No one said the streamer/dac is moot but the notion it’s the "front end" of the chain like a CD player or TT is not accurate. It’s a middle of a chain component. I never said they all sound the same I said in my opinion the most important role of a streamer is the ease of use through its interface and making sure the signal gets to the dac without degrading it. The only thing a streamer could do to interfere with the signal which would affect the sound is by adding noise or distortion so the quality matters but not to the extent that the dac does.
Looking at what measurements I can find on the Bartok and Rossini I would be surprised if there would be very many people over 10 year olds who could tell a difference if they were blindfolded. I know I couldn't even sighted with my 63 year old ears. 
If the OP reads through those Novellas my hats off to him.🧢
Bo is rambling nonsense, he claims only losers stream music yet sells modified network switch which supposedly brings streaming to a new level. What a new level for losers who stream? He also claims streaming High Resolution files from Qobuz sucks yet the same file downloaded is sonic bliss. I was bored so I read the Novellas and learned Bo is a nut.
You said that music downloaded is 70% better than streaming, and streaming is for children in the real world where the rest of us live that equates to saying streaming sucks. You also said you buy 90% of your music from this same streaming service. To us losers you come across as an idiot but hey that's  just a losers opinion don't  take it personal. 
Oh, and I highly doubt your modified switch does anything at all. To prove it does send one to ASR and have an independent test on the thing.
The subjective review of the Metronome was nice but the measurements were not very impressive. The tube section had excessive noise and harmonic distortion and the solid state was competent but didn’t do any better than a Benchmark DAC3. I guess being able to pick filters would be nice.