How much do you need to spend on a DAC to...

How much do you need to spend on a DAC to get better sound than your headphone out on a MacBook using PureMusic? Or for that matter using the DAC with my Cambridge 340C?

Should I go with something inexpensive for now and then upgrade later or just hold off since a low priced one won't really help that much?

I have recently bought new speakers and integrated and am a bit cash-strapped, but really want to make the best use of the system possible.

All of the advice I have received and all the posts I have read here on A'gon have helped so much--thanks to you all my system is better than it ever has been!

Hey Gustav1,

Go look at my review on the Parasound Zdac on, for details why this $470.00 dac competes with dacs up to at least 4k in its performance.It would be a major upgrade compared to what you now have in your system.
Any dac at about $500 or more will be a major improvement.
Teajay - would you know how the Schiit Bifrost compares to the Zdac?

My experience has been that almost any external DAC will be an improvement over the headphone output of a Mac.

One good place to start would be with a Musical Fidelity VDAC, either the original or version 2. I use the original VDAC in my office with an iMac and like it a lot.
As mentioned, it doesn't take a whole lot to do better than the output on the Mac.

I'll add the Emotiva XDA to the list. It's one heck of a bang for the buck. I picked up an XDA-1 when they were clearing them out. I think I paid something like $200 for it. Since I got it, I've also tried a Cambridge Audio DacMagic, a V-DAC and a Bifrost. I wound up returning all three because they did not offer any advantages or benefits in my system. I'm still running the XDA-1. Emotiva is now offering their XDA-2 for something like $399.

Others that you might want to consider in the same price range (although they offer less flexibility) are the Peachtree DacIT, and the Wyred4Sound uDAC. I mention these because these are going to be the next two that I try.
Even a low priced DAC will be better than the output on the pc.
I agree with Sfar, the original V-DAcs come up for sale often used. Should be able to puchase one for ~$150 They have USB and a coax input so could be used for both computer and CD sources.

The PS Audio Digital Line IIIs also go on sale here often. One could be had for ~$350. Significantly better than the V-Dac. A true piece of audio. I am currently using one.

I purchased a Pro-Ject USB box here for $100 18 months ago. Use it to feed a headphone amp. Much better than out the headphone output. It is USB only.

All depends on your budget. Most any external DAC would be a significant upgrade to the headphone ouput. If you buy used your upgrade path becomes less expensive.

Enjoy your new system!
Gustav1, As a followup from my last post, It seems you need to decide If you are satisfied with your system as driven by the 340C, and looking only for a DAC to improve output from your computer only, or, if you want to improve the sound from both inputs. It would be inexpensive to improve your computer output now and upgrading to a more full service DAC later. What integrated and speakers do you own?
Thanks Mesch,

I have 2Ce Sig ii's and an LM audio 216--kt-88 based integrated.
Gustav1, I owned an original pair of the Vandy 2s several years back . They were great then and am sure much improved now. Having bought both items recently, I can understand your cash issue. I have been in the same boat recently, Putting together my system over the last 3 years.

I have switched to the use of a MAC Mini as a server as my primary source. I also have a Arcam disk player that I use directly into my preamp though intend to use it as a transport only in the future. I am currently using a M2Tech Hiface USB/SPDIF converter into a PS Audio digital Link III. This approach uses the only Coax provided by the DAC which is a limitation. I could use the Toslink connection for the Arcam but don't believe it serves any better than using the player pluged in directly. In addition, though I believe the DAC represents good value and sounds good in my system, the USB input represents the weakest link as USB to SPDIF conversion has been improved on the last couple years. I continue to research converters/DACs as I intend on upgrading. I have a pair of Esoteric MG10s driven by a BEL 1001MKV amp with a Jolida Fusion pre.

It seems that you are heading down a similar path. Which promotes my interest. For now you might consider purchasing one of the smaller portable USB DACs to improve your computer listening experience. This will allow you to 'jump in' with computer audio and you may find use for it later when you upgrade, or be able to sell it without much loss.

Please let us know how you proceed. Enjoy!
Music sound is not about how much money, it about engineering. Zdac included all the newest technology that make your system sing with no limitation.