I need help choosing a DAC

I'm new to the USB DAC world so I'm hoping you can help me determine which of your products is suitable.

Here's how I'm doing things now:

- Mac Mini
- iTunes for ripping and organization
- Front Row or PLEX for consumption
- CDs ripped at full AIFF or Apple Lossless or purchased FLAC
- Toslink cable from the Mini leads to an Integra Preamp (internal DAC) - amplification, etc.

When I want to the music to really shine, I use a BDP-83 as a transport and just listen to physical CDs. I love the Integra's DAC and just wish it had USB capabilities.

A/B comparisons between AIFF/Mini and CD playback reveal the following:
CD has better imaging and a wider soundstage, more detail and decay in the high end but still warm.

Do you think I will get better sound bypassing the Mini's sub par optical port and moving the data via USB? If so, which DAC is for me or is there a way to convert USB to coax (to Integra) without screwing the sound?

Anything that makes the music sound more digital or adds grit to the mids and highs is not desirable.
An M2Tech hiFace USB>SPDIF adapter should be on your short list if you want to keep your present DAC.
USB-to-S/PDIF converters:

Bel Canto USB Link 24/96 USB-S/PDIF converter. Here's Stereophile review: http://www.stereophile.com/budgetcomponents/bel_canto_usb_link_2496_usb-spdif_converter/index.html (now $249 instead of original pricing of $495)

M2Tech Hiface (supports 24/192 files). Here's 6Moons review: http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/m2tech/hiface.html
This one received 6Moons' Blue Moon award. This would be my choice at $150-$180 and supports full hi-rez files.


Too many to mention. What is your budget? You can do HRT Music Streamer II ($150) and II+ ($350) all the way up to Ayre's QB9 ($2500) and more expensive offerings from Wavelength. There are many other DACs that have USB ports but the ones mentioned above are optimized for USB and use one form or another of asynchronous transfer mode, where the DAC slaves the PC to the DAC's clock, reducing jitter and to my mind is the superior DAC technology via USB port.

You should check out Computer Audiophile (http://www.computeraudiophile.com/). Many good resources and reviews there for everything related to computer-based audio.

Hope this helps.
The Apogee Mini Dac w/firewire is good match for the Mac Mini.
Why do you assume that the Mac Mini has a sub par optical output?
Another vote for the Hiface 192. I posted my thoughts on it and some software recently. If you care to, check out the reviews link in my bio below.

given the inherent nature of jitter using the TOS link, going USB or adding an USB TO SPDIF or BNC adapter will open more DAC doors for you.

if you really want to stay only with USB or maybe FIREWIRE... Wavelength & Weiss are getting loads of great press, and a great following as well.

Budget too is key here. So what is it?

I was and still am quite impressed by the M2Tech h 192 UNIT.

Everything plays a part in sound stage development, amp, pre, source, etc. Even wires!

I'd suggest you begin by seeing just who you can audition in your home first.... and go from there. That way you'll know for sure.

Either that or simply take the plunge on the DAC you feel will do what you wish it to do and to heck with us all!
You can try the M2Tech hiface for 30 days from Tweekgeek. I could hear a very slight difference going optical out from my mini to the PS Audio DLIII vs BDP-80 and Oppo 980 into the DAC. Using the hiface meant going asynchronous into the coaxial spdif and I believe was better. One consideration is how your DAC handles the input of optical vs coaxial. The hiface solves that problem. If your Integra has two coaxial spdif inputs you could compare CD>coax spdif>>Integra to the Mini USB>Hiface>coax>Integra and see if it is the same. In my system it is the same and I love having music on a HD.
I also have an Integra 9.9 and the Digital processing is very good. However if you come out of a standalone DAC in Analog, the Integra Analog section is not good at all. The best you can do is to setup an input as Direct passthru, where all you use is the volume control. Try to select a DAC with good jitter control, makes a big difference.
Cmalak is right on,talk to Chris at that site.He will help with everthing from soup to nuts,good luck,Bob