the v-dac is getting phenomenol reviews and would be my pick
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The current (January 2010) issue of Stereo-pile positively reviews the new ASUS Xonar Essence soundcard, and specifically prefer it to the Musical Fidelity DAC. It has been designed from an audiophile perspective, and in particular has shielding/grounding strategies to avoid noise from the PC.
At a street price of $180, this would save your friend $100 and possibly produce a superior result, plus it has a 1/4" headphone jack too.
I have no personal experience with the ASUS card, but at the price it looks like a great option!
Well, I guess I didn't read the article all that carefully (I tend to treat S-pile as bathroom reading).
I checked the article again, based on your comment. The only comparison to the V-Dac was the statement that the ASUS board uses the same Burr-Brown PCM 1792 D/A converter as the Musical Fidelity V-Dac. That's not a bad thing.
I have read some reviews of the V-DAC which suggest that it is sensitive to jitter (and thus choice of USB cables makes a difference). But given your Mac situation, it sounds to me like the V-DAC should be a good choice.
My own preference is to avoid USB. Maybe Gordon's Wavelength/Ayre asynchronous USB solves the inherent jitter issues, but I prefer using ethernet, via a Squeezebox and a separate DAC. Or more recently, for the past 2 years I've been using a Logitech Transporter modified by Modwright with a tube analog output stage. The Transporter lets me input other digital sources, so I can use the DAC as a standalone too, altho it's a pain in the butt to switch back and forth. You can find used squeezeboxes for about $100 or so, and that lets you have all the computer stuff in another part of the house, well away from the stereo.
Dfhaleycko, I agree with you, but I'm having a hard time even convincing this guy he needs a DAC, so I think it's going to have to be the V-DAC. Also, he's going to be sitting at the computer when playing music, so the functionality of the SB is not critical.
I love my SB, but I'm running it through an Audio Logic DAC, so it's really just an interface.