I would go with an integrated amp with an outboard DAC. YMMV.
DAC technology changes so quickly and becomes outdated so quickly that you don’t want to have to keep changing integrated amps every year to keep up with DAC "flavor of the month".
agree. it will only take an extra cable and minute to set up, and will not affect ease of use. on the other hand, if you don't plan to make any changes for a bunch of years, and are only looking for mid-fi, then an all in one is cheaper. I use both.
Also agree with the above. I've had my amp for almost 20 years but have had four DACs in my system over that time. Buy a great integrated you can keep and upgrade DACs as needed. Best of luck.
Like most things it depends.
What integrated compared to what external DAC and amp?
The unique advantage of separate DAC is you can change and upgrade DACs without having to change amps. That’s a useful thing especially if one considers DAC technology to still be improving overall rapidly, which seems to be the case.
The unique advantage of an integrated is well its integrated....details of integrating DAC with the rest have been worked out for you. Also should be easier for wife and kids.
I have separate DAC in one system and integrated in another. Both sound top notch but different. Hard to say which is "better" sounding and exactly why.
Agree with external DAC, but be careful since many TVs output only Dolby and not the PCM. My Samsung TV has choice in the menu, but Panasonics and few others output PCM only with analog TV (NTSC) and Dolby with digital (ATSC).
Thanks everyone for the comments. I was thinking about getting the Cambridge Audio CXA60 as an integrated. It's available for about 800. I do think it has gotten good reviews for what it is. If I went for a separate DAC and amp it is going to cost me about $500 more. I really like the Creek Evolution 50A and the Musical Fidelity V90 DAC. I look at that as an investment in the future but I am trying to be practical. I will be working with CD quality files as opposed to anything hi-res. I live in a rural area so I will not have a chance to audition anything in person. I'm moving on from an AVR with some Wharfedale 10.1s so anything is likely to be an improvement.
I picked up a demo bel canto c5i here on agony for under $1000. Very nice clean holographic sound and does it all including phono and all the hifi many would ever need.
I also believe an external DAC is the way to go. What digital source(s), other than the TV, will you use? This is important when considering your input need for the DAC. I believe there are several integrated amplifiers that will serve your 10.1s well and leave funds for a DAC with both purchases keeping you within your ~$800 budget. If you are willing to buy used the AG marketplace is a good place to look.
Hi Mesch, right now I am thinking about using an airport express with or without a reclocker as a source. Can anyone recommend a good amp with tone controls that would meet my budget? I do plan on buying the best speakers I can afford in the future. Anyone listen to something from Zu Audio?
I agree with jl35 for a midfi system in your budget an integrated with built in dac makes more sense. If your using AE as a source and cd quality files no need to chase flavor of the day dac technology. There are some decent sounding integrateds around your budget with both digital and analog inputs. If you want tone controls then consider a used NAD c375 bee with the on board dac module. It has plenty of analog inputs as well in case you decide to jump on the dac merry-go-round in the future. Otherwise look into offerings from Hegel or Peachtree Audio. The nova 220se would at the top of my list if I had your budget. It has been mentioned on here lately they are selling refurbs from the manufacturer at a nice discount and the reviews are very favorable.
Thanks chrshan. I heard the Nova wouldn't work with AE because it uses the sabre chip. Anyone hear that?
I’ve heard some have had trouble with droputs and others have had success so hard to say. I guess you could get an apple tv and use airplay.
AE stops streaming during breaks between songs. My Benchmark DAC1 is fast enough to start again but some other DACs loose first second of the song. Remedy for that is to "fade" between songs. Perhaps they fixed it in new version of AE?
Great suggestion Kijanki.
I'll address your Zu question. As a Def IV owner, I'm very enthusiastic about the company's approach with high efficiency, high impedance speakers flexible enough for most any amp (why not?) but especially the SET and OTL's that so many audiogoners have expressed an interest in trying. Of course, you are more interested in the more reasonably priced offerings, still, I would encourage you to step up to one with their better tweeter. ( Owner, Sean Casey, & Co. offer great customer support too.)
The Zu has been a "keeper" in my high-turnover world.
I wouldn't have any problem going with a good integrated. If you like the internal DAC, you're all done! If not, you can still get an external DAC and connect it to the integrated and use it that way. Thus, you are "future-proofed".
Hey Truman, in person how do the speakers look and what do you think about the sound? I have heard it is polarizing.
I went ahead and with some trepidation decided to get an external DAC. Now I just need to settle on a good amp for around 500-600. I like the idea of the NAD's. Just wish they put a little more effort into aesthetics.