Looking for a DAC that has..


1) Balanced outputs
2) Analog HT by-pass
3) Volume control (preferably analog control)

Budget $3-4k USD new or used.
kzhtoo
Even if the DAC you find does not have HT bypass, this can be added and will be superior anyway:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=108715.0

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Hi Steve,
Thanks for the info. It's very valuable. This just opens up whole other dimension for my dac search.

One more thing, I posted the following for you in other thread "appleTV vs. logitech SB".

I have AppleTV feeding to my Electrocompaniet ecd1 dac. I recently added Oppo 95 and find that using its USB input with flash drive improves the SQ in details, tonality (except midrange) and most significantly soundstage. Obviously Oppo's 32-bit sabre dac plays a major role. One big drawback is I hate Oppo interface and ease of use is not even close to AppleTV.

Do you think adding a reclocker between AppleTV and Electrocompaniet dac would improve the sound to the level on par with oppo or close to in soundstaging, resolution and dynamics?

Thanks in advance.
What you are looking for would be a highly desirable product but I do not think it exists in your pricerange. The wyred 4 sound dac 2 has what you need but it is has a digital volume control (and is a lot cheaper). You could configure an MSB Platinum DAC the way you specified, but this will set you back about $15K.

You can also add this passive switch into the chain:

http://www.goldpt.com/sw2x.html
One of my customers purchased an AMR DP-777 which has an optionally enabled line stage with analog volume control. He prefers it over his high end tube preamp.

Dealer disclaimer.
Kz - Adding a reclocker will make a huge difference, assuming its a good one. It may even beat your Oppo. More important than the DAC itself. The high-voltage discrete output on the Electro DAC is quite good. I used to mod this one. Unfortunately, the DAC module in it is only average, using an older 96-capable D/A chip.

Edorr is right. The lowest price for a good quality solution with everything you want is in the $7K range anyway. The Final Drive transformer buffer alone is around $2K.

You might consider the following:

AppleTV -> Synchro-Mesh -> Electro DAC -> Transformer Linestage -> amps

The Transformer linestage (TVC) will beat any active preamp because the drive from the Electro DAC is strong. There are several options for the linestage:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=89744.0

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
In my estimation you should stay away from a dedicated preamp unless you have an analog source. Volume controls in the DAC have reached a level of quality where the days of the preamp will soon be numbered. We're at an inflextion point, DAC technology is one of the fastest improving in price performace. The machine you are looking for will be there soon within your price range. You will regret having bought an expensive preamp now if you do this. Don't forget additional cabling cost. Here is what I would do:

Get a good, but fully depreciated preamp with HT bypass. Run your Oppo 95 analog into the preamp.
Get a sychnro mesh on 30 day trial. See what sound quality you prefer: Oppo or Apple TV with synchro mesh and electro DAC. Keep the synchro meshif you like it.

Wait it out a little bit - when your ideal DAC has arrived at your pricepoint, sell the preamp (you'll lose a few hundred bucks tops if you buy at the right price). You can then run the synchro mesh and Oppo digitally into your new DAC.
Hi Steve and Edorr,
Thanks for the suggestion. Very intrigued by Synchro-Mesh.

I should have clarified this earlier. I do have a Pass XP-10 linestage that has HT bypass. As good as it sounds with XP-10 in the signal chain esp. in soundstaging (compared to Oppo 95 directly driving my Pass XA30.5 amp), it is not a bad idea for me to get a dac with performance close to XP-10 with HT bypass. I can always sell the XP-10 to finance the new dac purchase. This is not a must because I love the XP-10.

I do not plan to keep Electro ECD-1 dac nor Oppo-95 (esp. with 105 coming out soon). Initial thinking was to get SS mod for 95 from Modwright and sell the ECD-1, but it became clear that I cannot live with Oppo interface. So after reshuffling my priorities with the new knowledge shared by you..here's what I come up with.

A) AppleTV -> Sychro-Mesh -> DAC -> XP-10 linestage -> amps
Return oppo-95, upgrade the dac from ECD-1 to something like W4S dac2 (same sabre dac as oppo) and get the Synchro-Mesh.

B) AppleTV -> DAC with a reclocker -> XP-10 linestage -> amps
Return oppo-95, upgrade the dac from ECD-1 to something like Esoteric D-07, which is currently 50% off on Music Direct. D-07 seems to have a quality internal clock with dedicated power supply and its apodizing filter (not that I know what that is) that should reduce jitter from AppleTV.

C) Edorr suggestion: keep everything for now, add Synchro-Mesh, wait it out and decide later.

I'm favoring B a little at the moment, mainly because I can get D-07 for 50% off. I do not have to wait out for my ideal dac and I can add a passive switch for HT if I do decide to sell XP-10. Oppo+ECD-1 will help finance for D-07 purchase. Plus I will still have AppleTV interface. Please forgive me if I'm making this a lot more complicated than necessary. With limited budget and the desire to make the system flexible for future upgrade (mac mini or some music server), I cannot help but going back/forth with all these options.
Kz - Good luck finding a DAC with reclocking that actually works. I have modded 15 different DACs in the past. None of them were very good at reducing jitter. Remember, this is the most important part, more important than the DAC itself.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Kz, I'm with Steve on this one. The Esoteric is not magically going to turn your mediocre digital source (Apple TV) into a good one. Going after a "good deal" in digital audio can be deceiving; price performance improves rapidly and if a DAC sells for 50% off is is usually because there are equivalent or better DACs for sale for half the MSRP.
Hi Steve and Edorr,
Excellent point. It gives me a lot more to think about. A quick google search on Esoteric D07 internal reclocking turned up pretty much nothing. Even the two reviews from Absolute Sound and Stereophile do not mention much about it. Maybe also because people that are using Esoteric would never even consider using mediocre source like AppleTV.

Anyway, one more development with Oppo-95. The unit just passed 600 hr burn-in mark last night and I'm quite in awe. I absolutely love the sound pairing with Pass Labs XA30.5 amp and XP-10 linestage. I do use the usb flash drive input (no moving parts, very short signal path from the drive to the sabre dac). I'm most impressed with mediocre apple lossless downloads from iTunes. I'm pretty sure I'm not delusional, but once it passed approximately 615 hr playing time, it transformed into something that punches way above $1k price point. (I do wonder how many people returned their Oppo without giving it a proper burn-in time. I listened to it for 4+ hr straight last night without getting any hint of listener fatigue with mostly mediocre recordings. It sounds smooth, detail, dynamic and very airy.

I'm still returning 95 I guess because 105 is coming out very soon (late 2012) and it'll have digital inputs to use 105 as a dac, which I can take advantage of with AppleTV + Synchro Mesh. Given Oppo track record, 105 should be better than 95. With this quality of sound at this price point, I should not care much for the interface (secretly hopeful Oppo improves its mediocre interface though).

During the meantime, I will sell my ECD-1 dac and maybe get a Synchro-Mesh.
Maybe also get a mod from Modwright when they offer it for 105. They have done it for 83, 93 and 95. No reason to think they won't be for 105.
Also, Steve, can you please explain why the internal reclocking won't be as effective as an outboard clocker like Synchro-Mesh?
Steve, can you please explain why the internal reclocking won't be as effective as an outboard clocker like Synchro-Mesh?

Several reasons:
1) They dont use the best reclocker chip on the market
2) They dont use the best discrete voltage regulator
3) They dont use the best clock oscillator
4) Their implementation is not as good

I generally dont believe in reclocking in the DAC. It is better to leave the DAC alone and allow the source to have low jitter. If there is reclocking in the DAC, the benefits of a low-jitter source are diminished. This is why I dont reclock S/PDIF input inside my DAC.

Steve N.
HI Steve,
Again, thanks for the explanation. I'm fairly new to all these computer audio stuffs and having people like you around these forums is a great help.

I think I'm ready to try Synchro-Mesh. Someone mentioned it has 30-day trial, is it true? I could not find this info on Empirical website.
More questions regarding synchro-mesh if you don't mind, sir. :) What is the preferable interface cable, optical or coaxial?

With synchro-mesh being able to output (24/96) max, is it safe to assume there aren't any audible difference? My understanding is optical cannot handle sample rate higher than 96.

At the moment I use Audioquest Cinnamon optical cable ($65) from AppleTV to Electro-ECD1 dac. I will need another cable when Synchro-Mesh is added to the system. Any recommendation??
Kz - The Synchro-Mesh has 30-day money-back guarantee, less shipping and any fees.

"What is the preferable interface cable, optical or coaxial?"

Coax is generally better, but you have to spend some money on it. A cheap glass Toslink is usually better than a cheap coax.

"With synchro-mesh being able to output (24/96) max, is it safe to assume there aren't any audible difference? My understanding is optical cannot handle sample rate higher than 96."

There will be audible differences in any cables. Toslink supports 192.

"At the moment I use Audioquest Cinnamon optical cable ($65) from AppleTV to Electro-ECD1 dac. I will need another cable when Synchro-Mesh is added to the system. Any recommendation??"

As long as this is a glass cable, it will be fine. A $500 coax cable will outperform it however.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Hi Steve, appreciate for detail answers. Just ordered Synchro-mesh today. :) Can't wait!

As mentioned before I'm also thinking to move ECD-1 dac. It seems on this forum a lot of people like Metrum Octave or Eastern Electric dac. What would be your recommendation for use with Synchro-mesh+AppleTV? Will I be able to hear improvement over ECD-1 dac?

Btw, I essentially put the dream dac mentioned in the original post on hold, at least for now. I think my current Pass XP-10 pre should be up to the task for whatever addition I make in the coming weeks.
I think you're making some good moves and are heading in the right direction. I was intrigued by the new Metrum DAC (the HEX) myself, but some guy on the whatsbestforum is suggesting they are probably using a 16 bit DAC chip (TI DAC8580) which is obviously an issue if you do high rez (it will chop off 8 bits from 96/24 material). Not officially confirmed (Metrum does not disclose what DAC chip they use), but a red flag nonetheless.
For me, the Synchro-Mesh provides significant improvements in sound quality being placed between a Bolder modded Logitech Touch and an Eastern Electric DAC2 with DEXA discrete opamps. I've also used an OPPO BDP-95 at the front end of the chain with equally impressive results.

Prior to the Synchro-Mesh arrival, I used the Touch for casual listening owing to its convenience and struggled with the DLNA interface on the BDP-95 for when I wanted better sound quality.

Soundstage, detail and clarity are at all time highs with this current system iteration and I find myself spending more time in my listening chair and less at the keyboard.

I've had my Synchro-Mesh since the end of July and feel that you may well be better off with it and a lesser DAC than with a much more expensive DAC by itself. You really develop a sense for what the Synchro-Mesh does when you listen with it engaged for a while then turn it off.
"It seems on this forum a lot of people like Metrum Octave or Eastern Electric dac. What would be your recommendation for use with Synchro-mesh+AppleTV? Will I be able to hear improvement over ECD-1 dac?"

Yes, the Metrum or even a W4S DAC2 will be an improvement over the ECD-1. The D/A module in it is dated.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Hi Edorr, a lot of thanks to you and Steve. If we hadn't had this thread, I'm not sure how much time and money I would waste more. Can't wait for the Synchro-mesh and during the meantime I'm thinking of acquiring a dac for comparison with my ECD-1 dac.

Regarding Metrum Octave, I read somewhere it uses 4 chips for analog conversion. Two 16-bit DAC equals to a single 32-bit DAC, no? Total of 4 chips for 2 channels?

Or someone with Octave can easily detect in their listening while playing 24/96 material? Chopping off 8 bits seems like a lot.
Correction: Octave uses total of 8 "industrial" dac chips, 4 per channel. I couldn't find anywhere on the net what those dac are. It seems Metrum really goes out of their way to protect this. The only info I could find is they aren't originally made for audio use but for other high speed real world applications such as data collection.
Njs, thanks for sharing the experience. Not that I'm not convinced with synchro-mesh but it's very comforting to hear what you said.
Even if 4 parallel dacs processing one channel are 16 bit, they would all be processing the same 16 bits, and on 96/24 material, 8 bits would get lost.
The idea behind parallel DAC chips is usually to multiply the current output to create more drive.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I see. Thanks for the info. I may still try Octave regardless because it seems whoever tried Octave (A'gon, Audiocircles and a few others) have nothing but good things to say and the quality of their systems are equal or better than mine. Secondly I did try feeding Electro-ECD1 dac with Oppo-95 when I had it and preferred the sound of Oppo-95 by itself.

With ECD1+Syncro-mesh (when it arrives), I expect the combo to be on par or better than Oppo-95. But Metrum might just be the ticket to step up more without spending a whole lot more. My transport for the next 2 years might just be AppleTV (until something comes along with better interface for my all-in-one system - HT, games, 2ch) and Metrum might being "just" a 16-bit or not playing 192 material probably isn't a huge concern. BTW, once the Oppo is gone, AppleTV feeding straight to ECD1 just isn't cut it no more.
Hello Steve thanks for all this info.

"I generally dont believe in reclocking in the DAC. It is better to leave the DAC alone and allow the source to have low jitter. If there is reclocking in the DAC, the benefits of a low-jitter source are diminished. This is why I dont reclock S/PDIF input inside my DAC."

My Peachtree Audio IDAC reclocks, do you believe it won't benefit much from the synchro-mesh?
"My Peachtree Audio IDAC reclocks, do you believe it won't benefit much from the synchro-mesh?"

It probably will be beneficial, but an even better solution is to use Off-Ramp 5 and a computer. I believe iDAC was reviewed with Off-Ramp 4 in TAS in the last year or two.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Have you thought about listening below that level and using a passive?
benchmark just introduced a new dac - pretty feature rich, though below your price range:

http://www.benchmarkmedia.com/dac/dac2-hgc
Hi Srosenberg, thanks for the info on Benchmark DAC2-HGC. I wouldn't have known. It indeed is a feature rich product. I will be keeping an eye on this for the next few months.

My initial budget $3-4k USD is based on the assumption that there's a product that can replace my Pass Labs XP-10 pre + my current dac. But somewhere along the way, I learned that I should improve the clock jitter of the transport first (currently waiting for Empirical Audio Synchro-mesh, time goes by so slow). Once SM is in the chain and after I get myself familiar with the sound of SM+my current dac, I will be auditioning for a new dac. So far, these are on my list to audition in the coming months:
- Metrum Octave
- W4S DAC2
- Benchmark DAC2 HGC
- PSAudio Perfectwave DAC II (only if this is on par with XP-10+dac mentioned above, I cannot afford having both XP-10 and Perfectwave II)
@ Kzhtoo...

i've owned your preamp in the past as well as the Wyred DAC2. depending on the gain in your system and your listening levels, my guess is that you're going to have a very hard time replacing the pass labs preamp with any of these - especially if your system is reasonably revealing and you listen at average to low levels. these matters are SO VERY system dependent, it's impossible to know, but that's my guess. please post back with your findings.

i have - for now at least - given up on the idea of replacing my 2 channel preamp with a DAC offering volume control, although some of the empirical audio offerings look really good in that regard; i'm presently awaiting delivery of an Octave and Audiophilleo interface.
Updates:
I guess I will be keeping Pass XP-10 for now. I feel it opens up a lot more options in the dac search with a pre (with analog volume control). Plus I always wanted to experiment power cords on XP-10 other than my Shunyata Venom3.

Synchro-mesh arrived 2 weeks ago. Very very good purchase. It costs $600 but I feel it brings out a lot more $$ that I've already invested in my speakers, amp and pre. ECD-1 dac sounded a lot more glorious than before. Too bad, I didn't get to keep ECD-1 for long after Synchro-mesh arrived. Out of boredom, I posted an ad on A'gon and it was sold within 2 days.

I went ahead and got Metrum Octave. So far breaking in at about 200 hours. I will wait until after 2 weeks (of continuous play - 336 hours) to post a personal review. The comparison with ECD-1 has to be from memory. But so far so good.

One other thing, I'm intrigued by Eastern Electric DAC Plus with Dexa opamps. During my Oppo-95 days, I remember how much I was fond of wide soundstage and airy presentation of Sabre dac. I'm interested in comparing
Metrum Octave + Synchro-mesh vs. EE Plus with Dexa opamps + Synchro-mesh
So if the synchro-mesh reclocks and is then sent to a dac that has a clock is it reclocked again?

I am new to this area. But I would love to use my Apple TV as my source.

So with the reclocker I could get 24/96 from my Apple TV?
Hi Motobonsai,
If your dac has internal reclocker, my guess is it will get reclocked again. In terms of sonic benefit, I do not know as I haven't tried. But in 6moon synchro-mesh review, the reviewer stated the benefit is minimum with PWD MKII dac, which supposedly has a very good internal jitter rejection circuitry. I've also read the reclocker still adds benefit to the dac even they are claimed to have jitter control (benchmark, w4s). I use Metrum Octave NOS dac that doesn't have a clock, works like a charm.

AppleTV outputs 16/48 only. The synchro-mesh has hardware upsampling to 16/96 or 24/96 (with a switch). So yes, you could get 24/96.
Antelope Zodiac
For most DACs, delivering a low-jitter signal is beneficial, even if the DAC reclocks or resamples inside. Even Sabre-based DACs.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
So would a NAD M51 benefit as well
"So would a NAD M51 benefit as well?"

Certainly. I have a few customers with these.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Thanks Steve interested in that combo