Looking for DAC/CD player solution

I'm a newbie that has recently acquired a pair of Usher BE 718's and will soon acquire either a Musical Fidelity or Bel Canto Integrated amplifier. My cables are budget audiophile, got interconnects for $35 at 60% off and speaker cables at $65, also 60% off.

I will buy a Blu ray player soon, either a Panasonic or the new Oppo.

I would like improvement in sound to:

1. CD music
2. Computer music
3. music and movies from Comcast cable box
4. Will use Netflix Roku box
5. Would like to use Rhapsody's unlimited music availablity for $10-$15 per month (have a very small music collection), and other services such as Pandora.

What do you think i should do?

1. Buy an upscale CD player used
2. Get a mod to a Panasonic or Oppo BD player
3. Use the Panasonic or Oppo and get a DAC

Can i use the DAC to improve Comcast cable TV sound and Roku and or Squeezebox sound?

I don't mind switching the inputs much. I've heard the Valab Nos is a good deal, and how much of an improvement would a Bel Canto or other $500-$700 DAC be (used).

How can i get Rhapsody? (can't use it with Squeezebox)
my computer is brand new, it has an HDMI,USB port, but no firewire.

I want to have good sound that is equivalent to the components that i slready have. What is a transport exactly?

Where else should i spend money (power cord, tube addition, tube based cd player, etc)? Would prefer to buy used and spend no more than $700, unless it provides very good bang for the buck and a marked improvement over what i can get for $700. Thanks!!!
I think you should look at a pre-pro. Anthem is a good place to start. Parasound and Outlaw Audio are other options in this space. These products will work with all your equipment and are the most "digital centric."

There are integrated amps with built in DACs. Musical Fidelity makes the A1008, Bel Canto has the S300iu. This will help you avoid switching cables as much, but not address HDMI as well as a pre-pro.

For completeness there are CDPs with DACs that can be used by external sources. Wadia is one of the better known in this category.
I like Danmyers suggestions above...I am doing the same things you are with the Be-718's...streaming to a PS3 (same as your squeezbox) then into an Arcam AVR350 (internal DAC)...I am thinking about putting an external DAC between the PS3 and Receiver, but the sound is real nice now.

If you are thinking about Bel Canto amps, you might want to consider their DAC with volume control? Not sure how many inputs they have for sources.

Whatever you do make sure you get plenty of watts...these speakers sing with the right amplification and sound decent but somewhat flat with lesser amps.

If I started over with wiring I would go with JPS wires because they are internally wired with the same brand.

i'm in the process of getting a pre-pro, like i said a Bel Canto or a Musical Fidelity but have a $35 DVD/CD player from Walmart.

I need a better CD player, or will use a Blu ray with a DAC. Just hoping i could use the DAC for all of my sources and save the money from buying an upscale CD player.

Are you saying that the pre/pro will be enough? Won't the source be poor if i use a cheap Blu ray player?
Integrated Amplifier is not the same as a pre/pro. Neither Bel Canto nor Musical Fidelity make pre/pros. Go read up on the Anthem D2 and then let's talk some more.

Yes, you need a better CDP. The pre/pro, or int/amp/ with a DAC, can be used to process the sound from a cheap CDP (needs a digital out - does yours have one?) If it does, you can start by using it as a transport and letting your new pre/pro or int/amp wDAC handle sound processing.
If you don't need remote volume control, the Benchmark DAC1 Pre may be able to handle all the sources you name and is an exceptional performer and value. You could continue to use your current DVD/CD player. Add an ATI balanced amp for your speakers, like the AT2002 and your system will be hard to beat.
"the Benchmark DAC1 Pre may be able to handle all the sources "

Nope - it won't handle the HDMI from the computer or the Blu-Ray player. Indie, it's hard to setup a system w/o knowing how you intend to use the system. For example, you could use your new computer for all source material and feed it to a pre/pro via USB, HDMI. You can do this for MP3, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray!, Netflix, and Rhapsody. If you go that way, you don't need to buy a new DVD player (you still could, but you don't have to). This is why I'm not answering the "what BR player should I buy" buy question. You need to think about how you want to use the system and let us know. To rephrase, you've told us what you want to use it for, but not really how you want to use it. A pre/pro is nice and neat, with lots of digital expansion possibilities. An integrated amp DAC is "messier" and leaves you w/o any central control point so it's likely to just grow more unmanageable over time. Only you really know if you want your system to be elegantly simple or simply complex.

Your turn :)
Yep, that's why I said "may be able to handle". It depends on what is desired. I didn't note an HDMI requirement.
Thanks for your help, Danmyers. Like i said, i am a complete newbie.

Anthem D2 is a surround processor—only plan on listening to 2 channel. The AVM 20 is about $1200 on Audiogon, the D2 is $4200—out of my budget.

I own almost no CD’s and almost no DVDs. I’m actually listening to Comcast’s music stations right now which have awful sound quality.

I plan to use Squeezebox or maybe Sonos (which is more expensive at $800), a device that has free internet radio stations, Pandora and will let you use Rhapsody. I read on its forums that a DAC will improve sound quality which is rather awful straight from the Internet—definitely not using the potential of my new Ushers.

Also plan to see a lot of movies using Roku box and would like to improve sound quality of Comcast stuff, from movies to TV and even music.

Can you recommend a DAC or pre/pro and amp combo or integrated amp for around 2K to 2.5K (total expenditures) (all used here on the ‘gon obviously)

Would like to use the potential of my new Ushers—with sound quality about as good as it would sound with a Musical Fidelity A5.

What about the Benchmark DAC1 Pre? Will this be as good in sound quality as the MF A5? I don’t really care about the HDMI from the computer or Blu ray, I’ll just use component and audio outs or digital outs. For the computer I would use USB or buy a USB to analog or digital converter. Or how about the MF A5 and a benchmark or bel canto DAC?

The $35 dvd/cdp will be returned when I get a Blu ray player, so I will have a better DVD, CD and blu ray player anyway. Looking at the Oppo which should be released in Feb/March. Will be watching DVD’s using Netflix, as well as Blu rays. And do plan to buy cd’s as I discover what I like.

Have also heard that if i use coaxial or optical cables that there is little to no degradation, as compared with speaker cable and interconnects. And that excellent optical cables are significantly cheaper, is this true?

Would like to save as much as possible, although i am willing to invest to a higher priced speaker cable and interconnect (again, willing to switch them around) to ensure that no major degradation occurs.

Thanks again.

I think your A5 is a good idea...I owned one for several years and now have the Ushers you are attempting to drive...though I have not heard them together! But I would feel comfortable saying the two will work well together. I do not recall that the A5 has an Optical IN, therefore you would need a DAC (look into that).

If I were you I would look to get a DAC that could handle all of your sources without changing wires...PS Audio, Bel Canto and Benchmark are all nice choices...find out which one will accept most of your intended sources. That's why a Pre/Pro (Anthem/Arcam) are good choices...they can handle many sources and have internal DAC's that might not be as good as a stand alone DAC, but are very nice.

Given the number of sources you wish to listen to you can't really go wrong with a DAC, whereby a DVD/CD/Blue Ray player only addresses 1 source when you listen to many others.

If you are going to get a Squeezebox down the road you might want to look into their Transporter unit that might be able to have other sources plugged into it to act as a DAC (not sure).

OK, thanks for all that info. First, let me answer your question: "What is a transport?"

Using a CDP as a transport means that you don't use the analog outputs of the CDP, only the digital outputs. When you do this, the sound of your CDP is really the sound of your DAC (which could be stand-alone like Benchmark 1 or Pre, in the integrated amp like the Musical Fidelity A5.5, or in the Pre/Pro/AVR). Doesn't really matter, the key is that the sound is not really coming from the CDP - it's from the DAC.

So, I'd suggest getting the Oppo 980H and use it as a transport to feed your DAC. If you want to get blu-ray then wait for the BD-983. As cheap as the 980H is, you can get it now and get the BD-983 after your system is together and sounding fine. The goal here is to buy one great DAC and not waste money on DACs and analog out for each source component. Hope that is clear.

Indie, you've listed lots of source components with a mix of digital and analog sources. So, as Bob recommended earlier, the Benchmark DAC Pre is probably your best bet here. Because it is a pre-amp, you don't really need an integrated amp like the A5. This is because the A5 is both a pre-amp and an amp so you'd end up with 2 pre-amps. On the other hand, you have a lot of sources and the Benchmark has limited input connections, so the extra inputs on the A5 could save you some cable swapping. Your call, but I'd just buy an amp and connect the DAC Pre straight to it. You can always buy another pre-amp (or pre/pro) later.

So this leaves you with what amp to buy. I recommend you start a new thread and ask what amp to buy to drive your speakers and go from there.

IMO, cables are not that important. By that I mean, do not over spend. Your cables sound fine, and I'd just keep them until you get your system set up. (FYI - your coaxial/optical cable question does not make any sense to me). As Chad recommends, you should map out your system, with connection and connection types (USB, RCA, SPDIF, speaker wire, etc) to get a feel for how your system will operate. If you do it in powerpoint and save it as a jpg, you can post it and get feedback.
Please bear in mind that my sticking point is budget. Need to acquire all my stuff used or “incredible value” new. Looking for the best audio quality for the dollar. With that in mind:

Are you simply pushing a pre/pro or Benchmark Dac Pre1 due to the simplicity of all the hookups?

I don't mind switching each time i wish to change the source. With the benchmark, there is no remote, so i'd have to get up anyway, and changing volume by hand would be annoying as well.

Another question, how would the sound differ with a MF A5 with a DAC as compared to DAC1 Pre? Would the MF A5 have an effect on the music as well?

Also, i've read a few reviews on DAC1 Pre, does the music sound good due to the DAC or the preamp? Would a great int amp WITH the DAC1 sound better?

Please keep in mind that i AM strongly considering the DAC Pre1, just trying to compare it to a MF A5 with DAC1 performance. The price would end up about the same.

The Benchmark is also so new that it's hard to find much info about except reviews, which people have said to take with a grain of salt. I'd also have to pay full retail price as there are almost no discounts and none available used.

Don't really need HDMI inputs as i've never really seen HDMI inputs on pre/pro's or amps except home theater receivers/surround processors. USB is also unnecessary with a Squeezebox.

As far as a CDP/DVD/Blu ray, again will be buying the new Oppo in Feb/March anyway (am waiting to see how it's reviewed) or just get a Panasonic for $200-$300. To stress this again, i will be buying it regardless, because i want a Blu ray player, the CD and DVD basically come "free". But again, willing to spend for a good stand alone CDP if that is what is necessary, but would prefer to drop that money into a good DAC, so that all my sources can improve, not just one.

Thanks again.
It would help if you determine exactly how many of what type of audio inputs you require.

I own a Benchmark DAC1 (not the Pre) and it's been reviewed and measured in Stereophile; they gave it a Class A rating. Robert Greene (top notch in my book) reviewed the Pre for The Absolute Sound; you can read his review at the Benchmark web site. I would say that the DAC1 Pre is a reference piece of gear, an incredible value and a great investment. The DAC1 Pre should have no sound at all; it should be completely transparent. The only negative to me is the lack of remote volume control. That's why I don't own one.

I'm not familiar with any integrated amps that have USB inputs.

But, if USB is not a requirement either then pick up a used Benchmark DAC1 or a Cambridge Audio DacMagic; assuming they have enough digital inputs. You may have to look into a digital audio switcher. Then buy any decent integrated amp to get remote volume control. I suggest that at some point you may want to add a subwoofer so separates or only certain integrated amps will allow the most flexibility.

As far as a Blu-ray player is concerned, the recent Samsung BD-P2500 has full 7.1 analog outputs; stereo analog outputs; optical digital audio output and HDMI output. But, the kicker for me is the HQV Reon video processor. This should make it a better choice than the Panasonic players and possibly the upcoming Oppo as well. I believe the Oppo will spend more budget on the analog output section.

Finally, for cables I highly recommend Blue Jeans Cable

And I recommend ATI amps again, especially if you end up with balanced analog audio outputs. Of course, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with Parasound P3 and A23 separates; they support balanced lines.