Looking for my first DAC


I have mostly equipment from the eighties with the exception of an OPPO BDP-93.  My Preamp is an ARC SP9-MKII and it's feeding some Acoustat model X's.  I'm leaning toward a Schiit Bifrost Multibit Gen 5, with their 15 day trial period, so I can at listen to it and return if I don't like it.  I have no way of listening to anything without a long drive and most probably a hotel stay, so I'm looking for your vast experience on the DAC's. Price range under $1000. 

Thoughts??

JD
curiousjim
Mod the Oppo. By far the most cost-effective approach. All your money goes into boutique parts, vs hardly any when you buy a whole new component.
A few months ago I bought a Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital DAC for my office system and have been extremely happy with it. Stereophile just released their 2019 list of recommended components and the Pro-Ject DAC was included in their A+ list. At $399 it is the only DAC listed at less than $2,000 and the prices in that group range up to $30,000.
Crutchfield, for one, offers a 60-day no-questions-asked return.
https://www.project-audio.com/en/product/pre-box-s2-digital/

I just listed my Chinese DAC on eBay. $375 It's very robust and built with high quality components. It sounds very good and has upgraded high end audio op-amps, separate toroidal transformers based on the ESS9038PRO 32 bit chip. Very configurable up-sampling. I'm going for a more expensive tube r2r type DAC. Check it out under: Audiophile DAC SABRE ESS9038PRO - By Breeze Audio

You can contact via AG under my handle bob7296 if you're interested. I will probably be listing on AG soon.

JD - what source will you be using for your DAC and what type of input (optical, coax, USB?) and would you like multiple inputs of one or multiple?
millercarbon,

Please tell me more about modding.  Who, what, where and of course, how much. 

Thanks.

JD
sfar,

Great idea. I have a subscription and will have to find the review.

My bad for not doing my homework.

Thanks!

JD
leemaze,

The OPPO 93 has Toslink and RCA digital outputs, and it’s currently my only digital source, so for now I only need one input.  

JD
I agree you could mod the OPPO and that might serve you well for awhile but think there are some good reasons for a separate DAC. 

Transports in disc players fail, they always do eventually. My experience has been that as player models change so do the transports inside them and it's sometimes impossible to find a replacement for a model that's no longer current. Without a working transport the DAC inside may be useless, no matter how good it is.
  
And my experience is that most of the advancement in audio quality over the last few years has come from the improvement in DACs. You could reasonably argue that speakers and amps have improved, as well, but the degree of improvement in DACs seems to me to be greatest. I expect that will continue.
 
And, an external DAC gives you more flexibility as new sources of music come along.
SMSL SU-8

Topping D50

RME ADI-2 DAC ($100 over, maybe find one used)

JDS Labs EL DAC


If you are willing to use the $90 Topping D10 as a USB to S/PDIF (Toslink and coax) convertor, then there are some other options you can consider, such as the ~$400 March Audio DAC1.
+1 for what @sfar  posted.

I'd use your 93 as a transport (for now) and go with an external / stand-alone DAC. 

The 93 was reviewed in early 2011, therefore, likely based on ~ 2010 DAC tech. As others have pointed out...there has been serious movement in DACs, since then. 

The 93 was also not to the level of the 95, except (approximately) for going digital out from it (again using it as a transport only).

Your budget of 1K is healthy and there are great options new, and many more used (albeit slightly older) that will run circles around the 93's DAC performance.
david_ten &  sfar,

I agree, the DAC in the 93, was never as good as the 95.  I also agree that using the 93 as a spinner is best way to go. But I am no closer to knowing what to buy yet. The Bifrost is $599 new gets good reviews and I can plug it right into the 93 and out to the preamp. 

Any other suggestions would be great.

Thanks.

JD
OP, not that it matters in the case of a dac, but how is your AR preamp feeding the Acoustats ? You must have an amp of some kind. BTW, I am considering a newer dac, as I just posted as well for some opinions, although more specific. Thank you, and Enjoy ! MrD. 
Here is a PDF of the back of the OPPO BDP 93.  It shows the inputs and the outputs I have.

http://download.oppodigital.com/BDP93/BDP-93%20English%20Manual%20v2.21.pdf

JD
JD,  If you don't already have a feel for this, I encourage you to figure out what it is you want or expect from your system and where you may want to take it.

Reading through the various DAC threads will be helpful.

For example, [ONLY for example purposes, and because both are widely discussed on this forum] Border Patrol and Benchmark represent different 'sound' and 'presentations' and approaches.

Once you have determined which camp(s) you may be interested in, recommendations will be more on the mark.

 
mzkmxcv,

Thanks for the suggestions.  I'll be sure to look at them tonight.

JD
Hey MrD,

The Acoustat model X's have their own proprietary servo amps. they are hybrid opamp - tube. 

I look for your post with great interest.

Thanks.

JD
Do you require multiple inputs and/or volume control? Will the DAC be used for Redbook only or MQA/HiRes playback?
david_ten,

I have read many of the forum posts but there are very few about "starter DAC's"   In the past I have been able to listen to things and let my ears make the choice.  Today, that's very hard to do. In the last year I have only been to one store where I listened to some VERY high end products.  I drooled all over everthing!  When the sales guy asked me if I wanted to listen to a $67.000 DAC, It was time for me to go and pick up my wife, so I sadly said no.
Anyway, I like my system, but it's a be a bit flat.  So I'm looking for something to brighten it up.  

Thank you.

JD

serancien,

I never gave a thought to a volume control.  Why would I need one? And I am only CD's at present and don't have any immediate plans to stream.

Thanks.

JD

Post removed 
Curiousjim,

I use a Schiit Bifrost Multibit with one of my office systems. I have been very happy with it. It sounds great, especially for the price. If you are concerned about MQA, DSD or other formats of questionable value and low adoption, then this DAC is not for you. If you just want a really good sounding DAC for a reasonable price, you would be hard presssed to find better.

If you happen to find yourself well funded, take a look at the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+. I use one in my main system. It runs about $2k. It slices, it dices, it chops and handles every format known to man. Assuming that is out of your range though, the Schiit Bifrost will give you years of service.
Has anyone suggested the Mytek Liberty?  I think it goes for around a grand.  I haven’t heard it but I used to own the Manhatten, which was an extremely impressive DAC
Mahler123,

Thanks for recommending the Liberty. I realized right after I hit send that the Liberty would be a good choice for him. You are right, it retails for $1k.
Lots of good info here.  Just to revisit some of them, it would be helpful to know what aspects of sound reproduction are important to you and/or what things are you looking improve upon. 

I had an Oppo transport fail on me, so u know where I stand on upgrading the Oppo.  

Also, has anyone been able to compare the Liberty to the Bifrost?  And, how are they at jitter reduction?  The Oppo ain't a super transport in stock form, so if neither DAC has great jitter reduction I'd recommend including something like the Empirical Audio Offramp.  Jitter can make digital sound so, well, digital.  You can always add one later I suppose.  Anyway, best of luck. 
Soix,

i have not compared the Liberty directly to the Bifrost, but I have compared the Brooklyn to the Bifrost. The Brooklyn is essentially the Liberty’s prosumer big brother. The major differences can be understood in this review of the Liberty-

http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/reviews/entry/mytek-liberty-digital-to-analog-converter

In my opinion, both DAC’s are phenomenal and have both been compared with DAC’s many times their price. I don’t find the SQ to be vastly different between the two. The major difference for me and the reason the Brooklyn takes front and center in my main system, is the plethora of connectivity options and features like HT passthrough and balanced outputs and balanced headphones with a nice OLED display and remote. The Bifrost is much more bare bones, but it does exactly what it promises, no more or less. The Bifrost is good enough to still have a home in my stack and if my Brooklyn kicked the bucket for some reason, I would not lose a lot of sleep over promoting the Bifrost back to front line duty.
@markcdaniel - Yeah, given all the positive reviews on both it doesn’t surprise me that they sound pretty similar. Good point on the features though. Someone once posted here that Mytek’s customer responsiveness was a bit lacking, but that was a while back. Any experience with this?  And any idea of their jitter-reduction capabilities?  A lot of DACs, especially in this price range, don't seem to do a whole lot to correct for jitter and the OP's gonna have some. 
mahler123,
Thanks, the Liberty looks great!  
I looked at a used Wyred4sound dac2 as well. It has many upgrades as well.
I still need a trial period so I can listen before I buy, so the Bifrost Multibit is still very much on the list.

So the search continues.

JD
sfar,
I looked at the 2019 list and saw your Pro-ject Pre Box S2 DAC. Seeing as I’m just starting down the path, what can tell me about how the sound changed in your system?  With Crutchfields 60 day trial, I can add it to my list.

JD
FWIW, I had Accoustat 2+2s with both interface As  and OTlL amps. I now have a Oppo 105 that I use as a transport though it  can function as a direct volume control/dac to amp. I upgraded the 105  with an aftermarket Linear Power supply.. still not satisfied with the sound, I bought Audio Alchemy Dac/Pre + outboard PS 5 power supply (outstanding) but  both are for sale (see US AudioMart or Audio Asylum adv that would work great, as I changed to PS Audio Stellar dac/pre and M700 amps 
@curiousjim I have both the Liberty and the DAC 2. The Liberty is much better sounding, the DAC 2 is kind of bright and thin in comparison. Mine has no upgrades, so it's possible the one you're considering is better. 
@soix The rumors are unfortunately still true. There customer support through the entire value chain from pre-sales to RMA is sorely lacking, I mean non-existent. I could never get an update on the shipping date for my Brooklyn despite numerous emails and voicemails. Then it just showed up one day. The product quality is good enough to dull the sharp irritation of the customer experience, but that may not be true for everyone. By contrast, the customer service at Schiit is outstanding with very personal attention and an open invitation to visit their facilities in CA. Makes the Bifrost extra delicious if you don’t need the bells and whistles the Brooklyn brings to the table. It is a tough choice, which is why I ended up with both of them😂

for Jitter, even though I have not noticed any jitter issues, I inserted a Schiit Wyrd between the Roon Nucleus and Brooklyn DAC+.

For what it is worth, my stereo is on a dedicated circuit with separate ground with PS Audio Power Ports and PS Audio Noise Harvesters.

Mark
@curiousjim -- The Project-ject Pre Box DAC replaced a Simaudio 100D, which I'd always been happy with but, as happens often, I was curious about the latest changes in DAC technology.

The improvement was substantial, better soundstage and a more 'articulate' sound while still sounding sweet. I was impressed with some of the little touches. As an example, the output level can be controlled from the front panel and the level for output to the integrated amp needs to be higher than the output to the Sennheiser headphones. Once you've set both levels on first use it remembers them, when you plug in the phones it automatically switches levels.

But the thing that impressed most was the improvement in the sound. I like it much more than I expected to, which hasn't always been the case when I get new gear. I think it's the best bang for buck purchase I've made in 50 years of swapping gear.
markcdaniel, sfar, big_greg, and all,

So far my list is the Liberty, The Wyred4sound D2, The Bifrost and the Pro-ject Box DAC. I’m probably going to start with the Pro-ject Box became it comes from Crutchfield and has the 60 day trial and the Bifrost with its 15 day trial.  That way I can A/B them.  I have to find if any of the Liberty dealers will let me try one out.

JD

I’ve also been looking on HiFiShark and EBay and while there are hundreds of DAC’s listed, there are no Bifrost MultiBit. And almost no Shiit at all. 
I guess everyone keeps them.

JD
So I called Shiit. The answering system says say your name and they would connect you to the proper place. Scratching my head I said Jim and the went it a multi level answering service that led me to email address after email address. Never did talk to a live person!
So I left an email asking about purchasing the Bifrost Multibit or the  Gungnir Multibit.
That was Tuesday and I’m still waiting for a response! 
So his afternoon I called Crutchfield and after thirty seconds I was talking with someone.  We talked about my needs and the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 and some other products.  When all was said and done I bought the Pro-Ject. With 60 days to listen, I’ll have plenty of time to make up my mind.  I really wanted to do an A/B with a Schiit product, but I guess it will have to wait until they answer my email.  So far I am not impressed with their customer service.

JD
Wouldn’t you know it, an hour and a half after my rant, I got a reply from Schiit telling me either would be good choices. Still want to A/B them but I hate how impersonal their whole setup is.

Maybe the walls have ears!

LOL

JD
If your leaning to Schiit Bifrost Multibit Gen5
go to next level Shiit Gungnir Multibit Gen5.
thats the one I’m seriously thinking about
happy listening and enjoy the music.
The Gungnir is well over the OP's stated budget.

The thing with Schiit is, marketing, advertising and customer service all cost serious money that then HAS TO be added to the cost of each unit they sell.  They can charge much less than competitors because of this.  Although being that they are made in the US, costs of production would be more expensive than China.

As an aside, China has now stopped all canola shipments from Canada(my country) because their main cell phone manufacturer CEO was arrested in Canada and is being held for the USA for breaking laws WRT business with Iran.  China has started leaning on smaller countries like Australia, Canada, etc, and of course the US.  I'm starting to rethink buying China made goods when I can.  Everyone has to make their own choice on this.

Anyway, I've owned the Modi, Bifrost and now Gungnir, all in the multibit design.  They are excellent dacs at their price points.  I would suggest that the Gungnir's detail retrieval may be glossed over by inferior budget gear that can't reproduce it.  

I had the Bifrost for about 2 years, and I could have stayed there, but upgraded the preamp and speakers and thought I'd try it out.  The multibits do need to stay on for best performance.


The ifi micro BL should be in that price range. I haven't tried it but ifi products are usually liked by people who try them. I have the nano and think that sounds good for its price.

https://ifi-audio.com/products/micro-idsd-bl/

Chord Mojo is also often mentioned.
Hi 213runnin,
you are right that I don’t want to go over $1000. For my first DAC, but there is a Gungnir Multibit on eBay for $900 that I have an eye on, but are you saying it’s quality is subpar? Or am I misunderstanding you? 

Thanks.

JD

@curiousjim,

If all you require is a starter DAC with small buy in, you might want to check out the Burosn Audio Swing:https://6moons.com/audioreview_articles/burson2/

I haven't heard it for myself, but the reviewers conclusion was that with some additional peripheral gear, it would still come in under $1000 and competed fairly with his $5000 Aurender A10.

All the best,
Nonoise
Hi 213runnin,
you are right that I don’t want to go over $1000. For my first DAC, but there is a Gungnir Multibit on eBay for $900 that I have an eye on, but are you saying it’s...


Curious Jim, I’m saying the detail retrieval of this he Gungnir is excellent and better than the Bimby.  But to get the whole benefit of it the rest of your system needs to be better than entry level.  I’m not familiar with the gear you listed.






The Schiit Gungnir is a good value, but possible a better route would be to have the Oppo upgraded. StereoDave upgraded my Oppo 103 and the SQ improvement was astonishing for $375.  That is the route I would suggest if you other have no need for a DAC (eg, to stream from your computer.)  http://www.stereodaves.com/modifications.php
I have an EAD DSP 7000 Mk3 on the market right now. This DAC is superb, it can decode HDCD and would match your system well. I think that even though it is an older design, it can compete well against even far more expensive DAC’s today. See my A’gon ad.
Hi whitestix,

 I have two problems with your idea.  The first is that I have the 93 and not the 103. With its age I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. The second is if I do the update, I’m stuck with it whether I like it or not. Whereas if I don’t like the Pro-Ject, I can return it to Crutchfield and try something else.  Oh and I have another spinner to play with. It’s a old Sony I’ve used for years.

Thanks for your ideas and I will checkout Stevedaves.com.

JD
All DACs under 4000$ sound simmilar to me. The one has better voices, the other better resolution, but they all lack the essential - emotions. So, take a mortage and buy some expensive tube DAC like EAR Yoshino or simmilar (european) stuff. You'll save your money actually by purchasing expensive gear. That's my humble opinion. Othervise, you'll start with one at 1000$ price tag, sell it for another and loose 500 bucks in transaction, then you'll replace the second one by third one etc. Your Acoustats need good tube dac.  
Post removed 
So does anyone know anything about a Pro-Ject Pre Box DS2 Digital. I ended up with one and there seems to be very little on the web about it. The Pre Box S2 is everywhere, but not the DS2. It’s a few years older but has more inputs and outputs as well as Bluetooth. It costs $900 vs $399.

Also are the AK 4490 d/a chips better or worse than the ESS Sabre 9038 chips.  I know that I won’t be getting MQA decoding, but that’s not important for now.

Thanks in advance.

JD
Generic Chinese 9038Pro DAC on eBay.  It follows the reference design spec'd by ESS Tech.  Easy to mod too.