Low Cost DACs


Currently I have my laptop connected directly via 1/8 jack from headphone outlet into 2 RCAs directly into my tube amp. Quality of sound is lacking to say the least!
I am considering adding an inexpensive DAC ( iFi AUDIO nano iDSD LE Portable DAC  or iFi Audio nano iOne DAC ) into the stream between the laptop & amp.My question is: will this influence the overall sound I'll hear out of my speakers? Will adding such a DAC help to increase the quality of sound produced by the system?
I'm not interested in spending a lot of money on a DAC as this is a source that I don't use as much as some others already in the system.
wcc10
I just bought a used Micromega MyDac for $110 and was very impressed.  There are a lot better DACs out there but it was a nice intro. 
The thought process / flow is correct for improvement.
USB / Coax would be a preference.
Note that differences (at the PC) in "Sound" will be heard from one brand to another.
Mac difference once again.
I think you’ll be better off, sound quality wise and may be even cost wise, if you just get a dedicated streamer/DAC instead of inserting something between your laptop and amplifier. The usual recommendation is a Bluesound Node2i at around $500 or a Node2 at a lower price.
Thanks for the input.I am currently streaming via an OPPO BDP Blu-ray/Streamer.I have a Pandora account and unfortunately with the OPPO you can not save or play specific albums or individual songs, only can save different genre "stations." To save albums/songs to a playlist you need a computer. (go figure) So this is why I want to get better sound via the laptop. and yes, $500.00 is more than I want to spend on this. I'm looking at a ceiling of $200.00.
Might try a Topping D50 about $250 new it uses the latest 9038 sabre chip and is one of the best measuring DAC's. Might find one $200 or less used. 
Schiit Modi or Modi Multibit are also good options.
Check out Audioquest Dragon Fly line 
“Schiit Modi or Modi Multibit are also good options.”

+1

Great value and American made.  Topping ChiFi stuff not so much.


I was thinking about the "Dragon Fly" line. Only a 1/8 out kind of turns me off.
You do not mention how much is too much. However, at around $1200-$1400 you can get a used Benchmark DAC2 HGC which is both an analog preamp and DAC. I owned it for about 5 years and it was great for the price. I upgraded to the DAC3 and it was not something I recommend if you already have a cheaper DAC2.

You say you do not use a DAC too much as a source. That is a shame since today you have almost every album created over the last 50+ years available to stream from various streaming sources. Spending a little coin on a DAC today will serve you well for a very long time.

I also suggest a used Sonore microRendu for about $500 (or less) to stream your music from your laptop to the microRendu and then, via USB cable, to your new DAC. I would say this Sonore microRendu is even more important that the DAC. That is save some money and get a cheaper DAC but get a microRendu to get your laptop’s music to the DAC. It will be a massive improvement. I know, because I used to stream directly from a PC into a DAC. I currently use a microRendu and will move up the line for my next system.

Edit. I just saw your post above about the $$ you want to spend. So forget the Benchmark DAC2., but I encourage you to research the microRendu. Tons of info on the web about this beautiful streaming device.

https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/bits-and-bytes/audiophile-style-products-of-the-decade-r865/
Thanks yyz.The microRendu looks like something I would/should want! I checked out their website and this is a cool piece of audiophile equipment. I need to give this some thought. As I stated, I mostly use the OPPO and Vinyl at this point. But the upgrade bug has caught me once again. Just spent over $2k on a new camera so this may have to wait a couple of months!
Why not an endgame dac at low price, especially used : Starting Point Systems dac Nos TDA 1543 +internal battery.... Minimalistic design, organic sound, low noise level... It is my endgame paid 20 bucks on Ebay which can be bought used around 100 bucks... 
I forgot to mention this DAC.

https://www.denafrips.com/ares

https://www.vinshineaudio.com/product-page/denafrips-ares-r2r-dac  
  price is in Singapore dollars, so USD is much lower priced.
Cambridge DacMagic for 75 is a great little unit.  Personally, instead of using a laptop with pandora I have found that using my cell with Tidal gets much better quality sound and I can download as much as I want to my phone.  And you can take the phone and dac with you anywhere.
The only problem I have with Tidal is the $20.00 per month fee. Call me "cheap" but that seems a bit high. I did try it for free for a while and agree, it’s a better option than Pandora in terms of music quality..
I have a Schiit Modi2 and also purchased a used Micromega MyDac for $125.  Either would make an improvement when playing from a computer. The Modi 2 can be found used for close to $50. That version has USB input only however may be all you need. I use mine to stream spotify from my Macbook pro. The MyDac has USB, optical and coax inputs. 
I've pretty much made up my mind to go with the Schiit. Only question, is the Modi "Multibit" $100.00 better than the Modi 3?Yes, agree a USB input is all I would need at this point.
I have the Modi 3 - love it. Excellent DAC for very little money.
Is the Multibit Sound Better? Yes!
At $150 difference would you regret the Multibit choice?
Especially if you keep the DAC for 2-3 years.
The Gungnir DAC's, Multibit / Delta-Sigma are the model's that I have had for use with two shiit.audio head-gear Amps.
Modi 3 measures way better than multibit modi. I for one want my DAC to be as transparent as possible. Modi 3 ftw
Has anyone any experience or thoughts on with the SMSL Sanskrit 10th DAC?Looks interesting especially with DSD support & Remote.
Checkout Audiolab MDAC Plus.   Specs are awesome and sounds fantastic for $1k
The SMSL Sandskrit uses an AKM 4490 chip I think SMSL is  coming out with a new DAC this spring the ( S U 9 ? )that will use the new 4499. Some like the AKM chips better than the ESS chips they claim they aren't  as anaylitical a little more " analog " sounding. The Topping D50 I mentioned before uses the ESS 9038 it's  one of the best measuring DACs but I read the new SMSL might be close if not a bit better. 
I like the prospect of "analog sounding." Always preferable to Digital Sound in my opion. I've read that the SMSL Sandskri improves greatly in terms of "more punch in the bass, improved dynamics and cleaner sound overall" when using the external power source as opposed to USB via a computer. Makes sense.
I’ve got a Meridian Director selling for $400.  It was a large difference from my built in DAC in my receiver. It’s amazing what a good DA converter can make the music sound like. 
I have a Micromega MyDAC for my desktop, and it is very good value for the money. Can't compare to Schiit as I haven't heard any of their gear. The Cambridge DacMagic sounds warmish compared to the MyDAC which is about neutral. 
Yes, for what the MyDAC goes for used it is hard to beat. Linear power supply, USB, optical, coax inputs.  The Modi3 represents great value at it's cost new. 

That said, the use of a of a USB driven Modi2 which can be purchased used for~$50 would make for a real improvement over computer analog output.
I appreciate & respect anyone who takes the time to research audio components to the point of comparing graphs of actual signals, harmonics, etc..Despite my hearing not being what it was before many Rock concerts & loud motorcycles, I still rely on what I hear out of my speakers. No doubt, you could show me why one component is "way" better than the next. And I would believe you. But still, my ears are the ultimate judge and I trust them the most. Certainly this has resulted in much trial & error and more than one component for sale here or on eBay. My point; sometime it's easy to be unduly influenced by the latest stats or any "expert" review on the ultimate audio magazine.
I like the prospect of "analog sounding." Always preferable to Digital Sound in my opion.

You sound like a great candidate for a multibit DAC, so paying up for the Modi Multibit may very well make sense.  Also, Qobuz was offering their hi-res subscription for $15/month, which I did recently and am thrilled with the quality and experience.  Best 15 bucks I spend every month.  Best of luck.
WOW! Wish I had read this an hour ago as I just ordered the Modi 3. Guess I could change the order still but perhaps they will allow me to upgrade within a short time.I went back & forth all week-end and figured as this is my first external DAC I might as well start here and upgrade as needed.Pandora isn't bad but my biggest complaint is there's no regulation of volume between different songs. For the most part they sound good but one song may be louder than the next! frustrating to say the least. I guess at $10.00 per month what should I expect, but still!I'll look into Qobuz. I've been aware of them but haven't paid too much attention. May end up with TIDAL if I get off the 'cheap" wagon!Thanks for the well wishes!
I've used Schiit DACs for the last 6 yrs and upgraded to the Bifrost 2 and am very satisfied.  I listen to Spotify with my MacBook Air and have compared it many times to cd playback and to my ears it is better, of course they all depend on recordings. I love that Schiit builds their DACs to be upgraded especially the new Bifrost 2.....
FYI, Qobuz offers a free month trial so you can compare directly to Pandora. For 5 bucks more per month I think it’s a no brained.  I switched from Tidal to Qobuz and am very happy with the sound quality, music selection, interface, and and features.  I’d also highly recommend you compare the Modi 3 to the Multibit if you can. Schiit’s best DACs are multibit, which should tell you something. Either way, an external DAC is going to be a huge improvement over what you’re listening to now. Enjoy!
Musical Fidelity makes the V-90 DAC. New sells for 299.00. Should be able to pick one up used. Stereophile rated “B” at one time
So as I stated I did order the Schiit Modi 3. Looking forward to hearing a huge difference.My next question is how are you all connecting your DACs to your laptop, Tablet, or Smart Phone? I guess obviously USB to USB is about all that is available, but are you using high cost USB cables from The Cable Company or just general cables from Staples? How much difference do you think this makes? I've played with cables over the years and yes, some cables do make some difference. But spending more than a couple of hundred dollars on interconnects is, to me, a bit ridiculous!
P.S.I also ordered a 5V i iFi AUDIO Low Noise AC/DC Power Supply to go with the Schiit.
Get an Audioquest Cinammon usb, less than $200 but still pretty good quality.  And do check out Qobuz.  For $5 more a month than Pandora, no comparison as to sound quality.
Yes, have signed up for 1 month free Qobuz. Checking it out tonight!Thanks.
Musical fidelity v90 dac, $299, and worth every penny. Beats out dacs costing way more. Very well reviewed in stereophile and they gave it a borderline class A component rating. To be honest, all the small box components from musical fidelity are fabulous, including the lx lps phono preamp & the lx2-HPA headphone amp. 
Check out  Wireworld. I use the Chroma. I bought a 1 meter length for $30 new. A great cable for the money. I use mine with the Modi2. 
speaking of USB cables, I've only used Schiit USB which is Straight Wire. anybody try something and found that it was worth getting over the Schiit USB? 
I'm using the ifi nano LE to my preamp and I'm very happy with it. I have a Schitt Modi Multibit and a Nixon dac I like to try affordable dacs to see what I like but I'll never be a player in the >$1000 range so these will have to do. The thing they all have in common is they're musical and they're paid for.
Do you use the Nano LE just for DSD or PCM audio as well?
I've always liked Analysis Plus cables, not all that expensive but very good build quality. Signal Cable too.
I switched from a generic USB data cable to an AudioQuest ‘Cinnamon’ cable $80 and noticed a drastic improvement in sound quality. 
To be honest, I had a pair of MIT "Terminator" speaker cables which were good. but am now running AudioQuest spooled 14 AWG "Zip" cables and never been happier. I'm sure their USB cables are very good!
So Modi 3 arrived today. Attempted to hook up with old Windows 7 laptop. Would not install even though there was software for Win 7, Drivers included. I kept getting error message "Please Connect The Cemedia USB20 Device." ?? Tried Cemida drivers, etc, no dice!
After much trial & tribulation, and many attempts at installing various drivers, I finally got the "Gen 2" version of Modi 2 to install.So it plays but I've got to say; IT DON"T SOUND NO BETTER THAN BEFORE!
USB to Modi, RCAs to amp.
VERY Disappointed! Maybe with Gen 3 drivers would sound better but don't see how to install.Guess I'll sleep on it and see what's what over the week end.
So upon further review, swapping out RCA cables & perhaps the unit burned in a little, I have to say that yes this laptop does sound better with this DAC. Soundstage is 'wider' and a little deeper. Doesn't match my OPPO or vinyl but it obviously enhances Laptop audio.Just heard from Alexander at Schiit Audio. Seems I misunderstood Gen 3 download for drivers for Modi 3. They are not. He said plugging in the USB power should get it to work. I am using an external power supply but it's funny that it did not work BEFORE I ran Gen 2 software. Go figure!.

wcc10, Windows is not detecting the USB connection.
"Please Connect The Cmedia USB 2.0 Device."
Disconnect the Modi DAC. And uninstall the drivers that you installed.
Restart after each uninstall / install with Windows 7.
After Uninstalling any installed drivers Reconnect the Modi USB Cable
and see if Windows ’detects’ Schiit USB Audio device.
If Schiit Audio USB Device is not on the ’Playback’ List then proceed to install Gen 2-3 drivers from the link on Schiit Audio website Downloads.
Links for three different versions ( v 1.16, v1.03, and Gen 3 ) for Windows 7 / 8 are available at schiit.com / drivers.
Please refer to Schiit Downloads Page for procedure and troubleshooting.
To check this open Sound > Playback Tab in Control Panel.
If Schiit USB Audio device is on the list be sure to select and Set as Default.
>> Important <<
Also check the Properties setting.
Control Panel > Sound > Playback Schiit USB Audio device > Properties > Advanced TAB > Select Format Sample Rate and Set the Sample Rate
to 24 / 192.
The Sample Rate Setting in Windows will effect the Output!
Also any Player settings! As per Schiit’s notes.
Gen 3 Drivers are necessary for Schiit’s Unison USB hardware and likely would not impart any difference in Sound.
This is sNeezy eZ no trial or tribulation is necessary.