You are looking at DAC designs that are about 15 years old. Great in their day but that day is long gone.
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I know they might be older designs but an 8 pound $1,000 dac of today can't sound like one of these older better built monsters that weigh almost 40lbs from the 90's can they? Do you really think a benchmark dac one or something around that would sound better? The only dac that I have heard is a proceed that I bought off ebay a couple of months ago and hated it right out of the box.My CD player sounded better without it!But,it was a cheap dac and should have knowned better.Any advice,I'm all ears.
Herman,I just checked out your system,very,very nice!Neat set ups like that makes this hobby fun.You got more money than me though!I'm looking,just like everyone on this site,for a system that sounds great without breaking the bank.Also,the folks next door have a barking dog and well,such people need to be punished from time to time.
I still have a balanced Gen Va DAC that I compare from time to time to my modded Sony. The Gen Va is a pretty good DAC with a high-quality analog section. However performance depends very much on the quality of transport. With either of these units you are taking your chances on service. Theta no longer supports the older models, and Levinson will probably charge more than it's worth to repair the 36.
Gen Va slightly surpasses the stock SCD-1's DAC section, but my modified Sony DAC section is far ahead. In the price range of a used Gen Va or ML 36, perhaps think about something like a battery-powered Altmann Attraction with dejitter option. Any good reclocking DAC will tend to be less sensitive to transport quality. If budget allows another $1K, probably at least worth auditioning a new Bryston BCD-1.
This is my stereo,please don't make fun of it but it really doesnt sound to bad.Almost all pioneer elite, receiver 49txi,m-91 amp,dv-ax10 dvd-a player,79txi dvd-a,sacd player,cd players,pd-75,pd-65,pdr-99,pdr-19rw,elite minidisc player,samsung 5000 blu-ray,hd hybred player.The story goes like this.Was really happy with the sound of my system intil the monster 50lb dv-ax10 dvd-a player came in the door.Somewhat close to your sony but not moded.After hearing that for a couple of weeks plain cd's suck!Sound is night and day,you already know this but would like to get everyday cd's sounding somewhat close to that.Am I crazy? I have come across some threads on the net that have said some dac's can get somewhat close to that ballpark.That I guess is what I'm shooting for.Just not sure how to go about it.For speakers,I'm running 4 B&W 802's matrix series 3,and a center matrix and some crappy bose 301's in the middle making 7 speakers.
I don't know all the Pioneer stuff. But based on the Elite multiformat players that I've heard in showrooms, I think a good minimimalist 2ch DAC from a manufacturer other than the consumer giants, should get RBCD close to the level of SACD or DVD-A on the Pioneer. IMO the older ML stuff sounds sterile. The Gen Va is a better choice, but has a slightly synthetic mid/treble region by comparison to more recent top units.
Based entirely on readings, of used ones on Audiogon now $1-$2k, two Altmann Attractions optioned with Jisco jitter reduction, or perhaps an Audio Note 2.1. Check out the Positive Feedback review on Altmann vs. AN. For Altmann you will need a fast 12V battery like Optima Yellow or Red Top. If cost no object perhaps Empirical Audio.
I have owned ML No.36 + ML Transport. I have also owned
Theta Va DAc + Theta Transport. I have tried various Transports with either, both never sounded as good as with
their respected Transports. I have found that Pioneer
DV-58AV as a nice rounded Universal that can do a decent
High Rez. DVD-Audio, a decent 2 Channel SACD, a decent
Redbook CD, a decent CD Digital Out to an external DAC,
even a decent Analog out on High Rez. DVD-Audio Multi-Channel, even decent 2-channel Downmix of the same. Picked a display model up dirt cheap for $100.00!
The No. 36 and No. 36S only decode up to 20 Bit resolution. You cannot run 24 bit streams into the unit. It will not lock onto the signal. You need to consider a used No. 360 or 360S in order to decode 24 Bit/96Hz music files, which a great majority of the hi-res downloads are. These DAC's are old and I'm not sure the No. 360 will lock onto 24 bit signals that sample beyond 96 Hz such as 176K and 192K
The ML 36 has one big weak spot: digital jitter. However, if you put a Monarchy Audio DIP with a good digital cable in front of the 36, you will get 360S like performance. I've had several modern DACs of up to $3000 in my system, and it hasn't been beaten so far.
You will get an improvement if you if you go for the Bricasti or the Ref variant of the BelCanto 3.5mkii, but then we are talking > $6000...
I compared the Theta DS Pro Gen VA DAC and the Mark Levinson No 38 CD Player/DAC and the Theta was slightly better than the DAC portion of the No 38 player. The Theta DAC is an outstanding DAC. Don't get me wrong, the Levinson is outstanding also, but I liked the Theta over the No. 38 and the No. 38's DAC is a two level upgrade over the No. 36. The thing I really liked about the Mark Levinson CD Player DAC was that it had optical, Balanced and standard digital inputs. so you could use it as a DAC only. The only problem with the Theta was that the one I had did not have optical input, nor balanced. Just BNC, RCA. So depending on what inputs you desire, I would grab the Theta first, (unless optical or balanced inputs are important to you) and the Mark Levinson No. 38 second.
Also, the 380s is an upgrade to the 38 and is better. The transport in the 38/380s is very very good.
So, places still have the upgrade board for the 36 to upgrade them to the 38. I couldn't find any upgrade boards to upgrade the 38 to 380s.