If you like the sound of the Naim gear I can't see you liking the Bel Canto or the Benchmark. One thing you may want to consider is the Emprical Audio Off Ram Turbo (modified M-Transit) with a DAC. Emprical modifies the Benchmark, but I would also check out non-os DACs.
Lossless PC music is still compressed and won't come close to your Naim no matter what DAC you use except maybe for a Nagra, DCS, or Bermeister. (none of these can be had for $1500 except for the remote).
The bel canto dac2 is bright and lean so I wouldn't suggest that. You could try to find a Datson that is real good but I don't think your source will justify that.
Do check out threads on just this topic that have appeared here before--much good info already been written. That said, I think Audioadvisor.com sells both the Bel Canto and Benchmark and offers a 30 day trial so you do not have to keep them if you don't want.
For just a little more than your price you might be able to find a used Dodson 217 MK II-D which is a great DAC. If you did not like it, you could sell it easily.
Look into non-os DACs as well such as Audio Mirror, Audio Note, 47 Labs, etc. There are many excellent ones available within your budget, some for a lot less than you're willing to spend.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't apple lossless files the same as say a aiff or a wav?
No, you're correct. Even lossy compression is digitally output as PCM data. The server uncompresses the files before they are output.
It is my understanding that lossless is still compressed using a larger algorithms and taking advantage of newer more powerful PC's. It is also compressing less by only eliminating subtle reflected sound of low signals during passages when there is a lot of information or significantly loud music. This is how it was explained to me by an engineer at BAT anyways. If I am off track please let me know. I do hear a difference between an original and Media Player 10 with lossless settings.
My understanding is that Lossless is not actually compressed. It is smaller than a regular file but that does not mean the music is compressed. Others who know more than I do have written about this on other threads here with more sophistication, but, my understanding is that a bit for bit rip of a song from CD contains a lot of empty space that is not necessary for accurate reproduction. The lossless schemes have found a way of removing the empty space without removing the vital data. I have read articles where reviewers have made bit for bit comparisons and found the lossless schemes to be bit perfect. So, I disagree with Duane's statment. Lossless files through a DAC in your price range can sound great.
Here is an article that I think does a nice job of explaining things. I am not
sure who's point it supports I just think it is great information.
Here is another good link that, if I recall, talks about various things realted to
ripping and lossless formats; after you click the link got the May 2005 article:
My personal experience: I did NOT notice a significant difference between my
hard drive based system (see my system and other posts i've made on this
topic) and using a CEC TL-51X transport. I also thought my hard-drive based
system - using the Waveterminal U24 as a DAC - bested my old XA777ES on
redbook (not SACD though).
Hope this helps further the overall discussion.
Lossless is lossless. You can verify that by converting back and forth between a losslessly compressed file and the original uncompressed WAV file. They should be bit identical. You can't do this a lossy compression format like MP3.
Picking a DAC for a music server is the same as picking a DAC in general. The only special consideration is whether you need the added convenience of a built-in USB interface which you may or may not need, depending on your set-up.
I agree with Kenn39. Lossy compression means you lose things in the compression process--takes advantage of the pschoacoustic coding mechanisms Duane was referring too. Lossless compression means smaller file size but no loss of data integrity. If you rip SongX.wav in WAV (raw PCM data in a DOS file wrapper), convert to Apple Lossless (SongXv2.m4a), and then reconvert to WAV (SongXv3.wav), SongXv3.wav and SongX.wav will be bit-for-bit identical. Note, this is not true for "lossy" compression like mp3, AAC, etc.
You might see if you can get a different USB device before changing out your DAC. I never liked the M-Audio I had with toslink; even my old Edirol UA-1D and digital coax sounded better. I really like my Waveterminal U24, but gather they are no longer manufactured.
I do use the digital coax from my m-audio audiophile usb. From what i've read the benchmark dac1 has been changed and the newer version is pretty good. My goal is to achieve a sound that is as good or better than my meridian 506.24.
I really want a naim cdp, but i just find myself listening to more music on a Mac Hd rig.
Still may be the m-audio device. USB is jitter free, but the USB device has to reclock the data. Some do it better than others. Audioengr here mods transits with a better clock, but I gather its not a simple mod.
My rig, which is Apple Lossless to a waveterminal U24 from a dedicated Serener ITX PC sounds every bit as good as my DV-50S.