Look into the Furtech ADL GT40 USB DAC. Reviewed by Malcolm Steward in the new HiFi+. I think it's around $500. A bit more than you wanted to spend but at this price point your options become less and less.
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I have a great DAC to recommend but it's not a USBish device so I will not mention it.
However, I would strongly recommend against depending too much on USB, because you will in turn be depending a bit too much on how your computer handles that situation. It's the sort of thing that may require revisiting after a couple of years.
I use a squeezebox and I really like it. It can actually handle the iTunes situation better than their official statement suggests, but the problem is that as soon as Apple changes its mind, you might get screwed. That actually happened some years ago when they decided, for no reason other than their own profit structure, to take FLAC support out of iTunes. The squeezebox provides its own server instead, which is much more robust (as you'll discover if you move your files out of their current default directory, for example, and iTunes has to find the music all over again and it's an ugly process).
Perhaps a visit to the slimdevices forums will give you an idea of how your situation would be handled with the squeezebox.
However you solve this issue, you do have a bit of work ahead of you, but when you are finished you should have an excellent long-term replacement for the plastic discs of yore. Good luck!
Thanks guys. Devilboy, I was hoping to get a DAC that featured 24/96 USB input and a digital coax input, so I can connect my computer and my Denon changer.
Trebejo, I did move my library off of my hard drive and onto an external drive some time ago. It was kind of painful. iTunes is definitely not one of my favoriter pieces of software, but I can't live without my iPod at work, so...I guess I'm stuck with it. I suppose since the music is on an external drive I can use different software to pipe it into a DAC, and just use iTunes to manage the iPod?
The Touch does not have a digital input, so you can't use it as a DAC for your CD player. It will play 24/96 files in flac format through the squeezebox server software. Playing music on the usb input through a flash drive has been problematic for me, but others have reported great success. I run the touch via ethernet from a netbook with a SSD hooked up to 2TB external drive and the iPeng ipad interface. I use an old Theta DAC, but the internal DAC in the Touch is pretty good. I auditioned an EE Minimax DAC for a couple of weeks and the Touch's analog output was indistinguishable from the EE.
SQ Touch users - how is the use-ability of this unit? I know it has to be cabled to a DAC or pre-amp, but it has a remote, so you can still control track selection that way, but the screen is kinda small. Do you have really long inter-connects, and control the Touch on-screen, or do you keep the ICs short and use the remote? I'm assuming the remote users out there have the Touch close enough to see the tiny screen. I still have very good eyes, even after a 15 year career of staring at computer screens, so using the remote might be OK.
Yeah, I though the Bifrost was a joke at first because of the name and it sounded too good to be true for the money. Of course I'll have to wait and see how it sounds, but on paper it looks good. No upsampling and 24/192 usb support with no mac drivers required. They are supposed to release two more dacs in the near future with balanced outputs, etc. Made in the US and 15 day return policy is comforting.
I dug around a little bit and found this recommendation for a USB -> SPDIF converter, Kingrex UC192,
This is probably a more correct approach, since coax or optical digital is a stable long-term format whilst USB is hardly that. If you must use USB, that's one way to do it without severely curtailing your DAC options.
I now I keep trying to steer you away from USB. But I have my reasons! None of which put a dollar in my pocket. :)
I think "classic" audio companies have not gone after this feature for many reasons, so when you insist on that kind of connectivity then you are discarding some truly excellent DACs. There, that's all the steering I'm going to do for today. Good luck!
Although the Dacmagic has been around for a while, the various inputs, filtering options, outputs including balanced (which I use), and sound seem to keep it among the best values in audio. I recently compared it to another few DACs at an informal audio geek gathering. We had my Dacmagic, a w4s dac2, a Rega, and a music hall...none seemed to be obviously better than my Dacmagic...we also tried some power suppply swapping...no difference was detected and we were trying really hard to hear differences...the good news is that all these dacs sounded great, but the Dacmagic was the least expensive (especially used) and had more features.