New DAC for Arcam 7SE

I have an Arcam 7SE CD player, now over 10 years old. It still sounds great through my Alpha 10 Integrated Amplifier. I recently learned that the Musical Fidelity Company, also a UK company, sells a DAC, the V-DAC, that one could connect to the Arcam via the optical output that would provide a superior conversion to the dated DAC in the 7SE. The V-DAC sells for $300 and so would be an inexpensive upgrade compared to one of the Arcam upgrade pathways. Does anyone have experience with this particular unit or with using DAC separates such as this in general?
Hi, this may not be related to your question. You may discern an appreciable difference with the V-DAC or you may not. I have owned the Arcam Alpha 8 CD player which should have quite a similar sound to the 7SE. It's a good player at its price point. I feel that you will gain a more significant sound improvement with an amp upgrade. As good as the Alpha 10 integrated can get(this was my first audiophile amp), I find it something like a cold fish ie. little flat sounding across the music spectrum. If more macro-dynamics, transient attack and better layering and separation in music are required, I suspect a better amp would give you more than the CDP. Food for thought. Cheers.
Thank you for your response, the only one I received from the group. After doing some research I had come to a similar conclusion. One of the issues with my system is that the small Castle speakers I use, while perfectly matched to the amplifier, and very precise, perfect for piano music for example, don't have much bottom end and so I have never felt that I was getting the most out of the Alpha 10 anyway. I appreciate your taking the time to write. I am new to the area of high-quality digital music, still play a lot of records. What do you think would be a reasonable priced upgrade to the Alpha 10?
I am not familiar with Castle hence not too sure which amp will match the speakers well. However, a few integrateds that are worth considering include the YBA Integre DT, Plinius 9200, Krell KAV-400XI/S300i and Musical Fidelity A308. Even the cheaper Rega Mira3 will be more involving compared to the Alpha 10. Musicality and refinement will most likely be attained with all the amps mentioned above with the Krell having a slight edge over the rest in the bass department. However most bookshelves can't do deep bass so there is a limit as to how low the speakers can go even with an amp that is able to provide good solid bass.
Hi Gferg, please don't throw the baby out with the bath water! The Alpha 10 is a fine-sounding integrated. When it came out it was considered the best amp that Arcam had ever made up to that point. In professional reviews it's sound and inherent virtues were almost always compared to much more expensive amps available at the time.

That being said, and having sold and spent much time with Arcam products from that period, I would make the following suggestions:

1. Source: It may be a long shot, but try to source a DAC-board from an Alpha 8 or Alpha 9 cd player to upgrade your Alpha 7SE. There may be a dealer out there that has one lying around unused as Arcam no longer supports this upgrade. Another option would be to buy a broken 8 or 9 for cheap just for the DAC board. Like I said, a long shot, but possible.

The Ring DAC- derived board from the 9 would be ideal. The Alpha 9 had noticeably more refinement and "air" to it's sound than the stock 7SE and sounds absolutely beautiful on well-recorded HDCD's. I used to demo and double-blind compare the 7SE to the 9 for customers and the 7SE, although a very musical player, sounded darker and not as lively as the Alpha 9 (and later the FMJ CD23) every time when listening side-by-side.

2. Amp: To quote Ryder above: "If more macro-dynamics, transient attack and better layering and separation in music are required..". Exactly, and adding an Alpha 10 power amp to your system and bi-amping your speakers would give you exactly that. Your Castles might suprise you with a depth of bass you never knew they had. The Alpha series of compenents were designed with this upgrade path in mind. You should be able to find a used two-channel Alpha 10P power amp in really good condition for less than $500 either on the 'gon or Ebay if your are patient. A newer FMJ P32 would work fine, too and they are level-matched to your Alpha 10 integrated.

3. Sub: If your particular speakers are not bi-wireable, then adding a small, fast powered sub could really take your system up a notch musically. The smallest Rel from their Britannia series or their little 8" cube might be a good place to start looking.

Just my two cents.. -jz
John_z has given more than two cents. Great advice.

To add to the above, all options will yield a sonic improvement and it is just a matter of choosing one that is in line with your priorities in getting the most substantial sonic improvement at a reasonable budget. Of course you can consider all suggestions by John_z if you have the budget as the degree of sonic differences will knock you over if done all at one go.

I have not tried option 2 when I had the Alpha 10 so can't comment on that. Nevertheless, I would still consider an alternative amp being familiar with the house sound of the Arcam from the Alpha period. The newer Arcams may have improved over the years having a different sonic character. However, if you like the current Alpha 10's sonics then it would make sense to stick with it and consider another power amp. Before that it would be wise to check the specifications of the speakers whether they are really power-hungry or not. Otherwise you can skip option two and concentrate on the source and subwoofer(if low bass is of much importance to you).

Have fun.
Hi Gferg,

I've got an Alpha 7SE in a second system and still rate it quite highly. It's perhaps not the most refined player, but at its price point, it delivers a quite detailed but not sterile sound. Mine is combined with a Musicakl Fidelity A300 amplifer (I can highly recommend this amp and it can be had for under a grand 2nd hand) and some Lenehan ML1 standmounts.

I have also been thinking about adding a DAC to the 7SE and tested it with my Audio Note DAC One Signature with very pleasing results. I think the addition of a tube-based DAC really brought out the refinement I was seeking. Could be worth trying out some tube DACs to see if this is up your alley.

And by the way, I would strongly recommend using the coaxial digital output rather than the optical output.
Sorry its been a year, I've been out, but I would like to thank you all for your excellent and thoughtful suggestions. I like the idea of bi amping, so I will look for another amp as was suggested. The castles are indeed bi-wireable and were wired so until I was convinced years ago to buy Bel wire and use jumpers. The sound improvement with Bel cable is very noticeable with more clarity and precision in piano passages and acoustic guitar. Now it has been a year since I posted this question and I have been looking once again at DAC's. There are many at this point and so it seemed likely that an improved DAC might once again be a good idea, something like the Cambridge DacMagic, for example. I also have sort of inevitably been moving in the direction of digital source, which I have listened to with iMacs hooked up to high end DACs and of course with stupidly expensive terminal gear (amps and speakers), so maybe deficiencies in source were overcome, but what I heard was really, really good. And now I have been most recently putting a lot of music (downloaded at 256 kbps) on my ipod and enjoying listening to music with some high quality Klipsch phones, and listening to music more than I have in a long time. I have to admit that I am surprised that for the most apart, my responders thought that even with over a decade in DAC improvement that a new DAC would not be more or less a no-brainer as an upgrade, especially at a price point of $4-500. So, if you all don't mind now that a year has passed, I would like to posit the same question, would a new up-to-date DAC for the 7SE be worth it?