newbie DAC question


I broke into the HiFi world about two years ago and l would love to know if a DAC would improve my system in a way that's worth my while. I currently have the following setup:

- Elac Debut B6s
- Music Hall A15.2 integrated
- Onkyo C7030 CD player
- Sextet and Bel interconnnects borrowed from a buddy
- Speakers are on stands carefully placed where they work best with the carpeted room.

I've read good reviews on the Musical Fidelity V90DAC and several Schiit models, but I can't determine, based on any literature out there, if my setup is at a level that would make a DAC worthwhile (or even noticeable). If it WOULD make a difference, does anyone have any suggestions for coaxial or optical interconnnects to go along with it?

Thank you much!
It can and might in your specific case but hard to say for certain.

If you think your sound is deficient in some way, best to focus on in what ways and focus on how to improve.   Focusing on a DAC without being certain what aspects of the sound you want to change or improve may not deliver the desired results.  
Thanks for getting back to me. I'm looking for a little more clarity on vocals, and a little more "life" for delicate passages, if that makes sense. I've used DAC/amps for headphones before and would describe the difference (between using and not using one) as "removing a film" from over the music, and I wonder if I could achieve similar results with a stereo?

Thanks again!
You've got a good setup there. I think you'd be able to notice differences if sources were swapped. I've heard the Schiit Bifrost Multibit, but only in a headphone environment. It certainly has the clarity you seek, though it costs twice as much as the Musical Fidelity V90-DAC.
Broke in? So you're the one who took my speakers :)
@yage thanks! And by sources do you mean CD player? Or do you mean it'll improve with the addition of the DAC on top of the CDP?

@jburidan they should be, I've had them for over a month and they have gotten several hours a day of play time. But I got the B6's off of Amazon actually :)
And I apologize for any ignorance/confusion relating to this topic, DAC's are very far out of my comfort zone... 
You could purchase the V-90 from Music Direct and the Bitfrost from Schiit and try them out. Both have return policy. Ask each vender as to their thoughts regarding the improvement over your CD player’s DAC. I would use a Coax digital cable.  

@mesch that's a great idea. And I will most certainly ask them about the potential improvement. Do you have any coax cable recommendations? I've been eying up Blue Jeans Cables tentatively.


Hi Kremrik, if you just play Redbook cd's  you may get a better sound by using the Schitt  Bifrost Dac (with Multibit upgrade) which makes it better for PCM (Redbook replay) and you can try it for 15 days as well or return it.

Cheers George 

@georgelofi that's good to know, thanks! What makes the multibit better than the standard one? Is that the same as the "analog upgrade" I keep reading about?

Multibit is said to be "Bit Perfect" for the conversion of PCM (Redbook dc) many hiend manufactures are reverting back to it for PCM replay, after going down the cheaper Delta Sigma conversion way, like Schitt did for this Bifrost which is Delta Sigma, and now the upgrade for it is back to Multibit dac.

Your Onkyo btw is a Delta Sigma based dac converter. It will be interesting to see what you think the sound difference is playing Redbook cd using it as a transport into the Schitt Multibit dac.

Myself, the sound of Redbook when converted with a properly implemented Multibit dac has a dynamic  jump factor and a body to the midrange that Delta Sigma can’t match, it’s sweet and laid back but a bit of a yawn to listen to after a while, and doesn’t excite and keep your attention like Multibit can on rock, middle of the road, or classical.    

Cheers George  

@georgelofi fantastic description, thank you for taking the time to explain. I'm leaning towards a B-stock Bifrost multibit now :)
@kremrik - Blue Jeans is a solid choice. You won't go wrong there.

And yes, I think a DAC connected to your CD player would make a noticeable difference in your system.
@yage thanks for the recommendation! I just bought a coax from Blue Jeans and an open box Musical Fidelity V90Dac so we'll see if I can see an improvement
So I bought a Blue Jeans Cable Belden 1694A Coax, RCA terminated at both ends. I've heard some people say that coax is inferior to optical. Thoughts? Or is it one of those things that's endlessly debated with no concrete conclusion?
Well, if there's any truth to the conventional wisdom, then it seems that coax is the better interface, which they basically say exhibits less jitter. Personally, I haven't had to use either as I like my one-box universal player.
Hi kremrik

You should have had your Musical Fidelity V90 DAC for a couple weeks by now.

What are you playing through it, and how does it sound?

Yage said "...a DAC connected to your CD player would make a noticeable difference in your system."

I'm  not sure what he meant unless you have a digital output from the Onkyo C7030 CD player. If so, have you tried to use the V90 DAC instead of the built-in DAC?

Also, have you tried playing the same music with the CD Player and the DAC? You could rip the CD, and then play the WMA or FLAC through the DAC, and compare the two.

Btw, this is my equipment:

Speakers - Elac B6
CD Player - NAD C 516BEE CD Player
Preamplifier - Parasound Halo P5
Power Amplifier - Rotel RB-1080

@edincleve I am so sorry I didn't see this earlier. I have been playing my entire (small) CD collection through it for a while now, as well as a Chromecast Audio streaming Spotify's premium "extreme quality". I did notice a decent difference with the V90 DAC, although it was entirely based on memory... However, I played my most familiar CD's that I knew extremely well. I wouldn't say it was an EXTREME difference, but the differences I noted were things like: bass was smoother and more distinct; highs were crisper; vocals were more realistic; things like that. Things you'd balk at if you were a cynic like me, but then realize the difference for yourself.

Also, I'm using my CDP's coax output to my DAC. I've also no way to do a direct comparison, so I regrettably can't do an A/B comparison...  
The Chromecast is probably a challenge for any DAC. I love my 1st Gen chromecast, but for Anime, not music. :) For that I love my Logitech Squeezebox touch.

Interesting review of using the CC just came out today by the way. 

DAR Reviews Chromecast 2nd Gen

Based on the lack of specs for it's music capabilities, I always knew it was not intended to be a serious music playing product. I couldn't even find a listing of supported file formats, forget resolution. :)


@erik_squires actually I did a decent amount of direct comparisons between CD and CA quality. My overall impression is that, no, the CA does not sport same-as-cd quality. Not really a shocker for $35! However - the quality is remarkably close. On the albums I used to test this out, I noticed a slight lack of high end detail (appears softer, more laid back) and a small lack of overall THEREishness, if that makes sense. When compared directly, CDs sounded more spacious and the CA sounded more like a center channel and two front surrounds, but just barely. Despite having no specs posted about it, the overall performance is so close in my (budget) system that unless I had the cd version to compare it with, I would have a difficult time hearing any deficiencies. My setup isn't mercilessly revealing and it's not terribly pricey, so others might have different opinions!

I'm getting a wyred4Sound Remedy though, as an add on for my Squeezebox though.  I want to try it out. The SB was reviewed and found to have very low jitter, remarkably low jitter for a low cost product, but I'm curious.


Nope, get AV receiver instead. Integrated is going to sound better unless you go pro audio stack.
@coli I'll be honest, at the price range I'm working with, I probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a receiver, integrated amp, or amp/preamp stack. I like the *idea* of a simple integrated amp the most, but I think most people wanting to spend less than $300 on an amp would be just as happy following your suggestion.
@kremrik no, not just that. With AV receiver you get room correction, bass management, upmixing, downmixing, object audio (3D audio), and some even got loudness curves (Audyssey DynamicEQ rocks, Audyssey room correction itself sucks though). Plus you don’t need to worry about interconnects. You lose a lot of quality with interconnect cables (unless you know what you are doing). Also, separates often got issues with power quality and grounding, hence all the talk about power cable, conditioner, etc, with AV receivers there will be 0 issues there. Another issue with separates is the volume control implementation, but I will stop here, don’t even get me started about input jitter and audiophile DACs...

I’ve spent a lot of money on the audiophile stack, a LOT of money. I sold it all. AV receivers are unbeatable unless you go pro audio stack. Audiophile setup is just scams in this day and age.
@coli I believe you - in fact, I've become a tad disillusioned with the "audiophile-grade" moniker that gets tossed around by "professionals". Mainly because I've been testing out different aspects of my setups and have consistently been surprised that I can't hear any differences; mainly with differences in DACs, interconnects, speaker stands, and speaker placements. These are things that we've all read should make a HUGE difference in sound quality, but I consistently found to be nonexistent. 

If you wouldn't mind explaining, how do interconnects have a bigger effect with an integrated amp (or stack of amps) vs an AV receiver?
Am I missing something here? Is there something wrong with your Music Hall integrated? I thought you were simply looking for a DAC for your CD player and for streaming. Seems you have accomplished that. 

Though your system is a budget one, at it's budget I believe it to be well balanced and capable of providing much musicality for the dollars spent.
Congrat yourself and enjoy!
Wherever you heard that the differences between dacs and interconnects would be "HUGE" should stop going there.  They've been telling you tales of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. 

The limiting factor in your case (setting aside the room, which may be perfect for your setup, we don't know) is your speakers.  There's nothing wrong with Elac speakers - they're great for the money.  But at the end of the day, they're $300 speakers.   I'm not saying they're bad speakers, not in the least, but encouraging you to swap dacs, or upgrade your interconnects, or playing with coax vs. USB vs. whatever is barking up the wrong tree.  Doing those things may affect the system (though I doubt it, as you've discovered), but the sound will still be coming out of $300 speakers.

If you want better sound, put every dollar you can into upgrading your speakers.    And if you're emotionally attached to the Elacs, or simply can't afford to upgrade them, then forget about this thread and enjoy the music you have now.  Playing with those other things is a waste of your time and money, and frankly I'm surprised I'm the first person on this thread to even mention a speaker upgrade, though I know it's not the question you asked.
@mesch there is absolutely nothing wrong with my amp! In fact, I LOVE my Music Hall. I think I was too influenced by the likes of Stereophile, Steve Guttenberg, etc the last couple of years as I've gotten more heavily into audio. Maybe DACs, interconnects, power conditioners, etc have a big effect on systems costing 10's or 100's of thousands of dollars, but I am beginning to doubt these same things will produce a noticeable difference in cases like mine (and anyone else who won't spend more than $1500 for a single setup).

@bcgator I completely agree with you. When I'm ready for an upgrade, my speakers will be the first target! However - I have never enjoyed music more than when listening to those Elacs. I am constantly amazed at how much I love them. So I'm not yet in any hurry to replace them. 

I'm in complete agreement with both of you. Also a little disappointed that the mainstream publications or authors seem to have lost touch with these observations you've made... It appears to me that these "audiophiles" are doing their passion a disservice this way.
Without the Valhalla 2 cords feeding my Sutherlands, the perfection I spoke of earlier began to come apart. The effect produced one of those puzzling "Did I hook something up wrong?" moments. Pachelbel's Canon in D was once again the disjointed mish-mash it had been before I first installed the Valhalla 2 loom. Violins again sounded aggressive and edgy, even in their lower ranges. The individual elements of the recording, so distinct and clear with the Valhalla 2s in the system, now bled together into something wide and deep, but incoherent and inconsistent. Any sense of musical tempo or flow vanished; at best, when a simple passage would emerge, the adjective I found inescapable was strident.
That's an excerpt from a recent Stereophile review of the new, $85,000 line of Nordost Valhalla interconnects, cables, and cords. This is basically a paragraph telling readers how sucky his $100,000+ system sounded without the $6,000 power cord. It's this kind of thing that I think throws noobs like myself off. These kinds of articles make it look like there are HUGE rewards to be reaped by upgrading EVERYTHING in your system to the max. While that might possibly be true for an extremely expensive and revealing system, it is definitely not the case lower down the food chain.
It's not just this hobby either, kremrik.  In a society, and financial system, based on consumption rather than savings, the goal is to get you to spend more and more, consume more and more, and to always be chasing the next acquisition.  This industry specifically wants you to never be happy with what you have, to always assume that spending more money will make the music sound better, and that you're always one more upgrade away from musical nirvana.  The "keeping up with the Joneses" dynamic is alive and well here, just as it is with home ownership, auto ownership, and numerous other consumer categories.   You, like each of us, have to know when to say enough is enough. 

"This is basically a paragraph telling readers how sucky his $100,000+ system sounded without the $6,000 power cord. It’s this kind of thing that I think throws noobs like myself off."

Boy, you said it! I think things like that are enough to throw all of us off. But, if they can’t get good sound with that kinda money then I personally think they need to give it up! Fortunately for the rest of us though, I don’t see anything like that as a requisite for getting good sound.

I can’t say I would disagree with any of the advice given here so far. But, most of us who could offer you the benefit of our experience would likely not want to go in whole hog with our advice and get you upside down on anything in terms of your overall budget, of course, especially since you’re basically just starting out. That said, it’s at least a worthwhile strategy IMO to not worry **too** much about ’overspending’ (just a bit, anyway) and getting just one, solidly good piece of gear that may be just a bit more than you need at the moment...whatever type of gear that happens to be. Later down the road, when it becomes time for you to upgrade some other piece, you may be glad you already made that choice initially, making it easier for you to A) isolate and identify the remaining candidates to upgrade without having to necessarily revisit that first choice, and B) increase the odds of success of integrating your next choice, if you can also spend on it the same way. Yes, it will be more expensive in the long run and will take a bit longer that way, but I’d say it’s worth it to avoid the usual newbie trap of spending ’just enough’ for now and ’just enough’ later only to then be more or less dissatisfied with whole thing at some point afterward...and **then** realizing you’re really stuck again in exactly the same box you happen to be in now - which component do I spend on first, and how much do I spend?? 

Think of your system components as a chain that’s only as strong as the weakest link. Of course, you could identify just the weakest link and just replace that, but what I’m saying, and what I suspect you may already know, is that that doesn’t mean the rest of your components would all be equal after that. Unfortunately, as anyone here can tell you, as soon as you replace the weakest link, you may then notice another one. Don’t worry though, none of it means you’re crazy, that’s just the price of admission to the which we all say: "welcome, and make yourself at home!!" And as long as replacing one weak link only reveals another, then I would say it’s ok to buy just a little better quality on one piece than you might need at the moment...trying to hit the nail exactly on the minimal head at this stage of the game may prove to be futile...(informative, maybe...always learn what you can from mistakes - but futile in terms of preventing you from spending more). I imagine most us start out this way, but find we have to change our plan of attack accordingly. 

But, this way, the truth is, as I see it, you’d really be in ok shape for now - just a general plan to upgrade all, or most, of your gear (but not by any over-the-top amount), even if that takes a while, it gives you plenty of elbow room to work with as you go, and also the kind of time it may take for you to hunt down the right piece(s). From the sound of it, you really like the Music Hall, so maybe that might be one to upgrade last, or not at all. I, too, agree that tryings things out during the return period is a actually great way to go.

Just some food for thought, maybe.