I think leaving it on will wear out the tubes, but there are usually only one or two and they are often 12AX7 'preamp' type tubes that are cheap and last forever anyway. If your Sony is still mechanically fine, go for a dac, and I think I personally would stop right here at audiogon and wait for something that caught my eye. No need paying new, retail prices for dacs...there are tons of them around and you can pick your price point (and therefore, to some extent, age of equipment). Good luck!
Leaving a tubed dac on is ok. Can't go wrong with an Audio Mirror (new), Bel canto (used), or a scott nixon(used). Of the three mentioned I prefer the audio mirror. All three are more analog in presentation versus the sony. All of the dacs will also offer better bass response. I have tried several digital cables and can recommend the audiovox or straightwire. Am unsure on the model names of the cables but both are less than $100. Phil Brady.
From what I gather tube dacs can be left on without worry. The tube or tubes in such a dac normally aren't designed to be taxed that much while in use. So typically the tube may last 5 to 7 years or more depending on the design of the unit.
Plus the tubes are cheap ..so not a big deal.
As far as the price goes. You must also look at whether the product comes from a retailer or straight from the manufacture. The price vs performance may prove a moot point in this case. Since an additional mark up is a part of the retail price.
From what I've heard and read the technology hasn't changed all that much. I prefer NON oversampling to the much hyped upsampling and oversampling. It may seem primitive but once you listen and compare you will understand it's not.
IMHO it's more about the design of the unit than whether it upsamples ,oversamples or does neither.
A friend and I did a little experiment a few nights back.
We used an Arcam DV27 as a transport .First we used a simple non oversampling Dac with a EE minimax. The listening lasted maybe an hour or so. Then we used a processor/preamp made by Lexicon. The Lexicon when new retailed for $4000. The little Dac less than 1/10 the price.
Now some would figure the Lexicon with all it's powerful processing and Dacs should embarass such a inexpensive Dac.
Wrong..LOL.. the differences were very noticeable. The Lexicon sounded compressed and cymbals sounded like hash.
It was terrible! I honestly couldn't help but laugh at the difference. Even a person not in the hobby would have noticed it within seconds of firing the unit up.
The little cheapo no frills Dac offered much better range in the music. Nothing seemed to be held back. No hash or grain also. My friend sat back and laughed about the whole situation. He was a very good sport and owns the processor that was just trounced by the Dac. He knew before I that it was no contest. IMHO anything can be over done..just keep it as simple as possible.
It all depends on the design. A well executed design will probbaly outperform a new unit that sells new for what the older DAC now sells for. Tube versus SS is an age old question. Tubes don't do what SS does. In general, I have found that tubes (depending on the tubes) offer a different sonic presentation such as sweeter mid range, more rounded bass, but SS can offer better details, dynamics, faster and tighter bass, etc. So it comes down to system matching and what YOU prefer.
I use an older Audio Logic tube DAC that I like especially for the used price that I paid for it. Have I heard better DACs, yes, have I heard SS DACs that I also could live with, yes. But for the money, I preferred the AL as the others were more expensive at the time. I have not heard a newer DAC at the price point that I paid for my used AL DAC that does what I like in my system.
I did try about 12 DACs to select this one in my system.
That being said, the digital cable you select will also be more important then the transport IMO. But I also use a CEC which is a pretty good transport to begin with. I did try about 6 transports and too many digital cables to mention both XLR and RCA. All in all, it comes down to personal preference.
Last, I would like to hear a Sony modified CDP with tube output and volume control in my system to comapre to the separates. One less power cord, and one less digital cable. I just don't want to pay the full retail for a unit, but that is just me. You may want to consider that as an option.
I've got an old Counterpoint DAC I traded a pair of speakers for...it came with the original receipt ($3,800) when new. The speakers I traded usually go for around $500-$600 used.
To be honest, the DAC sounds exactly like a $3,000-$4,000 DAC should sound...very, very, good. I'm using only a cheap Pioneer 563A as a transport at this point so I would expect even more could be had in sound quality with a better transport.
Using a JVC XL-Z1010 as transport into a California Labs Alpha DAC (two 12AX7s). I would NEVER trade my Alpha. It's a great and sweet sound. System is "old" but sounds super to me.
Until a few months ago I was using a PS Audio Ultralink II in balanced mode... it was very, very good even still blowing off a Sony DVP-S9000 ES (Redbood SACD) player in redbook easily as that was the dedicated transport. Sold it on eBay for about $500 and bought a highly discounted new Marantz SA-11-S1 ($2300 vs. $3500 retail). I have a couple oif hundred hours on the Marantz now and it keeps getting better and better... it was better than the Ultralink right out of the box ice cold as a reference point.
My experience has showed that cheaper but newer digital is better than older expensive digital, in general. I don't put much money into the source - I replace it with newer models more often instead.
My advice is wait a month or two hopefully and PS Audio will have their $999 dac out (maybe find it discounted a bit)
Arnie Nudell heard it and thought it was better than almost any dac out there in Levinson. It's going to be a giant killer and worth a little more than your current budget. PS Audio is doing amazing things these days with low cost gain cell gear. I just got their GCPH phono preamp, and it is excellent.
Wait, save more money and audition it, That;s what I;m doing,
I'll second the Audio Mirror, but you should also check in to the Channel Islands Audio DAC with separate power supply. I had a chance to hear in Dusty's listening room and it was very impressive. It is in your budget and has a 30 day trial period .
Thanks for all of the response. I have narrowed it down to an older dac after some input. Something in the $500 range. Has anyone out there spent any time with a theta. I'll let you guys know what ends up on the shelf...
Channel Island audio will be releasing the VDA 2. A completely different dac which will no doubt be near SOTA. It's too much to go into here but check the Channel Island forum at audiocircle.com. Dusty said they should be ready by Christmas. He has been working on this for a while. It will have a gentle sloped filter with the best parts and dac available. With his knowledge and ability it's my best guess it's going to be outstanding at 600.00 new. I'm getting one for Christmas for myself. Don't wait for the reviews or he could end up raising the price. I seriously doubt you'll find much used that would be competitive one on one with this new dac, just my .02 worth.
Watch for Dusty at Channel Island, he's creating some pretty serious giant killers at down to earth prices.
I spoke with him again the other day about his D-200 amps.
This new Dac comes as no surprise, considering how well his D series amps have been received.
Just a plug for a recent Audiogon discovery, the totally revealing Auricle Audio Design Encore Signature digital IC. Lets both tube and solid state DAC's sound so much better than previously in each of my systems where inserted. Both a really old classic Anodyne tube DAC by Scott Nixon, and a less old classic solid state Millennium II DAC by Ric Schultz revealed to be even better than already thought.
The attributes of each DAC honored while seeming to maximally transmit every bit of musicality and detail in any recording.
And, as Gmood1 posted, cymbal reproduction can often signal when a system is optimized. Apparently, what allows cymbals to really distinguish themselves also allows a clearing up or un-jumbling of the rest of the recording.