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Matt, I suppose it comes down to a comparison between the somewhat old DLIII and the DAC in the DS Jr., and assuming that the digital domain volume control on the latter is transparent (truly no loss of resolution over its operating range.) I'd also lose a pair of interconnects - between DAC and preamp - which sounds good in principle.
I agree with matt that the sound will be different. In fact, it will be completely different.
Your current rig is the DLIII Dac. This is an aging DAC, but it is very well designed with a very good power supply. It is a conventional DAC chip with a fully discrete Class A I/V circuit that uses FET inputs and bipolar outputs. This going into your XP10 preamp, which is also fully Class A (and I also think this uses FET circuits). Finally, you’re going into the XA30.5, which is 100% Class A at 30 watts.
Three stages of Class A circuits in the analog path will create a very warm and full sound. It will be very listenable with absolutely no listening fatigue. However, with that many Class A stages, you’ll start to lose resolution, attack and there will be a slight roll-off of high frequencies.
The DirectStream Jr is a completely different beast. It is not a conventional DAC. It uses FPGA to analyze the incoming digital data and formulate how the output is generated from multiple voltage rails. The final voltage output is through a high-speed Class A video amplifier (video amps are extremely fast slew rate, so it is not like a normal warming Class A circuit). The idea behind the DirectStream is to make the signal as 100% accurate as possible. The end result will be significantly more resolution, attack, detail. It can reveal more information in the sound. However, when poorly matched with other equipment, it can be too solid state.
Since your amp is a full excellent 100% Class A amp, the DirectStream Jr. might be a good solution if you are looking for more resolution and accuracy. There will be no coloration added to the sound signature (unlike your DLIII/XP10 combo).
Your existing DLIII and XP10 are FET based and will add a richness and texture to the sound. This can be extremely pleasant, but it is not necessarily accurate to your source. This combination will also be more warm/thick sounding.
Neither is really a bad choice, it all depends on the direction you want to go in.
Excellent observation, auxinput. I've done some searching here about opinions on driving a power amp directly from a DAC, and there seems to be somewhat less preference for that sound than when a good preamp is used between the DAC and power amp. So there is no clear consensus on this particular situation. I was hoping to hear from someone with firsthand experience with the Directstream Jr. driving an amp.
And cymbop, were you using the analog or digital (to a DAC) outputs of the SBT? The former are not so good and if that's what you were using it would not be surprising at all that you heard a big difference in going to the PWDII DAC.
I have tried my DSJ connected directly to MC501 amps and felt the sound was "thin". Sound is definitely better with a pre in the loop,Thanks for that comment. I was supposing I could replace my preamp and DLIII and get the DSJ with only a small additional cash outlay. It seems then I should be thinking about a lower-priced DAC (than the DSJ) with better dynamics and soundstaging than the DLIII. One that incorporates a network player, too. What is that DAC?
Yeah, that’s a definite concern. The DSJ really acts like a DAC chip with no smoothing analog circuits. More of a stepped square wave format you see on the output side of DAC chips (it’s really just DC voltage output at different levels). You really need at least one Class A circuit (or several op amp circuits with a higher feedback capacitor to smooth the waveforms). Class A analog circuits does this waveform smoothing very well. However, after several Class A circuits (in the audio path), the sound can become too dull and soft.
I have limited experience with McIntosh, but what I have heard is that the McIntosh sound is very warm, mellow and laid back. I think the Pass Labs amps will have a lot more punch and attack, even though they are Class A. If bnut311 fees that DSJ direct to his MC501 is still too thin, maybe it would not work out for you. My assumption would be that your Pass Labs Class A amp would have enough waveform smoothing to remove the thinness.
The idea of looking for a more exacting DAC to mate with your XP10 is a good one at this point. Avoid any DAC that has a Class A or tube output stage (Bryston, Marantz, ARC, McIntosh, etc.). Look for a more "transparent" type of DAC without the opa2134 or warmer I/V and analog stages.
I don’t know what your budget is going to be or what level you want. Here are some thoughts from most expensive to least expensive:
- The Mytek Manhatten with network card
- Aurender A10
- Cambridge Audio Azure 851N
- Oppo Sonica DAC