setting requirements for my streaming DAC+"preamp"/volume control and suggestions

Hi all,

I'm in the process of building my first high end system from scratch and need some help setting requirements and suggestions on the streaming DAC/preamp question.

After much auditioning I've already decided I like the presentation of Wilson Audio Sabrina speakers paired with a Mcintosh 452 amp to drive them in a relatively big room. I listen to a lot of electronic music and here is the kicker - I listen exclusively to streaming. No phono, no radio, no CDs, no tape. Maybe at some point cached streaming but that's it.

I am trying to decide how to best choose a streaming DAC and preamp/volume control (technically I'm willing to break out the streamer, DAC and preamp if necessary but not starting there). So far I have heard a Linn Selekt + Katalyst with the exact equipment above and liked it.  I could stop searching here but I'm not sure if I'm paying for features I don't need or can achieve the same or better for slightly less or more.   My thought at present is that I should look at streaming DACs with volume controls, no preamp (which I could always add later - or never).

  • is writing off the idea of getting a preamp separate at this point foolish?  
  • what 'requirements' do I need to set for the volume control/preamp portion of my streaming DAC (or streamer + DAC)? Is there anything I need to think about 'pairing' it with the McIntosh or can I be assured that any DAC with a volume control will be OK and just a question of what I like with my ears?   I honestly I don't even know how to determine exactly if a DAC has an analog preamp or a digital volume control when reading specs and if both are ok.  (please enlighten)
  • knowing that I definitely like what I heard in the Linn Selekt + Katalyst with my exact equipment are there brands or models I should consider either (i) in an attempt to save money or spend a little more to get the same kind of presentation or (ii) in an attempt to contrast the presentation with the Linn plus the gear I know I'm getting? I can tell from my speaker evaluation and with the music I like I clearly like faster more articulate presentations but I don't know where that hits a limit of too much so I'm open to anything at this point.  I'd just like to start grouping my choices.

Apologies for the long post. I hope I stated my requirements cleanly enough.

Based on your needs I'd try the dCS Bartok DAC/streamer.

It has a digital volume control with different output reference levels available set in the analog domain, to ensure proper gain matching with the amplifier and avoid a lot of digital attenuation.
The question of whether to use a preamp or a DAC with a volume control is like asking which religion is better. After many years of using both types of systems I realized I like a preamp in the mix.

I have heard the Linn Selekt DSM and it is rather good. However, I was only interested in that unit because of the DSP feature, SPACE OPTIMIZATION. You do not mentioned a need for that in your post. Linn is a little higher priced than some other competitors that do not have DSP but have good sounding DACs.

You mentioned not paying for features you do not need. Not sure if you are aware of this but the Linn Selekt DSM can be ordered without the amplification module. I think the only option you would want is the Katalyst.

Definitely aware of the ability to go without amplification, ty.  

It's hard for me to quantify how much of what I enjoyed with the Linn was "character" of the DSP and DAC vs  how much was strictly the competence of the electronics in the volume control.   Part of me is tempted to look at lower priced streaming DACs or DACs plus streamers but I am having a hard time evaluating the electronics and whether they will be appropriate with the mcintosh amp.


OktoResearch DAC8 DSP 
If you don’t want DSP, then there are many other options.
Ok rookie question - I thought DSP was only for home theater type applications.  I can see that @yyzsantabarbara highlighted Space Optimizaton on the Linn but I thought that was only if you had one of a set of approved speakers.   I don't think I was hearing that with Sabrinas and a McIntosh amp (was I?).

If that's right, I don't think I have an opinion on what DSP would buy me.  I guess I'd say my focus is on selecting the best DAC and volume circuitry for my amp and streaming-only application but I am also open to other additions that are worth my consideration.
@gryphonite DSP is now starting to be used in 2 channel setups. I have a small office and I want to put a floor stander in there. So I first treated my room with acoustic panels and got the room dialed in. I am going speaker shopping now and I have concerns that a floor stander in my room will overwhelm the room so I am investigating 2 channel DSP systems. These DSP features cost extra so if you do not need them you maybe wasting money.

I have come to see that there are 2 approaches to do 2 channel DSP. One is software based using things like ROON and other software systems that escape my memory. I have ROON and the DSP on it is nothing to get excited about. However, they are continually upgrading their software.

The second 2 channel approach is in a the hardware. There are integrated amps and pre-amps that have DSP built-in and I have focused my attention on the following:

1) Anthem STR (uses ARC 3 for DSP)
2) Linn Selekt DSM (uses SPACE OPTIMIZATION for DSP)
3) Lyngdorf 3400 (uses ROOM PERFECT for DSP, this is an integrated but I would only consider the pre-amp section if I bought it)
4) Deqx (there is a thread on A’gon about it, a little bit more complicated than the other 3 to setup)

These systems convert analog to digital and then apply DSP algorithms based on the inputs you give about your room. There are differences on how each unit takes in the DSP input parameters, each advocating their approach is better.

The Linn SPACE OPTIMIZATION uses measurement based inputs along with inputs on the construction materials used in the room. This system works with ANY speaker. The Linn feature set you are thinking off that works with only with Linn speakers is the Exakt feature for phase adjustments (I think).

So this is my 10,000 foot view on DSP for 2 channel. I only started to research this stuff on Dec 2018. If you are interested look over some of my posts and there is more detail and links to what I learned.

I am going to go today to demo a floor stander that may or may not work in my space. I am hoping this store has the Anthem STR ARC 3 system available to demo. I need to convince them to allow me to do a home speaker demo to see if DSP is need.

A lot of audio ’experts’ have told me to try and avoid DSP if possible. Room treatments are the first choice and as a last resort use DSP.
If I decide that DSP is not too my taste and a floor stander is not going to work. I have identified a monitor speaker that would work perfectly in my room. In this case I would get the the non-DSP Mola Mola Makua preamp with ROON based Ethernet streaming when the optional DAC module is installed. This preamp is expensive as heck but it is my lottery ticket choice if I go with the monitor speaker.

I am really intrigued by Ethernet streaming compared to what I currently use which is USB to a DAC via a Sonnare microRendu. This microRendu is an Ethernet-2-USB streamer. I have seen it referred to a digital-2-digital streamer. The Ethernet streaming option would eliminate the need to use the USB as my streaming input. One less device.

I use the microRendu so that I can use a bad noisy computer to stream my music via ROON. The microRendu allow me to separate my computer (far distances) from my audio system. The Makua Ethernet approach is supposed to be inherently less noisy than USB direct to a DAC from a computer.

I mention the Makua to you because Mola Mola just released a new standalone DAC that has a volume control that is supposed to be almost as good as the Makua’s. The DAC is called Tambaqui and it also supports ROON and Ethernet streaming.
Thanks @yyzsantabarbara .   All makes sense.   For me I've been happy with what I have heard so far without Space Optimization on so it's something I don't need.  On the other hand I was quite pleased with the Katalyst DAC.   It's my current first choice.

Good luck with your investigation and thanks!
@gryphonite No problem.  I just came back from a Linn dealer where I was auditioning the Paradigm Persona 3F with both the Mark Levinson 585 and the NAD M2 streamer + NAD Class D amp. I was rather shocked to find that I preferred the cheaper NAD stack over the ML 585. Dealer mentioned that the DAC in the ML 585 was better than the lowest end Linn and similar to the Linn Accurate DAC (I forgot if he included Katalyst in his comparison).

The M12 has all the features I described above about the Mola Mola (especially ROON via Ethernet, no DSP ) but it costs a ton less and has really great synergy with the speakers I have now decided to buy, Persona 3F. I now realize that I do not need DSP with this speaker.

The NAD was such a pleasant sounding unit. The Persona in the new all Black color also looks very good and sounded amazing. The Issaac Hayes track "Walk on By" was a revelation with the NAD stack. I don't think I will get the NAD amp but that streamer was great with the Persona.