Sound through Macbook vs DAC

I have been pondering how much to spend on a DAC. But unlike normal circumstances, its not becuase I cannot decide on a model, its becuase my Macbook sounds really good even with out one! I hooked up my Dads marantz CD player for comparison. The CD player was much brighter than my Macbook, even though I had it connected with a radioshack cable. Does every computer sound really good or do Apples sound a bit better straight from the card. I relized that a DAC will increase sound stage, dynamics, and transparency, but is it worth the 2000 dollars for a bel canto? My set up includes Totem Model 1's and a Classe 151 amp. Thanks
"I relized that a DAC will increase sound stage, dynamics, and transparency, but is it worth the 2000 dollars"

Nobody can answer this question but you. Benchmark DAC runs around $1000 and is good. Bel Canto DAC2 is, according to Stereophile, better - fuller, more organic but is it worth extra $1000? - again you have to answer. There are some decent DACs around $500 that might be good enough for you. Computer sound card cannot be as good as good DAC, in my opinion, but again might be good enough for you. You have to try. Benchamark has free lease (direct) for 30 days and I'm pretty sure similar can be arranged with Bel Canto or dealer. Try different cables as well.

Brighter sound is not bad (compare to dull sound) as long as it's not too bright.
Kijanki: Doesn't the stereophile review refer to the Bel Canto DAC3? Not trying at all to be picky here, just want to make sure I'm thinking of the right DAC. You can also pickup an NOS dac w/usb, of which there are now many options (Red Wine Audio, Ultra Fi, MHDT, just to name a few). You are the one who has to listen to it so I second Kijanki's comments on trying it out.
Mimberman - I think you're right it was DAC3 and it was more than $2000 (maybe $2500).
Do yourself a favor and get an Airport Express for under $100 and a decent optical cable for $50-100 (I did, but I never noticed much of a difference with cables so the $30 apple/Belkin set will do) and stream your music from your laptop wirelessly. It's so convenient and sounds great if you think straight from your laptop is good.

The AEx has a DAC in it, it sounds way better than just plugging it straight into your stereo with a 3mm RCA Y cable... IMHO (I thought it sounded good too).

I"m listening to radio paradise (online radio station) off iTunes right now and it sounds great...

I bought a Monarch M24 DAC/linestage (it's tubed) and use it as a preamp in addition to the DAC.. from Monarchy for $725. I have the AEx, an Oppo Universal DVD player and a turntable attached to it. Hell of a deal for that kind of money.

I also used an Entech 205 Numbercruncher DAC that I picked up for $150 and it sounded great.... the Paradisea DAC always gets mentioned and it's around $250.... but if you have money to burn...

Try the Airport Express though, think you'll like it. And if not, return it. You can also attach a printer to it and wirelessly print stuff off your laptop.
An alternative to the Benchmark for the same or less money is the Apogee Mini-DAC. Although the Benchmark is extraordinary, if you are one of those folks who find it too analytical, the Apogee will probably please you.
I want to thank you guys for your responses so early. I agree with all of you guys that i have to listen to them first and see. I have been messing around with the idea of adding an airport express. I have an airport extreme router, so it should work without any problems. I still would prefer I think running a usb dac becuase I am planning on buying a mac just for my music management. I will take all of your guys opinions on the matter and apply them the best I can. Thanks again -Darren
Paradisea for $250?? That would be a heck of a deal, new is about $600, with older models used for maybe $350. It is a good NOS DAC, but if you're looking at ones like the Benchmark or Bel Canto DAC3 (two would be cheaper) then the Apogee is a better suggestion. The Monarch is also a good choice.

You could try the Airport Express if you're happy with your soundcard(?), though it's certainly nothing to get excited about.

if the ONLY aspect you'll use a DAC for is pc/mac audio out, quite a few DACs will be at a premium... as the balance of the DACs versatility will be truncated severely by that approach... unless you're considering a budget approach.

The apogee mention is a good one. I own the Bel Canto DAC 3. Initially, I felt pc music through it was great! actually I still do, but I've not stopped looking for another option or path.

The BC DAC 3 does afford one more than just usb audio. It is limited too by it's 16/44.1K input via USB.

With other imputs, it can handle up to 24/96 PCM data. What I've heard recently by way of upsampled music from the 16/44 to 24/96, and 24/192 is showing itself as becoming more rounded, smoother, and with more dimensionality, as the rates go up. IMO.

AS I do take advantage of the flexibility of the DAC3's inputs, it's a good enough value for me, for now. A very fine performer all around.... but used just for PC/Mac audio? I wouldn't say it is.

So do think about current AND future needs too while you ponder which way to go, or what to get, and of course, your systems needs too. Good luck.
Hi, Buy your self the new emmLabs DAC 2 CD/SACD (If Budget Allows).
Cheers Jason.

emmLabs DAC 2

The DAC2 is a high-performance stereo D/A converter with a wide variety of user selectable digital inputs.

It has evolved from EMM Labs acclaimed converter systems which are used worldwide in professional studios to create some of the finest recordings.

The DAC2 provides conversion from a wide variety of digital input formats, including USB Audio for computers, media systems and digital audio playback machines making it an extremely flexible converter system that can act as a standalone conversion hub to a host of digital sources.

The DAC2 has:
* EMM Labs proprietary internal MDAT algorithm to up-sample and condition digital audio to twice the SACD/DSD sample rate.

* Ed Meitners proprietary discrete Dual Differential DAC circuit.

* Uses our exclusive aerospace grade composite laminate circuit boards.

The DAC2, when paired with an EMM Labs transport, performs as an unparalleled CD/SACD playback system.

Features & Specifications 2-Channel D/A conversions:

* from PCM (44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz) to analog
* from DSD to analog Supported digital input formats:
* AES/EBU (1 connector)
* SPDIF (Coax)
* Two Optical TOSLink SPDIF
* EMM OptiLink
* USB Audio Analog outputs and impedances
* Balanced on XLR (100)
* Unbalanced on RCA (50)

User selectable levels:
Low position:
* XLR outputs: 4V (+14.38dBu)
* RCA outputs: 2V (+8.353dBu)

High position:
* XLR outputs: 7.2V (+19.38dBu)
* RCA outputs: 3.6V (+13.34dBu)

* Factory set to 100V or 115V or 230V, 50/60Hz operation
* Power consumption: 50W
* Remote control: Infrared
* Dimensions W x D x H: 435 x 400 x 92mm
* Weight: 12kg

The emmLabs DAC2 is controlled by an internal processor that can be programmed with software to enhance or add new features for future upgrades.
So, jasonparmenter, does budget allow? How much would my budget have to be to buy me

the new emmLabs DAC 2 CD/SACD (If Budget Allows)
Since nobody mentioned it, RWA Isabellina NOS non-upsampling, non-oversampling DAC for $2500 or $1500 option for Isabella preamp.
I am not what you might call "DAC expert" but after hearing quite a few fine DACs lately, I believe that Isabella is on par or above least in its asking price range.
I can not recommend it or guaranty that it will be to your taste ....but if digital reproduction shortcomings like edginess and lock of body/emotions are what stopped you from enjoying your favorite music, I would at least give it a shot with 30 days money back warranty.

There are probably better choices out there but I would seriously doubt if I could afford it.
After a long while, I am starting to enjoy my digital ones again.
If that isn't the the sign of a really great product, I do not know what is.


if you have to ask.....

"jasonparmente" note should have begun with "Now a word from our sponsor..."
Lol. BTW that Jason guy is a NZ distributor... not much use to us on this side of the world. Anyway couldn't actually find anywhere to buy the EMM online yet, after a very brief Google search, but a post on head-fi put the price at $9000.

Could the OP perhaps throw out a target price range since this thead is all over the map.