From a purely economic standpoint, a dac will likely depreciate in value faster than an amplifier due to the rapid advancements in digital technology. Something to consider if you plan on upgrading/reselling down the road. I wouldn't pour money into a dac until I had an amp that I liked and worked well with my speakers. My 2 cents FWIW...
You will get all manner of answers ranging from spend a majority of your budget on the source to the majority on your speakers and everything in between. My view is that buying equally capable components across the playback chain that are synergistic is the most important. No use spending huge $s on the source if you have crappy amp/speakers because you won't hear what your source is capable of until you upgrade the quality of the amplification or speakers and vice versa. This does not necessarily translate into a 50/50 recommendation but as a starting point, that would be my recommendation.
An integrated amp is a preamp $$$ and an amp $$$.
The preamp can be pretty simple, and an amp needs to make good power.
The difference between a equal price integrated amp and a DAC would be the integrated amp would sucl.. big time.
So I say spend it 90% on the integrated (from between the integrated and DAC only, not counting speakers)
And buy a used $250 DAC.
So for $8000. Spend $3,000 on speakers, $3,000 on an integrated amp, $250 on a used DAC, and $500 on a CD player, (or just buy a CD player like the Sony 5400 for $1,500. And the last $500 on cables.
If you also want a TT. then:
$2,400 on speakers, $2,400 on integrated amp, $800 on a CD player, $800 on a used TT, $500 on a new cart, and $500 on a used phono preamp, $600 on cables
A $250 DAC in a $8,000 rig, you're joking right?
It all starts at the source, why skimp there? NOS and newer cheap wall wart P/S DACs can't compete with newer high res DACs, there's no comparison.
I'd suggest a 30/20-25/25 for an Integrated/DAC. The other 50% on speakers and cables you'll be well on your way to a very nice rig.
Spend only $250 for a used DAC? Geez, how horrible that will be! And in a system of otherwise fairly decent performing products? NOT! You're pushing your luck to find any DAC, new or used, for less than $500, and probably closer to $1000, that will have any chance to bring the music to any level of reality that you would expect the other components to achieve. Spend more on the DAC and look for a good deal on a used CDP for $100-200. The difference between DACs is magnitudes greater than the difference between transports.
And $3000 for an integrated? What? A top performing line stage from ARC (LS5), CJ (Premier 10/14), BAT (VK5) from 10-15 years ago, can be had in the $1000-1500 range that if matched to a SS amp from the same company or others like from McCormack, would easily be less than $3k and pretty much destroy any $3k integrated amp. And you'd have $500 or so extra to get a better DAC.
There are so many phenomenal speakers under the $2k range that for an $8k system, I think you will be mightily impressed. No need to spend more at this point.
I'm a huge proponent in putting top-tier cables in a system, but I'd start with DIY or low-cost speaker cables and stock power cords. The only exception would be to invest a few hundred for an IC between the line stage and amp where it makes a major difference with line stages like the ones I mentioned.
FWIW, I just bought/received the Emotiva XDA-1 DAC for $299 (shipped w/30 day money back trial).
Ive got it connected to my VTL IT-85 (80watt, EL34, Integrated) which are driving a pair of Dynaudio Special 25s. Dont laugh until you try it
it sounds really good. For sources Im feed the DAC with an Apple TV2 and an old Roku Soundbridge as well as a really old HK CDP (as a transport).
In a week or so Ill drop it into my main rig and see how it holds up to a >$3000 DAC
I'd recommend finding equipment that you can audition at minimal cost. There are a number of dealers online with very flexible return policies.And there may be local dealers who will allow in-home auditons. Try different combinations of equipment until you hit your sweet spot. With an $8k budget, I'd factor in some return shipping/restocking fees that may be necessary before you hit the right combo. Buying used and reselling here on Audiogon is another way to go about it.
Haven't heard the Emotiva, but I'd generally agree with sentiments here on using a $250 DAC. It all starts with the source and anything lost from the source's signal will prevent your other components from reaching their full potential.
While the statement It all starts with the source and anything lost from the source's signal will prevent your other components from reaching their full potential is true, it is also true that inferior downstream products (pre/amp, speakers) will prevent your source from reaching its full potential.
I tend to agree with Eslaudio related to digital sources. Technology related to digital sources change at a far greater pace than amps, pres, speakers (IMHO).
For example the VTL Compact 100s amps in my main rig are at least 30 years old and still going strong. Whereas my 10yr old Levinson 360s DAC, while still a great piece, has been outpaced by technology. 24/96 was once cutting edge but now we see sample rates for 24/192 with USB inputs, etc
Will the $300 Emotiva replace the $7000 Levinson, most likely not? But the choice also depends on how the stereo is going to be used, (i.e. critical listening or background / streaming music or CD transport). Are there other sources as well?
If you need to compromise on cost I would look at first getting the best speakers, integrated and wires you can afford and then look at the digital source. Cheap doesnt mean bad. Ive gotten some really good results with a dyi NOS DAC; not the end all in resolution but very musical.
So in the end its a matter of choice and there is no golden ratio on what to spend compared to other components.
Thank you all for the feedback. If I summarize some of the key points, this is what I heard:
- spend the most on the analog components and start with speakers. ($3k)
- work from the speakers down and get a good amp as these should they with me for a while ( up to $2.5k)
- in terms of dac, paying more makes a difference but the pace of innovation is so high that it probably doesn't justify spending too much (no more than $1.5k)
- keep the remainder for good quality speaker cables, psu, and analog interconnection, don't worry about digital interconnects. ( up to $1k)
In addition $8k seems to be more than enough to build a great system.
However ultimately, it is all based on experience ( warm vs transparent, ...) Ratios are there to be changed and challenged. No one size fits all.
Mizuno...that is a fair summary of the comments and I think a very valid approach. I would only say, don't get too stuck on the exact dollar amounts and place a lot more emphasis on trying to find components that are synergistic with one another. A well balanced system is most important, this way you won't have any obvious "weak links in the chain" that are limiting the potential of the whole system. I don't know if you already have stong opinions about various components or if you are starting from ground zero with a completely open slate, but if the latter, my advice would be to go to a bunch of local high end bricks and mortar audio stores and tell them you would like to put together a well balanced system for around $8K and you would like to hear examples of different technologies (electrostat vs box speakers, tuve vs. solid state amplification, digital vs. vinyl source) and see what sounds most like emotionally engaging music to you. From there do a lot of research online and via the main audio publications, and this way you can start to winnow down the options to pieces you want to go back and audition again (preferable together at same store). Good luck and enjoy the journey.
Other than technological advancements, DACs seem to be a flavor of the month type thing. I've read many reviews, including one of the Eastern Electric Minimax in which the reviewer says it's the best thing under $1500 and better than the Wyred4Sound DAC. Bam, next thing you know in the W4S's recent review from the same reviewer (Daryl) the Minimax gets blasted when compared to the W4S which is now mighty superior.
:) tough to trust reviewers, eg. I must say when I hear people comment on how audio furniture creates a more transparent, 3d sound, I'm getting very skeptical too.
Cmalak, thank you for the feedback. I shopped quite a bit fir my speakers and ended up buying the spendors s8e used on this site. I also bought an LCD integrated used. Now trying to complement my system with dac, cables, other...
DACs depreciate and personally would buy something I would be happy with long term and something that is just for now to get by as opposed to buying two things that are not really want I want but are in proper proportion pricewise. To that end, I recently spent some serious coin on speakers and amps, but am using the DAC in a marantz integrated receiver which I thought would be good enough for now but is really IMHO good enough for long term. I just can't bring myself to spend $1500 and up on something that will be worth 10-20 of new in five years. I rather buy a slightly used amp which will be worth about what I paid for it in five years or used speakers which I can get back 80% in five years.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that the price of HI End gear doesn't always correlate with better sound. In other words you don't always get what you pay for in this hobby. There are plenty of superb sounding "Giant Killers" around. I must emphasize that finding something cheaply that you think sounds great is a real possibility so those that say you can't expect to spend "only" $250 on a DAC and get good sound may be very wrong.
I know, I spent $350 on a preamp and think it's a great preamp. (A used AES AE-3 plus some for good tubes)
Well, here'e another response. I spent most of my money on speakers ($3600), then on TWO ARC amps ($4500 due to ebay) and lastly, the DAC and Digital X-over. My source is a PC, or a receiver, or one of two CD-Players. The system is Bi-amped, so the use of an integrated amp is not an option. Total price I can't recall, because my best CD-player is a Phillips, which I purchased long ago. Don't be afraid of the DACS making your sound too harsh or two-dimensional, the tube amps can smooth things out considerably. Just a thought.