Top notch integrated vs DAC direct into stereo amp


I'm still asking myself if a top notch integrated amp like the Audionet Humbold + separate DAC would do just as good as a DAC direct into a stereo amp for example Totaldac d1-Direct going into Gryphon Antileon Evo or D'Agostino Momentum S250.I know this has been discussed many times especially preamp vs no preamp but what about top level integrated vs DAC direct  into amp.An ultimate integrated amp would cost about the same as a great stereo amp therefore the question can be raised.Cheers.
B5b450ad 8377 4fe3 83d0 be5c17500604thieliste
My take is the simplest path is best. I’m currently listening to a Digital Amplifier Company (DAC) DAC 2 HSV (High Spec with Volume control) direct to a DAC 2 Cherry. This is about as pure a signal you can get and I’m really digging the results. No digital stress just sweet engaging sound on my horns. Large power supply in the amp and a highly filtered supply on the DAC provide an extremely low noise floor and the music flows through from the blackest background I’ve ever heard. 
https://www.cherryamp.com/
I have run the following iterations over the years:
DAC/pre/amp
Dedicated DAC to Integrated Amp
Dedicated DAC to amp w. software attenuation
Integrated DAC to amp 
(I even tried Integrated DAC to Integrated Amp, which as suspected, is not optimal)

Frankly, its stunning how much variance exists between such systems. 

The unvarnished truth; no one can tell you which would be better. You simply have to conduct comparisons. It becomes more interesting when swapping speakers, as often the combo that worked best with a given speaker will not be best with a different speaker.  I have one pair of speakers that works best with a $3.5K integrated DAC, and another pair that works best with a $10K integrated DAC, everything else in the rig being unchanged. 

It would take a lot of money and time to explore all the options, so most people simply select. Thankfully, you can get excellent results with any combination - depending upon the choice of components and cables. 

To make matters more complicated, if you select the "wrong", i.e. inferior amp, it matters not which combo you use in the system, you will never achieve a sound quality as good as when using a superior amp. Looks like you are aware of the necessity of an excellent amp.   :)


Well considering the level of gear here it will be impossible to home audition any of these combinations, will have to audition gear separately at dealer's.What would you guys pick between DAC into Audionet Humboldt vs DAC direct into Gryphon Mephisto stereo ?Speakers Borresen 03s.
DAC into integrated, any day of the year. I have not played at your level. But been trying to eliminate preamps forever it seems like, and I can’t. At your level, you are not short of funds, why would you, it doesn’t even make sense, given how much preamps can bring to the table. And at that price point you will get an integrated with a preamp stage that will be world class.
I am not going to make a blind recommendation on gear I do not know. As I said, either option may be superior based on real world systems. 
In my experience a Bartok or other great DAC will sound better into a similar quality integrated amp such as the new Agostino ‘budget’ integrated amp. Same for Dartzeel. Only ones I’ve had in house. I just don’t like direct but wish I did. To sum up my opinion is that the chosen DAC used with a Dag or other high end integrated amp will sound better than even going direct to an S250 which I’ve owned. FWIW
Totaldac has something called the D1-Driver for people who want to go DAC direct, this might me an option : http://www.totaldac.com/D1-driver-en.htm
Audionet describes their Humboldt as Stern + Heisenberg.
That with a great DAC would be killer.  So would the Stern + Heisenbergs.

The Humboldt power is listed as : 
Output Power 2 x 320 W into 8, 2 x 460 W into 4.

The Heisenbergs would be:
Output power:530 W into 8 Ω
1,050 W into 4 Ω
2,100 W into 2 Ω

So the difference in a companies Integrated vs it similar separates is often the power rating, which you may or probably may not need based on your speakers and room.  And you save a pair of (expensive?) interconnects with the integrated, and save considerable space.  Those are the main reasons to consider integrated vs separates, to me.
Forgot to comment about DAC direct into Amps.  Tried this a couple of times, and both times when a good preamp was inserted the sound improved noticeably.  My ONLY source is my DAC and I still will always have a preamp (until I get the Humboldt!!!).  Ken
If you only have one source, then why not?
Well guys a guy that owns Stern + Heinsenberd + Totaldac Twelve compared with and without Stern just adding a Totaldac D1-Driver in place of the Stern.Suprisingly he liked better the presentation going direct into Heisenbergs without the Stern in the chain.I could get a very good deal on a pair of Heisenbergs.



My take is the simplest path is best.

Correct, as most dac’s today (not tube output ones) have output stages the equal and maybe even better than many active preamps are. So if you have a dac that has a volume control use it direct into your poweramp, if no volume control then use a passive preamp.

Nelson Pass,

“We’ve got lots of gain in our electronics. More gain than some of us need or want. At least 10 db more.

Think of it this way: If you are running your volume control down around 9 o’clock, you are actually throwing away signal level so that a subsequent gain stage can make it back up.

Routinely DIYers opt to make themselves a “passive preamp” - just an input selector and a volume control.

What could be better? Hardly any noise or distortion added by these simple passive parts. No feedback, no worrying about what type of capacitors – just musical perfection.

And yet there are guys out there who don’t care for the result. “It sucks the life out of the music”, is a commonly heard refrain (really - I’m being serious here!). Maybe they are reacting psychologically to the need to turn the volume control up compared to an active preamp.”


Cheers George
I do get all that and that is why I went for DAC direct into amp to start.  Just saying in my situation, the preamp improved the sound.

First setup: PS Audio DS DAC into BHK 250 amp.  These are hybrid tube pieces, so maybe that mattered, but inserting the BHK Pre improved sound.  This equipment is now all gone away.

Second: Auralic Vega G2 DAC into Classe CA-2300 Stereo Amp.  Inserting Audionet Pre1 G3 improved sound here also.

I am now upgrading to Audionet Pre G2 and mono Amps, so will be interesting to see which I prefer!

I agree if only one (DAC) input why use a pre...and like to keep things simple..and avoid an interconnect...but my ears will tell me.
Ken
These pieces are above my price range but to me that Total DAC D1 Driver just looks like a preamp without volume control. I guess I like things simple the Humboldt Integrated with a DAC looks pretty good if it can handle the speakers. Good luck finding what you like.
Since i'm going end game amp the two best alternatives seem to be a Mephisto stereo or Audionet Heisenberg monos.I want to stay SS, the Totaldac is already very analogue sounding so i don't need tubes.You guys prefer Gryphon flagship or Audionet flagship ?Mephisto stereo is 54K and Heisenberg 70K euro prices.
You guys prefer Gryphon flagship or Audionet flagship ?

@thieliste  Does it really matter what other guys prefer? I am inferring here, but I believe you to be an experienced audiophile.

I could understand if you were just starting out, but at this point you know enough of your own preferences, etc. and what "fits / synergizes" with your system to make the best choices for yourself by yourself.

All the best in your quest. 
Well Gryphon and Audionet are two pretty different presentations.Ghyphon is very organic, meaty, physical bass, beautiful deph and yet detailed and fast.Audionet is very high detail retrieval, very low noise floor, huge soundtage, ultra fast and very natural.Both are awsome, not an easy decision.
Well Gryphon and Audionet are two pretty different presentations.Ghyphon is very organic, meaty, physical bass, beautiful deph and yet detailed and fast.Audionet is very high detail retrieval, very low noise floor, huge soundtage, ultra fast and very natural.Both are awsome, not an easy decision.
Those explanations are far removed from the prefect preamp. Save your money.
Now try direct in this a/b/c and hear which is the most transparent/dynamic and uncolored.

The Totaldac is what my reviewer/editor friend has, with the Wilson Alexia MkII and the Gryphon Antillion Evo, of all the ways we tried direct was the best by far, followed by a passive pre, even against his top of the line Supratek preamp.
https://www.soundstageaustralia.com/index.php/reviews/84-wilson-audio-specialties-alexia-series-2-loudspeakers

Cheers George
George, your friend has a very nice rig, Totaldac-Antileon combo must be something.I will be building something of that sort.Best to you.
@thieliste --

Poster @douglas_schroeder is certainly right about you being the only one who can make the call, and that either option (DAC/preamp-poweramp vs. DAC-preamp-poweramp) could appeal to you the most.

That being the case though I’d go the distance to let simplicity have its day, and invest the money in a great DAC with a quality analogue output stage and PSU - as well as dedicated build-in preamp section and volume control, and then go skip the (thought of a) separate hardware preamp altogether, definitely if your source is digital only. It’s going to save you money (not least in light of the fact that, as I see it, for a separate preamp to be sufficiently transparent it’s going to be seriously expensive), and I’d even recommend you find a well-kept, used reference DAC/preamp and save yourself some further dough.

Some may find that buying the latest of the latest DAC tech is paramount, but that’s bull, I find. A great DAC/preamp build/developed 5 years ago (or more) is a great DAC/preamp today, and bought used would most likely exceed the performance of a new (and, for arguments sake) similarly priced mid-level, wet paint DAC unit of today. I'd even claim that reference level today vs. 5+ years ago with DAC's is dueling in subtleties. What’s particularly important here is the care that has been invested in the output stage, PSU and volume control section - not only because of its intended use directly into the poweramp - and mid-level, even today, has to cut corners somewhere, and mentioned areas are usually where they’re doing exactly that. Moreover, a quality piece of hardware lasts a long(er) time. Just my $0.02..