which bang for the buck DAC?


I would love suggestion for a DAC with performance per dollar in mind. It will be used with a Sony S350 (bluray player) as a transport and also with a computer as the other transport. This way I can downsize my standalone cd player. The DAC will feed into a Krell 400xi via XLR. This way I will have a music server and the ability to play cds as well.

I would love to stay under 1000. I am looking at the DACMagic and the PS Audio Dlink iii, and I am a bit skeptical of both. Are they good or just hype? Are there better choices? Would love to hear other suggestions. I am looking for that DAC which delivers performance per dollar. Hopefully it exist.

Thanks in advance
There's a lot of buzz about the PS Audio D Link III, but I haven't heard it. I will say the Paradisea is extremely smooth and pleasant to listen to. I've owned mine for a couple of years and haven't had an urge to upgrade.
Hi jeanluc.

I recommend you post this question on the PC Audio section.

The 2 DACS you are looking at have had good reviews in the zines. But you should look for input from persons who have owned/used their DAC for at least a couple of months.

There are at least 10 reputable DACs in the $500 to $1000 price range.
FYI, the Paradisea doesn't have XLR out, but you could use RCA to XLR cables.
PS Audio Linc dac 111 now at 650 here would be a front-runner for several reasons.The second reason is resale,the first reason is sounds good.Keep the love and music coming.Its all we ever had,good luck,Bob
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Your comments are great! Ps Audio diii is selling at 695 brand new now so this is interesting. Dacmagic is at 395. Is the ps audio diii 300 better than the dacmagic? There seems to be a big follwing with the Bencmark, but an used bechmark usb would set me back 1000 bucks. Tough decision.
Two more DACs to compare to the PS Audio: Channel Islands VDA-2 with upgraded, outboard power supply (~$800 @ CIAudio.com) and a new DAC, just out, from Music Hall available at Music Direct for $595: http://www.musicdirect.com/product/84663
The Music Hall has a USB input and a tube output stage. IIRC, all three of these DACs can be purchased with a 30-day return option, so you risk only the shipping fees.

And don't neglect the digital cable! Much has been said here on the importance of a respectable digital cable to connect your CD drive or PC to your DAC. No need to break the bank, but since you budgeted $1K, and these DACs run under $800, you can afford decent digital and USB cables.

Let us know how you make out!
I also have the Krell 400xi and went with the Benchmark using XLR to the amp and usb to the PC. The sound is very good and the connection to the PC works exactly as billed (so easy my wife uses it and never a dropout since added). A recent review in HiFi Choice compared multiple dacs (from Bryston to Cambridge). Cambridge was the best value for money. I bought about a year ago and there were fewer options but would have seriously considered the Cambridge if it were available.
another consideration would be an integrated amp with DAC (or a digital integrated).

I use the Bryston B100SST with DAC with excellent results. A Tact or Lyngdorf integrated should work very well too. Neither has a USB input however so you will need some way to get the digital signal from your PC into a form the DAC can decode.

In my situation I have a Mac Mini and a mini-optical to Toslink cable from Van Den Hul. I use a standard SPDIF cable from my CD transport to the Bryston.

Good Luck!!

There seems to be a big follwing with the Bencmark, but an used bechmark usb would set me back 1000 bucks. Tough decision.

That is because it is good value even at that price. You get a great headphone amp as well as a solid preamp. The Benchmark is of a precise nature rather than some warmer flavors that are available, however, perhaps the biggest advantage of the Benchmark is its reputation for jitter immunity - practically speaking (if you believe all the claims and reviews) it means you no longer have to worry too much about the source quality or cabling to the DAC (so it removes unknowns - just plug and play - no worries). The biggest drawback is perhaps the precise sound which some people really don't like (I suspect they prefer a more organic, rich and less detailed sound that can really help make a bad recording sound its best and less like a recording).
I own both a DAC-1 and a DacMagic. The DacMagic is used with a digital piano, but I briefly snuck it into my stereo (temporarily replacing the Benchmark) just to see how it sounded in comparison. A quick take:

Both are very good sounding, but they sound quite different from each other. Shadorne calls the Benchmark "precise" which is fair enough, although "lean" might be more usefully descriptive. The defining characteristic is "less" energy in the upper bass "warmth" region. Many folks would say less is more (accurate) in this instance. The DacMAgic is notably fuller and richer here.

An speaker analogy might be old Merlin versus old Sonus Faber. (Bear in mind that the distinctions between these DACs, though quickly apparent to me, are subtler than those between the speakers I mention.) A lot will come down to personal preference and system matching. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend either piece, but you should know which tree you prefer to bark up. In any case, if your taste/system can accomodate the tonal signature, the DacMagic is a great value.

Good Luck

Wow, you guys are great! You are right - there are no reason to break the bank on cables but no reasons to skimp on them neither. Any suggestion for a decent USB cable? BTW, my Krell 400xi is connected to the dynaudio s3.4.

Benchmark "precise" which is fair enough, although "lean" might be more usefully descriptive

I agree. Good point.
Something to keep in mind about the PSA DL III is that it uses no op-amps in the output stage. Instead, PSA uses a 100% class A discrete FET output stage (most DACs in this same price range utilize an op-amp based output stage). Whether or not, this is why the DL III sounds so good, I don't know. It does sound good though, and the Cullen Stage IV modified version sounds even better.
California Labs Tube units.
I have the Benchmark and it works really well in my system (as a pre-amp with a Pass amp and Quad 2805), but I am not sure it will work well with the Krell if that sounds like the KAV300i that I had some years ago. The Benchmark is precise/lean and combining it with a Krell may be too much.
I've compared the Benchmark to the Apogee Mini-DAC head-to-head. The Benchmark was extraordinary, so detailed it was the musical equivalent of watching bodybuilders ripped for competition. Every muscle stood out. I thought, if anyone wanted to know what "analytical" sound meant, this would teach them. I was glad of a pause after a while, but I honestly wouldn't have missed the experience. You might love it.

The Mini-DAC didn't seem to leave out any detail but the focus was on the music as a whole, the relationship of parts within it, and with more sense of a performance event. I liked it better for a longer session. Furthermore, using the same transport and cable, the Mini-DAC's highs were less hashy.

So this is to recommend the Apogee Mini-DAC, at about $800 for a USB version on eBay.
Dacmagic - good dynamics, soundstage and extension. Top end a little too hot for my taste.
CI vda-2 - smoother, did everything ok. Transport was a Pioneer 59avi and there was not a whole lot of difference between the pioneer and the vda2 in direct comparison, couldn't justify keeping it. Keces dac was a bit better at less price.
MF a3.24 - best of the lot, a great buy at the used price it sells for.
I've compared the Benchmark to the Apogee Mini-DAC head-to-head. The Benchmark was extraordinary, so detailed it was the musical equivalent of watching bodybuilders ripped for competition.

That is "lean" indeed! FWIW - a DAC needs to integrate with the speakers.


What kind of midrange do your speakers have? Is there a dip in the midrange - especially important to check off axis reponse? If there is then you might not appreciate a lean sounding DAC like the Benchmark, as it will just recess lower mids further making the presentation all articulation - all bones and no meat so to speak.
Shadorne, I am using Dynaudio S3.4. Anybody having good results combining using the Benchmark with the Dyns?
MHDT Havana
I am using Dynaudio S3.4

That speaker has a fairly flat response. It will probably work with the Benchmark DAC1 without sounding too "etched" or articulate. If you check the reviews on the Benchmark everyone says it is lean sounding particuarly in the lower midrange (even Benchmark states this in the manual). IMHO, this means it won't work well with a speaker that is already tending to recess the mids (lean = Louis Prima's Virginia Ham but lean + lean = anorexic). The dynaudios do not have a midrange scoop and their esotar tweeter is crossed over aggressively low (at 2 KHz) so you should get plenty of forward midrange sound - so you should be OK. (Of course, just return it within 30 days if you don't like the sound - this relatively cheap DAC is available from virtually any guitar or music store or anywhere they sell recording gear)