Which DAC as a preamp?


Hi folks...I am looking for opinions regarding DACs to use as a digital pre-amp to drive my red dragon monoblocks. I am considering Audiolab MDAC plus, Musical Fidelity M6s DAC, NAD C-510, or the Audio Alchemy DDP-1.    Any thoughts as to which would be the best pick?
tfats
Personally I havn't heard any of those listed above but a sugestion I would make would be the PS Audio Direct stream DAC. My friend has one and I find it to be very clean with Airy highs and it upsamples to DSD. If I had to buy a dac tomorrow it would certainly be that.
Pairing (synergy) with your Red Dragons will be a major factor. You will need to experiment with different options. Many who try DAC/Pre direct ultimately end up preferring a stand alone DAC and Preamp.

For a DAC with Volume Control, keep Metrum in mind.
+1 David

I like a lean precise detailed neutral DAC and then pair it with a seeet sounding tube preamp. YMMV but I seem to get the best of both worlds - accuracy detail but with warmth and musicality
All valid thoughts folks...thank you.  Somehow...i think that this will be a bit more challenging than I first thought.
I like a lean precise detailed neutral DAC and then pair it with a seeet sounding tube preamp. YMMV but I seem to get the best of both worlds - accuracy detail but with warmth and musicality

That pairing makes sense... but also describes the sound I am getting with Lampizator Atlantic straight to my Wells Innamorata Signature. That perf mix of detail/transparency and warmth/musicality. 
The DDP-1 is an excellent DAC with a good preamp in it. Very detailed with texture. I have a couple very good tube preamps so don't use it for that purpose. FWIW, TAS did a review on it a while back & stated that the preamp portion compared to a $2000 unit.  
Listening to the Mytek Brooklyn (original) driving a pair of ICEpower monoblocks. Could not be happier. :)
Every system and everyone's hearing is different.  I've owned the PS Audio Directstream, Bricasti M1, Jeff Rowland Aeris, and now the Chord Dave. I didn't prefer any of them direct. To my ears everything sounds better with a preamp inserted in the chain. 
I use a McIntosh D150 as a DAC for my MCT450 transport but it is designed to be used as a preamp in a digital setting.  I a very happy with it as a DAC.
tfats
Your going in the right direction for the most transparent/dynamic sound, by looking for a dac that has volume control in it.

But there are two ways this volume control can be done in a dac.
1: In the "digital domain" which to is best "if" the volume is not reduced too far, so to introduce "bit stripping" (a reduction is resolution), this can happen if the volume is reduced below approx 75%

2: A dac with an analogue domain volume control, no "bit stripping" problems with these. There can be impedance matching problems to an amp if the amp is lower than 33kohm input impedance.
The earlier Red Dragon’s had a low 12kohm input, they saw this error for some pre’s and the later MkII Red Dragon it’s said to be much higher (they don’t say how high) to accommodate these pre’s

Red Dragon: " Red Dragon Audio designed the M500MkII with customer feedback at the forefront of the process. Increased Input Impedance allows our amps to be paired with all preamplifiers - even the most esoteric tube preamps."

Cheers George
I once used a Chord Hugo TT (DAC and preamp) direct into monoblocks and it was not good. Proceed with caution - good luck!
More good information folks...thanks so much. I will pull the trigger on something within the next day or two, and we will be off to the races.
You may look at the specs of the new Pro iDSD  Dac from iFi Audio.
Volume control , solid state and tube mode ,even streaming ,2500$
It’s going to be really hard to find someone who can directly compare them, right?  I have a PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC/Pre and am happy with it.  I really wish it was easier to compare it to alternatives.
I have both the Audio Alchemy DDP-1 and the PS Audio Directstream DAC. Both are darn good. I think the PS Audio sounds significantly better (as it should given the price difference and the absence of features like analog inputs and a headphone amp).   The Audio Alchemy has an analogue preamp and a decent headphone amp built in.  The PS Audio DAC has just a volume control on it's output, but it is a very good volume control that did not degrade the sound in any way that I could detect.  I used the PS Audio direct to my power amps for several months and thought it quite wonderful. Still, when I swallowed hard and shelled out for the PS Audio BHK preamp, the improvement was undeniable and well worth it.  It sounds more life-like, real, organic, etc.  So my experience supports what ricred said above. That said, you can always get a preamp later, if you start with a DAC with volume control.
Classé cp 800,  or  ROTEL RC 1590 , both have analogue inputs too. I had the Rotel a few weeks, but brought it back to the shop, sound was not at all dynamic, 
The Lampizator Atlantic can be had with a volume control as can Aesthetix Pandora, those are both hyper musical imo 

ultimately i I have always found the preamp to improve things further.....

one of these days i will will get round to trying a Brinkmann Nyquist II direct....
i suspect it may have the grunt to drive 8m xlr

obly the listening shall tell....
Nuprime DAC-10.  Fully balanced preamp with a DAC included. Designed to work with their own "Class D" amps.  Has worked with W4S, Nord, Mivera, Nuprime and Job amps in my FR system. 
Haven't heard the ones you mentioned, but I had a Bel Canto DAC3VB in my system and in addition to being a great sounding DAC I found its preamp section to be indistinguishable from my Bryston BP6 preamp.  There are a couple 3.5VBs for sale here now, one almost unbelievably cheap.  Read the reviews, and yes the VB version is definitely the one to get.  Best of luck. 

IME, Class D really benefits from a Class A input stage....solid state or valve. Unless you like that lean analytical sound. Many do. Good luck. 
Class D really benefits from a Class A input stage....solid state or valve.
All amps I know ss or tube have Class-A input stages, I've yet to see one with class-A/B

Cheers George
Check out the PSAudio Directstream DAC like others have already recommended here. Very good...
You don't say what your price range is, but I got a MSB Analog DAC with volume control and eliminated my preamp and the MSB is excellent.
I once ran an Exogal Comet Plus DAC direct into my BAT VK600SE power amp and I thought it was an improvement on the previous Macintosh preamp I had been using.
Volume stayed near the top end 73 to 78 if I remember right and that was perfect for my listening level requirement.
Maybe I just got lucky on the synergy.
I’m running my exaSound e22 DAC straight into my BAT VK-600SE power amp and it sounds terrific! Nothing is missing! I have all the body, the slam, the resolution and the dynamics I could wish for... in 70k worth of gear, of course!
I would suggest considering the Benchmark DAC2 or DAC3. They sound really great, have a ridiculously low noise floor, and they can drive anything. I've had a DAC1 for years, and have never been tempted to upgrade.
Another vote for the Aesthetix Pandora with volume control.  Have not hear any of the others mentioned.  In my setup the Pandora is running into an Audio Research Ref 75 amp.  
I just wanted to give you  a better understanding about volume controls that you may see in various DAC devices. The majority of them operate in 32 bit depth, which provides a pretty good degree of attenuation before any dynamic truncation would occur when dealing with standard red book. Its when you get audio sources that are 24 bit where you may experience some dynamic truncation as you only have 8 bits remaining before you could potentially impact the digital source when attenuating the signal digital. Of the devices mentioned, I should point out the NAD C510 does employ the Zetex (now CSR) DAC chip which is its own particular design. Its digital volume control is 35 bit, giving it fairly decent headroom even when dealing with a 24 bit signal.

Some devices use analog stages to avoid this issue and some don't bother at all. I've also seen a blended approach of analog and digital volume controls blended to try and eliminate the digital issues at lower volumes. Investigate each product as I would have some issues with a 32bit digital only control.
I'm very happy with the PS Audio Directstream DAC.  It is my first DAC.  The DAC sofware can be updated by downloading newer versions from PS Audio.
Bel Canto DACs- the 2.5, 2.7, 3.5, 3.7 all have 

built in preAmps with volume control. Bel Canto deserve more accolades, but they dont advertise much so are less well known.
they use proprietary super low distortion clocks, are accurate, musical, fast, balanced. 

I didnt see a budget listed for your DAC, but you can get a DAC 2.5 for a paltry $900, or a TOTL DAC 3.7 (which i have) for $2500. either way, I doubt you will ever look back. 
"Which DAC as a preamp?"

Go for one that has settable max analogue gain output, so you can use it’s digital volume control in the top 25% part of it’s range.
This way your sure of not "Bit Stripping". Just like Wadia and Mark Levinson do on their Flagship models.
Today I know M1 Bricasti has it, there must be others as well, these are the ones I would go with as they know about "bit stripping" that's why it’s introduced. As the Wadia attached shows.

https://ibb.co/d69hD9

Cheers George

I owned sources who has a pre amp inside. It worked well and there are more brands who use it. But.....when you use a pre amp, I have to admit that it is a lot more precise. Using a dac works, but to be honest it is not the best way to create the best.
I owned sources who has a pre amp inside.

All should get out of the habit of saying this. It should be "I have a source with digital domain volume control"

As "most" sources that have volume controls done in the digital domain DO NOT have preamps in them, they have standard low impedance output buffers. No preamplifiers!

Only if the specs of the source say that it can output more than say 6v to say 20v can you say it has a preamp which pre amplifies.

If it’s below 6v then it’s just a dac/cdp that happens to have a digital domain volume control with output buffer with or without some small amount of gain, to bring it up to Redbook standard of 2v some kick it a little higher 3 or 4v.

Cheers George
10 years ago I bought a Pass Labs XP-20 pre amp. After that I used my Meridian 800Daxv4 with inbuild volume control for a pre amp for many years. 

By adding a good pre amp you will hear the benefit of it directly. The precision of a pre amp is bigger than you can imagine. It gives both voices and instruments much more a shape. Beside that it creates better dynamics as well compared ot a Dac with an inbuild pre amp/volume control.

You need to learn people and also let them hear the differences by using a real pre amp. When you did not hear/audition it in a comparison it is not possible to understand it. There is still a lot unknown in the world of audio.


From someone who’s actually been designing preamp/amps for almost half a century instead of just reading the specs. 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HHl8F9amyY4

Thanks for all the input folks. I ended up with a good deal on a nice peach tree sonadac. Small form factor like the amps...triggers them by remote....running balanced cables...sounds great. I am breaking the amps in, but so far I am VERY impressed with the red dragon amps as well. This may be my favorite system of all time!
Have had the DDP-1 and the M6S. The latter blows most DACs (from Ayre, PS Audio, Chord) out of the water in terms of retrieving ambient cues and resolution of depth. It is dynamic, tremendously low in noise and listening fatigue, tonally balanced (if a smidge cooler than the Audio Alchemy), and genuinely believable, in a way few components ever are, I think there’s something special about this iteration of Musical Fidelity’s DAC. I have not tried the earlier ones but understand they’re not quite this special. I’m keeping it alongside my Lampizator; it’s that good. I keep coming back to that cathedral like soundstage and realism. 
SPL Director, dcs Elgar Plus, dcs Delius, NAD M51
Cary 600.  Friggin awesome as a stand-alone with a 3 volt outputDoes it all and sounds fantastic.   Based on AKM 4497 Dac set. 28 lb beast. All sorts of digital ins and outs. Roon , Mqa, integrated SD card reader. It is sweet  and you will never tire of listening to it 

just never worked for me without a pre. that said the mytek manhattan has an analog pre and is a very good dac. 
@shadorne , @transience, I too expected my very mellow balanced tube preamp to tame the highly analytical M6S for a perfect match. On SOME recordings -- notably those originally analog mastered -- it works splendidly despite subsequent remastering. (Example: Keith Olson's 1975 "Fleetwood Mac" eponymous album remastered in 2017). But on more recent, digitally mastered material with substantial high-frequency content, the M6S's 768 upsampling screams like a banshee, cackling right past the tubes when coupled with RCA-terminal coax. Have not yet tried using USB or optical (M6S has no AES input), but if those don't tame it, I've got serious trouble. 

Any hints? Maybe I will start a new thread if a different coupling doesn't help. 
@hicksmore 

RCA coax is intended for digital signals. I suggest to try the M6S RCA analog output with simple analog RCA cables.




I've not heard the DACs listed by the OP. I've found the Sonnet Morpheus to be excellent driving my ATC SCM100ASLT active speakers.
If you look for a fully featured preamp and top DAC, look at Antelope in the used market. Zodiac Gold or Platinum are hard to beat
@shadorne

I'm referring to DAC input from streamer, not output to preamp. Output is balanced XLR to the preamp. Input is the RCA coax from the streamer (as of today).