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.
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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.
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."
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.
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....
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
@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.