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@tvad That's a really great suggestion and noted. It seems like a really good route. One thing I'm not sure about is the notion of an "analog card." What is that, in plain English? I'm pressing toward tube amplification, I think, but am not sure which DAC technology is relevant, if at all. Some audio friends have strongly suggested R2R Dacs and others have said tube dacs.
An R2R DAC done well is more expensive to make. It's just the technology. I wouldn't say overhyped nor over priced since it is costly to make a good one. . In my opinion if I am using a tube amp I want to feed that amp the clearest distortion free signal I can since I want the sound of the tube amp coming through. Tube DACs add their own coloration, some like doing that , I don't it's a preference thing. I would rather use something like a Benchmark DAC3 which is a very neutral DAC. Some will probably chime in on getting a NOS R2R DAC which is non over sampling. You might prefer it, some people do but once again unless done well with proper filtering they can be noisy on the analog output so you're not sending a good clear signal to your preamp or integrated. If you can try different ones do so and see what you like its your system, room and hearing.
iFi products are available around (e.g., Music Direct) with 30-day returns.
Audio Mirror's baseline model (Tubadour III) has a home trial period too (7-10 days I think).
And I'll have to respectfully disagree with @djones51. I demoed the Audio Mirror (special edition) against a Lampizator Amber 3, ifi iDSD pro, Matrix X-Sabre Pro, Shiit Bifrost 2, and PS Audio Directstream DAC and ended up with the AM. It's a NOS R2R DAC. It was the most musical DAC in my system (Don Sach's 2 Preamp, First Watt F4 monoblocks, Coincident PRE speakers). I liked the iFi the second best.
I do not recommend a limited time ’demo’ or ’audition’ given where you are in your journey.
Commit to a DAC. Live with it. Optimize it. LEARN. And Enjoy it. Move on only after you have learned as much as you can and have figured out where your path leads next, at that point in time.
+1 re. @cal3713 ’s point on NOS R2R DACs.
There are a number of examples that have worked well for numerous and varied members [within your specified budget].
They can be Solid State (and I would choose solid state)...to @djones51 ’s valid point regarding best pairings / synergies, SHOULD YOU follow the DAC with tubed amplification.
@david_ten Thanks for your input. I was planning on making the best possible guess based on recommendations, but I like the idea of being able to return a $1500 DAC if it's not working out. I'm not planning on being fickle about the choice, if that's how I came across. Still, I take your point -- which I assume is that one needs to not be under the illusion that they can avoid the longer experience of learning-by-listening. That makes sense to me, and I can imagine just committing, as you say, with a solid recommendation in hand.
As @david_ten states, I agree there’s a lot to be gained by committing to a dac, but I also think that you learn a lot by comparing options side-by-side in your own system.
My approach was to order as many free-trial contenders as I could at the same time and then choose the winner. Sure, the dacs change over time, but you will also hear the basic differences in house sound at those early stages. If one’s in first place after 10 days of burning in, I highly doubt it could end up in last after 30. That comparison process will at the least give you solid "tiers" that are very unlikely to change no matter how long you spend with a particular dac.
Choose from the top tier and you’ll be happy, and will have learned enough not to be tempted by the new alternatives that pop up every month.
Check out the Denafrips Ares II R2R DAC. It is easily one of the best R2R DAC within your budget. You may be reluctant to order this from Singapore but chances of you not liking this DAC are slim to none.
You can count on Outstanding customer as long as you own this DAC.
This is what I was talking about when I said you need to pay close attention to proper implementation and filtering in looking at R2R DACs. R2R DACs that measure and perform are expensive.
The BorderPatrol Digital to Analogue Converter SE's measured performance is dominated by its use of the underperforming TDA1543 DAC chip. Google indicates that the current price of this chip is between $4 and $6, depending on the quantity purchased; I would have expected a D/A processor costing $1850 to have used a better resistor-ladder chip. However, it is fair to note that Philips's much-better-performing TDA1541 DAC, long discontinued, currently costs around $140 each for the basic version, and up to $299 for the premium S1 Crown version—prices too high for that chip to be used in BorderPatrol's DAC SE.—John Atkinson
When evaluating DACs one of the most important measurements are what comes out of the analog with the lowest noise and distortion how that is done by using either R2R technology or Delta Sigma isn't that important if the noise floor is below human hearing. There are R2R DACs that do this very well as well as Delta Sigma.
Oh No, Not Again......it appears @djones51 clearly one of those individuals who gives more weight to measurements over trusting his/her ears. Hence his choice of Benchmark DAC’s which to my ears sounds more clinical than musical.
“If it measures good and sounds bad—it’s bad. If it measures bad and sounds good, you’ve measured the wrong thing”
@hilde45, You have 14 days trial with Border, trust your ears and how it’s going to gel with rest of your system.
@cal3713 I want to reinforce that my post and suggested approach was specific to the OP @hilde45 It is not a general recommendation.
I do not recommend a limited time ’demo’ or ’audition’ given where you are in your journey.
The OP, based on the threads he has started, is in a (complete) system rebuilding phase. Given where he is in his ’journey’ (i.e. not that far along) I stand by my suggested approach.
@hilde45 All of the DACs you are likely to consider, whether returnable or not, are going to work and most likely will work well.
Optimizing a component, in this case a DAC, takes time and effort. Cabling changes, isolation, as well as actions taken upstream from the DAC can result in significant differences in performance. One cannot address the optimizing for your system (synergies) and your personal preferences via short, time sensitive auditions [given where YOU ARE, at this point in time].
Since your component purchase choices / decisions are in flux and not finalized, you need to start somewhere. And that holds across the board.
Don’t get caught up in over thinking this.
Actual hands on and ears on experience, in other words Living With a component and a system, is way more valuable than (excessive) rumination via posting and post responses.
I suggest pivoting to a position that looks at components for their value as Teachable Units over your pursuit of "perceived" performance values (currently unrealized since they only exist in these posts / forum).
@david_ten No offense taken. Definitely valid points.
Also, if the system is in total flux, perhaps an even less expensive DAC would be a better option? The Black Ice Glass fx dsd is one that comes to mind. If you search for that in the threads, you'll see that it won an audioclub's dac shootout vs. some much more expensive competition. I think the dealer that advertises on US audiomart does offer a return period.
And although I have limited data points, my experience agrees with @lalitk . The Matrix X-Sabre Pro I tried was the best measuring dac in the world a few months ago (as tested by audiosciencereview). It was also the least compelling in my shootout. I kept rotating dacs and comparing and always kind of dreaded when it was the Matrix's turn. It sounded fine and I would have enjoyed it if I had no comparisons, but in contrast to the other dacs it just removed the emotion from the music.
Ok, I feel very well advised. Here are a couple additional details and a question.
An audiophile friend with advanced experience and system echoed many points here; he suggested a modest cost unit, (even used, $400) including Schiit, iFi, Denafrips, Audio G-d. He assumes it will be changed out by me in time but notes, also, that it will be fine for a long time, initially.
Another commentator on A ‘gon also suggested some brands here. Audio Mirror, Bryston, MDHT among them.
Harley in his book, and the commentator above, both emphasize the need to choose the amp, first. Since I don’t even know if I’ll go tubes or solid state, or which speakers I’ll settle on, there are many open questions; but it seems this advice is right.
(It may irk some here to know how in flux my system is; I’m researching DACS so that as first things fall into place, I have done some advance work on subsequent choices. This is not overthinking but just planning out future decision processes. Each of those decisions will be among a modest set of selected options.)
I can close with one last question: Do you agree that I settle on amp first and dac second?
DAC's don't have sound signatures unless they are purposely made that way. The job of a DAC is to convert the digital signal to analog with the least noise and distortion to convey that signal in the most accurate way. Some DACs add different filter settings to get differing sound characteristics, tube DACs and most R2R DACs roll of the top frequencies to give it a more analog sound. Some prefer that and that's fine I am not criticizing anyone's choice just pointing out things the OP might be interested in. I have not recommended the Benchmark just used it as an example. I don't really like recommendations of what someone else likes as it might be completey different from what I like which is why I said try as many different DACs as the OP could to get a feel for his own preference.
Once you get speaker and amp or integrated sorted out then focus on source components. A nice digital setup requires streamer / DAC components or if you’re into CD’s then CD player or turntable / phono.
If you’re exploring digital streaming, consider a Bluesound Node 2i or Innuos Zen Mini MK3 as starting point. They both have internal built-in DAC’s that allows you to get your feet in digital streaming. Both of these components allows upgrade path to add external DAC for improved performance. And when it’s time to upgrade digital streamer, you already have a external DAC in your system to further build and improve overall performance.
I am in a camp, everything matters. DAC is just as important as amp and absolutely vital to your ultimate digital playback experience.
Agreed, +2. Speakers first. Once you choose the speakers, post another thread here asking for amplifier recommendations for that particular speaker model. Hopefully some others will already have done a lot of testing and you can then narrow down your choices to a couple of already successful pairings.
And once you start auditioning, keep your eyes out for posters that are hearing the same things that you are when you listen to the same gear. It's nice when you can find some reliable voices that have the same ears/preferences as you. As you are aware, everyone thinks they know the truth, but obviously preferences differ, and I think ears/brains differ in how they process sound more than we realize. Different people are sensitive to different aspects of sound and distortion and end up with different systems because of it.
Digital Amplifier Company (DAC) offers a 30 day trial/return policy for products. The DAC DAC 2 is fantastic sounding, very close to nos sound with exceptional imaging and clean extended bass. Give them a shot well worth the try.
@cal3713 I definitely will post once the speakers are chosen. It will help to get more specific advice from those who’ve owned similar combinations with or without my particular my "ears".
@zigggi I’m tempted by the PS Audio SGDC, although I’m sort of inclining toward tubes at the moment, Still, their trial is easy and generous about shipping.
@rodge827 27 Nice looking company and website. Tube and non tube options for less that $1k. In home trial. Not sure how they compare to other DACS but once amps and speakers are in place this might be THE one to try out.
Thanks to all!
The Digital Amplifier Company DAC doesn't have a tube option. It's called Tube Like, the DAC TL. It distorts similar to tubes.
How can this thing sound so wonderful, but measure so-so?". Well, after taking a better look, we discovered that the distortion characteristics of our shortest-path circuit were similar to that of tube (a.k.a. valve)
Some DACs add different filter settings to get differing sound characteristics, tube DACs and most R2R DACs roll of the top frequencies to give it a more analog soundI get a more analog sound from R2R after calibrating to the same flat frequency response. There is a sonic signature just like speakers and amps sounding different with the same cal targets.
@hilde45 , since its within your price range, and you have some interest in tube dac options, I'd suggest the highly configurable Musical Paradise MP-D2 MK3 dac. It offers many rectifier and output tube options, screw in capacitor options, even swappable dac chips if you want to go crazy.
The beauty of the design is that you can tailor it as you go. If you change your speakers and decide you want to tame the upper end (just as an example) a tube swap would help you get there.
There's a large thread with all sorts of input from happy owners in the discless circle on audiocircle. Unfortunately, I don't think Musical Paradise does in home trials.