Which dac or other suggestions


First time poster here. I am looking for advice to increase the sound quality of my existing system. I have a Marantz SR7009 being used as a pre-amp powered by Emotiva's XPA-5, 2 revel m22 bookshelf speakers serving as my L & R, revel c52 center speakers and 2 revel timber matched C563 in ceiling rear surrounds. I mainly listen to music and switch between L &R stereo only and sometimes "all stereo" or matrix through all speakers. We do watch movies but seem happy with our home theater experience thus far although always open to suggestions. We mostly listen to music through a Sonos connect but we also do have an Orbit turntable. I know that the turntable will one day need to be upgraded to maybe a Rega RP3 or similar. I am in the process of adding two SVS SB12-nsd subs to the mix. Our room is large at 20x30x10 and I hope these subs will make some sort of impact. We also use an Apple TV. Now for my question.

I am looking to increase the sound quality of my Sonos driven music. I spoke to an audiophile (owner of Echo audio in Seattle) and he suggested a dac. In particular, because he knows I'm cheap haha!, he suggested the California Labs Sigma ii, Enlightened Audio Designs DSP-7000 mkiii, and some Krell dacs (stealth and ??) that I have never seen listed for sale. I missed an opportunity on both the Cal Labs and the EAD and I'm kicking myself. With ALL this being said, what other dacs should I consider? My budget is $750 or less and I would prefer $400 or less. Old vs new? Tube? NOS? DSD? Yadda yadda. I am looking for an increased sound stage and dynamic range. If I get more clarity and warmth then yee haw!

I appreciate all of your input in advance. Thanks for letting this first timer ramble.

Btw, I listen to mostly indie rock but I seriously dive into ALL types of music and yes I like it loud.
troydunnagan
IMO, you’d be much better off saving your money toward your next speaker or amp upgrade.

I experimented with a number of DACs in the <$1000 range, one of which was "Class A" rated. My conclusion is that there’s very little difference between them...almost completely identical in sound. I cannot speak for something like a $5k DAC, but "budget" DACs just don’t improve anything. Yes, I have excellent hearing, but I’m also honest with myself.

If you’re one who hears huge differences between speaker cables or ICs, then I suppose you might find a new DAC worthwhile.

At the very least, have the dealer demonstrate the differences in the DACs using the same gear, volume matched.
Replace your Sonos with a Bluesound Node2 and use the remaining funds for a good power cord and interconnects. Report back with the results.
I'm with @kalali +1 for the Node 2 + power cords + IC’s

This little box has more going for it that it’s (meagre) price suggests.

It will process 2-channel and multi-channel signals, so no problems there AND is has a sub out if needed

Sound quality from the on-board DAC+analogue outputs? - superb!
- no real need for an outboard DAC anymore

I downsized my A/V system to the Powernode 2 and I am very happy
Regards...
@williewonka

Great to read your favorable comments about the Node 2, because I too (no pun intended) am interested in it.

Question for you (or others on thread).... I have an Oppo UDP-205. I’m very happy with the sound. So too are many others. That said, have you or anyone else on the thread had a chance to hear the Oppo and if so, how would you compare the sound to the Node 2? I’m only interested in sound comparison. Features are besides the point. They likely sound different because Oppo uses Sabre ESS DAC and I believe Node 2 uses Burr Brown.

Thanks.
For under $500, a used Teac UD-501 is your best bang-for-your buck DAC that can handle DSD. If DSD isn’t a concern, then a used Schiit Multibit Bifrost is very good value.

For something new that is slightly under your budget, the Denafrips Ares is worth auditioning.

".....I experimented with a number of DACs in the <$1000 range, one of which was "Class A" rated. My conclusion is that there’s very little difference between them...almost completely identical in sound. I cannot speak for something like a $5k DAC, but "budget" DACs just don’t improve anything. ..."

+1

yup...in the sub-$1000 strata, (ignoring the sub $250 dime a dozen ) there is negligible to nil performance differentiation between the DAC choices. It’s a just pick one-of-’em
Exercise.


You have to comfortably break the $2,000 Pricepoint strata to start streaming them into meaningful audio performance contenders and pretenders... and they become much more bespoke system synergy sensitive.

Oncs you hit the "meaty" hi-fi performance levels as you break through the $5,000 DAC barrier, it gets really interesting IF AND ONLY IF you already have an audio system worthy and actually capable of that kind of superior performance I.e. It is in the same or better quality build, performance output and --of course-- price strata.
I agree you should do speaker repls. and room treatments first.

But if your DAC is several years old, it seems you can get a significant increase in SQ from either a new DAC and/or something like an Iso Regen.

I dunno the SQ of Sonos music, but I do know a guy switched from Spotify to Tidal with good SQ results.

you might ask again on:
www.computeraudiophile.com

which focuses on such questions.
@randy-11

Do you have a suggestion/recommendation for a (best) music server that can play from a USB A flash memory stick? 

For some reason I can't stand the fact that all the high-end (>3K) DACs must have some kind of transport to deliver the music to it.

This is yet another reason I love the OPPO (UDP-205). Besides that it is great sounding with an excellent DAC, I can just "plug and play" so to speak. I'm merely looking for alternatives and an upgrade path. And yes, I realize the UDP-205 can be modified, but given the cost (2K+) I'd prefer not to go that route and just buy a different component new.

As I mentioned to williewonka previously in this thread, I am considering a Blue Sound Node 2, however, that too does not play directly from flash memory without first having to select the files in their app via computer or smartphone.
+2 for Bluesound
If your read other threads, you know I run the Bluesound Node (1) through an Ayre Codex. It is probably the best bang for the buck out there.
Another DAC manufacturer to consider:
Schiit
They offer great equipment at a very reasonable price, and many of their upper range pieces can be upgraded when upgrades are available (like the Ayre).
Bob
I have been through a ton of DACs to find some kind of improvement in my streaming audio, I didn't notice a huge improvement with any of them really. I stream via tidal or my own flac files. If you are thinking you just have to try it, I recommend the Jolida DAC III w it has Bluetooth for streaming a pretty decent tube stage and can be had for under 600. This is the only DAC I have kept with all that I've gone through. As far as the svs subs, svs makes a pretty decent sub. I have heard really highend systems with them, as well as low end. They all had great bottom end..

My advice would be to forget about a DAC, the marrantz has a built in dac, and is a pretty good preamp, specially in the Atmos category. I build a budget 9.2 theather for a friend useing that preamp and all elac ub5s for rears, fronts surrounds and atmos, McIntosh amps and 2 velodyne subs and it sounds quite good. 


I agree with mhart032 - you are unlikely to improve on the DAC in the Marantz AVR without spending a good deal more.  I haven't heard the Emotiva amp, except at a show, but I have listened a bit to some mid-priced Revel speakers.  I liked them, but I would not catagorize them as particularly warm.  If you are looking for a warmer sound, I would focus on the amp and speakers.  The Marantz AVRs I have heard are also just to the warm side of neutral.  For an amp, at least for the front channels, consider Odyssey Audio.  I have an HT3 3-channel amp for my front channels, and it is as warm as I would want without losing any detail or extension in the mids and highs.  It was noticeably warmer and smoother sounnding than the Rotel amp it replaced, and an AVA amp I also auditioned at home.  I know this may be more than you want to spend, but a call to Odyssey might be worthwhile. 


And don't ignore the cables and power.  Better cables and better quality, cleaner power can make a system sound warmer by reducing RFI and other powerline hash, which, I believe, people hear as etch and grain in the treble.

From the OP: "I am looking to increase the sound quality of my Sonos driven music." and "My budget is $750 or less and I would prefer $400 or less."

My Bluesound Node2 recommendation was based on these requirements. I'm sure there are other changes in the audio path that can improve the SQ, e.g., speakers, amp, etc., but improving the source, at least in this particular case, will be the best bang for the buck, IMHO.

@kalali 

I'm reading favorable things regarding the Blue Sound Node 2. In fact, even my dealer recommends it. Claims he sells it to folks buying 20K+ systems. He didn't say, however, whether or not those folks are using it as transport or the total source (i.e. it's own DAC and analog out right to the amp). I'm on the fence with it but will probably pull the trigger at some point given its relatively low cost. If the USB were plug-and-play it would be a no brainer and I'd jump on it immediately. I don't like the fact that I'd need software on my computer to deal with selecting the playlist, but I may have to swallow that pill. 

Are you using the Node 2 as transport or using its internal DAC?
@gdhal - re ....

Question for you (or others on thread).... I have an Oppo UDP-205. I’m very happy with the sound. So too are many others. That said, have you or anyone else on the thread had a chance to hear the Oppo and if so, how would you compare the sound to the Node 2? I’m only interested in sound comparison. Features are besides the point. They likely sound different because Oppo uses Sabre ESS DAC and I believe Node 2 uses Burr Brown.

You are correct - the Node2 apparantly uses the  Burr Brown PCM5122

Unfortunately I have no knowledge of the Oppo - other than they are very well respected in audio circles according to many of the posts I have read.

From your post above to @Kalali

RE: - 
 If the USB were plug-and-play it would be a no brainer and I'd jump on it immediately. I don't like the fact that I'd need software on my computer to deal with selecting the playlist, but I may have to swallow that pill.
Personally - I found removing the computer completely from the path...
- improved the sound quality - no more USB related issues
- made life so much more simpler - no more OS/SOftware upgrade related issues - their is only one update source and that is from Bluesound - before I had MAC OS, iTunes and Audirva updates that had to allign - just like the stars some days :-)

RE - 
 I don't like the fact that I'd need software on my computer to deal with selecting the playlist, but I may have to swallow that pill.
I've found that even with Bluesound,  I prefer the interface of the App on my computer to create playlists - just because for me, the interface seems the easier place to perform that specific function

Hope that helps

I have found more differences between lower priced dac's than higher priced dac's. 

In terms of the higher priced dac's you pay more for that last 5-10%, but generally they all sound very good above $2,000.

With sub $1000 dac's I've found a wide margin of difference. Some cannot resolve enough detail, some cannot produce a wide or deep soundstage. Some can.

Choose wisely.


The Gustard X20 Pro with Singer SU-1 sounded as good as a $2000 previous generation Benchmark DAC 2 to me. That would be my budget recommendation. 
A few months ago, I replaced my Teac UD-501 with a Gustard x20Pro/Singxer SU-1 combo.

It was a huge leap in sonic performance. I've since cleaned up the SU-1s' power supply by installing the 4.5V SBooster Ultra board between the internal power supply and Singer main board.
I'll second the suggestions to consider a Bluesound Node 2 and, alternatively, the Denafrips Ares, for the budget mentioned.

I recently acquired a Vault 2, but have a Node 2 coming on the BBT, today.  I suspect they will sound identical.  The Vault 2 sounds better than I expected it would and much better than the DAC in a Sonos Connect.  It will, at least until another upgrade bug strikes, be used as a transport, however, in a $20k+ system.  Will probably get another one for a smaller system using its own DAC at some point fairly soon.

Just also acquired the Denafrips Ares.  It sounds much different from other inexpensive DACs (including the internal Sonos, Bluesound, and Oppo 95).  To my ears, better.  Certainly "more clarity and warmth" than particularly the Sonos.  So, at least with a small sample, with regard to the comments about all cheap DACs sounding the same, I strongly disagree.  It is likely to taste and may be just the r2r thing, but, to my ears in my systems, the Ares sounds very different.  For today, have a Sonos connect running Tidal Hifi and the library in the Vault 2 from wifi, into the Ares, into an Inspire pre, into an Inspire SEP, into Omega 3 HOs.  It's not bad, at all.  The Ares makes a huge difference over the Sonos DAC.

Not bashing Sonos--I think it's fantastic for what it is.
I would invest in a pre amp, because hooking an amp into the pre outs of an avr is not the route to go. pre outs on an avr are a after thought the avr job is digital first. some pre amps have pretty nice Dacs built in and have HT bypass. trust me you can get a pretty good pre amp in your price range and it'll make a huge improvement in sound quailty. Emotiva makes pre amps that will give you HT bypass and Parasound does as well but not sure how well Parasound would match up with your system? I wouldn't worry about cable, speakers or a DAC until you get a pre amp, this will give you the biggest improvement in sound quality at this point.
Save yourself a bunch of money and try one of the HiFiMeDIY ready made DACs.... the one below or one of their other models.

https://hifimediy.com/DACs/ready-made-dacs/9018-dac?sort=p.price&order=DESC

Same chip as the OPPO. <$100. If you don't hear a difference then no skin off your back.
Unless the 2nd Gen Vaults and Nodes have a better dac than the original, I would use an external dac. I have the original Gen 1 Vault and I love the controller app, but I think the dac ic terrible. 

@sadiehazel. Compared to what?
I've been away from big living room systems for quite awhile (ie, tube preamps, amps, subs/speakers). It has been all desktop audio for me over the past decade.

I've owned 4 DACs for the desktop. Never heard any big-bucks audiophile approved models so can't comment. However, I can tell you that I have not found all DACs to sound alike (not even close).

My appreciation of digital audio was revolutionized 1 year ago when I took the plunge & bought an Audio GD NOS 19 (the non-oversampling version of their popular DAC-19 R2 R design). What a difference! Most of the differences come in tonality/rendition of audio frequencies, rather than soundstaging (w/o a big, bad L.R. audio system, it's harder for me to evaluate soundstaging).

The NOS 19 is by far the least digital DAC I've ever heard. While not sounding exactly like analog (T.T. or tape), it also sounds nothing like any delta-sigma DAC I've heard. No more tizzy/anxiety-producing glare in upper midrange & treble; no more dry-as-a-bone bass (deep, hitting hard, but dry).

The NOS 19 sounds organic, relaxed, spacious, tonally rich. Either through quality headphones or my powered desktop monitors (modded Yamaha HS7s + SVS SB1000 sub), I cannot detect any frequency emphasis at all. Some say it's rolled off in the upper treble. I'm not sure about that.

Beyond having a non-tizzy treble, the NOS 19 has a very pleasing fullness to notes (all frequencies). The bass is very nice, indeed; it has been called "wet" (opposite of dry), and I would agree with that. More to the point, cellos or a jazz string bass sound totally like real instruments. Bass notes launch, then decay in a most natural way.

The NOS 19 so impressed me that I purchased on of the last of the non-oversampling DAC-19s (it has been superceded by a different Audio GD R2 R model). The DAC-19 is also quite impressive IMO, again, sounding little like any delta-sigma DAC. I find it lacks that last bit of fullness & organic sound, but had I not heard the NOS 19, the DAC-19 would be far and away my favorite DAC.

You can find a used DAC-19 online for ~$600. You should look for one from 2016 onward. I used HiFiShark.com for these searches. Here is their result from a DAC-19 search:
https://www.hifishark.com/search?q=Audio+GD+DAC-19

(the audiocircle listing looks pretty decent to me)

It's unusual to find a NOS 19 F.S., though they do come up every now and then.
I am using a Gungnir Multibit. But the dac in my pioneer elite sounded better as well (IMHO).
Warmth and SQ. 
Not trying to cause a ruckus or anything. The dacs in the gen 2's may be better for all I know.
@sadiehazel.  Not at all. Was just curious. I think the Bluesound internal DAC was better than I expected, but definitely can be improved upon.
Why are we still talking DAC when amp is hooked into pre outs of a receiver? I've been on the merry go round of sound sucking because of this. an avr job is digital, HT, playstation, cable and when i went with a pre with HT bypass sound changed drastically. I do use an external DAC to run high rez files and its only an Arcam ir dac 2. once i get the funds I'll get rid of the Dac and get an Oppo Exemplar all in one but this is a 5k player. anyway the amp running into the Avr needs to be addressed first or nothing is really going to change.