Wyred4Sound Dac-2 vs Preamp and separate DAC

I’m about to upgrade to either the Wyred4Sound DAC-2 to use as a Preamp/Dac or possibly considering a used Classe Audio CP-60 and Wyred4sound DAC-1. If I’m only going to use a CD transport and USB to play lossless files is there any advantage to having the separate Preamp/DAC setup. I would personally think the Dac-2 would be the cleaner path but I’m a little worried about the digital volume control. Any opinions welcome. Preamp also doesn’t have to be Classe but some type of balanced pre along those lines.
My understanding is that passive pre-amps (such in the W4S) are not as good as a dedicated active pre-amp. Seems to lose some air and detail.

Suggest you go for the DAC 1 and a proper pre-amp.
I got the DAC2 and had the Classe CP-65 pre. To make a long story short, I sold the Classe and I am going directly to the amps (bel canto ref 1000). If you do not need analog inputs and the only source is a PC / Transport, you can sure get rid of the preamp.
If you're going to use the USB input, grab a DAC-2.

The DAC-2 does have a very nice preamp section, but I prefer the sound of their STP-SE as a pre.
Meiwan Hi, I don’t believe the W4S is a passive preamp. The volume control is just in the digital domain. It’s 32-bit so I’m not sure if it’s even possible for audio quality loss at low volumes. Ranperry, Sense you have done this, did you notice any loss of low volume detail or dynamics. Or did just the opposite happen and open a clearer window into the sound at any volume.


W4S isn't passive. It has very low gain so if you have high sensitivity amplifier the unity or low-gain active preamp will have transparency of passive and control of active.
For my ears, less grainy and more detailed presentation regardless of the volume.
I am using W4S DAC-2 via async USB directly into W4S-ST 500 with excellent results.
DAC-2 doesn't have a "preamp section per se". It's the usual analog section following the Sabre DAC chip.
Volume control is performed in the digital domain, before the final analog section.
Operating internally at 32 bits, the volume control doesn't lose bits of resolution even at very low volumes.
On top of this, DAC-2 is featuring slightly better components than DAC-1, besides asyc USB, volume control and HT bypass (for those so inclined to use it that way).
My advice is go DAC-2 and skip the pre, if if don't have any other sources.
I am using the S/PDIF output from a M-Audio Audiophile 192 sound card. Works great.
@ranperry: you really should try the USB async directly into the dac2. Youre missing out on the best sounding part of the unit (IMHO). I tried exacty what you have and found the m audio spdif nowhere near as good sounding as sending the usb direct to the dac2 using kernel streaming with jriver mc.
I can't. Wyred4Sound does not provide their proprietary drivers for Linux. Also, I prefer using Linux as I get Bit Perfect sound, bypassing the OSs mixer altogether. USB audio is not mature yet (this is from a hardware engineer perspective). Once DAC manufactures will start using the standard audio protocol in USB 2 and USB 3 I may give it a try. The problem is that Microsoft does not have native hi res support and Apple's own implementation is lacking. Maybe in a few years....
Jriver's implementation of kernel streaming bypasses the os's sound mixer alltogether. Its a relatively new feature that's come out in the last few months. Id say its better than anything else in windows. But i also agree with you that Linux rules. Id be curious how the latest implementation of windows kernel streaming in jriver compares with what youre using. What application do you use for playback?
I am using MPD on the server and GMPC (ubuntu desktop) and MPDroid (Motorola Xoom) to control my music. Can you control the volume within Jriver? How can you tell that it bypasses the mixer?

This is from Jriver's site about Kernel Streaming: Kernel Streaming is a hardware direct way to speak directly to a WDM audio driver. Jriver Media Center 15.0.6 (and later) adds support for Kernel Streaming output. Kernel Streaming is a hardware direct, bit-perfect method of communicating with an audio device. It bypasses any Windows mixing. It holds the card exclusively so other programs can not play music over the top or change the sample rate.

Also, you can't control the volume (at least within Windows), it's a fixed level output direct to your W4S DAC2 that goes over async USB. Within the configuration of JRiver, you can select the output device and type and the DAC2 is a "device" that you can select. It's pretty cool. I've used a lot of other playback programs, but this one sounds the best on Windows at least (works fine on Windows 7 32 and even 64 bit without any issues). It's also how you'll be able to play back high rez audio like 24 bit 192Khz Flac.

For playback, I use an Ipad with Plugplayer to control Jriver as a media render and "server" even though it's really playing the flac files locally. I'd say Plugplayer still has a few bugs to work out, but it's definitely very usable.

It would be really nice if Sonos would just get the hint and come up with an audiophile version of a Zoneplayer 90 or something like that.
Thanks! I have little experience with Windows for media services and I am happy to see that this is actually a possibility in Windows. I hope future products / updates from W4S will support USB 2.0 audio out of the box without the proprietary drives.
I just hooked up my W4S DAC-2 outputs direct to my amps via balanced outputs/inputs and installed my Parasound C2 controller using the HT bypass via RCA connections. The W4S DAC-2 works well as a digital preamp and provides clear and crisp sound. The W4S remote is not all that great to use, but a larger universal remote might work better.

Previously, I had the multi-channel C2 processor doubling as stereo preamp and processor and hooked up the DAC-2 (DAC duties only) with the balanced inputs; with the C2 connecting to the amps via balanced cables.

Both ways sound very good, so I'm not sure if I'll return the Controller to preamp duties, or leave the DAC-2 to handling the digital preamp responsibilites. So far, I'd call this install a toss up.
I thought I'd follow-up on this thread as I purchased a McIntosh C48 preamp (that also has a supposedly decent DAC) and have run my Wyred4Sound DAC2 through it. I can say from a preamp perspective, if you listen to music at low volume you are better suited to not use the DAC2 as a preamp. [take the following as you may, as this is only my opinion] The DAC2 sounds "distorted" and muddy at very low volume when using it as a preamp. When you get it above 40 all that goes away. When I connected it to my C48 and set the output at fixed rather than variable, everything cleaned up nicely. So far, I can't attest to the DAC in the C48, but the preamp is nice sounding with the Wyred4Sound DAC2. (I've got other gripes about the C48, but that's not the topic of this thread).

Anyone experience similar issues with the DAC2 preamp at low volume?
if the DAC2 gives up anything to a dedicated preamp, it's low level detail. i've been told that the sweet spot for the DAC in variable output mode is 50-55, which depending on the gain of your system, you might never reach. i've been considering adding an in line attenuator between my DAC2 and power amps to get me closer to the optimal range for normal listening, and reduce the digital attenuation for low level listening.

has anyone else tried this?
50-55 too much gain?? I guess I need to play with the impedance taps on my amps as I have the opposite problem. I have some high Rez stuff that I just can't seem to get enough gain from the DAC2.
There is no resolution loss until you go way below 40 on the W4S DAC-2. If you have a problem it's not the dac but something else in your system. First, you need to match levels. My experience is that going direct to amp is far superior on every level than going through any dedicated preamp.

W4S DAC2 is not a passive preamp, but an active line stage of very high purity. Without inserting a number of switches and pots, interconnects and more active components to service all these, the clarity without an external preamp should be evident to all. The DAC2 is probably amongst one of the finest dacs one can get and the built in preamp certainly makes it a great value.

As a backup to testing, I use an Audez'e LCD-2 with Moon Silver Dragon wires to directly connect to the DAC2's phono outputs. If you have a higher resolution test setup, I'm all ears.
The optimum way to use DAC2 is with PWT from PSAudio and I2S cable. The I2S sounds major better than the other inputs. Drive direct to amps using a transformer linestage such as Music first or these other options:


TVC's do not have the negative effect on dynamics like resistive passives do. The DAC must have decent current drive however. These will beat even the most expensive active preamps.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
My experience has been very similar to Agb100's. I compared the W4S DAC-2 direct to a pair of W4S mAMPs vs. with a W4S STP-SE preamp in between. I strongly prefer the direct mode - it sounds cleaner, more transparent and punchier. The STP-SE is an excellent preamp, but eliminating additional circuitry and interconnects really improves the sound.
Auioengr, have you compared the wyred for sound dac againts the ps audio pwd with the pwt using the I2S cable
Just to add a perspective, I am really happy with my DAC-2 running direct to a tube integrated that has a resistor-ladder attenuator for volume control, though I have not compared it with a preamp in the chain.

Regarding a sweet-spot on the DAC-2, to my ears it comes alive a bit when it's north of 50 and can sound a little un-relaxed once past 60 or 62. I often leave it at 58 and control volume from the integrated.

Steve, I'm still waiting for you to produce a converter that takes a coax SPDIF from my Squeezebox and sends out I2S to the Wyred. ;-)
I just got my dac 2 yesterday. So far I really like what I am hearing. It has a warm full sound with non fatiging highs
. I had it running thru the preamp yesterday. Today it is running without preamp. Sounds great both ways