DAC Do or Don't?

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ejspain

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Because of this group (which I freakin love), I'm in the midst of a near total system revamp and a fake divorce o_O . It's all good because I haven't upgraded my system in 20 years but once you start reeling off numbers, the wifey feels you're just repeating what you did last week. Anyhoo...I have a dedicated HT and I'm pretty much a lover of music and movies so my room has to give me the business in both categories. So I did a "thing"...which I'll share more details when it arrives (this week)....and because of this "thing", a few other "things" popped into mind. One was, do I need a DAC? After some reading over a couple glasses of single malt, I'm thinking...maybe I do. Through HEOS and Amazon HD Music, I've got access to 24bit/192kHz jamz BUT is the built DAC from the SR6015 making me shake my leg the way I want? Idk. I have NO experience with external DACs so I'm curious. Is it worth it? Will it HANDS DOWN make my music sound better? Hit me with some recommendations...under $1000.
 
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Brandon Hartwick

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DACs can be great but I'm not a fan of dumping huge $ into a DAC

I'd highly recommend checking out the stuff from Schiit Audio. They have a variety of US made DACs in different flavors depending on what you're after. Personally I use cheap Topping DACs with good results for my needs.
 

amey01

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"Do you need a DAC" - somehow, somewhere, yes you do.

Do you need an external / standalone DAC. No. The benefit would depend on what other components you have. I would prefer it though, as the less integrated components you have, the easier it is to upgrade and change things.

As per Brandon's comment above 👆 - I wouldn't be dropping great money into a DAC though - as they tend to become obsolete faster than most other components and change quickly.

Case in point - just 10 years ago, it would have been commonplace to drop mega-multi-$thousands on a 16/44.1 DAC with crappy SPDIF input. Where would that leave you now?
 

ejspain

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"Do you need a DAC" - somehow, somewhere, yes you do.

Do you need an external / standalone DAC. No. The benefit would depend on what other components you have. I would prefer it though, as the less integrated components you have, the easier it is to upgrade and change things.

As per Brandon's comment above 👆 - I wouldn't be dropping great money into a DAC though - as they tend to become obsolete faster than most other components and change quickly.

Case in point - just 10 years ago, it would have been commonplace to drop mega-multi-$thousands on a 16/44.1 DAC with crappy SPDIF input. Where would that leave you now?
Good point. Any recommendations? My setup is in my signature.
 

amey01

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Good point. Any recommendations? My setup is in my signature.
Why do you want what I like? Best to work that out for yourself.

As per my signature, I like the Brooklyn DAC +, so I could easily recommend that.

A little less specific, I'd go for a reputable audiophile company - and the "pocket-rocket" type DACs that punch above their weight (and price) - things like the Cambridge 200M, RME ADI-2, Audiolab M-DAC+, or Benchmark DAC-3.
 
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Not knowing what your “thing” is makes it pretty hard to make a suggestion. If you’ve bought a relatively new player, more than likely a $1000 DAC isn’t going to move the needle that much. Consider something that you can buy from an online retailer that can be returned. That’s really the only way to know what fits for you and your system
 

Leporello

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Because of this group (which I freakin love), I'm in the midst of a near total system revamp and a fake divorce o_O . It's all good because I haven't upgraded my system in 20 years but once you start reeling off numbers, the wifey feels you're just repeating what you did last week. Anyhoo...I have a dedicated HT and I'm pretty much a lover of music and movies so my room has to give me the business in both categories. So I did a "thing"...which I'll share more details when it arrives (this week)....and because of this "thing", a few other "things" popped into mind. One was, do I need a DAC? After some reading over a couple glasses of single malt, I'm thinking...maybe I do. Through HEOS and Amazon HD Music, I've got access to 24bit/192kHz jamz BUT is the built DAC from the SR6015 making me shake my leg the way I want? Idk. I have NO experience with external DACs so I'm curious. Is it worth it? Will it HANDS DOWN make my music sound better? Hit me with some recommendations...under $1000.
Without knowledge of the "thing", or the rest of your system, it's hard to say. And I don't think anyone can recommend a DAC without hearing it in your system and comparing it with what you already have (unless your system is pure analog, you clearly have a DAC somewhere).

I personally am not a great fan of complete system revamps. When I was 18 it consisted of an AR turntable, Dynaco SCA 35 integrated tube amp I built from a kit and a pair of Koss Pro 4a headphones. It has evolved from there, one piece at a time. Today's system is worth many tens of kilobucks, which I would never have been able to manage all at once.

The idea of a divorce, real or fake, is sad. If the main issue is "numbers", as in number of dollars you are spending, surely you can work something out. I will take domestic tranquility over new shiny objects whose novelty soon wears off any day of the week. Is she entirely uninterested in your music and movies?
 

Leporello

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DACs can be great but I'm not a fan of dumping huge $ into a DAC

I'd highly recommend checking out the stuff from Schiit Audio. They have a variety of US made DACs in different flavors depending on what you're after. Personally I use cheap Topping DACs with good results for my needs.
Do you think "the wifey" would appreciate having something that says "Schitt" in her living room? Seriously, audiophiles enthuse about this Schitt, but it's not the scatological image itself but the immature bad boy image, like we're getting away with something, that bothers me. Like "Shine your buttons with Brasso". Or, for that matter, "Let's go, Brandon!" Does anyone else feel that way?
Because of this group (which I freakin love), I'm in the midst of a near total system revamp and a fake divorce o_O . It's all good because I haven't upgraded my system in 20 years but once you start reeling off numbers, the wifey feels you're just repeating what you did last week. Anyhoo...I have a dedicated HT and I'm pretty much a lover of music and movies so my room has to give me the business in both categories. So I did a "thing"...which I'll share more details when it arrives (this week)....and because of this "thing", a few other "things" popped into mind. One was, do I need a DAC? After some reading over a couple glasses of single malt, I'm thinking...maybe I do. Through HEOS and Amazon HD Music, I've got access to 24bit/192kHz jamz BUT is the built DAC from the SR6015 making me shake my leg the way I want? Idk. I have NO experience with external DACs so I'm curious. Is it worth it? Will it HANDS DOWN make my music sound better? Hit me with some recommendations...under $1000.
More advice that's probably not what the OP is looking for: in the first place, if you do get around to taking home some DAC's and listening to them (which any dealer who wants to make a sale should be willing to entertain, perhaps with collateral) make sure you match the levels. Fortunately, with a DAC, this is straightforward to do. First, generate a reference level file, say 1khz sine wave at -10dB into both channels (I use MATLAB). Measure each DAC's output in volts, not dB. If the SR6015 is a receiver, you may have to use the speaker outputs but the principle is the same. Note that I'm not suggesting using the tone in listening tests, only for level reference.

Failing this, the subtle differences you are listening for--and mark my words, they will be subtle (nothing worth breaking up a marriage over, IMO)--may be masked by even the tiniest level differences.

The purple prose used in describing the differences between high quality DACs (as opposed to, say, the one built into your smart phone), preamps and especially cables--veils lifted, wider and deeper soundstage, etc--is for the most part, hype, generated by the audio press with the full endorsement of the manufacturers, for the express purpose of selling more Schitt. I'm not suggesting everything sounds the same, just that they sound more the same than the audio press would have you believe.
 
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"Do you need a DAC" - somehow, somewhere, yes you do.

Do you need an external / standalone DAC. No. The benefit would depend on what other components you have. I would prefer it though, as the less integrated components you have, the easier it is to upgrade and change things.

As per Brandon's comment above 👆 - I wouldn't be dropping great money into a DAC though - as they tend to become obsolete faster than most other components and change quickly.

Case in point - just 10 years ago, it would have been commonplace to drop mega-multi-$thousands on a 16/44.1 DAC with crappy SPDIF input. Where would that leave you now?
Do you think "the wifey" would appreciate having something that says "Schitt" in her living room? Seriously, audiophiles enthuse about this Schitt, but it's not the scatological image itself but the immature bad boy image, like we're getting away with something, that bothers me. Like "Shine your buttons with Brasso". Or, for that matter, "Let's go, Brandon!" Does anyone else feel that way?

More advice that's probably not what the OP is looking for: in the first place, if you do get around to taking home some DAC's and listening to them (which any dealer who wants to make a sale should be willing to entertain, perhaps with collateral) make sure you match the levels. Fortunately, with a DAC, this is straightforward to do. First, generate a reference level file, say 1khz sine wave at -10dB into both channels (I use MATLAB). Measure each DAC's output in volts, not dB. If the SR6015 is a receiver, you may have to use the speaker outputs but the principle is the same. Note that I'm not suggesting using the tone in listening tests, only for level reference.

Failing this, the subtle differences you are listening for--and mark my words, they will be subtle (nothing worth breaking up a marriage over, IMO)--may be masked by even the tiniest level differences.

The purple prose used in describing the differences between high quality DACs (as opposed to, say, the one built into your smart phone), preamps and especially cables--veils lifted, wider and deeper soundstage, etc--is for the most part, hype, generated by the audio press with the full endorsement of the manufacturers, for the express purpose of selling more Schitt. I'm not suggesting everything sounds the same, just that they sound more the same than the audio press would have you believe.
 
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As for the “prose” there can be a huge difference in DACs but then there might not be. By and large the sound of a DAC comes down a lot more to implementation than it does specific hardware.

Much of the difference perceived in sound will depend on the resolution of the system used as well. A top system set up to perfection in a great room is going to reveal a lot more music than a budget DAC can deliver.

Just like phono cartridges at a certain point things sound different, and that may or may not be worth the money spent.

If you’re agonizing over differences in thousand dollar DACs there’s not that big of a difference, and much of that is due to how much better the components have become to assemble a 1000 DAC these days.

Where a lot of the top DACs in the 10-100k range excel is in the way they handle things once they’ve been decoded. Seriously you might be surprised at how much more involving a used 5 year old DAC that used to have a 5-10k price now for 1-2k sounds than a lot of todays 1000 DACs.
 

Brandon Hartwick

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Schiit makes great gear for reasonable prices so I wouldn't be so fast to dismiss them, but we all know audiophiles get all hot and bothered by shiny boxes and big words posted in stereophile articles so I'm not really surprised so many people don't give it a second thought.
 

StimpyWan

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Another Schiit fan here too. I have a Bifrost Multibit, a Modius, and a Gungnir. I've also owned Parasound and Audio Alchemy DACs. Of those, the Schiit DACs are great, with their Multibit designs being the best. The MB DACs offer a nice sense of space, with accurate image placement. Very natural, warm, and analog sounding. The Schiit MB price points are at $299, $799, $1199, and $2299.

Oh, Schiit gear is recommended by both Stereophile and The Absolute Sound...!
 

StimpyWan

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Oh, before switching back to separate gear pieces, I was using a TOTL Yamaha AVR. It's a very good receiver, not cheap. But my system, with a Schiit preamp and DAC, and Aragon amp sounds much, much better.
 

GW1800

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Bricasti M3 would be a fantastic choice and the name can’t be misconstrued.
 

msimanyi

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I think you are likely to hear considerable improvement from a good standalone DAC.

Now for the bad news... and I'm sure I'll be labeled the devil for writing / believing this. Cables matter. If you were in So Cal, I'd be bringing over my cables and several DACs to your house so you could try them and acclimate. I'll suggest the least expensive Shunyata USB cable for the DAC, if that doesn't blow your budget. The improvement from it is 95%+ of their MUCH more expensive versions in my own system.

I buy mine from The Cable Co, and they have decent pricing (email them or request a quote through their site) as well as a trial version so you can test it to decide if you like it.

Back to DACs though...

I have both the Schiit Bifrost multibit and Bifrost 2. They're great value for the money, and not terrifically expensive to return if you don't like it. I think it's a 15% restocking fee. If I were working within that particular budget as a hard limit I'd probably stick with the Schiit, mostly because I'm partial to their business model and their quality.

I will add that there are meaningful improvements from additional budget on a DAC. I haven't checked the used listings and I have no idea what the prices are like at the moment, but IF you could locate a Wyred4Sound Dac 2v2 used and make it work for your budget, I think that would be a worthwhile upgrade.

Last year, due to delays on another DAC being released, I bought a used W4S Anniversary Edition which has some upgraded components vs the standard 2v2, and it's outstanding. I would think the non-Anniversary edition really is tremendous value. I'm waiting on another DAC right now - Lampizator Atlantic 3 - but I'll be keeping the W4S DAC when it arrives. I'll probably use it in my office system, which currently has the Bifrost 2 in play.
 

Russr

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Sorry, but while I really try contain myself when discussions of cables come up, I simply cannot "listen" to stuff about things like USB cables affecting audio quality.

NO. PERIOD.

References:

Google terms:
USB Error detection
Error checking
Error correction
CRC (Cyclic Redundancy Checksums)
DAC input buffers

Tell you what - take the money you would spend on Snake-Oil USB cables, and spend it on a charity in your area. Make you AND a bunch of other people feel better.

Sorry, MS, but there is no science-based or subjective test that can convince anyone that anything beyond a USB 2.0 (or 3.0 or...) compliant cable does ANYTHING to signal quality. If you have a cable that sucks enough, you will hear something similar to skipping on CDs... the signal is dropping packets of information and is not able to recover. If that happens, simply remove the old cable, chop it into pieces, and replace it with an Amazon Basics cable (or similar). I "know" that when I change the oil in my car by myself it DEFINITELY runs better/smoother/faster... I think this is the same.

rant/
 
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