I think most of the magic is in the DAC. I would spend most of the money on a DAC and go with an entry level streamer. Others here disagree.
But I have run a high end DAC with an Allo USBridge Signature DAC with power supply and was very impressed with the sound. Upgrading to a $5k streamer then improved performance, but not nearly as much as the DAC upgrade.
Obvious advantages for separates is ability to individually upgrade. The PS audio streamer just came out for $2K and they have factory refurbished DACs (direct stream mkII for $3K
If I was going all in one I would look at the Moon 280D
If you really like the immersive arena look at a ROON setup. That will keep you busy.
That would be a tempting combination, but the DAC is the old version. They are selling the trade-ins when people buy the MkII.
May I ask how you listen to music and what type of music you listen to? What are the important criterion? Since your room is well treated, i expect you pay attention to those details.
An audition of the variations you’re considering will inform better than any of us can. That said, since you asked, I will offer that my experience brought me to the conclusion that the streamer is more important than the DAC. I’ve listened to a fair number of DACs well above the price point you’re considering. They’re different of course. But the better streamers opened up the music with a given DAC more than a better DAC did with a modest streamer. My experience only - YMMV so an audition is a must.
Complicating things is that most DACs have certain inputs that are better than others and may be revealing of the cables used to connect them. So, you’ll want to pay attention to those details too. In any case - let us know of your progress.
I recommend separates.
I’ve been doing streaming by about every possible way in the last twenty years. Typically the streamer and DAC should be of about equal investment. You want as high a quality you can get in each (picking the very best you can). Particularly in the DAC you want it to support your musical preferences. Pay particular to the sonic characteristics. Particularly in this price category you can get highly detailed fatiguing DACs.
I recommend Aurrender streamers… used would be required since their lowers price models are over your budget. I am not familiar enough with current DACs in this price range to specify a DAC. But… you might leverage the sound quality here as well by getting a DAC less than five years old. It is likely to put you at a higher level of performance.
Typically SP/DiIF / AES are the best performing connection… but depending on the streamer / DAC USB might. But the difference is not likely to be large. Something you can play with after you get them.
I was in the same thought process not long ago. I ended up with an Aurender A15, for half of list price. Streamer/DAC. From what I have read it is pretty much their N200 streamer, which is excellent, but with a DAC.
I figure I could get a separate DAC at some point.Anyway I think the A15 sounds great. Paired with ARC ref5se and ref75se.
I’m not familiar with the Krell, but it appears to be an integrated amp introduced around 2009. You don’t have your system posted on your profile and I’m not clear on what piece of equipment has a built in streamer/DAC. Am I looking at the wrong K300? Were there modern streamers in 2009? I’m guessing that I’m looking at the wrong K300. The reason I was looking for your equipment was my concern that it is a challenge to get great streamer, DAC separates with great cables for $5000, so I was wondering what would happen if you bought a great $5K DAC, or streamer and upgrade the second component at a later date. Would put a used Aurender, or used Holo May DAC, or similar DAC within your budget.
I would like to take my streaming to the next level.
The issue with streaming is what the quality of the file you are getting. Low rez, hirez, lossy, lossless, compression. I know you can solve this problem by throwing a lot of money at it, I took an alternate route.
I bought a streamer that included room correction ( a Martin Logan Unison in one room and a Paradigm Link in another). This streamer also functions as a preamp so if yopu want your CDP or turntable to benefit from room correction, plug it in. Otherwise the streamer works with an app.
I got a Sony Signature Dac that can remaster files into DSD that works well for me. Sony coinvented the CD, the SACD, DSD and they spent buku bucks developing this tech over 5 years (the "Signature line"). So I went with features instead of just throwing money at it to take my streaming to the next level and it worked great.
I would go separate. Get the Eversolo dmp-a6 streamer and a $4k DAC of your choice
You can't really go wrong either way.....just comes down to which you prefer. Good options with both types.
I tend to stick to combo units most of the time as I like the simplicity, but have recently been using a Line Magnetic LM32 Dac and Lumin U2 Mini in my demo setup and really having fun with that combo.
No long winded answer here. Separates 100%
im not going to recommend anything nor will I push my system on you like most do. I will say I was where you were a year ago and switched to separates. Huge improvement
I would recommend separates but in this price range I would go with one unit. Check out Lumin as they are a great value and provide versatility as well as the ability to isolate features later on should you want to upgrade. Initially I used my T3 as a dac and streamer then upgraded my dac and used it to stream. Also Lumin is great choice if you choose to use Roon.
Here’s a different approach - get BOTH a DAC/streamer combo and then find. Streamer separate. Keep your eyes out for a Modwright-modded Cambridge CXN V2 on the used market. This unit has a streamer and DAC built in, Dan Wright overhauls the analog stage with a tubes and quality lundahl transformers while installing robust linear power supplies for each the analog and digital sections. It can be found from time to time for $2K or so on the used market. You can use the built in streamer for a while until you settle on a better one. On its own it will best most other separates in the $7-10K range. You can then take the time to find the best streamer for your budget, or save more for an even better one. Used Aurender units will get you really far. Lumin is in pretty good for the money as well.
I'm in the minority, but my preference was a single box DAC/streamer. Hardcore audiophiles usually prefer separates all around, but my thinking is the one box units have a better matched streamer, DAC and power supply. I would also think better bang-for-the-buck as it's one chassis and no extra cable to buy. I don't do upgrades frequently, but I can upgrade the streamer or DAC at a later date with digital inputs/outputs on the chassis. I chose the Cary DMS-700 which would fall in your price range if bought used or the DMS-650 new would be in your range.
I listen to rock, a bit of country, and some pop, but that is usually with friends.
I love a huge deep soundstage and vocals that hit you like the artist is there with you. love vinyl btw if that helps.
I believe the 300i came out in 2019. It's a great piece. has a built in streamer and dac
thanks for all the help guys! It looks like separates are the majority opinion. Upscale is having a big sale. I believe they carry aurender, aurilac, and lumin.
Should we fight about which is the best streamer company? maybe spend 2k on a streamer and 3k on a dac? used is fine too.
Oh forgot to say I use almost exclusively Tidal, BUT would be willing to switch to Qobuz or Roon if everyone thinks it makes a difference
Separate DAC and Streamer. From my experience after using a bunch now your better off getting a decent streamer you like the software for and an excellent DAC. Streamer software seems to be one of the issues I've run across some are good some not so good. I've done the Optimized dedicated PC, Roon nucleus and Aurender A10 I've sold all of them and bought a great DAC and now going back to a dedicated streamer. Every Streamer DAC I've tried was inferior to separates and not really any easier, ease of use boils down to the software / App. Aurender was ok not great, Roon nucleus software was good but didn't sound all that good, IMO of course. DAC's have the greatest effect to the sound, streamer is just a computer with software that should be easy to use etc. Streamers do effect sound but not nearly as much as the DAC.
what was your favorite software?
If you’re looking for a wide/deep soundstage, then I do think you’ll be rewarded by investing in a streamer at least comparable to your DAC - and perhaps a better one. Again - my experience only but more spatial information is what a better source brought my DACs. All DACs are at least partially limited/constrained by their source - even the most expensive ones.
Lots of good suggestions here as to what equipment to try so I won’t add to the list. But, I will reiterate that an audition is a must and be sure you audition with cables (analog interconnects from your DAC to preamp and digital cables from your source to DAC) in your budget as they can make a significant difference too. I wouldn’t have believed digital cables were that important if I hadn’t heard it directly. Some digital connections (i.e. spdif vs USB) are more sensitive to this than others.
The general consensus is that Qobuz sounds better than Tidal. That certainly is my experience and a free trial will give you direct experience. With respect to catalogs, there is a huge amount of overlap in the titles they offer though my impression is that Tidal might be a bit deeper in pop and R&B. I personally listen more to classical, jazz, folk and indie so I may be incorrect as to catalog depth today.
Lastly, I would suggest that Roon is excellent (unequaled) for exploring new music and artists. But, for many of us, it doesn’t sound as good as the music library software native to many of the streamers you’ll be looking at. Some disagree with this, but I’m not sure if those skeptics have actually done the comparisons that many of us have. And I’m sure it’s at least somewhat equipment dependent. On my gear, Roon operated beautifully, but sounded flat in comparison. Since the native library management was still quite good, I was comfortable dropping my subscription to Roon.
We look forward to updates as you go.
Thank you so much for all the info! i will definitely try Qobuz! Completely understand that good cables are needed! Any brand you recommend?
I recently purchased a Cary Audio DMS 700, which replaced an Auralic Aries G1 and Benchmark DAC3 HGC. I find the Cary to have a more 'analog' sound, lovely. Very well built. I am surprised to never see Cary's components on this site...
If you have an onboard dac with the Krell, maybe you would want to start with the streaming transport and wait on the dac. You may like what you have!
As an fyi, as a Lumin dealer, I'm a fan of the U2 Mini!
At your budget, definitely separates. A Gustard R26 DAC and the new Innuos Pulse streamer would be in your budget and be a great combo. With a streamer you want to pay attention to its software/app, and by all accounts the Innuos Sense app is a winner whereas some other streamer’s apps get some mixed reviews. Best of luck.
It looks like you have a pretty good dac, at least based on the chip that’s used. I realize implementation matters, too. I think separates is the way to go. Many more options for pairings. I have an integrated with onboard dac which is pretty good. I bought a HiFiRose 250a, which is an all in one solution that has the same chip as your Krell I believe, that I had for about a month which was big step forward. I replaced that with Denafrips Pontus II 12th using a MacBook Pro as the source running Tidal and Qobuz that sounds better than the dac in my integrated amp and the HiFiRose. Denafrips, Gustard or Holo Audio with Innuos, Aurender, Lumin or Auralic would certainly be around your price range. The dacs I mentioned are R2R dacs which likely have a more analog sound than the delta-sigma dac in your Krell. I know my source is the weak point but I really like the interface for Tidal/Qobuz via the Mac and since it still sounds better than what I had upgrading to a dedicated streamer can wait a bit. Sorry, that was a lot, some of which may not be relevant. Logorrhea.
All the ’high end’ (apparently!) "streamers" are essentially SBC PCs. If you educate yourself on how to build a "audio optimized" PC, you will have all the freedom in the world wrt choice of hardware and software optimization. But, if you buy a ’high end’ (apparently!) streamer, i.e., have some other dude do some work for you and put a brand name on it, you will just fatten his wallet and be locked into any crap he gave you.
If you have hires files that you just plan to stream from a nas, or tidal/qobuz. forget about a streamer and get a streaming enabled high quality DAC such as the Gustard R26 --> use with bubbleupnp on any android device. You could have some jaw dropping sound quality at this kind of price...
I would recommend Aurender NH150 and Schiit Yggdrasil. Works well for me!
saw a Bryston BDA 3 over on USAudio for $1.5K that might pair well with the Air Lens. Bring you in under $4K.
I’ve just finished my journey down the same path as you’re heading now. I started with a modded Cambridge cxn v2, modded by ModWright. Excellent sound and the streaming end is absolutely seamless. I’ve never had a streaming glitch in over a year.
I decided I wanted a little different sound and now have separates. I spent more on the dac, by a lot, and decided to go with the LUMIN u2 mini as the streamer. Great unit and it will sell quickly when I upgrade in the future. Definitely keep resale in mind when purchasing. I would spend the bulk of cash on the dac. I purchased the Rockna Wavedream and it’s a tremendous difference. Hard to tell how much the LUMIN added. Anyway, you can always spend a grand or so on a good streamer. Try to find a new model since improvements are coming fast and furious in that price range.
Perhaps a Benchmark/LUMIN u2 mini would be perfect?
Definitely separates, but you can always start with a great streamer first and see if you are happy with your current DAC.....if not then upgrade. I a higher end streamer will definitely impress though
Moors Law is something to consider: DAC/Streamers are changing for the better very rapidly. As such they are depreciating rapidly due to almost instant obsolesce. Think flat screen TVs.
If being smart with your money matters at this point in your HiFi journey you would do well to buy "pretty good used" and wait for the tech and prices to move in your favor. 1 year from now your $5K new unit (s) will be worth 1/4 of what you paid and the new stuff's sound and features will blow the one year old stuff away.
Now, if you have money to burn buy the best DAC and streamer you can find and understand that it will not hold value and worse it will be rapidly obsolete relative to the new stuff's sonic quality and features.
I think it's manifestly clear that the DAC/Streamer/Preamp future is going to be Chinese all-in-one solid state and controlled from your phone. Maybe a few US manufacturers like PS Audio or ARC will have a competing version that "feels American" which I personally would prefer as I like to spend my money locally.
I have a HiFi buddy who's an MD with cash a-plenty. He idled his ARC REF5 preamp and plays his music from his PC into a chifi DAC with balanced outputs into his tube and SS tri-amped towers. I have to admit it sounds surprisingly good with the 256 bit MP3s he uses. I would never have believed it had I not heard it myself. DACs can digitally emulate that LP sound now too.
Separates for sure. Magic is in the DAC+. At some personal risk for blasphemy, look at the WiiM Pro streamer @ $150 and a separate linear power supply. If you believe in measurements, and in this case I do, check out VintageFlanker’s review on audiosciencereview.com. Literally perfect digital output via optical or coax. Don’t need the plus, since not using onboard DAC. Great software app interface. Runs all the best streaming services native, no chromecast or airplay needed, both suck IMO.
Then you can splurge on a great DAC + Clock + Ethernet switch + interconnects, hardwire in via isolated switch output, and you’ll get great organic sound with superb imaging. R2R look at Denafrips, lots of other great options like Chord.
OP, just keep in mind your system when choosing a dac. The Krell is apparently sensitive to what it’s paired with, based on the reviews I read. Very powerful unit. Also, B&W speakers have a certain sound. Do you want a dac like a Denafrips, r2r, or tube to add a bit more relaxed and natural sound? Or do you want something a bit more analytical? Think of what you currently have and where you’d like to be. How much money you spend is certainly important but what’s more important is not wasting money. I’ve made those costly mistakes because I wasn’t sure what I wanted and just tried things. Take your time and be honest with yourself about the sound that your ears and heart love. Good luck
I would buy a good DAC. Streamer tech is changing fast these days. Even the very cheap ifi zen stream ($400) sounds real nice.
I guess it all broils down to the convenience factor. If you want less boxes, go for the separates. Of course the advantage to separates is that you can upgrade them individually. I wanted less boxes, but didn’t want any compromise in sound quality, so I acquired a very high quality DAC with an extremely high quality built-in streamer. I agree with the other Audiophile who stated......"the magic is in the DAC." Streamers are a dime a dozen. If have an extremely high quality built-in streamer in your DAC, trust me, you’ll forget all about the streaming part of the equation and you’ll just be concentrating and focusing on the music. It’s all about the DAC, but make sure it’s built-in streamer is of high quality and you’ll be just fine with an all-in-one.
Alright guys, first of all, thank you everyone on your great advice. I really appreciate it! Jbuhl made a really good point. I really don't know how good the DAC is in the Krell. It might be 5k to get better.
So I'm gonna borrow a rose streamer. Plug it in tonight and get back to you guys. If the streamer does better than the internal streamer then I will hunt for a great DAC. Maybe holo may?
I'll report back!
I'm not sure. I love vinyl, do tube DAC's sound more liquid? Maybe with that bad ass amp a little tube magic would be nice?
A good one yes. Many people like to balance solid state with tube preamp or dac. Again, it depends on the sound you’re looking for from your system. I’m biased, I have a tube amp and preamp. I recently changed to an r2r dac, no more tube dac and really like the balance of detail, clarity with just the right amount of smoothness. I don’t like overly romantic sounding gear or highly precise, technical gear. Keep in mind that I’m all digital, no vinyl. I need to tame the digital a bit. If you listen to mostly vinyl, you already know you like that smooth, easy sound. Try as much gear as possible so you hear different parts of the romantic to analytical spectrum as you can. I think the right dac can make the system. Shop wisely.
OP, “ …I love vinyl, do tube DAC’s sound more liquid?”
In general yes. In my system the vinyl and digital ends sound the same (I carefully chose equipment to do that). Both detailed, but very natural and musical sounding.
Also, at my investment level I have invested about the same in each leg. Typically at much lower levels of investment and higher levels you must put a bit more into digital leg to have it perform at the same level as the analog end. Also, both my Phonostage and DAC are tubed.
Bits is bits. That is the blessing of digital. If you don't trust a computer to accurately transfer bits from one place to another, then you should be very, very worried about your bank account, because your money is nothing more than memory bits.
All the streaming you need can be provided by a laptop PC, a USB cable and a USB DAC. Done... But guys like you have money to burn, so please spend it on foolishness.
Good post malbers. I really did not expect Paul to feel this way. Glad to have affirmation for my recent decision. 😀
Theoretically, you are correct. In the real world you are completely wrong. PCs sound terrible in comparison to dedicated streamers… and the better the streamer… the better the sound quality. Like night and day… not at all subtle.
OP, I’m pretty open minded when it comes to this hobby. I had solid state for 25 years and have recently gone tube amp and preamp. I’ve owned 3 dacs and demoed another and let me say with 100% certainty, BITS ARE NOT JUST BITS. Any simple test and you will quickly see this is not the case. Shop wisely.
When you rip a CD to disk, you’re copying data off the CD. Do that 10 times and each file copy will cksum exactly the same. If it doesn’t then your data is corrupt. That’s what I mean by bits is bits. Call it a streamer if you like, but it’s still just a computer with a CPU, data bus, I/O ports and an operating system - most likely a Linux varient under the hood.
Data gets copied from one place to another, bit by bit. That’s how computers work. 30 years as a UNIX/Linux IT engineer in Silicon Valley doing mission critical projects is how I made my money. I do rsync backups from California to Hawaii and the data transfer are accurate. Every cksum comparison matches. EVERY one.
So the data leaving my laptop PC being fed to my DAC is precisely the same data being fed by your streamer to your DAC. Bits is bits.
It’s what happens to that data which is what you hear. It’s not until the data is being converted to Analog that there can be a possible difference.
@asmithkash I’ll give you a bit of a different answer.
If you love the sound of analog, which is natural “unprocessed” sound, you can do equally well with separates or a one box solution.
For separates, streamers to look into are Lumin - great sound, crappy UI but Roon ready so you can compensate for the garbage UI by using Roon. Second option would be the Aurender which has a very nice UI but isn’t Roon ready.
For a one box solution, assuming we’re talking used, in a $5,000 price range you have a Bricasti M3 with a built in Network renderer (below $4,000) and a Bricasti M1SE with the latest MDI and a built in Network renderer. Both are Roon ready and you can use the Mconnect app to stream Qobuz and Tidal. I prefer Roon.
In my system the Bricasti M3 w/Network renderer streaming using Roon, Qobuz and Tidal, beat out the Lumin U1 Mini connected to the same Bricasti M3 via a very high quality Audience USB cable and a number of AES/EBU cables I tried.
It also beat out my vinyl front end (MoFi UltraDeck, Hana ML cartridge, Sutherland 20/20 LPS phono amp) and a Pro-Ject DS2T CD transport.
In case of separates, you’ll be getting a lesser quality DAC as part of your $5,000 budget will be allocated to buy the streamer. Just something to think about.
Cool system. Are your speakers DIY? If so, nice woodworking!
You hold a viewpoint that “bits are bits”. I’m curious if you’ve actually auditioned any dedicated streamer. Is your opinion based on belief or direct experience?
If the latter, I can respect that though I would then suggest there are other facets at play. For instance, some streamers are clearly built to be convenient. They are a simple PC packaged without the attention to detail toward sound quality, but are inexpensive. If you auditioned one of these and concluded no difference, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Of course, you do raise some good points. A PC makes a very functional source and music library. And, many of us (me included) spend large sums of money improving (chasing our tails?) our system. It’s a hobby and I hope that all who do follow this path are able to easily afford it.
But I will stand by prior comments in this thread. While a good DAC is important, so is a good source. The improvements made by a good streamer vs. a PC were as striking (or more so) to my system than my DAC upgrades. And, very easy to hear.
Clearly to many of us, bits are not just bits. And it’s not related to our wallets. I don’t toss money away for fun. I’ve personally evaluated and passed on a lot of $$$ gear (including DACs >$25k) that I could afford but which didn’t bring the improvement expected.
So, if your viewpoint is based on experience - that’s great. However, if it’s based on the understanding that you just need to get the data there uncorrupted, that is a viewpoint not supported by the direct experience of others. Or, even the science of data transmission. Digital data travels in analog wave form. EMF and other noise is carried along for the ride.
@mgrif104 You write: "Digital data travels in analog wave form. EMF and other noise is carried along for the ride."
So what you're saying is that you don't believe that the transfer of digital data from a PC to a USB DAC is inaccurate and that it is accurate from a streamer device? Is that right?
If I copy a music file from my Linux laptop PC to any other machine, I guarantee you that the cksum will show that the file was transferred accurately, bit for bit. I am in Hawaii and know that I can reliably copy data files over 2500 miles, across the ocean, and the cksum will show that the copy went perfectly.
I fail to see why that would be different for a data copy to a USB DAC (which is also a coputing device in its own right). Once that data is at the DAC, what happens is a totally different animal.
Why is it that a DAC is incapable of accurately receiving a data file from a PC? Why is it that data traveling 2500 miles across the Pacific Ocean is more reliable than a 3 foot long USB cable?
not what I’m saying at all. Yes, digital data is represented as 1s and 0s. But, it is transmitted as a voltage across a wire just like any other signal with a rise and fall to that signal that is interpreted as a 1 and a 0 when it reaches a certain value. You probably know that you can transmit digital data across an A/C circuit. The data is in there. With a whole lot of other signal.
I completely agree that the digital data received from a PC vs a streamer (a type of PC optimized for audio quality) will be identical. What I don’t agree with is that those two data streams must sound identical after being processed by a quality DAC. Direct experience tells us otherwise.
If you’re an audio fan pursuing better audio quality- which I presume most of the people who post here are doing, I’m just suggesting you challenge your belief and experiment.
Of course, it’s fair to point out not all systems will benefit. Certainly not all DACs will benefit. But, some do to great affect. I once held your view. But I tried something different and was pleasantly surprised.