DAC suggestion for PC

Need some help deciding on which DAC to use with a few changes I will be making for my PC audio setup. Currently I am using a iFi Audio Zen DAC v2 connected by USB (and a Fosi Audio Tube amp). Right now I am using some PSB Image bookshelves (but I'll be changing these as well) and a Velodyne Subwoofer. 

The change I will be making, is I'm looking at changing my amp to a used Cambridge Audio CXA61 which has its own DAC. The Cambridge has the ESS Sabre ES9010 DAC model. If this isn't a better DAC, then I'll look at the Cambridge Audio AXR85 instead which doesnt come with a DAC instead and keep the zen dac.

My questions are the following:

1. Is the CXA61 dac better than the Zen DAC v2? It would be nice to eliminate an extra piece of equipment.

2. Might be a bit out of my budget, but how much of an upgrade would the CXA81 with the ESS Sabre ES9016 DAC be? Is it worth paying the extra?

From what I understand, the model of the DAC alone doesnt tell the whole story, but how the unit is built and setup around it that also matters. Hence why I am looking for some feedback as Ive never compared or auditioned them with an A/B comparison. Thanks


Do not obsess about a chip if you are truly interested in "better" sound.

A PC is a limited as a source so that a DAC is only gonna get you so far.

You might find that Fidelizer makes a bigger difference than DAC choice.

Get a separate streamer and ditch the computer before addressing the DAC.

Not a bunch of help with this but I have friend who I steered to CXA81 and streams The Spotify via an iPAD. He also picked up the CXC for spinning CDs. We refurbed a pair of B&W 603 for him. He is not a critical listener but he has been pleased with the setup. The CXA81 us a good piece.


Update: and yes get a separate streamer.

Any Streamer suggestions? for tidal ? I just liked using my pc because its easy for me to open the app and change songs, etc while working. 

So I guess getting the CXA61 seems like a good idea DAC wise?

I believe the iFi Zen Stream works with Tidal and would be a big sonic upgrade from using your computer.  The Zen DAC is actually a good DAC that uses Burr Brown chips that many prefer to ESS DACs as they are purported to be more “musical” sounding, but you’re absolutely right that it’s more than the chip and overall implementation is key.  If I’m you I’d get the Zen Stream (I own it BTW) and eventually get something like the iFi iPowerX power supply for the Zen Stream that can significantly boost performance for relatively little $$$ (I own that too).  Just my $0.02 FWIW.

@soix Interesting! ok, I think step 1 for now, is the amp, as its my weakest link I have to imagine. Then speakers (which I had to do anyway, bringing the current ones to main floor for tv room) , then a streamer. Sad part is though... maybe I should get a streamer with DAC vs an amp with DAC? which now opens a new door of research. 

Is this streamer good? Cambridge Audio MXN 10 compared to the iFi Zen Stream? thanks

I think step 1 for now, is the amp, as its my weakest link I have to imagine. Then speakers (which I had to do anyway, bringing the current ones to main floor for tv room) , then a streamer.

I’d encourage you to identify your new speakers first (even if you don’t purchase them first) and get an amp that can appropriately drive them and synergize with them musically.  I have no idea about the MXN 10 so can’t help there, but the Zen Stream has garnered many positive reviews that say it punches well above its price level, and given what I’ve heard I believe it.

Cambridge makes well regarded audio equip. but all of their streamers have DACs similar to what you already own. Redundancy unless you sell

There are mucho streamers < $1000. Do not spend any more than that if your PC is in the room. A huge majority of the time you won't even notice any better quality.

You guys are funny... I have had many a DAC hooked up to my PC and they ALL made substantial differences.  So PCs are not limited just like many claim an automobile is so limited and no human can tell the difference between DSD and an MP3.  Such rubbish being spread about...

I currently have an Ayre Codex and a PS Audio Steller DAC/Pre.  I've had Schitt Modi MB and a Topping D90SE and those both sucked in comparison.  I want to try a Benchmark DAC3 HGC eventually.  Heck, I had some pretty crappy speakers from Logitech at first.  Then went to Audio Engine, Focal and now a pair of Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2SEs.  It all made a difference.  I master my vinyl rips on my PC, which is why I care about the SQ so much. 

Yeah, the streamer will be last purchase. Order will be 1. Speakers 2. amp 3. Replace DAC with a streamer/dac 

For Speakers, Im not sure yet, Im looking at the used market for now. I found some Sonus Faber Toy bookshelves that might be nice. Always wanted to try Sonus Faber. If not, I can wait to see if I can find some Dynaudio Emit10. 

@skads_187 ,

If you have a purpose built PC meant only for streaming, then it should be fine. I am using a PC that is passive cooled and it is couple of huge steps over the dedicated laptop I was using earlier. Please see my system page for the build I did.

I agree that Fidelizer will make a very noticeable difference. What is your playback software? You mentioned Tidal. But unfortunately they do not have a control software, to control the playback on the PC. You can use Remote Desktop to control playback of Tidal directly from the PC though, if this PC is on the audio stand away from where you sit.

For a PC I would keep it simple, compact and inexpensive. So consider a Schitt Modi.

I gotta agree with @milpai and @fuzztone about Fidelizer helping with sound quality for your PC.  It's cheap and easy and if you are using Windows, that platform is not good at processing audiophile quality audio without a little bit of help.  Probably the best bang for your buck to start with.

Note that Ayre that @audiom3 references has a USB driver on their site that can be (should be) downloaded (for their products) which will greatly improve audio quality for Windows.  I use McIntosh DAC's and they have similar drivers that are mandatory for good USB audio quality.  So, again, PC's need a bit of help, manufacturers know that and supply drivers.

I use two PC's for streaming (only) on 2 systems I have.  In both PC's, I employ JCAT USB and Network cards powered by an external linear power supply, stripped down Windows 10 Pro (get rid of all the unnecessary drivers, software, etc.), reasonable Corsair power supply with zero speed fan mode, CAT8 shielded ethernet cable, etc., etc., etc.   I prefer the sound of both my PC's over even my $5k CD player.

When I started this whole computer audio thing, I went from a $6 printer USB cable to a cheap name brand USB cable and finally to a very high-quality USB cable and it made a world of difference each time I upgraded.  It was most noticeable in the low frequencies.  

@milpai - Exceptional PC build in your profile!  I bet that sounds fantastic and it looks great.

before DAC, consider sounds from your PC

plenty ventilation so case fan does not run much

audio/video from motherboard (fanless)

av card with great specs, but a fan, and how often does it's fan run?

all SD drives with no moving parts?

then, it would seem to me that the DAC world is easily full of excellent performers by this state of evolution, differences, if they can be heard (by anyone? by you?):

not 'better', but 'preferred'.

read a review, more than likely reading what the reviewer prefers.


@jheppe815  what is the very high-quality USB cable, do you mind? Thx.

When I started this whole computer audio thing, I went from a $6 printer USB cable to a cheap name brand USB cable and finally to a very high-quality USB cable and it made a world of difference each time I upgraded. It was most noticeable in the low frequencies.

I ran a laptop to a Schiit Bifrost. I started with a printer cable. Then an Audioquest Cinnamon and then a Cardas Clear. The cable made a huge difference. I then switched to a Schiit Yiggy and the laptop. Finally added a Project streamer. Everything makes a difference, but the cable was a big difference especially at your price point. Also try to go with a separate dac. 

@lanx0003 - I should rephrase my statement by saying, "and finally went to a higher quality USB cable".  I am using an Audio Quest Carbon USB-A to USB-B cable.  There are certainly higher quality cables than what I'm using, so my apologies for the poor phrasing. 

Each step up in USB cables made a difference for me.

@milpai Correct I am using directly from my PC, sitting in front of the screen. I should have mentioned from the beginning, this is my office desk setup. 

Fidelizer could be very interesting. What about using the Roon app on pc, does that help any?

Got it @skads_187 . I am not sure if Roon lets you control Tidal's app on the Desktop PC. I understand that most people use Roon to stream Tidal/Qobuz directly to the DAC/Streamer. But since you access the PC directly, I don't think you need any "control/connect" software. You can control the app directly on the PC.

Since I sit away from the server and want to control Foobar2000, I use MonkeyMote on a tablet and control the Foobar playback. The audio server is directly connected to the DAC using USB. So I have o need for Roon.

Try the free Fidelizer and see if you benefit from it.

I was steered to an Audio Alchemy DDP-1 as a DAC for my mid / hi-end audio system.  An audio guy who sells and installs very very big money system uses its related product the DMP-1 in all his installations.  When people who can’t afford bazillion dollar systems ask him for recommendations that was a brand he would recommend..  I had an opportunity to upgrade to a Berkeley Audio DAC Series 2 and put the Audio Alchemy DDP-1 at my computer.  it works great there and sounds great there.  Check out the reviews as they are uniformly outstanding.  .  It is no longer manufactured so look for it used where it is priced very reasonably though you’ll have to be patient to find it.  Be sure to get its separate linear power supply, the PS-5.

I run my office system from my PC using a Schitt Gungnir. Schiit makes very good budget DACs. Worth investing at least to this level to get relatively natural sound.