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


@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.