Is low cost DAC worth it?

Been learning a lot from you fine folks... thanks!

I am driving Boston Acoustic Lynnfield 975 speakers with a Willsenton R8 amp (recent purchase to try it out) and streaming over wifi through Apple Airport Express. It sounds pretty good but I find myself wondering if adding a low cost DAC would improve the sound any?

Maybe something like the Cambridge DacMagic 100 or 200M?

My hearing is not that great anymore, so I don’t think it makes sense to jump on a DAC costing thousands, but I understand the Airport Express is a decent DAC, so not sure if a low cost one would make any difference?



Years ago I used the optical out on an Airport Express to stream to a Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC, which I thought was an improvement over the Airport's internal DAC.

I swapped out the Airport for an Allo DigiOne Signature with Shanti linear power supply, total cost less than $500. That was a very good improvement over the Airport and I still use it today.

I recently upgraded the Bifrost Multibit to a Bifrost 2/64, which is definitely better to me than the original, tighter bass, more accurate sound overall.

That means I have the Bifrost Multibit available for sale, offered at $250, please message me if interested. This is the version without the USB card, so please make sure you don't need that or plan to get one from Schiit.

The Bluesound Node seems to be a popular all-in-one solution with updated tech that likely will outperform your Airport and has the DAC included. I've read that adding an external DAC to the Bluesound is more improvement still if you ever want to go there.

If you keep the Airport and use any of the DAC's recommended above, fiber optic cable is the only way to connect to it, which of the DAC input options that include USB, digital coax, and BNC, people seem to find least desirable from a sound quality perspective.


Thank you all for great information.   I did confirm tonight the Airport Express is limited to 16 bit, 44.1kHz stereo, which isn't bad, but like a couple of you, I'm thinking "old technology" so I'm going to start out with a Schiit DAC.    

I'm also very intrigued by the JDS Atom+............thinking about using it in my garage system, but it doesn't have an optical input, which I understand is needed to bypass the DAC in the AE.    

I'll report back once I have had a Schiit DAC to compare.

Another vote for Schiit in the price range you specified. It will definitely outperform the AirPort Express. 

You have to pay a restocking fee if you return the Shiits

I like the Fiio headphone amps they have the latest chip set with pre-outs

Rather than focusing on the architecture of a dac I just listen to see if sounds good to me or not. I have found some inexpensive dac’s that do sound very good. My ifi Zen Dac Signature (original version) sounds really nice through both balanced and single ended configurations. I purchased it used along with a Zen Can Signature HD6XX headphone amplifier. I paid around $400US for both, which included the X power supplies, the 4.4 mm to 4.4 mm balanced cable and two headphone cables (se and balanced) for my HD6XX. It’s a very nice pairing with the HD6XX headphone.

The Zen Dac Signature also works very nicely with several other headphone amp’s that I have. I have not heard the Zen Dac V2 or Signature V2 but have read positive reviews in regard to them.

I also recommend the original Schiit Modius AKM 4493 which I also own. Another dac that punches well above its weight. I have not heard the later Modius E, but have read some good reviews on it. It’s also priced under $300US.