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?

 

tbick

Hello tbick!  I'm currently using an SMSL M500. I have 8 dacs under $1000. Maybe I should have put all that $ into some expensive DAC. However . . . I hear very little difference between a $1000 Sony DAC/HPA and the SMSL models or the Dragonflies. Have very good amps, cables etc. The input cable you use to connect your DAC to some signal source DOES have a HUGE effect! That was shocking to me. As usual, different DACs reapond differently to a particular input cable. I have many cables and the best overall is Zavfino and comes from Canada. I can't see puttng $5k (even $2k!) into a DAC unless all your music is coming in that way. All this fuss about streaming is just a way to get access to a huge music library. The sound isn't as good as a good CD. If you have a computer, it can feed your Dac. You don't NEED a streamer unless you want the convenience it offers. Enjoy the Music! Happy listening.

The input cable you use to connect your DAC to some signal source DOES have a HUGE effect!

@boomerbillone Big +1 there!  I recently switched from a decent yet well-regarded budget digital cable to an Acoustic Zen MC2 (used), and WOW!!!  Night and day difference — not even in the same ballpark-level performance.

All this fuss about streaming is just a way to get access to a huge music library. The sound isn't as good as a good CD.

Well, here we’re just gonna differ. First, having access to a virtually unlimited music library, and much of it in high res, is not a small thing.  Second, it’s simply not true that CDs sound better.  Too many variables to address there, but they both can sound incredibly good when implemented well.


If you have a computer, it can feed your Dac. You don't NEED a streamer unless you want the convenience it offers. 

We’re gonna differ here too.  In general computers are an awful source for streaming music, and a dedicated streamer is almost always significantly better sound wise because of its lower noise floor and parts that are dedicated solely to maximizing sound quality and nothing else.  The prime reason for using a dedicated streamer is for far better sound quality, not convenience.

I have owned the  DacMagic 200 that you mention as well a Denafrips Ares II and Schiit Bifrost 2 mentioned by others.  The DacMagic is the least expensive of the 3 and can be found for under $500.  The Ares and Bifrost will cost a little bit more, over $500 even used. All 3 will beat the pants off what you have.  The DacMagic has many more features than the other two, sounds decent, but not as good as the others, imo and in the reviews I’ve read.  Quite frankly the market is flooded with inexpensive DAC’s and most will sound very good coming from the Apple.  I think you’ll be very happy with any of them again when compared to the Apple. As already mentioned you should add the cost of a streamer to get the full benefit of any of them.

I use an Aune X8 with a Sparkos opamp and found it slightly outperforms my D70s on RCA outputs on fixed outs in my system. Geshelli also allows this upgrade I believe. Can add an Aune linear PS and will cost under $500 retail, less if all bought on sale.

Using the Aune as a pre works but not as well as the fixed outs IMO but it has that option if needed utilizing both RCA and XLR outputs but I don't expect it to be fully balanced in XLR.  Cheap but more than expected performance on fixed/full output.

 

Okay folks,  got a Schiit Modius yesterday and did some "A/B" testing with a couple friends using a laptop as the music server.

Hooked up the DAC with an optical cable from a 2nd Airport Express, and then RCA cables to the amp.   That way we could go back and forth between the Schiit DAC and an Airport Express over wifi feeding the AMP.

After about an hour of listening & comparison no one could make out a discernible difference.

Next, thought maybe going through the Airport Express is a limiting factor.   So hooked up the Schiit DAC directly to the laptop via USB and then did the comparison with an Airport Express over wifi.    And once again no one could tell a difference.

So there are only two conclusions that can be made.    The signal from the laptop is so bad the Schiit DAC can't do anything with it.    Or the Airport Express DAC is pretty good as Ken Rockwall's testing indicated.

So, being part of the CLAC   (cant leave it alone club) I'm going to get a streamer to go directly to Qobuz/Tidal, etc. and see if that is the key.