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?



Install USB Audio Player Pro on your phone and connect via usb to the DAC.  I believe the app is 5 bucks. Forget about airport x or your computer.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Install USB Audio Player Pro on your phone and connect via usb to the DAC.

Absolutely not!  I’ve done that and it sucks.  When I added a relatively cheap iFi Zen Stream my streaming performance improved exponentially.  Even a decent streamer makes all the difference. 

Have to disagree soix.  I did just that using my phone as a streamer into an Ares II.  It sounded almost as good as using a Node to stream in the same setup.  Never tried the Zen but can't imagine things changing that much.  But maybe they could. Obviously they did for you. BTW had the blessing of using my phone from Alvin who told me about the idea and said he's done the same thing before I even tried it.

I have found that you save a bundle of money, depending upon how serious you are about audio, to spend more, and buy less. This is a diminishing returns hobby. The more you spend, the less you get. There are a lot of items that you would have to spend double your money or more to better. Take a JC5 amp. It's not a Boulder, but for us peasants, it is. I have not heard this, but Steve Hoffman highly recommends it, and while that's not everything, it's something. Check out his review. It's slightly over budget, but it sounds like you'll be able to live with it for years. You may later want to upgrade to a Lampizator DAC, BUT you'll still be able to use this to feed it. Buy less, save more. The voice of one who has spent a ton before learning this, save and spend less!


Have to disagree soix.  I did just that using my phone as a streamer into an Ares II.  It sounded almost as good as using a Node to stream in the same setup.  Never tried the Zen but can't imagine things changing that much.  But maybe they could.

@marco1 I started using an Apple Camera Adapter into my DAC and was happy.  Then, because the Apple CA looked like crap I tried this, which was a huge upgrade in sound quality over the Apple crap cable…

Then I got an iFi Zen Stream that was a huge upgrade over the LavriCable.  Get a good streamer and you’ll be greatly rewarded.  That’s my experience anyway. 


Pretty soon you are going to hook up a decent streamer and DAC and hear why they are important. However if you don’t invest some money in both it will sound like a waste of money. So far you have been splashing around in the kiddy pool.

Soix, i've been on a similar journey and had similar results as you. I'm currently way beyond the streaming and DAC components I mentioned earlier.  I was only trying to relate an experience I had that could improve upon the OP's current situation and at the same time keep things within his stated (very low) budget.  No question a good steamer will improve the listening experience.  The two Aurender streamers that I currently use, one in my speaker system and another in my headphone system are huge improvements from experimenting with a phone and other lesser streamers that i used before Aurender. Again i was only trying to suggest another method that had been suggested to me by a well respected person in the industry that worked rather well for me using something people already have, a cell phone.  I understand that your experience was different using a phone.

And after re-reading what I said above, i could have been clearer in my point.

Folks... I really, really appreciate the discussion.

One of the things I am wrestling with is I'm not as young as most of you an my hearing is not great, so at what point is spending money a waste.  

I love the journey you folks are willing to help me with.

And this may be my favorite response......

"Pretty soon you are going to hook up a decent streamer and DAC and hear why they are important. However if you don’t invest some money in both it will sound like a waste of money. So far you have been splashing around in the kiddy pool".


Love it!


I use an excellent sounding Schiit Bifrost 2-64 for streaming from a Bluesound Node 2i (in which the internal DAC blows flaming chunks, so to speak), and an oldie but goodie DacMagic upsampling DAC (with a Peter Madnick designed Pangea P100 power supply...made for couple of Cambridge products including my Cambridge phono preamp) for "Red Book" CDs. I assume many here have never bothered with an inexpensive DAC (Snobbery? Sad personal insecurities? Yo mama?) but my trusty DacMagic still sounds great. I imagine a new one (still inexpensive) also sounds great.

@marco1 Got it.  You and I are indeed on the same page, and I apologize for my initial misunderstanding.  Which Aurenders do you have BTW?

@soix 👍 presently using an N150 with a Pontus II for a dedicated headphone system and N200 with a Terminator II in a speaker system.  So yes I'm both an Aurender and Denafrips fan boy.

@wolfgarcia no snobbery here.  I've owned both a DacMagic 200 and Bifrost 2 as well.  Both excellent and great bangs for the bucks.  Its just that in this hobby I get bored sometimes and like to experiment.  After all at 75 yrs young, you can't take it with you.  Money that is.


I’m an old fart as well. Most of us have hearing that is compromised in some manor. But typically it will not take away the enjoyment of better sound, since better reproduced music sounds better in all frequencies. So, just because you may not be able to hear the highest frequencies (for instance) you can still appreciate the richness in the midrange and low frequencies. Also, having good undistorted high frequencies will impact the lower frequencies in a positive way.

Also, listening is an acquired skill. My partner has always had better hearing than I (most women do), but I could always hear all sorts of nuances that she could not. Such is the enjoyment of well reproduced music.

@marco1 Have you considered adding a DDC?  In my HeadFi rig I added a Denafrips Iris (bought used) to take advantage of my Musician Pegasus’ (shares some DNA with your Pontus) i2S input and the improvement was not small.  And this was using this $6 0.5 foot HDMI cable from Monoprice.  Anyhoo, FWIW.

@soix  I've thought about it but I'm short real estate in that system and looking to eliminate boxes.  I'm actually thinking about going with something like the Aurender A15.  Now before you pull out the flame thrower, the A15 uses the N200 streamer, a step up from the 150, so the question is what the added DAC brings to the table? Plus the Aurender engineering is really quite good so its not just how good the DAC is, its how good everything works together in one box. I know the combo players do not get a lot of respect here on A'gon, but like I said before, I like to experiment.  I really need to find somewhere to listen to one.

If one is on a tight budget and interested in streaming, the item in the link, is winning favour and converts from individuals using similar devices costing quite a few times more than this one is offered at. 

Hook the WiiM Pro up to the DAC as seen in the Link and there is something seemingly quite special to be had for, very very sensible monies parted with.

I hope the OP sees this as a suggestion as a viable option and worthy of their consideration.   



Well, take a cheap cost but well built Emotiva XDA-1 DAC from 2010, it has a discrete audio board (no op-amps), replace the extremely low quality power regulators with 5 Sparkos ($47 apiece), Panasonic power caps, remove the cover and make a plexiglass one and add a Synergistic Research purple fuse (1 amp not to blow) and you've got one $10K+ DAC.  Total parts cost under $1000 plus labor.

I also +1 the Schiit DAC. I use the Modi Multibit. Compared to the Dragonfly -- another inexpensive thing to try, it was a very noticeable upgrade, and well within your budget.There is a lot of internet chatter about the multibit vs. delta sigma, and Schiit says why they choose the multi. Have fun!

@navyachts How dare you bring up a less than a $100 DAC that receives tremendous rave? 😊 Someone playing god father here will be mad at you.
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I've got a Schiit Modi 3+ in the den and a Modi 3E in the bedroom.  They do well. But definitely +1 for the Geshelli Labs JNOG2 at double the price. Especially the AKM chip version. My nephew has that in a headphone rig and it sounds great. 

I hear you.

Just had an appointment with VA audiology and my hearing is actually pretty good up to about 8kHz, I CAN hear 10kHz but only at 60 dB or more. The tinnitus competes with hearing, but my sound discrimination is good enough I listen to a lot of music and talk radio to drown it out.

I didn’t want to blow “that kind of money” on a DAC so I read reviews on ASR, here, elsewhere, and decided to start with a Topping D50s. I had a 15 year old LG blue ray player jacked into the optical feed for CD’s, blue tooth for my iPhone streaming audio. The LDAC worked just fine. I next bought the Topping linear power supply for that model (P50?) and noticed a significant change in sound.

All-in, about $350.

About a year later I considered Denafrips, Schiit, had some really good offers for one model or another, but decided to to with the Topping D50LE for my HiFi room and put the D50S into my garage system.

Then I bought a Cambridge Audio CD transport for about the same price (around $700 each) and so far so good.

I use my son’s ears and musicality (he’s a multi instrumentalist - piano, percussion, vibes, bass, guitar) to judge some things I think I can’t quite hear and he’s been very impressed every step of the way. Yesterday afternoon we listened to some vinyl (B52’s Cosmic Thing, Lumineers Cleopatra, Peter Gabriel SO), Gentle Giant, Vance Joy, Radical Face via bluetooth/Topping D50LE - all very enjoyable.

I too own an R8 and, except for the output transformers, have modifed/upgraded nearly every component/circuit, done some tube-rolling and have settled on EH 6CA7 PTs and 1943 Tung Sol 6C8G tubes in the front end and really like the tube sound.

The R8 has a lot going for it, I’ve been following the thread on Stereonet for over a year - there’s several there who haven’t done a thing to theirs and they play them daily, others have gone way past where I have into upgrades (like $12 resistors) but it makes them happy, keeps them off the streets at night.


@lous Thank you for this comment: “I have found that you save a bundle of money, depending upon how serious you are about audio, to spend more, and buy less. This is a diminishing returns hobby. The more you spend, the less you get.”

I meant to work in something along these lines.

A whole lot of the same old “mine’s bigger” game here as well as any forum where money spent is adjudged as quality of product rather than good enough is just that.

I remind myself that I’m not assembling a Rolls Royce and, sometimes, often, more often than not, “good enough” is just that and there are more important things to blow money on besides “bragging rights.”

There’s a break in the entire audio business with the WiiM Pro and its latest the Pro+ which now features an AKM DAC chip. That’s $150 and 220 respectively.

Been using the Wiim Pro since December in a high-end tube monoblocks system with McIntosh LS340 floor stander speakers. Connecting the Wiim Pro to an external DAC, the RME ADI-2 but you can do fine with the DAC inside the WiiM Pro+.

I’ve had the Schiit Modi 3 and it’s good too. But the WiiM is breaking the market and people (some here) are not ready to accept the performance at this price.

Running coaxial out from the WiiM Pro and it’s Roon Ready. The Roon approval is pending with the just-released WiiM Pro+. Best of luck.

Probably not the right thread to bring this up (we don’t want anyone here to start having heart palpitations) but dealers are now taking preorders for the new Aurender AP20.  $22k and it’s all yours.

Schiit owns this market/price range and the DAC will be a huge upgrade over the $1.25 chip in your laptop.  You won't be sorry.

If you are very budget constrained, Schiit Modi MULTIBIT = 300 dollars (unbelievable value).

Above that (for perceptible gains)....

Denafrips Ares = 800ish bucks

Gustard R26 = 1750ish bucks

Denafrips Venus and so on...

If your employer gave you a big bonus, you could try some DAC from the bigger boys...the likes of Esoteric, TAD, etc. I have a unit from TAD (15kish)...99% of dudes with their brilliant rigs won’t hear a whole freaking lot on the latter over something like a Denafrips Venus.

That should give you a feel for diminishing returns on dacs.



The Wiim Pro+ is the only way to go if on a tight budget. It's a streamer and Dac. Lots of online info and reviews.

It sounds way better than the price would suggest and has great functionality. 

You can get a used Benchmark DAC 1 for less than $500 and you get a great headphone amplifier and pre-amplifier to boot. The performance is not materially different from the $2,000 DAC 3. 

So I purchased the Schiit Bifrost DAC and feed it with the optical output from my Apple Airport Express. If it’s DAC is better than the Airport Express then we will hear the difference. I would say when doing A/B comparisons for a month there is a little improvement, but it is not substantial.

Then I switched to a Wiim Pro Plus and connected it to Qobuz for Hi Res files.   It sounds okay, but not any better than Apple music through the Schiit DAC. So next I’m going to try connecting the Wiim to the Schiit DAC to see if that provides anything different. But for now I can say the Wiim Pro Plus is not any better than an old Apple Airport Express DAC.


Sorry to hear you are not getting much of an improvement. Sounds like your system is not resolving enough to make the difference obvious. Hopefully, you can return the stuff.

+1 @ghdprentice Running Toslink from an Airport Express should be a pretty low bar, and I’d hope running the Wiim to the Bifrost would provide a notable improvement. I’d recommend trying a decent SPDIF cable instead of optical, and this one is good and doesn’t break the bank, and you can return it via Amazon if it doesn’t work out (just make sure you follow the direction arrows if you get it because they’re critical)…

This does beg the question though, what’s the rest of the equipment in your system?

I'm definitely going to try the SPDIF cable.    For the comparisons we were going back and forth between an NAD 2400 Amp and a McIntosh 225.  And for speakers we were switching between Lynnfield 975s and LaScala speakers.