Is My McIntosh C52 Pre-amp The Weak Link?

I currently stream music, from Qobuz, via an Aurender N10 streamer into a McIntosh C52 pre-amp for D/A conversion, analogue output, into a McIntosh MC312 power amp, driving Magico A5 speakers. SQ IMHO is outstanding/perfect, but, I am an audiophile, so there is no such thing as perfect! Time to upgrade something. It is my opinion the C52 built in DAC is the weak link in the system? Thinking of upgrading the Aurender N10 to an Aurender A20 (streamer with built in DAC) and feed the analogue output into the C52. Your thoughts please, have I correctly identified the weak link in the system?


I have paired an MSB dac with McIntosh gear and to my ears it sounds good.

Get a proper DAC, but maybe one with a good digital volume control you could get rid of your pre as well.

Once I got my first DAC with a built-in volume control (exasound) I sold my Mcintosh c-38, as the DAC was more neutral. It took a while to get used to it, but once I decided I didn't like the colouring of what the pre did in my system there was no going back. I believe the volume control in my Weiss DAC is better than the exasound was. It has a decent streamer as well. 


I believe the C52 is pre swappable DAC module technology from McIntosh, so the C52’s internal DAC is built in and not able to be changed/upgraded.

I also vote for keeping the C52 (I have a C53 with the internal DA2 and love it) and trying a different DAC if you feel a change is needed.

Many thanks for all your responses, very helpful. The overwhelming consensus is; the C52 DA1 is the weak link. However, I don’t want to replace the C52, because, I also have a TT and R2R tape deck (15ips master tape copies are the ultimate in SQ for me. See this forum thread for more information: ) The reason I am contemplating the Aurender A20 is, I initially used a Bluesound Node for streaming, upgrading to the Aurender N10 was a night and day upgrade in SQ, everyone in my family immediately noticed the improvement. So, what do I do now, separate DAC or the Aurender A20? If anyone has experienced upgrading to the Aurender A20 from a stand alone DAC, I would love to hear your thoughts on the experience,

I was revisiting this today and thought that you could always purchase used from somewhere like The Music Room or Upscale Audio.  They have a great return policy so if you get something that doesn’t work well in your setup you can return it.  There’s no shortage of top level DACs you can choose from.  I’ve only had the DA1 and the Pontus II with a Hermes DDC so I can’t tell you what anything else sounds like.  If you let folks know what characteristics you’re looking for you’ll get plenty of recommendations.  Some of the names I see around here are Denafrips, Chord, PS Audio, Weiss, Mola-Mola, Lampizator.  There are many others I’m forgetting.  There are also R2R and DeltaSigma DACs and one may suit you more than the other.