McIntosh C52 to C53?

I recently posted a discussion on the weak link in my system:

The general consensus of opinion was; the DAC in my McIntosh C52 pre-amp/DAC. So what do I do, upgrade the Aurender N10 streamer to an A20 (streamer with built in DAC), use a stand alone DAC or something else? Based on reviews I am hearing great things about the new DAC (DA2) used in the C53 pre-amp/DAC. Anyone upgraded from a C52 to C53 and noticed a significant improvement in DAC SQ?


I wouldn’t spend money on the C53 just for the DA2 module.  You’d get better mileage out of spending that money on a separate DAC.  Keep the N10 and C52 and buy a DAC.  You could get an outstanding one for the price of a C53.

Another vote for separate DAC and leave everything else as is until you’re ready to step up to Aurender N150 or N200. I see DA2 upgrade in C53 as sheer convenience and not a day and night SQ upgrade. 

I had an Aurender A10 with the built in DAC and it was not as good as the built in DAC in my Mac C2700 ( DAC2 board) in my opinion anyway. The Aurender DAC was dry and rather boring sounding, the only thing I found it exceled at was it had a very low noise floor. The MAC DAC 2 board is really good for the money, but most DAC's above $2500 will out perform it. You can put a DAC2 board in your current C53 I believe. The HDMI ARC connection is great if you have a TV in the same room so that may be a factor. 

That said I got a Chord TT2 to try and it blew the DAC2 board away in all regards, I now have a Chord Dave i got used and its even better.

So a DAC is probably the best way to go IMO. 

As others have said, get a good dac. My C2500 has the DA1 dac and I prefer not to use it. It is based on the ESS chip which I am not fond of. I find it too forward sounding. Suppose you bought the C53 and a better dac comes In a newer Mac preamp. You would be constantly buying preamps with the latest and greatest.

Many thanks for everyones advise, all good. The one thing about the C53 is the DA2 DAC, it comes with, is actually replaceable. So when the DA3 comes out, $1,000 gets you an upgraded DAC.


I have the DA2 in my C2700 and also have a $19K retail outboard DAC. You will need to spend $5K on an outboard DAC to significantly better the DA2. My outboard DAC is better all around (actually stunning); however, which DAC do you think puts more of a smile on my face when I listen? Believe it or not, it's the DA2. Solely because of the performance that it provides versus the small cost of entry. 

I have the DA1 in my MA8900 which I can upgrade to the DA2 module.  It is a nice option but I decided to buy a Denafrips Pontus II and a Hermes DDC.  It is much better than the DA1, but I don’t know if, or by how much it betters the DA2.  If I had to guess, it’s likely better and for not much more money.  Before the Denafrips setup I had a HiFi Rose 250a with, I believe, the same chip that the DA2 has.  My Denafrips setup is better than the Rose even with using a MacBook Pro as my source.  My thinking is that while being able to upgrade the preamp is nice, if you spent that money on an external DAC it would likely take several iterations of upgrades to the C53 to equal what you can get from an external DAC at the price of the C53.  The point I’m trying to make is that it might cost you several thousands more in successive upgrades and that’s assuming McIntosh comes out with a DA3 module.  I will say that I considered the DA2 upgrade but the idea of boxing up and lugging the 90 pound boxed integrated to the dealer to have it installed weighed heavily against it.