DAC's for under $400 ??
I'm just wondering what people can come up with. There's not a lot out there in this range. I can't blow nearly a grand on any component, much less a little black box, and face my spouse. But, I could use a DAC or two in my transition to wireless digital music serving.
The ones I'm aware of are
1) Scott Nixons USB or S/pdif Chibi DAC's @ $250
2) Scott Nixons TubeDac @ $475
3) M-Audio Audiophile USB DAC @$250 MSRP (~$160 street?)
4) Stereo-link USB DAC 1200HD @ $189, 1400HD @ $419
5) HeadRoom Micro DAC @$299 (but would have to use a headphone jack to RCA adapter, and I don't really have any clue if this is a good idea. But it has USB/Coaxial/ AND mini optical inputs!) http://www.headphone.com/products/he...-micro-dac.php
I'd be interested to know if anyone can compare these to each other or add to the list. I'd like to know if anyone knows of DACs with Toslink inputs, which would be nice to use with Apples Airport Express. The M-Audio seems to have the greatest flexibility, but not Toslink (coaxial instead). After emailing Scott Nixon, I found you can add optical toslink input to the chibi for $30. Which would be nice to use with Apples Airport Express.
At the least, maybe this would be a good thread for the aspiring audiophile.
Heh, I have three of these!!
In order of performance:
1) Nixon USB Tube DAC.
This guy just plain kicks ass!! Sounds incredible. It's my main source. I've talked about it before. Limited flexibilty in that it is USB only. Luckily though, PC Audio itself is pretty darn flexible. YOu can rip all your cd's and you get internet radio. I am about to send it in to be upgraded to the lateset circuit and I am also going to buy the better power supply.
I've never heard the Chibi but they are essentially the same circuit, minus the tube buffer (different than a tube output stage - don't ask me to explain it)
2) Headroom Micro DAC
This is a very cool little unit too. USB or Coax/Optical option, and you can also power it with batteries. I haven't used it much with my main stereo as it lives at work.. but man, i have great tunes at work! Check out my little blog write up on them: http://forums.audioreview.com/blog.p...showentry&e=10
3) M-Audio Audiophile USB
Good but not great. If you're coming from an internal stock soundcard, you'll be pretty happy. But I went from this to the Nixon and the Nixon was a tremendous improvement. With Audiophile USB, you have many more options though. Recording analog sources into your computer. Digital or analog outputs, etc. For straight audio playback, however, go with one of the other units.
Other units to consider:
Lite Audio DACs. I haven't heard them, but supposedly they are great budget units. Cheap too. Google em. No USB inputs here, coax only i think.
Apple's Airport Express & Slim Devices Squeezebox
Not DACs per se, but a good way to get music off your computer and into your stereo. I prefer the AE, but many folks swear by the Squeezebox. I sweared AT it. I could never get it to work on my wireless networks. But many people don't have that problem at all.
Firestone Audio FUBAR - $120
cheap and supposedly good.
There are a lot of options. You could also always go used. I guess it depends on what you're looking for..
I started looking up Lite Audio and ran into The Pacific Valve & Electric Company. They have a HUGE line of DAC’s that I’m still sorting through. They also give pretty good info about most of their DACs. By HUGE…they sell ~10 DAC’s in the $140-$400 range, and ~8 in the $400-$1000 range. They look to be mostly either Lite or DIYEDEN. Most all have coax/optical and some add USB to that. Many have headphone amps. FYI, they have 4 tube dacs between $475-750.
It’s a little difficult to find any outside reviews on these. But, their website tries to give a lot of helpful leads.
Does anyone know about these products first hand?
There were four DACs that seemed promising from a large list.
DIYEDEN Great March 2 (opt/coax/usb) @ $425
DIYEDEN Musiland MD 10 (opt/coax/usb, +headphone amp) @ $299
Lite DAC AM (opt/coax +headphone amp) @ $259
Lite DAC AM modified @$340 (could be my favorite, except its ugly looking)
For the web surfers
The PV&E Homepage
The DAC ‘Buying Guide”
The DAC ‘Sound Guide’
an attempt at rating the DACs relative to each other
I've seen Ack! DACk's for < US$400 used, but I think they retail for more than that new.
Also, MSB Link DAC III's, but apparently the company has gone entirely high-end -- they don't have an entry level DAC any more. That was my choice yesteryear, and I still own and listen to it regularly.
I think the Zhaolu (?sp) retails for < US$400 new -- my boss just got one, and it sounds very nice -- that would be my choice today.
Truth Will Out.
Originally Posted by stevef22
Peter aka Dusty Chalk
While reading this I was wondering something myself...
I wonder if a DAC under $400 is really worth it. I mean, would it be better to have a decent receiver with a built in DAC? I would think that only the higher end DAC's are worth it, otherwise the ones in a receiver (especially a good receiver) are most likely going to be better and going this route gives you the other benefits of the receiver. Or am I wrong?
I suppose it depends on what receivers we are talking about. So then the question is where is the threshold...At what point are the DAC's inside a receiver not good enough that you would want to invest in a separate DAC?
My question too, but ...
I think the answer may be that you get a "different" sounding or not necessarily "better" DAC for that kind of money.
Originally Posted by PeruvianSkies
It also depends on the application -- I know of no receiver that has an adequate headphone amp, so, for example, a friend of mine wanted to get into the world of tubes, so he got a tubed headphone amp, and then he realized he could either get an extension cord and an external DAC, or a long digital cable and an external DAC, so he opted for the latter. Or maybe you already have a really nice and/or vintage integrated or receiver that does not have a digital input (I don't think most of the Musical Fidelity models have digital inputs -- they have yet to make anything resembling multi-channel after the bomb that was their HTP & HT600), but your budget is only US$400 tops.
Truth Will Out.
Originally Posted by stevef22
Peter aka Dusty Chalk
For those interesting in researching more budget DACs, I found an online source for the Zhoulu that Dusty Mentioned. They also sell the Musiland MD-10 and the Great March. The Zhoulu is $200-250.
Here is a LONG forum thread discussing most of these options
The Musiland MD-10 is moving into the lead as the top candidate.
A good question, but maybe a little off the mark. In my specific case, I want a DAC to feed my optical out on the Airport Express to my Cambridge Audio 540A Amp...it doesn't have a DAC. I'd also appreciate a headphone amp; I might get two and want to use one on the nightstand with headphones...
Originally Posted by Peruvian Skies
But, as to 'if it is worth it' ... I'll make a couple arguments that you can argue over. Maybe you're thinking of a A/V receiver multichannel DAC? I'm only interested in a 2-channel DAC. Keep in mind that 'worth' is a value statement that inherently involves the value of money to an individual.
1) If you're switching over to computer driven audio, a USB DAC is the most cost efficient way to integrate into your system.
2) A receiver's DAC ages rapidly technologically, but I'd argue that amps don't. The mid-fi-to-budget receiver I bought 8 years ago has a DAC that can easily be bettered with a modest investment in a current external DAC. The amp section is fine, although I'm sure there's better.
3) I think you would have to spend much more for a receiver with a comparable DAC than you would for a 'budget' DAC plus a buget receiver (used as an amp). AND, you'd get identical quality sound, IMO.
4) I'm viewing a DAC purchase as I would a CD player purchase. It's a separate component to handle a type of media (digital streams). Some people get receivers, some get pre-amps and tuners.
5) My receiver handles DD, DTS, PCM...44.1, 24, 96... 2.0, 5.1, adds a couple dozen useless DSP's. I could buy the equivalent now for $300. Jack of all trades. I'd think $300 on a 2 channel dac would give better 2 channel analog.
6) I don't have $2000 to spend on a receiver. I do have $300 to spend on a DAC. Use those constrictions and ask yourself what's best.
Last edited by noddin0ff; 03-16-2007 at 12:17 PM.
...also, I think (but don't know) that my system would benefit from a sub $400 DAC. I think a $1000 DAC would be a waste of money considering I could buy my mains for that.
There seems to be two or three DAC chips currently used in oversampling DACs in the budget DAC arena. Just for keeping track they clearly form a price hierarchy.
Zhaolu D2.5A ($199)
Lite DAC AM ($250)
DIYEDEN Great March ($220)
Zhaolu D2.5C ($250)
Musiland MD-10 ($299)
HeadRoom Micro DAC ($299)
DIYEDEN Great March 2 ($425)
Scott Nixons DACs are non-oversampling. The Ack! DAC is also NOS. I suspect that I’m leaning away from NOS dacs. The claim is that NOS DAC’s are more punchy and dynamic, as opposed more natural in the mids to highs. NOS are cheaper to make and use less expensive chips. A matter of taste I suppose.
Stumbled onto this thread, but thought I would add my 2 cents...
Nod, would you consider a used DAC? I have an MSB Link III that I paid hardly anything for because it did not have a power cord and the seller didn't know how to test it. I got the power cord from MSB, so this was a huge bargain; all told it was around $150.
Originally Posted by noddin0ff
What made me decide to even take a chance on the MSB was the fact that it was upgradable. My thought was that if it was defective, I could ask MSB to upgrade the DAC at the same time as the repair, and maybe get a discount for the whole work order. It turned out that the DAC worked fine, so last year, when I had a little extra money, I added the upsampling chip myself. I've also been tossing around the idea of the full nelson upgrade, but that's currently above my budget.
Point is, one way to get a foot in the door cheaply and not loosing the initial investment is to buy an upgradable DAC. From what I've read, a fully upgraded MSB Link III ranks up there with $2-3K DACs, and mine certainly has never disappointed me.
I thought about researching the used market. You make some great points. But I'm not really willing to ebay something from someone I don't know, I suppose. When I glance at audiogon, the stuff that's current really hasn't come down much. I'd like to believe that prices fall quickly for electronics and that something new today costs half as much as something comparable a few years ago. And, I'm just looking to improve a mid-fi system or get some good headphone listening in. A modest gain is sufficient for me for now to test the waters. If my other components were a step up, I'd be getting more serious about it.
I like your approach. That's the fun way to do it. I just don't have the time to be so resourceful anymore (family etc.). thanks!
I have been reading this (and other) posts trying to decide on a USB DAC for my configuration. I think I have it down to the Stereo Link 1400 and the Musiland MD-10. Does anyone have any feedback on either of these?
Also, I am primarily going to use this setup with a desktop Mac computer. I am thinking about going with active monitors rather than introducing an amp into the mix (and to save some space). Any suggestions of active speakers that are not "underkill" or "overkill" for this configuration?
You should definitely pick up an MSB Link III. Upgrading it is easy and you can do this as funds allow. I would definitely rank Audiogon over eBay. There's also Craig's List, although I don't care much for the selection. Typically if a component has not dropped in price much, that's usually a sign that it's holding up well and should warrant a closer look. Some brands always stand out, but there are companies actively working to lower prices creatively w/o giving up too much in quality.
PS Audio comes to mind and their recently released $1000 DAC is looking to be quite the little me-too performer. In a year or two, you should be able to buy one second hand for around $700, maybe less. I had an opportunity to play with PS Audio's GCHA headphone amp and I'm now seriously considering their little A-100 amp - @ just 10 bills, it's looking to be quite the little sparkplug as well. I think of these half-sized units as PS Audio's attempt to peak the interest of the iPod crowd while still providing these plenty of hi-fi trickle-down from their more expensive products.
Anyhow, the point is that if a used item costs a little more, that's probably a good sign - think of it as the Honda-Toyota phenomenon in hi-fi.
Hi there, first post on AR.
I've looked at maaaany affordable DACs for my system and finally settled on a totally unknown model that I found on eBay.
The model is a DIY that comes from www.diyzone.net, a Taiwanese site I believe. The guy who assembled mine is also Taiwanese and I think I was the first one to buy this DAC in the US. Apparently, it's being made and sold over there by audiophiles.
So what is it?
It's based on two parallel TDA1541A DACs, non-oversampling with 4 6922 tubes output stage. The design is absolutely superb with analog, digital and power boards all separate to prevent interferences.
The result? Beautiful sound. It takes Coax, Toslink or XLR inputs. I feed it with an Airport Express and the Toslink input and through a Jolida tube amp....
The results are stunning. Side by side comaprison with a middle of the road CD player are a no contest.
The price? I got mine for $450 on eBay but I believe the seller did not make much money on it. Which is probably why I haven't seen him selling it anymore.
But if anyone's interested, I can post pictures and give you contact information.
I'm very interested. Could you kindly post more about this DAC? Photos, contact details, etc will be appreciated.
test the blind blindly
That Zhoulu is tempting, integrated DAC and headphone amp, very versatile looking unit.
Originally Posted by noddin0ff
I agree. If I can get myself to pull the trigger, this is my top choice.
Originally Posted by emorphien
The price of the Zaolu D2.5C just dropped to $225 (includes shipping) at http://www.ifiaudio.com/home.html
The optional headphone amp upgrade ($50) is no longer available.
The Zaolu D3 is coming out soon so the D2.5's are on clearance. Same chip in the D3, but an added ethernet like connection. Not sure if it really is ethernet, I think its some connector that shows up in new asian gear. not US stuff.
Anyway, I just ordered it. Review pending. :-)
Well, my Zhaolu 2.5C arrived a while back ($225 shipping included, iFi audio). I decided to take it to work and feed it an optical out from my MacBook Pro. I spend more time plugged into my laptop now than I get to spend listening to my main system so that’s where I took my toy. I plugged in my Senn HD580s and…
It was different…
Does the Zhaolu significantly improve the listen experience of a laptop? Oh yes. Very much. But mostly, due to amplification.
It’s a nice little unit about 9”w x2.5h x13d. On the front it has a power button, a volume knob, a ¼” headphone jack, two small button to select optical or coaxial input, and 4 red LEDs (signal, optical, coaxial, mute). Quality/feel is decent. There’s a nice manual entirely in Chinese. I have no idea what the specs are.
The first thing that was really different, and I hadn’t really experienced before on headphones, was the effect of having amplification power. I’ve either listened to iPods or the laptop headphone jack. The Zhaolu can cleanly crank the 580s well beyond comfortable levels. At this point I confirmed my growing suspicion that a lot of the quality of a DAC is going to be dependent on the analog output stage. If the volume control goes to 11, I listen around 2-3. My ears bleed around 6 and then it starts to sound bad around 7. Beyond that, I guess the phones give up. If I crank to 11 during a fade out, it’s still clean and clear…provided I get back to sub-7 before the next track…
My first impressions were that the midrange and vocals were thinner and the bass more plunky. After several weeks I think this is due to more amplification rather than to DAC bias. I’ll speculate that the low end is getting a little better support. I could be all wet on this. After trying to volume match, the differences were less apparent. I could state the same impression as “My first impressions were that the highs and lows were better presented and the bass tighter” and it would sound very positive. I don’t know that first impressions are all that meaningful. I read in some forum an opinion that the line outs were superior to the headphone out and that the unit really shines when feeding a main system. I have no idea how one could evaluate that.
DAC-wise, its hard to be certain about the differences. All my music is Apple Lossless from my CD’s. I do notice that some of the quick attack notes are very quickly presented. I first noticed this on Ramones: Blizkrieg Bop (Loud and Fast comp.) The vocal ‘Bop’ was so crisp and precise. In general, I think a lot of my more edgy music sounds better. I usually also listen carefully with some Chopin recordings (Noctures-Daniel Barenboim, one of my faves and The Chopin Collection-Arthur Rubenstein-the CD layer of the SACD release). Again, I think the attack is cleaner, the rest sounds good but I can’t pick out a dramatic differences. Certainly no weaknesses. I’ll just have to suggest that the low end is a tad tighter, and the attack is sharper and leave it at that.
I think people fall into two camps (*bulldroppings alert*). The analog crowd that want their music to be warm and lush, burnished and smooth. A system that forgives bad recordings. And the digital crowd that favor the edges and the brightness, fast dynamics and accept the flaws of poor recordings. There’s a certain sterile feel in the latter camp relative to the analog camp; a muddy feel in the former. This DAC was a step further into the digital camp. I can’t say why, but that’s the emotional impression I have after several weeks. Sometimes I wish there were a little more halcyon glow imparted to the music but I think that would come at the sacrifice of accuracy. There are a few recordings I think sounded better before the DAC, several that sound better, and most I don’t really notice a difference (except I can play them a lot more loudly now).
Thanks noddinoff. I'm trying to find a DAC to replace my PC soundcard, but if it's not going to make a big difference I'll stay with the PC sound. I might try the Micro DAC, but if the highly touted Zhaolu doesn't change much then I'll take my time. BTW, I had read that the Zhaolu is a little harsh so I am avoiding that one. I was going try try the Super DAC, but I suspect that is like the Zhaolu. Correct me if I am wrong.
I can't make any comparisions; I haven't tried the Super DAC. Is it harsh? I don't think so. I think a person very used to analog systems and tubes would think it sounds harsh. But, I think the all digital stream can be very revealing, rather than 'warm'. I associate warm with lack of detail, personally. Coloration, if any, becomes dependent on the speakers or headphones you use. The MacBook(mini-opitical)->Zhaolu>Senn 580 path is great. I listen to it several hours a day, M-F. If I were to try to improve it, I'd look at headphones next.
I may be getting the Firestone Audio Fubar II USB DAC soon.
Did you ever get the Firestone? I'm thinking about a second DAC to run off a USB connection.
A couple more?
I too would like know about DACs in the $300 - $400 range, (since I won't be getting a >$1000 unit anytime soon).
Originally Posted by noddin0ff
Anyone know about either of these?
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