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Entry Level DAC purchasing advice


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Hi all, lurker for a few weeks, first time poster. From what I’ve read in these forums, seems like you have a great community here.

 

I’m in the market for an entry-level DAC. Nothing advanced, all I want to do is stream Spotify from a Chromecast Audio. Vinyl is my focus, this is to just give me access to what I don’t own. I’ll bypass the CCA’s internal DAC via a Toslink cable and connect to my Yamaha A-S501 via RCA (therefore avoiding the amp’s internal DAC).

 

This is my first stereo system and has been put together through second hand purchases during Melbourne lockdown. As a result I haven’t been able to listen to the items and have ended up with a cool, clinical, detail-focused system (read: bright). Over the next 12 months I’ll rectify that by swapping out items for warmer sound. I’m learning quickly that the search is addictive, but, as my girlfriend continually reminds me, this current system is just a starting point.

 

Anyway, I digress, back to the DAC. Are there any recommendations for a DAC that can add warmth or character? Is that even possible or is a DAC nothing more than a conversion tool?

 

I’ll again be trying to take advantage of the thriving second hand market, so looking up to $500 used. One that seems highly regarded when it comes up, as an example, is the Arcam irDAC.

 

Looking forward to the discussion and thanks in advance.

 

Chris

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I would look at one of Clay Gieseler Dacs. Made in Aust. Giant killers.  They come up on here from time to time within your price range

I haven’t heard the Arcam but TBH I wouldn’t bother with an older second hand dac unless you’re getting into the higher end. I’d just buy a new Topping e 30 - they’re a bargain and will do everything

No need to be embarrassed - youve got to start somewhere. I only ask because it’s unwise to try and correct, for example, brightness caused by speakers with a particular dac. The dac just doesn’t have

I haven’t heard the Arcam but TBH I wouldn’t bother with an older second hand dac unless you’re getting into the higher end. I’d just buy a new Topping e 30 - they’re a bargain and will do everything you want it to do very well.

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Burial logo avatar. Nice.

 

I'm of the belief that until you start getting into DACs with esoteric filters (looking $2k and up) you won't see much difference from recently made DACs in your price point (sub $500).  I'd maybe keep an eye out for a NAD M51, probably the best bang for buck used DAC, but you're at about $750 used for one of them here (pretty regularly show up).

Edited by recur
typo
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You dont mention what speakers you are running? they will have way more impact on the sound profile than the dac which at this level - as long as it’s competent  - will be minimal.

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Thanks very much @buddyev and @recur, already much more helpful advice than I have been able to find elsewhere and a couple suggestions not previously on the radar.

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I would look at one of Clay Gieseler Dacs. Made in Aust. Giant killers.  They come up on here from time to time within your price range

Edited by Bill125812
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@buddyev this is slightly embarrassing but I have Dali Concept 6 floor standers (room is 44.3m square, so it’s large).


I know they are on the bright side but I was able to pick them up second hand without breaking the budget, which was a priority at the time. As I mentioned, over the next 12 months I’ll look to upgrade in quality, but downsize to bookshelves.

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Thanks very much @Bill125812. Definitely interested in anything Australian made and Gieseler seems to be a name that pops up regularly with a lot of good feedback.

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I have been impressed with the measurements and performance of both the Topping D30 that I use with my passive speaker set up and with the Topping E30 for the same reasons but with the ease of the additional remote control that I can use with my powered monitors to control volume.

 

 

 

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7 minutes ago, Sterg237 said:

@buddyev this is slightly embarrassing but I have Dali Concept 6 floor standers (room is 44.3m square, so it’s large).


I know they are on the bright side but I was able to pick them up second hand without breaking the budget, which was a priority at the time. As I mentioned, over the next 12 months I’ll look to upgrade in quality, but downsize to bookshelves.

No need to be embarrassed - youve got to start somewhere. I only ask because it’s unwise to try and correct, for example, brightness caused by speakers with a particular dac. The dac just doesn’t have that much influence and can’t make up for deficiencies elsewhere.

A used Gieseler would be good. 
 

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16 minutes ago, Sterg237 said:

Thanks very much @Bill125812. Definitely interested in anything Australian made and Gieseler seems to be a name that pops up regularly with a lot of good feedback.

The Giesler DACS are worth considering (and Aussie made to boot and Clay is a top bloke). The only thing to check is that because they come in a number of different configurations just make sure they can accept toslink from your CCA

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Completely understand @buddyev. I’m more thinking of using this as the first step in correcting things over the next few months. I want to find a DAC now to be able to use it, and I don’t want to have to on-sell it down the track. Or if I do, it will be for a streamer. But bigger fish to fry before then.


I very much have my eye on other speaker, amp (although the brushed silver Yamaha is aesthetically pleasing) and phono stage options.

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The Tri-Vista 21 from Musical Fidelity is certainly a DAC to tame a clinical sound. They're pretty old, so you might find one in your price range. I had one and sent it packing because I actually want my system to sound clinical.

 

The Mavericks are a fun unit to play with -- one sold here recently for not-much -- and give you a tube to fiddle with. I'm pretty impressed with the Soekris R2R for the money -- it has a lot of character. 

 

Try looking at audiosciencereview and consider something that he recommends you don't buy. That's the stuff with character!

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Enjoying my Topping D50S, heaps of features that could be useful - bluetooth, digital volume control.

 

I think DACs should be transparent, performing the conversion without adding any colouration to the sound. Don't think your search for a warmer sound will end up being resolved with a DAC, expensive or otherwise.

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Wait for an Ares II to come into your price range.

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Thanks @PCOWandre, @spamnoj and @Batty, all very helpful advice and I will look into them all.

 

Completely understand that a cheap DAC is not going to fix my current problems. Probably just looking for a good quality and if it has a warmer tone then all the better. But certainly not the be-all and end-all. 

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Hi and welcome Chris. A question regarding your current system. Do you like the SQ (sound quality) from your current vinyl set up? That could help identify if the Yamaha and or speakers are bright-ening your sound. If you are into vinyl sound then maybe a used R2R Dac would suit you. More liquid and very detailed, but not etching or fatiguing. I personally subscribe to the "Source" is most important 'sect' of audio heads, But, and that's a big But...  Any component can and will influence the final product, in + and - ways and in that we discover what we groove to!

     I have listened to a few old systems in peeps houses lately, just before Covid - and I was impressed by the sound from the last one, mid 70's Yamaha speakers (with poly rubbers= still flexible), Yamaha Integrated Amp ? mid-late '80's ( maybe 80-100 watts rated), and a yamaha cd player late 80's (I looked up that model but it did not have the famous tda1541 or 154x chips) - and with cds it sounded great. Little speakers Rocked! and were a bit bass heavy, but I moved them away from the wall, little room with carpeting and lotsa stuff, and they sounded better.

    About 12 years ago I personally experienced the "bump up " from stock power chords to the lower end of aftermarket (spendy ones) and it gave presence and imaging and bass clarity and punch : 'twas as if adding a new component. Power leads to amp and the CD/Dac had the most profound effects. (And interconnects... yeah went whole hog and never looked back).

    For what its worth I had 3 systems going for a short time in my home a few years back, the "youngest Amp/ Preamp" setup was Musical Fidelity M6? (Early 2000s and HEAVY units) and switched around my cd player to test them all on the same speakers and chords. And there was a set of Van den Hul RCA's  (from the Musical Fidelity kit temporarily borrowed) which "toned down" the sound quite a bit versus my Zu Audio. 

    Great experiment which illustrated to me how much we are influenced by "new and improved' and how cables effect the sound greatly. And that the older and less powered Cambridge A100 etc. sounded better to me. 

   As you are in Melbourne you have (usually) so many options. Good luck and enjoy the journey. 

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Thanks very much @akjono and no, not entirely happy with my current vinyl set-up. Looking forward to Melbourne lockdown being over so I can get out and about and audition some different speakers, amps and phono stages. I have also been experimenting with “better than stock” cables and found that has assisted somewhat.

Thank you for the DAC recommendation, I’ll definitely have a look into this one too.

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29 minutes ago, spamnoj said:

Enjoying my Topping D50S, heaps of features that could be useful - bluetooth, digital volume control.

 

I think DACs should be transparent, performing the conversion without adding any colouration to the sound. Don't think your search for a warmer sound will end up being resolved with a DAC, expensive or otherwise.

Second a vote for this in this price range.

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2 hours ago, Sterg237 said:

@buddyev this is slightly embarrassing but I have Dali Concept 6 floor standers (room is 44.3m square, so it’s large).


I know they are on the bright side but I was able to pick them up second hand without breaking the budget, which was a priority at the time. As I mentioned, over the next 12 months I’ll look to upgrade in quality, but downsize to bookshelves.

 

I had a pair of Concept 6 for party speakers for quite some time. They don't sound too bad and didn't get upset when the drinks were flowing and the volume got turned up. Don't be in too much of as rush to downsize to bookshelves in a big room. Of course, your listening preferences are key here -- what are you listening to, and how often do you turn it up to concert levels?

 

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Oh they certainly get loud @PCOWandre, especially paired with the Yamaha which doesn’t seem to break a sweat. But we don’t listen to concert level music, prefer it more for background than anything else. That’s why I might look for bookshelves that sound bigger than what they are, when the time comes.

 

Music wise we have a bit of everything, alternative rock, electronic (both upbeat and ambient), hip hop and rob, singer-songwriter, harder rock. We’re looking at expanding our jazz vinyl too. So I like to think of ourselves as all-rounders.

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18 minutes ago, allthumbs said:

 

I have been impressed with the measurements and performance of both the Topping D30 that I use with my passive speaker set up and with the Topping E30 for the same reasons but with the ease of the additional remote control that I can use with my powered monitors to control volume.

 

 

Yes, the remote is very useful - particularly in my case, as I am using 4x E30s to give me 8 analogue channels out.  (These are fed from the 4x digital outs on my miniDSP nanoDIGI 2x8.)  :)  The 4x E30s all operate simultaneously from the one remote (like when switching them out of standby mode).

 

Because I bought 4x E30s … I ended up with 4x remotes.  I'm keeping a spare (in case the dog eats one) and I sold one - so have one for sale.  If you're interested in acquiring a spare, please PM me.

Andy

 

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20 minutes ago, Sterg237 said:

Music wise we have a bit of everything, alternative rock, electronic (both upbeat and ambient), hip hop and rob, singer-songwriter, harder rock. We’re looking at expanding our jazz vinyl too. So I like to think of ourselves as all-rounders.

 

You're going to have a lot of fun auditioning speakers when the time comes. An excellent (if expensive) way to spend an afternoon. Good times!

 

(Then there's the vinyl side .. so much changes with different phono stages!)

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19 minutes ago, andyr said:

I am using 4x E30s to give me 8 analogue channels out.  (These are fed from the 4x digital outs on my miniDSP nanoDIGI 2x8.) 

😵

 

I appreciate the offer @andyr and I'll bear it in mind, that's some set up you have.  Do you run them all with the same PCM Filter setting?

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If you have a large room, I can whole heartedly recommend Wyndham Audio CH2s to tame brightness. I had 8 years of changing everything (and I mean everything) to try and tame brightness. (Dacs, cable, CDPs, re-wiring speakers, room treatments)

 

These Speakers were the answer.  very engaging.

 

@cheekyboy

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Before I'd get a DAC to change my tonal qualities I'd fix speakers and pre amp stages.  Any changes a DAC makes will be small. The changes a set of speakers then a pre amp will make will be stunning in comparison.

 

Buy a cheap, decent DAC (any of the Topping units is a good starting point and you'll be able to flick it later if you want to) and focus on really considering speaker upgrades.  That's the most important part of the "audio sausage" that you're making.  No amount of lipstick in terms of cables, DACs, streamers will make a difference if you don't like the tonal qualities of the speakers and what feeds them power.

 

EDIT: Also, bright speakers are often bright because of the room that they are in. Don't be afraid to put cushions all over the place and see if makes a positive difference before you throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Edited by recur
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47 minutes ago, scuzzii said:

If you have a large room, I can whole heartedly recommend Wyndham Audio CH2s to tame brightness. I had 8 years of changing everything (and I mean everything) to try and tame brightness. (Dacs, cable, CDPs, re-wiring speakers, room treatments)

 

These Speakers were the answer.  very engaging.

 

@cheekyboy

Agreed, John, but I would be correctly labelled as being biased though.😄

 

I would add that the CH2s aren’t bright in their presentation at the expense of top end, HF extension and I’m sure you’ll attest to that indeed being the case.

 

Cheers,

 

Keith

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59 minutes ago, scuzzii said:

If you have a large room, I can whole heartedly recommend Wyndham Audio CH2s to tame brightness. I had 8 years of changing everything (and I mean everything) to try and tame brightness. (Dacs, cable, CDPs, re-wiring speakers, room treatments)

 

These Speakers were the answer.  very engaging.

 

@cheekyboy

Oh yes, I remember those days John, torrid times.   

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I'd suggest Topping E30 as it uses AK chip, which I find a bit warmer than ESS, thus not recommending D50s for warmer. Overall, if you would prefer warmth I would look at the amplifier and the speakers. My recommendation is to keep the sound as unadulterated as possible until later stages.

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Thanks everyone for your contributions. There is certainly a lot to think about and research.

 

I know there is some work to be done in the rest of the system to gain the sound I want, the DAC is not the answer. I suppose the reason for this forum is hoping to get some recommendations on good entry-level DACs for the discreet use I am looking for that might add some warmth, but ok if not. There have been plenty of options provided to me, thank you, and I have already started looking into them. Feel free to send them coming!

 

I'll certainly start a new forum for perspective on speaker upgrade when the time is right, as well as the other areas I'll look to upgrade.

 

Cheers, Chris

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Thanks for the advice @recur. Your suggestion might be the way to go re: the Topping. I don't think my girlfriend will let me do much of the interior designing though, the cushions are her domain! 

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35 minutes ago, cheekyboy said:

Agreed, John, but I would be correctly labelled as being biased though.😄

 

I would add that the CH2s aren’t bright in their presentation at the expense of top end, HF extension and I’m sure you’ll attest to that indeed being the case.

 

Cheers,

 

Keith

Yep, sorry Keith.  I didn't mean they aren't detailed - most certainly present the full range.  They just aren't bright or glary like the previous Speakers I had were.  Nothing is rolled off, they present an excellent image and are non fatiguing which tamed the brightness issues i was tolerating for many years

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1 hour ago, allthumbs said:

😵

 

I appreciate the offer @andyr and I'll bear it in mind, that's some set up you have.  Do you run them all with the same PCM Filter setting?

 

Yes, at.  I just use the default setting (setting #3, I believe).

 

Is there any advantage to using different settings across them?

(btw, E30 #1 // E30 #2 handle sub/bass//mid/ribbon on the R channel and E30 #3 // E30 #4 handle sub/bass//mid/ribbon on the L channel.)

 

Andy

 

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before and after shots. CH2s changed everything as an experience, was less focussed on taming brightness / glare to being focussed on enjoying the music and source (Analogue).  I upgraded my speakers after I got the Soulines Turntable. Every upgrade from then has been clearly noticed through the CH2s. Wish i had changed speakers much earlier.

P1010551.JPG

SNA1.jpg

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One of the Topping DACs is a good choice, you have lots of models for $500 and much less. Features that match your system and listening habits are important here.

You might also want to take a look at the new Schiit Modius, it's gotten good reviews and measurements for only $200 US. Has balanced and unbalanced output, and an AKM chip.

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1 hour ago, andyr said:

Is there any advantage to using different settings across them?

Not to my ears that I can hear or decipher. I use the default as well. As I get older I do less fiddling there's simply too much music out there to hear.

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