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DAC and Active Monitors - Shoot holes in my setup. What am I missing?


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Right, I'm deep in the internet hole and crippled by indecision. It's awful!


It's not a 'which product is best?' question, more of a 'which approach makes sense?' question.
Here's the situation. I have a reasonable hifi setup  (Arcam A80, rDac, Dynaudio floorstands, Rega P324), but things are different now. I spend 90% of my listening time at my desk (home office). Music sounds crap, because I'm either streaming to Sonos Play 5 (fine... but barely a hifi) or listening to pretty basic headphones (AT M50x) direct from device.

 

So, a compact DAC and a nice pair of active monitors seems like a good idea. 

I need this to work with Thunderbolt docking station (CalDigit TS3 Plus), because the office is setup to 'hotdesk' so that anyone can plug in with 1 cable and use all the peripherals (dual displays, webcam, external microphone, keyboard, mouse) that are connected to the hub.

 

Here's my q's:

  1. Am I right to expect that I can use USB-C to ASB-B cable to connect from Thunderbolt Hub and external DAC, meaning that the conversion from D to A will bypass the dock and happen in the external DAC?
  2. To drive good active monitors (probably Dynaudio Lyd 5 or Genelec), I'm really gonna want a DAC with XLR balanced outputs, right? 
  3. What about integrated headphone amp? Unnecessary. With studio monitors, it wouldn't make sense to invest $$$ audiophile headphones that need amplification. I use headphones mostly for video conferencing. That works fine as-is via the Thunderbolt hub.
  4. Streaming from phones and ipads? Airport express mini TOSLINK to hifi DAC. 

 

Make sense?

If it does, I just need to decide how much DAC I need. Something like Gieseler Kompact looks pretty right.
Overkill for 5" studio monitors?

 

Active monitors likely to go Dynaudio Lyd 5 or Genelec.

Halp! 
 



 

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I run a lot more complicated setup for my office (16 channel digital mixer to Barefoot Micromains and Sennheiser HD650s), but I think you could do what you want with something like a Teac UD505.

 

https://teac.jp/int/product/ud-505/top

 

XLR out, DAC onboard and headphone amplifier built in. Cheap too for what's in the box.

 

Spend the extra spondooli on better active speakers (bigger, say 8" drivers will make a real difference). 

 

 

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Active loudspeakers re-digitise the audio coming into them so it doesn't make a great deal of sense to add another DAC between your source and the speakers since it will go DA AD DA again. If you can get the digital stream out from your source directly instead of analogue into a pair of active monitors that support that format (be it USB, coaxial, or optical) you can save and spend more on the speakers as well. I have some dynaudio active monitors and use optical out into them - most sources still support this ageing but still very valid digital format.

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5 minutes ago, Ittaku said:

Active loudspeakers re-digitise the audio coming into them so it doesn't make a great deal of sense to add another DAC between your source and the speakers since it will go DA AD DA again. If you can get the digital stream out from your source directly instead of analogue into a pair of active monitors that support that format (be it USB, coaxial, or optical) you can save and spend more on the speakers as well. I have some dynaudio active monitors and use optical out into them - most sources still support this ageing but still very valid digital format.

Con, that's great advice, though not all actives perform any DSP on the incoming signal.  

 

That's only a recent thing in many products. e.g. my Gen 1 Barefoot Micromain 35s don't have a DSP and do no ADC / DAC in them at all. Gen 2 had a digital input and ran ADC on the inputs.

 

But yes, if you definitely don't need headphone amplification, you could make things easier on yourself with a set of actives with the DAC inbuilt.

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14 minutes ago, BugPowderDust said:

Con, that's great advice, though not all actives perform any DSP on the incoming signal.  

 

That's only a recent thing in many products. e.g. my Gen 1 Barefoot Micromain 35s don't have a DSP and do no ADC / DAC in them at all. Gen 2 had a digital input and ran ADC on the inputs.

 

But yes, if you definitely don't need headphone amplification, you could make things easier on yourself with a set of actives with the DAC inbuilt.

You're right. It's a recent trend to use class D amps and digitisation and DSP in active speakers, though that makes these small monitors sound far better than the simpler amplified versions of the past. Something like the Dynaudio Xeo range (as I own) sound great for their diminutive size.

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And actually I note that the opening poster forgot to subscribe to this thread himself when he started it so I'm going to ping him just in case he doesn't know he has responses @heartattackandvine

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This forum is awesome. Thanks for the great info @Ittaku and @BugPowderDust!

 

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Active loudspeakers re-digitise the audio coming into them so it doesn't make a great deal of sense to add another DAC between your source and the speakers since it will go DA AD DA again

 

I had no idea! At the same time, I'm inclined to trust their using quality components, and it's all designed and tuned to create a reference monitor reproduction of the source. So in that sense, even though the source signal goes DA AD DA, as long as they're quality conversions, it's not really a problem?
 

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I think you could do what you want with something like a Teac UD505.


Looks interesting, although doesn't seem to be an easy bit of kit to find, and somewhat expensive.

 

Quote

If you can get the digital stream out from your source directly instead of analogue into a pair of active monitors that support that format (be it USB, coaxial, or optical) you can save and spend more on the speakers as well. I have some dynaudio active monitors and use optical out into them - most sources still support this ageing but still very valid digital format.


This is definitely an awesome option for me, and will work - the Thunderbolt Hub has Optical out.
I don't need a headphone amp... today. And, I like that this is fewer boxes and cables. I like that the DAC is part of the speaker so there's nothing to 'match'. The only downside seems to be that because it's integrated, it's not upgradeable. But who cares, the upgrade path would be sell-and-replace. I don't really do that anyway... My Dynaudio Audience 72s must be 12-15 years old. Still going great.

Looking at the Dyns. Who else does active monitors with optical in?

 

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Just now, heartattackandvine said:

Looks interesting, although doesn't seem to be an easy bit of kit to find, and somewhat expensive.

Yeah, Teac isn't sold frequently in shops here. Have a hunt around for the older versions like the UD-301. I use that as my headphone amp now. Similar feature set to the UD505. I picked it up used on here for $270

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5 hours ago, heartattackandvine said:

So in that sense, even though the source signal goes DA AD DA, as long as they're quality conversions, it's not really a problem?

 

Correct, especially with monitors like Genelec's DSP actives, they are so transparent.

 

But Genelec also make a range of purely analogue actives too if you wanted to avoid the double D to A.

 

Their purely analogue range is also cheaper than the DSP active range too.

 

I can recommend an RME ADI-2 FS DAC (Version 2) paired with one of these analogue active Genelecs (pick the colour and model depending on your budget):

 

https://online.tm-systems.com.au/collections/vendors?q=Genelec - Active Analog Monitors

 

https://www.soundseasy.com.au/products/rme-adi-2-dac-fs-ultra-fidelity-pcm-dsd-768-khz-da-convertor

 

Even if you don't use headphones right now, you might later? And the RME DAC features a top notch very powerful headphone amp.

 

10 hours ago, heartattackandvine said:

Am I right to expect that I can use USB-C to ASB-B cable to connect from Thunderbolt Hub and external DAC, meaning that the conversion from D to A will bypass the dock and happen in the external DAC?

 

That hub should be fine. The RME DAC I linked above comes with the right USB cable (standard printer cable).

 

image.png.29fe1caae5dcc7fdfe4a17aa09592802.png

 

10 hours ago, heartattackandvine said:

Streaming from phones and ipads? Airport express mini TOSLINK to hifi DAC. 

 

The RME I linked above feature TOSlink input too, so that's fine.

 

 

Edited by rand129678
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Thanks you!


See, this is why I was so confused...

I had the Genelec 8020D in mind, at about $1750. And those are analogue XLR. 
I see there's a digital XLR (AES/EBU) version, the 8330A at nearly twice the price. But that's a completely different ballgame. To get a digital signal directly to those, I'd need to convert TOSlink to AES/EBU first. Which means another box, and more (expensive) cables. Nope.

Now I see why @Ittaku recommended Xeo 2 (now Xeo 10). Same idea but TOSlink more compatible with consumer gear. If I wanna go that road, it looks like KEF LXS is the main alternative option that's available.

Otherwise, yes, it's back to a desktop DAC and analogue active monitors. 

I can see myself regretting it either way...
If I go Xeo 10 or KEF LXS, and want/need a better headphone experience, I'll have to buy more stuff.
If I go for Desktop DAC, I'll have another box and more cables cluttering up my desk and a headphone amp that doesn't get used much/ever. At least not without better headphones and more upgrades... 

Xeo 10s or 2nd hand Xeo 2s are looking like a pretty good idea!
 

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Changed my mind!

I like the idea of fully integrated speakers and no cables, but... digital technology becomes obsolete really god damn fast, and then what? You've gotta replace the whole lot. I'm an early adopter of Sonos, and have bought loads of their stuff right back to the original ZP100 and CR100 that started it all. So, I know this pain all too well.

 

Also, I'm an idiot...

I've got a perfectly excellent Cyrus 6 and Dynaudio excite 12s on light duties in another room. The Cyrus needs repair (few pops and crackles on channel switching and volume change) but it's definitely worth repairing. I just hooked it up in the office, and it sounds excellent. I love the Cyrus + Dynaudio sound. It's beautiful. Cyrus 6 has what sounds like a very capable headphone-out too. Beats the pants off my other options.

So, I reckon a basic little Cambridge DacMagic 100, maybe some smaller speakers (Dynaudio Excite x12 are a bit big for desktop/nearfield I reckon) and I'm dooooone!

 

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