High-end external DAC with mediocre speakers

Discussion in 'Apple TV and Home Theater' started by hallaisen, Aug 26, 2011.

  1. hallaisen macrumors regular

    May 28, 2006

    I'm looking into getting a good stereo system setup, but I might move to a different country in not too long so I want to avoid purchasing big components before I am settled. In that regard I am wondering if I should get the DAC I want now and use it with the Focal XS sound system I am currently using, or if I should wait it out as my system is not good enough to really have any use of a $2k DAC at this point and by the time Im ready to buy speakers there might be a better DAC on the market. So my question is: is there any point in adding a high end DAC to a Focal XS system?

    A bit more info on the setup I want:

    -I stream all my music from Spotify (320kbps)
    -I would stream from my iPad,iPhone or Macs to either an airport express or sonos box
    -I want to hook up the sonos box to a Hegel HD20 DAC and connect that straight to a pair of active Dynaudio Focus 110a speakers

    Any comments would be appreciated!
  2. BiteApple macrumors newbie

    Jul 18, 2011
    Without claiming to be an audio expert, I would suggest that it is a complete overkill to use an external DAC (let alone one as expensive as you mention) with a Spotify stream. I have seen numerous online discussions where people with some qualifications claim that even if your audio input is something like 24 bit/196kHz Flac, the built-in DAC in a modern Mac is more than sufficient for high quality output.
  3. Jodles macrumors regular

    Dec 5, 2008
    While not having any references at hand, I do believe most modern computers still employ very simple and poor DAC's, the MacBooks included. The headphone output can be very hissy (at least mine is), and this is a common problem. Any external DAC that bypasses the internal DAC of the MacBook should be better (I have the cheap Apogee One, which works wonders. Practically any external DAC is an improvement IMO. This hooked up to a NAD + B&W setup).

    However, is 320kbps the default Spotify stream now? The quality I get on Spotify (whatever they say the bitrate is) is horrendous. If you can get proper sound quality by paying for Spotify then a DAC might be worth it, but if not, a 2k DAC is a waste on such a poor source IMHO...
  4. TinHead88 macrumors regular


    Oct 30, 2008
    You probably already know this but... speakers will make the most dramatic difference in sound quality by far. Of course the sound is only as good as the weakest link but the DAC will make only a minor difference, especially when you are not using lossless files.

    In my opinion it does not make sense to spend 2k on a DAC unless everything else is going to match. The audio out of any Mac or iPhone is not going to be of a high standard but even using the DAC of a surround amp would improve this.

    I would also recommend any of the Apogee hardware. Very good converters at a very good price.
  5. hallaisen thread starter macrumors regular

    May 28, 2006
    Thanks for the replies guys, I will be holding off then.
  6. Mj13young macrumors newbie

    Aug 27, 2011

    An external dac will make a difference! Even with Spotify!

    I am not sure of your budget but try looking at the Arcam rdac, or the Music Fidelity V-dac or V-dacII. If you are really serious look into the Naim systems. The Supernait has an awesome built in dac. The discontinued AV2 and Nvi also have a good dacs.

    You can find bargain prices on used equipment at Audiogon.com.

    If you are serious about good audio you need to get better speakers. A Supernait with Proac speakers might be a good place to start.

    Good luck
  7. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    Personally, I would get something much cheaper than $2000. I have a few DACs, but the Cambridge DACMagic is the most versatile. It has a lot of inputs, a few filters that can change the sound, and a digital pass through.

    I use several inputs, but also use it to pass through digital to a 5.1 setup. This comes in handy when you use a computer as the source.
  8. Hammie macrumors 65816


    Mar 17, 2009
    Wash, DC Metro
    I have my eyes set on the M2Tech Young USB DAC which will be paired with either my current Mac Mini or an Mach2 custom Mac Mini with Pure Audio software installed. the M2Tech software has recently been updated for Lion support, too. It can support all the way up to 32/384 files.

    I think it runs around $1800USD.

    However, for Spotify, this may be overkill. I'll be using it for ripped CD's and HD audio from HDTracks.com.
  9. Mj13young macrumors newbie

    Aug 27, 2011
    Yes, the dac magic by Cambridge Audio (not Cambridge Soundworks) is also worth considering.

    What are your goals for this system?

    Are you just trying to get good quality stereo?

    What is your budget?
  10. hallaisen thread starter macrumors regular

    May 28, 2006
    Yep exactly, just good quality stereo. My budget is around $2k per component, so $2k for DAC, $2k for speakers and possibly $2k for a sub. I'm not interested in surround sound and the only two inputs I'll need is to get the audio from the TV and from Spotify. I've read some tests of the Hegel HD20 and it's getting stellar reviews + it has volume control so I can use it with active speakers and not have to pay for an external amp.
  11. Mj13young macrumors newbie

    Aug 27, 2011

    Are you in Europe or North America?

    I could give you recommendations based on where you live.

    What size is your listening area? What are your walls composed of?

    You have a good budget, and you can build a great system.
  12. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    I would think that your selection of speakers would be fairly small if you need active loudspeakers.
  13. hallaisen thread starter macrumors regular

    May 28, 2006
    I am European, but live in North America and will in all likelihood be moving to Australia for a job soon. Oh the globalization huh. Since I will be moving I can't comment on my listening area, and I will perhaps have to reconsider getting big speakers as I will probably be moving continents again in a few years. I'm not sure what will happen to my stereo system plans, I might scrap them for now and wait until I am settled somewhere instead.
  14. 88 King macrumors 6502

    88 King

    Jun 18, 2011
    London, UK
    I'd also suggest DacMagic by Cambridge Audio, it help to produce great sounds linked to my headphone amp and 5.1 speakers playing AIFF format music. It is fairly small and cost about £200 so it is well within your budget.
  15. spacepower7 macrumors 68000

    May 6, 2004
    I'd put dac lower on the list even though audiophiles (audio snobs in most cases, I worked in recording studios for years) will disagree. I'd also take a good 2.0' system any day of the week over a mediocre 5.1 system.

    I'd take a 192kbps mp3 on good speakers and a Mac's built-in dac over $2000 dac and flac with mediocre speakers.

    99.99999999% of people won't be able to tell the difference between FLAC on good speakers, in between a $2000 dac and $1000 dac, and probably a $500 dac.

    Just enjoy your music.
  16. Mj13young macrumors newbie

    Aug 27, 2011
    I would suggest buying a Naim Supernait and matching this with a pair of Proac Tabelette Anniversary. This system would be capable of providing you with excellent sound, with a "fairly portable" package.

    You can find second hand Supernaits for 2,200 euros. New Proac Tabelettes Costs 1,800 euros.

    The Supernait has an awesome built in dac, an excellent pre amp, and an incredible amp. This system would match perfectly with the Proac Tabelette. The Proac's will also perform well in European/Australian small concrete walled rooms.

    Naim is easily capable and willing to switch your voltage settings when you relocate to another continent.

    There are other options Cyrus Audio makes a similar product, 8XPd. Naim and Cyrus also make streaming products, but they provide less powerful amps.

    Take care,

  17. TMRaven macrumors 68020


    Nov 5, 2009
    Just get a decent entry level external dac like an HRT Music STreamer II or II+, and then focus the majority of your money on the speakers.
  18. macrabbit, Aug 31, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2011

    macrabbit macrumors member

    Sep 3, 2008
    if you are looking at $2K DACs for 320Kpbs streaming music, I would say you have your priorities incorrect. You should listen to your current setup as-is, and wait until you are moved and know the layout of the new home. Then invest your money first and foremost into speakers, then power, not a DAC. A DAC should complement your speakers, or simply be transparent in the setup. Its your speakers that do the talking right?

    It appears you care about sound quality, but keep in mind you can pretty up MP3s only so much. There are actually some very innovative technologies now that improve MP3 sound quality, that audiophiles will never give credit as your listening to 'lossy' source material. For example the Denon Restorer mode built into their receivers works excellent IMO. Test one out with some mp3 files, and report back...I think you will be surprised.

    If you really are looking for something to buy, check out the NuForce product line. They are small and easily transportable, have many different options, and get great reviews. Best of all, they are priced what a DAC should be priced. In a blind listening test, you will not hear the difference between a sub $500 DAC and $1500+ DACs. And if someone convinces you otherwise, well, I have some $2000 speaker wire I can sell you as well :p
  19. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    I wouldn't say there was no difference in DACs from my own experience. I have compared a few of them in my own setups and some give a more forward sound or pull forward the background instruments.

    However, this will probably get me banned from some audio forums I frequent, but I have found the Audyssey correction in my Denon 4311CI has made a jaw dropping change in sound quality from just running it with an outboard DAC. Actually, since Audyssey (in my receiver) only works with a digital signal, I have removed my PS Audio DLIII DAC from the setup and use the DAC exclusively with headphones now.

    I should mention that I do not have egg crates or styrofoam hanging in the room, so Audyssey makes a bigger difference than if you set the room up with bass traps and other devices.

    Also, then you add the restorer function for Pandora or other lossy formats and you get another boost in SQ.
  20. DustinT macrumors 68000


    Feb 26, 2011
    Your priorities should be:

    Speakers and amperage first, then source material and lastly the dac\sound card used. A new DAC would make a difference but not as much as investing the same money in new speakers and amplification. Or, taking that money and purchasing lossless copies of the music you listen to the most so you've got the best quality version of it. Once those are done, you can upgrade the dac\sound card and you'll get the final it of performance you crave.
  21. macrabbit macrumors member

    Sep 3, 2008
    It is true what you say, that a DAC can provide greater emphasis or value if you will to certain spectrums or dynamics in the music. But again, does this make it better, or simply a fancy equalizer? For e.g. upsampling? Phhssh right...your adding bits right? :rolleyes:

    I have listened breifly to the 4311 hooked via optical to a Marantz CD player. It sounds superb using its internal AK4358B dac and audyssey.

    What I am attempting to say is I believe the majority of your sound satisfaction is going to come from the design of the speaker coupled with the environment it is playing in. That is why I am a firm beleiver in Denon's philosophy of room EQ mgt. A DAC cannot account for room acoustics, but that Denon receiver surely can. I would rather have the 2K 4311 w/o DAC, instead of a 1K amp + 1K DAC.

    I think DAC's have their place with headphone setups, older amps and the like though.
  22. Uofmtiger macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    I agree.

    My 3 DACs are being used for exactly that purpose now.
  23. Roy G Biv macrumors 6502

    Roy G Biv

    Dec 26, 2010
  24. hallaisen thread starter macrumors regular

    May 28, 2006
    Thanks for all the great advice and thanks for not being snobby about it :)
  25. garybUK Guest


    Jun 3, 2002
    I'd second the Cambridge Audio, I have a Naim XS Pre/Power and a CD Player with Spendor A6 Speakers and i'm more than happy with the Cambride. I use Spotify over it and also PS3 for playback of Flac, very happy with the Sound.

    Although im working in Germany now so my parents have my system :(

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