New DAC / Improving PC sound quality Watch

mikeyd85
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#1
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Hey all,

I'm looking for a DAC for my PC going to my amplifier. My budget is around £150, but less is always appreciated! So far I've seen the Cambridge Audio DACMagic 100.

Current system is a Marantz PM6005 (after the MCR510 developed a common fault, it got replaced), Dali Zensor 3 speakers and a PC using the onboard optical port for an MSI Z97 Gaming 3 motherboard.

If you guys have any other ideas on how to improve sound quality (not that it is inherently bad), that'd be appreciated. I'm currently ripping my music collection to FLAC (using dbPowerAmp, currently trial) and I use WinAMP as a player. Any other suggestions welcomed! :yep:

Thanks!

(Original post by Gofre)
...
Pretty sure you've done some experimentation with DACs before?
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Gofre
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(Original post by mikeyd85)
Hey all,

I'm looking for a DAC for my PC going to my amplifier. My budget is around £150, but less is always appreciated! So far I've seen the Cambridge Audio DACMagic 100.

Current system is a Marantz PM6005 (after the MCR510 developed a common fault, it got replaced), Dali Zensor 3 speakers and a PC using the onboard optical port for an MSI Z97 Gaming 3 motherboard.

If you guys have any other ideas on how to improve sound quality (not that it is inherently bad), that'd be appreciated. I'm currently ripping my music collection to FLAC (using dbPowerAmp, currently trial) and I use WinAMP as a player. Any other suggestions welcomed! :yep:

Thanks!



Pretty sure you've done some experimentation with DACs before?
I only ever looked at headphone oriented products so I don't know if DACs built for speaker-oriented amps have additional features or not but if you just want a higher quality analogue signal to output then that won't be a major factor it's also worth noting that DAC upgrades are arguably the most subtle change in the whole audio pathway (cables aside of course), so don't expect a huge world of difference, but in tandem with a move to lossless files you should be able to detect an improvement if your speakers are capable of articulating it, which I'm assuming they are :yep: there's nothing else really that will improve your sound quality from a hardware perspective, aside from putting the cash into investing into speaker/amp upgrades.

But yeah, the most popular inexpensive DAC options within the headphone enthusiast community were the Schiit Modi (now the Modi 2), Objective2 ODAC variants, and a couple of different FiiO products. Schiit win on build quality, they're really lovely pieces of gear. The ODAC is an enduringly popular open source design and can be found in all shapes and sizes, ranging from prominent companies mass producing their version through to individual audio fanatics building them to order in their garages. The most popular and easily accessible ones in the UK are made by Epiphany Acoustics. FiiO hands down win on features, their E17 is a DAC/amp combo with channel balance controls, tonal controls, a GUI and more. They also have two MP3 players within budget, the X1 and X3, that also work at USB DACs when connected by, well, USB, and all have batteries for use with poryable devices or on their own for the PMPs. They're also bus powered so no extra mains cables. The downside is connectivity, just generic 3.5mm jacks for headphone/line out, and they're more expensive than the £85 that the Schiit and Epiphany DACs can be picked up for.

It's been a while since I properly looked at DACs, but having a quick look at Head Fi they're still all very popular options :yep:
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mikeyd85
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(Original post by Gofre)
I only ever looked at headphone oriented products so I don't know if DACs built for speaker-oriented amps have additional features or not but if you just want a higher quality analogue signal to output then that won't be a major factor it's also worth noting that DAC upgrades are arguably the most subtle change in the whole audio pathway (cables aside of course), so don't expect a huge world of difference, but in tandem with a move to lossless files you should be able to detect an improvement if your speakers are capable of articulating it, which I'm assuming they are :yep: there's nothing else really that will improve your sound quality from a hardware perspective, aside from putting the cash into investing into speaker/amp upgrades.

But yeah, the most popular inexpensive DAC options within the headphone enthusiast community were the Schiit Modi (now the Modi 2), Objective2 ODAC variants, and a couple of different FiiO products. Schiit win on build quality, they're really lovely pieces of gear. The ODAC is an enduringly popular open source design and can be found in all shapes and sizes, ranging from prominent companies mass producing their version through to individual audio fanatics building them to order in their garages. The most popular and easily accessible ones in the UK are made by Epiphany Acoustics. FiiO hands down win on features, their E17 is a DAC/amp combo with channel balance controls, tonal controls, a GUI and more. They also have two MP3 players within budget, the X1 and X3, that also work at USB DACs when connected by, well, USB, and all have batteries for use with poryable devices or on their own for the PMPs. They're also bus powered so no extra mains cables. The downside is connectivity, just generic 3.5mm jacks for headphone/line out, and they're more expensive than the £85 that the Schiit and Epiphany DACs can be picked up for.

It's been a while since I properly looked at DACs, but having a quick look at Head Fi they're still all very popular options :yep:
Cheers man! PRSOM.

Subsequent research has indicated that my amp actually has an in-built DAC which isn't too bad in the grand scheme of things. Coupled with your note regarding the limitation of an upgrade of that type, I may well just leave it.

You are correct that these speakers can articulate small differences in sound though. They're really quite lovely.
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Gofre
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(Original post by mikeyd85)
Cheers man! PRSOM.

Subsequent research has indicated that my amp actually has an in-built DAC which isn't too bad in the grand scheme of things. Coupled with your note regarding the limitation of an upgrade of that type, I may well just leave it.

You are correct that these speakers can articulate small differences in sound though. They're really quite lovely.
Yeah I was kinda thinking "he does realise if the amp is being fed via optical then it must have an inbuilt DAC, right?" :ahee:

But yeah, if there aren't any limitations from your current DAC, I don't see much need in adding an extra one! Put that £150 into some sweet Monster cables, well worth your money, honest :ninja:

On a more serious note, if you still want to put some of that money into your audio pathway without replacing your hardware, there are audiophile-oriented media player programs out there that range in features and some have (or claim to have) particular functionality that improves audio quality. It's extremely subjective and will once again only be a small incremental improvement- I tried out the trial versions of a few last summer and decided to stick with iTunes and Songbird. But have a google around and try out free trials, you may find one app that appeals to you whether that's because of the interface, features or an audio improvement when A/B'ing.

This was the article I was using back then, it's probably a little outdated now but should make a decent starting point
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mikeyd85
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(Original post by Gofre)
Yeah I was kinda thinking "he does realise if the amp is being fed via optical then it must have an inbuilt DAC, right?" :ahee:

But yeah, if there aren't any limitations from your current DAC, I don't see much need in adding an extra one! Put that £150 into some sweet Monster cables, well worth your money, honest :ninja:

On a more serious note, if you still want to put some of that money into your audio pathway without replacing your hardware, there are audiophile-oriented media player programs out there that range in features and some have (or claim to have) particular functionality that improves audio quality. It's extremely subjective and will once again only be a small incremental improvement- I tried out the trial versions of a few last summer and decided to stick with iTunes and Songbird. But have a google around and try out free trials, you may find one app that appeals to you whether that's because of the interface, features or an audio improvement when A/B'ing.

This was the article I was using back then, it's probably a little outdated now but should make a decent starting point
Haha, yeah. I was wondering if it'd be worth upgrading to a USB DAC in order to eliminate jitter as well as have a nicer sound.

:lol: Monster cables it is then!

I've had a play with some of these "high end" computer audio applications and whilst they do sound a little different to Winamp, that doesn't make them better in my eyes. Might give Songbird / Nightingale a go, though neither of them rip by the look of it. Whilst I'm using dbPoweramp trial at the mo for ripping (seems happier than Winamp for CDDB), whether I buy it I don't know.

On a side note, I'm looking forward to the return of Winamp. It could do with a UI refresh! :yep:
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