DAC Improvement/Speakers

Paulq

Well-known member
Dec 2, 2007
332
13
18,895
I currently run my mp3 collection from my iMac-->Airport Express Optical Out-->Linn Classik-->B&W 685's and it's been suggested to me that a DAC between Airport Express and Linn would significantly improve the sound quality. I listen to mainly rock music and for the purpose the 685's are perfect if a little on the large size for the room I have.

I have a couple of questions:

1. In terms of the DAC then am I likely to hear any significant improvements in quality? I recently changed to the optical output on the Airport Express (from analogue) and that did actually make a massive improvement. My music needs to have the weight of bass that the 685's afford me so a DAC that provides a 'bright' or over detailed sound is a no go. Any recommenndations welcome.

I recognise that mp3 is not the optimum format for quality but I am stuck with what I have.

2. In view of the space restrictions (the 685's are currently on stands) I'm looking at potentially changing the speajkers to ones I can put on my existing shelves (685's are too deep). I have looked at the B&W CM1's, Monitor AudioRX1 and Kef Q100/Q300. At a stretch I am also looking at the Linn Majik 109's.

Which of these provide a real comparison to the weight of sound the 685's produce? It's that which I am loath to lose by changing the 685's.

Thanks in advance and sorry for yet another DAC related post.
 
T

the record spot

Guest
There aren't really massive differences I imagine from one to the other (though I need to eat my own words having rejected the DACMagic on the basis it sounded too clinical with music), but I too used the AE for a while and found it to have a rather good DAC anyway. Certainly, the step-up to the "next big leap forward" would need more than a couple of hundred quid thrown at it. I use the Firestone Audio Spitfire II, but it's not 4 times better than the AE which is roughly a quarter of the price. So it depends on your budget and, to a greater degree, what your expectations are.

As an alternative to a DAC however, have you thought about spending £50 on a 1TB external HDD? Check out PC World, or Amazon who have Western Digital "Elements" HDDs for around this price. I use one and it's ideal. This'll let you rip the music you want to in WAV format (CD quality in other words), or Apple Lossless or any other format as you prefer. Everything goes to WAV for me just now and though 192k MP3 was fine, offboard storage is so cheap why settle for mutton when you can have lamb?!

So, stick with the AE for now, get more external storage, rip in lossless, check out some different speakers, or alternatively, consider a subwoofer (I see one hifi retailer has a used B&W PV1 for £475 on Ebay BIN just now).
 

Paulq

Well-known member
Dec 2, 2007
332
13
18,895
Thanks for that. Like a muppet I ripped all my CD's into mp3 (I know I know...) before selling them but what's done is done I guess. The files are actually stored on a 500GB external Maxtor drive which I was gonna upgrade anyway shortly. From now on anything I beg/borrow/steal will be ripped to Wav or lossless but I was just curious as to whether a DAC would actually give me a significant enough improvement in quality - I have a budget of around £400 for one.

Which brings me to the speakers which are the biggest dilemma. I love the 685's but I am just really struggling for space and am looking for something to replicate their soundstage and flexibility and dealing with everythibg I throw at them whilst being a bit smaller; enough to go on shelves.

Or is that simply asking too much?
 
T

the record spot

Guest
I hear Klipsch do a good line in bass as well as the Q300s, but might also be too much for a shelf. AVI's Nutron V is another way to go, smaller speaker, but £400 a pair direct from AVI. You'd likely need a sub though. Mission's MX2 speakers are apparently a bit handy deep down - £200 - and you could always try the Arcam rDAC which is around £300 (shop around though) as it's meant to deliver a decent bass.

Tricky, by any other name!
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
If you like the sound of your 685's but want something smaller, I can highly recommend the CM1's. I auditioned both pairs and found the CM1's to have much better mid and high detail. The 685's sounded muddy in comparison. I did really like the 685 sound, and was about to buy a pair until I heard the CM1's. The 685's do have a slightly stronger bass output, but next to the CM1's I thought they sounded a little like they were 'all bass' and trying too hard. I guess it depends on the type of music you listen to, so take a good cross section of your own CD's if you audition them.

I've got my digital devices (PS3, Apple TV, and cable box) running into a Denon 2310 AV amp via HDMI, then pre-outs to an old Audiolab 8000A stereo amp which powers the CM1's. This means all the audio arrives at the Denon in it's raw digital form and gets converted by it's internal DAC.

I also used an Airport Express before getting the Apple TV and tried both it's optical and analogue outs into the Denon. Like you, I thought the analogue was just okay, and the optical a lot better (which I guess means the Denon's DAC is higher quality than the AE's - which makes sense). As far as I can tell the Apple TV does exactly the same thing as the AE, but I find I have less audio drop-out's. They happened all the time with the AE - every 5 minutes. My WiFi router is badly situated and the ATV copes better.

One thing to note: to my ears, a physical CD played on the PS3 sounds better than the same CD ripped to FLAC and streamed from my Mac to the ATV. I don't understand why, as the difference in bit rate and resolution should be insignificant, and they are both sending digital audio via HDMI to the Denon. Maybe it's a placebo effect from the physical act of placing a disc in a drive!

I can't answer your DAC question as I haven't used one in my system, but I'm guessing that a modern external DAC like a DacMagic or rDac probably has a higher quality DAC than your Linn, simply because DAC is all it does. But I'd also guess that the improvement won't be huge. Not on the same level as when you switched from the AE's analogue to digital output.

I toyed with getting a DAC for my last upgrade, but after asking for advice here, I decided to add a stereo amp between my Denon and speakers instead. I'm now so pleased with the sound I no longer have any desire to tweak it further with an external DAC. And besides, I'm running out of plug sockets!

Also, having said that the modern DAC will be better than your Linn, my 25 year old Audiolab amp which I bought for £80 sounds richer and warmer than all the modern amps in the £300 to £400 price range that I auditioned, so that may not be true. Make sure you audition everything as close as you can to your home set-up (at home ideally). I know that Richer Sounds will let you return goods (in absolutely perfect condition) within 7 days if you simply don't like the sound after you get it home.
 

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