Question First time DAC buyer

LeeBean

Member
Mar 26, 2022
1
0
20
I'm fairly new to the world of HiFi and therefore haven't luckily developed all that high standards yet.

Been using the headphone out on my 2015 Dell Precision for quite some time for streaming Tidal quality level music through my powered bookshelf speakers and desperately want to upgrade to an external DAC

Question is -
if i'd be happy with the DAC built into audio interface Motu M2(since I'd like the added benefit of a mic pre)
Or could I appreciate the Ifi zen DAC V2 for it's considerably higher spec? Nevermind the added benefit of a massive upgrade in its headphone amp section.

Thanks for any opinions

LeeBean

PS: I could already tell a massive upgrade coming from spotify even through the crappy laptop integrated DAC.
 

Gray

Well-known member
Welcome to the world of hi-fi and spending all the money you've got Lee 🤑

You have to ask what the 'much higher spec' of the Zen would really give you over the Motu. Some higher sampling rate maybe?, but the Motu is 24/96 isn't it?
Always nice to know you've got the best figures, but in practice, for most, the highest figures are irrelevant.
Depends what the headphone amp in that Motu is like, if it's more of an 'afterthought' just there to facilitate monitoring, then you might benefit from something better.
But again, it could be better than you think.
What headphones have you got?
 

thekenc

Active member
Mar 17, 2022
9
7
25
Hello Lee!

I too have recently become aware of the benefits derived from purchasing a separate DAC. I see that your user scenarios relate to streaming from a PC, and that your goals are to beef up your headphone and powered speakers. The main scenario I sought to improve was quite different, and I'm pointing that out as you do need to hone in on the usage when selecting a DAC, which as you correctly identify as amplification (for headphones) versus not. There are other items to consider here as well, however. If I could I would like to lay out my observations from my quest for a DAC:

* mobile versus not mobile (e.g. desktop) -- I think that your answer is 'desktop.'
* 'Master Clock'-type functionality versus not. This is an area that appears to have become a focus of the latest DACs, so I suggest looking at that parameter closely for your needs.
* USB interface versus 'other' (e.g. Digital Coaxial) -- I think that you're looking at USB, but your scenario above refers to 'mic' out, but there are mobile style solutions that operate on the 'mic' out I believe. I strongly suggest leveraging a USB style connection to your DAC, but that also involves putting some more energy into the 'Master Clock' part.
* separate amplification versus integrated amplification -- here it is clear that you are indicating a preference for integrated amplification for your headset. Again, you may want to look at either a separate amp as part of this upgrade or at a minimum an upgrade path that supports the notion of separate amplification - but my guess is that with only headphone amplification in mind an integrated DAC and amp is all that you need. Your speakers are already powered.
* What music formats are you working with? Right now I'd recommend selecting a DAC based on the latest ESS chips (e.g. ES9068AS) as they support a lot of formats including MQA and DSD 512.
* Are you thinking about integrating your smart phone into this solution? If so then a USB route would again prove useful, and you'll probably want to get a USB audiophile application like USB Audio Player PRO.
* One DAC chip or two? My solution has only one DAC and it seems fine, but there are those who believe that 1 DAC per stereo channel is the way to go.
* Bluetooth integration? for smartphones this may prove handy
* There are other considerations to factor in, but mostly they are 'upgrade path' oriented, and my guess is that you can simply 'start again' if you choose any of these paths as you should be able to get what you need relatively cheaply. Other factors: I2S (a cable interface), Digital Transport (leveraged by I2S), Integration with other digital inputs like a CD player.

My scenario was also a 'desktop' scenario, but my focus was on upgrading the DAC processing on my CD player -- not my headphones. As a result I chose a "2021 Loxjie D30 ES9068AS MQA HIFI Digital Audio DAC and Headphone Amplifier BT 5.0", but the headphone amplification part offers less power than other DACs in this category, so it could very likely not work for you if your headphones are very power hungry. Other brands to consider are Schiit, Gustard and Topping -- they will likely cost more than the Loxjie however.

I've also seen this said in many places so I'll offer this advice too: If you can get a listen to the DAC first, that is a huge advantage. I did not have the benefit of this, but was tremendously impressed by my choice - it has clearly taken my CD player to the next level by not only having a better DAC chip do a better job of digital to analog conversion, but more importantly by 'dejittering' the data stream coming out of the CD player and into the DAC via its master clock. If you ask me the master clock made the most difference on my sound quality and I did not expect that.


Last thought: If you do go for the Loxjie please do not buy it on Amazon. Instead I suggest ordering from "hifi-express" dot com. It will ship from China directly which is where it's manufactured, which may take a while as it involves getting through customs, but it will be worth the wait. I also suggest looking at investing in good cabling for your connections to digital audio input and RCA/analog out (for your powered speakers possibly), if you're planning to use those.


Sincerely,

-KenC
 

Peter227

Well-known member
Jul 25, 2020
11
3
525
Hi, you can check Cambridge Audio CXNv2, is a very good streamer (for Tidal, you mentioned you use it) and a good DAC.
 
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Reactions: thekenc

thekenc

Active member
Mar 17, 2022
9
7
25
Hey Lee,

I did some more digging around on DACs, because that's what I've been doing for the past several months, and wanted to share some more observations.

Sweetwater sells the Motu M2, which I'm sure that you're aware of. They are a great resource to use for researching equipment, and may have a return policy that allows you to try it it out to see if it meets your needs. I really have no expertise on balanced mic inputs and set ups for performance and recording, so if your desire is to go in the podcast direction then sweetwater could be a great place to explore and research next steps, IMHO.

I also stumbled upon a DAC pre-amp that describes in somewhat general terms what I've been talking about. From my perspective as an audio user who aspires to take on some of the audiophile mantle without stepping into the "fool and his money are easily parted" dimension :) , I break down audio componentry into somewhat standard commonly defined chunks, and a DAC falls into the traditional pre-amp category (for those who consider themselves "21st century Analog" people), but what I'm seeing is a further decomposition of the digital side of this home audio/audiophile market. I don't want to get into that here, as I'm really just learning about that further decomposition. However, this Pro-Ject Preamp, which looks good, describes much of what I referred to in my previous post:

pro-ject pre box s2 digital preamplifier


I am having trouble pasting a link, which is understandable, but I suggest going to the Pro-ject manufacturer site. The specifications are better than the DAC I purchased, but the main reason why it's worth reading about it is because of the 'master clock' references: "With the proprietary clock design we have managed unrivaled jitter rates of 100 Femtoseconds, easily outperforming many renowned and respected audiophile clock generators. " This product also serves as a good headphone amp -- probably much better than the DAC I purchased.
 
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