Question How much to spend on a DAC?

doifeellucky

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Feb 3, 2016
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I currently have a Cambridge CXA60 just with a Chromecast audio puck connected via toslink and Dali Zensor 3 speakers. I also use a Sony BDP-S7200 Blu-ray player for CD duties, but these days it’s mostly streaming. I also connect my TV to the Cambridge via optical.

If I was to go down the completely analogue route, something like a Rega Elex-R, and some appropriate speakers in the same £1000 ballpark, how much should you spend on a dedicated DAC before the rest of the system is actually holding it back?

Someone recently posted on here that they couldn’t hear a difference between their Ares 2 and Node. What type of gear do you need to actually get the benefit of DACs in the £750 price bracket?

Thanks.
 

twinkletoes

Well-known member
Nov 16, 2021
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Ah DACs. Everyone will have an opinion on this. But here is mine. Let’s face it nothing is going to blow this and that out of the water. Don’t get me wrong there are differences but once you you get to a certain point those differences become less apparent and also really depends what you deem to be the most important aspect in sound. If you like bass then it doesn’t matter your going to go with the product with more bass.

let me tell yo story. I had the opportunity to play with a chord Hugo 2 and some focal clears for a few months while my system was being repaired. For a bit of fun I borrowed a friends audio quest black. And through the focals I really couldn’t say that one sounded better than the other. They sounded the same. Sure the Hugo had a touch, and I mean a touch more refinement probably because of its amp better able to power the heads phones. But was the Hugo 2 1650 quid better. No it wasn’t. But then the Hugo does things the AQ black can’t.

Its not about price it’s about enjoyment. If you can hear the difference it doesn’t matter what others say.

To this day I have a chord qutest in my system and I enjoy the sound produces. Did I spend to much? Yep.
 
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painter24

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May 31, 2021
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Someone recently posted on here that they couldn’t hear a difference between their Ares 2 and Node. What type of gear do you need to actually get the benefit of DACs in the £750 price bracket?

Thanks.
Hi,

That was me 😊. Just as a caution re: the Areas II/Node DAC comparison, I was hard pushed to tell the difference while A/B'ing. I definitely wouldn't have passed a blind test 😉. But as I said in that thread, this has to be taken in the context of my ears, system, room. Your experience could be light years apart from mine 😊.

If you're mainly streaming, and looking to spend around £750, maybe audition the new Node from 2021 yourself, together with your Cambridge Audio amp, or Elex-r if you go that route.

I found myself in a similar thought process as you with regards external Dacs and bought the Denafrips on an impulse, but as you read, I couldn't justify the outlay for it for the negligible difference it made. (I have now sold it to reinvest the money elsewhere in my system).

In my limited experience, and in hindsight, I would probably have still gone Node or maybe CA CXN v2 and stuck with their respective internal Dacs at my level of budget/system, as I don't think IMHO you're going to see significant SQ improvement from the £750 region DACs, just different flavours and different presentation to that of a streamer's DAC.

Good luck 👍
 
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SeattleChris

Active member
Apr 15, 2021
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My DAC experience is with the $100US Schiit Modi 3+ and the $700US Schiit Bifrost 2, both used with the NAD C368 amp, B&W 606s2 speakers and Amazon HD streaming. There was a clear difference between the two; the Bifrost 2 soundstage was much bigger and better defined with tighter bass and smoother midrange. I'm very glad I upgraded, though the Modi 3+ was still great for the price. Like the rest of a hi-fi system I'm afraid it comes down to discretionary income.
 
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As with anything the DAC is going to depend on the source. Feed it a crummy signal and you can spend as much as you like on a DAC and it will not offer much of an improvement.
Realistically you need to set a fairly lowish budget then try to audition a few.
Buying a DAC for £750 only to find it disappointing is not the way to go.
You could save on box count by buying an amp with integrated DAC.
However, if you are determined to get a separate DAC for around your budget you might look at the iFi Neo iDSD.
Also however, everyone is likely to advise a different DAC because they all have their own favourites
question: if you are looking at streaming and connecting a TV why do you want to go down the all analogue route?
 
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doifeellucky

Well-known member
Feb 3, 2016
204
119
10,970
Ah DACs. Everyone will have an opinion on this. But here is mine. Let’s face it nothing is going to blow this and that out of the water. Don’t get me wrong there are differences but once you you get to a certain point those differences become less apparent and also really depends what you deem to be the most important aspect in sound. If you like bass then it doesn’t matter your going to go with the product with more bass.

let me tell yo story. I had the opportunity to play with a chord Hugo 2 and some focal clears for a few months while my system was being repaired. For a bit of fun I borrowed a friends audio quest black. And through the focals I really couldn’t say that one sounded better than the other. They sounded the same. Sure the Hugo had a touch, and I mean a touch more refinement probably because of its amp better able to power the heads phones. But was the Hugo 2 1650 quid better. No it wasn’t. But then the Hugo does things the AQ black can’t.

Its not about price it’s about enjoyment. If you can hear the difference it doesn’t matter what others say.

To this day I have a chord qutest in my system and I enjoy the sound produces. Did I spend to much? Yep.
I appreciate your feedback. To be honest I can’t complain with what I have. In lockdown I’ve discovered and listened to far more music than I could ever have imagined via Spotify Discover Weekly. I bought the Zen DAC V2 and Grado 325x for my office and really can’t hear a significant enough of a difference, for my ears at least, compared to cheaper pairs straight out of my phone. Probably best just to enjoy the music and stick with what I have.
 

Vincent Kars

Well-known member
Mar 6, 2021
198
178
770
Want to spend $11,500 ?
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/mola-mola-tambaqui-dac-and-streamer-review.10770/

$1,149.?

$599?

$440?

Impressive low distortion even at $440
 
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doifeellucky

Well-known member
Feb 3, 2016
204
119
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Hi,

That was me 😊. Just as a caution re: the Areas II/Node DAC comparison, I was hard pushed to tell the difference while A/B'ing. I definitely wouldn't have passed a blind test 😉. But as I said in that thread, this has to be taken in the context of my ears, system, room. Your experience could be light years apart from mine 😊.

If you're mainly streaming, and looking to spend around £750, maybe audition the new Node from 2021 yourself, together with your Cambridge Audio amp, or Elex-r if you go that route.

I found myself in a similar thought process as you with regards external Dacs and bought the Denafrips on an impulse, but as you read, I couldn't justify the outlay for it for the negligible difference it made. (I have now sold it to reinvest the money elsewhere in my system).

In my limited experience, and in hindsight, I would probably have still gone Node or maybe CA CXN v2 and stuck with their respective internal Dacs at my level of budget/system, as I don't think IMHO you're going to see significant SQ improvement from the £750 region DACs, just different flavours and different presentation to that of a streamer's DAC.

Good luck 👍
Thanks again. Good to hear you were able to to sell the Ares. I think something like the Node would probably be all I’d need, or if I was to consider an upgrade something like the Hegel H95.
 
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doifeellucky

Well-known member
Feb 3, 2016
204
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My DAC experience is with the $100US Schiit Modi 3+ and the $700US Schiit Bifrost 2, both used with the NAD C368 amp, B&W 606s2 speakers and Amazon HD streaming. There was a clear difference between the two; the Bifrost 2 soundstage was much bigger and better defined with tighter bass and smoother midrange. I'm very glad I upgraded, though the Modi 3+ was still great for the price. Like the rest of a hi-fi system I'm afraid it comes down to discretionary income.
Thanks for the feedback. I’ve considered Schiit in the past but they seem difficult to get hold of in the UK, even before lockdown.
 

doifeellucky

Well-known member
Feb 3, 2016
204
119
10,970
As with anything the DAC is going to depend on the source. Feed it a crummy signal and you can spend as much as you like on a DAC and it will not offer much of an improvement.
Realistically you need to set a fairly lowish budget then try to audition a few.
Buying a DAC for £750 only to find it disappointing is not the way to go.
You could save on box count by buying an amp with integrated DAC.
However, if you are determined to get a separate DAC for around your budget you might look at the iFi Neo iDSD.
Also however, everyone is likely to advise a different DAC because they all have their own favourites
question: if you are looking at streaming and connecting a TV why do you want to go down the all analogue route?
Thanks for the feedback. With regard to your question I’ve read or listened to far too many opinions on the benefits of separates. Probably as many on all in ones too. I think you’re right though and if I was to upgrade something like the Hegel H95 might be the better option for me.
 

doifeellucky

Well-known member
Feb 3, 2016
204
119
10,970
Want to spend $11,500 ?
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/mola-mola-tambaqui-dac-and-streamer-review.10770/

$1,149.?

$599?

$440?

Impressive low distortion even at $440
I saw a not particularly favourable review of the 15k dCS Bartok recently. I’ll probably stick to the lower end.
 

Vincent Kars

Well-known member
Mar 6, 2021
198
178
770
or if I was to consider an upgrade something like the Hegel H95.
Not a good idea as far as the digital part is concerned:
 
Not a good idea as far as the digital part is concerned:
All in the ears of the beholder. Measuring what you cannot hear is meaningless
 

amormusic

Well-known member
Feb 24, 2016
370
254
11,270
You can get some excellent DAC's for around ~£600 mark if you buy sensibly and 2nd hand. I've tried quite a few DACs and there are differences but mainly flavour twists.

In my rack atm are an Arcam D33 (RRP £2k) which is excellent imo and can be picked up for less than £600 quid.

Also in the rack is a mega-pimped Jolida valve DAC which is just superb and is tweakable by changing the valves in it. These are near impossible to pick up - it took me ages to get this (I've actually had two and side-by-sided them with different mods). I'm likely to sell this one very soon. The last one I sold took a full 11 minutes to sell. If you can pick one of these up, deffo try it. They are awesome.
 
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amormusic

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Feb 24, 2016
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I've read this again. Here's another thought/option for you.

Up your budget and buy a Cambridge 851n streamer/DAC. Currently available for £999. This would be such a phenomenal jump up from your Chromecast. I own a Chromecast too, but it lives in a drawer as a spare bit of kit.
I've also owned the Cambridge CXN mentioned above, which is great, but not even near being in the same league - the jump up to the big bro 851n is significant. The 851n is actually the top level Azur DAC they sold, but with a streamer tacked onto it. It is an awesome thing and is probably the best bit of kit I've ever bought. The rest of my kit is not too shabby too. But these are truly excellent.

Cover multiple bases - DAC / Streamer / pre. 851n hits all of these.

If you can afford it, I cannot think of a better suggestion.

Comparatively to the Arcam D33 / pimped Jolida I also own - they are better DACs, but it is so marginal there's really not much in it. Splitting hairs. The 851n is absolutely excellent as a DAC/streamer.
 
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skinnypuppy71

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Aug 10, 2021
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I've read this again. Here's another thought/option for you.

Up your budget and buy a Cambridge 851n streamer/DAC. Currently available for £999. This would be such a phenomenal jump up from your Chromecast. I own a Chromecast too, but it lives in a drawer as a spare bit of kit.
I've also owned the Cambridge CXN mentioned above, which is great, but not even near being in the same league - the jump up to the big bro 851n is significant. The 851n is actually the top level Azur DAC they sold, but with a streamer tacked onto it. It is an awesome thing and is probably the best bit of kit I've ever bought. The rest of my kit is not too shabby too. But these are truly excellent.

Cover multiple bases - DAC / Streamer / pre. 851n hits all of these.

If you can afford it, I cannot think of a better suggestion.

Comparatively to the Arcam D33 / pimped Jolida I also own - they are better DACs, but it is so marginal there's really not much in it. Splitting hairs. The 851n is absolutely excellent as a DAC/streamer.
Your system is very good.....and hence I think this could be why many forum members with kit more biased towards the budget end of the market aren't getting much satisfaction when they've got themselves a lovely new dac in the mid to higher end....the rest of the system is just not up to getting the best from that source...A balance is needed, it's no good upgrading the dac if you don't plan on upgrading the rest of the system....even then it's never going to be a night and day difference...people need to be aware of the possibility of diminishing returns in this respect.
 

amormusic

Well-known member
Feb 24, 2016
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I agree a 'night and day difference' is just a bullsh*t term. I've personally never experienced this.

This term is up there with "trouser flapping bass" for how ridiculous it is.... Everything is incremental.... Each component needs to match the next for optimum performance.

I've played around with a lot of kit, and some has been good, some has been totally disappointing.

However, I make no apology for my suggestions. They are based upon my own experience. The question was around a DAC to a similar value as I have suggested.

You can make a system for peanuts sound amazing if you shop well and system match.
 
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skinnypuppy71

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Aug 10, 2021
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I agree a 'night and day difference' is just a bullsh*t term. I've personally never experienced this.

This term is up there with "trouser flapping bass" for how ridiculous it is.... Everything is incremental.... Each component needs to match the next for optimum performance.

I've played around with a lot of kit, and some has been good, some has been totally disappointing.

However, I make no apology for my suggestions. They are based upon my own experience. The question was around a DAC to a similar value as I have suggested.

You can make a system for peanuts sound amazing if you shop well and system match.
Not questioning your suggestions at all...just pointing out that some recent posts from folks expect the world, moving on to a midrange dac, from a budget unit..when the rest of their system is clearly not up to the task of getting the most from it
 

doifeellucky

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Feb 3, 2016
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Your system is very good.....and hence I think this could be why many forum members with kit more biased towards the budget end of the market aren't getting much satisfaction when they've got themselves a lovely new dac in the mid to higher end....the rest of the system is just not up to getting the best from that source...A balance is needed, it's no good upgrading the dac if you don't plan on upgrading the rest of the system....even then it's never going to be a night and day difference...people need to be aware of the possibility of diminishing returns in this respect.
This was the key part of my question, the balance of the spend. I’m considering separates for flexibility in the longer term. Realistically how much do you think you need to spend on an amp and speakers to justify, and hear actual benefits of, a DAC in the £750 region? Having said that based on some recent reviews I was specifically looking at the SMSL D0300, which is about £400. And then potentially how much better might this be with an amp like the Rega Elex-r (£1000) or Exposure 2510 (£1600) compared to something like the Hegel H95 or NAD C700, or any other all in one up to £2000.

I appreciate the only way I’ll know is to audition for myself, and in my own home, and I still need to allow for a streamer. I was thinking something like the Zen Stream, though I am aware many have had issues with it.
 
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doifeellucky

Well-known member
Feb 3, 2016
204
119
10,970
I've read this again. Here's another thought/option for you.

Up your budget and buy a Cambridge 851n streamer/DAC. Currently available for £999. This would be such a phenomenal jump up from your Chromecast. I own a Chromecast too, but it lives in a drawer as a spare bit of kit.
I've also owned the Cambridge CXN mentioned above, which is great, but not even near being in the same league - the jump up to the big bro 851n is significant. The 851n is actually the top level Azur DAC they sold, but with a streamer tacked onto it. It is an awesome thing and is probably the best bit of kit I've ever bought. The rest of my kit is not too shabby too. But these are truly excellent.

Cover multiple bases - DAC / Streamer / pre. 851n hits all of these.

If you can afford it, I cannot think of a better suggestion.

Comparatively to the Arcam D33 / pimped Jolida I also own - they are better DACs, but it is so marginal there's really not much in it. Splitting hairs. The 851n is absolutely excellent as a DAC/streamer.
Thanks for the suggestion. I’m ultimately looking to upgrade everything. It feels like it might be better to save up and do it all in one go so I can then compare directly against what I have at the moment. Incremental upgrades of individual items will probably not give a noticeable benefit as a weaker part of the system might be limiting the performance of the new component.
 
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doifeellucky

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Feb 3, 2016
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The British audiophile gives a idea of what you might want to spend to get the best from the ares ii, if you don't want to go through the whole review, the partnering equipment part is 14.50 minutes into the video.
View: https://youtu.be/bb-O8JF24PI
Thanks, yes I’ve seen that but will go back and check. I’ve also asked him about other things in the past, more amp and speaker related, and he gives good feedback.
 

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