Will a DAC make a marked difference in audio quality?

shipworm-archaism-recede

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Nov 29, 2021
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I know very little about Hi-Fi. It’s my first post, so I’m sorry if my questions seem naive.

I stream audio and video from an Apple TV via HDMI into an old Pioneer PDP-R06XE multimedia receiver that came with my plasma TV. The receiver plays the audio via an Arcam A90 amplifier and Monitor Audio Silver RS-6 speakers.
  1. Would using a dedicated DAC (e.g. a Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M) instead of the Pioneer receiver give me noticeably better audio?
  2. Somebody recommended the DacMagic 200M to me, and it is at the upper end of my budget. I know you can spend a lot more or a lot less. What else should I consider given my existing equipment?
  3. I would connect the DAC using the optical out from the receiver. I notice that DACs often have a variety of inputs. Should I be looking for anything in particular for the future.
Thanks!
 
Thank you for your reply.

Would a new amp with integrated DAC for ~£500 be better than adding a DAC to the A90?
No, not in my opinion. Putting both devices into one box does not bode well when it comes to upgrading, and that would normally mean DAC before the amp, it's a bit like buying an amp with an integrated phono stage only to find that phono stage is always going to be the weak link.
 

shipworm-archaism-recede

Well-known member
Nov 29, 2021
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No, not in my opinion. Putting both devices into one box does not bode well when it comes to upgrading, and that would normally mean DAC before the amp, it's a bit like buying an amp with an integrated phono stage only to find that phono stage is always going to be the weak link.
Thanks.

I know it is old now, but the A90 was rather well rated in its day. Would I be wasting the DacMagic on it?
 

Gray

Well-known member
I'm another one in favour of keeping the DAC separate (I've tried a few different DACs into my 19 year old amp).
I don't know how good your A90 is, but I wasn't over- impressed by the A85 model.

There's a member here who's tried several decent amps - and speaks highly of the Audiolab 6000A.
Now that does have a built in DAC....but.
In your position, faced with paying as much as £449 for the 200M, or £600 for the 6000A (killing 2, DAC and new amp, birds).
True, a standalone amp means no money gets 'wasted' on the built in DAC, but you could think of the Audiolab as a good value amp with a DAC as a bonus.
(And it's not as if the Audiolab DAC should be worse than the 200M...and you could always feed the 6000A with an external DAC in the future if necessary).
Just a thought.
You would first need to compare any new amp with your A90 of course.
 

shipworm-archaism-recede

Well-known member
Nov 29, 2021
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I'm another one in favour of keeping the DAC separate (I've tried a few different DACs into my 19 year old amp).
I don't know how good your A90 is, but I wasn't over- impressed by the A85 model.

There's a member here who's tried several decent amps - and speaks highly of the Audiolab 6000A.
Now that does have a built in DAC....but.
In your position, faced with paying as much as £449 for the 200M, or £600 for the 6000A (killing 2, DAC and new amp, birds).
True, a standalone amp means no money gets 'wasted' on the built in DAC, but you could think of the Audiolab as a good value amp with a DAC as a bonus.
(And it's not as if the Audiolab DAC should be worse than the 200M...and you could always feed the 6000A with an external DAC in the future if necessary).
Just a thought.
You would first need to compare any new amp with your A90 of course.
Thanks for the constructive suggestion, but £600 is more than I wish to spend right now.

I can’t say how good the A90 is. It was the first bit of expensive (probably cheap for you guys) audio kit I ever bought on the basis of a What Hi-Fi review at the time. I also wouldn‘t know how to conduct a meaningful comparison without taking all my gear to a shop. I think I would end up wanting to replace everything if I started tugging on that thread. :ROFLMAO:

I was really after a modest addition to my setup to improve the sound, and I intend to stick to the budget I set. I would be able to add a better amplifier in the future if I wanted to. The TV itself will probably be the next thing to get upgraded though.
 
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Tinman1952

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May 19, 2021
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Thanks for the constructive suggestion, but £600 is more than I wish to spend right now.

I can’t say how good the A90 is. It was the first bit of expensive (probably cheap for you guys) audio kit I ever bought on the basis of a What Hi-Fi review at the time. I also wouldn‘t know how to conduct a meaningful comparison without taking all my gear to a shop. I think I would end up wanting to replace everything if I started tugging on that thread. :ROFLMAO:

I was really after a modest addition to my setup to improve the sound, and I intend to stick to the budget I set. I would be able to add a better amplifier in the future if I wanted to. The TV itself will probably be the next thing to get upgraded though.
Nothing wrong with your amp. If the price of the 200M is too much (you are also paying for a headphone amp) then I would look at the Topping E30 currently £149 on Amazon. State of the art DAC with USB, optical and coax digital inputs. Technical measurements are superb and I would take this over the Cambridge every time.....🙂
 

plastic penguin

Well-known member
IMO using a Dac with a CD player, using that as transport, I couldn't hear any difference. Plugged into a Blu-ray player there was a slight uplift in sound.

These were based on budget models such as Arcam, Peachtree iDac and briefly owned the original DacMagic many moons ago.
The A90 when used in tandom with the surround sound module was a cracking, flexible device. As a purely stereo amp IMO it was as cohesive sounding as the A85
 

shadders

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Nov 19, 2009
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Hi,
For DAC's i would be prepared for a disappointment. Differences are over-hyped as to their scale.

If you are a hifi enthusiast then keeping everything seprate allows for an upgrade path. If you have been happy for the past 10 years with your current setup, then do you really need a change ?

If you can audition first then that will be beneficial in money well spent, or not.

Regards,
Shadders.
 

shipworm-archaism-recede

Well-known member
Nov 29, 2021
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Hi,
For DAC's i would be prepared for a disappointment. Differences are over-hyped as to their scale.

If you are a hifi enthusiast then keeping everything seprate allows for an upgrade path. If you have been happy for the past 10 years with your current setup, then do you really need a change ?

If you can audition first then that will be beneficial in money well spent, or not.

Regards,
Shadders.
Thanks Shadders.

I agree, I think separates are the way to go.

I'm not really a Hi-Fi enthusiast. Years ago when I bought my existing equipment, I thought the quality of the surround sound everyone was pushing then to be awful. I happened to visit a shop that had a TV hooked up to a high-quality stereo system instead. I was really impressed by it, and did a little bit of research. I'm really glad I did, because I've derived a great deal of pleasure from it over the years.

Please don't scoff, but the motivation for considering change is that I'm enjoying the clarity and detail of the audio from a stereo pair of HomePod Minis in my office compared with that I get in my living room.

The HomePod Minis aren't beefy enough for my living room, so it made me wonder if I could make any improvement to the setup in there. I thought the weakest part of the audio chain in my living room is the TV receiver's DAC which is why I started the thread. I'm pleased to hear that several of you reckon there is nothing wrong with the amplifier and speakers, so maybe it is worth a try.

As you suggest, maybe I should take the Apple TV and TV receiver down to a local shop and ask them to let me listen to the difference on one of their systems before parting with any cash.
 

Tinman1952

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May 19, 2021
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Thanks Shadders.

I agree, I think separates are the way to go.

I'm not really a Hi-Fi enthusiast. Years ago when I bought my existing equipment, I thought the quality of the surround sound everyone was pushing then to be awful. I happened to visit a shop that had a TV hooked up to a high-quality stereo system instead. I was really impressed by it, and did a little bit of research. I'm really glad I did, because I've derived a great deal of pleasure from it over the years.

Please don't scoff, but the motivation for considering change is that I'm enjoying the clarity and detail of the audio from a stereo pair of HomePod Minis in my office compared with that I get in my living room.

The HomePod Minis aren't beefy enough for my living room, so it made me wonder if I could make any improvement to the setup in there. I thought the weakest part of the audio chain in my living room is the TV receiver's DAC which is why I started the thread. I'm pleased to hear that several of you reckon there is nothing wrong with the amplifier and speakers, so maybe it is worth a try.

As you suggest, maybe I should take the Apple TV and TV receiver down to a local shop and ask them to let me listen to the difference on one of their systems before parting with any cash.
Nothing wrong with wanting change/improvement to your system. That's something we all suffer from! 😁 The only thing I would say is that for this type of purchase your 'local shop' will not have the models which are currently very popular....such as Topping, SMSL, Loxjie even iFi etc....
That's why I suggested Amazon where you CAN buy these items and try them at home for 30 days. If you are not happy then you can return them without loss.
For comparing speakers or amplifiers however there is no better strategy than visiting your local dealer.👍
 

shadders

Well-known member
Nov 19, 2009
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Please don't scoff, but the motivation for considering change is that I'm enjoying the clarity and detail of the audio from a stereo pair of HomePod Minis in my office compared with that I get in my living room.
Hi,
I would not worry about the perception that the Homepod Minis are not hifi. I know someone who had the amplifier and speaker separates, and now uses a soundbar.

You like the sound that you like, and i would not let hifi snobbery deter you from enjoying what you do.

You could spend a lot of money, and obtain a different sound, but maybe spending more is not making it better. So an audition is they way to go. Home audition is preferred, as the room and speakers for a shop audition may not reflect how it will sound in your room.

Regards,
Shadders.
 

plastic penguin

Well-known member
Thanks Shadders.

I agree, I think separates are the way to go.

I'm not really a Hi-Fi enthusiast. Years ago when I bought my existing equipment, I thought the quality of the surround sound everyone was pushing then to be awful. I happened to visit a shop that had a TV hooked up to a high-quality stereo system instead. I was really impressed by it, and did a little bit of research. I'm really glad I did, because I've derived a great deal of pleasure from it over the years.

Please don't scoff, but the motivation for considering change is that I'm enjoying the clarity and detail of the audio from a stereo pair of HomePod Minis in my office compared with that I get in my living room.

The HomePod Minis aren't beefy enough for my living room, so it made me wonder if I could make any improvement to the setup in there. I thought the weakest part of the audio chain in my living room is the TV receiver's DAC which is why I started the thread. I'm pleased to hear that several of you reckon there is nothing wrong with the amplifier and speakers, so maybe it is worth a try.

As you suggest, maybe I should take the Apple TV and TV receiver down to a local shop and ask them to let me listen to the difference on one of their systems before parting with any cash.
It looks like most of us are singing from the same song sheet (musical pun intended) :)

IME, unlike any other component, a Dac is a Catch-22 situation. The differences are generally very subtle. I guess you'd need to spend close on a grand to notice any significant difference. Then you have to think is the rest of the system good enough for such an expensive item?

I'm going to throw a real curve ball now. I've owned Monitor Audio RS6s since 2005 (now only a substitute because the TB2i). IME the RS6s are the best sub-£1000 floorstander I've heard with Arcam and many other brands. That said, it can be beaten. It comes in the shape of PMC GB1i. At twice the cost of the RS6s when new, they give you much better clarity, detail and bass definition.... and they are almost the same size. They can be picked up for around £500-700. For me, that's the wiser spend.
 

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