HELP With Choosing A DAC

Discussion in 'DACs' started by tybrad, May 13, 2012.

  1. tybrad

    tybrad AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I am slowly sliding into using files for music and am wanting a quality DAC in the <$300 range. I know there are other threads on this subject, but saw none discussing my lower cost requirement.

    I am using a Phonic Digitrack now but want to upgrade and give it to my son for his setup.

    I have come across the Maverick Audio D1 and D2- anyone have experience with this DAC, or with the company's products in general?



    Will tube DAC's soften the bitstream for better musicality and tonal harmonics?
    Would I be set for the foreseeable technological future?
    Are there others in the range that you think that I should consider?

    Could really use some guidance as I'm in the middle of Mongolia on this.

  2. blackfly

    blackfly Fidelius Claritus

    I realize you are on a budget but for DACs get the best you can afford. It is critical the bitstream get the best treatment it can for the best sound.
  3. SoNic67

    SoNic67 Active Member

    Personally I think that the tubes color the sound in a way that wasn't intended by the original recording.
    I don't like it... some people do.
  4. rnorton

    rnorton Super Member

    Don't assume that the most expensive ones are the best ones. Listen to some of the economy models first if you can, then listen to one at 5X their price and see if you really want to do that.
  5. BadassBob

    BadassBob Digitally rendered

    The sweet spot for DACs is in the $800 to $1200 range...there you will mostly find types of the "jack of all trades, master of none" variety. In the under $300 category, you will find gems, but nothing truly outstanding. I went through quite a few DACs under $300 price point, most of them the flavor-of-the-month type (or hype), and none of them compared to what Im running now. Regardless, a DAC will generally sound better than a CD player of the same price. I say, save your money up for something good.
  6. anapex

    anapex Active Member

    Have you looked at the Emotiva XDA-1? I've had pretty good experience with it and it's a pretty good deal at $199.
  7. Andyman

    Andyman Scroungus Stereophilus Subscriber

    Prices are coming down and tech is going up, so I'd shop for a used one right now and get familiar with the entire digital process, and then perhaps pop for a nicer one in a year or two. That way you won't be spending solid dollars for midrange products which will be low end in a few years.

    Think of it this way. Lots of guys here use DVD players as CD sources with good results. How much do you think a DAC in a $59 universal player cost???

    I bought a Musical Fidelity V-DAC on eBay about 2 years ago with an upgraded power supply and a nice Blue Jeans cable for about $250 and am a bit disappointed in it in that there's a problem with the USB inputs; they sound all tinny and nasty on certain sources. Fortunately, my desktop has an S/PDIF output on it so I can use that input. But with 24/96 processing coming on and other hi-Rez formats being developed, I'm going to wait and see what happens before I buy a replacement/upgrade.
  8. burmashave

    burmashave Well-Known Member

    Andy makes a valid point, but I have a different take. It seems like advances in DAC tech have occurred faster than any other aspect of music reproduction equipment. New stuff has been coming out quickly, and will continue to do so. Any DAC you buy new now, will be made obsolete soon after. That being said, imagine how obsolete anything used is. That's why these guys are selling their used ones, because they want something generations newer. If you wait till the next innovation is available, you may never buy one. The tech exists right now to produce stunning results. I found that out at the fest.
  9. Andyman

    Andyman Scroungus Stereophilus Subscriber

    After writing my last post, I went and turned on my DAC for a bit of music and it sounded real nice. It is certainly good enough for me to listen to while I muddle through all the parameters of this new digital media invluding the not so obvious selection of software and filing techniques. That's the one difference betwwen a DAC and the CD deck, turntable, tuner, or even a tape recorder is that there's a whole new learning curve involved with the media.
    Playing and ripping files for a DAC is far more complex than buying an LP or a CD, so getting in the game now should only help one make a better choice in the future.

    BTW Danny, what did you hear at the Fest that impressed you so? I didn' t get a chance yo see too much beyond the Swap Room (again....)
  10. burmashave

    burmashave Well-Known Member

    it wasn't any thing in particular, it was more of a general excellence of sound that was in the rooms where digital sources were exclusively used, and there seemed to be plenty of them. It really opened up my eyes in terms of what's possible with a digital system. I have been ripping lp's for days, and playing with formats and quality settings. Learning a lot. Setting my system upstairs to be a digital only system, and moving all my lp's back downstairs where analog will be exclusive.

    It 's just like you say about a new learning curve. It's fun to dive into something new that I can understand. It will never replace my lp setup, but it will be cool to archive all my lp's, and be able to play them as lossless files elsewhere. Also, I have a lot of digital music already that I am rediscovering. Lots of it isn't available on vinyl, and I had forgotten about a lot of it.
  11. richamor

    richamor Blue Collar Subscriber

    I like my Arcam rDAC bought slightly used. IMHO one of the best bargains out there. I wanted to try one out with my SBT and it made a huge difference. And it has all the usual inputs including USB.
  12. burmashave

    burmashave Well-Known Member

    The Arcam rdac is a well regarded DAC still being sold as new. There is also a wifi version.
  13. tybrad

    tybrad AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Thanks for the input guys! $800 is just beyond my means for the forseeable future and most of my music is from LP and CD. And I will look at the options you all have given me.

    Still, anyone have input on the Mavericks? I like how they look but want assurance about their audio processing in the price range.

  14. burmashave

    burmashave Well-Known Member

    I tried a Maverick D1 for a few days and found it unremarkable in stock form. Lot's of people like it though. I compared it to a Peachtree Dacit and it was a distant second to it. On the other hand, I tried it against an HRT Streamer II+, and I thought it was better, but I didn't really care for what I thought was unnatural brightness and brassy highs of the HRT. Others have said they didn't get that. I think system synergy has a lot to do with it. I suggest you order your dac from vendors who offer a 30 day return policy. That way, you can try them out and return them if they don't suit your ears.
  15. trhee

    trhee ㅇtㅈyㅅr

    There's a lot of nice DAC's to be found in all price ranges. It's unbelievable actually how the DAC market has saturated over just the past 5 years.

    If you need to adhere to a budget of $300 or maybe just a bit more, I'd be looking at the HRT Streamer, Audioengine D1, Cambridge Audio DacMagic, Peachtree DacIt, Musical Fidelity V-DAC, Schiit Bifrost and iBasso D7 (USB only).
  16. Gang-Twanger

    Gang-Twanger Resident Wharfedaliophool Subscriber

    Don't know about the + model, but there is absolutely-nothing unnatural about the highs with my HRT MSII. In fact, my experience is completely the opposite. Everything sounds incredibly-natural, but most of all, the sound is musical ("Musical" is it's strong suit). I can't say enough about the MSII, and that's just the base model (I've heard some say the jump to the MSII+ is more than worth the price-difference, but I'm so-happy with the performance of my MSII that I see no need to upgrade).

    Response is ultra-smooth, yet vibrant. If the OP is looking for a smooth, musical-sounding dac to go with a PC/laptop and some nice vintage gear, the MSII is an absolute steal at $150. Originally, I was running an 1/8-inch-to-RCA cable from the headphone-out of my laptop and relying on my laptop's internal soundcard, and I couldn't be more-serious when I say it was a night-and-day difference once I hooked up the HRT. It eliminated the noise-floor (caused by my laptop's power-supply) and also eliminated the jitter problems I was having, plus it dramatically-increased low and high extension (Compared to the way it is now, I had NO extension before). Suddenly, I was getting the kind of imaging I associate with multi-thousand-dollar CD-players.

    I think the reason the base-model MSII performs so-well for it's price is because it's specifically-designed for people looking to get high-end sound from a USB-connected, computer-based audio setup (and I mean HIGH=END sound), and for that situation, I can't see any dac in it's price-range outperforming it. To this day, I am still marveling at it's performance.

    I agree about using a externally-powered usb hub with it (And ONLY use the dac through that hub... If you need external usb-power for other stuff like external hard drives and what not, get a separate external hub... The dac won't operate properly if it's sharing the hub... I remember having issues with the volume going up and down when I tried multiple things through the dac's hub. The external hub increased the dac's performance by a huge margin (It was like going from 50% to 120% :D). The problem wasn't with the MSII, it was with my laptop's underpowered processor and onboard usb hub. I imagine performance might be better on a desktop computer (but I would still try an externally-powered usb hub with either).
    Last edited: May 25, 2012
  17. Emmbee

    Emmbee AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I'll be getting a Tubemagic D1 in a day or so. The tube and DAC have been upgraded. I'll post my thoughts after I give it a run through.
  18. burmashave

    burmashave Well-Known Member

    The streamer 2+ I had had a bad RCA connector, it was loose and would intermittently go open. Perhaps it had other problems too and that could explain its sound. I'm glad yours sounds good in your system and you are happy with it. They do get excellent reviews.
  19. max kahuna

    max kahuna New Member

    I agree DACs are exploding on the scene. I'd add the Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 to the list. A lot depends on if you need high rez files and USB connection. Many of last year's models do not do 24bit/96khz files over USB, and most of the newer budget ones still won't do 24/192 over USB, without a converter that can add anywhere from $100 to $1,000 to the cost. If all you need now is cd quality and/or you only need SPDif connections, many of the budget dacs or higher end older models will work. Dacs are more like computer equipment than audio equippment with regards to obsolescence cycles.
  20. Gang-Twanger

    Gang-Twanger Resident Wharfedaliophool Subscriber

    Yeah, that seemed strange, based on the experience I've had, but again, I've only tried the base model. I'm in love with the thing though. I've stumbled onto this incredible synergy that I'm enjoying more each day I hear it (The Virtual Audio Cable plug-in helped quite a bit to optimize the dac's performance, as did the externally-powered USB hub... Now the dac seems to be running on all cylinders... ).

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