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DACs under £350, combination headphone amps and CA DacMagic Plus upsampling

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john_caius's picture
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Hi guys,

 

I'm considering a variety of DACs for my first decent seperates system with a budget of up to £800.

I'll probably be pairing one of them with my Sony laptop (USB only), CA Azur 351A or Marantz PM6004 or Rotel RA-10 amps, and Monitor Audio BX2s.

 

Three questions:

1) What are people's opinions on the DacMagic Plus' supposed ability to 'upsample' computer audio? This is particularly of interest to me, since the majority of my source files are bog-standard 16/44.1 320kbps MP3 files, played in iTunes.

2) Would the DacMagic Plus perform well as a headphone amp? I'll probably be looking at buying some HD 650s or similar in the next couple of years. Additionally, is it a benefit that it can also act as a preamp?

3) Most importantly, would £350 be too much to spend on a DAC, given the rest of my (proposed) set up?

 

DACs I've considered so far:

- DacMagic 100/Plus

- Musical Fidelity v-DAC II

- Arcam rDAC

- HRT Music Streamer II

- Arcam rPAC

 

Many thanks in advice, Matthew Smile

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RE: DACs under £350

john_caius wrote:

1) What are people's opinions on the DacMagic Plus' supposed ability to 'upsample' computer audio? This is particularly of interest to me, since the majority of my source files are bog-standard 16/44.1 320kbps MP3 files, played in iTunes.

There is no evidence that upsamling produces audiably better sound. Blind testing has found people cannot tell the difference between 16/44.1 and higher.

 

Quote:
2) Would the DacMagic Plus perform well as a headphone amp? I'll probably be looking at buying some HD 650s or similar in the next couple of years. Additionally, is it a benefit that it can also act as a preamp?

There is a big market for combined headphone amp/DACs/preamps. Different makers will emphasise different parts and all I can say is read reviews and audition as much as you can, then buy the features you really need.

 

Quote:
3) Most importantly, would £350 be too much to spend on a DAC, given the rest of my (proposed) set up?

No, but it should really be the limit and if you do spend that much get all three features and use them!

 

 

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quadpatch's picture
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RE: DACs under £350

The impression that I get from reviews is that the DM+ is a decent DAC and an average head amp, similar to the Yulong D100 mkII, which I have, and that seemed to review a bit better than the DM+. Since you mention the headphone amp and only needing USB I think I would go for the rPAC, which is a great portable and amazing value sound quality IMO. Then get something like the Graham Slee Ultra Linear headphone amp if you're serious about headphone listening. Like ID says though, try to read as much as you can, try to demo if you can, and ignore upsampling. 

If you really wanted an all-in-one or other digital inputs then I would recommend a different type of combo, but in my experience something small like the rPAC or V-DAC II are capable enough as DACs. For headphone listening it's the head amp that will give you the biggest benefits for that cash.

As for the HD650, keep your mind open on that one, a lof of great stuff has come out lately! The HD650 is a classic, but it doesn't suit everyone.

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john_caius's picture
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RE: DACs under £350, combination headphone amps and CA

Thanks all three of you.

@Big Chris, quadpatch: I'll certainly consider the Fubar and the Yulong.

The choice at this price point is slightly bewildering, and it seems hard to find reviews which equally address the Hi-Fi AND Head-Fi uses of the combination DAC/HAs. Frustrating, but I may be limited more by what I can demo than anything else... Oh well.

quadpatch's picture
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RE: DACs under £350, combination headphone amps and CA

If you are relying on which ones you can try in shops you'll be limited to things like Cambridge Audio, Arcam, Musical Fidelity and maybe a couple othes. If you want to open youself up to more then read a lot and ultimately have a bit of faith... Check out this list I made for USB DACs here:

http://noblehifi.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/a-list-of-usb-dac-headphone-ampl...

All of these have headphone amps built in too so have a good think about whether that's what you want first. I still highly recommend the Yulong D100 mkII and it can be got inside europe from this place:

http://www.pc-hifi-shop.com/index.php/d-a-converter/yulong-d100-ii-da-co...

Thus avoiding any pesky customs/VAT and providing an easier place to return to should anything go wrong. I've never had any problems with mine though.

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Headphone: Q701HP100HE500, M80TH900Mad DogD7000DT880M100K550TH600 

DAC: E7U100rPACModi/Magni120DsHP-A8DAC2 HGC, BDP 105EUEHP 02DiDAC 

john_caius's picture
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RE: DACs under £350, combination headphone amps

 

Thanks again quadpatch, that's really useful. You've put some serious time into that table, damn...

Since I've only heard the DM+ and V-Dac II, I'll go and demo the rDAC, rPAC and maybe the Teac UD-H01 in Leeds. Beyond that, as you say, I'm on faith.

I'm probably leaning away from the integrated DAC/HA idea though - feel like I'm making things unnecessarily difficult for myself, especially since I don't have appropriate headphones yet!

In other news, the HRT MSII/MSII+ are looking interesting at the moment, especially since they can be got for about £110 and £220 from the US...

 

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RE: DAd CA DacMagic Plus upsampling

FWIW (and remember it was just my ears) I bought the DM+ when it was launched as I was impressed with the original DM. I have auditioned since then: a NAD C390DD, a Chord QuteHD, Audiolab M-DAC. I still have the DM+ and have give up demoing DACs (until Roksan launch one).

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john_caius's picture
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RE: DAd CA DacMagic Plus upsampling

Thanks Steve, that's promising if I am seduced by the DM+. It's a shame I can't demo it alongside other competitors like those from Arcam!

john_caius's picture
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DACs under £350

Something I'm becoming increasingly aware of - especially considering the tendency to want to spend more and more...

Given my source files are mostly AAC/MP3 at 16/44.1 320kbps, played via iTunes, are more expensive DACs (i.e. beyond around the £200 price point) going to be poor value in my system?

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RE: DACs under £350

You should be able to buy a competent enough DAC for £200. What you get by spending more (depending on what you buy of course) is additional features such as headphone amp, preamp, remote controll, balanced outputs, etc.

I have the DM+ and before that a UA-25 and a Saffire Pro 24. The Saffire had arguably the best amp stage, though you'd be hard pressed to tell them all apart. I never used the headphone out.

There are some pro audio DAC that are very capable at that price point.

The UA-25EX is USB powered, the Saffire was Firewire powered, but there is a Saffire 6 USB model.

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RE: DACs under £350 RE: DACs under £350

 

I own both a beresford tc-7520 (gator'd) headphone/dac and the rpac.  The rpac is very detailed and smooth but a bit bass light for my tastes (maybe it would be suited to different headphones).  The beresford really rocks my cans in the bass department with no listening fatigue no matter how long i listen.  

Unfortunately my model is discontinued and the new model (tc-7530) doesnt have usb - so if you wanted a punt on the same model as me youd probably have get one off a well known auction site.

I have tried the rpac rca-out on my hifi and its a similar sound, forward vocals and not enough bass for my tastes.  I bought the rpac blind (not something i normally do) because its a small, lightweight hifi solution for when im travelling with my laptop with no access to a plug socket.  If the rpacs small dimensions and usb power are not a factor then i recommend looking at something else, especially if your a bass head.

My headphones are akg 450's which i appreciate arent hi end by any stretch but can still kick out the bass.  Hope this helps

 

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john_caius's picture
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RE: DACs under £350

What distinguishes pro audio DACs?

I think the rPAC will definitely be on my demo list for superfi, although it is worth considering that the headphone amp capabilities aren't essential (changed my tune, I know) and I dont' really need USB power input.

I'm not a huge basshead, but I listen to fair amount of dance (contradiction in terms?).

john_caius's picture
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RE: DACs under £350

 

What distinguishes pro audio DACs?

The rPAC sounds to be definitely worth trying, although I don't really need the USB power or headphone amp capabilities (I know, changed my tune). I'm not a massive basshead, alhough I do listen to a fair amount of dance.

 

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RE: DACs under £350

Generally they offer more functions than hifi DACs. An audio interface will usually be able to capture audio as well as its use as a DAC. They also tend to have premp functions in addition to headphone outputs. Software is also supplied for various audio recording and manipulation tasks if needed.

Looks wise they might be a bit industrial for some, or in other words aesthically challenged.

UA-25EX

 

The UA-25EX above is a nice little unit that performs very well.

BTW, the latst Beresford DAC (mentioned in post above) is called the Bushmaster.

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RE: DACs under £350

john_caius wrote:

What distinguishes pro audio DACs?

I think the rPAC will definitely be on my demo list for superfi, although it is worth considering that the headphone amp capabilities aren't essential (changed my tune, I know) and I dont' really need USB power input.

I'm not a huge basshead, but I listen to fair amount of dance (contradiction in terms?).

 

More £££s

Don't bother.

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