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Utterchaos23's picture
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Optical or USB Dac?

Hi All,

I'm hoping for some advice.

I have a Mac Mini (2013), an Onix OA21 amp and Celestion Impact 10s.  Currently I'm using a Roland UA-25 mainly as a DAC and things are sounding quite good, that is, until I pug in my Shure se530s (for testing only). It is then that I can tell that it's the DAC that's the weakest link and the Amp is making up for it.  My iPod sounds better.

For this reason I have my eye on either:

DacMagic 100 (USB)

E-DAC 24 bit (USB)

Second hand Beresford TC-7510/7520 (Optical)

Very tatty second hand Dacmagic 2 (Optical)

I guess my question for-mostly is, is USB better than Optical or the other way around? (from my Mac).

If USB is better, will the apparent superior quality audio of the beresford make up for it?

If USB is definitely better... E-Dac or DacMagic 100?

If there is no real difference will the cheapest of the lot do ... dacmagic 2?

 

I will only be connecting the mac so no selecter is needed, a pre-amp would be nice though, for volume control (Beresford TC 7520 has this).

Thanks for reading..... J.

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

Have you tried the output direct from your Mini's headphone socket? If you're able to tell a huge difference between it and any of the DACs you list then you're a better man than me. Took me a while to realise that the differences between DACs (half-decent ones at least) was so comparatively small that the same money would be better-spent elsewhere. Hence why my £300 HRT II+ is in the process of being readied for sale: I've gone back to using the headphones output from my Mac, and there's barely any discernible difference.

 

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

Hiya,

Thanks for responing.  I do disagree though.  I have used a reasonable quality 3.5>Phono and pluged it straigh into my amp, my mp3's sounded a bit flat and lifeless but the biggest diference was on the 96kHz losless flies, it seemed all of the benefit had been sucked out and there was no seperation at all, no where near as good as they do though my Roland interface.

I am in-fact trialing the optical-in on my interface to see if it's any better than the USB andf I think I prefur the USB, but then I am using a horrid plasticy mini-toslink adapter (proper one in the post!).

Wanna sell your HRT? .... although, in saying that, you haven't given it a very good review!  >)

Cheers

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

As I type I'm listening to a 320kps podcast from a Mac Mini into some B&W MM1 on USB and it sounds great.

I can also listen from the Mac via USB into the Sabre ESS DAC of an Audiolab 8200 CD, 8200A and Monitor Audio loudpeakers.

The USB DAC is controlled by Audirvana Plus plug-in with I-Tunes. Apple lossless 16 44.1 sounds fabulous.

I've previously tried my Mac Mini via optical into the DAC (with similar plastic mini adaptor) on the 8200CD DAC and it isn't close to the USB quality. It is subdued and stuffy.

Away from the Mac, I use coax connections on my Cyrus kit.

I haven't got anything plugged in via optical in my house. For me, optical is defunct.

Also the best thing for me about USB is that you get a degree of customisation / optimisation between the Audirvana Plus software and the DAC.

Lounge: Cyrus CD transport, Stream X2, DAC XP Signature, 2x X Power, 3x PSX-R, VdH Integration interconnects, Chord ProDac digital, PMC twenty 22, 2x terabyte NAS, tunes in FLAC codec

 

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

Utterchaos23 wrote:

Wanna sell your HRT? .... although, in saying that, you haven't given it a very good review!  >)

Search my past threads and you'll find I gave it an absolutely glowing review, round about when I bought it in March 2012. Like the various professional reviews which heaped five stars on it, I was initially blown away by how much better I felt it sounded. Then one day after the novelty had wore off, I did a stupid thing and A-B'd against the Mac's built-in DAC. At that point I realised that most of the improvements I had perceived were down to expection bias, brought about by having spent £300 on it, and that while there definitely were differences, the £300 spent elsewhere (such as on speakers) might have made better use of my money.

Digital audio has leveled the playing-field by an awful lot.

But to answer your initial question, I prefer USB  Smile

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

Why do you want volume control if it's going into the Onix? Reason I ask is that there are one or two other USB options that you dont list - of the 'thumb drive' variety. I use an M2Tech Hiface DAC that just about squeezes into your budget range at £180 or so. It's a cracking little dac, bettering the rDac / external power supply that I previously used. Only issue is that it's a single input item, but you don't seem to need any more (I use it with a 2010 Mac Mini). I think Cambridge Audio have just brought out a similar one for around £100 that does have volume control, there's also the original Audioquest Firefly. An additional benefit is that they don't take up any space - assuming you use a USB lead into it rather than using it directly into the computer's USB port.

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

Cheers all.

Adam, think you might be right... USB looks the way to go. Have D/Led Audirivana and I think it may offer a lot.. £60 though Sad and quite dificult to flip between to get a blind test... anyway, enjoying free the demo!

MajorFubar, Yes, expection bias can cost a lot of money! - another one for USB then...

Phillip, HiFace look impresive.  Accessible volume is only a nice-to-have I've moved my amp out of the cupboard and on top of my desk in preperation for this.  I do not have a passion for any CA products, DacMagic was going to be last chance for them I suppose... so looks like I may need to do some saving up for the HiFace! ... does not fulfil my Chunky-metal-box-with-LEDs thurst, but hey... It's all about the music after all.

Any more ideas always welcome!

 

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

I agree, £60 is a bit steep.

I listened on trial and thought it was very good.

I then went back to pure I-Tunes playback once the trial expired and I just was not satisfied by what I heard.

So I just stumped up the cash for the licence and have never looked back. Dance 4

Lounge: Cyrus CD transport, Stream X2, DAC XP Signature, 2x X Power, 3x PSX-R, VdH Integration interconnects, Chord ProDac digital, PMC twenty 22, 2x terabyte NAS, tunes in FLAC codec

 

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

Just adding another vote that USB out of a Macbook Pro is clearly better than optical out to a DAC.

IMHO.

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

Shame I forgot to cancel my bid on the Beresford TC-7510 then!

Ahh well... I got it for a good price and it's still gotta be better than my UE25-EX... hasn't it? Even if it is optical!

Maybe I could get a USB>Optical/Coax converter?

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RE: Optical or USB Dac?

I haven't tried comparing the optical out from my Mac Mini to my USB to M-DAC connection but going from optical on my ATV2 to USB via Mac Mini gave me a useful increase in SQ. The USB connection is Async & allows me to pause/skip tracks in iTunes from the DAC's remote. USB from my Sony laptop to my M-DAC was unuseable unless I ran the Sony from its battery & not mains. Never noticed any improvement using the trial version of Audirvarna Plus over iTunes native mode so uninstalled it.

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