DAC recommendation

  • 2 January 2009
  • 54 replies
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I have recently installed a 3 zone system and I am completely impressed. In one room I have an existing Hi Fi consisting of Cyrus DAD3Q CD player, Cyrus 111i amp and Mission 752 speakers. I have connected a ZP80 to this and the sound is good but not quite as good (thin in the midrange) as music from the CD player. My digital music has been copied using itunes set to apples lossless format (can't remeber the propoer name).

I want to try and acheive a similar sound as from my existing CD player so my first upgrade is to change out the Sonos supplied interconnects.

The next upgrade would be to add a DAC and use the digital output of the ZP80.

Are there any recommendations for a DAC as Cyrus do not make one to match the system I have.

Thanks,

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54 replies

This thread seems to have been dead for quite some time, but since i ran across it while looking for information about issues with analog sound output from the sonos connect. Specifically some low volume - high frequency "clicking" and a bit of low volume white noise. I have experienced this with both of the connects i have, as well as a friends connect...

My experience is that the connect, like all sonos products, is all about convenience. The UI is the best i have used, and sound quality is generally acceptable for background music.

Sound quality using a good external DAC is MUCH better than the analog outputs. I suspect it has a lot more to do with the internal power supply or amplification implementation than the actual DAC chips... But connecting the connect to a "good" external DAC made a world of difference for me... It sounded as if someone removed a wet blanket from overtop the speakers, and of course, the "clicking" and white noise went away.

While im at it... I would love to see some higher res support in the sonos. Tidal masters for example.

Anyway, curious if anyone else has noticed the "clicking" or white noise issues (note - unless you have a very high resolving system you will likely need to be within a few feet of the speakers to hear).

Ill throw it that while DAC's have improved significantly over the years, and the resolution of music from streaming services has improved - the sonos connect appears to have remained pretty much the same. Im assuming that has something to do with why sonos does not seem to support the new high res content.
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Jerry the Vdac is supplied with a 12volt wall wart power supply. It really is a nice sounding unit for $299.00 (free shipping from Audio Advisor)
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ErikM,

What do you use for a 12 V power supply for the V-DAC? The manual says "Only use approved Musical Fidelity DC power supply." Their power supplies run into the many hundreds of dollars. So the total cost, if you use their suggestion, would be much more expensive.

I'm wondering whether the difference between a top of the line DAC and a lesser model might be in the power supply.That might also explain why the more expensive DAC's are so large needing to accommodate the larger parts for better filtering.............
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Might also want to check out the new Musical Fidelity VDAC I just got one to use with a ZP80 that feeds my outdoor system, it's definitly better sounding than the DAC's in my Sony 5300es receiver ( which isn't a slouch) http://www.avguide.com/blog/the-little-dac-could
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Hello

I tried buying a cheap coax cable (75ohm), but heard little difference in the sound. (really nice with Sonos with both digital and analog output can be used at the same time. Easy to test and change between dac and analog).

Will see if i can borrow some quality digital cable (VAN DEN HUL the NAME) for test purpose. Not willing to buy, cause i dont think the difference between that and the cheap one will be possible to hear;)

My speakers are quite new, played 100-150 hours. So i have been burning them in with continously playing the last weeks. I want to be sure theyre not reducing the difference between DAC and no DAC. Should not make much of a difference, but i know from experience Klipsch needs some hours to open up.

Bought some CD that are suppose to have high recording quality, so im sure thats not interfering either. "Dave Mathews band - Live at Radio City Music Hall" and "Rebecca Pigeon - The Raven"

(:D fantastic recordings........a bit scary how different the qualitys can be from the source material)

Will post again when i have tried with new Coax cables. And perhaps are able to have a blind test;).
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I use my ZP80 in my HT which has an Onkyo Pro 885 pre/pro and it accepts digital directly from the ZP80. Is there any advantage to getting an external DAC like the PS Audio as opposed to using the DACs in the Onkyo? Alternatively, would the Cullen mod make a difference?

Thanks.


Should have mentioned that my room has been acoustically treated and I have an outboard Audyessy Equalizer. Speakers, while not new, were well respected when I purchased them -- Paradigm Active 20's. Thanks.
Whilst I agree that the room can play havoc with the sound of a system (early return reflections off surfaces near one speaker only being a particular pain), when all that is changing is one component (here the DAC), it should be possible to detect any change in the sound resulting from that single component introduction.

Not necessarily.

If the difference is subtle and is being masked by other components in the system then you may not.

To give extremes, a slight "widening of sound-stage", say, wouldn't be noticed by a typical teenager if you were feeding your DAC into a typical low-end mini system.

On the other hand, the same in a custom-designed listening room with near-perfect acoustics may become "obvious" to a critical listener.

My view is if you're going to spend money on improving your sound then spend it on what is normally the biggest factor, where you're going to get the best bang for your buck. For most people that's somewhere between their speaker terminals and their ears.

(It's certainly not overpriced power cords or expensive interconnects)

As for the rest of your post, I can do nothing but wholeheartedly agree!

Cheers,

Keith
Whilst I agree that the room can play havoc with the sound of a system (early return reflections off surfaces near one speaker only being a particular pain), when all that is changing is one component (here the DAC), it should be possible to detect any change in the sound resulting from that single component introduction. You know: usual adage in testing - change only one thing at a time.

I agree that if the sound is messy in the first place then subtle changes may be harder to pick up and appreciate.

I am agonising over whether or not to look at an external DAC (the Dacmagic is getting an excellent reception). The Sonos in my system sounds fine (Quad / KEF floorstanders) so I guess there is little to be gained. Those early returns are more of a problem.

Some while ago, I remember reading a serious comment about whether or not one's system sounded better with or without glasses on. The consensus was that specs should be removed. How many judged that specs off was better as they listened for the tiny improvements which actually resulted from the very act of moving ones hands away from the ears as the glasses were removed... Smoke and mirrors or snake oil, anyone?

What really matters is the music and how seductive it is. Get a walloping good Dr Feelgood / ZZ Top / Led Zeppelin going or a dreamy Fleet Foxes / Blue Nile and the fine detail of audio quality is soon forgotten. This is what Sonos does best: it gives access to music and allows you to get immersed as forgotten track after forgotten track goes into the queue. My pile of fabulous vinyl, I am afraid, just does not get a look in.
I use my ZP80 in my HT which has an Onkyo Pro 885 pre/pro and it accepts digital directly from the ZP80. Is there any advantage to getting an external DAC like the PS Audio as opposed to using the DACs in the Onkyo? Alternatively, would the Cullen mod make a difference?


If your speakers are top-end and your room has been acoustically treated then you may hear the difference. Audio is a chain. it's impossible to judge the impact of a single component in isolation as it will depend what else is in the chain.

This chain includes your speakers, your room, and your ears. Arguably these can make more difference to the sound you hear than any other parts of the system. You can't change your ears, but appropriate speakers, good placement, and acoustic room treatments can give dramatic improvements.

If you haven't already, I normally advise people to spend the money on acoustic room treatments before spending it on more esoteric upgrades which will probably have far less sonic impact.

Cheers,

Keith
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I use my ZP80 in my HT which has an Onkyo Pro 885 pre/pro and it accepts digital directly from the ZP80. Is there any advantage to getting an external DAC like the PS Audio as opposed to using the DACs in the Onkyo? Alternatively, would the Cullen mod make a difference?

Thanks.
Because these measurements tell us everything we need to know and encompass all of the possibilities of music reproduction?

If the resulting analogue waveforms at the input to the amplifier are identical, then I would say a resounding YES!

(or is there some magic pixie-dust parameter which isn't being measured by doing this?)

Sort of like saying that if the horsepower and torque on one brand of car is identical to the horsepower and torque on another brand of car there is no difference between the two cars.



Actually it's not. It's more like comparing two of the same model of car which have the same horsepower and torque. If the measured torque curve for both cars is identical, then will one perform significantly better than the other?

Or, probably even closer, take a car, remove the engine and replace it with another engine which, when measured, has identical characteristics.

It doesn't take into account any number of other factors that may influence what appeals to you about a car. If you buy the car for no other purpose than transportation, then the logic may be sound, but you probably buy a car based upon any number of factors, both measurable and intangible.


That's fine, but this test was to test whether there was actually any difference between setups by directly comparing the resulting analogue waveform. Note this was a direct comparison, not any kind of analytical measurement of perceived audibility. I really cannot see how anyone can argue that if two identical analogue signals are passed into the same amplifier, they can possibly sound different just because the downstream components might be different.

Now, if the listener had been told there were significant differences in the downstream equipment which SHOULD make a difference to sound quality, I guarantee a significant number of them would perceive differences.

Of course this was one user's setup. If their DAC was particularly good TOSLink interface or which was good at rejecting any resulting jitter (the ONLY thing which could have an effect) then the results are as expected. Another users kit may give different results. On that basis I have no problem with people trying these things out.

At the end of the day, if people are happy with their setup and that involves using components which make no audible difference to their setup, but which look good, make them feel good, or appease the gadget-freak or shopaholic within them, that's fine.

Cheers,

Keith
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I will add, there's an audio Engineer on another forum who has been measuring and comparing the analogue waveforms output from his system under different conditions and setups:

Cheers,

Keith


Because these measurements tell us everything we need to know and encompass all of the possibilities of music reproduction? Sort of like saying that if the horsepower and torque on one brand of car is identical to the horsepower and torque on another brand of car there is no difference between the two cars. It doesn't take into account any number of other factors that may influence what appeals to you about a car. If you buy the car for no other purpose than transportation, then the logic may be sound, but you probably buy a car based upon any number of factors, both measurable and intangible.

I will add that there are any number of audio engineers designing and building equipment, specifically DAC's, that will recommend one attachment type over another because of exactly the topics we are discussing. Their circuit design may favor one over the other, or a completely different method all together (I2S, D-Link etc.), and they will in fact measure better in one area or another.

I don't want to start a debate on the whole subject of measurements vs. listening, I'm just proposing that it's very easy to connect the unit with either cable type and see if you prefer one over the other. If you hear a difference and prefer one over the other you can choose which to keep. If you don't hear a difference then there are several possibilities. It could be that there is in fact no difference, or that the difference was minute enough not to matter to you. It could be that the difference is present, but masked by other variables in the rest of the system.

The bottom line is that regardless of which DAC one uses, or which cable type one uses, you are enjoying your music to fullest. 😃
I will add, there's an audio Engineer on another forum who has been measuring and comparing the analogue waveforms output from his system under different conditions and setups:

Things that make NO discernible difference to what goes into my amps:

1) playing WAV vs FLAC
2) streaming FLAC native vs streaming FLAC as PCM
3) muting SB analogue stage (attenuation=63)
5) wired vs wireless (SB-router)
6) £20 spdif coax (1.5m) vs £200 Kimber D-60 coax (1.5m) (SB-TACT)- awaiting another cable for TACT-DAC tests
7) toslink vs coax (!) SB-TACT
😎 stock PSU vs reasonable quality linear PSU
9) standard UK mains cable into DAC PSU vs costly shielded one


Cheers,

Keith
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Majik, I don't debate any of what you are saying, I only suggested that groomz might wish to try a coax cable and see if he could hear a difference. I do hear a difference in my system between the two and prefer the coax.

What I suppose I am asking you is whether or not you have tried both and formed an opinion in the context of your system and your experience.
I agree with much of what you have said regarding optical transceivers, which I am very familiar with as I also work in Telecoms. Certainly a 40G single-mode LX interface on a device is going to cost more that is practical for a consumer device like a ZP, but these devices are, literally, more than 10s of thousands of times faster than the ZP optical output needs to be. Making a consumer-grade system that operates at no more than a couple of megabits per second over short distances should be achievable at a sensible cost.

Also, whatever applies to fibre also can apply to coax. I have seen poorly designed electrical interfaces on cheap E1 line equipment which led to poor rise times and which violated the G.703 spec masks. This is on equipment many times the cost of a Sonos Zoneplayer. Also coaxial cable is much more impacted by interference, impedance mismatches (and resulting reflections) than fibre.

The big problem I have is there is an infamous pseudo-science article which was written in the 90s which claimed TOSLink was inherently bad. Like most good snake-oil, the article was written well and sounded plausible, but it didn't withstand real scrutiny. But people believed in it.

Until that point and despite considerable field experience, noone claimed that one medium was better than the other. Since that article, it's commonplace for people to claim that a coax interface is better. That shows the power of suggestion on a suggestible audience!

I'm not against him trying a coax interface. If it really is betetr for him then it's just as likely to be the fault of his DAC than it is the Sonos kit. I'm just pointing out that there is a lot of BS around and not to be fooled by it.

Oh, and yes I know that different glass fibres have different properties (Non-zero dispersion shifted fibre for DWDM for example), but what is relevant for long-distance, high-bandwidth multi-wavelength telecoms doesn't necessarily make sense for low-bandwidth, short-distance single-channel connections like TOSLink. For instance, I have seen no evidence (beyond the "evidence" claimed by manufacturers of expensive glass cables) that supports the belief that glass interconnects are "better" than quality polymer ones. In fact I have seen good evidence that suggests the opposite is true.

I have also seen plenty of evidence which indicates that that imagination is often more powerful than we might like to think.

Oh, and when I auditioned different digital interconnects on my own system some time ago, I did notice a major difference between them: the more they promised, the lighter my wallet felt. Other than that I could detect no difference.


Cheers,

Keith
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A few years ago I had played around with TOSLINK transmitters and receivers a bit (Toshiba TOTX173 and TORX173). Both the transmitter and receiver suffer from significantly different rise and fall times. Depending of the implementation of the clock recovery on the receiver side this can lead to jitter (possibly signal-dependent jitter) in the recovered clock. Nothing so great as to lead to a bit-error, but possibly audible...
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I will point out there's a lot of BS written about the apparent problems with TOSLink. In general there's nothing wrong with it as an interface and it should perform at least as well as the coaxial connection. If there is a difference (and I am yet to be convinced there is) it is most likely in specific implementations being poor.

I will also say that audio myths abound and seem to spread like a bad virus. They are then taken as gospel instead of the huge pinch-of-salt they deserve.

Cheers,

Keith


Keith, I'm not trying to start a controversy, I was merely suggesting that groomz might want to try the RCA connection rather than the Optical to see if he liked the sound better. I agree that when "properly implemented" Toslink should theoretically serve as an appropriate conduit.

I used to design fiber optic transcievers for telecom applications. I can tell you that not all glass cables are the same, nor are all transcievers the same. The devices we manufactured were operating at much higher frequencies I'll admit, but none the less, the devices utilized for the optical conversion alone cost many times more than the entire ZP80/ZP90. For Sonos to manufacture their very remakable product for the asking price they recieve there must be compromises somewhere as they implement the product. I can't imagine that they focus much time or attention in the optical interface, in fact I suspect that they utilize an off the shelf solution that likely costs them pennies. They have bigger fish to fry elsewhere in the system. Therefore my suggestion to groomz was based upon a belief on my part that the 75 ohm digital output, since it did not require an addition conversion, might yield some audible benefit that he is apparently not detecting currently.

Regarding audio myths, I agree, there are many out there. I'm not a Beltist or anything, but I have been able to effect improvements in my own system that others have had difficulty accepting or understanding - that is until they actually listen with their own ears and can judge for themselves. I am all for healthy scepticism. For that reason I refrain from commenting on anything that I haven't listened to myself.

In my system, in my room I can hear a difference between Toslink and S/PDIF (mostly in the areas of soundstage and the resolution of images), and I prefer the latter. Obviously your mileage may vary and I'd like to hear your impressions when you have compared the two in your system.
I would suggest trying the DAC hooked up with a good (true 75 ohm) digital cable rather than the optical cable. Toslink is regarded more as a format of convenience rather than fidelity. You may notice more of an improvement.

I will point out there's a lot of BS written about the apparent problems with TOSLink. In general there's nothing wrong with it as an interface and it should perform at least as well as the coaxial connection. If there is a difference (and I am yet to be convinced there is) it is most likely in specific implementations being poor.

I will also say that audio myths abound and seem to spread like a bad virus. They are then taken as gospel instead of the huge pinch-of-salt they deserve.

Cheers,

Keith
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I would suggest trying the DAC hooked up with a good (true 75 ohm) digital cable rather than the optical cable. Toslink is regarded more as a format of convenience rather than fidelity. You may notice more of an improvement.
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My father just bought this DAC, so im testing it at home just right now. Its connected to a Sonos ZP80 player with a optical cable.

I must say, that there is extremely little difference in the sound, compare to analoge cabels from the ZP80 directly to my amplifier.

I have a tube amplifier, and Klipsch RF-62 speakers, so i guess its a mid price range system.

I will continue to test it the next week, since someone seem to think that "burning in" will affect the audio in the DAC. I must say im a bit sceptical, espesually since there is so little different.
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MITT, thank you for elaborating on the subject, your post touches upon some very good points. I am not so much of a 'high-end' guy although I own decent stereo equipment (MF amp and MA speakers).
The subject is not at all black and white in the sense that in the end it is very much about synergy and personal taste.
Music Hall have very recently put their own (tube) DAC on the market which has received some rave reviews. I believe MSRP is around 600 us$ which actually makes it a contender to both CA and PS Audio (very sharp price drop on their Digital link III DAC).
The PerfectWave, on paper (it is not yet available) does indeed seem like a dream DAC 😃 but it comes with a (steep) price.
I think I am going to read another couple of reviews and gather some more end-user feedback on the DAC's mentioned before making the jump.
In the mean time I'll continue enjoying the Sonos ZP90 in my main system (without DAC).
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^^^

Hi MITT,
since this thread is all about DAC recommendation, are there any that you have been able to experience in combination with your ZP90?

From the ones mentioned in this thread so far (Cambridge Audio DAC Magic, Benchmark DAC1 and PS Audio Digital Link III) I would personally only go for one out of the last two.


I think that is an open ended question, dependant of course on how much money one wants to spend and the associated equipment in the remainder of the system. The Cambridge Audio DAC Magic is a rather amazing piece for the money, but I agree, the Benchmark and PS Audio are audibly superior - but they should be for twice the cost. The point is, if you don't have the ancillary gear to convey the differences (Pre-amp, amp speakers and yes, even cables) then it more than likely will be difficult to quantify the differences.

In my system I have heard the PS Audio and would recommend it highly. I'm keen to spend some time with their new Perfect Wave DAC once it comes to market as well and believe it may be a real giant killer. I've heard it at tradeshows, but not within the context of my own system.

Others I've listened to in my system have been the older Levinson and Sonic Frontiers DAC's and the Dodson Audio 218 and Esoteric, both of which I own.

If you want to notice an improvement but only have $500.00 to spend the Cambridge is a no brainer. For a bigger piece of the pie I'd spend $1k and go for the PS Audio or Benchmark - they're both great. If you can find one in the used market I recommend the Dodson highly, but even a used one will set you back $4-5K depending on which model you might find. If you have really deep pockets and the associated equipment to appreciate them there are many wonderful pieces from EMM Labs, dcs, Esoteric, Zanden, Burmester, mBl, Goldmund, Theta, etc, etc, etc...
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^^^

Hi MITT,
since this thread is all about DAC recommendation, are there any that you have been able to experience in combination with your ZP90?

From the ones mentioned in this thread so far (Cambridge Audio DAC Magic, Benchmark DAC1 and PS Audio Digital Link III) I would personally only go for one out of the last two.
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I don't agree with Samboy - the difference to ZP90 built-in DAC is not large. The built in is very good.



Differences of DACs or amps are small. What really makes the big difference, is the speakers. Before concerning about differences of DACs or amps, spend thousands on the speakers.

I have both - an amp for about 5000 Pound and one for about 500, and I tell you: Forget about the difference, especially in non-classical music.


I know that I'm a newbie here, but I'm a moderator on a high end audio forum and I respectfully disagree. It's all releative really.

In the high end world EVERYTHING matters. A good DAC is very easy to discern from a lesser DAC, just like a good amp is noticibly different than a lesser one. It all depends upon the resolution of the rest of the components in the system and the synergy between all components of the whole. The speakers are the last component in that chain (actually, the room is if you want to get down to it), but the speakers can only reveal the quality of everything that preceeded it in that chain. A bad source component will always make even a great speaker sound like a bad one.

FWIW, the DAC in the ZP90 is marginal at best compared to the rest of the components in my system (how can it be with the sell price of the entire unit under $400.00 - my DAC alone retailed for more than $6K), but when I feed the digital output from the ZP90 into my external DAC it sounds very good indeed. Not quite up to the level of the rest of my system, but very close.
I don't think it is on the market yet. What I am really missing from those peachtree products is some sort of signal sensing to turn off the amp while not playing any music. With a class a/b amp, it is just wasting power when idle.