DAC recommendation

  • 2 January 2009
  • 54 replies
  • 21111 views

Userlevel 2
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

Userlevel 2
Cambridge Audio DacMagics

Can you tell me any shop UK that delivers to germany (richersounds doesn't)? I am waiting for mine now for about 6 weeks, and was just told I had to wait another 4 weeks. End of patience, now.
Mars

Unfortunately Richer Sounds are only selling them through the shops at the moment because of demand. Eventually demand will settle and you should be able to buy them off the Internet.

Regards

Mike
Userlevel 2
Thanks, Mike.

Meanwhile I heard that UK-Resellers aren't allowed to sell CA to Germany at all :(

You only get Musical Fidelity V-Dac, which is also said to be good.
Userlevel 2
I have to agree with Mike.

I bought a CA DACMAGIC today for £199 from Richersounds in MK and having got it home and set it up with my ZP90, well, words cant describe the difference.

I only got my Sonos at xmas and I love it but if I am honest, I found the sound to be quite, well, boring.

Put the DACMAGIC on and dear god, my ears are getting smacked senseless!!!!!!

I cant put into words how good it is, its took the sound of my Sonos to levels I didnt think exisited with the Sonos.

Just playing Everybodys Changing by Keane and my ears are just getting a real treat!

Hand on heart, £199 and you wont look back!

I read the DACMAGIC gets better when you wear it in.

If its this good out the box, roll on breaking in!

BUY ONE!!!!!!

Sam

Sam,

After your SONOS is connected to the DACMAGIC via optical, how is it then connected to the AMP / Stereo system you have. I only ask as was it originally connected by RCA and now you have introduced the DAC you have noticed the significant difference ?

The reason being, I have a Prologic Midi system which unfortuanatly doesn't have optical input. So, would i loose the benefit of purchasing the DAC once the SONSO is connected to the DAC via optical and then connecting the DAC to the RCA phono inputs of the midi system ? At the moment the SONOS is connected to the Midi obvioulsy by RCA only.

I am sorely tempted by one though :)

Many thanks
Userlevel 2
Sam,

After your SONOS is connected to the DACMAGIC via optical, how is it then connected to the AMP / Stereo system you have. I only ask as was it originally connected by RCA and now you have introduced the DAC you have noticed the significant difference ?

The reason being, I have a Prologic Midi system which unfortuanatly doesn't have optical input. So, would i loose the benefit of purchasing the DAC once the SONSO is connected to the DAC via optical and then connecting the DAC to the RCA phono inputs of the midi system ? At the moment the SONOS is connected to the Midi obvioulsy by RCA only.

I am sorely tempted by one though :)

Many thanks


Hi

My Sonos is connected from the optical out to the optical in on the DAC magic and from the DAC magic Via RCA to an RCA input on the amplifier.

Its the best £200 I have spent in a long time, the difference is instant from the moment you plug it in.

The best way to get one if your in Germany is if you have a friend in the UK that can buy one instore and post it out to you.

Its a stunning little box of tricks and I dont think anyone who buys one will be dissapointed.

Let us know if you get one, would be interested to hear your opionions on it.

Sam!
Tissy

For the DacMagic to work it's tricks the output must be fed through RCA cables. If you use the digital outputs it runs in pass through mode, with no DAC functions or filtering benefits.

With the system you have mentioned, you would connect from the Sonos to the DacMagic using either of the digital outputs, and then from there to your amp using RCA cables.

I hope this makes sense.

Mike
Userlevel 2
Thanks for your replies guys.

My concern was is it worth spending the £200 where effectively i will be going from a new digital connection and then back to what is effectively analogue. Obvioulsy the SONOS is connected via analogue already, so wanted to ensure it was worth it.

However, i guess the upscaling does make all the difference, so as you say, i think i may try one.

Thanks again,

Steve
Userlevel 2
My concern was is it worth spending the £200 where effectively i will be going from a new digital connection and then back to what is effectively analogue. Obvioulsy the SONOS is connected via analogue already, so wanted to ensure it was worth it.


Why should the sonos be connected analogue?
Analogue to digital to analogue again makes no sense at all! But the sonos gets digitalized input, so theres no problem.

My concern was is it worth spending the £200 where effectively i will be going from a new digital connection and then back to what is effectively analogue. Obvioulsy the SONOS is connected via analogue already, so wanted to ensure it was worth it.


Converting from digital to analogue is what a DAC does for a living. The value of the GBP 200 is that it is supposed to do it in a better fashion than Sonos itself. At some point the music has to get converted to analogue, and the point is to have that conversion done as good as possible. That's where some people like to spend some money on external equipment. The DAC analogue connection will replace the Sonos analogue connection.
Just looking at the TechRadar site and came across a new DAC review. A little pricey at £1950 though.

http://www.techradar.com/reviews/audio-visual/hi-fi-and-audio/amplifiers/bryston-bda-1-488837/review

Mars

You would not be going ADA you would be DDA, and as Avee says it all gets converted to analogue before you get to hear it anyway.

Mike
Userlevel 2
Perhaps missunderstood Tissy - i meant what Avee said...
Userlevel 2
As I understand it, this Cambridge Dac is an easy way to upgrade the sound quality of my zp 100. Is a Dac more important than the quality of the amp?
As I understand it, this Cambridge Dac is an easy way to upgrade the sound quality of my zp 100. Is a Dac more important than the quality of the amp?

A DAC is a digital to analog converter. Since the ZP100 only has analog outputs (amplified and line level), an external DAC can't be used. A DAC processes digital output, which is only available from a ZP80/90.
Userlevel 2
Its the best £200 I have spent in a long time, the difference is instant from the moment you plug it in.


I don't agree with Samboy - the difference to ZP90 built-in DAC is not large. The built in is very good.

As I understand it, this Cambridge Dac is an easy way to upgrade the sound quality of my zp 100. Is a Dac more important than the quality of the amp?

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.
Userlevel 2
I'm really interested in classical music. I have read that the DACMagic may be good for popular but is not good
for classical. I wonder what recommendations there are specifically for classical music from a ZP80.

Many thanks,

Jerry
I'm really interested in classical music. I have read that the DACMagic may be good for popular but is not good
for classical. I wonder what recommendations there are specifically for classical music from a ZP80.

Many thanks,

Jerry


This is what I don't get about the hoopla around DAC's. If the purpose of the DAC is to catch errors in the decoding (especially jitter), how could a DAC be "good" for one type of music, but "bad" for another? The way I see it the recording is the recording, and unless the DAC is otherwise coloring the music, why should it matter what style of music it is? And if the DAC is coloring the music, then it isn't a DAC, it's a DSP, and should be labeled as such.

If you ask me, it's all snake oil, and statements like a DAC being favorable to certain types of music don't help that image.
Userlevel 2
To amplify some of what I read, from computeraudiofile:

Classical Music with a wide dynamic range was a little different story. The DacMagic doesn't extend up or down as far as I prefer and the sound was congested at times.

Jerry
Userlevel 1
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This is what I don't get about the hoopla around DAC's. If the purpose of the DAC is to catch errors in the decoding (especially jitter), how could a DAC be "good" for one type of music, but "bad" for another?The purpose of the DAC is to convert the digital signal to an analog signal. It will not catch errors in the digital input signal, it will process what it gets. A typical DAC will contain several blocks:

(1) A digital interface - typically some flavor of S/PDIF (coax or Toslink). The data is contained in a serial stream; the digital interface (a) converts this serial data to a format usable by the actual D/A converter chip and (b) extracts the sampling clock from the data stream. The extracted sampling clock will contain some jitter passed through from the input stream (although usually attenuated) and will introduce some jitter of its own. Details of circuit design and implementation will determine the quality of the recovered clock signal - a poor clock will definitely adversely affect performance. How good the clock needs to be is a subject of ongoing debate.

(2) The extracted data and clock are fed to the actual D/A converter chip (usually a chip, can be a module in some esoteric DACs). There are several topologies which are used for the D/A converter and there are ongoing arguments over which performs better sonically. More integrated D/A converter chips may include some smoothing filters and line output amplifiers. Again the performance of the D/A/converter chip and the care which is taken in designing the chip into the DAC are critical to the performance of the DAC. We are now dealing with an analog signal, so power supply noise, board layout, decoupling design, all can have an impact. Better designs generally cost more both in terms of development costs and BOM (bill of material).

(3) Depending on the D/A chip chosen and the system design philosophy there may be additional analog filters/amplifiers in the DAC. These require the same level of design and care as any preamp design. Again, better designs usually cost more. At one extreme some pretty expensive DAC designs use vacuum tube (valve) amplifiers in their output stage.

(4) Power supplies - inside the DAC there are both high-speed digital sections and precision analog sections. Proper power supply design is necessary to keep digital noise out of the analog signal path. It is also necessary to keep a stable digital supply to minimize jitter in the clock recovery process.

There are many areas where a DAC design can be screwed up. "A DAC is a DAC" is an oversimplification.
To amplify some of what I read, from computeraudiofile:

Classical Music with a wide dynamic range was a little different story. The DacMagic doesn't extend up or down as far as I prefer and the sound was congested at times.

Jerry


If the DacMagic doesn't "extend up or down as far", then it isn't a proper DAC. If it is clipping the highest and lowest frequencies, it is a very poor design. It's not very hard to manufacture a DAC that doesn't clip highs and lows, and it shouldn't cost you hundreds (or thousands) for a DAC that does.

Either that, or it's all placebo effect BS. I vote for the latter.
Userlevel 2
To amplify some of what I read, from computeraudiofile:

Classical Music with a wide dynamic range was a little different story. The DacMagic doesn't extend up or down as far as I prefer and the sound was congested at times.

Jerry


This sounds like bullsh**. The poor man has to write something, and since all of that stuff sounds alike, he just writes anything.

I am still waiting for DACmagic, and up to now am using musical fidelity v-dac, which is really fine also with classical music.

I'm going to compare them both, as soon as DACmagic finally arrives after 6 weeks of waiting up to now.

Greetings from Germany: Mars
Userlevel 2
This is an outstanding DAC. It has a tubed analog output and sounds as good as the top-of-the-line Ayre or MArantz, which I have also owned. You can find TADAC on-line.

I own two of them for my two Z-90's. One of the DAC's also feeds Paul's TAD-60 integrated amp, which unfortunately for everyone else, is discontinued.

PS: I have no affiliation with bizzy Be; just a satisfied customer.

Enjoy!
Userlevel 2
I just bought a Mcintosh MCD500 cd/sacd with 2 DAC inputs. The DAC on the MCD500 is "Four 24-Bit, 192 KHz PCM/DSD digital to analog converters per channel arranged in a differential balanced configuration enabling a more faithful reproduction of the analog waveform resulting in outstanding fidelity with very low noise and distortion." My sonos sounds as good as my cd's now. The Mcintosh MCD500 also has a built in pre amp. Read about it here: http://www.mcintoshlabs.com/products/1219.asp . This is said to be the best DAC our right now. the MCD 500 is one of the first commercial products to incorporate the new ESS Sabre Reference DACs (the ES9008)—a component that had many knowledgeable audiophiles at CEDIA buzzing (see this link: http://www.esstech.com./pressPDF/McIntosh%20PR%20ESS%20Release%208.28.pdf). The ESS DACs are said to offer very high resolution and an extraordinary signal/noise ratio (~140dB), meaning that they can reproduce very low-level details that would get lost below the noise floor of most other DACs. The MCD 500 has two spare digital inputs so that, apart from playing discs, it can serve as the DAC-of-choice for use with your other digital components.
Userlevel 2
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 respect your opinion about the DAC, to me the difference between the built in DAC of the ZP90 and the DAC MAGIC is 10 fold. Im not an expert in DACs or sound quality, but I can make out the difference the DAC magic makes on the ZP90.

I was so impressed with the ZP90 with the DAC magic, I got shut of ZP120 and purchased another ZP90 and another DAC magic and that combination just wastes the ZP120.

Its not until you hear a ZP90 with a DAC magic that you realise, just how bad the ZP120 really is. I never did like the ZP120, I found it cheap sounding which is not surprising, digging around the net for details on Class D amps, I found this "Class D amplifiers have been widely used to control motors, and almost exclusively for small DC motors, but they are now also used as audio amplifiers, with some extra circuitry to allow analogue to be converted to a much higher frequency pulse width modulated signal. The relative difficulty of achieving good audio quality means that nearly all are used in applications where quality is not a factor, such as modestly-priced bookshelf audio systems and "DVD-receivers" in mid-price home theater systems."

So for me, that backed up my feelings about the ZP120.

A lot of it is down to personal taste as to what sounds good to you and what dont.

I think too many people get wrapped up in the features of the Sonos and forget its about the music.

I did, the first time I saw the Sonos and played with it, I fell in love with it, having got one and having spent time with it, I quickly discovered, as is, how bad it really does sound, but investing in the DAC magics, for me, has made the Sonos worth its wait in gold.

Again, its down to personal taste, its what you like yourself.

You could spend £1000`s on speakers, but if you feed them hiss, they will sing hiss back to you, so yes, good speakers are important, but so is what you feed them.

Im not having a dig at Sonos, im just giving my own personal opinion of my time I have spent with my Sonos.

I still stand by my comment that £200 each on a DAC magic is the best money I have spent for my Sonos.

If I hadnt of got the DAC magics, would I have enjoyed my Sonos as I do now? no.
Userlevel 2
Is there anybody who has tryed the new nova from Peachtree Audio?

http://www.signalpathint.com/index.php/Peachtree-Audio-Products/Peachtree-Audio-Products.html

It is "a world class 80wpc integrated amplifier", DAC from ESS 9006 and a slot in for the Sonos ZP80/90

DACinfo:
"Digital to Analog converter: Maybe the most unique Nova feature is the onboard ESS 9006 Sabre DAC. It’s a 24/192 upsampling D/A converter, which transforms just about any digital source to the performance of a high-end CD player. The ESS Sabre DAC’s patented jitter reduction circuit re-clocks the digital signal to almost 0 jitter before passing it through a high-resolution 24/192 upsampling processor that’s also capable of 122dB s/n ratio."
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.