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  • Cheap USB DAC suggestions

    Hey all-
    I am working on completing my desktop 2.1 system with a USB DAC (which I'm not sure I'm really able to do, but since I save so much on my sub I need to at least think about it.) The uDac and uDac-2 have been getting a whole bunch of accolades, but I was wondering if anybody had anything to say about other DACs in the same price range. Can any vouch for example for HotAudio's DACs? It seems to be a one-man, all-hand-made operation. The devilsound also looks interesting but it is only affordable used, and even then has a premium over the above devices - a premium which I'm not sure is justified since I've never seen it compared to either of the above devices. There are a whole slew of other companies I've never heard of on an ebay search for 'usb dac'.
    Any guidance would be much appreciated.
    -e

  • #2
    High Resolution Technology (HRT) Music Streamer

    Questions:
    - What do you want the DAC to accomplish?
    - Budget?
    - sampling rate coverage?
    - have you read anything about asynchronous vs. synchronous DACs?

    You should check out the High Resolution Technology (HRT) Music Streamer series of USB DACs including a Stereophile review.

    HRT Music Streamer II
    HRT Music Streamer II+
    HRT Music Streamer Pro


    Mike

    EG -
    Link: http://www.musicdirect.com/product/85279
    $200

    HRT - MUSIC STREAMER+ USB DAC

    HRT Music Streamer+ Turns Your Computer Into a High Resolution Source! This Amazing USB DAC is 100% Built in California!

    Now Get The Absolute Sound Golden Ear Award Winner for 33% OFF - Was $299, NOW ONLY $199!

    The Music Streamer+ is an amazing sounding DAC designed and built to interface between your computer/laptop and your audio system. This product has been specifically built to deliver the best quality, high-resolution audio from any server device with a USB output. Simply connect it via USB cable to your computer and it will automatically recognize an install the MusicStreamer+. Then all you need to do is connect it to your system with a pair of RCA terminated interconnects; simple and effortless. By completely eliminating any possible contamination from your computer, all of your music files will now sound their very best! You'll need a B-Bus USB Cable to connect the Music Streamer II to your system, find one here.

    The Music Streamer+ provides full support for applications such as iTunes and Windows Media Player direct to your audio system, with a level of quality never before possible. You can also use the Music Streamer+ to listen to internet radio or other free and music subscription services such as Pandora, Rhapsody or Napster, with better sound than you’ve ever heard before. High Resolution Technology’s Music Streamer+: the product for tomorrow… available today! Our highest recommendation! 100% Music Direct Money Back Guaranteed!

    “The MusicStreamer+ really does make a significant difference to sound quality. It’s completely seamless, with a whisper-quiet background that will shock you. Sounds are easily delineated from one another. You plug your laptop into the MusicStreamer+, plug the Streamer into your system and play music – your first comment uttered will be ‘WOW!’”
    - Alan Sircom, HiFi+, Issue 64

    Specifications for Music Streamer+:
    Electrical:
    Full Scale output: 2.25 Volts RMS
    Frequency Response: (20 Hz - 20 kHz) 0 dB / -1.7 dB
    Noise Floor (DC to 30 kHz): 22 uV RMS
    Noise Floor (A-weighted): 10 uV RMS
    S/N Ratio (DC to 30 kHz): 100 dB
    S/N Ratio (A-weighted): 107 dB
    THD+N (1 kHz FS): 0.02%
    USB to Audio output isolation: > 20M Ohm
    Interface Data Rate: 48kS/s
    Bit Depth: 16 bit
    USB type: 1.1
    Power Requirements: (USB buss) 250 mA
    Dimensions: (L x W x H) 5.1" x 2.1" x 1.2"
    HT Gear (AVS Link)
    Rk: MA WR-37-32
    Pwr: 20A, Surge-X SEQ, M1500-UPS
    Proj: JVC RS20, 128" 2.4:1 CaradaBW, ISCOIIIL, CineSlide, RadianceXE
    Cbl: DirectTV C31/700 Genie receiver
    Rec: 5308CI + XPA-3
    BR: Oppo BDP-103
    Gm: 360 Pro
    LR/C: RS1KSig/RSC200Sig
    S/R: RSS300/RS250MkII
    Sub: SVS PB12-Ultra/2
    Off: HRT MS DAC, USP-1, UPA-2, ERC-1, Ultra10, WAF-1 Ninja+No-Rez
    Off2: Gizmo, WAF-1
    TCA: 3x Gizmo 1.0or,5x v1.0M; 5xWAF-1

    Comment


    • #3
      Emotiva XDA-1 DAC

      Another option:

      Emotiva XDA-1

      "XDA-1 Differential Reference™ Balanced Digital-to-Analog Converter/Digital Preamplifier"
      $299 - pre-orders now
      Expected shipping soon

      Info:
      The XDA-1 Differential Reference™ balanced 24Bit/192kHz DAC/Digital Preamp represents a stunning achievement in sonic performance.
      Designed around the acclaimed Analog Devices AD1955 DAC operating in a fully differential mode, its differential output is then coupled to a digitally controlled, lossless volume control stage.
      The output of this stage then drives our fully discrete, cross coupled, Differential Reference™ balanced line amp stage. The result is breathtaking.

      In addition to being a state of the art 24Bit/192kHz DAC, the XDA-1 can operate as a digital preamplifier and source selector in a digitally based reference level audio system.
      Inputs for up to six digital sources including AES/EBU, USB, Coax, and Toslink are available.
      The XDA-1 incorporates a VFD display for volume, input select, and system status messages.
      In addition, it is supplied with a milled aluminum remote control for convenient operation.
      There are some questions (with conflicting answers) regarding it's abilities via USB. See Emotiva forum...

      Also, TCA/CHT discussion thread here:
      http://www.chasehometheater.com/foru...ead.php?t=2575



      Specs:
      Signal-to-Noise Ratio: > 105dB (A-Weighted)
      Frequency Response: 5Hz - 48kHz
      THD+N: 0.001%
      Ground Floor Noise Level: < 15uV
      Nominal Output Voltage: 1V RMS
      Peak Output Voltage: > 12VRMS (balanced)
      Sample Rate: All standard resolutions are supported up to 192kHz
      Bit Depth: Standard bit depths up to 24Bit are supported at clock frequencies up to 192kHz
      Inputs: 2 Optical TOSLINK, 2 COAX Digital, 1 AES/EBU, 1 USB
      Outputs: 2 RCA (Unbalanced), 2 XLR (Balanced)
      Internal Volume Control: Digitally controlled in increments of 0.5db
      Remote Control: Milled Aluminum Full Function Remote Control
      I/V conversion: Burr Brown OPA-2134
      D/A conversion: high performance, multibit Sigma-Delta Burr Brown AD1955
      Data Directed Scrambling with high jitter immunity, and an 8x Oversampling Digital Filter
      Fully Discrete Differential Reference™ Output Stage with fully independent balanced and unbalanced drive stages


      Mike
      HT Gear (AVS Link)
      Rk: MA WR-37-32
      Pwr: 20A, Surge-X SEQ, M1500-UPS
      Proj: JVC RS20, 128" 2.4:1 CaradaBW, ISCOIIIL, CineSlide, RadianceXE
      Cbl: DirectTV C31/700 Genie receiver
      Rec: 5308CI + XPA-3
      BR: Oppo BDP-103
      Gm: 360 Pro
      LR/C: RS1KSig/RSC200Sig
      S/R: RSS300/RS250MkII
      Sub: SVS PB12-Ultra/2
      Off: HRT MS DAC, USP-1, UPA-2, ERC-1, Ultra10, WAF-1 Ninja+No-Rez
      Off2: Gizmo, WAF-1
      TCA: 3x Gizmo 1.0or,5x v1.0M; 5xWAF-1

      Comment


      • #4
        I had the original uDac.....I was impressed by it as a small USB-DAC-headphone amp, however it didn't improve anything when I plugged my Oppo DV-980h into it. Admittedly, I did have a problem with a couple of my uDac getting hot, Nuforce said it was a problem with how my laptop was sending USB power. OK, sure, but it happened on 3 separate laptops. I will admit, Nuforce would send me out a replacement every time, so I can't complain. I suspect the uDac2 is a good value.

        Hotaudio stuff is pretty good, but check with him to see what chips he is using. He was making stuff with some of the older Wolfson chips. Probably still pretty good for the $. I'd check the used market though if looking at Hotaudio, as the resale value is low.

        Quite a few on HeadFi love the Maverick DAC/Amp. That might be an option for you.

        I've got a new USB/DAC/Amp en route from Audio-gd which uses the latest ESS Sabre chip. I really like the Audio-gd stuff. But it is a bit pricier than the uDac/Hotaudio range.

        Comment


        • #5
          I found this old TCA / CHT thread (one of the oldest threads?) on cheap DACs...

          http://www.chasehometheater.com/foru...thread.php?t=3

          Mike
          HT Gear (AVS Link)
          Rk: MA WR-37-32
          Pwr: 20A, Surge-X SEQ, M1500-UPS
          Proj: JVC RS20, 128" 2.4:1 CaradaBW, ISCOIIIL, CineSlide, RadianceXE
          Cbl: DirectTV C31/700 Genie receiver
          Rec: 5308CI + XPA-3
          BR: Oppo BDP-103
          Gm: 360 Pro
          LR/C: RS1KSig/RSC200Sig
          S/R: RSS300/RS250MkII
          Sub: SVS PB12-Ultra/2
          Off: HRT MS DAC, USP-1, UPA-2, ERC-1, Ultra10, WAF-1 Ninja+No-Rez
          Off2: Gizmo, WAF-1
          TCA: 3x Gizmo 1.0or,5x v1.0M; 5xWAF-1

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Mike_TX
            Questions:
            - What do you want the DAC to accomplish?
            - Budget?
            - sampling rate coverage?
            - have you read anything about asynchronous vs. synchronous DACs?
            -This is to round out my Gizmo/WAF/tSC-ASW8 setup. I just want to get cleaner sound than what's coming out of the computer. It would be 'nice' to have a headphone amp, but most of my headphone listening I do on my rockboxed Fuze v2 which has a clean amp in it already, so having a headphone amp really is secondary. In any case, my pre-amp (e.g. my old AKAI UC-U3 that I repurposed as a pre-amp for the Gizmo) has a headphone jack in it, though it doesn't sound terribly clean. (I am splitting the preamp out from the AKAI to the Gizmo and back to itself for the headphone amp and level meter to keep working.)
            -I want better sound from my desktop than what my older CD players and Fuze put out - but, considering how little I spent on the system so far (thanks again alphaiii!), I want to buy something used, and don't want to spend more than $100. Something like the Emotiva is for when I have a much better paying job and bigger living-space :)
            -Smaller is better; appreciable size difference has to be justified by appreciably better quality. [Stating the obvious is what I do :)]
            -It would be nice to be able to play DVD-A/SACD at full resolution, but I don't know if I'd be able to hear any appreciable difference anyway with my setup, and own exactly two DVD-As in any case (the Lord of the Rings FOTR and TTT Complete Recordings).
            -As for asynch/synch - I've seen the terms bandied about, and also oversampling vs non-oversampling, but have no concept of what either of these things are. Also I've read conflicting things about the limitations of USB - can it take more than 16-bit/48khz or not? Can it only take 24-bit/96khz, but only so that it can pass it on through an optical or coax output?
            -I've read negative things about the 'dirtiness' of USB power. Most people don't really seem to mind this, however. The devilsound folk apparently engineered a DC-DC converter into their little box for 'stability', but I don't know how big a deal this is in real life. (I'm not actually considering a devilsound unless it can be had for mighty cheap, and there aren't many of them floating around.)
            -What's the matter with the Wolfson chip? That seems to be what HotAudio used in the higher-end 'Extasy'. I saw one testimonial claiming this is better than the MSII+...but of course I'm looking for others.
            Thanks for the other recommendations and thread links guys.

            Comment


            • #7
              Ah, I see. Fixing the old serial clock-skew issue. Ugh, do I miss my architecture class. But I'm not sure what advantage oversampling gives you (or vice-versa).

              Comment


              • #8
                Another vote for HRT Music Streamers. Go up (or down) the price points until you get to your spot. I've got the basic one and it is amazing what it did to the sound from my Delll laptop and Gizmo.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I have and like a couple of the non usb version of the super DAC Pro 707 (124$)

                  The same site sells this one (Kalyx Kong $150))
                  which is reviewed on 6 moons

                  Let us know what you get!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hmm. Well I'm very intrigued by the HotAudio stuff atm. I like the whole handmade aspect of them: no frills, no nonsense, still very compact. Also, his prices are not firm - you could make offers to Dave, the guy who makes 'em. His entry level model has been better received than the uDac, and I've seen one guy compare his top-end models favorably to the MusicStreamer+ and Audioinst HUD-MX1. That said I'm still looking into used DACs for a bit, but I'll be sorely disappointed if I haven't got one by Election Day...

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I'll give my 2 cents...

                      In picking a DAC to pair up with Gizmo... be mindful of the output voltage. The Gizmo's RCA in has an input voltage limit, that if exceeded leads to audible distortion.

                      I believe Mike_TX noticed this with the HRT Music Streamer + Gizmo combo (correct me if I'm wrong here Mike). I was actually leaning toward buying the Music Streamer, since it was only like $70 on clearance at the time... but was worried about the voltage input limit on Gizmo.

                      I went with a NuForce uDAC because it has a variable output. At full output, it puts out 2V rms, which is enough to cause audible distortion in Gizmo in my experience.

                      2V rms = 2.83V peak = 5.83V peak-to-peak

                      So it would seems the 3V limit is 3V peak-peak. This means you'd need a DAC with an rms output of <1.1V to avoid the distortion issue...or a variable output.

                      If I leave Gizmo at the default 24 volume... I can turn the uDAC up to around 55% without distortion. I've never go higher because it's too loud at that point.


                      The other DAC I was heavily considering was the Jolida FX DAC Mini for around $110-115:
                      http://www.jolida.com/index.php?p=pr...ory=5&model=32

                      I went with the uDAC b/c of the variable out and the built in headphone amp.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Eh, why doesn't using my preamp's volume control solve this problem? I don't want to have to deal with four-five diff controls! (Gizmo, preamp, DAC, Windows, application.) Atm I'm just leaving Windows and application controls at 100%. The uDac, while super-cool because of its' size and finish, is reportedly outclassed by other dacs in the same price range. It might be a good value used...but of course it's nearly impossible to find used. It's a lot to swallow at $129, new. I'm not terribly interested in the headphone amp and 24-bit won't be necessary for years (e.g. when I begin to be able to afford such frivolously-priced media); in any case the HotAudio's do have a headphone jack, just not a volume control (with the exception of one model).

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          HRT MS and Gizmo

                          Originally posted by alphaiii
                          I'll give my 2 cents...

                          In picking a DAC to pair up with Gizmo... be mindful of the output voltage. The Gizmo's RCA in has an input voltage limit, that if exceeded leads to audible distortion.

                          I believe Mike_TX noticed this with the HRT Music Streamer + Gizmo combo (correct me if I'm wrong here Mike). I was actually leaning toward buying the Music Streamer, since it was only like $70 on clearance at the time... but was worried about the voltage input limit on Gizmo.

                          I went with a NuForce uDAC because it has a variable output. At full output, it puts out 2V rms, which is enough to cause audible distortion in Gizmo in my experience.

                          2V rms = 2.83V peak = 5.83V peak-to-peak

                          So it would seems the 3V limit is 3V peak-peak. This means you'd need a DAC with an rms output of <1.1V to avoid the distortion issue...or a variable output.

                          If I leave Gizmo at the default 24 volume... I can turn the uDAC up to around 55% without distortion. I've never go higher because it's too loud at that point.


                          The other DAC I was heavily considering was the Jolida FX DAC Mini for around $110-115:
                          http://www.jolida.com/index.php?p=pr...ory=5&model=32

                          I went with the uDAC b/c of the variable out and the built in headphone amp.
                          Good memory. I forgot about that.
                          I can't remember the details -- but will look for a link.
                          I couldn't use the USB out on one of my work computers (no admin privileges), so I moved the HRT MS to my laptop office area and it is inputing to the Emotiva USP-1.

                          Mike
                          HT Gear (AVS Link)
                          Rk: MA WR-37-32
                          Pwr: 20A, Surge-X SEQ, M1500-UPS
                          Proj: JVC RS20, 128" 2.4:1 CaradaBW, ISCOIIIL, CineSlide, RadianceXE
                          Cbl: DirectTV C31/700 Genie receiver
                          Rec: 5308CI + XPA-3
                          BR: Oppo BDP-103
                          Gm: 360 Pro
                          LR/C: RS1KSig/RSC200Sig
                          S/R: RSS300/RS250MkII
                          Sub: SVS PB12-Ultra/2
                          Off: HRT MS DAC, USP-1, UPA-2, ERC-1, Ultra10, WAF-1 Ninja+No-Rez
                          Off2: Gizmo, WAF-1
                          TCA: 3x Gizmo 1.0or,5x v1.0M; 5xWAF-1

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by bilditup1
                            Eh, why doesn't using my preamp's volume control solve this problem? I don't want to have to deal with four-five diff controls! (Gizmo, preamp, DAC, Windows, application.) Atm I'm just leaving Windows and application controls at 100%. The uDac, while super-cool because of its' size and finish, is reportedly outclassed by other dacs in the same price range. It might be a good value used...but of course it's nearly impossible to find used. It's a lot to swallow at $129, new. I'm not terribly interested in the headphone amp and 24-bit won't be necessary for years (e.g. when I begin to be able to afford such frivolously-priced media); in any case the HotAudio's do have a headphone jack, just not a volume control (with the exception of one model).
                            If you output audio via USB to a DAC, you won't be able to adjust volume with the Windows volume control... but still can through the application.

                            If you go PC -> DAC -> Preamp -> Gizmo.... then the output voltage of the DAC would be a non-issue, as the input to Gizmo is coming from the preamp, which doesn't appear to be causing any issues for you now.

                            I was mistaken and thought you wanted to eliminate the preamp from the setup, and use a DAC instead.

                            I went with the uDAC for the features/flexibility... If there wasn't an input voltage issue with Gizmo... I would have gone with the HRT dac instead.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by alphaiii
                              If you output audio via USB to a DAC, you won't be able to adjust volume with the Windows volume control... but still can through the application.

                              If you go PC -> DAC -> Preamp -> Gizmo.... then the output voltage of the DAC would be a non-issue, as the input to Gizmo is coming from the preamp, which doesn't appear to be causing any issues for you now.

                              I was mistaken and thought you wanted to eliminate the preamp from the setup, and use a DAC instead.

                              I went with the uDAC for the features/flexibility... If there wasn't an input voltage issue with Gizmo... I would have gone with the HRT dac instead.
                              Yes, the output of my preamp (here's one on ebay) claims to be 2V and is in any case being split, and I've had no trouble with it so far. I don't know if the splitting halves the output or what. Should I be concerned about the preamp mucking up the sound too much? It was manufactured in 1980 according to what I saw inside it, but the only obvious problem so far is that the LOUDNESS button (gain of +10db says the service manual) is much more effective for the right channel than the left, and some distortion when changing volume over like, 12 or 1 oc'lock.

                              The other issue with my setup is one I hope having a DAC will help clear up - the computer's current output is much lower than my radio, phono, or CD, and I sometimes forget to turn the knob down when switching sources (!) - so far without incident, except to my poor ears. (And I wouldn't ever have to put the volume anywhere near 12 or 1, either.)

                              Anyway- I ended up going for two of Dave's DACs - the low-end Destroyer (which is said to best the uDac) for my atrocious desktop workstation and the high-end Wow (comparable to the MusicStreamer+ and Audinst) for use with the Gizmo. He gave me great prices on both; the Destroyer especially was just $40, new, shipped. Aesthetically and feature-wise they're pretty austere, but for me that's a feature - they're small enough to hide and I don't need to find a place for them to be seen on my too-cluttered desk. The only thing I'm a little disappointed about is the lack of a headphone-jack on the Wow. Anyway, I'll keep you guys posted with what I think of each.

                              Comment

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