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boutiner
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Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

This is my first post on Stereophile !

I am shopping for an entirely new system. Right now my only audio source is a ipod connected to a pair on Sennheiser 555. I do enjoy music and I feel that investing a bit in a audio system would be rewarding.

I have a 2000$ budget for a DAC, an amp & speakers. The music is exclusively coming from a pc with, among other things, flac-encoded files.

I would really prefer to go for a cheap sound card with a toslink/spdif output and move the processing into either a dac or an amp with a dac.

Since I have a 2000$ budget for whatever it takes to take the sound from my computer and make it sound great, I figured that the less component I needed, the higher quality these components would be. I searched for amp with a toslink input and I only found is the upcoming onkyo a-5vl (upgrade from the a-9555), which is supposed to retail around 700$ at the end of the summer.

Requiring a onboard dac limits my amp options a lot. However, if I go with the dac + amp route, I could allow 600$ for an amp & 400$ for a DAC (cambridge dac magic). That would cut 300$ from my speaker budget.

Do you have any comments on which route should I take. I feel that buying a 400$ DAC would really hurt my speaker & amp budget, but on the other hand, the stereo amplifiers that have digital inputs are fairly limited in numbers.

I look forward to get your comments,
Eric

linden518
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Eric, check out John Marks' review of Peachtree Audio Nova, an integrated amp and DAC rolled into one for $1100. It's in the August issue (current one). Sounds like the perfect thing for you, especially as it allows you to spend more for the speakers.

boutiner
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Thanks for the input ! I reviewed the amp and it does look like a good match for my need.
On the other end, I feel that 1100$ amp powering 800-900$ speakers is overkill. I'm new to the audiophile scene, but I feel that I would be better served with a cheaper amp and better speakers (500-600$ amp/dac with 1500$ speakers). Most of the amp review I read were about a sub 1000$ amp auditionned through +2000$ speakers.

In general, am I getting better sound for my money by investing in cheaper electronics and better speakers ?

I might stretch my budget a little, I recently heard the PSB imagine T speakers and they do sound good. In term of future-proofing, overall quality and price/sound quality, would it be better to invest in better speakers/cheaper electronics ?

Also, regarding the peachtree audio amp. My previous experience with tube amp (in guitar amp) isn't that good. I had reliability issues, plus the fact that you need to replace thoses (expensive) tubes every so often, and need to warm them up before using them, plus the overheating problems, etc. Do these issues apply to tube amp in the hifi world ?

linden518
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Hi, Eric. The conventional wisdom is getting the speakers first and tuning the rest of the system. But that's not how I went about building my system, and also see this take on how else to do it:

http://stereophile.com/asweseeit/system_building_rules151and_how_to_break_them/

You can invest more in a source, which is what a lot of people do, and also more in amplification, which is what a lot of others do, too, so in light of this, to answer your question:

Quote:
In general, am I getting better sound for my money by investing in cheaper electronics and better speakers ?


No. Like Art Dudley's piece linked above, you define the tone/timbre of your whole system by carefully selecting your amplification. Garbage in, garbage out, the saying goes. If you have a subpar source handing off signals into a subpar amplification, music through your speakers will most likely sound crappy.

That said, I think you can do well with your budget! The Peachtree unit seems like a great buy for you based on the review. Yes it's tubed, but I think it's only tubed in the pre-amp stage if I'm not mistaken? That means power stage/output will be solid state, which means you don't have to deal with typical tube issues, i.e. hotness, frequent swapping out of tubes, etc.

There are other options, too... you can go for something like Cambridge Audio's DAC Magic and pair it up with a used Cambridge Audio or Rega integrated, and that would sound fantastic. I think if I had your budget, I'd likely opt for this route, even though the all-in-one approach of Peachtree is nice for convenience. I'm sure as you have more disposable income, you'd like to upgrade this component or that, and it makes more sense to go with separate DAC & amplification in that case. Besides, the DAC Magic is likely a better DAC than the Peachtree unit just from a technical perspective: it incorporates the Minimum Phase technology used in pretty high-end players made by Ayre, etc.

Anyway, go out & have some fun auditioning stuff, man! Loudspeakers are important for sure, but always remember to not neglect source & electronics in system-building... keep things in balance.

boutiner
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Thank you, that was very helpful !

satkinsn
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

e -

One other thought.

There's a storm raging across the boards about the merits/demerits of USB DACs, and if your religion forbids USB, this won't work.

But I own one, and like it lots. It's clearly not the Peachtree selfdivider references, but it's good, and a third the price.
Kingrex T20U Tripath amplifier

btw - I put this with a pair of JohnBlue 3s, and for listening at close range (ie - not trying to fill a room) it's a great combination.

best,

Scott A.

edit - And if the above is too out of the mainstream for you, I heartily endorse selfdivider's suggestion you look at used equipment from Cambridge Audio and a few others.

RGibran
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Stream it, baby! Free your music and yourself from that computer, buy a Squeezebox, economical integrated and speakers of your choice and start having fun. You can get on the DAC merry go round later.

RG

satkinsn
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Another good idea.

I've turned into something of a Squeeze fanatic; I have a Classic in my family room rig, a boombox in the guest bedroom. I love the boombox - it ain't hifi, but the means, small speakers and a brightish midfi quality, exactly meet my end, streaming radio.

And I have a Duet I'm waiting to roll out.

Unless you have to have f.m., which I do sometimes, or you must have something called a 'radio,' these things are the best streaming devices for the money. As rg suggests, they are superb at streaming high quality audio, let alone lower fi 'radio' feeds.

s.

boutiner
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Thank you for all the good replies.

The audio system would be for 9 feet listening range, not for listening right in front of the computer (I guess you call that near-field listening). The computer is a dedicated pc built from the moncaso 312 case, which I hope will fits just fine with the other components, so I don't need a sonos or squeezebox because the sound source is kind of already where it is supposed to be.

I guess I will really need to go out and audition that peachtree amp & compare it to a dac magic. I've read that the peachtree dac in the nova just by itself is compares to most dac on the market regardless of price, plus you have an amp with it. Also there is a dac out (preamp out) on the peachtree nova, so I could eventually upgrade amp & keep the dac, altough that is unlikely to happen in the next years. I just want to keep an upgrade path opened.

It have no balanced input/output, but I guess that's only an issue for very long wires right ?

Again, thank you all for your responses !

linden518
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Re: Amp with onboard dac or seperate dac (on a budget)

Yeah, don't worry about balanced/single-ended thing...

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