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Math_Blaster
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External DAC + Amp vs. A/V Receiver

I'm in the process of putting together a 2.0 stereo system to use for my PC. I will usually be ~3 ft away from the speakers, but I also like to have music going while I'm doing chores or in the kitchen cooking . The room they will be in is 12'x12' and I live in a ~500 sq ft apartment. I'm pretty set on getting a pair of Def Tech SM45's (http://www.crutchfield.com/S-5rD1lHo2Hif/p_735SM45/Definitive-Technology...), but I'm still not sure how I want to connect to/power them. I know for sure I will be running Toslink from my mobo to whatever the next stage is. I was originally looking at the Onkyo TX-8050 (http://www.crutchfield.com/S-AgsuRafIXAE/p_580TX8050/Onkyo-TX-8050.html#...), but I was told that an external DAC + integrated amp would perform much better. They recommended getting a good used amp (roughly $500-$600 new) and pairing it with something like the FiiO D3 (http://www.amazon.com/FiiO-Digital-Analog-Audio-Converter/dp/B005PWPUW6). So for an amp, I was looking at the NAD C 326BEE (http://www.crutchfield.com/p_745C326BEE/NAD-C-326BEE.html?tp=34948#detai...) - I have seen some used for ~$300. The amp and speakers seem pretty straightforward (I'm open to suggestions though), but the DAC is what currently has me worried. I've seen some good reviews for the FiiO, but will such a cheap DAC hold back my system to the same level or below the level of audio quality from the Onkyo receiver? I was looking for alternate DACs, but the price seemed to increase very quickly. I was really looking for something in the <$100 range, and I would like to keep the DAC + amp combo under $400 total. Does anyone have any suggestions or advice?

audiophile2000
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External DAC

Saw no one responded to this. I would go with an External DAC and external Amps and here is why. In general terms, USB DACs will outperform multi-channel AVRs. The reason for this, is AVR are designed for the purpose of being a home theater hub. (i.e., managing all your connections, multi channel audio processing, video supscalling, etc.) They are really a jack-of-all trades.

Compare that to a External DAC that was only built to handle 2 channel audio from a computer. 

So while you may be paying less for that DAC, you also are not getting 100 features that you likely dont need with your setup so I wouldn't let price sway you from the DAC.

Aslo I would recomend running a USB DAC off your system and avoiding the optical route you mentioned. Nuforce has a number if USB DACs right around 100 so its not significantly more.

When I first started I ran audio through a marantz AVR using the optical out for my Macbook Pro and do think it sounded great, but no where near the quality I got when switching over to a USB DAC. 

jazzfan
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Not so fast
audiophile2000 wrote:

Saw no one responded to this. I would go with an External DAC and external Amps and here is why. In general terms, USB DACs will outperform multi-channel AVRs. The reason for this, is AVR are designed for the purpose of being a home theater hub. (i.e., managing all your connections, multi channel audio processing, video supscalling, etc.) They are really a jack-of-all trades.

Compare that to a External DAC that was only built to handle 2 channel audio from a computer. 

So while you may be paying less for that DAC, you also are not getting 100 features that you likely dont need with your setup so I wouldn't let price sway you from the DAC.

Aslo I would recomend running a USB DAC off your system and avoiding the optical route you mentioned. Nuforce has a number if USB DACs right around 100 so its not significantly more.

When I first started I ran audio through a marantz AVR using the optical out for my Macbook Pro and do think it sounded great, but no where near the quality I got when switching over to a USB DAC. 

These blanket generalizations are just plain wrong. Whether or not the DAC in an AVR will be better or worse than an external DAC depends on the AVR and the external DAC. In some cases the internal DAC in the AVR will be better and other cases it will not.

As far as Toslink versus USB is concerned, this is also dependent on the devices in question. Some toslink connections are very good and offer very low jitter and some USB connections are quite bad.

Besides which in the price ranges being discussed any differences between solutions, i.e. toslink -> AVR versus USB -> DAC -> integrated amp, will be pretty much inaudible. But since this the Stereophile forum go with as much audiophile snakeoil, voodoo and mumbo jumbo as you can afford. And don't forget to drink some magic audiophile kool-aid after which all the veils with be lifted and the silences with be more silent.

audiophile2000
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Generalizations

I agree generalization can be dangerous and every situation is unique but these are just a few things I found over they years.

 

USB vs SPDIF

From a real world perspective I prefer USB and there are a few simple reasons why. First off how many computers have SPDIF out, the only one I can think of is mac and maybe a PC or two. This is a real world limitation. If your going this route I would probably just go HDMI as its more universal, but as you get into high end audio gear its generally not well supported (mostly only on the video side of things). On the other side of this, you have USB which every PC has today and is pretty universally support in the digital audio world. Just saying, if you are putting dollars to work I would prefer to put money with the most compatibility. While I think I ran into more issues with SPDIF and sound quality, I agree in principal that it shouldn't’t matter being a digital connection, never really did an AB. (used to run SPDIF to an AVR from a mac and then jumped to PC / Windows / and a higher quality DAC).

 

AVR vs DAC

• Agree that in some cases you could be better going with an AVR, but if you are looking at smaller speakers I would still just do an outbound amp and DAC for the same money. Couple of reasons. I) say you need more or cleaner power, now you just need to upgrade your amp, similar story for your DAC. I think its more flexible as you move forward with your system over the years. Now I will say I have heard decent sounding AVR’s and you could easily go that route and be happy, I think you are wasting a lot of money on additional features you don’t need. (you can argue economies of scale, but at some point you start paying for features you don’t need, big question is where is that point). Again at lower prices the AVR may be better as the sheer volume means they have a lower build cost than some of your 2 channel equipment and given the competitive nature of the AVR market those savings can be past onto the consumer.  

 

I’ll point out that price isn’t everything, as you can hear equipment costing exactly what yours does and not like it. But price, especially for the more reasonable / comparable products its is a decent measure (audio equipment is not immune from the rules of basic economic theory). 

 

Notice, a lot of the above wasn't premised on things sounding better, as that will be heavily dependent on equipment choice and matching, but i think it helps to figure out which platform you prefer and then go down that route. to give you a sense i still have an AVR in my setup for multi channel and streaming functions so they do have value, but if i was to set up a comparable system in what you are looking to do in my office/computer area I would do the setup i recommended above or an integrated dac/amp

bierfeldt
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Couple of questions

Have you listened to those Def Tech's?  I personally find them to be a touch bright.  You might want to consider the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 or 10.2 available from Music Direct.  They sound more balanced to me. 

Additionally, this is getting to be a highly technical debate regarding the pros and cons of Toslink vs USB.  You will probably be very happy with an integrated amp and DAC, for new equipment, consider the Cambridge Audio Topaz which is $349 and an AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC for $149.  It would put you at $500.  That is over budget but would be new, very good equipment.  Also, those Wharfedale Diamond's could save the $50 and come out at an $850 vs an $800 budget. 

The Wharfedale Diamonds Are available from MusicDirect.  The Cambridge and the AudioQuest I beleive are available from NeedleDoctor and Crutchfield. 

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