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DAC/Streamer Advice/Recommendation (alternatives to McIntosh DA2)

BigFriendly

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Hi folks, I've been trying to educate myself through the advice and reviews on this site but still find myself unable to piece together a solution with confidence given my specifics.

I recently jumped into the deep end and upgraded to a McIntosh MC462 amp and a pair of MartinLogan Renaissance 15a's. I have a McIntosh C8 tube pre-amp on order (supposedly arriving in 2 weeks) as well the optional the ESS Sabre 9028pro based McIntosh DA2 digital card which is evidently on indefinite backorder at this time. My streaming experience to date has been Spotify via a Marantz AV8805 unit which will connect to the C8's sole balanced input in pass through mode for home theater use. My brand choices to date have been driven by access to dealer cost pricing. However, as I ponder the DAC+Streamer consideration, it seems the value/quality equation is less clear given the myriad of other smaller brand choices.

Compared with the McIntosh C2700 tube pre-amp (which includes a DA2 DAC card) I went with the lower cost C8 pre-amp as I liked the appearance better and thought it a more prudent way to dip my toes into tube sound. The DA2 card is optional in the C8. I haven't been able to find much discussion of the DA2 on this forum. My cost for the DA2 is ~$600. At this price, are there better options with an external DAC? Unfortunately, I'd be stuck using RCA interconnects from the DAC to the C8 as the balanced input is already claimed for the Marantz (12m in wall balanced interconnect run). Also, the DA2 doesn't support MQA -- not sure if most people would consider that a deal breaker?

The Streamer question has me even more perplexed. Are there discernible audio differences between streamers (pre DAC circuity) or is it really a matter of service support and interface quality? I enjoy Spotify's interface but don't know what else I maybe missing (besides better sound quality). I'm looking for remote control via iPhone/iPad/Macbook. I have special pricing on NAD, BlueSound, and Arcam product lines.

TLDR: Options (1) given $400, what's a good streamer to pair with a McIntosh DA2 DAC card in a McIntosh C8 tube pre-amp? or (2) given $1000, what's a good streamer/DAC (separate or integrated) option to connect via RCA to a McIntosh C8 tube pre-amp? What's the better option sonically?

Thanks!
 
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Hi folks, I've been trying to educate myself through the advice and reviews on this site but still find myself unable to piece together a solution with confidence given my specifics.

I recently jumped into the deep end and upgraded to a McIntosh MC462 amp and a pair of MartinLogan Renaissance 15a's. I have a McIntosh C8 tube pre-amp on order (supposedly arriving in 2 weeks) as well the optional the ESS Sabre 9028pro based McIntosh DA2 digital card which is evidently on indefinite backorder at this time. My streaming experience to date has been Spotify via a Marantz AV8805 unit which will connect to the C8's sole balanced input in pass through mode for home theater use. My brand choices to date have been driven by access to dealer cost pricing. However, as I ponder the DAC+Streamer consideration, it seems the value/quality equation is less clear given the myriad of other smaller brand choices.

Compared with the McIntosh C2700 tube pre-amp (which includes a DA2 DAC card) I went with the lower cost C8 pre-amp as I liked the appearance better and thought it a more prudent way to dip my toes into tube sound. The DA2 card is optional in the C8. I haven't been able to find much discussion of the DA2 on this forum. My cost for the DA2 is ~$600. At this price, are there better options with an external DAC? Unfortunately, I'd be stuck using RCA interconnects from the DAC to the C8 as the balanced input is already claimed for the Marantz (12m in wall balanced interconnect run). Also, the DA2 doesn't support MQA -- not sure if most people would consider that a deal breaker?

The Streamer question has me even more perplexed. Are there discernible audio differences between streamers (pre DAC circuity) or is it really a matter of service support and interface quality? I enjoy Spotify's interface but don't know what else I maybe missing (besides better sound quality). I'm looking for remote control via iPhone/iPad/Macbook. I have special pricing on NAD, BlueSound, and Arcam product lines.

TLDR: Options (1) given $400, what's a good streamer to pair with a McIntosh DA2 DAC card in a McIntosh C8 tube pre-amp? or (2) given $1000, what's a good streamer/DAC (separate or integrated) option to connect via RCA to a McIntosh C8 tube pre-amp? What's the better option sonically?

Thanks!
There is generally no sonic difference in streamers unless something is broken. Anything up from a Raspberry Pi4 with eg Volumio or Moode will stream Quobuz, Tidal just fine. Claims to the opposite are not founded on hard facts. See the Audio Reference Library in this forum debunks of many myths.

The best option in terms of sound quality (as close to the original source) will be to sell the preamp and get one of the recommended DACs reviewed in this forum and drive your power amps directly with it (eg RME, MiniDSP Flex are good quality built, others are good too).

Remember your speaker and room make up some 99% of your sound quality. So next to investing in better speakers make sure you have some sort of Digital Room Correction (eg MiniDSP or via the Streamer software etc).
 
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Thanks for your response. Room treatment is in process.

Are you aware of any of DAC/Streamer/Preamp recommendations that support pass through from a balanced interconnect source for home theater purposes?

Additionally, what's your take on the importance of the pre-amp stage (and tube vs solid state for that matter)? Are you implying that the pre-amp stage impact on sound is secondary to the DAC (assuming quality components of course)?
 
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Thanks for your response. Room treatment is in process.

Are you aware of any of DAC/Streamer/Preamp recommendations that support pass through from a balanced interconnect source for home theater purposes?

Additionally, what's your take on the importance of the pre-amp stage (and tube vs solid state for that matter)? Are you implying that the pre-amp stage impact on sound is secondary to the DAC (assuming quality components of course)?
1) Not sure I completely understand what you mean by pass-through for DAC. Do you mean DAC - AVR - Speaker?
If yes, I am not aware of any AVRs with balanced pass-through, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I only think to remember that Anthem, Trinov, Arcam offers AVRs with balanced pre-outs. Curiously these AVRs do not objectively measure as well as for example the Denon X Series eg. X3700 to X8500.

2) As I said above there is no pre-amp needed for sound quality as the shortest audio chain eg DAC(inkl Room EQ) - Power Amp - Speaker is always the best. One only usually adds a pre-amp if one wants to switch between different sources eg DAC, Turntable etc.

Tube vs Solid State. Oh boy, this an age old debated topic. So let’s see. Let’s distinguish between objective measurements and subjective preferences.
Objective Measurements:
Every generalization might have some flaws, but generally Tubes distort the audio signal more than SOTA solid state amps. The following links might help you to get some perspective



Subjective Preferences.
Although the majority of listeners seem to prefer an undistored audio signal, that does not mean that a minority or you prefer the slight (often 2nd harmonic) distortion introduced by Tube amps. That is ok, it is futile to argue about individual tastes. Some like chocolate others vanilla icecream.

Only you can know what you like / prefer and therefore I won’t tell you something sounds good or bad (to my most likely different tastes) but only can hint you towards the objective measurements so you can make at least an informed decision.

Hope this helps.
 
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