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DAC under 1500USD with top performance volume control

Hamed

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Hi :)

been searching and searching to find a good DAC that would have pre amp performance (all I need is volume control and balanced outputs) at the same level of a Schiit Freya or a Topping Pre90 for example.

Problem is that most reviews of good DACs don't even mention the performance of the preamp in the review. I got rid of my Primare DAC30 and original Schiit Freya, for one because I didn't use tubes and the DAC was getting quite old and didn't wanna get stuck with it forever, and secondly and most importantly, I want to get one unit that does it all. straight to my powered speakers (Genelec G series) and I'm done with this game :D

When I got the Freya first, it was quite obvious that I could get so much more energy from my music at lower volumes and I can't go back to some basic digital volume control implemented in a DAC just as a bonus feature.

As a side note, another option is to get the Genelec F Two subwoofer which has a built in DAC and remote for volume control, also will improve the sound by allowing the speakers to just play midrange and treble. But, haven't managed to find any reviews or measurements on the built in DAC and preamp of that unit.

Any suggestions or help is very much appreciated.
Thanks,
Hamed
 

bryan0101

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If the DAC you want does not have a good pre (or no pre at all), there could be another solution; since you probably don't care if there is remote function, just get a passive volume controller/preamp.
There are so many to choose, for regular usage, a resistor based step attenuator in a box is just 100-200. Even some of the cheaper transformer based attenuator is only 3-400 used. High end ones like music first can be nutty.
 

dwkdnvr

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This is something that Amir doesn't test explicitly, but I'd hazard a guess that "most" DACs that have volume control implement it within the DAC chip itself rather than with external variable-gain circuitry or (horrors!!) a potentiometer.

IF a DAC does do volume control in the digital domain this way, then Amir's 'linearity' test should be indicative of it's performance as it represents scaling of the digital signal. It would be nice to have confirmation and have him include explicit tests using the volume control when present, though.

FWIW I've used a Sabaj D5 directly as a DAC/pre for years, and haven't heard anything to cause me to question the performance in this way.
 

Ken Tajalli

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If all you need is a DAC with a variable output and balanced output, then you don't really need a preamp function at all.
The volume control would be digital - meaning the output analog section has a steady gain, but the DAC section varies the signal digitally.
There are many good examples out there.
I have a Topping DX7 pro that fits the bill, I love it.
You can possibly pick one up used for less than $400 on eBay.
A new DX7 pro plus is a few hundred more.
A preamp function, is for additional analog input.
Do you need such a thing?
 

radix

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The RME ADI-2 FS is about $1300 new. It has a decent remote too. I've seen some comments about it having a nice volume control, but I don't know of specific measurements. I would be surprised if it was sub-par.

The miniDSP Flex is ab out $800-900 with Dirac, so you get room correction too! I've not seen anyone complain about it's volume control.
 

Bleib

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Perhaps a decent DAC and say a Topping L70 combo would be best?
 

unpluggged

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I've seen some comments about it having a nice volume control, but I don't know of specific measurements.
Do you mean the ADI-2 DAC FS? Section 31.13 of the manual explains its implementation in details and shows respective measurements. Add to this four analog reference levels with automatic switching between them, and you get a volume control that is as good as anything in this class.
 

Ken Tajalli

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If you are hellbound on having an analogue volume control (even though a decent digital volume control can be better) then there are passive resistor-ladder volume controls, you can add to any dac. Even some with remote control.
Trust me, a good dac with digital volume control is better.
 

Bleib

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If you are hellbound on having an analogue volume control (even though a decent digital volume control can be better) then there are passive resistor-ladder volume controls, you can add to any dac. Even some with remote control.
Trust me, a good dac with digital volume control is better.
Why is that I keep hearing that one should have digital at full power pretty much everywhere?
 

Ken Tajalli

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Why is that I keep hearing that one should have digital at full power pretty much everywhere?
By the book, that is correct, but practically , not so much.
On digital audio, max dynamic range is achieved at 0dBFS. I.e. max volume.
However, even on a 16 bit song, we have a vast dynamic range, we can sacrifice 15dB or so.
How? because at -15dBFS , played back even through closed back headphones in a dead quiet room, the background noise is still high enough, to make possible audible dynamic range limited enough, not to matter.
Analogue volume controls, are not as good at tracking compared to digital, they can be noisy and cause impedance issues.
The best ones, are switched relay, precision laser cut resistor ladder types. good ones are expensive, and in practice may match digital ones.
Some oversampling Dacs, such Chord Dacs, implement the digital volume controls after oversampling, to achieve (theoretically ) better precision.
I regularly listen to my Topping DX7 pro at -20dBFS , and it sounds fab. through my Meridian poweramp and Sonus Faber speakers.
Digital volume control on such a caliber dac, is of no concern.
 

Bleib

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By the book, that is correct, but practically , not so much.
On digital audio, max dynamic range is achieved at 0dBFS. I.e. max volume.
However, even on a 16 bit song, we have a vast dynamic range, we can sacrifice 15dB or so.
How? because at -15dBFS , played back even through closed back headphones in a dead quiet room, the background noise is still high enough, to make possible audible dynamic range limited enough, not to matter.
Analogue volume controls, are not as good at tracking compared to digital, they can be noisy and cause impedance issues.
The best ones, are switched relay, precision laser cut resistor ladder types. good ones are expensive, and in practice may match digital ones.
Some oversampling Dacs, such Chord Dacs, implement the digital volume controls after oversampling, to achieve (theoretically ) better precision.
I regularly listen to my Topping DX7 pro at -20dBFS , and it sounds fab. through my Meridian poweramp and Sonus Faber speakers.
Digital volume control on such a caliber dac, is of no concern.
Would you say that a SMSL C200 would do the job equally well? Because for some reason I have imagined it would be better for L70 to handle the volume.
 

MaxwellsEq

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Why is that I keep hearing that one should have digital at full power pretty much everywhere?
Setting the DAC at 0 and using a volume control afterwards maximises your signal to noise ratio* and minimises any degradation caused by the way the digital values are manipulated in order to "reduce volume"**
* When you turn down the analogue volume control you also turn down the noise in the preceding elements
** Some DAC digital volume controls are better than others in terms of how/whether they reduce bit depth

In practice, assuming you don't turn down the DAC volume very much, you may not notice any degradation given that very little real world music uses all 16 bits anyway. But if you are serious about trying to make the domestic playback chain the best it can be, this is the correct approach...
 

Koeitje

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By the book, that is correct, but practically , not so much.
On digital audio, max dynamic range is achieved at 0dBFS. I.e. max volume.
However, even on a 16 bit song, we have a vast dynamic range, we can sacrifice 15dB or so.
How? because at -15dBFS , played back even through closed back headphones in a dead quiet room, the background noise is still high enough, to make possible audible dynamic range limited enough, not to matter.
Analogue volume controls, are not as good at tracking compared to digital, they can be noisy and cause impedance issues.
The best ones, are switched relay, precision laser cut resistor ladder types. good ones are expensive, and in practice may match digital ones.
Some oversampling Dacs, such Chord Dacs, implement the digital volume controls after oversampling, to achieve (theoretically ) better precision.
I regularly listen to my Topping DX7 pro at -20dBFS , and it sounds fab. through my Meridian poweramp and Sonus Faber speakers.
Digital volume control on such a caliber dac, is of no concern.
You also can have channel mismatches with analog volume control.
 

unpluggged

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using a volume control afterwards maximises your signal to noise ratio*
Wrong. Analog volume control (be it potentiometer-based or relay-based) introduces much more noise, distortion and other artifacts (channel imbalance, scratching, clicks) than a properly implemented digital one. Besides, it still can't attenuate any noise that is generated after it (i.e. in the amplification stages).

On the other hand, the only metric that digital volume control affects is the dynamic range. But, as they say over there at another forum, if you don't hear any noise you don't have any SNR problem. And I bet you don't hear any noise that is being generated by any decent DAC unless you amplify its output to insane levels.
 

Willem

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Do you mean the ADI-2 DAC FS? Section 31.13 of the manual explains its implementation in details and shows respective measurements. Add to this four analog reference levels with automatic switching between them, and you get a volume control that is as good as anything in this class.
In fact, better than just about any. Study the manual if you want to know why. It also has both balanced and unbalanced outputs, tone and balance controls, plus dynamic loudness and much more. And it measures superbly.
 

MaxwellsEq

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Hamed

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guys, is it possible to submit a request to Amir to run some measurements and clarify this? the answer to this question could basically save a lot of people a lot of money. If we could for example compare measurements of RME dac maxed out to a Schiit Freya or Pre90 vs RME dac volume adjusted. If they are matched in output level, wouldn't that settle this discussion?
 

MaxwellsEq

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guys, is it possible to submit a request to Amir to run some measurements and clarify this? the answer to this question could basically save a lot of people a lot of money. If we could for example compare measurements of RME dac maxed out to a Schiit Freya or Pre90 vs RME dac volume adjusted. If they are matched in output level, wouldn't that settle this discussion?

This is a good starting point to understand some of the principles:
 
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Hamed

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This is a good starting point to understand some of the principles:
do you mean that my idea for comparing measurement of those two setups was flawed and makes no sense? :D
 
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