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First "Audiophile" DAC/Amp for LS50 Meta

SeanTek

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Feb 18, 2023
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I picked up a pair of LS50 Metas about two weeks ago since they were on sale, and I could put the budgetary savings to better gear than if I got LS50 Wireless II speakers (which were also on sale at the time). Can I get short and sweet recommendations for DAC/Amps to pair with the LS50 Metas? No subwoofer yet; I will ask about subwoofers on a different thread.

There are two applications (thus, two different recommendations requested):

1) connect to computer and use for computer listening. Just want high quality DAC + amp, preferably integrated with 32-bit/384kHz support.

2) connect to Sony Bravia XBR-75X90CH TV in family room via eARC or optical out. Currently there are no additional speakers and no receiver. Any streaming would be done through the TV itself or through connected devices (Roku, AirPlay 2, Samsung 4K UHD player, etc.). I could invest in a surround-sound receiver, but choose not to at this time. A receiver @ $400-1000 will underperform for the LS50 Metas, or @ $4000-8000 will be significantly over-budget. A receiver would also support many audio channels that I do not need at this time. So basically I just want a very high-quality stereo amp that takes one digital input, has 2-channel amplified output, and one RCA or XLR output for subwoofer connection.

In both cases, I want an extremely low self-noise floor, i.e., no hiss at about 30" (2.5ft) away. I guess in either case, the budget is up to $2K.
 
Get a MiniDSP HD or Flex for your DAC. It has inputs for USB and toslink and will allow room EQ to be applied to both. If you add a sub or two later it has a crossover and the ability to apply delay (usually desired for the mains). Get a Hypex NC252 for a power amp.
 
I'm using a SMSL SU8 DAC with a Buckeye Hypex MP252 amp with great results.

The SU8 has optical, coaxial and USB inputs so will work for both the computer and TV. Also has both balanced and RCA outputs. In my case balanced goes to the amp to drive the Metas full range and the RCA to the sub (set at say 60hz), other wise you can route through the sub using it's cross over then to the Buckeye / Metas.

The SU8 is a few years old now but there would be a newer model or a Topping that would do the job well. You should find a suitable DAC for $150-200 & Amp for $570. ... about $750 total for very near SOTA front end.

If you can afford it I'd go for the Minidsp Flex ($550) suggested above by Ron instead of the SU8 as a DAC.

Search here on ASR for Amir's reviews.

Good luck
 
Consider waiting to see what inputs and outputs WiiM deploys in their upcoming 'Ultra' streaming device. WiiM has confirmed the Ultra will have a USB audio output. With such a WiiM, one should be able to route the optical output of a TV to a USB in on a computer. The computer could be running Dirac Live software before the signal is sent on to a performant DAC/Headphone Amp/Speaker Amp. I hope to use a WiiM Ultra in that way. WiiM says the Ultra will be released by '2Q2024'


The above are good suggestions. Perhaps it is practical to be able to audition two options before one return window closes.

There are a lot of DACs, headphone amps, and speaker amplifiers that would be performant. One option within your budget are 'select' Peachtree Audio Carina integrated amplifers. I having been using an earlier variant of the current models since late May 2023. It shut down once - for unknown reasons - and restarted itself. I am satisfied with it.

The Peachree Carina '150' uses a Hypex NC252MP amplfier module and for $500 more, the Carina '300' offers twice the output power with Hypex NC502MP module.

Buckeye Amps offers an enclosure fitted with a 2-channel NC252 amp module for $575 and the same enclosure with a NC502MP module for $695.
 
I made a little spreadsheet of the suggestions in this thread, plus added the NAD C 389 / C 399 which are recommended elsewhere:


For TV/Home Theater "Lite" applications, it seems that only the NAD C 389 / C 399 have HDMI eARC support, which is mutually exclusive with USB support (for computer/desktop applications) in the recommendation list so far.

I think I will pass on WiiM Amp but wait for WiiM Ultra.

In the meantime, the other options are in the ~$225 + $600 range for separates (MiniDSP + Buckeye amp) = $800 to $1K. So basically for ~$500 more, in the $1500-2000 range, you get an integrated product (Peachtree Carnia / NAD integrated amplifier). The pricing is about the same if your DAC is the MiniDSP SHD Studio ($949 + $600). I did not add the MiniDSP SHD ($1299) because I have no need for analog inputs.

...and all these options have incredibly low self-noise, right? I was disappointed with the idle hiss on the KEF LSX II in the last week, which was one reason why I passed up the KEF LS50 Wireless II. (I also recall demoing the LS50 Wireless II about a year and a half ago, and being annoyed by the idle hiss, but my memory is hazy on this point.)
 
Let me also ask, any thoughts on the SMSL A2 ($999), A6 ($449), or A8 ($599) integrated amplifiers? They have USB (2.0) inputs, no HDMI, so they fall in the computer desktop application category rather than family room/home theater category.

(Note that the KEF LS50 Wireless II supports HDMI eARC, so I think asking for HDMI eARC in the DAC is reasonable.)
 
I think the SHD Power has too many features for me (compared to SHD Studio).

The only SMSL that probably makes sense is the SMSL VMV A2 ($999); ignore my other two suggestions.

Some other ones to look at (I now know that I guess I am asking for an "integrated amplifier"):

Arcam SA30
Arcam SA20
Arcam A25
Cambridge Audio CXA81 (people seem to say it's noisy...)
 
If the combination of USB and HDMI ARC is important, this is provided by the MiniDSP "HT"-series. However, there is also usb-to-s/pdif-adapters available which gives you more available options. (Depending on your computer, you might also have s/pdif toslink built in)

(Edit: link to thread regarding usb-to-s/pdif)
 
I made a little spreadsheet of the suggestions in this thread, plus added the NAD C 389 / C 399 which are recommended elsewhere:


For TV/Home Theater "Lite" applications, it seems that only the NAD C 389 / C 399 have HDMI eARC support, which is mutually exclusive with USB support (for computer/desktop applications) in the recommendation list so far.

I think I will pass on WiiM Amp but wait for WiiM Ultra.

In the meantime, the other options are in the ~$225 + $600 range for separates (MiniDSP + Buckeye amp) = $800 to $1K. So basically for ~$500 more, in the $1500-2000 range, you get an integrated product (Peachtree Carnia / NAD integrated amplifier). The pricing is about the same if your DAC is the MiniDSP SHD Studio ($949 + $600). I did not add the MiniDSP SHD ($1299) because I have no need for analog inputs.

...and all these options have incredibly low self-noise, right? I was disappointed with the idle hiss on the KEF LSX II in the last week, which was one reason why I passed up the KEF LS50 Wireless II. (I also recall demoing the LS50 Wireless II about a year and a half ago, and being annoyed by the idle hiss, but my memory is hazy on this point.)
Actually, I did change my system from a Home Cinema (NAD T758v3 & Qacoustic 3050 - was ok) to the following system:

TV - Optic -> MiniDSP Studio (Dirac is no brainer) with Volumio - Coax ->Topping E70V - (Mogami XLR)>Boxem A 5517/N2 -> Kef LS50 Meta & - Coax->Khadas Tone Dac-> T-Rel Mini Mk3.
All supplied with Supra power distribution - Silver Black edition -/cables & Supra Ply 3.4 shielded speaker cables.

The most difficult part is the Timing/Cross Over/EQ/Dirac setting & calibration as my sofa is sticked to the wall from 3m distance from the TV / Speakers.
After this tuning phase "No Audible Noise" just music and even great soundstage with TV LCPM signal (Netflix...etc)

Eventually, I will buy new "real 70ohm" coax cables and a WiiM Pro+/Ultra to complete the system ;-).
Afterwhat, may be if my wife allows me, I will enhanced our 30meter square living room with proper sound treatment (the reverb seem ok @ 200ms)
 
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