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Reccomendation - $500 budget - steamer + DAC - TIDAL or Qobuz max quality -

mfish

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TLDR - What do you all recommend with all of this in mind? $500 max total budget for high quality DAC + streamer that supports either highest quality Quobuz or TIDAL (not partial to either streaming service) and will output the highest quality while "commanding" the streamer device with Alexa voice commands. End goal is to bypass the weak internal DAC in my AVR.

I realize that this question spans many topics not just DAC's.

From my limited research it seems like Wimm Pro and Topping D50S (if I can still find one in stock) or D50 III would fit the bill.

I'm mostly focused on making music sound as good as possible. To my knowledge there are no external DACS (without a crazy price) that can also decode all current Dolby and DTS formats. My AVR is a Denon X3500H which appears to have a fairly solid power amp with it's weakness being it's internal DAC. See: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/denon-avr-x3500h-avr-review.10053/

System: Denon X3500H, Fronts: Klipsch RP-8000F (not the newer version 2 - will be receiving these in the mail next Monday), Hsu Research VTF-2 MK5 Sub, Pioneer SP-C22 Center, SLS Q-Line Gold Surrounds, Pioneer SP-T22A-LR Atmos Height. Off topic - down the road the next steps will likely be getting a 2nd VTF-2 MK5 sub so I can go dual subs and also upgrading my center to the RP-440C to match with my new fronts.

Music preferences: Hard rock, classic rock, some metal (but not crazy hardcore types of metal - no growling and grunting) modern pop, EDM, some rap and hip-hop. Recovering basshead from my teenage years. LOL

Questions:

- Is MQA support for Tidal now no longer necessary now that they recently released their highest quality in FLAC format?
- Or if I got with TIDAL instead of Quobuz, is MQA still advantageous? I believe that the Wimm streamer utilizes TIDAL connect and from what I've gathered TIDAL connect is only compatible with MQA and not Hi-res FLAC meaning MQA would be important for a TIDAL use case?
- Any external DAC or streaming box at similar price points that give much more bang for the buck.
- Any strong opinions on Quboz vs. TIDAL? I know Quobuz wins in price. I don't listen to any obscure hard to find artists so I don't think TIDAL's slightly larger library will matter to me.
- As far as using Alexa to "command" the Wimm pro what to play does controlling the Wimm pro with Alexa as opposed to the WHA app on my phone have any influence on audio quality? I'm thinking no but not 100% sure.
- I believe a streaming box is necessary so that the box "processes / stream" the music from TIDAL or Quobuz and then output it to an external DAC right to take my AVR's internal DAC out of the picture, right?
- As far as connections
- Output from Wimm to DAC - any advantage between optical vs. coax?
- Output from DAC to AVR - any advantage between optical vs. coax?
- Specific to the AVR's weak internal DAC, if I feed it the external DAC signal via optical or coax to the AVR, does the AVR "know" the signal has already been converted to analog and then therefore not alter it in anyway with it's internal DAC? Or do I maybe need to feed the AVR the signal from the DAC via RCA cables to fully bypass the weak internal DAC?
- Any other glaring oversights I made that I should be made aware of?

Thanks in advance to all that take the time to reply!
 

staticV3

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Hi @mfish! Welcome to ASR.

What do you all recommend with all of this in mind? $500 max total budget for high quality DAC + streamer that supports either highest quality Quobuz or TIDAL (not partial to either streaming service) and will output the highest quality while "commanding" the streamer device with Alexa voice commands.
WiiM Pro Plus. It's got a fully transparent DAC built-in.

Is MQA support for Tidal now no longer necessary now that they recently released their highest quality in FLAC format?
Correct.

Or if I got with TIDAL instead of Quobuz, is MQA still advantageous?
MQA has never been advantageous. It's just lossy compressed music. FLAC is always better.

from what I've gathered TIDAL connect is only compatible with MQA and not Hi-res FLAC
I think this is just a temporary thing while Tidal transitions to an all FLAC library.

Any external DAC or streaming box at similar price points that give much more bang for the buck.
None.

I believe a streaming box is necessary so that the box "processes / stream" the music from TIDAL or Quobuz and then output it to an external DAC right to take my AVR's internal DAC out of the picture, right?
Again, the WiiM Pro Plus has a fully transparent DAC built-in. No external DAC required.

Output from Wimm to DAC - any advantage between optical vs. coax?
Optical can break ground loops, and is therefore advantageous.

Output from DAC to AVR - any advantage between optical vs. coax?
A DAC can by definition not output optical or coax. It can only output analog.

Specific to the AVR's weak internal DAC, if I feed it the external DAC signal via optical or coax to the AVR, does the AVR "know" the signal has already been converted to analog and then therefore not alter it in anyway with it's internal DAC?
You're misunderstanding.

Optical and coax carry digital audio.
A DAC can only output analog (RCA, XLR, TRS).

Or do I maybe need to feed the AVR the signal from the DAC via RCA cables to fully bypass the weak internal DAC?
Depending on your AVR model and configuration, the RCA analog input may be digitized, processed, then converted back to analog by the AVR's own DAC.

Basically:
If you want to use an external DAC, then you need to use the AVR's RCA Line input.
However, using the AVR's Line input does not guarantee that you're bypassing the internal DAC.

If the internal DAC cannot be bypassed, then the highest fidelity will be achieved with digital input into the AVR, so without an external DAC.
 
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mfish

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@staticV3
Hi @mfish! Welcome to ASR.

What do you all recommend with all of this in mind? $500 max total budget for high quality DAC + streamer that supports either highest quality Quobuz or TIDAL (not partial to either streaming service) and will output the highest quality while "commanding" the streamer device with Alexa voice commands.
WiiM Pro Plus. It's got a fully transparent DAC built-in.

Is MQA support for Tidal now no longer necessary now that they recently released their highest quality in FLAC format?
Correct.

Or if I got with TIDAL instead of Quobuz, is MQA still advantageous?
MQA has never been advantageous. It's just lossy compressed music. FLAC is always better.

from what I've gathered TIDAL connect is only compatible with MQA and not Hi-res FLAC
I think this is just a temporary thing while Tidal transitions to an all FLAC library.

Any external DAC or streaming box at similar price points that give much more bang for the buck.
None.

I believe a streaming box is necessary so that the box "processes / stream" the music from TIDAL or Quobuz and then output it to an external DAC right to take my AVR's internal DAC out of the picture, right?
Again, the WiiM Pro Plus has a fully transparent DAC built-in. No external DAC required.

Output from Wimm to DAC - any advantage between optical vs. coax?
Optical can break ground loops, and is therefore advantageous.

Output from DAC to AVR - any advantage between optical vs. coax?
A DAC can by definition not output optical or coax. It can only output analog.

Specific to the AVR's weak internal DAC, if I feed it the external DAC signal via optical or coax to the AVR, does the AVR "know" the signal has already been converted to analog and then therefore not alter it in anyway with it's internal DAC?
You're misunderstanding.

Optical and coax carry digital audio.
A DAC can only output analog (RCA, XLR, TRS).

Or do I maybe need to feed the AVR the signal from the DAC via RCA cables to fully bypass the weak internal DAC?
Depending on your AVR model and configuration, the RCA analog input may be digitized, processed, then converted back to analog by the AVR's own DAC.

Basically:
If you want to use an external DAC, then you need to use the AVR's RCA Line input.
However, using the AVR's Line input does not guarantee that you're bypassing the internal DAC.

Thanks for the warm welcome and super thorough reply!

I did see that the Winn Pro Plus has a better DAC than the non-plus. I listened to some subjective reviews about in on Youtube (who knows - maybe those content creators are paid to say certain things) that said the new DAC is an improvement but there are other better options. See:

Long story short, I missed the review here which is solid objective measurements and data. I must say very impressive especially for $220!!! - https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...-pro-plus-review-measurements-streamer.47020/

That saves me money and gets me an all in one solution so Winn Pro Plus it is! And obviously when it comes to audio performance it's kind of like a chain that's only as strong as it's weakest link so even if there are better DAC's out there (for way more money) it's likely that my 44 year old ears can't hear the difference or the rest of my equipment isn't hi-fi enough to take advantage of it.

Follow up questions

Pardon my ignorance but why then does the wimm pro plus have optical and coax outputs if it only output an analog signal? Or more to the point which then makes the previous question irrelevant -I should be using the RCA output from the Wimm to take advantage of it's superior DAC, right? And I did take note of what you said that my best bet is to use the line input. I'll do more research to see if any of the specific RCA inputs on my AVR bypass the internal DAC.

I know this is getting outside the scope of DACS but this very issue is described on this site about this my particular AVR: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/denon-avr-x3500h-avr-review.10053/page-19

Not sure of the validity of the responses but it sounds like analog inputs are not digitized (DAC bypassed) IF you're not using Audyssey. However, I do prefer the sound with Audyssey RoomEQ and Audyssey Dynamic EQ enabled. Also, I need to use crossovers and not sure if you can use the AVR's crossovers without Audyssey enabled.

So at the end of the day if I will be using Audyssey and it is true that using Audyssey will cause the analog output of the DAC to be converted back to digital for Audyssey purposes and then converted back to analog after Audyssey processing, to then be sent to the internal power amp, then will that AVR internal A/D and then D/A conversion process involving the AVR's internal DAC negate or partially negate the benefits of using an external DAC?
 

staticV3

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Pardon my ignorance but why then does the wimm pro plus have optical and coax outputs if it only output an analog signal?
Because it is not just a DAC. It's a Streamer + DAC + DDC + ADC,

As such, it has analog input and digital output, in addition to digital in and analog out.

Or more to the point which then makes the previous question irrelevant -I should be using the RCA output from the Wimm to take advantage of it's superior DAC, right?
It depends.

If you can set your AVR to a "pure direct"-like mode where all internal processing is disabled and the internal DAC is bypassed, then you should use the RCA output.

If you cannot bypass the internal DAC, then the highest fidelity will be achieved via WiiM->Toslink->AVR.

In that case, the extra money for the upgraded Pro Plus would be wasted.

I know this is getting outside the scope of DACS but this very issue is described on this site about this my particular AVR: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/denon-avr-x3500h-avr-review.10053/page-19

Not sure of the validity of the responses but it sounds like analog inputs are not digitized (DAC bypassed) IF you're not using Audyssey. However, I do prefer the sound with Audyssey RoomEQ and Audyssey Dynamic EQ enabled. Also, I need to use crossovers and not sure if you can use the AVR's crossovers without Audyssey enabled.
If you want to use Audyssey, then an external DAC will only degrade sound quality, not improve it.
 

Mikig

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now I don't know how much you can get it for, but

audalytic ah90

also covers part of your requests. It seems to me that it is just over 500 euros. Maybe you can find some offers online. It's complete, it has an AKM, it's a streamer, it has balanced outputs, a remote control, it reads Roon, TIDAL, DSD, PCM and MQA.
 

Brian Hall

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Pardon my ignorance but why then does the wimm pro plus have optical and coax outputs if it only output an analog signal? Or more to the point which then makes the previous question irrelevant -I should be using the RCA output from the Wimm to take advantage of it's superior DAC, right? And I did take note of what you said that my best bet is to use the line input. I'll do more research to see if any of the specific RCA inputs on my AVR bypass the internal DAC.

The Wiim Pro Plus is capable of being used as a DAC for a CD Player or transport. It also has analog inputs to let it function as a limited input switcher / preamp.

Connect the RCA outs from the Wiim Pro Plus to your receiver.
Connect a CD player/transport to the Wiim Pro Plus's optical input.
Connect a turntable preamp to the RCA inputs on the Wiim Pro Plus.

Don't believe anyone who tells you the DAC in the Pro Plus isn't good enough to compete against much higher cost DACs.
 

somebodyelse

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Optical can break ground loops, and is therefore advantageous.
Coax may also break ground loops, depending on implementation. Isolation transformers are mandatory at the sending end in the pro standards. In consumer standards isolation isn't required, but some manufacturers include it anyway. Unfortunately this is rarely advertised, so you need to look at internal pics or test it yourself. I don't see an isolation transformer on the Wiim Pro: https://device.report/m/735f54e7540ce5c6184839d271ddf70688b8bba9f72ac2c230b6f0c9f475b204.pdf
A DAC can by definition not output optical or coax. It can only output analog.
This is the problem of strict vs. colloquial use - strictly this is correct, but most people would refer to something like the Topping D10 as a DAC, even though it has both digital and analog outputs. Confusion ensues. Exactly what a 'streamer' can do is a whole other mess...
 

JeremyFife

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Hard to see past a WiiM product for what you want.

As noted by @staticV3 if you are going to use Audyssey (sensible decision) then you don't want an external DAC as you are processing a digital signal in your Denon.
A WiiM mini will give you a bit-perfect streamer output to your Denon, it's all you need.
Personally, I'd be tempted to spend a little more for the Wiim Pro Plus anyway (skip the Pro) for the better DAC and ADC just in case your system changes and an external DAC makes sense again. Bear in mind that this could just be wasted money though, just my personal preference.
 
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mfish

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Thank you all for chiming in and sorry to now venture more outside the scope of purely DAC's.....

Based on all this feedback, I'm discovering that I want to basically attempt to have my cake and eat it without breaking the bank - use a high end external DAC (bypassing the Denon internal DAC) and have room correction / EQ

Obviously one option would be to buy a new high end AVR that has a solid internal DAC and it seems like DIRAC live with bass management is the pinnacle of room correction / EQ. That will cost thousands.

How about the miniDSP Flex or miniDSP DDRC-24? Or maybe one of their other products like the SHD or SHD studio?

MinDSP Flex review here on Audio Science Review: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/minidsp-flex-review-audio-dsp.30804/

Questions:

- Is the miniDSP Flex overall a superior device compared to the DDRC-24? I realize the miniDSP with DIRAC license and microphone is more expensive. Is the superior performance of the miniDSP audible enough, given the rest of my hardware, to justify the higher price? I believe it is superior based on this: https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...p-ddrc-24-to-flex-even-shd.35527/post-1251464 And I do see that the SHD is superior to both with obviously a higher price tag.

- With any of these products is there any additional audible benefit to outputting the room corrected / EQ's digital signals to let's say a Topping DAC D50 III (or other similar / higher performing external DAC in the same price range) and then outputting the analog signal from the external DAC to the AVR? Or are the DACS in these miniDSP's good enough?

- End goal would be to use this for music ideally with the option of 2.1 stereo. I realize the Klipsch RP-8000F can dig fairly deep in the bass region but I like strong bass so would probably listen with the sub playing too. I see these miniDSP's don't have Dirac Live Bass Control (DLBC) - https://support.minidsp.com/support/solutions/articles/47001168083-does-minidsp-support-dirac-live-bass-control-dlbc-#:~:text=At this point of time,processing of the miniDSP processor.

- Is this a big downside?
- I believe the miniDSP's still handle the crossovers right?
- So I should be able to use to 2 of the outputs with a HPF to the L and R analog line input of my AVR to the fronts and then send a 3rd output with a LPF to the input of my powered sub, right?
- I believe even without DLBC the minidsp in addition to crossovers will still do time alignment and hopefully phase alignment between the sub and fronts, right?
- I just have a single sub now but plans for dual subs in the future. Does the lack of DLBC become more of a downside if/when I upgrade to dual subs?

- I realize I'd still need a streaming box (Wimm pro, not plus) if I go with minidsp DDRC-24 for Flex which will add to the cost somewhat. Looks like the miniDSP SHD is an all in one device (streamer with Dirac live) with superior processing. These are starting to get pricey but got to pay to play. And if the miniDPS + Wimm + Dirac license + mic is a good option that is getting into the same price range of a mini SHD. It appears that the miniDSP SHD has DAC's built in whereas the SHD studio is cheaper but only has digital output and requires external DACS for LR and another for the sub. When factoring in price are the DACs in the miniDSP SHD "good enough" given the price or can I do better by savings $350 with the SHD studio and using those funds to buy 2 superior external DACs?\\

- EDIT: Idea for future proofing: https://www.minidsp.com/products/ht-series

Will those give me all of the above for multichannel hometheater use? Considerations / Questions:

- My current AVR does not have individual analog inputs for each channel so I realize I would need to upgrade my AVR to be able to utilize this ability in the future
- These miniDSP's do not decode Dolby or DTS. I believe if I use Kodi on my 2019 Shield pro it can decode Dolby or DTS up to 7.1 channels per this and output as PCM: https://www.reddit.com/r/ShieldAndroidTV/comments/12fwyok Or I can look at different streaming boxes to obtain this ability depending on how far down the rabbit hole I want to go.
- Am I missing anything with these mini DSP solutions that are a downside compared to the above options focused on 2.1 music listening? In other words if I gain 8 channel processing / external DACS will anything be inferior in the realm of 2.1 music listening?
 
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JeremyFife

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@JeremyFife @somebodyelse @Brian Hall @Mikig @staticV3 Thank you all for chiming in on this thread previously. I just wanted to tag you all again and see if any of you would be nice enough to give me some feedback on my response with more questions from Thurs. 03/14. Thanks again in advance!
I was hanging in there when the conversation was stereo or 2.1 :) You've gone down a number of new and interesting rabbit holes here, and I'm not the person you need to advise!

A few thoughts though; In general, its sensible to buy gear that you actually use now. If you want to listen to music now while you think about multi-channel surround sound in the future ... then just get what you need now (potentially just a WiiM mini) and settle down to do some reading.

I would caution against "future proofing". That's a recipe for wasting a *lot* of money, or for spending a huge amount of time procrastinating without ever being happy *now*.
You haven't even touched on measurements and room correction and the cost of your options ranges from a few hundred to many thousands :)

Plenty of people here know about Home Cinema, Surround sound and all that. I don't.
I do think that DLBC is a significantly complicated, and expensive rabbit hole.. I'd want to really understand this before I went anywhere near it.

One last, personal, comment. I have the WiiM mini and a miniDSP Flex (Balanced) and I'm very very happy with that.
 

somebodyelse

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I don't have experience of MiniDSP or multichannel so I'm not the best one to ask.

The DDRC-24 is essentially a 2x4HD plus a Dirac Live license which is also an option on the Flex. If you check the reviews you'll see the Flex measures rather better. Whether you'd hear it with the Denon is another matter - I'd put it at possible but not certain.
 

Brian Hall

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One last, personal, comment. I have the WiiM mini and a miniDSP Flex (Balanced) and I'm very very happy with that.

An advantage to the Pro over the mini is the input and output jacks on the back. And larger size so it is a little big easier to find if it gets knocked down in the cables.
 

charlielaub

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My approach to this is to use a laptop computer and Qobuz, plus a DAC. Think of a laptop as a very versatile player of all kinds of source material with a very large and informative display screen instead of a tiny one.

I place the laptop at the top of my rack of gear. When I want to play music, I walk over, flip open the top and after logging in and a few clicks the music starts. It takes less than 30 seconds (I don't ever actually shut down the laptop, just close the lid to put it into standby mode).

A hardware streamer is not as versatile and upgradable as a laptop. I can play virtually any streaming audio source, radio station, play local files, files over the LAN, etc. You get all the performance you could ever need in a $350 laptop. I use a 17" laptop from HP like this one:
Don't waste $$$ on a DAC. These days for as little as $150 you can get a DAC with excellent performance, e.g. TOPPING D10 (balanced) or E30 (single ended)
 
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