I just realized what a loaded question that was.
My wife and I often do shared birthdays, since we're two weeks apart, and we tend to do it closer to her birthday. She's very in to an interest at the minute so wanted quite a few things. A few years ago I bought a what hifi recommended setup, typical class a/b, dali bookshelfs, rega record player. Lovely setup in the 6x6 lounge. Then we moved house, twice in 2 years, and the setup ended up in my home office, and just sounded different / wrong. Thus, on the 4th March I read an article how "a DAC should be what you buy this year to improve your sound", obviously that'll fix it!
4-5th March. I read all about DACs and wound up here. I bought the Topping E30II with RCA out for my amp, since we share birthday's you know I'll get something early.
6th March, E30II delivered. I had two Chromecast Audio's, so I put one RCA in to amp, one optical in to the DAC, grouped the players, sent audio to both from Tidal, well the DAC sounded much better, but it hasn't solved the problem, so I must need a new amp, because I know the speakers sounded great before. Read more, buy a Topping PA3S, since it's got a good SINAD too you know, and it is my/our birthday after all!
Listen to everything again phase ensues, I wonder if there's a way to ensure lossless audio, just to make sure I'm getting the most from my dac, discover roon, wire in tidal to it and cast to the CCA, that seems to sound better again, but still not right, just cleaner, and heck am I discovering more music.
8th March, PA3S delivered, it's so small, but sounds so much "cleaner" than the a/b, lots of listening tests between the two. I know this sounds cleaner, but now my Dali's are even brighter, I always wondered why people said they were a bit bright as I read about them over the previous few days, now I understand.
Perhaps the issue is the optical connection, I should try using the USB of the DAC from my PC instead, subjectively that seems better, add in qobuz and try the lossless instead of MQA, well that seems marginally better, and I'm quite technical in nature, so if I can shoot raw or get lossless anything, I'm going to do that instead. More reading, looks like the E30II has some issues with optical, that must have been what it was. I can't leave my DAC & AMP in the middle of the floor thought can I? I must need a roon core or server here ... more reading. I can re-purpose a mini pc!
10th March, order Mini PC Bee-link T4 as an experiment, after all it is my birthday (and cables + adapter of course).
11th march, install ubuntu server and roon server on the T4, move everything back in to place, USB from T4 to E30II, RCA to PA3S. Happy ears, sounds so clean, but still wrong / bright. Annoying this is I can now hear the fan on the mini PC, so I'll rip that out, there's no load really so it'll run fine and cool, easily solved.
14-16th March, wife's birthday, focus on her, but lots of listening to everything again, we buy her some more bits for her hobby, you know since now I've bought a DAC a new amp and a streaming server.
Reading ensues, I have to understand why this sounds better but still wrong, the rabbit hole is firmly being entered now. It must be the speakers, by the 18th of march I'd decided that it was the limited space I could place the Dali's in, close to the "wall" and no way of getting away from that, so I must need front ported speakers.
18th March, it's decided, I need Triangle Borea BR03s, I explain to my wife how the proximity to the wall on the rear ported Dali's is cancelling out specific frequencies in the high bass to mid range, play her favourite kate bush song and she agrees it sounds wrong and is just bored of me being technical, so I pull the trigger on the front ported Triangle's, because you know she got an extra something and it is my birthday fast approaching now, so you know speakers to finish off my new setup for my birthday ...
19th March, lots of measuring, well the tweeter will be below ear level so that won't do, wife will not understand but she may roll with it, new speakers are white though and my stands are black, darling... of course you've guessed, it, Atacama Moseco 7 speaker stands at the optimal height ordered, it is one's birthday after all.
Let's not forget the wiring though, by now I'm firmly down the rabbit hole (or so I thought), final touch is the wiring, let's get rid of these silver coated speaker wires and get some thick 4mm2 pure copper with some new banana's and get this properly sorted.
We're now approaching every minute of work listening to audio not music and thinking about this, every non work hour reading and learning. Triangle's arrive, cables assembled, wow, they sound amazing, everyone agrees the new setup is so much better than the old one, (which is now in a large dining room for vinyl).
Trouble is, when I crank the volume on bass rich songs with some vocals or midrange in there, there's a bit of distortion. Clearly the PA3S isn't powerful enough for the 100W min impedance 4.2ohm Triangle's. I'm now at reading scientific papers and doing complex equation levels to work things out, actively engaging here. Fast forward to the 29th March 2 days before my birthday, so I'm pulling the trigger on a hand made Hypex Core NC252MP via Stefan at KJR Audio to resolve the power issue, it is my birthday you know.
Issue though, the triangle's are max 100W, the hypex is 1.66 VRMS in, the DAC is 2vrms out, I'm going to blow my speakers if volume resets, I need a firewall in the middle, so now I'm reading about potentiometers and attenuation, balanced connections, 10k vs 50k pots, ladder relay attenuators and all that goodness. I clearly can't blow my speakers up if there's a power cut through the night and I don't notice, so I need a 10k ALPS RK271 RCA to RCA passive amp in the middle so order one (blah birthday blah, wife has lost hope).
But what's this hiss I can hear with -80db playing or no signal and the PA3S at full "volume". It has to be the unbalanced RCA connections, I'll need to explore balanced connections, so I'll order another passive amp which does XLR->XLR and RCA->RCA with 256 steps through a relay resistor system, (birthday!), that'll take 2 weeks to come though and I need to work this out because it's consuming me, so I'll order an NS-05P which does rca/xlr to xlr/rca (birthday!), and I'll need the wires for the new setup (neutrik quad xlr's obviously, I've read every data sheet and paper by now), oh and the wires to experiment while the amps coming (XLR->TRS to put in to the PA3S balanced).
Birthday arrives, next day I'm playing with the what's this hiss via different wiring, rca to rca, it's present, rca to xlr it doubles (oh no), xlr to xlr, dissapears, completely black/silent backdrop. That's clearly what we need after spending all this time and money.
Issue, the E30II DAC is only RCA (cos who needs XLR right), so now we're celebrating my birthday the day after since it's a saturday, and well I just need an e70 fully balanced DAC for this new setup, and everybody's being nice because it's my birthday, so I'm ordering the E70 and the wife's asking why but half way through explaining that the total residual noise at -20 dB will be the square root of (2.85819^2 + 50^2) = 50.0816 uV if I move to XLR and she's zoned out and appeased with some fancy korean nail polishes.
So, that's what I got for my birthday, but in about a week I'm going to have the E70 -> Relay Resistor Passive Amp / Attenuator -> NC252MP -> Triangle Borea's, and perhaps realise that passive is balanced and not fully balanced or that when I crank the volume on bass rich songs with some vocals or midrange in there, there's a bit of distortion is down to the triangle's, and I'll be plugging the ports and getting sub's or needing new speakers without any excuse.
Here we are at exactly 28 days into this rabbit hole, and the birthday excuse fully exhausted, help (but don't).