DAC Recommendation for New Stereo Setup

I’m assembling a new stereo setup. Here’s the plan:

Roon Server on a 2009 Cheese Grater Mac Pro
Ethernet to Roon on 2014 Mac Mini endpoint (has Opical/SPDIF out)
[DAC of some sort]
Sansui AU-111 Tube Amp
B&W DM-3000 Towers

The Mac is connected to the server, a 2013 Mac Pro currently, via Ethernet.

I’m 50 and tend to like warm, liquid sound over super crispy and clean. Music runs from Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets to Ry Cooder’s Jazz to Hank Williams to Tower of Power to The Prodigy.
Most of music is FLAC or ALAC 44.1kHz/16 Bit. I just subscribed to TIdal.

Anyone have a thought on a good DAC for me? $500? (Unless there’s a good reason to go higher. My experience has been that there are rapidly diminishing returns after you hit “quite good” on the audio-gear continuum.) Any other comments on the proposed setup are welcome.

As an aside—Roon has reinvigorated my love for music. I was stuck in a “My Top 1600 tracks” rut and Roon has bubbled its magic gas through my library, causing long-lost loves to float to the surface… uhhh this is starting to sound sorta icky. Anyway, ROON ROCKS!

Schiit Bifrost at $399. I would pay the extra $200 for the multibit version myself.

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+1 on getting the multibit version.

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All the DACs I’ve used are pricier than your budget. I own or have owned two that are outside your budget, but I’ve read detailed comparisons between them and their baby siblings suggesting that the cheaper models are good approximations and very good value for money:

Schiit: Modi 2 Multibit, US $249, the baby sibling of the Bifrost Multibit (which I’ve owned)
Soekris: dac1321, EUR 490, the baby amp-less sibling of the dac1541 (which replaced the Bifrost Multibit and a headphone amp)

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Bimby (Bitfrost Multibit) would be a good choice in that price range.

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Thanks to all who have replied so far. The Bimby (!) does indeed look like a good thing.
I also noticed this used Marantz HD-DAC1 is here in For Sale for USD$500. Any opinions on that? Various online reviewers are saying nice things.

If bought a Schiit Yggdrasil for that exact “warm sound” you referenced. The Gumby is also multibit (optional) as is the Bifrost (optional). This is a good family of DACs I think, and have a reputation for good value. Cons: “only” does 24/192, so if you have a hankering for MQA or DSD (not over PCM) then these won’t do.

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I can highly recommend the Pro-Ject S2 Pre Digital (it’s a mouthful).

I bought one for my old man (my dad) to use with his Sansui AU 4900 and vintage B&W speakers. He says it’s the best his system has ever sounded.

He’s feeding it with my ultraRendu and linear PSU’s though that I’ve let him ‘borrow’. Don’t think I’ll be getting them back though.

I played around with it at my place before installing it at dad’s place. Really impressed.

http://www.box-designs.com/main.php?prod=preboxs2digital&cat=default&lang=en

Instead of using the Mac as a source, I’d recommend the Allo USBridge to feed the Pro-Ject S2 DAC. In total it should be around $550 in total.

The USBridge comes fully assembled. There’s just config of the OS required but there’s plenty of support around this forum.

https://allo.com/sparky/usbridge.html

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This might seem like a daft question, but how come these DACs don’t have an optical-out? If plugging into an amp via coax, wouldn’t you lose the benefits of MQA? Or has the DAC already done it’s magic on the input stream by this point?

Hi Tobin, this particular DAC (digital to analogue converter) doesn’t have digital outputs. Some DACs do but not this one sadly.

Regarding MQA, it will do all the MQA decoding internally, when fed the MQA file via USB input. MQA decoding won’t work via the other digtal inputs for this DAC. Check the FAQ on the DACs website I linked above which explains why.

So the analgue outputs will be fully decoded MQA.

Hope that helps

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Thanks Sean. Yup, so a lot of value is in the decoding, the downstream amp benefits from the decided and polished analog signal from the DAC.

Guess you could feed a USBridge into it and you have a Roon Ready end point. Albeit the remote probably won’t work :slight_smile:

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Yup I recommended the same above too. A nice solution indeed.

The remote works fine. The DAC itself can use it’s internal digital volume control with MQA. You just need to make sure Roon DSP is disabled, including Roon’s volume levelling.

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I should also add - forgetting completely about MQA and playing non-MQA stuff, this DAC still sounds great.

I’ve slightly preferred using Roon to up-sample to PCM768k to this DAC. Dad has told me he prefers up-sampling to DSD512, others have found it sounds great even without any up-sampling.

All options sounded great to me. It just comes to personal taste, but Roon DSP and this DAC’s feature list allows plenty of options to try, if you wanted to.

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Thanks Sean!

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Why? And which Mac do you mean, the server Mac Pro or the endpoint Mac Mini?

Sorry I meant your USB audio source, which means replacing your current Mac Mini endpoint.

If you can move your Mac Pro Roon Core outside of the listening room and just have the lower powered endpoint (like the USBridge), then you would be following Roon’s recommendations (not mine)

I’ve tried different configs, like yours but in the end, Roon’s recommended setup results in the best SQ. Have the Core outside of the listening room if it’s practical to do so - sometimes it hasn’t been practical for me as I move/travel around a bit but you try your best. And then have just a low powered & low noise output like a USBridge (or others) connected to your HiFi gear (your DAC).

Don’t take my word for it though. See below links.

and

and

Thanks. I’ll be sending from the server via Ethernet from an equipment closet; I had planned to use the Optical Out on the Mac Mini to go to the DAC.
Considering my age, and the fact that the tube amp was made in the same year I was, and the speakers that are thirty years old, I’m not going to worry about a little bit of electromagnetic noise or signal jitter or whatever. My Strat hums a bit when I plug it in, and I’ve never had a problem with that. :wink:

Hehe actually my old man’s amp and speakers are over 40 years old and we’ve both been surprised at the performance squeezed out, just following some of Roon’s simple recommendations and powering the digital end with low noise linear PSU’s etc.

You don’t realise everything matters until you tweak and it hits you that everything matters lol.

Even the old fella says his Sansui and B&W speakers have never sounded this good.

In his case, I did all the tweaking of his listening rooms and he just got to sit back and relax and enjoy the music. So he’s the real winner here, not me :grin:

But yes, you try what you can, given whatever space/physical limitations there are.

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Words to live by.

You don’t happen to fancy a week in Boulder, do you?

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Ha I’m in Australia but I do actually! Because I’ve wanted to visit PS Audio’s factory and their famous listening room in Boulder, on my next visit to the US - I missed the opportunity on my last US visit sadly.

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