NUC + DAC + USB -> McIntosh

(Long winded preamble and then some questions)

For my birthday, my son built a (8th gen) NUC i7 w/8GB with ROON Rock on the M2.

It outputs via Audioquest USB to the built in DAC on my McIntosh MA9000.

It worked perfectly from the onset (I use Qobuz). He also has it boot on LAN from the iPad.

From reading in this community, I have two questions:

  1. Is there a recommended/better output to the (or any) DAC than using USB?

  2. Is the McIntosh built in DAC suboptimal, and is there an outboard DAC that I should be considering?

Thanks in advance.

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You have not given a budget or how you want to listen, e.g. via cans only, cans and speakers, does it need to be portable, home use only etc
There are plenty of DAC/headphone/amp combo’s but without knowing a bit more info…

Happy birthday by the way…

Thank you for birthday wishes.

I listen only with speakers. There is not a budgetary limit. It would not be moved to another location.b

I would be sending the signal from the NUC to a DAC and then to the McIntosh line in passing the McIntosh built in DAC if that would be an audible improvement.

Thank you again.

Do you already have speakers or are you starting from scratch, as that will make a big difference to what amp dac you choose?
If you do not have speakers then what have you heard that you have liked?

The speakers are Golden Ear Triton One.R, and the amp with built in DAC is the McIntosh MA 9000

I wouldn’t be concerned your DAC is ‘suboptimal’. For sure, if you bought a $10,000 DAC you would hear a pretty significant improvement. But McIntosh makes quality equipment, what you have is pretty contemporary, and you are reasonably well up the food chain with your unit. Put another way, I don’t think spending a couple thousand dollars for a different DAC would make a very satisfying difference. Maybe it would, but you can’t be sure without listening to lots of DACs.

With that perspective, the USB interface is also fine IMO. In some instances, running Roon via ethernet to a Roon Ready endpoint, then into the MA9000 might be a little better. But I stress might. It is going to be system-dependent, and in any case would not be expected to be a big difference unless there is some design flaw in what you have. What you have is well-designed, so you are likely fine there.

I have always had a thing for McIntosh stuff, going way back to the late seventies. Had a McIntosh amp for a while and loved it. You have a great system and a great son. Lucky guy.

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Much appreciated. You covered my questions. My McIntosh purchases began in late 1968. It was around the time that they introduced their solid state equipment so, of course, I got rid of those tube components. Oy. But I do like the MA9000.

Regarding my son…when he was ~4 years old, I set up a bank of (back then HP) computers for his two sisters and him where we all sat, got them websites, blogs, etc. A few years later he began making add ons for PC games asking only for donations. By the time he entered college, he was designing apps for ________ Broadcast, _______ Communications and ______Ware.

We sat down and build the NUC together, but was years ahead of me and all configuring came naturally like his guitar playing. I just gave him all of my Paradigm speakers.

Thank you for your input.