Do I need an external DAC?

Posted by: JServ

Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 09:47 AM

Greetings all! I have a 2 channel system setup in my office that I have connected to my PC using the onboard coaxial connection. I understand that this method uses the DAC inside my receiver (current being used as a pre/pro)...recently however, I decided to dump the AV receiver for a dedicated 2-channel pre-amp. The problem I am having is that the majority of pre-amps in my price range don't have digital inputs...meaning I would be forced to use the analog outputs.

...now this brought me to the idea of buying an exterenal DAC, but upon looking into to these I am seeing some ridiculously high priced units. I know you pay for quality, but I don't want to spend $1500 on a external DAC when my entire setup only costs $2000 - $2500.

I mainly playback lossless classical and rock music, if that helps at all.

Essentially I am just looking for an external DAC the most affordable external DAC that won't be a bottleneck in my system...I just don't want to buy something that is way more than I need.

System:

Axiom m80ti (2)
Harman Kardon AVR-630 used as pre/pro
Rotel RB-1080 amplifier

A few external DAC's I have stumbled across are these:

http://www.firestone-audio.com/cgi-bin/productsearch.asp?catseqnm=3
http://www.ifiaudio.com/gm.html
http://www.slimdevices.com/pi_squeezebox.html

It seems like the squeezebox @ $250 gets decent reviews, but I don't need all the features it provides...just a nice, clean, wired pc to pre-amp connection. I figure there must be a wired external DAC of similar sound quality out there for less than $250...maybe not though. Help!
Posted by: JaimeG

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 12:04 PM

If I understood correctly, you only need to connect your PC to a 2-ch receiver w/out digital inputs, right?
I have this from SB fairly cheap $40US you may even find it for less online. Although I mostly use it just to send the spdif to my receiver, Iíve connected it using the box DAC and it sound very good.
Posted by: Ken.C

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 12:14 PM

I would assume that your PC has analog outs. You might try those just for comparison purposes (double blind, natch!) before dropping big bucks on an external DAC.
Posted by: chrono

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 12:42 PM

Wouldn't another solution to be replace your computer's current sound card with one that has better quality audio, even if it is analog? I am using an M-Audio Delta 44 which is actually a production level soundcard, with 1/4" outputs, and the sound quality really is perfect. It cost over $500, but M-Audio has a pretty wide range of soundcards, even in the consumer level. I can't reach their site right now, but try looking into them if replacing your soundcard sounds like a doable solution. www.m-audio.com
Posted by: JServ

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 12:50 PM

Certainly a pci soundcard is an option. I was reading about ways of connecting PC's to audio systems over at the audioasylum forums, and they seemed to think that internal soundcards are inherently flawed due to their close proximity to so many electronic components.

...I'm thinking the guys over there might be a bit more picky then I am. I suppose it makes sense to try out a decent pci card before dumping much cash on a external DAC.
Posted by: chrono

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 01:04 PM

That's why there are soundcards with external break out boxes. In my research, if the interal card is placed in the farthest slot from the videocard and processor, and an external breakout box is used for the input/output connections.. there shouldn't be a problem. And as far as I know, the problem with having the sound card close to the other components, such as the videocard, is that it creates slight bg static, lowering the s/n ratio. At least with my soundcard, I have noticed no issues with the s/n ratio at all, and even if I turn my stereo up to unlistenable levels, I don't hear any white noise or static at all, with nothing playing.

Now, I guess it depends on your computer system, and if you have to place the internal soundcard right beside the processor / video card. Anyways, it would still be better than an onboard soundcard that is part of the motherboard though, which is definately close to the other components.
Posted by: chrono

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 01:06 PM

Oh and I was just checking around, and it seems like sound cards really came down in price over the last 3 or 4 years. The Delta 44 is now around $150 - $200 , and I'm sure there are new even better ones.
Posted by: pmbuko

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 03:07 PM

You could just wrap your card in foil to shield it from RF noise.
Posted by: Ken.C

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 03:27 PM

Well, that certainly explains all the power failures and shorted out stuff in this office...
Posted by: mrnomas

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 03:55 PM

Office fires make life interesting. I highly recommend them.
Posted by: ElTorrente

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 06:04 PM

I would recommend just getting a good sound card.

I recently replaced my old Soundblaster Audigy with an X-Fi (I got the Fatal1ty version because I like games and simulations), and it really sounds great. I go analog out to a receiver, and couldn't be happier with the quality. It also will go coaxial/optical out and has all the bells and whistles you could ever want, and very good quality sound.
Posted by: LHawes

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 09:44 PM

I thought this looked interesting. Meanwhile got a Squeezebox and LOVE it!

http://www.stereo-link.com/cart/home.php
Posted by: JohnK

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/03/06 11:26 PM

Jeff, in my view the problem is the replacement of the AV receiver that you're presently using as a pre/pro. Is there actually a good reason for doing so? As far as the relative DAC possibilities, Alan, among others, has emphasized that DACs are a mature technology and aren't audibly distinguishable although of course small measurable differences still exist. So the answer is no, you don't need an external DAC(also keep in mind that you might be paying more for hot air rather than "quality"in the DACs that you've mentioned).
Posted by: JaimeG

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/04/06 11:20 AM

I'll sencond what John said about the quality of DAC. The diff. of a $20 and a $400 DAC is imperceptible.
BTW: this one is pretty cool and cheap, also it's external:
TB
Posted by: chrono

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/10/06 09:38 PM

I just came across an Onkyo sound card which seems pretty interesting. Maybe worth checking out:

Onkyo SE-150PCI PC Digital Audio Board
Posted by: DrunkenWolf

Re: Do I need an external DAC? - 08/11/06 03:43 PM

the auzentech xplosion is a great card. It converts direct 3d/eax to DTS and mixes 2 channel to DTS and does a good job. I don't know of any other card that does that, but the onkyo might.