Inexpesive DAC


Can any one recommend external DACs in the $200-$400 range? I'm thinking about getting one, but can't find much info to help a newbie like me make a good decision.

Black Math
Look on ebay for brands like Adcom, Cal Audio Labs, Theta Digital, Audio Aelchmy, Camelot, Musical Fidelity, Rotel, and MSB. They are all quality brands that should hold up against modern equipment on CD playback. There are other brands to look for, I just can't remember their names.

I'm not sure if you can get a new DAC for $200-$400. Maybe MSB?

Thanks! That sounds promising... really what I'm looking for is an HDCD capable DAC. I already have a SACD/DVD-A player, and figure that if I add and HDCD DAC, I can use that to decode redbook and HDCD discs for better quality. Any suggestions on that setup? My system is pretty simple currently:

(1) NAD C-740 stereo receiver (not really interested in surround)
(2) Paradigm Atoms
(1) Pioneer DV-563a
(1) Sharp 20" Aquos LCD EDTV

Black Math
I would check ebay for DAC's and ask the buyer if it is HDCD should be obvoius by the HDCD logo on the unit. Theta, Audio Aelchmy, Musical Fidelity, MSB, and Adcom have had HDCD models. You may also want to consider a CD player that decodes HDCD. You may be able to pick up a Rotel, NAD, or a Music Hall model that will be about $400.

The idea behind HDCD is that a 16 bit CD is decoded in such a way that it reproduces sound more as if it were 20 bit. So, the DACs must have 20 bit resolution. As such, non HDCD discs are given a boost too. However, now that we have 24 bit upsampling DACS, the idea that non-HDCD discs will sound better with HDCD DACs is not so important.

If you don't plan to buy any HDCD CDs, then get a DAC that has upsampling as one of its features (it might have HDCD too). Also, you can play HDCD discs with a DAC that does not have HDCD decoding.

However, the Pioneer has a 192kHz/24-bit Audio DAC. So I really don't know what the advantage will be in getting a separate outboard DAC with HDCD. If you really want an HDCD chipset it is probably cheaper to buy a CD player that has one rather than buying a separate DAC with an HDCD. Heck, there are even good Harman Kardon AV receivers with HDCD that are probably les expensive than many outboard DAC's with HDCD.

Black Math
HDCD actually occurs in a Pacific Microsystems digital flter and can be used with most DACs. I say most because some single bit DACs can strip the extra bits (I had a Marantz CD48 with a Bitstream DAC that did this and have heard that MASH converters did it, as well). The four extra bits seem to add ambiamce to the signal. How much is hard to tell. Most CD players and digital processors with HDCD are of high quality with good transports, DAC, digital filtering, and analog output. They may sound better with HDCD regardless of the filter due to excellent recording quality usually associated with HDCD. The Pacific Microsystems digital filters are excellent for both CD and HDCD. I like the way HDCD's sound on my player, so I am happy.

I do agree with G-Man on upsampling. It seems to be the trend in CD playback. My Arcam model has been replaced by one with HDCD and 24/192 upsampling. I havent compared mine to it. How it a 16-bit sample sounds better at 24/192, I have no idea. I also agree that a CD player may be the way to go on a budget, unless you get a great deal on a DAC.

So if my DVD player already has a 24/192 DAC, it will upsample all of my CDs?

Black Math

What it means is the DAC has the ability to convert 24/192. You only need 16/44.1 to decode a CD or HDCD. Upsampling converts 16/44.1 to 24/192 before the DAC stage. This puzzles me because nothing new is added to the original signal. People believe that it works and more and more manufacturers are using it. Listen and decide.

There is more in digital audio than just calculation power of DAC chips, it seams. Zanden Audio's last DAC is considered one of the best there is and is a 16/44 DAC.
Next is the jitter issue: getting rid of jitter makes the DAC work at its best. I have a Monarchy Audio DIP upsampler that, as the name implies, upsamples to 24/96 appart avoiding much of the jitter. Believe me this little gem works! It transformed my DVD into an hi-end transport. Upsampling lowers the noise floor and adds ambience and naturalness to the sounds.
As allways, it seams that potent and silent power supplies are very important in DAC performance.
I wonder if good quality 16/44 DAC and 24/96-192 upsampling DACs sounds comparable provided that jitter and power issues are obviated.

Does the source and the receiver both have to have HDCD DACs??

For instance, I have a NAD T532 player which has a 24/96 DAC but dosen't carry the HDCD label. What if I buy a receiver with a HDCD DAC on board am I still limited to just redbook results.

Thanks from confused, Leon

If you believe in HDCD working in the receiver and not already implanted in the disc, then you believe in upsampling. Pioneer Legato does this--whether it actually smooths things out or not--who knows, but Pioneer uses an even more powerful upsampling DAC than is used in HDCD.

I leave this up to the listener. It either does nothing or is very subtle in smoothing out the signal and maybe removing residual jitter--if any jitter actually exists anymore.

I certainly can't think of one reason why a 16/44 DAC could be better under any circumstance than a Burr Brown or Analogue Device more bit accurate DAC. Afterall, we are taliking "1's" and "0's" in DACS.You either do it--or you don't.

Black Math
HDCD is decoded by a Pacific Microsystems digital filter, not the actual DAC chip. A receiver will only decode HDCD if the correct digital filters are built in to the DAC module. To decode HDCD from your T352, you will have to conect to a reciever/external DAC with HDCD decoding via a digital cable, bypassing the conversion in your player.

Thanks Black Math. So if I buy a receiver with HDCD decoder onboard using a digital cable I can then listen to true HDCD? I'd like to know how different the HDCD sound would be compared to an ordinary redbook cd.

Are there receivers with SACD decoders on board and if so would the same solution apply?

Sorry, but I'm a stoneage audiophile on a steep learning curve.

Black Math
For SACD, you will need a SACD transport mechanism. This means that you will need a SACD player that will read the SACD layer of the disc. As far as receivers decoding SACD, I'm not sure which, or if any, can decode the signal with their internal DAC's

New member
Username: Davidp

Post Number: 2
Registered: 12-2003
IMHO parasound made a DAC and if you are lucky enough you can find it still dac1100hd the best i have ever heard no matter what the price . works well with just about any transport i have used with a california audio dx-2 cannnot believe the sound that you get out of this Rig. thanks for the time this is the second time i posted this but i feel its worth the read .

New member
Username: Edison

Post Number: 26
Registered: 12-2003
Dirt cheap on pretty good sounding HDCD player - $79 refurb. Got good reviews on

New member
Username: Kyle___berg

Post Number: 3
Registered: Jun-04
Imreally sorry for this, but... well here goes What is a DAC? (im new to this as you can see)

Unregistered guest
KYLE,,,when using an outboard dac, whats happening is you have just turned your cd player into a transport, using either the coaxial or fiber optic outputs, the dac you purchase will be doing all the sampling, in other words you won`t be getting your sound from your cd player, it will be coming from the outboard piece, alot of times what you`ll hear is better bass definition, tighter bass, vocals that seem to be floating on air, the sound stage will be huge plus you`ll hear depth in the recording ( if its a good recording )but most of the time you won`t get this unless you spend big bucks, and then your system has to be as good, no sence in adding a dac to a $250 dollar system, i have owned a few different units, some i could hardly hear any difference, what im using now is a bbe maximizer, its the 264 model, its a mini piece cost me $56 dollars, ill tell you one thing once you hear it in your system, you`ll never listen to music without it, you push in the on button and there you have it, you don`t need to have hearing like a dog to know this thing has been kicked in, the bass alone will slap you around like an old girlfriend, they use these in recording studios, you can find them in your bigger music stores, just make sure it has rca connectors as well as 1/4,,,buy it, try it out, if you don`t like it just return it,,,i think you`ll like it alot, its also great for your dvd`s,,,the first 25 minutes of saving private ryan will knock your helmet off, socks to.

big ruff
Unregistered guest
I, have a question? Maxlorenz added a Monarchy Audio 24/96 dip upsampler to his system for a vast improvement. If, my reciever is capable of decoding a 24/96 signal, also adding this device to my system do I, need a outboard dac to reap the sonic rewards.

big ruff
Unregistered guest
I, have a question? Maxlorenz added a Monarchy Audio 24/96 dip upsampler to his system for a vast improvement. If, my reciever is capable of decoding a 24/96 signal, also adding this device to my system do I, need a outboard dac to reap the sonic rewards.

New member
Username: Bernmart

Post Number: 1
Registered: Jan-05
I just bought a PS Audio Superlink 3 DAC via Audiogon for well under $400. It adds wonderful elements to the sound of my CDs, and process HCHD also! I couldn't be more pleased. My experience with shopping for good used DACs, though, is that they go very fast, on Audiogon and everywhere else.

Unregistered guest
A friend of mine's asked me a question about his PS Audio Superlink generation 2. He needs to know if the item is 16, 18 or 20 bits processing. I can't find any infor on this discontinued DAC. Can anyone help?
Thank you

Unregistered guest
Lets sort this out once and for all.
Nobody wants to buy kit then have to bin it.
So here is what you do ...Buy a Benchmark DAC1 and fit it after your DVD player. Great sound from a crap transport that plays music and video. If you need advice on what amplifier to buy, then ring back.

Unregistered guest
Agreed. After ABXing several DACs there were two that sounded the cleanest (at least to my pretty decent audiophile ears): the $975 Benchmark DAC-1 and the $15,500 [politically correct erasure]. I bought the Benchmark and haven't heard anything better at any price since (SA,HD,DVDA or whatever). Good luck finding one used.

Bronze Member
Username: Hieu_phan

Post Number: 17
Registered: Dec-03
I'm using a Marantz CD-17mk3 CDP with BB 24bit DAC. However, it doesn't have a HDCD decoder that I need to play the 100 HDCD discs my friend just gave to me. Is there any solution to this if an outboard DAC with HDCD decoder is expensive?
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