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Advice regarding DAC.

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VinodChandran

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Hi. This is my setup right now. iMac (all files in ALAC) >> Airport Express >> Cambridge Audio 650 A >> Mordaunt-Short Aviano 6

While Im reasonably happy with this setup, I cant help but think that the Airport Express is the weak link.

Although he doesnt qualify it, John Atkinson of Stereophile reports that he found the analog output of his Airport Express somewhat disappointing sounding. However, he goes on to say that, The beauty of this unassuming component, however, is its S/PDIF data output.

Naturally, Im thinking of using the AEs optical output to feed a DAC, perhaps a Cambridge Audio DacMagic.

My questions are these:

1. Will there be a significant enough difference in the sound to justify investment in a DAC?

2. If yes, is the DacMagic a good choice, or is there something else in that price range that I should also be considering?

Thanks for your suggestions. Much appreciative of all the knowledge here.
 

StanleyB

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The Beresford Caiman, which I designed, is used by many Airport Express owners. A number of members on here have one, so it might be worth finding out if any of them lives close to you. They might be able to let you have a listen to it.
Irrespective of that, always try to get to listen to a setup as you have in mind, even if it is not with the same make or model that you want to buy. It takes a month or two of wages to pay for a DAC.
 

vinod_david

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Hi Chandran:

Welcome to HFV!

Good stereo setup, always liked the CA + MS setup, good synergy going. Yes, the DacMagic and the Caiman are the favorites here, great budget DACs, IMO.

:)
 

marsilians

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Hi. This is my setup right now. iMac (all files in ALAC) >> Airport Express >> Cambridge Audio 650 A >> Mordaunt-Short Aviano 6

While Im reasonably happy with this setup, I cant help but think that the Airport Express is the weak link.

Although he doesnt qualify it, John Atkinson of Stereophile reports that he found the analog output of his Airport Express somewhat disappointing sounding. However, he goes on to say that, The beauty of this unassuming component, however, is its S/PDIF data output.

Naturally, Im thinking of using the AEs optical output to feed a DAC, perhaps a Cambridge Audio DacMagic.

My questions are these:

1. Will there be a significant enough difference in the sound to justify investment in a DAC?

2. If yes, is the DacMagic a good choice, or is there something else in that price range that I should also be considering?

Thanks for your suggestions. Much appreciative of all the knowledge here.
With due respect to John, personally I think its your iMac sound card that is the weakest link. No DAC can better the sound if the source is crappy to start with.

A DAC may colour it a bit to sound "different" but not much better.

Well, no harm in trying out someone's DAC (borrow before buy) and hear for yourself.

Interested in your observations on this.
 

VinodChandran

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People have nothing but good things to say about the Caiman. And I'm eager to hear one for myself. If there's anyone in Bangalore who'll let me have a listen, I'll be grateful.

With some luck, I'll be auditioning the DacMagic at Audio Planet today. And that I hope will give me a frame of reference to judge the Caiman by.
 

VinodChandran

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With due respect to John, personally I think its your iMac sound card that is the weakest link. No DAC can better the sound if the source is crappy to start with.
The iMac sound card isn't getting involved in any way. For me, all the Digital to Analog conversion is happening at the Airport Express end.

If I may elaborate, the file is streamed bit-accurately over WIFI from the iMac to the Airport Express, where it's internal DAC converts it into an analog signal. And it is this conversion that John referred to as "somewhat disappointing sounding".

However, when the Airport Express' S/PDIF output is employed, the digital signal bypasses the internal DAC altogether. And is passed on bit-perfectly to an external DAC. This, barring problems like jitter, is a perfectly acceptable solutionand which as John says"allows the AirPort Express to assume a respectable role in a true high-end audio system".
 

VinodChandran

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Good stereo setup, always liked the CA + MS setup, good synergy going. Yes, the DacMagic and the Caiman are the favorites here, great budget DACs, IMO.

:)
Thanks for the affirmation. :clapping:
The CA + MS setup was the closest I could get (within my budget) to the sound of my Etymotic ER-4P headphonesneutral, yet very musical. With the addition of a DACboth the Caiman and the DacMagic look promisingI may get closer still.
 
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VinodChandran

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Too bad, Audio Planet won't have the DacMagic in for another week. Will just have to twiddle thumbs until then. As of now, I'm gravitating towards the DacMagic in expectation of the natural synergies it may have with the CA amp. Besides, Audio Planet stocks both the speakers and the amp I own. So auditioning the DM there couldn't get easier.

Yes, this, member has the Caiman in Bangalore.

:)
The Caiman is intriguing, nevertheless. I've PM'd cmsajith. Hopefully, he'd agree to let me hear it. Or better yet, lend it to me for a day or two.
 

VinodChandran

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Has anyone directly compared the DacMagic and the Caiman? I've read somewhere that the DM has a bassier sound vs a leaner sound from the Caiman. I'm asking because it's going to be a while before I hear either one.
 

arj

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The Beresford Caiman, which I designed, is used by many Airport Express owners. A number of members on here have one, so it might be worth finding out if any of them lives close to you. They might be able to let you have a listen to it.
Irrespective of that, always try to get to listen to a setup as you have in mind, even if it is not with the same make or model that you want to buy. It takes a month or two of wages to pay for a DAC.
Stanley, does thee Caiman have any kind of built in jitter rejection filter (PLL etc) ?
 

madbullram

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Has anyone directly compared the DacMagic and the Caiman? I've read somewhere that the DM has a bassier sound vs a leaner sound from the Caiman. I'm asking because it's going to be a while before I hear either one.
Hopefully we can if someone in chennai has a one, I have a DM
 

VinodChandran

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Slightly off topic, but I've had an offer of a used Cambridge Audio 740C for 35k.

I'm not exactly sure how old it is. The dealer says 6 months, (and I'll have to take his word for it). It looks to be in pretty good shape, except for a couple of prominent, deep scratches on the top surface. The dealer's say he'll throw in a year's warranty as well (again something I can only hope the manufacturer will honor).

He's quoting 24K for a brand new DacMagic. And 45K for a brand new 740C. Asit in this comment said he acquired his 740C for 42K in November 2008. Although he added that subsequently prices had gone up.

I still haven't been able to hear the DacMagic, (it's supposedly still making its way through customs). However, the 740C distinctly outperformed the analog output from my Macbook Pro, that sounded dull and muddy in comparison.

And as far as DACs go, with the 740C, I'm getting a transport, a DAC with 2 optical inputs that upsamples up to 24bits/384kHz and presumably a far better power supply. The DacMagic is similar, except that it lacks the transport, has an iffy wall wart power supply and only upsamples to 24bits/192kHz.

I may be able to drive down the cost of the DacMagic to 22K. Which hits the sweet spot for me. All things considered, do you think 35K for a used 740C is value enough?
 
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