Need suggestion in choosing a DAC for stereo listening

Manoj Kumar

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Hi All,

I am in the process of building a stereo setup for listening to old and new Hindi movie songs. Mostly I was into movies but recently developed an interest in listening to music. Currently, I am playing music through my LG G8X phone connected directly to Indiq platinum dual-mono power amp through 3.5 mm to RCA cable. The power amp is connected to Indiq diamond achal speakers. The issue with the present setup is that the mobile is not a dedicated streaming device hence while listening to music its cant be used for other intended purposes. Hence I would like to add a decent DAC to my setup and use my NUC as a streaming device and later add a dedicated streamer such as IFI Zen Stream I have shortlisted some DACS in different price brackets purely based on the reviews and suggestions available in different forums. These are listed below:

1. Denafrips Ares II (in the higher budget)
2. SMSL SU 9/9N (in the mid-price segment)
3. Toppings E50 (in lower price segment)

This will be my first DAC purchase hence need suggestions in choosing the one which will go well with my current amp and speakers. Also, need to know whether should I buy a lower budget DAC now and later upgrade to a good DAC or buy a decent DAC so that it will serve the purpose for a longer period of time. Additionally, I seek recommendations for other DAC models which will match my gears.
 

GeorgeB

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Hi Manoj,

Looks like you have done good research and listed the best three in each price segment.
I have used Topping D30 Pro & SMSL SU 9 before moving to RME, SU 9 is exceptionally good value for the money, loved the musicality of it.
SMSL has also released a new DAC SMSL M500 MKII, you can check with HPZ on the availability.
Heard good reviews on ARES II R2R DAC. If I am in your shoes, I will buy the best for the money I can afford.
Tc
 

RajithKumar

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Hi All,

I am in the process of building a stereo setup for listening to old and new Hindi movie songs. Mostly I was into movies but recently developed an interest in listening to music. Currently, I am playing music through my LG G8X phone connected directly to Indiq platinum dual-mono power amp through 3.5 mm to RCA cable. The power amp is connected to Indiq diamond achal speakers. The issue with the present setup is that the mobile is not a dedicated streaming device hence while listening to music its cant be used for other intended purposes. Hence I would like to add a decent DAC to my setup and use my NUC as a streaming device and later add a dedicated streamer such as IFI Zen Stream I have shortlisted some DACS in different price brackets purely based on the reviews and suggestions available in different forums. These are listed below:

1. Denafrips Ares II (in the higher budget)
2. SMSL SU 9/9N (in the mid-price segment)
3. Toppings E50 (in lower price segment)

This will be my first DAC purchase hence need suggestions in choosing the one which will go well with my current amp and speakers. Also, need to know whether should I buy a lower budget DAC now and later upgrade to a good DAC or buy a decent DAC so that it will serve the purpose for a longer period of time. Additionally, I seek recommendations for other DAC models which will match my gears.
If budget permits ,Go for Denafrips Ares2 .U won't regret it.
 

Kannan

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Since you have a power amp, where are you going to control the volume as the DACs listed do not have dedicated inbuilt pre amp.
Of course you have the choice of attenuating the output from whichever media player you will be using in the NUC.
Not all softwares have good implementation on the attenuation side. Foobar and JRiver are good in that aspect in my experience, other FMs can foot-in on that aspect.

I personally prefer a dedicated preamp and had chosen my DAC accordingly.
 

amrutmhatre90

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I am in the same boat, ready to pay for the quality DAC. But happy to save if I can
I have a RPI with a IQaudio DAC with Roon on it.
Chain is RPi > NAD 165bee preamp > O&B power amp > QA 3050i

I had bought SMSL SU8S but it was listed having LDAC with it did not and I returned it. Loved the way it sounded for few days I had. SMSL Su9 is better than the SU 8S.

Denafrips Ares2 is a great buy if you have budget.

You can also check out Soncoz QXD1 many people are using it and loving it. It is between SMSL and Topping you listed.
 
Last edited:

amrutmhatre90

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Since you have a power amp, where are you going to control the volume as the DACs listed do not have dedicated inbuilt pre amp.

I personally prefer a dedicated preamp and had chosen my DAC accordingly.

Some DACs can control volume and be used as Pre Amp. But I do agree dedicated Pre amp will make a huge difference.
 

MaSh

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Hi All,

I am in the process of building a stereo setup for listening to old and new Hindi movie songs. Mostly I was into movies but recently developed an interest in listening to music. Currently, I am playing music through my LG G8X phone connected directly to Indiq platinum dual-mono power amp through 3.5 mm to RCA cable. The power amp is connected to Indiq diamond achal speakers. The issue with the present setup is that the mobile is not a dedicated streaming device hence while listening to music its cant be used for other intended purposes. Hence I would like to add a decent DAC to my setup and use my NUC as a streaming device and later add a dedicated streamer such as IFI Zen Stream I have shortlisted some DACS in different price brackets purely based on the reviews and suggestions available in different forums. These are listed below:

1. Denafrips Ares II (in the higher budget)
2. SMSL SU 9/9N (in the mid-price segment)
3. Toppings E50 (in lower price segment)

This will be my first DAC purchase hence need suggestions in choosing the one which will go well with my current amp and speakers. Also, need to know whether should I buy a lower budget DAC now and later upgrade to a good DAC or buy a decent DAC so that it will serve the purpose for a longer period of time. Additionally, I seek recommendations for other DAC models which will match my gears.
Choosing a DAC is not easy. What is your preference in music as different DAC chips, their implementation, manufacturer, etc have their own flavor. So, if possible try to listen to different DACs in your setup or different DAC chips or talk to people who have similar tastes as yours. The primary chips are Sabre, AKM, Wolfson, burr brown, etc and then there is R2R.

For your use case, one thing is for sure, you need a Preamp built-in and one that comes with a remote. Wolfson and Burrbrown are considered to be on the warmer side, AKM is more or less neutral, while Sabre has a sparkle on top. This is in very general terms and the same chip can sound slightly different based on different implementations.

Since you have a good budget, start with what is available and then try to find out what they sound like, the inputs and outputs, etc. That should help you shortlist.

MaSh
 

Manoj Kumar

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Some DACs can control volume and be used as Pre Amp. But I do agree dedicated Pre amp will make a huge difference.
I agree that pre amp is necessary for the stereo set up hence will be adding one in future after the DAC purchase. DACS with built in pre amps comes handy but is not efficient as a dedicated one. Therefore I have planned to add a decent DAC and later a decent pre amp based on the budget availability.
 

Manoj Kumar

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Hi Manoj,

Looks like you have done good research and listed the best three in each price segment.
I have used Topping D30 Pro & SMSL SU 9 before moving to RME, SU 9 is exceptionally good value for the money, loved the musicality of it.
SMSL has also released a new DAC SMSL M500 MKII, you can check with HPZ on the availability.
Heard good reviews on ARES II R2R DAC. If I am in your shoes, I will buy the best for the money I can afford.
Tc
Thanks for your suggestion. I will look into SMSL M500 MKIL DAC also.
 

Manoj Kumar

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I am in the same boat, ready to pay for the quality DAC. But happy to save if I can
I have a RPI with a IQaudio DAC with Roon on it.
Chain is RPi > NAD 165bee preamp > O&B power amp > QA 3050i

I had bought SMSL SU8S but it was listed having LDAC with it did not and I returned it. Loved the way it sounded for few days I had. SMSL Su9 is better than the SU 8S.

Denafrips Ares2 is a great buy if you have budget.

You can also check out Soncoz QXD1 many people are using it and loving it. It is between SMSL and Topping you listed.
Thanks for your suggestion. As per my understanding RPI based DACS are preferred due to their low cost , good sound signature, low noise and convenience in choosing ones preferred OS. But I need a plug and play device which is easy to set up and sounds good. Based on your suggestion I will go through the details of Soncoz QXD1.
 
Last edited:

raghupb

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@Manoj Kumar
DAC is an important component in digital format music delivery.
Instead of solely relying on opinions, hook up with local FMs and hear out a few DACs in your budget.
This will also give you a direction on what your preamp should be and the most acceptable transport.

Cheers,
Raghu
 

Credoh

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@Manoj Kumar , what did you finally settle on? It will be interesting to know which dac you went with and what your experience was coming from a "no dac" background. You have a super chain other wise in terms of speaker and amp
 

Manoj Kumar

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@Manoj Kumar , what did you finally settle on? It will be interesting to know which dac you went with and what your experience was coming from a "no dac" background. You have a super chain other wise in terms of speaker and amp
Hi, @Credoh thank you for reminding me to update my DAC purchase in my thread. I have settled with Toppings E50 and it was purchased from HPZ during Raghav's Birthday sales at a discounted price. Before this purchase, I didn't get an opportunity to listen to any other DAC except for my DAC phone LG G40. This purchase was solely made based on positive reviews and recommendations. Some FMs bought this DAC even after having some higher-end DACS. Since I am new to the field of music I don't have the knowledge about the jargon used to describe the performance of my music chain. In simple words, this is a killer combination (Toppings E50, Platinum Saptak, and diamond Achals) that takes the music to another level. To my ears the vocals feel crisp and clear, highs are smooth and non-fatiguing in nature, and bass is accurate and energetic. I played some FLAC music files by connecting my DAC to the USB of NUC PC using foobar 2000 as a music player. Also, I used NUC as a streamer by attaching a memory card flashed with Volumio with Spotify premium and airplay through apple music. I felt the quality of music is high when playing FLAC files followed by airplay and then Spotify. These are my preliminary observations and still, I am in the process of improvising the performance of the chain by adding a dedicated streamer (since PC USB is not the cleanest ) and pre-amp (currently using the DAC in pre-amp mode which suppresses its true ability) in a later stage. Thank you.
 

viveshsahu

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Hi All,

I am in the process of building a stereo setup for listening to old and new Hindi movie songs. Mostly I was into movies but recently developed an interest in listening to music. Currently, I am playing music through my LG G8X phone connected directly to Indiq platinum dual-mono power amp through 3.5 mm to RCA cable. The power amp is connected to Indiq diamond achal speakers. The issue with the present setup is that the mobile is not a dedicated streaming device hence while listening to music its cant be used for other intended purposes. Hence I would like to add a decent DAC to my setup and use my NUC as a streaming device and later add a dedicated streamer such as IFI Zen Stream I have shortlisted some DACS in different price brackets purely based on the reviews and suggestions available in different forums. These are listed below:

1. Denafrips Ares II (in the higher budget)
2. SMSL SU 9/9N (in the mid-price segment)
3. Toppings E50 (in lower price segment)

This will be my first DAC purchase hence need suggestions in choosing the one which will go well with my current amp and speakers. Also, need to know whether should I buy a lower budget DAC now and later upgrade to a good DAC or buy a decent DAC so that it will serve the purpose for a longer period of time. Additionally, I seek recommendations for other DAC models which will match my gears.
It will be wrong to compare E50 and Ares II as the price gap is huge. If you are not sure then you may go for a mid-budget dac like SMSL SU 9. The E50 might not be better than your cd player or streamer's in-built dac.
 

amrutmhatre90

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I picked up the SMSL SU9 and I am super happy with it. Comes with almost all bells and whistles, and I needed something with a internal power supply and did not need different PSUs to ulter sound.

Paired it with Volumio Premium and playing Spotify and Tidal with MQA decoding. 20220204_185507_copy_768x1364.jpg
 

ktks1

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The E50 might not be better than your cd player or streamer's in-built dac.
Curious to know about your reasoning behind this statement.

Assuming that you have actually heard with the E50, just like what other experienced FMs have mentioned above, you must be having high quality source and speakers to ascertain the SQ difference (or the lack thereof) between the E50 and CD player or streamer's DAC.
 

ktks1

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1. Denafrips Ares II (in the higher budget)
2. SMSL SU 9/9N (in the mid-price segment)
3. Toppings E50 (in lower price segment)
Since Indiq speakers emphasize on midrange, you have the luxury to experiment with Delta-Sigma DACs and get away with having a sweet sounding presentation. SMSL SU6 or Topping E50 will surely suffice, although I haven't heard the former paired to Indiq speakers.

On the other hand, the Ares II has garnered tons of praise for making you listen to music more-and-more, everyday. If you have the budget for the Ares II, just go for it.

Motto is to stop worrying about equipment and start listening to music :)
 
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