Are there any DIY DAC kits around?

Discussion in 'Home Theater Projects' started by James W. Johnson, Sep 15, 2004.

  1. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    Looking for a reputable , good sound DAC kit to build.
    thanks
     
  2. ThomasW

    ThomasW Cinematographer

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    This is probably the only time I'll say don't bother with DIY.

    As of late I've been playing with one of THESE.

    Now they aren't cheap. But it's one of the single most amazing pieces of gear I've ever owned.

    Stereophile's review places it on par with a $15,000 Levinson DAC
     
  3. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    Ha ha, ive considered the DAC1 long and hard.
    I subscribe to Stereophile and I have read JA's comments on the piece several times.

    Ive even talked to one of the main guys at Benchmark via the phone and he is pretty confident in his product...but at $1000 for that tiny box I am still skeptical to some degree.

    I guess I better just buy the damned thing and find out ...its not like they are not easy to unload. The ones that pop up on Agon are gone in seconds.
     
  4. ThomasW

    ThomasW Cinematographer

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    I have a Hawk MP3DAC kit that Jon built, final cost was about $1k. The Benchmark DAC is so much better it's not even funny.

    The amazing thing about the Benchmark is that ANY source sounds great. I hooked up and VERY old Sony carousel changer and with the Benchmark it sounds as good as my megabuck Sony SCD-777ES machine.
     
  5. Scott Simonian

    Scott Simonian Screenwriter

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    You wouldn't be able to use one of these for HT. Correct? This only works for stereo digital sources.
     
  6. ThomasW

    ThomasW Cinematographer

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    Scott

    It's a stereo DAC, with the lowest measured jitter on the planet.

    As a matter of fact the engineers from Benchmark have been pushing Stereophile to upgrade their testing gear, because their test equipment can't measure low enough to accurately assess the DAC1.
     
  7. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    Why dont you just clone it and sell me the plans? [​IMG]
     
  8. Brian-K-Owens

    Brian-K-Owens Stunt Coordinator

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    Look into these DIY DAC's. They are VERY nice!!!

    http://www.scott-nixon.com/dac.htm

    Here is a review from a local guy here (He posted it on a forum, but I am not sure which one. . .):

    I'll cut to the chase for those who hate long reviews, opinions and posts. I've not been so excited, so... *UP* on an audio product since I rebuilt my first tube amps over 15 years ago, salvaged Dynaco MK III's with good Genelex KT88's on board. This little black box has transformed my CD collection of hundreds and hundreds of discs. Of all those, I had, at most, a selection of 20 or 30 favorites. Of these, one or two that might find their way to the transport's tray on any given day. After the DAC had burned in for a few days, things got really nice. I would say that my desire to listen to only 10 or 20% of my CD collection has gone to an estimated 80 or 90%. I began going through CD's to simply test the sound of this DAC against my other two DAC's and upsamplers, a CAL Sigma II 24/96, Assemblage D2D upsampler and an MSB III with upsampler. It wasn't long before I decided to sell all my other redbook gear. So out went the CAL Sigma II with 24/96 chip and Assemblage D2D-1 processor/upsampler. The MSB III may stay to translate DVD video and audio. The CD tests bogged down as I found myself sitting and listening to whole CD's through the scott-nixon. In comparison, the CAL Sigma II had a pleasant but forward sound that was, for the most part, bland, inoffensive. Even more so when upsampled through the Assemblage. Not irritating, just no that musically involving. The MSB III gave more of the same with or without the upsampler engaged, except it wasn't as forward in it's presentation as the CAL. I have grown used to these DAC's and consciously had accepted that this was as good as redbook CD was going to get (at least on my budget) but unconsciously I was still hungry. So for Christmas I bought myself the scott-nixon DAC. With the scott-nixon DAC in place, things turned upside down for sure. All of a sudden there was much more life to the music. Toe tappin', *I didn't know this CD was this good*, musically involving sparkle and excitement. The music didn't just play in front of or between the speakers any more but I was presented with a larger, more lively, more open sound with a real sense depth. This DAC couldn't save really bad recordings any more than a super phono setup can save poorly recorded records. But, it has proven to me that much more of my CD collection is worth listening to than I had ever imagined. Certain music with piano or flute, two instruments hard to get right in my head through digital, finally came through fine or at least much more acceptable. I will stop here with the *reviewer speak* type lingo and tell you what happened last night. I had spent most of yesterday listening and enjoying CD's. My wife came home after working a long shift and crashed on the couch. Julia Fordham's CD, Porcelain, was playing. My wife sat there and listened a while and finally commented, "She sure has a beautiful voice. Who is she?". I just snickered to myself. I've owned and played this CD for over 10 years and my wife had never "heard" it before. Heard it done right that is, the way this new DAC translates it. The scott-nixon DAC version I chose was his most expensive tube DAC. $475. There are versions from blank boards to no tube output to the version I bought. There are only two brands of DAC using this concept that I am aware of below $1200 or so. This scott-nixon and the Ack!dAck. Which I also bought and it arrived last night. No opinions on it for a month or two. Besides these two brands, whose costs float around $500 or even less with Nixon's options, I know of no other competition except for DIY projects. I do know that Audio Note, 47 labs and a few others offer the same basic concept for $1200 to $50,000. But I'm thinking there are some serious diminishing returns here! Even if there are improvements at all!. I was very skeptical when I first started reading about the 0 oversampling concept. It just seemed the biggest draw was, they were easy to build for the more DIY adept. But finally, I took the plunge and am glad I did. Redbook CD's may be all I'll ever need or want. Especially when you think what it costs to get into SACD, THEN try and make it sound *just right*. Another uphill, money sucking climb, IMO. The system used to test the DAC's is on the Asylum in *Inmate Systems* under 3moons, The Lounge. Link below. Thanks for reading. 8:) jim...

    __________________
    jim...
     
  9. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    So in your opion Thomas, what is it about the DAC1 that makes it so special, is it the AD DAC used?

    How long before another company borrows off the idea?


    Basically if I spend $1000 on this then there goes my pre-pro upgrade cash.

    I could upgrade from my Soundstage to a Stage One for about $1000 , the Stage one uses better Crystal DACs.

    I suppose ill have to do both at some point anyways though.

    Still, I have a hard time believing a pro company like Benchmark figured out how to make a better DAC then some of these high end companies like Theta and Krell for far less money.

    I read Stereophile more to keep things in perspective rather than for getting reviews on high end equipment.

    Obviously JAs comments on this DAC were strong and based on that alone Benchmark has sold alot more of these to our crowd.

    The guy I talked to at Benchmark was an audiophile himself and he pretty much guaranteed me that id like it.

    There are just soo many choices out there for upgrades!

    I could upgrade my Pre-Pro
    I could have my Denon 2900 modded ( >>>this one is 3K [​IMG]
    http://www.exemplaraudio.com/D2900.htm )
    I could get a DAC1

    The 2900 mod will be the first one out since its so expensive, id just freak out if I got it back and the soldering work was not 110% perfect)

    My Soundstage really has all I need and I just love how it sounds...but upgrading to a Stage One would be fun.

    The DAC1 does seem like the most logical move at this time
    since my Soundstage will not lose much more of its value for at least another year and the same would probably go with the DAC1.
     
  10. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    My salesguy at Sweetwater.com just told me this,


    "have you considered the Central Station? I heard both of these pieces in an A/B and the Central Station's conversion is superior plus the extra-cool monitor switching makes the CS very compelling at $499."


    They sell both the DAC1 and Central Station.


    link:
    http://www.presonus.com/centralstation.html
     
  11. ThomasW

    ThomasW Cinematographer

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    Nope never even heard of the Central Station.

    Jon and I researched DACs a while back. The research lead to him buying a Bnechmark and raving about. Now he built my Hawk DAC kit and he has eval boards for the Crystal logic chip set. So unlike me he actually knows what's going on with the circuitry in the DACs.

    Don't let the compact size of the Benchmark fool you. It's really in a league of it's own.

    There's a really interesting thread about the DAC1 on the Head-Fi Forum. About 1/2 way throug the thread the chief designer from Benchmark chimes in. His answers and information are quite interesting.

    The thing I find most interesting about the DAC1 is that it's performance is independent of the transport.
     
  12. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    K & K Audio have a DAC kit that's been getting a fair amount of buzz on their forum (on Audio Asylum). I bought the Ack dAck non-oversampling DAC - not offered as a kit any more, but I'm very happy with it. But NOS DACs are a pretty fringe product, most people seem to love them or hate them.
     
  13. Saurav

    Saurav Cinematographer

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    I guess it re-clocks the input data?
     
  14. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    Thanks Saurav, I found some kits over there for $250ish.

    I have pretty much decided to go with a DAC1 after all, now I just have to wait for a good deal on one.
     
  15. ThomasW

    ThomasW Cinematographer

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    Yeap that's what so cool. One can get high quality performance from the cheapest transport (note think discman [​IMG] )
     
  16. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    Ok , I found an older DAC1 without the 192Khz ability for a good price...I can have it upgraded for $50 + s&h but the tech at Benchmark told me most people dont have 192Khz sources anyways and even 96 is limited because most commercial DVD-Audio discs have copy protection and force the DVD-Audio player into a 16/48 digital output.

    I realized at this point that I have no idea what it is that I am buying. [​IMG] All I know is it sounds like its what I am looking for based on what I have read. [​IMG]


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    "The DAC1 is a two-channel, 24-bit, 96-kHz Digital-to-Analog audio converter. The DAC1 is perhaps one of the more significant recent advances in digital audio conversion technology. The DAC1 provides some of the finest analog conversion through 96-kHz, and will play back 192-kHz with a 48-kHz analog bandwidth."


    This line is abit confusing to me because to be honest I dont really know much about sampling rates other than most of my , actually all of my CDs play back at 44.1 Khz thru my Aragon Soundstages's DACs.

    What does what? Do you CDs need to be higher bit rate or does your transport need to do something or what?

    How does one use the 24/92Khz playback on the DAC1 and what is the 192Khz deal all about?


    Somebody please break this down for me and help me understand, thanks.
     
  17. Cam McFarland

    Cam McFarland Supporting Actor

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    OK.....you knew I was bound to ask sooner
    or later.
    In "laymans" terms....what the heck is it.
    It gathered it converts from "digital to analog".
    If this is correct, why would you want to?

    as always..... :b
     
  18. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    Go away dood. please? Start another post or something man, I am trying to get some business done here.

    [​IMG]
     
  19. ThomasW

    ThomasW Cinematographer

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    Cam

    DAC = digital to analog converter. They are inside all CD and DVD players. They are the devices that take the CD's digital signal from the transport mechanism and covert it to an analog signal that can be fed to an amplifier.

    One can use outboard units as well, that's what this thread is about.

    James,

    The signal level output from the older balanced outputs is +24dB. That's WAY to 'hot' for home gear.

    If you intend to use the balanced outputs, you'll need either inline attenuators for the older unit, or have it upgraded.
    The newer units or upgraded units have jumpers on the PCB that allows attenuation of the signal level of the balanced output

    As indicated the sampling rate differences between the old and new units aren't a big deal
     
  20. James W. Johnson

    James W. Johnson Screenwriter

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    My Soundstage does not have balanced inputs nor do my amps. I would be connecting the DAC1 to a standard unbalanced analog in on my Soundstage and passing it thru to my unblanced amp outputs.

    What is the signal level output on the unbalanced outputs on the older units?
     

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