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Inexpensive DAC with adjustable output level
Old 13th June 2012
  #1
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Inexpensive DAC with adjustable output level

First of all thanks again for helping me choose a microphone - i am quite happy with the C414 that you helped me pick.

Now this next project i'm still deciding how to go about but what i think i need is a DAC with a volume control. Basically i want to use this amp:

XPA-2 | 300W Stereo | Emotiva Audio | High-end audio components for audiophiles and videophiles, spanning 2-channel music systems, as well as 5.1 and 7.1 home theaters. Products include multichannel amplifiers, stereo amplifiers, and monoblock amplif

and the source will be a computer.

now the reason i want an analogue level control ( as opposed to just lowering the level on the computer ) is in case the computer crashes so that i don't send a full scale 300 watt digital noise to the tweeter.

i didn't buy the amp yet, so alternatively i could get an amp with gain controls but i'm finding this hard. i read what the slutz ( and others ) had to say about Alesis RA500 and Behringer A500 and came away with the conclusion that both are barely OK, and i would like to do a little better than that.

Parasound Halo A23 does have gain controls on the back and is a fine amp but i think i need more power ( speakers i have in mind list recommended amp power at 250 watts - they are 6 ohms ). I can't afford Parasound Halo A21.

Now if you're thinking why not use the volume control on your Interface ... maybe i can do that ! But 2 things: 1 - it has to be an analog control ( i believe MOTU says their controls are analog, or is that only on the input side ? ) and 2 - i have to be able to run the signal through a DSP processor ( i have some Behringer DEQ that i like ) digitally before sending it out to the speakers.

So if i can somehow use a MOTU interface ( or another interface, but it has to be inexpensive ) to loop the signal digitally through the Behringer DEQ before sending it to the analog output then i don't need a DAC.

i apologize for being an idiot, but i really don't know whether that is possible or not.

now if it's not possible then what i want is:

computer -> optical > Behringer DEQ > SPDIF or AES/EBU > DAC with analog volume control > analog XLR > Emotiva Power Amp

i should say that i already have such a DAC with adjustable output level, namely Benchmark DAC1 and i love it but its busy where it is and i can't afford a second one. i need a cheaper alternative - doesn't need to be super duper ultimate quality - just good.



also that setup would be for playback only - no recording. if possible i would just use the optical output from the motherboard without any Interface. however if an interface is cheaper than a DAC and it can be made to work with the DEQ then i can go that way.

i guess i could also just use a preamplifier ( not a mic preamp, a regular preamp ) and put it between the DEQ's XLR output and Emotiva's XLR input. the reason i dont't think that would be ideal is because it would introduce an additional pair of input / ouput stages and an additional analog interconnect - not the end of the world by any means but if i can avoid it i would rather.
Old 13th June 2012
  #2
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Old 13th June 2012
  #3
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Also, the volume control is analog, and it does control one pair of the outputs. (The website make it sounds like it only controls the headphones).
Old 13th June 2012
  #4
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Lucid DA9624
Old 13th June 2012
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imloggedin View Post
Also, the volume control is analog, and it does control one pair of the outputs. (The website make it sounds like it only controls the headphones).
yeah the website is pretty clear that both outputs are fixed level. but maybe you're right.

on my Benchmark DAC it has a switch on the back so it can have either fixed or variable output, and in the fixed position it can further be micro adjusted by potentiometers hidden inside the casing.

the price of the MCM is certainly outstanding and in the worst case scenario assuming you're right about variable output i could probably use it. but ideally i would want a DAC with XLR outputs.

i have had some minor exposure to car audio and ever since i am paranoid about ground loops and such. XLR for the win !
Old 13th June 2012
  #6
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Originally Posted by CassidyGT View Post
Lucid DA9624
thanks, it certainly would do the job. i was hoping to find something cheaper though - preferably in the $200 range.

by the way i remember this Lucid from way back even before i got my Benchmark. The Benchmark got more expensive since i bought it and this Lucid seems to also be holding its price quite well. I don't get it - isn't digital technology supposed to be getting cheaper ?

also shouldn't something newer have come out in the last say oh half a decade ? when i first saw this Lucid converter my phone didn't even have a camera.
Old 13th June 2012
  #7
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what about this guy:

https://www.google.com/search?q=xona...w=1244&bih=628

damn it is one beefy mofo. seems like Asus was styling themselves after the Benchmark with this one - in terms of interior layout and features that is, not necessarily actual styling. superficially i like it a lot ! but of course the real question is how does it sound ? once again i don't need best of the best but it can't be a joke either. has to be completely clean.
Old 13th June 2012
  #8
Quote: "i need a cheaper alternative - doesn't need to be super duper ultimate quality - just good."

Have you looked at the Fostex PC 100?

Its USB powered, has both +6dBv RCA analog outputs, a 3.5 mm (low-Z) phone output and a single volume knob for $ 80.
Old 13th June 2012
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lotus 7 View Post
Have you looked at the Fostex PC 100?

Its USB powered, has both +6dBv RCA analog outputs, a 3.5 mm (low-Z) phone output and a single volume knob for $ 80.
1 - it doesn't have XLR

2 - while i didn't state so explicitly i want 24 bit, and that one is 16.

3 - i think USB powered DAC is a horrible idea - like a pedal powered spaceship. in a DAC you want cleanest possible power and USB is most certainly not it. i once had a USB powered interface ( by M audio ) and it sounded oh about a million times worse than the headphone jack on my macbook pro or my iphone or for that matter worse than anything i have ever heard.

frankly i like my DACs to have one of these:

http://www.110220volts.com/Merchant2...20to%20IEC.jpg

but the one on LUCID is ok too, because it is also GROUNDED. if you don't have connection to ground i think you're just asking for trouble ( hum wise ) .

4 - i have a very strong suspicion that this product is ****. i don't understand why it even exists !

that said, i appreciate your input.
Old 13th June 2012
  #10
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OMG JIM. Why did you have to show up to hurt my pocket book :( Always finding the deals arent you.
Old 13th June 2012
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
How about a BurrBrown top-o-line PCM1792A DAC with adjustable balanced XLR outputs built for you for $179?

Ross Martin Audio

Ross built me a dual PCM1792A with my choice of opamps (the Analog Devices ADA4898-1/2) for about $260. It does -132 db dynamic range, tough to beat at any price. It's direct coupled, no caps.

I have not seen any commercial option that can match/beat those specs and sonics. The fact it's several times cheaper than the rest of the high enders is iceing on my cake. The fact that it can be built with your choice of analog parts makes it a no-brainer.
those are frighteningly low prices for something hand made in the USA ... BUT !

why doesn't have have pics of the insides of it ? all his pics are of the exterior ...

those specs are nice but are they independently measured or is he simply stating the specs of the chips he used and trying to imply that his finished product will inherit those specs ?
Old 13th June 2012
  #12
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Thread Starter
Looks like the Asus DAC has been "inspired" by the Benchmark. Compare:

Asus: http://soundnews.ro/wp-content/uploads/IMG_2992.jpg

Benchmark: http://www.headphoneclub.com/bbs/att...vyA1woY6wX.jpg

but the Asus is bigger. Compare:

Asus: http://www.campuselites.com/wp-conte...e-One-Rear.jpg

Benchmark: http://www.sweetwater.com/images/clo...C1usb_rear.jpg

Asus is $300 less. Of course that is not a big difference - if it was for a critical application i would certainly go with Benchmark because it is the original and Asus is the knockoff. But it's not a critical application. Besides the Emotiva amp that it is supposed to drive is already a knockoff.

On the other hand Emotiva vs Bryston or even Parasound is 70% or more savings while this Asus is only 30% savings versus Benchmark.
Old 13th June 2012
  #13
Quote:
Originally Posted by neurosport View Post

3 - i think USB powered DAC is a horrible idea - like a pedal powered spaceship. in a DAC you want cleanest possible power and USB is most certainly not it. i once had a USB powered interface ( by M audio ) and it sounded oh about a million times worse than the headphone jack on my macbook pro or my iphone or for that matter worse than anything i have ever heard.
Not to get off subject into a USB vs anything else powering outboard accessories debate, but you might take a listen to the Sound Devices USBPre2. It's not what you asked for in your original post (not cheap and includes much more than a simple DAC), but sounds infinitely better than a Macbook Pro headphone jack and is totally USB powered. I think proving that you can't always generalize about anything audio. (Have one -- love its sound.) The USBPre2 also has balanced XLR outputs.

However, calling the Fostex "****" and questioning its very existence without having any experience with it is certainly your prerogative (no personal offense intended), but proves less than nothing about its function or quality, but does speak to your own preconceived biases. But, hey, we all have them.

Saying "i once had a USB powered interface ( by M audio )" and then extrapolating that anything USB powered must be "****" because the M audio device didn't meet your expectations is simply painting yourself into a corner. I know, been there-done that.
Old 13th June 2012
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lotus 7 View Post
extrapolating that anything USB powered must be "****"
you're putting words into my mouth. i said that this particular product was most likely ****. i didn't make generalizations.
Old 13th June 2012
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
I'd jump on these before Ross is swamped and the prices go up.
i'll wait until you actually receive yours

also the Asus has swappable opamps ... wouldn't that be even better than being able to specify them before Ross permanently solders them in ?
Old 13th June 2012
  #16
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We are very impressed by the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic Plus unit and it also has analog volume control, USB as well as digital connections (SPDIF or TOSLINK), does 192k and sounds fantastic. It will kill the standard DA outputs of most DAW interfaces.

War
Old 13th June 2012
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by warhead View Post
We are very impressed by the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic Plus unit and it also has analog volume control, USB as well as digital connections (SPDIF or TOSLINK), does 192k and sounds fantastic. It will kill the standard DA outputs of most DAW interfaces.

War
yes it seems nice. it also seems to have some features in common with the Asus and the Teac. it even looks similar on the inside to the Asus.

Asus still IMO has the advantage of separate volume control for speakers and headphones albeit their volume control is crap.
Old 13th June 2012
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by neurosport View Post
yes it seems nice. it also seems to have some features in common with the Asus and the Teac. it even looks similar on the inside to the Asus.
Just a suggestion. Forget about looking at the inside for comparison. You cant see the circuit or even chip numbers just looking at those pictures. You really have no way of telling how similar they are electronically.

Also, if Jim says its good.. its probably really good.
Old 15th June 2012
  #19
Gear nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
So far, sounds very nice.
How does it sound after a day spent with it? I'm very interested in trying out the ADC and DAC.
Old 15th June 2012
  #20
Gear Addict
 

Check TC BMC-2 (anti-jitter technology, very good volume control - perfect balance in whole scale, good SNR {DIM button is pressed} - much, much, much lower self noise than KRK ERGO)
Old 15th June 2012
  #21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe Hone View Post
How does it sound after a day spent with it? I'm very interested in trying out the ADC and DAC.
It sounds like my EVM board from BurrBrown, same chips and set up. The low end is thunderous. Cymbals are delicate and detailed. The digital black between notes is very nice too.
Old 15th June 2012
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
How about a BurrBrown top-o-line PCM1792A DAC with adjustable balanced XLR outputs built for you for $179?

Ross Martin Audio

Ross built me a dual PCM1792A with my choice of opamps (the Analog Devices ADA4898-1/2) for about $260. It does -132 db dynamic range, tough to beat at any price. It's direct coupled, no caps.

I have not seen any commercial option that can match/beat those specs and sonics. The fact it's several times cheaper than the rest of the high enders is iceing on my cake. The fact that it can be built with your choice of analog parts makes it a no-brainer.
Thanks jim , I just ordered one .
Old 22nd June 2012
  #23
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Quint's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
It sounds like my EVM board from BurrBrown, same chips and set up. The low end is thunderous. Cymbals are delicate and detailed. The digital black between notes is very nice too.
Is the chassis on this unit standard rackmount size or is there even a way to mount it?

Also, in your estimation, where are the corners being cut? The cheaper price has to come at the expense of cost cutting somewhere along the way.
Old 22nd June 2012
  #24
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As mentioned previously the TC Electronic BMC-2 is fantastic. It had been going for $299 ( I got mine as B-stock for $220), but I guess TC realized that there was nothing comparable in it's price range with that feature set and raised the price to $499. I think it is still a good deal for that price and will probably get another in the future for my home entertainment system.
Old 22nd June 2012
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
It has a wall wort, that saves costs. The case is folded aluminum. The pcb's are all FR-4 glass epoxy, doubled sided. The headphone jack is cheap as is the headphone pot.

So there are some things that lower costs in there, but the important stuff is intact. I don't care what audio gear looks like, I learned that from Stevie Wonder. If you do, put a pic of your gear on your next release and get back to us on how many units it helped sell.

Fancy cases and screened panels just add to the costs of gear without making a rats ass of difference in the sound.

The first thing I think of seeing pretty audio gear with carved metalwork is "how much did they leave out of the inside to cover the cost of making the outside pretty"?
So is it rackmountable or at least in a standard size rack case?
Old 22nd June 2012
  #26
Mine is 16.25" with wooden sides. Throw it into a rack tray if you must. Use those things used to mount Lexicon LXP reverbs and the like.
Old 22nd June 2012
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
It has a wall wort, that saves costs. The case is folded aluminum. The pcb's are all FR-4 glass epoxy, doubled sided. The headphone jack is cheap as is the headphone pot.

So there are some things that lower costs in there, but the important stuff is intact. I don't care what audio gear looks like, I learned that from Stevie Wonder. If you do, put a pic of your gear on your next release and get back to us on how many units it helped sell.

Fancy cases and screened panels just add to the costs of gear without making a rats ass of difference in the sound.

The first thing I think of seeing pretty audio gear with carved metalwork is "how much did they leave out of the inside to cover the cost of making the outside pretty"?
stevie wonder.....haha that was funny .

I placed my order a week ago and still haven't got it .

I'm gonna send him an email to see whats going on . How long was shipping for you ?
Old 22nd June 2012
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ScumBum View Post
stevie wonder.....haha that was funny .

I placed my order a week ago and still haven't got it .

I'm gonna send him an email to see whats going on . How long was shipping for you ?
Takes time.I ordered on the 3 this month and he will finish it this weekend and ship it start of next week.He builds them for you.There is no stock.Expect a month.
Old 22nd June 2012
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MonoBrow View Post
Takes time.I ordered on the 3 this month and he will finish it this weekend and ship it start of next week.He builds them for you.There is no stock.Expect a month.
Oh... gotcha .

Thats actually really cool . Sounds like the build quality is really good . I like gear like that , hand built , solid , that lasts for years , rather than the typical chinese mass produced crap that breaks after a couple years .

From the pictures I like the way the unit looks . It looks vintage/retro and higher quality than the typical plastic Converters of today .
Old 22nd June 2012
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ScumBum View Post
Oh... gotcha .

Thats actually really cool . Sounds like the build quality is really good . I like gear like that , hand built , solid , that lasts for years , rather than the typical chinese mass produced crap that breaks after a couple years .

From the pictures I like the way the unit looks . It looks vintage/retro and higher quality than the typical plastic Converters of today .
Indeed! I hate buying stuff like that twice.Ordered mine with Walnut wooden ends. Fits my other controllers on the desk.
Small shops where your stuff is build from People that you can call by name is AWSOME.
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