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DAC as preamp

Discussion in 'audio' started by wintoid, Apr 4, 2021.

  1. wintoid

    wintoid pfm Member

    I'm considering setting up another room for music, and due to left-over components available, might have a power amp I can use and a Raspberry Pi, but no preamp.

    I was idly musing about buying a DAC for this system that would handle preamp duties also. I believe the RME ADI-2 FS can do this, and also the Matrix Mini I Pro 3, and the Topping D90. Any others at a similar price point?

    I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who does this. In particular, my concern is that if for some reason the digital gubbins decides to go for max volume, I could get a terrible shock (unlikely with an analogue potentiometer). Also, presumably the attenuation is occurring in the digital domain, so are you sacrificing quality at lower volumes?

    Anyway, definitely interested to hear any real world experience.
  2. Amber Audio

    Amber Audio This is the Day

    The RME is a tremendous device, there is a Mk1 version with a simpler remote and slightly different internals, you might get a deal on one. I ran one with a Quad QSP for a while with great results. You can set a safe max volume, it’s a pretty complex unit with more features than most sub £1K Pre/DACs, even the psu cable locks into the chassis, it works just fine out of the box so you can take your time learning all the menu options.

    I wasn’t convinced by the D90 as a Pre/DAC, as a DAC it is seriously good, I also prefer a physical volume dial. The SONCOZ SG1 is great value but feels a bit cheap and the UX wasn’t very pleasing so I sold it fairly quickly, it does have a proper volume dial. Plenty of other choices around and I am sure you’ll get much more advice/opinion shortly - by all accounts DACs from SMSL and Gustard would be worth looking into. Bit of an oldie but goodie - used DacMagic Plus, if it has the features you need they come up on eBay cheapish.
    wintoid likes this.
  3. jagdesign

    jagdesign pfm Member

    A shameless plug - I bought the RME as I wanted to try the EQ to help with some room issues, and I'm very impressed with it. However, my old M-DAC (for sale in the link below) was slightly more flexible in the number in of inputs it has, and is still a brilliant DAC/pre. I ran it direct into an Avondale power amp, and latterly my ATC SCM-19As.
    wintoid and Curtis like this.
  4. MotelBlues

    MotelBlues pfm Member

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  5. Curtis

    Curtis pfm Member

    I use a Cambridge audio streammagic 6 as a pre and have no issues with sound degradation or software errors.
    I recently added a Khozmo passive pre so I could add more analogue inputs and it is completely transparent.
    wintoid likes this.
  6. Dan K

    Dan K pfm Member

    Most, if not all, of the new Chinese DACs have a single common earth and are designed for just this task. My Smsl SU-8 is for sale in the classifieds and will do this job perfectly, as will a Gustard X-16. However I could not hear any difference between the 2 dacs.

    None of them have analogue inputs, for that you'll need the Benchmark DAC
    wintoid likes this.
  7. misterdog

    misterdog Not the canine kind

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  8. Amber Audio

    Amber Audio This is the Day

    Yeah they are missing a trick for folk wanting to run a TT, a cheap Pre/DAC with a single analogue in would fill a gap, not looked hard maybe there are some out there already. I know Topping have a matching Pre for the D90, dunno how much.
    wintoid likes this.
  9. jusphish

    jusphish pfm Member

    For a little while I was running an Apple iMac via USB into iFi Zen DAC (w/iFi iPower) straight into a Naim NAP 140 power amp w/ProAc Tablette 10 loudspeakers. To be honest it was quite good and very simple. Maybe even easier if the amp doesn't need special cabling.
    wintoid likes this.
  10. wintoid

    wintoid pfm Member

    Thanks for the comments, lots of useful stuff here, especially the safe max volume on the RME. Seeing the JDS labs passive preamp reminded me that I do have a Tisbury floating around in a drawer somewhere, so I could potentially go that way too. A friend is offering me a Quad 306 (and incidentally he has had my Audiolab MDAC on very long term loan, but I ended up tired of it).

    Any reason (impedance?) a Tisbury wouldn't work well with a Quad 306?

    Even so, I'm really thinking about the RME now. For PC/Mac stuff, I have RME (Hammerfall 9632 bought about 20 years ago, and a Babyface Pro FS), so I've always thought they were a good make.
  11. Woodface

    Woodface pfm Member

    The passive will almost certainly work well, possibly a better option than a pre/Dac? At least you have options so can take your time before making a decision.
    the caretaker, wintoid and Curtis like this.
  12. the caretaker

    the caretaker pfm Member

    I have a couple of dacs with a volume control..a jolida dac and a beresford dac..if it were me? I would go for a quad cdp2 as its a excellent digital pre amp and a splendid cd player! Or use a schiiit sys as a passive pre amp..such a good pre amp for so little money .
    wintoid likes this.
  13. 406v6

    406v6 pfm Member

    I’m not familiar with the components mentioned to figure out the price point so bear that in mind…. The Chord Hugo TT2 can act as a pre-amp and also as a power amp within the limitations of the speakers being used. I use mine in this way in the system in my home office (low volume for long periods) and the sound quality is excellent.
    wintoid likes this.
  14. Amber Audio

    Amber Audio This is the Day

    Considerably less than the TT2. £2-800 ish. You’d need special speaker cables made up to use the TT2 into speakers?
    wintoid likes this.
  15. misterdog

    misterdog Not the canine kind

    wintoid and Amber Audio like this.
  16. JezmondTutu

    JezmondTutu pfm Member

    I’ve used my Weiss DAC as a pre-amp for some time now and although it is supposed to have a brilliantly implemented volume control, I’d definitely try a passive preamp if you can. As I am using a cheap one currently and it sounds great.
    the caretaker and wintoid like this.
  17. misterdog

    misterdog Not the canine kind

    At the end of the day it is much about gain matching.
    My SMSL M400 has peak performance at full output 5.2V ( a full 2 dB better than at 4.0V output)
    The Topping Pre 90 has peak performance at 4 to 8 Volt input.
    Feeding my Benchmark AHB2 amp in low gain mode at 9.2 dB.

    Sorted, though I have a Gustard X16 arriving this week, because, well you never know.
    wintoid likes this.
  18. onlyconnect

    onlyconnect pfm Member

    Yes, I use a Teac DAC which has a volume control, straight into power amp, works great and never felt the lack of a pre-amp.

    wintoid likes this.
  19. Paul_Riordan

    Paul_Riordan pfm Member

    I use a Mytek Manhattan II as a pre amp and dac. It has an analog and a digital volume that can be used. It also has analog inputs which I use for my surround system.
    wintoid likes this.
  20. brab

    brab pfm Member

    I've used an Mdac for a long time, happily to begin with as a preamp. As part of a side project whose purpose I no longer remember, I ran the DAC at full output with a passive resistive potentiometer following. I was really surprised at how much the DAC's digital attenuator had been compressing dynamics. I replaced the resistive attenuator with an even better sounding stepped attenuator but never went back to using the mdac as preamp.
    wintoid likes this.

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