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Help me choose a DAC...?

Discussion in 'audio' started by Funk, Apr 8, 2021.

  1. Funk

    Funk pfm Member

    I have an Audiolab M-DAC which I've found has become intermittent when turned on - the left channel comes and goes for a bit but does eventually stabilise. After my recent issues with dying caps in my old Cyrus amp (now sorted) I decided to eyeball the inside of the M-DAC and wished I hadn't...


    I'm no expert but I know they shouldn't look like that... I'm taking the opportunity to source a new or used DAC and I'll send the M-DAC off for a complete re-capping and work out whether I keep it or not down the line.

    One of the features I really need in whatever I get is the ability to control the DAC's volume via my PC - something the M-DAC offers with the 'Accept control' option in its USB menu. However, it isn't something that most DACs I've looked at seem to talk about in their specs or manuals. I'm hoping some of the knowledgeable folk here might be able to give me a steer with some recommendations. Not looking to go nuts; probably up to £600ish budget for a replacement. Ones I'm considering:

    • MDAC+ might be the logical step here tbh - I assume it offers the same USB volume control as the M-DAC?
    • Cambridge Audio CXN V2 - a little over budget though and again I'm not sure if it does what I need - the native streaming and bluetooth stuff might be convenient though
    • Whaleblue has a Topping D50 for sale for about a ton which I've PM'd about...
    As for the rest of the kit it's nothing remarkable - PC runs MusicBee/Spotify into the DAC (ASIO for MusicBee), that goes into an XTZ A100 D3 which is driving Celestion A3s. I don't really need loads of bells and whistles (like the CXN V2) - are there other DACs I should be taking a look at...?
  2. Mynamemynaim

    Mynamemynaim 38yrs a Naim owner

    The caps are obviously in a bad way
    But has some one had a go at modding it already?
    It looks very much like it's been played with before?
  3. mansr

    mansr Objectionist

    You are not wrong. Now if you like that DAC otherwise, fixing it should be possible for a lot less than £600 (I could do the job). Of course, if you're taking this as an excuse to get something new, that's something I can relate to.

    Would it be an option to run the DAC at a fixed level and use software volume control? That would expand the range of potential replacements.
  4. Funk

    Funk pfm Member

    It was bought used from another PF'er back in 2019 so I don't know the provenance of it. What doesn't look right..?

    Potentially - I want to retain control of the volume from within Windows as my PC is the hub for everything. I am thinking about setting up something separate for 'dedicated' listening sessions as the PC's not *quite* silent - close, but not quite. With usual listening volumes though it isn't an issue and I'm happy with the trade-off between quality and functionality that I have. That said, I understand there are reasons why you shouldn't do volume adjustment in the digital domain with a 16-bit DAC; I figured that Audiolab have factored this in with their design/architecture. Interestingly the menu tree for the M-DAC+ doesn't list the 'Accept Control' option like the M-DAC does so it's possibly a removed feature?

    Ideally a direct swap-out for something with the M-DAC's functionality would be perfect as currently everything works as I want it to.

    I'll PM you re. costs to fix in a mo... My XTZ has a built-in DAC and it makes most sense to repair really I guess - although I do like finding reasons to tweak stuff..!
  5. Bas V

    Bas V pfm Member

    Beresford Caiman SEG
  6. rtrt

    rtrt pfm Member

    From memory the original MDAC (one you have) doesn't operate on 16 bits internally - istr it might be 32.

    So whilst you send it 16 bit data, it operates internally on 32 and the loss of resolution is from 32 not 16. Means the loss of resolution isn't audible till you go to a lower volume than you expect.

    Also istr John Westlake suggesting reduced volume wouldn't be noticeable until approx -30dB. I could easily be misremembering that though, so a search on here might unearth something better than my memory!
    some info here -
  7. Funk

    Funk pfm Member

    So I actually ended up taking a low-cost option for the mo and as Whaleblue lives literally a 3-minute drive from me I took a punt on the Topping D50. Christ it's good for the money! It really shows just how far the M-DAC had deteriorated over time without me really noticing.

    The D50 works fine with PC-side volume control and as it does 32-bit it shouldn't introduce any resolution issues either. I'm going to drop the M-DAC in to mansr later in the month for a recap although to be honest I'm not entirely sure I'll be swapping back from the Topping at this rate... I've been rediscovering a lot of music this afternoon and evening since I picked it up!

    Thanks for the input and thoughts, much appreciated.

    Edit: Interestingly running optically into the XTZ didn't work very well - I kept getting dropouts in the sound which I just couldn't solve. If anyone knows why that might've been, I'd be interested to know.
    robs and Amber Audio like this.

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