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Upgrade options - new amp or new DAC?


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Posted (edited)

Hi folks,

My system is as below. I listen in a medium-sized room (20ft x 15ft, 12ft ceilings) and mostly am driven by detail and realism in tone/timbre. I listen to folk, jazz and modern instrumental music mostly. 

I predominantly find myself streaming via Qobuz and am wondering about the best upgrade path for digital? Should I prioritise a DAC (£500 budget, e.g. SMSL SU-8 or Chord Mojo) or a new amplifier with built in DAC (similar budget, maybe up to £750, e.g. Audiolab 6000A?). 

Any advice much appreciated! 

Thanks, Gregor.

  • Project debut III/Nagaoka MP-110/Graham Slee Gram Amp 2
  • Marantz CD6005 
  • Chromecast Audio/Qobuz
  • Topping L30
  • Marantz PM6005
  • Tannoy Revolution XT6F
  • Wharfedale SW150.
Edited by ihearthifi
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The nice thing about having separate dac is you can upgrade it as you wish. Certainly worth upgrading your amp I think  

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I would say upgrade your streaming solution 1st, the CCA is a nice low cost option to get you going but with your £500 - £750 budget I would look at these in the classifieds as an excellent lift in SQ. 

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I would avoid an amp with a built in DAC - they are developing DACs all the time so keep em separate IMO

As to your question on upgrade - what is it about the sound of your system that is not meeting your requirements?  I only upgrade to reach a goal (e.g. I hear something that sounds better than what I have and then I think about changing).  It is all to easy to fall into the trap of chasing the Holy Grail without any idea of what it sounds like.  I sort of tget the impression you fancy a new amp and a new DAC but cannot make your mind up due to not knowing exactly what you want to achieve (but I could be wrong).  

If you love the sound of your system as it is then save your pennies until you hear something else that rocks your socks and you want to achieve the same

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Generically if you are a detail lover then a better DAC and amp. However some people say that DACs don’t make much of a difference and some say that the Topping DACs sound as good as anything else. In my experience DACs do make a difference. However the differences in DACs and amps may not be fully revealed if your speakers are not as revealing as they can be. You have a comparatively modest budget and going secondhand would make sense. 

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I agree with everyone who says buy a separate amp and dac, although I've just seen this for sale, and later you could upgrade to another dac of your choice.  Maybe start a new thread when ready regarding the purchase of a new  dac.

Cambridge Audio CXA80 Amplifier (Black) - refurbished - minor signs of use 5055300415608 | eBay

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Posted (edited)

For your budget I doubt you'll hear much difference by upgrading your DAC. I have the same speakers which are capable of bucket loads of detail with the right amp. Marantz are good, a bit on the warm side: for more detail I would recommend getting your hands on a used Creek 50A: I have the 100A, and compared to my previous Arcam it is certainly able to tease out things you haven't heard before on familiar albums.

Edited by Nifkin
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Agree with everyone - keep the Dac separate so it can be upgraded. 

Are you interested in tube amps? A good one will give you both detail and realistic instrumental timbre. These are my 2 goals in all my audio journey - I'm a musician like Dom and tone and timbre is pretty central. You can get a decent tube amp for around £600. If you want to go down that route there are several on the forum who can assist with choices. 

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Posted (edited)

How are you using your chromecast right now? That’s the only weakest link I can see right now. Especially if you’re using the internal DAC of that thing.


With all respect I don’t think you’re going to make big jumps with upgrading the amp in your budget.

Maybe you can hook up a tablet to a Topping DX3Pro or something? That’s a nice DAC that costs very little and you can happily listen to gapless playback on your tablet.

Edit: and I agree with @pmcuk in the post above. Save up for a tube amp as a next step. I have a Line Magnetic 216 since a couple of weeks (the 211 is also very good). It’ll blow your socks off.

Edited by Ceko
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Hi everyone - thanks so much for your kind and considered advice!

To clarify - I use the optical output of the Chromecast Audio, connected to the Marantz PM6005's internal DAC, which is considered decent though could no doubt be bettered by a good quality external DAC.

I've read so many conflicting reports on the internet about the difference upgrading to a 'proper' streamer (e.g. Bluesound or Cambridge CXN) would make SQ-wise over the CCA, which is confusing. Functionally, I have little need for high-res capability over 24/96 and don't care much about gapless playback, so I'd only upgrade if there was a clear SQ rationale?

I do really like the sound of my system - I suppose I'm mostly curious as to whether I can improve realism and detail retrieval and not sure whether to try improving the streamer/DAC/amp as a first priority? I will definitely consider second-hand as @DomTsuggests. I like the Creek sound and would definitely consider the 50A, whilst I do really like valve amplification also. I had a cheap Chinese tube amp (Yaqin 6v6) for years, which I loved. The only problem is that somehow when it was running it really impacted my asthma - not sure whether it was the heat/dust or something else? Very strange - anyway, it put me off valves for a while. But those Line Magnetics look really interesting @Ceko & @pmcuk!

Thanks!

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You could conside splitting the Marantz into 2 boxes: I'd get a Topping E30 which is only £140 new and get a better integrated amplifier from the used market, perhaps a Marantz if you're happy with how yours sounds.

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Looking at the impedance curve of the XT8F (I expect that of the XT6F to be similar) I would be careful (even avoid) partnering it with valve amplifiers, particularly ones with high output impedance such as Line Magnetic or Prima Luna models; it's likely that the combined sound will be somewhat to very "bright".

In any case, do try before buying.

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22 minutes ago, ihearthifi said:

I had a cheap Chinese tube amp (Yaqin 6v6) for years, which I loved. The only problem is that somehow when it was running it really impacted my asthma - not sure whether it was the heat/dust or something else? Very strange - anyway, it put me off valves for a while. But those Line Magnetics look really interesting @Ceko & @pmcuk!
 

Did you ever research how a tube amp could trigger asthma? First I've heard of this and it's an interesting proposition!

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2 minutes ago, tuga said:

Looking at the impedance curve of the XT8F (I expect that of the XT6F to be similar) I would be careful (even avoid) partnering it with valve amplifiers, particularly ones with high output impedance such as Line Magnetic or Prima Luna models; it's likely that the combined sound will be somewhat to very "bright". 

Hi there - what are you basing this assumption on - can you quote some sources? "Very bright" sounds like a significant alteration to a flat response, so what exactly could be causing such an error?

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Posted (edited)
47 minutes ago, pmcuk said:

Hi there - what are you basing this assumption on - can you quote some sources? "Very bright" sounds like a significant alteration to a flat response, so what exactly could be causing such an error?

Impedance interaction:

Questions of Impedance Interaction

Heavy Load: How Loudspeakers Torture Amplifiers

Real-Life Measurements

.

See the wiggly black line in the frequency response below (coloured graph)?

That's the effect of the modded Kantor speaker load (black & white graph) on the combined response, which follows the speaker's impedance trace.

915LM518fig01.jpgscan58.jpg

The output impedance varied slightly with frequency and load impedance, but was approximately one-quarter the nominal value of each output-transformer tap: 3.8 ohms (16 ohm tap), 2 ohms (8 ohm tap), and 1.1 ohms (4 ohm tap).

These impedances are relatively low for a single-ended-triode amplifier. As a result, the modification of the LM-518IA's frequency response due to the Ohm's law interaction between this impedance and that of our standard simulated loudspeaker remained within limits of ±0.8dB (4 ohm tap), ±1.2dB (8 ohm tap; fig.1, gray trace), and ±2.1dB (16 ohm tap). The traces in fig.1 were taken with the volume control set to its maximum—note the excellent channel matching, which was preserved at lower settings of the control.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/line-magnetic-audio-lm-518ia-integrated-amplifier-measurements

.

This is from the XT8F:

VqRSuY5.jpg

https://hometheaterhifi.com/reviews/speaker/floor-standing/tannoy-revolution-xt-8f-floor-standing-speakers-review/

Edited by tuga
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