Does the 'Buck' Start with the DAC?

Some members have expressed that the server / streaming front end is less important than the DAC.

I subscribe to the position that "Everything Matters"

As I consider front end choices, I'm trying to gauge if I should be leaning more heavily on a DAC versus a SOURCE (server / streamer).

Feedback and perspective from both camps, or any others, will be helpful. Thank you.

Please Note:  I'm not looking for validation of the position that "only the bits" matter... I accept that some believe this wholeheartedly... and that's okay by me. 
Bit are bits! (Just kidding 😂)

From my experience, all three matter. DAC, Server, Streamer. Having said this, I have currently spent more on my DAC, vs. the server / streamer combo (Innuos ZENith MK3). If I had the money, I would have bought the Innuos Statement, and called it a day.
@thyname  Thanks!  Are you saying, ideally, that you recommend... equal spends on / equal performance levels for... the source and DAC? 
Perhaps more on DAC. Without neglecting the source of course. I hope I make sense 
Because the DAC is the link between the digital and analog portions of my system. IMHO the analog output stage of the DAC is crucial.

This is just my general, intuitive understanding of things. I have no scientific proof, or ABX tests to back it up 😂😉
A $500 streamer connected to a $2500 DAC will always sound better than a $500 DAC connected to a $2500 streamer.  At least that's my experience and it's not even close.  
@thyname Understood.

@three_easy_payments That makes sense.

Question: Expanding on your example, if you go with a $10K Source what would you recommend the DAC spend be (using dollars only to serve as a proxy for performance/quality)?

Asking because the equation weights very differently at lower price levels (in my experience).

I really don't have much experience in the over $5K world of DACs but from all I've read the law of diminishing returns applies pretty squarely to them.  I run an Auralic Vega G1 that I'm happy with and I know first hand that running an Auralic Leo GX Reference Master Clock through a Vega G2 is stunning in comparison to what I have but you'd need to spend close to $15K for that combo.  For $5-6K I think you'd be pleased what an Auralic G2 or T+A DAC8 can deliver attached to a $10K source but I'm sure others may suggest there's value to be had a greater spends.  I'm just not sure as my experience is limited.
@three_easy_payments Thanks.

Were you able to tease out the contributions from the Aries G2 ... assuming you heard it paired to the Vega G2 and Leo GX or in another setup?
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If the DAC is well designed, has good analog layout, is isolated as necessary, etc. then the streamer should not matter at all.

- Reasons for "the streamer should not matter at all"?

- Which DACs fit these criteria, according to you? Which streamers would you pair with them?


It's pretty well documented on the Auralic community board, and by statements made by the designer - Xuanqian, that the Aries G1/G2 provide improved SQ when paired with the Vega G1/G2 compared to using the very basic built-in streaming capabilities that come with the Vega DACs.  I don't think the improvements are tremendous but there is general consensus that they are there, not to mention that much better functionality/buffering/etc of the Aries streamer compared to the built-in one on the Vega.  That's one thing I have my eye on is looking for a good deal on a used Aries G1 to pair with the Vega if I can find it.
@three_easy_payments  Thank you!  Auralic wasn't on my radar... I'll take a deeper look.

Since you are up on Auralic, is there any information on whether a full GX series is in the works?

david_ten OP3,358 posts11-22-2019 9:36am@atdavid

- Reasons for "the streamer should not matter at all"?

- Which DACs fit these criteria, according to you? Which streamers would you pair with them?


I can answer that on behalf of @atdavid - simply by knowing ASR thought process and "proof":

In terms of DAC: anything from China measures good enough. Example: Topping at $50 a piece

Streamer: does not really matter. A Chromecast Audio at $35 will do

I have not heard about a GX Series roll out but I dont follow as closely as some.  You may find a lot of info through this link:
@three_easy_payments  Thanks for the link. I'll wade into it. : )

@thyname 😄

“Because the DAC is the link between the digital and analog portions”. 
+1, thyname. 
I went through fair share of DAC’s in my pursuit for soul stirring digital front end. The EMM DA2 has ended my quest for a SOTA digital to analog converter under $25K. 
Count me in the camp of ‘Everything Matters’.   
Yes indeed, Ed Meitner makes great DACs. The EMM Labs DACs should definitely be up there, as a SOTA DAC
Imagine if there were incremental differences in playback performance with any server or streamer and you could buy a really good one for 50 bucks . I’m not sure that I would place the dac in the hierarchy of all things .
There is quite a bit of information available in the various reviews of players that suggests the quality of the player is important to the quality of the sound produced by the DAC.  You can't expect a PC or Mac, or any computer with a hard drive to be as quiet, or sound as good, as a player, which is designed to minimize noise and interference in the signal transmitted to the DAC.  

But... I've found that the DAC makes a huge, huge difference in the sound quality of the combination.  I have a number of both, and I've found the sound quality of the Bryston BDP-3 is about as good as it gets for the money (very quiest, very clean signal), and anything above that is likely diminshing returns.

However, I've found the Schitt Yggdrasil is far and away about the best DAC available - just a whole lot more real / live sound, with all of the resolution, transparency, clarity and vibrancy and holographic sound that you will find at virtually any price.   But, as you would expect, the rest of the system must be able to present the sound that it produces, including the player.   
@bassdude. How are you connecting your BDP-3 to your Yggdrasil?  I have a similar setup but with the BDP-2. I’m using AES/EBU currently since that’s what was recommended by Schiit, but I haven’t experimented much with other connection methods.
Everything starts at the dac, which processes the information 
once processed it goes down stream good or bad . It is in some respect the most important part of the chain , and don’t forget the digital cable- USB  ,I have compared many of them and without question make a audible difference.

First I want to be very clear and say that we are the North American distributors for Rockna dacs and server.

Over the past 40 years I have had 78 different digital front ends. Lots of them were A/B direct tested and the best front end became my reference. I was in the camp that the dac made the biggest difference and that the dac was the most important digital piece of equipment until I got my hands on some very good servers/streamers. The server/streamer IMHO can have just as big of an impact on your system as your dac can. The problem is finding a really good server/streamer that matches your dac properly. From my experience, I prefer an i2S connection and a digital designer that builds their own dacs and their own matching server/streamer. The reason I like this is because the 2 pieces are designed to work together. I also prefer the clock to be built into the server/streamer, this saves you money.

For the record I do not believe there is a BEST when it comes to digital but instead really well designed digital. The reason I say this is because I have heard many $30000 dacs with average server/streamers that don't sound as good as a well designed $10000 dac with the matching server/streamer.

I understand in theory this should not be the case but when you get into the more expensive digital front ends, the server/streamer makes a huge difference and therefore must be considered as important as the dac.

Thank you, for the above posts. All are helpful.

It’s good getting feedback on strongly held positions, as they inform.
The problem is finding a really good server/streamer that matches your dac properly.

@worldwidewholesales  Other than the matching components, within the brand...are there other approaches you recommend?

For example, have some of your clients matched the Rockna Wavedream Net with other DACs? And to what outcome? Thanks.


I have been very fortunate to hear many dacs with my Rockna server. Two weeks ago we had a Nagra HD ($30000) dac traded in on the Rockna Signature dac. The Nagra HD was a very nice sounding dac but is now sold.

There are many people that purchase a Rockna WD Net server and keep their own dac. There are also many people that like the idea of a perfectly matching server and dac via i2S connection and a built in clock.

There is no wrong or right but instead just personal preference. I recommend people just play and have fun with audio. If you have a great dac that you prefer than keep it and build around that dac.


@worldwidewholesales   Is the Wavedream NET both a Roon Core and Roon Endpoint/Renderer? Thanks.
I am using a Musica Pristina A Capella server connected via I2S HDMI to my Denafrips Terminator dac.  It is a superb combination and considerably superior to the PS Audio DS dac that I had previously.  My server has a 1 TB ssd storing my music.  I have not gotten on the streamer bandwagon.
@rdoc   Same question. Is the Musica Pristina both a Roon Core and Roon Endpoint/Renderer? Thanks.
Hi David,
Yes the Wavedream NET has both a Roon Core and Roon Endpoint/Renderer. It also has a very good CD player and can be ordered with a SSD. Sound wise the SSD is the best I have heard. Tidal and the built in CD player are also excellent but the SSD does edge out any other format we tested.

@worldwidewholesales   Do stored files off the SSD sound superior to a Roon stream of the same track? Thanks.
Hi,Sound wise the SSD is the best I have heard. Tidal and the built in CD player are also excellent but the SSD does edge out any other format we tested.

Roon Stream is also excellent and the Wavedream Net is the best steamer we have tested but the SSD has slightly more air. So if you are asking me which I prefer, it is the SSD but 80% of the time I am streaming my music.

Hey @david_ten  : is your DAC still Denafrips Terminator? Assuming you like it? If so... we have talked about it: MSB and look no further.

Your server is still SGC i7 sonicTransporter? If so, you can do much better. I am very familiar. 
What is your streamer? 

- Reasons for "the streamer should not matter at all"?

- Which DACs fit these criteria, according to you? Which streamers would you pair with them?

 I originally ordered an Ayre QX-8 DAC but was getting frustrated waiting so I picked up a used QX-5 Twenty for the same $$.  It sounded great while I was waiting for my Roon hub and just running thru ethernet cabling.

Once the Roon hub arrived and was connected via premium USB cable, its was noticeably and immediately better..  Since I did both "updates" at same time, hard to tell how much was the streamer and how much to assign to the cabling.

Either way/ w/o changing amps or speakers or other cables, its was a quantum leap in SQ. I was shocked and very pleased.

@worldwidewholesales   Thanks. That answers my question.

@thyname  DAC is the Denafrips Terminator   Server is the Small Green Computer sonicTransporter i7 Roon DSP only (w/ ethernet bridge). 

I haven't had a chance to listen to MSB yet... hopefully, over the Christmas holidays.
To add: a good streamer certainly benefits as well as good DAC. Recently I attended a show where three price levels of systems where presented. All based on Innuos. Ratio DAC to streamer was roughly 3:2 in all systems. 
Personally I would like to go to a FPGA-based DAC to have the upgrade ability. 
@emtrey: I used to own Ayre QX-5 Twenty. Excellent DAC.

I agree with you. It’s USB input using a decent streamer was audibly better than its built in network bridge
I guess in the lower price point, say <$2500 I would spend more on the dac. After that I would try different things. If I ever get to that.

This one looks like a good start for a streamer.
It all matters but the best dac IMO will give you the best overall sound.

Happy Listening.
There’s a ton of hyped and praised mediocre stuff on the market at every price point and despite what many of the audio reviewers been telling us for decades you will not always get what you pay for.
 I’m in the camp it all matters , you just have to listen for yourself .
Further more I believe it all really starts with a great recording , after all that’s why high end play back exists isn’t it ? 
Thanks for the additional responses. So far it appears that the DAC has priority over the streaming source. And that the better the streaming source, the better the downstream system performance.
Some have hinted at rough allocations for DAC vs Streaming Source.

Assuming mid- to higher- level components, what allocations would you suggest for the DAC and Streaming Source?

- 20K combined budget

- 30K combined budget

Thanks. - David.
Wow , David you have a budget of 20 to 30 grand for a digital front end ? What fun that would be though some here suggested a Shiite dac and Bryson CD player can’t be beat and anything spent over that is getting on a fast train of disminishing returns .

Though I much prefer a server IE ripped CDs over streaming myself here’s one fairly easy example to highlight the critical importance of both source and dac .

This past summer we had a Bluesound vault and a Innous MK 3 with out board dacs for comparison and I can tell you the differences in musically performance was striking. 
Anyway have fun .

@in_shore I currently have approximately 6K in my streaming source (components + LPS). And 4.5K in the DAC.

Based on what I am hearing within my own system as well as auditions, it is going to take a sizeable jump in spend to justify the upgrades on both fronts. Much, much more on the DAC front.

Unfortunate, but also a reality.
@jaytor - I use the Acoustic Zen MC-2 silver AES/EBU digital interconnect cable, because everyone recommends AES/EBU provides the best sound quality.  

I was surprised (and pleased) at how great the Yggy improved the sound of my system - would never have believed it had I not tried it.  No matter what all the reviews have raved about it, compared to all the $25,000-$50,000 Dac's.

@david_ten : Is your sonicTransporter also your streamer?

Here is my current breakdown in MSRP prices (obviously, getting a nice deal or used helps 😉):

DAC: $13,500 (MSB Discrete with ProISL USB module and second optional discrete power supply)

Server / Streamer (USB out to DAC): $4,250 (Innuos ZENith MK3)

Then of course you have the USB cable, the power cords, the Ethernet cable, etc.