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Author Topic: iMacDACs? Benchmark DAC1/DAC1 USB vs Grace m903 vs SD USBPre2 vs Apogee Duet 2  (Read 5314 times)

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Offline DigiGal

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I'm considering adding a DAC sometime to go from iMac to my powered monitors via XLR input.  Not looking to make a purchase anytime soon just trying to plan ahead.  Currently interested in US manufactured DAC's only so am basically looking for opinions about Benchmark's DAC1 or DAC1 USB, Grace m903 or Sound Devices USB Pre2 which appear to be good options.  I've read through the USBPre2's thread and it doesn't look like many are using it as a DAC.  Feedback from anyone using any of these DAC's or who may have done comparisons with any of these units would be greatly appreciated.

From what I've experienced with iMac's, if the computer goes into sleep mode there is no audio output if using a USB DAC but if connecting via its TOSLINK optical output you still get audio when they go to sleep.  All these units I'm considering so far offer TOSLINK connections which I'm thinking may be the best way to connect in order to avoid the loss of audio when the iMac goes into sleep mode.  I'm undecided, however, if it would be wiser to have USB as an option too which the standard DAC1 doesn't have.  All the Benchmark's and the SD USBPre2 have XLR outputs the Grace m903 has balanced outputs via TRS 1/4" which is workable.  The USBPre2 could also be used as a mic pre in the field and is less expensive than the standard DAC1 which is nice but it is USB bus powered as a DAC and is it of the same sound quality as all the other units which are strictly playback devices and more expensive.  The m903 looks better equipped for 2.1 if deciding to add a subwoofer later, the others would require sending both channels to the subwoofer and then to the powered monitors.  I would like to use the DAC as the main volume control and leave the powered monitors calibrated to max volume as recommended by their manufacturer.

I don't know if/how these units subjectively compare regarding sound coloration or if there is a sonic difference btw. Benchmark's DAC1 and DAC1 USB. 

I have an Edirol DigiMod UA-5 BM2p+ which I've tried as a DAC via TOSLINK/optical but actually prefer the sound when connecting directly to the powered monitors via the analog output of the iMac instead.  Seems to me the UA5 has a negative effect on the sound quality when used as a DAC in comparison.

   
« Last Edit: February 28, 2012, 12:36:47 PM by DigiGal »
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Offline Əkoostikal

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Offline Jimna

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Never had the chance to hear the new grace, but its predecessor was incredible.  Gobs of detail, clearly a world class unit.  The usb pre seems like the wrong tool in the case, its a mic pre not a playback DAC, and the Benchmark is a very nice unit, but is second class to the grace.....but then the price is too.

Get the Grace and forgetaboutit.   Its also a world class HP amp as well.
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Offline ArchivalAudio

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well I just use my old MOTU  UltraLite via firewire > balanced TRS (or Unbalanced TS) out

I am sure it's not near as nice as the grace
but It's what I got and I can also use it as a mic pre

 ;D
« Last Edit: February 12, 2012, 03:24:51 AM by ArchivalAudio »
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Offline page

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Never had the chance to hear the new grace, but its predecessor was incredible.  Gobs of detail, clearly a world class unit.  The usb pre seems like the wrong tool in the case, its a mic pre not a playback DAC, and the Benchmark is a very nice unit, but is second class to the grace.....but then the price is too.

Get the Grace and forgetaboutit.   Its also a world class HP amp as well.

it's also twice the price of a usbpre2, which is designed as a in/out sound card first, and field preamp second (look at how standalone mode works as an example, it's ergonomics as a preamp are another one).

I use mine that way a good 98% of the time. The headphone out is crap if you have low impedance headphones (32ohm and under) which have a high sensitivity, but otherwise it's fine. The Grace's headphone amp stage trumps any of the other units listed, period. I had a 901 for a while and liked the amp section, the DAC was trumped by the usbpre2s, but I've heard it improved in the 902/903 units and is definitely up to snuff.

At the end of the day (IMHO), it's Grace > Sound Devices > Benchmark. I do agree that the Benchmark is behind the newer Grace Design models, I wasn't as enthused by it at a listening meet up as I was expecting, maybe it's because I was thinking about the retail price when I was listening to it. ymmv.

The real question is, do you want to pay for the Grace for what I see as a small quality increase from the usbpre2 (assuming you skip the headphone outs)? If you do use the headphone outs, it's a much bigger difference and I would definitely recommend the 902/903 units, but if not, it becomes very hard for me to justify it. From a playback perspective I haven't heard anyone over at head-fi rave about the Grace DAC stages in later products compared to stuff like the Lavry DA10/11 which is approximately the same cost.

And yes, USB mode on any of these will be trash with a mac. I refuse to use usb audio for the exact reason you state, it's a mac problem and not a unit issue. stupid sleep mode... >:(
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Offline Jimna

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Interesting, Page, thanks for the insight.
Co-Founder of F.M.Recording 
SD: Busman Audio BSC1-K1/K2/K3/K4 > Grace Lunatec V3 > Busman Hybrid R4
LD: ADK A-51TL MP > Busman Hybrid R4
+ 48 Channel Multi-track rig

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Offline DigiGal

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Hmm, thanks for the feedback guys it is much appreciated.  I'm still undecided but the discussion so far is steering me away from any of the Benchmark DAC's. 

Page - it's nice to know at least one USBPre2 owner is using it primarily as a DAC.  I do have some reservations and questions regarding its use as a DAC.  BTW: you may be interested in a utility called "Caffeine", it's free in the App Store.  This Utility allows you to quickly toggle it on/off and it prevents your Mac from going to sleep.  I've used the app for years but it doesn't help for times like when you want to walk away and "listen only" yet allow just the screen to shutdown.



« Last Edit: February 13, 2012, 04:24:41 PM by DigiGal »
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Offline page

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Hmm, thanks for the feedback guys it is much appreciated.  I'm still undecided but the discussion so far is steering me away from any of the Benchmark DAC's. 

Yeah, the Grace is a great unit, I do sort of lust after one, but without using headphones, I think it's a cost:benefit question more than anything else.

Page - it's nice to know at least one USBPre2 owner is using it primarily as a DAC, I do have some reservations and questions regarding its use as a DAC.  BTW: you may be interested in a utility called "Caffeine", it's free in the App Store.  This Utility allows you to quickly toggle it on/off, it prevents your Mac from going to sleep.  I've used the app for years but it doesn't help for times like when you want to walk away and "listen only" yet allow just the screen to shutdown.

I bought mine to use as an additional 2 channels and a DAC, and found that I rarely record with more then 2 channels.  :lol:   :'(

It's not without it's quirks, for example, it lacks a power switch (it sees power, it turns on) being the biggest one. You can use a usb power AC adaptor or you can plug it into your mac and force it to go to standalone mode. I typically do the later since I have more usb slots open then I do AC plugs. At first I thought the two volume controls (general attenuator and headphone volume) were strange, but I've found that's *really* handy and serves a purpose regarding the main outs so I give that a pass. Thats about it though.

My problem isn't that the machine goes to sleep on me by accident, it's that I forget that the usbpre2 is plugged in as usb audio and I put the machine to sleep only to realize what I've done about 2 seconds after everything goes dark... Just avoid usb audio was the best solution I had.
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"Nostalgia ain't what it used to be." - Jim Williams

Offline hi and lo

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The benchmarks are great. Even though I'm a grace owner... it pains me to see someone less than thrilled with their performance.  :P

Offline DigiGal

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Still debating and adding Apogee Duet 2 to the list, surprised to learn this unit is made in the USA.
Mics: AKG CK91/CK94/CK98/SE300 | Shure VP88 | Senn ME66/K6/K6RD Cables: Gotham GAC-4/1 "StarQuad" w/Neutrik EMC | Gotham GAC-2pair w/AKG MK90/3 connectors | DigiGal AES>S/PDIF cable Preamp: Sound Devices MixPre-D Recorder: Marantz PMD 661 Edit: 27"3.4GHz QuadCore i7 iMac | OS X Yosemite 10.10.5 | Wave Editor | xACT  | Transmission | Final Cut Pro X                                                            

Offline Jimna

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never heard that unit, but I have always liked their stuff.  Please let us know if you learn anything about it, let alone hear it.
Co-Founder of F.M.Recording 
SD: Busman Audio BSC1-K1/K2/K3/K4 > Grace Lunatec V3 > Busman Hybrid R4
LD: ADK A-51TL MP > Busman Hybrid R4
+ 48 Channel Multi-track rig

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 2x Extender Mark III, Canon 15mm f2.8, Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM, Canon 100mm Macro f2.8, Canon 16-35mm L f2.8, Canon 24-70mm L f/2.8, Canon 70-200mm L f2.8 IS, Canon ST-E2, Canon 580ex II (x2), Canon 430ex II, PocketWizard PLUS II(x4), Radiopopper PX System

http://jmimna.com/

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Offline page

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never heard that unit, but I have always liked their stuff.  Please let us know if you learn anything about it, let alone hear it.

+1

I know some folks over at GS use it, but outside of that I dunno.
"This is a common practice we have on the bus; debating facts that we could easily find through printed material. It's like, how far is it today? I think it's four hours, and someone else comes in at 11 hours, and well, then we'll... just... talk about it..." - Jeb Puryear

"Nostalgia ain't what it used to be." - Jim Williams

Offline DigiGal

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I found an extensive review (linked below) of the Apogee Duet 2 that includes actual measurements taken with a Rhode & Schwartz laboratory analyzer, very impressive.  Sound on Sound magizine's March 2012 review was very favorable and their final summary ended with;  "If you need it, there isn't a single reason not to own it.".   

So this thing is showing great potential as a DAC/monitor controller/headphone amp.  The unit also features configurable buttons too; dim, mute or sum to mono which are all awesome for a monitor controller application.  Love the price but personally not wild about the breakout cable with balanced outputs on 1/4 TRS or that there's no optical input, USB 2 only.  Buss powered but includes a power adapter.  I'm wondering if there could be ground issues since Duet 2 doesn't appear to have a galvanic isolated USB connection like the Grace m903. 

http://kenrockwell.com/audio/apogee/duet-2.htm#meas
« Last Edit: February 28, 2012, 09:22:52 PM by DigiGal »
Mics: AKG CK91/CK94/CK98/SE300 | Shure VP88 | Senn ME66/K6/K6RD Cables: Gotham GAC-4/1 "StarQuad" w/Neutrik EMC | Gotham GAC-2pair w/AKG MK90/3 connectors | DigiGal AES>S/PDIF cable Preamp: Sound Devices MixPre-D Recorder: Marantz PMD 661 Edit: 27"3.4GHz QuadCore i7 iMac | OS X Yosemite 10.10.5 | Wave Editor | xACT  | Transmission | Final Cut Pro X                                                            

 

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