Oct 20, 2018140 views

What are the best DACs under $250 to pair with Chrome Audio for streaming audio via Wifi?

It seems as if I crawled out from under a rock after 20 years of listening to music through a CD player connected to a receiver and wired speakers. I've been experimenting with bluetooth and wifi for streaming and have decided I would like to 1) make the most out of what I already have and look to upgrade individual components rather than replacing everything at once, 2) go with a best of breed approach so that I don't lock myself into a particular vendor or product. The product space for wifi streaming is immature and - as someone who has had speakers for 40 years and a receiver for 20 - this seems to me not to be a time to make bets on any particular system.

Here's what I have right now:
1) NAD 712 receiver -- it works fine and from what I understand the core technology in amplifiers hasn't changed that much recently. Not ready to spend $500 or $1000 on an upgrade.
2) Genesis series 1 (or 10?) speakers -- 40 years old and people apparently still like them. They're not super hi end audio, but they work pretty well. Will consider an upgrade in the future.
3) Chromecast Audio -- just bought it last weekend. Does exactly what I want in enabling me to stream to my receiver and speakers above. Sound quality is ok, but it just failed an A/B test with Sonos this morning.

DACs I've tried so far:
Regarding Sonos, I got it a few weeks ago and will return it -- largely because it forces me to pay for Spotify premium if I want to stream through Spotify. Also because I don't seem to be able to multi-cast to my PC speakers. And because I think I'll get more money from a separate DAC.
I also tried the audioengine B1 -- it was fine, but I found bluetooth very limiting. Making everything an endpoint on one's home network and then using software to get them to interoperate seems to me to be the way to go.

So what do you recommend?
There are all kinds of DACs out there and lots of top ten lists that often dont' share many DACs in common. In theory I should get more for my money with a standalone DAC than a DAC/amp combo, but I'd welcome informed opinions. There are lots of products out there for < $100 -- unclear that they'll make much of a difference in sound quality. There are also quite a few in the $100 - $250 range.

I've listed a few I looked at this morning - what do you think about these or any others?
Thanks,

Schiit Mod -- multibit seems like the best bet for the Modi, but Schiit's reputation is spotty - http://www.schiit.com/products/modi-1

Grace Design Standard DAC -- doesn't appear to have an optical in so probably won't work with Chromecast Audio
https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-grace-design-standard-dac

Audioengine D1 -- comes with an amp, so not sure how much money goes into the DAC
https://www.amazon.com/Audioengine-D1-24-bit-Digital-to-Analog-Converter/dp/B006IPH5H2/ref=sr_1_1_sspa

JDS Lab OL DAC -- saw it somewhere as a recommendation for Chromecast, but review at The Master Switch is underwhelming
https://www.themasterswitch.com/review-jds-labs-ol-dac

FiiO Q1 Mark II -- one of the top DACs recommended by Master Switch at any price, but even in their own review they write " FiiO's second version of its Q1 may not deliver a huge change in sound from your phone..." -- so then what's the point?
https://www.amazon.com/FiiO-Q1-Mark-II-Amplifier/dp/B0757MH46M/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8
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I'm going to recommend the Behringer Ultramatch Pro SRC2496, you just can't get better sound for under 200$. Although the unit is very industrial in it's design don't let that fool you into thinking that it's subpar. The sound it produced blew me away when I first heard it, there's only one way I can describe what I was hearing, this Behringer was the first digital source that made the sound seem analog. I did my research before buying and found out that it's perfectly engineered from the chips using delta-sigma modulation to the analog outs having feedback destroyers. Also it has the capability to upsample wich no other DAC in this pricerange offers.
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From what I know only the manual explains different functions and how to use the device, although it has been made to explain more for studio users than for home users.
This is the link to it: https://www.manualslib.com/manual/214430/Behringer-Ultramatch-Pro-Src2496.html
For your needs I can simplify all that, since you're probably going to use only the DAC part of it.
You just connect the optical output from the chromecast to the optical input on the Behringer. After that you only have to set the source to "optical" on the Behringer.
And now comes the fun part, you should have these settings as this in order to achieve maximum fidelity.
Sample rate and word count, highest = best. Mode should be on "sample rate converter" Clock on "internal". Format on "spdif". Dither is only used when recording so there's no need for it to be on. Emphasis and copy also don't need to be modified.
If you get stuck setting it up or it doesn't sound right just message me and I'll gladly help you out.
Also here's a really good review wich explains things more in depth than me: http://novo.press/behringer-ultramatch-pro-src2496-24-bit96-khz-ad-da-sample-rate-converter/
St4vKa
Thanks -- this is fantastic!
I just received a FiiO D3 (D03K) DAC to try out courtesy of Amazon -- it's an attempt at a $20 solution -- my expectations are low, but I figured worth a try.
Biggest question I have about the Behringer is where I'll be able to put it -- might need to see if I can stand it on its side.
Will let you know.
Thanks -- since it took me a while to identify a specific difference between the sonos and chrome audio (aside from a general sense that sonos sounded better), I suspect I won't hear a difference between the EL and the OL in an A/B test.
jabrams235
Glad to see you put in the effort to come to your own conclusions. I think when we're not using cheap DAC components, most people should be okay.
Thanks for the recommendation. In your view is JDS Labs EL DAC better than the OL DAC for my purpose? If so, what do you see as the critical differences?
With your setup I’d take a hard look at the JDS Labs EL DAC and make sure you are using an optical out from your Chromecast Audio to your DAC or Receiver.
I use a Chromecast Audio with my Aune X1S and think its a great pairing.
It's difficult to do a solid A/B comparison with my setup, but I can tell the difference.
At first it seemed slight (it's hard to switch seamlessy back and forth between A and B), but I tried listening to some Latin music this morning and realized I couldn't hear the cowbell from the Chromecast and it came through loud and clear on the Sonos. There is a difference.
While one tends to get used to whatever equipment one has once the comparisons are done, I'm willing to pay a couple hundred bucks more if that means I can hear all the instruments in the recording.
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No -- just going to connect the DAC to and optical cable coming out from the Chromecast Audio and then send the signal to my stereo receiver. Don't even need an amplifier and am guessing that I might be better off without one.
jabrams235
You really need to A/B the EL and OL, most people won't notice a difference when using the same source and connection. 32/384 support is pointless if you're listening to material that was recorded at 24/192 or below.
Can YOU tell the difference when using different DACs?