I hope you guys don't mind me sharing my experiences, actually this thread is of great interest to me...
A few weeks ago, I was also deciding between a few DACs to hook my Mac mini to my Cambridge 840A S2, I ended up buying it's 840C companion, just because I found it for a very good price.
See... My stereo setup is very humble, and also I do not have the proper lingo to describe it, so please, remember Im a novice at this audio thingy..
For me ears, when I hooked the Mac Mini to the integrated at the first time, using a P2 to RCA cheap cable, the sound was very good, and in a hope to make it sound even better especially because I have some FLACs from HDTracks and B&W Sound of Society I wanted to try a DAC... (So in a search for a hero Bellaraphon, we created a monster, Chimera...)... LOL sorry for the joke... And yes I really liked the movie...
Anyways, I tried a few DACs hooked to my Mac Mini:
- Cambridge 840C (which I ended up buying);
- Dac Magic Plus;
- Oppo 105D;
- Electrocompaniet ECD-1 (used);
- Benchmark Dac-1 (used);
Comparing the mac mini onboard dac with the dedicated ones, rendered a very little difference, at least for my ears. Of course some of the tracks, especially the ones recorded at a higher volume showed some distortion when played thru mac mini and no distortion when played thru a Dac.
I was very disappointed because I could not really pin point the difference between DACs, they all sounded very nice, some sounded exactly the same, while some sounded a bit different and the difference was not even perceptible, I had to really stress my ears and hear the same music several times to notice a very subtle difference.
At some point I thought it was a Mac Mini limitation so I decided to hook a cheap and old 300 CD Pioneer Magazine CD player to the Dacs, and listened it again, all Dacs, one by one, and also the CD Player internal dac.. I found it very difficult to find the best souring DAC, it sounded almost the same.. Again the analog out from Pioneer sounded worse, as it had less definition, but.. It was very hard to notice...
Since I was comparing CD players, I decided to compare the 840C and the PD-F1007, the 840C sounded better, the audio is a bit more clear, I could hear the instruments with better accuracy, especially the higher tones. But again its very subtle...
Then I decided to bring my old Denon 2930ci and test its audio as a CD Player, didn't test SACD... Honestly, not sure if I am deaf but it is impossible for me to tell which sounded better the 840C and 2930ci, it does sound a bit different, but I am incapable for telling which one is better..
I also tested with a different kind of speakers, with the B&W 686, the B&W CM8 and a B&W 803D. The better the speaker the more apparent the diference between internal dac from the Mac Mini and the external DACs. But between the external DACs itself, well, I couldn't detect any difference.
Since the idea is to classify and tell my point of view using as a CD player:
- Oppo 105, sounded as it has better separation between instruments, as in.. The difference in sound from low to high is better;
- 840C, has more clarity, like... The violin sounded closer the violin;
- 2930ci sounded a lot more flat, not necessarily better;
As a DAC, using the Mac Mini as player.... well:
- The electrocompaniet is the best looking, with its transparent panel;
- The Oppo is the coolest one, and looked a bit more "techy";
- The Cambridge 840C matched better with my 840A;
- The Dac Magic Pro, lacks a remote control, so changing between sources is not really good;
- The Benchmark Dac-1 is the ugliest of all...
No difference, ZERO difference between DACS, so i ended up buying the 840C as my vendor was offering it cheaper than the Magic Plus... And I have to say that the Magic Pro and the USB input makes it a lovely combo for a mac mini.
Listening is the best experience.