What to put in front of M1200’s?

Am I wasting my time and yours asking what I might look for in a preamp and DAC that would complement M1200s but not set me back more than $3K or so? Used is good.
I currently have a GCD because I didn’t know what else to do and a reasonably priced used one fell in my lap. I’d originally planned to put a BHK pre and DAC to be named later ahead of them but got spooked when I failed to hear a discernible difference between the M1200s and the main gear at the time. I kept the M1200s thinking I’d hear more of a difference as I fitted out the room and got the speakers dialed in.
The room and setup are now about as good as they’re going to get and there still isn’t a discernible difference.
At this point I’ve got a system I feel is amp heavy and pre / DAC light. The options are to live with it, start over, or find some low-ish cost gems.
I’d appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

Are you willing to buy used equipment?

What’s your source(s)?

TMR has a PrimaLuna tube preamp for $2500 (and negotiable on price). Or you could wait for a Conrad Johnson or Audio Research tube preamp to become available on TMR, and keep using the GCD as a DAC.

Not what I would do but if you feel you have to have a combo preamp/dac the best bet is probably a used Anthem STR.


Were it me with those price constraints I would buy a Supratek Chardonnay and a Gustard R26. I’ve owned a Chardonnay for over three years and with the Gustard you have a choice of the R26 for an R2R DAC or the X26 for Delta-Sigma. In my system the Chardonnay easily displaced the BHK preamp even paired with the 250.

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I can see your point. I personally think there’s more value at the price in getting an integrated pre/dac. There’s a lot of synergy in the unit especially when it comes to signal transfer from the dac to the pre. There’s also less cables and power. The Anthem also had Dirac. All three have very good reviews.

There’s also the Audio Research DSPre. Which I recognize is over the budget, but it’s sweet.

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It comes down to how much you value separate power supplies and dedicated technology over convenience. I’ve tried it all three ways with separate preamp/DAC and amps, integrated preamp/DAC and amps and separate DAC and integrated amp. The optimal solution to me is what we both have in our Main systems which is separate everything but second choice for me after trying both choice two and three would be a higher end integrated and a separate DAC. Different choices for all of use based on experience, cost and space.

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Agreed. At this price point I personally don’t see the value in two less expensive devices. But that’s the beauty of this hobby. Choices. Here I would get the pre/DAC and you would get the separates. We’d both be happy.

Me personally, I will be keeping and changing my separates for a few more years. But I do know that there will come a day that I will have an integrated and an external DAC.

It’s not always about the price but the sound and execution. And certainly not about brand names and “press” exposure.

I’m headed in the same direction at some point but that points not here just yet.

It will be interesting to learn what sources Allan uses.

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For me as long as it includes a Vivaldi Apex DAC, Upsampler, and Master Clock, I will be happy. I would also be happy with the Vivaldi One Apex. It might be more maritally harmonious.


Matrix Audio X-Sabre 3 Network-Attached DAC | Hi-Fi News (hifinews.com)
Decent implementation of the ES9038Pro DAC with a Crystek CCHD-950 clock. Good onboard volume control, high value streaming features with a remote control. No headphone amp on board. I think it’s $3k only.

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This is what I do and I’m happy with the setup. It is similar to what yours would be, but yours should sound a bit better.

PS Audio DirectStream DAC (recently discontinued version) connected directly to PS Audio M700 amps with Iconoclast BAV XLR cables. In my completely digital system I’m happily using the DS DAC as a preamp for streaming through Roon, as the DAC for my CD transport and it is also connected to my video system. Primarily playback through Roon using both Qobuz and Tidal to stream along with some owned digital files on local storage.

I would also not hesitate to purchase the PS Audio DirectStream Jr. for the same purpose. Price range should be well under $3K with either.

If you need phono inputs, the equation changes and I might look at the Schiit products. They offer good value. I happily gave up playing records around 1993 prior to a move when I couldn’t bear the thought of moving the 7,000 LP collection and gave them away.

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‘morning all, Many thanks for all your thoughts and recommendations. I very much appreciate your help.
My current source is a Bluesound Vault2i. The CD collection, most of which is late 80s thru early 2000s vintage, is ripped to FLAC. Lately I’ve been adding select older CDs and Octave release CD layers from SACD because the Vault doesn’t handle DSD. I have in mind to migrate to DSD download to some TBD solution that’ll also feed the DAC. Vinyl is still in the mix but I see my future in digital weather streamed, downloaded, or ripped.
For the right stuff used is absolutely in the mix. Long term I’d prefer separate pre and DAC but really only to avoid obsolescence. A quality integrated is fine but probably comes with limited expectations for how long I’d keep it. Who knows.
The thing that’s really got me going recently is a realization that I really don’t need 1200w on tap but that’s a different thread. This thread is how to make the best use of the M1200.

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Until she knows the price, I suppose.


A lot of forum members have the 1200s paired with the bhk pre and like the combo. Keeping the GCD for the time would be a convent solution. BHK pres show up on TMR from time to time for ~$3000

In your price range you could buy new from Marantz or Rotel. Both have very well reviewed pre/dac offerings. the advantage of those brands also is risk free home trials, be it from a dealer or Crutchfield. Fwiw, you said you don’t stream much and since you are using cd rips I don’t see dac obselence as an issue (are you playing music at 16/44?) Something new from Marantz, Rotel, ect is going to have a dac that I’m sure you will be more than happy with for more than a few years….

Also just a thought, have you considered upgrading your speakers? Maybe it’s the speakers that are not allowing you to get everything for your current set up….