Preamp DAC for ATC Actives? - A Proud Mullet!

So here we are…

After a) taking the plunge for what is most likely, my ‘end-game’ loudspeakers (SCM19A) and b) finally accepting that, as much as I love Naim’s hardware, their software’s inherent clunkiness and limitations is not up to par.

So yes, I need to move on to find the right source and pre-amp, even if this means going beyond Naim, so I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction

At the moment, Im using the pre section of my Nait XS (1st gen) and the ND5 XS as a source. In terms of SQ, I am more happy. (the Nait and ND5 will most likely be sold or go to a second system with a pair of Neat Motives)

Here’s the thing; I do not want to invest thousands in a streamer, technology moves on way too fast in this camp (unlike amplification and loudspeakers) and I cannot afford to renew the source every 5 years because the hardware cannot cope with the demands of new features. So yes, it’s a compromise I will have to live with; a cheaper (streaming) source that I can replace every 3-5 years.

So guys? What are my options? My initial thought was Sonos Port feeding a DAC V1 and then into the SCM19A - Is there anything out there I am not considering?

The Guards of the “Source First” brigade will be sharpening their pitchforks as they read this but, would other of a more open mind be able to recommend a set up that ticks the boxes below?

  • 2 box solution
  • Excellent control interface and browsing experience (think Sonos, think Roon)
  • Sub 4 figures (used prices)
  • No Chord products please (Regardless of their sound, I cannot live with their aesthetics)

What about a 272 or a linn akurate dsm? 1 box solution, no need for a preamp box. 2 box if you pair them with a melco.

I follow your logic, but, personally think sub £1k won’t really let you hear what your excellent ATC actives are capable of. You could probably net a decent used 272 for around £1900 and that would be a fine choice SQ-wise. But if the limitations of the old streaming platform rule it out, it might be worth investigating the recently introduced Auralic Altair G1 at the same price. I’ve not heard one, but it’s been gathering some great reviews and if it has some of the DNA of Auralic’s Vega G2, should at least be worth an audition.


Hi Roger! Thank you for your reply!

I am trying to stay away from expensive stand alone streamers/pre amps… I just dont want to plonk 2-3 grand on something that a couple of years down the line will be completely outdated - I can already see it on my ‘ageing’ ND5 XS… that, plus Naim’s clunky app experience (compared to the likes of Sonos and Roon)

I’ve also read wonders about Auralic… but same… 2-3-4 grand piece of kit… that will very soon obsolete… I would not mind making the financial effort (as I did for the SCM19A or my Nait XS) and take the plunge for kit that I know will stand the test of time in 10-15 years (like good power amps, pre amps, turntables or loudspeakers) but anything with streaming tech… things like that just have an incredibly short shelf life…

I know its a difficult dilemma… and I know there’ll be compromises but I know what my priorities (and budget!) are, I just wanted to make sure I was not missing anything out there that I had not considered.

I’m not a big fan of the Chord styling either, but they are small, and easy to hide from view. I’d have thought balanced XLR outputs on a Hugo TT would be a good match for ATC actives. That leaves you free to add a digital transport of your choice if you’re concerned about compatibility with new streaming services.

I’ve researched similar solutions for myself and it will be difficult to achieve if you are targeting a streamer that has “current” technology and fit within your budget. The 272 is close to your budget but its tech has already been superseded. Given that you are open to 2 boxes, another way would be using a headless mac mini (or similar) with roon (or Jriver, audirvana, …) digital volume control + a small dac.

I’m absolutely over the moon with my 272 and ATC actives

Perversely ,now that I have the streamer/pre, similar thoughts regarding technology moving quickly makes me less inclined to think about upgrades and I am enjoying what i have more than worrying about it

The same situation with technology has been there for all of us who progressed from turntables, to cd and more recently streaming so its a challenge I think we’ve all faced at some time before

272 or wait for new updated 272 is the obvious Naim choice.

Left field, if not Chord, I would consider RME ADI-2 DAC FS and use a mobile device, such as phone, tablet, or laptop as streamer.

I use original Hugo TT (bargain s/h at the moment) and MacBook and couldn’t be happier.


Hi Chris… thank you for your reply.

Yes… I Can’t stand Chord’s styling but the XLR outputs is a plus (whether I really need them with 3m cable runs or not, is beyond the point now) and you’re right re. compactness/easy to hide. Also, it can be fed by a digital transport of my liking… even my Sonos Port via Digital coax.

Hey Halloweenman… thank you for chipping in.

The 272 takes me back to the original point… Expensive streamers with a short shelf life… I’ll definitely look at RME

It seems that it will boil down to a choice of DAC/PreAmp, and even if it’s in the low 4 figures, I know it wont just become obsolete …

The idea of using a great DAC and a MacBook is very tempting… that was the other option in the back of my mind… MacBook Air > Great DAC > Actives ATC

Hi Chris…

and I would also be over the moon with a 272 and actives… however, we’ go back to the issue of the big investment for something that gradually becomes obsolete in (relatively) little time…

In terms of the obsolescence of sources such as the ones you mention, I think you’re technically correct, however, CDs and turntables lasted decades… the pace at which streaming tech evolves is neck breaking (just look at the Sonos debacle!)… An additional proof of this is the resale value of Naim streaming devices on the second hand market vs the resale value of say, amplification; the early streamers are sold for almost peanuts, as opposed to 10 year old power amps for example that hold at least half of their retail price.

If I had a lot of money, I would not care really, and I’d just get a 272 now and then get the 372 when it comes out and then 3 years later, a 472 but that’s not the case. I need to think long and hard about each component and its longevity in my system. Hence my dilemma…

If you have the Sonos already and like the interface, why not just run the digital coax out to the ND5 XS DAC or am I missing something?

Hi Kevin… No, you’ve not missed anything and that is what I am using now (using the Nait XS as a pre amp) and yes, it works fine and yes, I have the interface I love (Sonos) - The reason for the move is two-fold a) I am underutilising the rig. I am only using the pre section of a great integrated amp (with Phono to XLR adaptors) and I am using a £2000+ streamer just as a DAC and b) I would like those 2 components (the Nait XS integrated and the ND5 XS) to be a second system elsewhere . , that’s all. It’s a first world problem for sure.

Is your budget including sales ? If not it doesn’t make any sense to keep your very well balanced 2nd system to support your new one which will be restricted by source . You would add at least £2k I’d imagine by sales which would change the whole landscape and you wouldn’t miss the 2nd one trust me . I had the ND5 , Nait XS and Motive 2 for a few years which was lovely .

So if you had £3k ish your options are better and if you want to rule out Naim and Chord then the Auralic range is where I’d look . As Peakman mentioned an Altair or Vega G1 would be perfect. I tried the Vega G2 recently on my Active 40’s and it was just superb .

I think you’re getting a bit too worried about obsolescence. Streaming has really advanced and matured . All Dac/Pre’s can have an external streamer added in time . There’s some great affordable streamers from the likes of Project, Stack Audio , Auralic etc . The Naim 272 is still a fantastic DAC/Pre btw . The boss of Auralic was asked why they added a steamer in their top DAC for obsolescence reasons and he said it would make no difference in hardware costs so why not ?

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I’m in a very similar position to you. I have the ATC SCM40A (actives) plus a 272, however…

You don’t have to use the streaming features of the 272. I use a Raspberry Pi + Allo Digi One board as a streamer (running Roon), connected into the DAC of the 272 (the BNC port). The RPI is ugly and with the Digi One needs 2 power supplies, but you may be able to hide it out of sight.

I also feed in a signal from my turntable (via phono stage) and digital signal from TV into the 272.


I used to have an ND5XS. I found it improved hugely using a Chord Hugo DAC. I then changed to using a Mac Mini running Audirvana as source (with a Gustard U12 isolator-converter between MM and Hugo because latter was seriously impacted by the RF from the MM). Now I still use MM + Audirvana with Chord Dave DAC - and I don’t expect ever to have to change the DAC. Whether I might change the MM/Audirvana i have no idea - it is not perfect with my poor-metadata collection, so I will if I find something better that sounds as good. I only stream from my own store (in Mac Mini), but otherwise in terms of keeping up to date with online streaming services, that is the renderer (Audirvana) not the DAC.

Hi Pete - Than you for taking the time for your response.

Re. selling the currently and nicely balanced system and using the proceeds of the sale to finance the next system … Early ND5 XS sell on ebay for around £650 (minus 15% of ebay and PayPal commissions of course!) and Nait XS (First gen.) sell for about the same? So just about £1000 selling both? That is what made me think it would be better to keep them, my ‘value in use’ is much higher than what the market is willing to pay.

Now The Auralic… it is an Amazing product and it’s something I’ve considered - however, it’d be no different than the ND5 XS and any other streamer for that matter in 3-5 years.

I do believe that spending £2-3K for something that, in 3-5 years, will be superseded by better stuff and/or have it’s support taken away (a-la-Sonos) is something that I struggle with… The case in point is my ND5 XS, I saved for about 2 years to get it, just like I did for my Nait XS; they were big purchases for me (maybe Im in the wrong hobby?) Now, the Nait XS is still an amazing amp that does everything I ever wanted it to do, and still does, and always will… I cannot say the same about the ND5 XS - It’s still a good product, but its showing its age. I just dont want to be on the same boat again.

Some part of me agrees with you, streaming has really advanced and matured, and yes, I might be getting too worried about obsolescence, but I need to feel that if I decide to spend 2, 3, 5K on something, it has to perform the same in 10-15 years, and we can only say that about loudspeakers, power and pre amps…

To conclude, it’s the nature of the world we live in, if there are lines of code in it, it will live a short life, and as a result I’ve decided I will not pay for premium high end stuff that comes with an expiry date, and every streamer on the planet falls on that category (until someone decides to have a modular approach, but that goes against the bottom line I guess)

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This is more or less what I am after… Keep the hardware in place, and, like you, be able to say “… I don’t expect ever to have to change the DAC.” I am happy to renew/upgrade a MacMini and/or pay a subscription for stuff like Roon.

I think I am inching closing to the conclusion that my set up will be similar to yours… A great DAC + the Actives ATC…and feeding it, either a MacMini running Audirvana or A Roon server or something along those lines… that, I don’t mind updating, but with the heavy investment on the stuff that will stand the test of time

Thank you for your help!

Paddington, the mac mini should suit you well. I bought mine new in 2012 and its still going strong streaming from the latest version of Audirvana. I use it with a small USB DAC.

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Mytek Brooklyn Bridge - network DAC, Roon endpoint, balanced outputs. Well worth a look.