Confused: How Do I Connect a DAC to My AVR?

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Q I own a Marantz SR6013 A/V receiver and use it for both video switching and audio amplification. For video, I mostly watch Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. For music, I mostly stream from the Tidal service using the Marantz receiver’s built-in HEOS app, which is relatively easy to use. (I should add that the HEOS menu structure is not the most intuitive, but it works.) Here’s my situation: I would like to buy an external digital-to-analog converter that supports MQA but am confused about the connections and the control app. After checking out my Marantz AVR’s back panel, I see two coaxial and optical digital inputs, but no digital outputs to connect the DAC, so maybe using an external DAC with the AVR is not possible. Am I missing something? I’ve also heard that many AVRs convert incoming analog audio to digital for EQ and volume control, which negates the benefits of an external DAC. Is this true? —Rod McClaskey, via email

A Using an external DAC with your Marantz receiver is not only a possibility, but a necessity if you’re intent on getting high-res from Tidal. As you probably already know, audio resolution when using the Tidal app on the HEOS streaming platform (the one used by Marantz and Denon AVRs) maxes out at 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD quality).

External DACs that support MQA (Master Quality Authenticated, the technology used by Tidal to convey high-resolution audio on albums and tracks tagged with a “Master” label), in contrast, enable a complete “unfold” of high-res tracks with up 24-bit/192kHz resolution. Similar to the scenario detailed in the above question, you’ll need to use an Android device along with a portable external DAC, or a computer running the Tidal desktop app. In the latter case, I’d recommend using a relatively inexpensive MQA-compatible standalone DAC like the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M ($499) to handle digital-to-analog conversion.

Connect the computer to the DAC via a USB type-A-to-USB type-B cable, and the DAC to the Marantz AVR using via its unbalanced stereo RCA outputs. The DacMagic 200M also has coaxial and optical digital inputs, which will give you the extra option of playing MQA-encoded CDs from a connected disc player in addition to streaming.

As for your Marantz converting analog audio to digital, that’s a necessary step to enable Audyssey room correction, EQ adjustment, tone controls, and surround sound processing. According to the company, selecting its Pure Direct mode will bypass analog-to-digital conversion of incoming audio signals, along with switching off analog video and front panel display lights, features that could potentially introduce noise.

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