Dac/Amp for passive speakers under $500?

I have spent some time searching for a quality passive speaker dac/amp/combo, but I couldn’t find good results, although I know Zeos reviewed some, which I can’t remember…

There are a lot of sub $500 endgame combos for headphones, like my JDS Element 2, but I don’t see lots of passive speaker combos in that price range.

I used to have SMSL AD18, but I would like to find a better option to power expensive passive tower speakers for under $500. Or even between $500-$1000, if they are of exceptional quality.

What speakers, room size and listening level, sound preferences?
It’s important for us to understand how much power you actually need.
At $500 you’ll be looking at an entry level DAC (take your pick at $100 or so).
The amp depends a lot on what you are trying to drive.

Yeah, sorry. I will power SVS Ultra towers. Room size is middle, warmer sound, mostly low-to-normal listening level.

Oh, and the sub $500 is for the amp/dac, not for the speakers. I am willing to buy an amp/dac/combo that costs $500 at most, but we will see if you guys recommend something slightly more expensive.

I’m going to be following this discussion because I have similar questions right now. I’m planning on upgrading my speakers in my living room (I think it’s around 18ft x 15ft). They would be pulling double duty for music listening as well as serving the TV for movies and everyday tasks. Ease of use is high priority because the rest of my family will have to interact with it on a daily basis. Wondering if I should get some sort of separate stack, or if I should just stick with an AVR for everything. The speakers I’m looking at right now are the RP-600M. Hope @PavelCoelho doesn’t mind me hopping into the fray here. :slight_smile:


I have one of these on order to drive some speakers in my office, Vista Audio - one step ahead , they ship directly from Serbia so they aren’t quick to get, YMMV.
A couple of you tube reviewers I liked raved about them, but they might be on the bottom end of usable power for the SVS floor standers.
I also looked at the denon pma-600ne when I was considering RP-600M’s for my living room to replace a sound bar, went a different way in the end.
There is also the PSAudio Sprout, but it’s starting to get out of your price range.


at the 500$ mark, integrated amps are your best bet.

iota sa3(499$) 50wpc
vista spark(349$) 20wpc
zen dac(130$)+ parasound zamp v3(350$) 50wpc

edit: there are more integrated amp, but most of them have more linear, clean sounds. cambridge audio has an offering around the price range as well, but its technically inferior to the rest mentioned. but is a fun integrated.

This is an interesting option. Might have to keep an eye on it. So if I run optical audio out from the TV would I be able to control volume with the TV remote or would I need to use the remote that comes with whatever unit I buy? The nice thing about AVRs is I can use HDMI Arc and never have to think about it.

Me too movement :raised_hand:. I want to have a 2ch setup desguised as a tv room. Like what zeos got in his day room but with room treatment and floorstanders. Should i keep the speaker wires to a min and all the gear in between the towers? Would there be anything to gain buying an intagrated and running an external DAC through the amps CD input?

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Honestly I couldn’t tell you, I ended up going a different way, I use optical out from the TV, but the TV in my living room, is a last generation Panasonic Plasma, so it’s not exactly state of the art.
I also use a harmony remote, so…

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do not buy an integrated if you are buying a dac. thats wasting $$ on 2 dacs.

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the denon(or whatever else) would control the volume. optical sends the signal to the integrated and bypasses the tv.

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I will, at some point in the far future, get myself a Dolby Atmos integrated receiver, but until then, I would like to find the best options for a dedicated power amp/dac combo for stereo passive speakers for this price (or slightly higher). I believe I can get a great quality combo for this price, but I might be wrong - such combos might be much more expensive, because it’s for speakers? I hope for a great step up from the SMSL AD18 that matches similar quality of $500 headphone amps/dacs.

P.S. Of course, recommendations for receivers are welcome as well :slight_smile:


Youre right, think i will go separates.

this is what i use on my tv with kef q150’s. i enjoy it very much and i rarely watch tv, mostly use it for listening to music with the q150’s.

edit: you can also get it on sale for 150$. real world note: if your going for concert levels, the amp on this thing will fall short.


you can also use the pre out on the smsl into a power amp and use the dac you are used to and like.

One thing concerns me, which Zeos said - receivers have shitty dacs and amps inside, at least compared to dedicated dacs/amps that are probably cheaper (sacrificing the receiver features). That’s why I am looking for such, but I will still get a 7.1 receiver for movies, just in the future. For now, I need great sound quality dac/amp for music only. Correct me if I’m wrong though.

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On the movie side the word is using the preouts to run separate amps is the why to go for a lower cost alternative to a prepro.

saw on the youtubes for integrated if you care about hi-res music above 192/24 adding external DAC using denon PMA-800NE analog mode shuts off the digital section to run it as a straight power amp. Yamahas A-S line integrated version is CD amp direct mode (only on the A-S701). you get a detachable power cord with the 701. There is also a “CD pure direct” on all models in the yamaha line. By doing this might cut off output signal to subs (think it does) on both brands rca out. That can be solved by choosing a sub with hi-level in. FQ response on the yamaha CD pure direct is 10hz-100khz. Sorry all this is over budget. goes back to a $100 dac and $400 parasound amp which does have 40hz hipass filter.

I was thinking more about SMSL DA-9, or hooking up an SMSL VMV A1 to my Element 2 to extend it for passive speakers (although I don’t need another headphone out, and Bluetooth is very welcome). This is relatively in my price range and it looks it will give me exceptional sound quality. But not sure they will be enough to power most passive speakers/towers.
Now these are relatively new and I don’t know much other devices, that’s why I am asking about it.

I have the S8 stack (SU-8 DAC, DA-8S amp) and I love it. I got both for around $470.00 US. From what I can gather the S-9 stack is a step up from the S-8 stack, especially on the DAC side. That is, if you care about MQA, which I don’t. The S-9 stack is running about $750.00 US. The DA-9 amp uses the same great Infineon amplifier and Japanese volume circuitry that the S-8 uses, so it should sound great. For the price it’s hard to beat. Like I said, I have been very happy with my S-8 duo. Hope that helps.

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