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How does it compare to the Fiio Q1 or the HiFimeDIY Sabre ES9023? Is it worth the premium (and wait time) for casual listening with desktop powered speakers (Mackie CR3)?
Most likely much better than the Fiio Q1 with the 5102 dac and the ES9023 which are mid tier $50-200 designs. The AKM 4490 Dac chip (AKM Verita Flagship DAC)is a much higher tier in current designs ( Geek out V2 schiit bifrost, grace 90x $3-600) of DAC giving competition to Schiit's own Multibit Bifrost. CEntrance seem to be skilled in having no jitter in their designs. It also has +12db gain if needed by way of switch to drive pro audio. The volume control is digital and likely uses the AKM4490 internal volume. So balance remains perfect at all levels. Only issue is with a few with windows 10 (all manufactures usb audio drivers having issues currently) and the power drain for portable devices. (Achilles heel but a compromise for class A output)
Only downside is It will make you want to upgrade your Mackie CR3's to appreciate it. Sorta like putting a Ferrari engine with F-150.
Buy a Ferrari for F-150 money! (I got the HD version)
That's the thing, I don't want to upgrade the CR3s, just got them and like them. Right now they are fed via headphones out from the computer monitor (monitor is connected via Thunderbolt to a Macbook Pro), but I have no idea what sort of DAC the monitor has (probably the cheapest they could source). Though the Mackies sound very good, just a bit lacking in bass but what can you expect from that size and I'm not looking for "shake my chair" bass anyway. I may not see any perceptible improvement from any DAC upgrade anyway so don't want to spend a lot on one or wait for a long time to find out that I "wasted" over $100 on the CE. The CE would be more expensive than the speakers, not sure that's a good way to do things.
Almost all Dacs will be noticeably better than the monitor Dac. Actually getting the DACPORT slim will be sound investment as it is a Dac and headphone amp too. You might decide to get a premium headphone set someday and the Dacport will serve you excellently extracting everything possible and driving any design of headphone.
This is entry level price for upper tier quality. Best buy under $300. Unless there is some serious defect that comes about from the design, you will likely be able to resell it for the same as you paid for it years from now if you want to upgrade - sidegrade.
The CR3's can only produce what is put in to them. Buy speakers first and you did so why not feed them the best possible audio? The expertise in audio design with Dacs is amplified greatly by other audio gear. Dac enthusiasts exist for a reason.
Enjoy your CR3's. They are well reviewed and liked. An active speaker is a great start and space saving. Speakers are personal choice granted some are better than others. So let your ears dictate what works best for you.