I have not listened to many different DACs. For your price range I think an AA or Soundstream would a good choice. I've had the Soundstream for a couple of years, their are a couple for auction right now. I believe both would work with your DVD, I use mine with my Sony DVD, if you have a choice use a coax digital cable rather than the optical (from the DVD to DAC) for $150 or less, you can't go wrong
DVD players used for the current (and future?) 16/44 standard CDs are not what some of the "chat" leads people to believe. If you don't watch DVDs much, consider just getting a better CD player. DVD audio and SACD are stuck right now...and there is not enough software to be concerned about it yet. I do believe the upsampling DACs do an excellent job. But if you try a Bel Canto or other with a DVD transport...and an excellent CD transport..you will, most likely, prefer the CD transport. Most DVD are using a seperate laser for the CD reading..and if they have two and a bunch of chips...plus a drive...how do people come up with a 200 or 300 dollar DVD player being of audiophile quality?...wishfull thinking.
I have the pioneer 525 and your right it sucks. It was to timid and lifeless sounding (before being broken in though it was really really bright). Now I have a resolution audio quantum DAC ($3200 new) that sounds absolutely amazing with the pioneer as a transport but before that I had an Audio alchemy dac-in-the-box. I picked the AA up for $50 and it made a huge difference. But I did have a $325 digital wire. You don't have to spend that much on a wire but at least find one with a solid core and you'll be in good shape. You'll be real happy with a transport and DAC combo so I say difinitly go for it. You won't be sorry.
This is more a response to Whatjd above. My equipment is certainly not "high end" but it is decent enough to be pretty musical and reveal just about any change in equipment within the chain. I was literally shocked when my el-cheapo RCA 5223P DVD player easily outperformed my Arcam Alpha 8SE CD player (I owned the RCA for 8 months before even seriously comparing it because I figured the Arcam would be a lot better). My full review of the RCA (which is now a discontinued model unfortunately) is listed in the review section at Audio Asylum and I have been living quite happily with the RCA for about 2 months now, getting performance out of it that is probably somewhere between Arcam 8SE and Arcam 9 quality. Maybe it's just system "synergy"; I don't really know. The RCA is certainly not perfect-the tray is pretty flimsy and the player is somewhat noisy while playing (noticeable during some quiet passages-the rest of the build quality is quite good though and the player is much heaver and solid than the Toshibas for example and on a par with my Arcam), but I can live with all that after selling the Arcam for about twice what I paid for the RCA. Unfortunately, you can't really audition a lot of the cheaper DVD players before you buy, so it may be a matter of luck (?), but this has been an interesting experience, to say the least, for me.
A few years ago I got the urge to add a dac to my second system which resides in my home office. Due to space constraints, I intially only considered Audio Alchemy products. I tried the Dac in the box but thought it sounded like your description of the Pioneer. I then tried it with an Audio Alchemy DTI, which made it more listenable, but not what I wanted. I then tried the AA XDP, which sounded much better. Unfortunately, the XDP requires a DTI and an I2S cable, but they all available cheap on the used market. The XDP does emit some RFI, so be careful. I then auditioned the AA 3.0 when it came out, but my dealer then offered to sell me his Micromega Duo BS2 display model, which was much better than the AA 3.0. Micromega's should also be available used at a reasonable price. I believe you can set the Pioneer to transmit either 96k or 48K or less signals, so you should not have any problems interfacing it. Good luck.
The Krell designed Soundstream is auctioned on this site a lot. A used Cambridge Audio DacMagic is another good choice.
I have a Soundstream DAC1 I would sell for $100. The thing works great, I have used twice (bought to try out, but kept as spare to my existing system, but I never use it). It does work with my Sony DVD Player with optical or coax. I am selling because I am upgrading my good system to Audio Research DAC3MKII & CD2. See Audiogon Ad: http://audiogo5.iserver.net/cgi-bin/cl.pl?dgtlconv&973390323&item&class&4&zzJ_k&zzzasr4XlJpbNgs It is in perfect condition with OBM.
Thank you for the advise guys!!!
If you talk to some of the people that make DACs..the reason the don't recommend DVD players is jitter. It is true that any DVD player will sound improved with an outboard DAC..so will any cheap cd player! Try any DAC with a great DVD player...and a great CD transport, and you will hear why high-end audio companies make cd transports...and use them at shows...Why would high-end speaker companies/wire companies and others at the high-end audio shows be using CD transports or players and not DVD players to show off the best of their product? I don't want to use the man's name.. ..because he will get too much e-mail(he owns a company that makes upsampling DACs and other products)..that he doesn't need.....but as he put it in a talk with me..."if you want to listen to music, rather than watch movies...use a cd transport for the 16/44 format (with their upsampling DAC) it will give you better sound. The trouble with DVD players is jitter..I suppose a modified Sony 7700 would be the best compromise if you had to do both in one unit".
I own a Bel Canto DAC1 and, although I've yet to try one, they recommend DVD players with Toslink outputs (specifically the Pioneer DVD players) for best soud with their product. To the best of my recollection, EVS and MSB also recommend DVD players. Read more on Bel Canto's site: http://www.belcantodesign.com/dirpurchase.html
I believe all audio manufacturers are in a strugle to survive (with the notable exception of Magnepan) and to do so have had to appear to be into home theater...so enters the growing possibility of customers with DVD players...and no CD player... I have had DACs from Bel Canto, MSB and Classe. I have used/tried the first two with both DVD players (Pioneer and Sony) and all three with CD players or transports from Wadia, Sony, Classe and Pioneer (stable platter type) and on 16/44 standard CD's the sound is poorer using a DVD as a transport. The Bel Canto also sounds better using the coax in if you are using a Cd player to feed it. The Toslink is the only way to go with a DVD...because the poor sound out of a DVD player is made more noticable with a coax cable. Plus part of this marketing is the 50 dollar Toslink cables compared to 200 to 400 dollars for a high-end coax cable. It is easier to sell 1200 dollar DACs if your customer feels they will get great sound with a 250 dollar DVD player and a 50 dollar cable.....than if you tell them to buy a great CD transport and high-end coax cable..that will total more than the DAC. The Toslink/DVD player thing is about sales.. and the home theater inroads into the former audio market.
whatjd, I'm really glad to hear your opinion on this because I was just about to try a DVD player to feed my DAC. I probably will do a side by side comparison with my CD player (operating as a transport) but I've been reluctant to plunk down the $ for such a cheap looking, insubstancial piece of gear. I'm hoping that someone may eventually come out with a dedicated CD/DVD/DVD-A transport that will meet audiophile standards, but I haven't seen any yet.
Pertetual Technologies is going to offer a universtal transport. Sounds like it will be in the $1500 range. Kind of pricy for me. I just ordered all of their current stuff (DAC and Anti-jitter thingy) and was going to use them on my Pioneer DVD player. The only reason companies are recommending the DVD players as transports is because of the ability to read 24/96 format stuff. If you have a current CD collection I would just get a CD player for transport. I plan to some time in the near future and sell my DVD player.