The Bricasti gear I heard at AXPONA sounded just wonderful. I spent quite a bit of time in their room at the 2019 show. I think they were using their less expensive DAC. If I were buying, I'd get the streaming card installed. Plus, they are in Connecticut and offer excellent service, so the likelihood of its being repairable or upgradeable over the years is higher.
A friend with good ears likes the exaSound stuff, but I've not heard it.
You might like the Gold Note DS-10 with its accompanying power supply the PSU-10 EVO. It’s a DAC/streamer/Roon Ready/headphone amp/preamp. Here’s the summary from the recent review in Stereophile magazine:
My reference system hasn’t hosted many DACs in the Gold Note DS-10’s price range. I was delighted with what I heard. This little baby sounded so good—so musical—with its optional, identically dimensioned PSU-10 EVO power supply that I’d urge anyone who can shell out $4300 to try them together. I’m not going to tell you that you should consider what you can’t afford, but do keep in mind that we read Stereophile because we care about the music. Music makes a difference in our lives; it helps make us whole. Sitting on a single shelf, powered by a single power cable, Gold Note’s DS-10/PSU-10 EVO has the potential to fulfill and heal in ways that extend far beyond words. It’s a stellar achievement from engineers who understand what musical deliverance is all about.
Not sure what your bias is against the vendors on your "do not get" list but I would choose 1 of those over any of the 1's you are interested in. If you do want to go with only the 1's on your list, then the Bricasti would be my pic. Sounds like you want to use USB, if so, you're compromised at the start
Why spend that much? Get a Soekris for $899. Quite advanced circuit design!
Well since I am starting from a Mytek Brooklyn, I’m only really interested in getting significantly better. I’ve not heard a Soekris, but I have heard the DACs I listed (except perhaps the Manhattan)
I really liked the Berkeley Alpha I heard at Magico. Liquid but cool. Hard to tell if I was hearing the DAC or ths spepakers or CAT gear. It's limited inputs ( no USB, no network) make it a tough sell for me over the Bricasti, but I haven't heard the Bricasti in like, forever.
I have the Bricasti M3 with the network card. Excellent DAC. It works well with ROON. For a while there was some concern about ROON and certification - ROON has been slow updating certifications. All fixed now.
I bought the Bricasti as there is an upgrade path - there is already 1 MDX card upgrade and Bricasti has made upgrades to the longer running M1 DAC to stay competitive with the latest technology.
I emailed Bricasti about the delay to certification and Brian (CEO) followed up with me personally. Good customer service. Easy to recommend this company.
@erik_squires, I purchased the Bricasti M21 DAC and it is truly excellent. I use the laddered DAC option and use an AES/EBU cable from my Aurender N20 Music Server to the DAC. I am very satisfied with the sound quality of this system and so are my friends that have heard it. I also installed the Bricasti MDx digital in the M21 DAC and the sound quality improved. The MDx board is an outstanding upgrade and is highly recommended. The Bricasti M21 DAC is highly recommended. AND PLEASE KEEP READING.
After several phone calls with my retailer, and Bricasti, I ALSO PURCHASED the Bricati M3 DAC in January 2020. It took some time for the M3 to break in BUT it was light years BETTER THAN my previous Ayre Codex DAC. Please NOTE this is a 2-channel home theatre and my LG OLED TV connects to the M3 DAC and then balanced cables to my SimAudio integrated amp. I like this system very much and highly recommend you consider the Bricasti M3 DAC. The addition of the Bricasti M3 DAC “substantially improved” the sound quality of this system.
As was noted above, Bricasti Customer Support is excellent. I have both talked to them on the phone and also using email. Bricasti DACs are highly recommended.
if you have budget is around $5,000 and you are looking for a very good sounding DAC, I strongly recommend the Bricasti M3 DAC. The M3 “offers an incredible array of performance in a more affordable price class. It includes two fully differential conversion channels, separate conversion for PCM and native DSD, and a balanced analog level control circuit, making the M3 suitable for all applications”.
I also looked at the MSB Discrete DAC but everything thing was an extra cost option (USB, AES/EBU, power supply, etc.,). The dCS Bartok was also interesting but, based on my research, I kept coming back to Bricasti. The Chord DAVE was on my list, but I decided to pass (my Chord retailer was very pushy and not helpful). I hope this helps.
Are you looking for a device that is "Roon Ready" and has a built in renderer/player or are you looking for a device that is compatible with a Roon Server/Renderer like the Nucleus or a Nuc connected via USB? The list of DACs with a bridge to handle Roon directly is not that long. You probably would be better looking at a streamer/player with a built in DAC like Naim, Lumin, Aurender, Auralic, etc...
If you are looking just for a USB DAC that will interface with a Roon server/player, I would check out the Rockna Wavelight. A hair below your budget, but is a really awesome R2R DAC with an FPGA interface.
The new Gustard X26 Pro is a phenomenal performer. I think it is very low cost at $1500 (on sale for $1300) I have it and it replaced my Benchmark DAC3B in the office system. I moved the DAC3B to the living room. I stream into the Gustard with a Sonore OpticalRendu since the Gustard does not do native streaming.
RJ45 streaming and non-fibre optical streaming is second tier for me. I spent some time doing tests with 3 different streaming options, RJ45, microRendu, and fibre. It was so easy to hear the improvement with fibre optical. So that adds another $1200-$1500 for ROON READY fibre streaming.
I was thinking of getting the AudioByte stack (son of Rockna) but I think I like to save my money with the Gustard.
I saw a Bricast M1 SE $4995 Including shipping Price Reduced that was sold. When you are ready, please search Bricasti M1SE for sale and see what appears.
Also please contact some Bricasti retailers to determine if they have any acceptable trade-ins. You never know. If interested, also search on Bricasti M3.
I'm a former QX5/20 owner and probably about to go back. I have auditioned a fair amount of under 18k DAC's. For my money the line of demarcation (when price vs return gets too small) for DAC's is under 9k.
DAC's like anything else are very system dependent. Every time I've made even small changes to the electrical (new cords, conditioner upgrade and moving the dedicated outlets in the room so I could utilize them) it made a huge difference. Most know this about digital, but it's rarely spoken about on the board's, so I thought I'd bring that up.
I have come down to two options. Auralic and Ayre. Auralic is great, because you can make upgrades with add on components if you wish at a later date. I love the pairing of Ayre with Vandersteen's, so I know it plays well in my system. I would give both these companies a look as they also support their gear and will often give upgrade paths in mid product life to extend the product.
I'm sure you will be happy with any purchase you make. Good luck.
ps, are you in CT?