I believe the Bryston BDA-1 to be an excellent choice in the <$1000 price range used. Many inputs, balanced/unbalanced outs. For USB use a USB/SPDIF converter. Many BDA-1s and converters for sale on AG.
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Yes, the difference w/one of the discussed dacs will be big. If you have no LPs and lots of digital music, get the dac first.
As the one who originally suggested the Schiit Gungnir Multibit ($1249 direct from them) I can tell you that I've heard the new Gustard playing DSD (which is one thing the Schiit doesn't do -- not an issue for most since DSD music selection and viability is much to be debated!). It's pretty great for $849, but IMHO any money spent on that brand would lose 50% value immediately. They aren't a well established player and although two or dudes write about them frequently on What's Best Forum, the is a far cry from reputation of Schitt Audio and how there are more ads online for "Wanted" than "For Sale". Since we last talked, I bought the Gungnir and am glad I did.
I heard it in the same system as the Schiit, but on different day so I can't trust memory alone, but I think the Schiit is still best in it's price class and the Yggy is still the best value in digital overall. To potentially beat it, I'd be looking at a Bricasti at ~ triple the price, and that could be a close competition. Cheers,
I'm enjoying the sound of my Rega DAC-R a great deal from a variety of sources, even an early-gen Apple Airport Express at times. It's made digital compelling enough that I'm taking a very long time choosing a TT.
I didn't listen to as many DACs as I should've before I bought it, so I can't comment much on differences with competitors. It's very well reviewed and within the budget mentioned.
There's a Bel Canto DAC3.5VB MkII with Virtual Battery Supply for sale here a little over your price. I had a DAC3VB in my system on demo and it was silly good. The VBS brings the DAC to an altogether higher level that makes it truly special (I had the standard DAC3 in my system at the time for direct comparison). Read reviews of the 3.5VB in Stereophile and Ultra Audio. Holds its own against some of the best DACs available. Best of luck.
Another great choice to consider would be Chord Electronics' Qute EX, or the newer 2Qute. You can get the EX on the pre-owned market (when they show up, grab it quick!) for about $900. I've heard many, and this one's got something special going on. Eastern Electric's DSD DAC Supreme w/ a Sparko Labs Op-Amp upgrade ($1590 complete @ list prices) is also quite good. Good luck!
I have found this to be a very interesting DAC. Well under $1500. Haven't noticed any warts or problems. Very clean, detailed, spacious soundstage and stable imaging. It preforms like a really good DAC should. I really like that particular chipset and DAC processor.
I'll take the other side of this coin. Eddy, I would tell you that the idea that you will hear a "big" difference between these dacs, even from $500 to $1500, is highly debatable. You are welcome to go with what everyone is saying, but you should be prepared for the possibility that you don't hear much of a difference, or the difference is so small you'll wish you'd spent the money on something else. Maybe there are huge differences between dacs that cost $300 and $10,000, I don't know because I've never heard a $10K dac. But $1000 vs $1500? Good luck with that. I like Coli's suggestion of the Emotiva DC-1, or you could go with a Peachtree Dac-itx for $300 (I have one), the Schiit Bifrost is a nice unit and you can get the multi-bit version for under $600. Tons of great choices well under $1000, even under $600.