Berkeley DAC Series 1, anything better 2.5K$

Hey guys,

I am about to plunge for a used Berkeley DAC Alpha Series 1 that will set me back by $2200.

I have heard it in comparison with Benchmark and there is no comparison. I did A/B test it with the Series 2, but did not think the difference was worth paying 3000$ extra.

However before taking the plunge I was wondering if there are any other DACs < 2.5K that might beat the Series 1 (its pretty old).

There are so many DACs and so little time so thought someone hear might be able to help. Am I making a big mistake overlooking the new kids on the block (QuteHD or Yamamoto) that might outperform the venerable Berkeley Alpha Series 1.

Looking forward to hearing your opinions.
I have the Mytek Stereo 192 DSD Dac. $1595. This is the best dac I have ever heard but I have not heard the Berkely. It has both analog and digital volume control so you can go straight into a power amp or bypass the volumn controls and go into a preamp
Been considering one myself. The only comment I can make is that you might want to read Jerry Siegel's review of the Prism Audio Orpheus and subsequent review of the Berkeley which he compares to the Prism. The webzine is 10 Audio.
I've heard nothing but very good things about those DAC's. I really want to hear one myself. You may want to try I know quite a few people on that site have them. I would sooner trust audiogon posters, though.
I've never heard the Berkeley DAC. Recently I purchased a NOS Esoteric D-7 here for $2500.00. It was a huge leap of faith for me, strictly based on reputation and experience with the companies product. I have owned a Esoteric DV-50 multiple format digital disc player for many years. Right out of the box, before proper break-in, I was stunned at just how much it improved my digital playback. It replaced a Musical Fidelity 21 DAC. It may be something to consider.

Good Luck!
At $2500 for a used Berkly you are very close to the Auralic Vega which would cost an extra $1k. The Vega would dramatically outperform the Berkley.

In my shop the Vega has beaten almost every other Dac by a considerable margin, it has incredible resolution but it is much warmer and more analog like then the Berkley.
I have not hear the Berkeley Dac either but I recently bought a used Yamamoto Dac and I could not be more happy. The sound is great big and bold and colorful and alive. Great synergy with my all tube system. The one downside, which doesn't bother me, is there is just a single RCA input. But if you have a single digital source I highly recommend it.
I owned the Berkeley Series 1. The NAD M51 beats it hands down.
+1Jond's comments on the Yamamoto YDA-1 DAC. Exceptionally natural, involving and dynamic, it's a music lover's dream. Minimal feature set admittedly, the attention was squarely placed on the analog circuit and power supply. It provides premium music reproduction and is a little known Japanese gem.
Reference to Computer Audiophile site is a good start. They have favorably reviewed (raved) about the original Berkley DAC. Another unit that comes to mind in the same league and price range is the Wiess DAC2 or Minerva (same DAC different packaging)
There's a Bel Canto DAC3.5VB for sale here. A bit more expensive than the Berkeley you're looking at, but comes with its own "Virtual Battery" power supply that really takes things to another level. I had the 3.0 and 3.0VB in my system for a demo and the VB version was significantly better. I think there's a new review of it on Soundstage or Ultra Audio or something.

Sabai, where does the NAD improve over the Berkeley? Just curious what you found.
Thanks for your response guys.

I get the feeling maybe I should spend some time looking at other alternatives.

Sabai, your comment is very interesting, since I am about to receive a NAD M51 on a 60 day trial though I won't be able to directly compare it to Berkeley Series 1.

Charles1Dad, your post about Yamamoto from sometime back made me mention Yamamoto in my post, I do not know if there is any dealer near San Francisco for Yamamoto.

Mytek was also on my shortlist, I think they allow home trial.

Audioracle, how do I audition or home-audition an Auralic.
Any new dac I would buy would have to include DSD playback. There are a lot of small recording studios starting to produce some very nice recordings in DSD. I am thrilled with my Auralic Vega and a lot of audiophiles like the Mytec. The Computer Audiophile site is great for info.
Soix and Essrand,

I have owned a lot of DACs. Most are overrated -- and overpriced. Harley makes you think you died and went to heaven with the Berkeley series 1. Don't believe everything you read. Reading between the lines is very useful. But letting your ears be the judge is the most important thing, of course.

The NAD M51 is a sleeper -- very much under the radar, IMO. It easily beats a lot of higher priced DACs. It beats the Berkeley in sheer musicality. If you want to break it down into parameters then that includes detail/definition, tonality, transparency, dynamics, sound stage and imaging. But you do need to get your cabling right. The sound can vary greatly depending on the cables you use. One might ascribe certain attributes to a component that actually belong to the cables that are attached to that component.
If you can, check out the wavelength brick. It's special,
and a steal at the price.
The American distributor for Yamamoto is Ratoc they're in Santa Clara, CA. I've read very good things about the Auralic DAC and I know it has more features and flexibility. When it comes to pure sound quality the Yamamoto will compete with the very best.

Thanks!! I will give them buzz to find out if I can listen to the Yamamotos.

Pbrennan, I found an store in San Francisco that I did not know existed stocking Wavelength Audio, will check them out too.

Am excited that my M51 is arriving tomorrow.

I'd be interesting in reading your impressions of the NAD M51.

UPS says it going to land here today.

Am excited. Will do A/B test with Benchmark this weekend, and Berkeley Series 1 with my dealer on Monday.
Pbrennan. Heard the Wavelength at my dealer yesterday. What a coincidence that he decided to stock Wavelength only recently.

Heard the WV Cosecant ($4000), it was pretty extraordinary. Beat Rega, Triode and Benchmark very easily, but he did not have a Berkeley for me to compare against.

Did not have the time to hear the Brick.
Maybe another visit.

Man! this is getting harder. Too many DACs.
You tried a good Non Oversamplng DAC yet? I have found that is the best Digital path for me being a Tube lover and from Vinyl background.

I got fed up with searching the Delta Sigma clones and Oversampling architecture. I get real world Redbook audiophile performance with no fatigue at all, plus can listen to 96k resolution files as well.

The DAC I recommend you look at is the Audio Note DAC kit 3.1 SE. It is easy to build and sounds like heaven.
Essrand -- better make sure you break that NAD in properly (if it's not broken in already) before making any quick judgements. Not sure how much break-in it requires (maybe Sabai has some thoughts here), but don't rush to make any comparisons as much as you'll want to. Interested to hear your thoughts.
Essrand and Soix,

The NAD M51 sounds great right out of the box. I would say a couple of hundred hours should do it. The NAD benefits greatly from system changes -- power conditioning and cabling in particular. You really need to optimize it to appreciate what it is capable of -- which is a lot more than I ever anticipated. I am still astonished at what it does after owning DACs from $5,000 to $12,000.
Hi Sunandmusic,

Thanks for pointing me to the Audio Note DAC kit website, did not know an existence of something like this.

Today I went to the California Audio Show and saw a 500000$ Audio note system. Nice to know a DIY Audio Note exists for ordinary people like me.

Prob will not get the DAC, but when I get into 300B might check it out.

Thanks again.
This weekend has been busy, so have not got a chance to do an A/B with Benchmark DAC HDR, but the NAD sounds great straight out of the box, think its beats the Benchmark already.

Sabai, am curious what USB cable worked wonders for you.

Am also bit hesitant about spending 500$+ on a power conditioner just yet. Will a cheap MONSTER CABLE HTS1000 (<100$) do the job. Seems highly recommended by Marc Salvatore (
I just got the NAD M51 and it's awesome....After spending the last week with it all I can say it was money well spent. It was the final (for now anyway) piece in an almost complete system upgrade. I love the remote volume, polarity,and source selection that it offers, not to mention it's the best sounding source I've ever owned. 24 bit recordings sound incredible but all material sounds great through it. It pretty much had everything I was looking for, not cheap but worth every penny. Stereophile Class A+ $$$ recommended and was in the company of products five to ten times the price.

I don't do USB. I have a PS Audio transport. I spin discs. The old fashioned way.


I second your observations.
You won't beat the Berkeley with 2500 bucks. It can be beat, but not for that much money.
Based on the responses posted here some would disagree. It's hard to
know what someone else will prefer given we all hear differently and have
individual taste. A friend who I trust finds the Berkeley is some what clinical
and analytical, someone else would say that he's completely wrong. This is
just how subjective matters go.
I understand that. I just replaced my berkeley with the k03. Not sure if I will part with it, but if I do, I know no one can by a better dac for the two grand I may sell it for. Silly to think any 1500 dac can come close.
Not every DAC suggested is in the 1500.00 price range, and I wouldn't assume that a component is superior simply because of higher cost. Generally speaking you pay more to achieve better sound, however there are certainly exceptions to that in high end audio. Subjectivity being what it is, what may sound better for you may be deemed worse to another listener.
I'm a firm believer in "you get what you pay for". Granted, there are some sily deals out there but, for the most part, excellent sound will cost a few dollars more than mediocre sound. The key is the ability to tell the difference.

The NAD M51 easily beat the Berkeley series 1 in my system.
You can believe what you want, thats fine. My point is that in high audio end there's no direct correlation with higher cost results in better sound quality. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It's certainly conceivable the NAD M51 may sound better than the Berkley DAC to some listeners. What makes your ears better than Sabai's? We all realize this is all purely subjective and not absolute. There would be an expected difference of opinions between these two components. Afriend of mine heard the Berkley DAC and was unimpressed, that doesn't mean that another person would disagree and say it's fantastic, just how it goes.

Does your NAD M51 directly connect to the amplifier ?

I was directly connecting the NAD m51 to amp and it was pretty awesome.

But once I got a pre-amp (Triode TRX-1) I feel like the NAD suffers, I have not yet put that to a thorough test, but wanted to check if you bypassed the pre-amp.

Yes, the NAD goes directly to the amplifier. I use the NAD as a pre-amp. It is interesting that the NAD suffered in your system when you introduced a pre-amp. I was thinking of doing the same thing in the future but I may put this idea on hold. The NAD as a pre-amp performs flawlessly in my system.

Charles1dad and Essrand, IMO the Berkeley series 1 did not merit Robert Harley's hype. The NAD M51 outperforms it by a country mile in my system.
Thats all fine, guys but no one can dispute the Berkeley has had some of the best reviews (EVER for a DAC); the NAD, not as near. I love the way we embrace something we like and can afford and all of a sudden its the best darn thing out there.

Me, I like to listen.
With all due respect, Sabai clearly stated he "owned" the Berkley DAC (as well as AMR and EMM which are even more expensive!) so money obviously is`nt an issue for him. You seem hung up on the price of an audio component and its review status,them say "me, I like to listen". Well if your conclusions are based on listening as you claim,reviews and price should be irrelevamt for you.I haven`t heard eithe the NAD M51 or the Berkley(have you heard the NAD?). Sabai has"owned" both and made a decision,he prefers the NAD. Why is that difficult to except?
Unfortunately today advertising dollars spent with a publication directly correlates to glowing reviews (maybe not in every case, but many)! I've seen this with Berkeley, Meridian and countless other brands! I have little to no faith in what reviewers say about a given product! The only thing I trust when choosing a product is my ears in the context of my current system and the environment in which it's used! I purposely don't read reviews of products I'm interested in because I don't want what I may have read to influence my decision! I will typically read the review "after" I have auditioned the product! Sometimes I agree with the reviewer, sometimes not! I have had a few instances where I was at a complete loss to understand what a particular reviewer heard (translated....scream and run the other way...LOL)! TRUST YOUR EARS, NOT SOMEONE ELSE!
Cerrot and Charles1dad,

Since reviews are often tainted by factors that have nothing to do with sonic parameters I discount their importance. The only thing that matters to me is what I hear.
I have heard the NAD, it just didnt impress me. None of that magic midrange I get with the Berkeley; it didnt unravel the orchestra complexities like the berkeley (and the berkeley not like the K03) - that woodsy tone in the woodwinds was not there with the NAD... nor did it weed out the strings like I like; The Berkeley was much smoother, just awesome -in my system.
Two DACs,two different listeners with their individual systems=two opposing opinions. There`s nothing unusual about that,they may prefer different wines and automobiles as well. I love the many choices available in audio components,something for everyone.

What you are describing cannot be attributed to the NAD because, in my system, the magic midrange is there and the sound is smooth as silk. Cabling and other components may be explain the differences here. It's all a matter of synergy.
Sabai, if you are getting that from this DAC, that is just awesome. Enjoy it.

It is quite awesome -- and a great surprise. I was very dubious but the NAD M51 came highly recommended by friends and it has not disappointed. The key is the cabling and front end. It has taken time to optimize the NAD. It is capable of a lot more than you may realize.
Sounds awesome. Seems there are 2 firmwears used by that dac. a newer one and an older one (1.39/1.41?); the rig I heard had the newer one which, I now understand, does not sound as good as the older one. Definitely enjoy that rig Sabai.

I use a transport to spin CDs -- the old fashioned way.
I do as well. I had my server sounding pretty good but I have 400 hours or so on an esoteric K03 and cd does trump server with sacd quickly becoming my preferred, though did just order a faster modem since I figure the servers only use now is for hires downloads.

Enjoy listening.
it would be useful for those who connote that one dac is superior to another to state the reasons for their statements.

this is a problem for many threads, in which component comparisons are made.

most statements are anecdotal and unless a thorough explication of stated opinions, little use to potential purchasers of equipment.

it is impossible to know what is best at a price point, unless one has auditioned all components at that price point and conducted a valid comparison of the components.
what cable being used from M51 to amp.
Its been 20 days with the NAD M51.

Its awesome (only if you connect directly to the amp).

When I connected the NAD to my preamp (Triode TRX-1), I preferred (very slightly) the Triode DAC (TRV-DAC 1.0SE) that costs $2500, due to some tube mid-range sweetness.

It maybe that my pre-amp is still not completely burnt-in.
It could also be the cabling: since I have Stager silver from DAC to Pre-amp , but JIB acoustics copper from DAC to Amp. When comparing the two.