Is hi-res important to you? What is your budget? With your system, you could certainly go super high-end. Stahl-Tek (one for sale here) often exhibits with Peak Consult and the results are stunning. Check out Albert Porters thread where he swears by the Stahl-Tek as the closest digital to master tapes he has heard. I have heard it myself (Vekian version, below the newer Opus version).
Again, lets start with budget, hi-res and whether you are looking for computer inputs or inputs from transport.
First of all, Thank you very much for your interest. Yes, it very important to be hi-res. Price is important but I want to have a serious DAC SO balanced. I can pay but no for overprice. I will check them.
Ayre QB-9 DSD if in the budget. Amazing with DSD upgrade.
Berkeley Alpha DAC 2 w/ USB smokes nearly anything made, holds it own against 100,000 dollars analog set up. A very good pre amp is needed however for this to happen.
You are going to get some good suggestions here, but I would urge caution
when considering high priced DACs. "High priced" is clearly a
relative term, but I think anytime you are going to spend as much as you
might on a car, caution is in order.
My ears and experience indicate that spending more than $5k on a DAC
in 2014 is a risky proposition if you want to maximize bang for the buck.
Consider this: John Atkinson of Stereophile recently wrote that he was
"hard pressed" to hear much difference between hi-res files on
the latest $3500 Marantz streaming DAC and the $43,000 MSB flagship
DAC. He wrote that it was "uncomfortably close."
He is not the first respected reviewer to acknowledge the hair splitting
differences between DACs once you reach the $4k summit. I do not mean
to suggest here that there are *no* differences, just that the differences get
smaller and smaller the higher up you go and are often no more than a
matter of personal taste and system synergy. There is also the pace of
change to consider. I predict that there will be DACs unveiled in the
coming months that will embarrass some very high priced competitors: it's
the nature of computer advancement.
If anyone here writes that one respected DAC "literally blows
away" some other well-reviewed DAC, take that view with a very, very
large grain of sea salt.
People will have very justifiable preferences and you may find a DAC that
satisfies those tastes, but you really need to share what sort of
"sound" you like in a system. For example, some DACs are
highly revealing, while some are quite romantic in their presentation of
music. Other designers strive for neutrality. What do you prefer?
Look at Bryston components.
Their DAC 2 is supposed to be amazing and it's not crazy money.
They also have a digital media player (for computer hook up) and a drive for playing CDs, SACDs, etc.
There are huge differences in dacs, I have a number of great dacs on display and I would say that comment is ludicrous, I have not heard the $43,000 MSB but if the Marantz is that close then perhaps the MSB is not that good?
I have many high quality dacs on display from $400 to $22,000 and every step up makes a huge difference.
Now I would say there are dacs's which sound amazing and come very close to more expensive dacs, the Auralic Vega at $3,500.00 does offer much of the sound quality of the $7,000.00Meitner MA 1 which is still better, the $15k EMM Labs Dac 2X is way better than the $7k Meitner MA 1, now if you are comparing the EMM Labs Dac 2X vs the $22k Esoteric D02 then if comes down to personal taste.
So in summation, there are very good affordable dacs the Auralic Vega, and there are amazing expensive dacs, The EMM Labs Dac 2X is you hear them in the same system the EMM Labs Dac is in a totally different league.
I agree with Vhiner that many people will not wish to pay the premium for the upper end DACs. At the same time, I admit that I promised myself years ago to go with the best digital I could afford...and NOT go for vinyl or master tapes and split my resources. In the end, I went with Zanden 4-box (second hand)...after having tweaked it considerably...have never looked back. It has been 6 years, and against many of today's leading digital, I have felt no desire to switch...and some of that digital has come to the house for shoot-outs.
nevertheless, since you wish for hi-res, here is my personal list of digital I have heard which may interest you.
COST NO OBJECT
- Metronome Kalista Ref/C2A...personally, I am [a lot] more impressed with the Transport than the D/A...so if u only want a DAC...I would look elsewhere
- DCS Vivaldi DAC...delivers it all, organics, incredible detail, detail, and more detail, dynamics (macro and microdynamic shadings)
- Audio Aero La Source DAC - not well known, this is their extremely pricey flagship...but delivers a surprisingly organic sound that was more like a Zanden in its tonality than I would ever have expected.
- I have not heard these but have it on good account: Trinity DAC, Light Harmonic Dual DAC
- Have heard and liked but did not love: Meridian 808.2...beautiful for classical, did not find it as propulsive in bass as I would have preferred; Krell 505 - very solid performer...expensive; ARC DAC8...excellent and good value for money, not quite as detailed as the best of the best but balanced and with good system matching you may be 'done'...subjectively like CD8 more DAC 8...could have been transport or connection?
- Also heard Wadia s7i...exceptionally clear, natural but the modern clean variation vs ARC
- Next Price Point...have not heard but have been told on good account
- MSB Analog DAC or their Platinum DAC...which can become pricey if you start adding up add-on modules like power supplies, etc...but Andy Payor uses it at Rockport, and Martin Colloms raves about it...both good signs in my book
- Total DAC. Could be a relative steal in the high-end...read on Whatsbestforum. Very similar in organics and detail to Analog DAC and people seem to shoot out between these two often
My personal findings are to be more careful of the midpriced DACs than the super high end ones...I went from a %50 DVD player to my Zanden...I was often approached by dealers with great players from $800-$2000, and when I played my little DVD player, they were surprised (and still talk about it years later)...you end up paying for expensive casings, better power supplies (which matter), and name...but I did not find my DVD player embarrassed.
...but I DID find there was NO comparison once I moved up into that upper tier...its just that the cost is so extraordinary...but for me, i'd rather pay up (second hand!) and be 'done'...than pay in small increments of still meaningful money and find out I come home and go 'really? that's what $1000 got me? I cannot tell the difference?'
oh...in cost no object, you may wish to look at Ypsilon DAC as well.
Nice post, the TotalDac could be a genuine reasonably priced sleeper that competes with the ultra models you listed.
Excellent advice and perspective.
Yes, that is exactly the impression I get from people I have spoken to. Lets say if I did not have the Zanden, I would personally investigate: Light Harmonic, Trinity, TotalDAC, MSB, Ypsilon, and then if I really felt the need to go all out, I could hold my breath and do a shootout against the Vivaldi. I have heard the Vivaldi but not done a proper shootout.
Best DAC? One of the most experienced guys here and at computeraudiophile.com on the subjects of DACs is Audiogon forum member Bhobba. If I was looking for the best DAC at certain price points, I'd try to communicate with him.
Oooooh! The best-est DAC in the whole world???
I'm Thinkin' Theta, ARC, DCS.
John Atkinson published a rave review of the MSB this year. I suppose the
$3500 Marantz DAC embarrassing the MSB in the same publication
*might* mean the MSB sucks, but others might come to an entirely different
But who am *I* to argue with the AUDIOORACLE. He has spoken. ;-)
In the meantime, it's worth reviewing the writings of Anthony Cordesman,
which appear in the Absolute Sound. On at least three occassions during
the past three years, he has commented in print about how close the
humble PS Audio MKII DAC comes to products from the much vaunted
houses of Boulder, Meitner and other justifiably famous digital designers.
Robert Harley, Cordesman's publisher, continues to sing the praises of the
While both writers acknowledge that the Meitner flagship belongs at the top
of the heap, to their credit, neither reviewer waxes on about how many of
the uber expensive DACs are leaps and bounds better because (with a
very few exceptions) they are simply not.
You want to hear leaps and bounds? Spend $100k plus on something like
the latest dCS stack. You still might wish you'd spent that money on a
better room or better speakers.
I'm still in the stone age and my only digital experience is with redbook CD. Having said that, like you, I use ARC gear. Based on limited experience, I think much can be said about system synergy. If there is any validity to the point, maybe there is some benefit in sticking with an ARC DAC.
The points made by some of the others about price versus performance resonate with me. Given the changing landscape of digital, I think picking up a pre-owned ARC DAC 8 makes a heck of a lot of sense. IMO.
The best dac the one that makes you happy when you consider the combination of improved musicality and the price you paid for your new dac.
That being said, consider auditioning dacs from audio emporiums that allow you home trial periods with money back guarantee on significant brands such as Benchmark, Nuforce, Musical Fidelity, NAD, Rega, Bryston, Schiit, Peachtree Audio, Furutech Alpha Design etc . such as from Audio Advisor (30-day home trial), Crutchfield (60-day!).
After trying several, I ended up spending significantly more than I originally planned to, but the one I purchased had a much better performance to price relationship then dacs that cost less. I'm still enjoying my Benchmark Dac1!
I use audiologic it is sweet, tube output
The best DAC for me next will be the newest DAC with the latest technology on the market that i could afford. Just like my TV. PC. Video game,car... etc .