Best DAC / Budget


I think this is a gain issue between my analog and digital sides - but I just don't know enough
I hit a wall with the digital side yesterday
I generally listen on the lower side of listening levels
Yesterday I came home and decided to see what this rig could do and put it through it's paces on both the analog and digital side.
I'm playing vinyl on a Nottingham 294 space deck with a 12" tone arm and a Lyra Delos cart - through a EAR 843 tube phono stage - line input on a Rogue Cronus Mark I - KT120 tubes - bypassing the Rogue phono stage.  It sounds just completely glorious. I'm very happy with it.
Digital is a different problem. I've always understood this gear was meant as place holders - they got the ball rolling.
I'm streaming from Tidal, through a Pro-Ject Stream Box Ultra 2 (ethernet cat 6 hard wired to a router), through  a gifted Schitt Mano 2 DAC.

The Problem:
Analog completely surpasses the digital in every way
Digital - turning up the volume (to very high levels) only seems to result in filling in the low register and not actually increasing the volume.
I'm fully aware I am comparing a DAC to a Deck which costs many times more.

Looking for recommendations for a separate stand alone DAC which complements the analog side and for an idea of budget.
Thanks everyone







smaarch1
What is a Schiit Mano 2?  Anyway, for $2500 you could try an Audio Mirror Tubadour lll SE as they offer a trial period.  A little tube action in your digital front end may be just the ticket to make it a more level playing field with your analog side.  Best of luck. 
Look at the MHDT DACs very musical
Many have commented that Denafrips DACs have a more dense and analog sound.  I suppose it all depends what kind of sound you want.
I think it's difficult to get digital to sound as full as analog. I don't know what your budget would be, but the Qutest running off a battery is pretty satisfying. I've also got a Denafrips Pontus II coming which is supposed to be pretty smooth in sound. A Denafrips Ares II was pretty smooth but wasn't detailed enough to sound engaging to me.

Perhaps one way to look at digital is the value of streaming. You have thousands of music recordings available at your fingertips. That's been really fulfilling to me to hear new music that I learn about, but would otherwise might never actually get to hear.

A couple of suggestions for better digital sound quality.  I would do all of these before getting a new DAC as all of these created a noticeable improvement even when using the Denafrips Ares II DAC.
  1. Run your Pro-ject streamer via an Ethernet cable. Turn off Wi-Fi and HDMI. This makes a HUGE difference in sound quality. If your Ethernet port is too far away, creating an Ethernet access port with a TP-Link Wi-Fi extender worked well for me. 
  2. A Supra Cat 8 cable sounds better than a generic AmazonBasics Cat 6 cable. 
  3. Adding an Audioquest Jitterbug makes the Pro-ject streamer sound smoother, clearer, and fuller. 
  4. The smoothest USB cable I found was a Phasure Lush 1 (compared to Shunyata Venom, Pangea Premier SE, Belkin Gold & a generic USB cable that came with an HP printer)
smaarch1
Best DAC / Budget


Get a lower end Soekris discrete R2R ladder dac, and they have volume control, so no pre needed.

http://www.soekris.dk/products.html

https://soekris.modhouseaudio.com/soekris-audiophile-line

Cheers George
Let's say budget is plus minus $2K
Thanks for all the comments so far.
I hadn't considered a tube dac so the comments surprised me.
Thank something to definitely consider.
I am looking at all the recommendations and appreciate them
Mani DAC, no wonder there are problems! Modi is a Phone amp!

If you are looking for the best DAC for the buck is a Bifrost2! We have done a blind test with DAC’s up to $5k in price. Bifrost 2 won all test every time.

Mano2 is no such a product!!!
For $2800 delivered and not much competition just do a search 
on you tube or online the Denafrips Venus , superb dac thst beats much more expensive dacs build like a tank precision R2R  dac.
The Audio Mirror is too laid back. Try an RME ADI2 Dac Fs. Put it on the nos filter and adjust it for your preference. About 1200.00 it sounds fantastic. Order thru Amazon and get 30 day money back. You owe it to yourself to try it.
Denafrips Ares II , superb R2R DAC, superb musical dac that just makes me want to listen all day long. 
The Schiit Modi is a very low cost DAC. I have a Modi3, and its excellent - for $99.  I'll come out and say though, that unless you only play audiophle records, even the lowly Modi2 ought to regularly equal your phono, or something's wrong.  In the real world - the remastered versions of old favourites that are everywhere on tidal in MQA generally kick the butt of any original vinyl recording.

Yes, the BiFrost Multibit is much better, at 6X the price. The Denefrips Ares 2, IMO, is better stil, much really, and can sound superb - but is not the most detailed out there.  Yet the better the other equipment the better it can sound - always a good thing.
Few of us have heard all the DACs out there. Since i do contract design, i get to play with lots of different piece parts though, and see a lot of "ideas" most of which are the datasheet for the chip, with a different logo. Not impressed.
Get a bunch of ideas - don't take my world or anyone eles as more than that, and find  away to listen in environments that either you can control or at least know well. Bring your Modi and compare back and forth with levels matched.  What do you hear? Can't tell? then it doesn;t matter now does it?
G


It’s entirely possible the digital music is not  mastered very well. Try an SACD or DSD file and compare. Better yet, something you have from the 70-80’s that’s well done on both vinyl and digital (Love over Gold or Aja?). 
A lot of early CD were terribly mastered and a lot of newer pop is heavily compressed due to the “loudness wars”. 
Vinyl has worse SNR and headroom than digital... it’s not even close. Thing is, is that restriction in the medium forces the recording engineer and master to be really really good... 
I’ve got an MHDT Orchid tube DAC and absolutely love it. I’ve got it coupled with a BAT VK-6i tube preamp and VK-600 solid state beast of an amp. The Orchid only costs $1,200. 6Moons has an excellent review that holds true to my experience. I would also talk to Linear Tube Audio. They are a reseller of MHDT and Nicholas is very helpful in answering any questions you might have. For me, it came down to the Orchid or the Pagoda balanced (~$2,600). If you’re willing to spend the extra coin Pagoda balanced is a great choice.
A little above your budget ($3500 with PSU) but I feel a VERY analog sound
Exogal Comet.  I searched for a DAC with more analog sound and found this very satisfying.  Well built.

My two cents
As you have all tube amplification you might find R2R  doesn't do it for you. I tried MHDT, Denafrips Pontus and couldn't hear any difference between those DACs and the DAC in my CD player. Even the Denafrips distributor indicated that I would need the Terminator to hear any difference and even then the difference would not be great. I ended up with a Pure Audio Lotus 5 DAC which uses the latest ESS chip and yes there was a difference, a little more dynamic and transparent, but again the improvement was not huge.  
I have a Modi multibit. Passable. Go with a Soekris or the RME. Almost identical SQ, different features. Both blow out the Schitt AND play DSD.
I also enjoy a P-J S Ultra Stream Box and it benefits of from a Teddy Pardo PSU.
If you're on a "budget" may I recommend the Denafrips Ares II for $800. Fed by a Audio Envy cable, combined with an Audio Sensibility SPDIF cable and sitting on EVP footers. Great sound and soundstaging. Of course that's with classical and operatic music. I'm sure that the $3500 may sound better. 
For $1300 the Gustard X26 Pro is a steal. It is an incredible DAC. I would love it if someone would compare this to $10K to $20K DACs. This DAC will not be out of place with the very best systems.

It runs rather hot though (temperature wise). Going to be a hot summer of music listening for me. The Benchmark DAC3B that I also have is now relegated to computer and TV sound via TOSLINK.  The music is now coming out of 2 relatively low priced heavy hitters, the Gustard X26 Pro and the AudioMirror Tubadour III SE.
I believe I saw that your budget was 2k? Thats probably about the most interesting price point that you could have. 

Like many of us I suddenly had a lot of extra time on my hands last year and in my case, I had a brand new unfurnished place to do something with....I tried literally everything I could get my hands on. Naturally I had to try ALL the modern DACs

2K is an interesting price for DACs right now because if buying new you are looking at the the Chord Hugo 2/Brooklyn DAC+ sort of range. If I had to pick something in that general range for you..given that you are streaming tidal, I would choose the matrix MQA sabre Pro. The 9038Pro in that one is an 8 channel chip and it handles those MQA files effortlessly....but ultimately I kept DACs below and over 2k and found 2k to be a good price point when looking for a headphone amp/DAC type deal.

My suggestion would be to not pay that much for that chip and get the Gustard X26 Pro that was mentioned above....was very impressed...super clean with barely any color except when using some of the PCM filters. I thought the 2 best DACs .. and ones I kept were the Holo Audio May KTE and the Hegel HD30...I would wait to get one of those used or buy an earlier model of Hegels. Both of the make me feel like a spoiled scumbag daily......until my girlfriend takes control of the playlist! No DAC can save me then!

Goodluck!
You have already gotten a lot of good recommendations. I really like my Schiit amp and have heard a lot of good things about their dacs. Maybe you can find a used Yggdrasil for less than $2k?

Or go down in price and try Okto.
https://www.stereophile.com/content/okto-dac8-stereo-da-processor
Shitt dacs don’t do MQA.  They’re still great, but you have to weigh that going in. 
I have a very similar analog rig as you. I have an ear 834 p and vpi classic 3. My digital is a chord cutest direct usb from iMac. I stream through tidal. I a/b the exact song from analog to digital and vice versa and the sq is very close. I’d look into the chord cutest. It also has a gain selection. Fantastic dac. Around 1500. 
I've been there.  I had the Modi, Then a $1500 Project, next a $2500 Metrum, now a $6000 Totaldac d1 core, which I love and does complement my vinyl.  Personally, I like R2R, but that kind of limits you to PCM, in my thinking.  Why pay all that for R2R unless you use PCM?  So, what format do you like best and see as staying around - DSD, MQA, PCM?  Then spend your money on the best you can budget for that format.  That's what we do with vinyl - pay a bunch of money for disc with grooves and a RIAA curve.

The Audio Mirror is too laid back.
I'm not sure what laid back means, but like any piece of gear, the sound depends on everything in your system.  

In my system, the Audio Mirror Tubadour lll SE sounded great.  At the time, I had a Herron VTSP-3A (R02) pre amp and NAD M22v2 power amp with an Innous Zenith MKII streamer.  I was quite happy with that combination.

I decided to upgrade to a full PS Audio stack (BHK pre amp and BHK 250 power amp), and replaced the Tubadour with a DirectStream DAC (DSD).  With the PS Audio stack, the DSD sounds more "analog like" than the Tubadour. 

OP, having said that, the Tubadour is a fine DAC.  If you are not in a hurry, I recommend you call Vlad and test drive one in your system.
@smaarch1,  I too had this problem.  I'm pretty sure I posted a few years back about getting my digital side to be as enjoyable as my analog side.  Like you, I had a tube integrated, but I still didn't feel things sounded compelling enough or full enough.  

The good news is, in my humble opinion, I think it is possible. I tried a number of DACs, other devices to address jitter, etc, and ultimately landed on a Doge 7 tube DAC.  The price has gone up due to trade policy.  I think I paid about $1300 shipped, yet they might be near $1600 now.  The internal components and build are something for the money.  If you ever need service, Doge has US based third party repair places to help.  I haven't needed service--just thought you might want to know that. 

I highly recommend it. And I don't love everything I buy.  I wish it was that easy!   I have found that the Doge is the digital equivalent (in my system) of my phono pre (Manley Chinook).  I hope you can find yours!  

There are great recommendations here.  Do your research and enjoy the journey.  

Your DAC cost $99, what do you expect?  Schitt Audio makes much better; like the $899 Gungnir.  You get good flexibility from a great designer, a fair price and a chance to try it out for 15 days before committing to buy. Oh yeah; it's made in the USA. I have heard it and it deserves a try out.
Good luck
Great recommendations everyone and  thanks.