best DAC' choice between $1K-$2K?

Its time for me to plan my annual upgrade splurge and this year the target area is DAC replacement. The DAC I use now is the PS Audio DLink III, its powerfull, detailed, but computer audio is showing the DAC's weaknesses with a design based on 2006 digital technology.

Looking for a musical sounding DAC...I can deal with tonal balance variances and dynamics that aren't spot on but a piece of gear that distorts overtones, doesn't have correct time decay and struggles with digital defects will have me moving on within 5 minutes of listening.

I've seen good things on the Metrum Octave but its lacking in design features like a headphone section and 192khz support. Bel Canto seemed popular at the DC Audio show and is recent enough in design to have longevity.

Wondering what in the new purchase market folks think is the class champ between $1K-$2K for a DAC with 192K support, headphone output, volume control for direct to amp and the most natural sound. I have a quality asynch to USB converter so that feature is of minimal importance to me.

The new Oppo 105 looks like an interesting alternative but I doubt its competitive against a DAC in this range and I've seen no serious reviews yet to compare against other known good gear.
I have owned the Rega DAC and the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2. Neither have headphone outputs, if that is a deal breaker, but you would likely enjoy the performance of either. You can home audition with the ability to return if you are buying new.
"volume control for direct to amp and the most natural sound"

depending on the gain structure of your system, this may or may not work for you. i tried going amp direct with two highly regarded DACs and found the required level of attenuation was simply too much. in my system, an analog preamp was a substantial improvement.

no support for 192k and no headphone output were not requirements for me, so i went with the metrum octave. it's the best dac i've ever owned - and i've been through a few, up to 6x the cost of the metrum.
Either the BC 1.5 or 2.5 would be great options for you.

And as Foster mentioned above, if you do not need headphone inputs, the Rega DAC and the Wyred units are also very nice.

Bel Canto and Rega dealer disclaimer***
Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC is supposed to be the new king of the hill in this price bracket.
instead of eliciting advice, why not listen to as many dacs as you can ??
Have you checked the Burson conductor? it comes with the ESS 9018 Reference DAC chip/preamp and a very good headphone amp section.
Appreciate the suggestion of the Burson Conductor, will followup on that. I see also that Benchmark has decided to knock the dust off its line with the Benchmark Media DAC2 HGC, so will be looking at both of these vs the Metrum. The DSD functionality looks interesting, has me wondering if that will become more prevalent. Will look at the Mytek also but they are a bit of an unknown to me in pedigree
I own a Bel Canto dac 3.5 mk2 VBS and it is awesome sounding.
Metrum Octave with Audiophilleo USB2SPDIF, driving a tube preamp, like a ARC SP16 or 17.

Blows away everything out there.

I believe the Octave will do 192 via the SPDIF and I know the AP will, so there you go.

You don't need headphones. LOL.
I'm looking at a Lynx Hilo. A few Anedio D2 owners are moving them on for this unit. Hope to hear along with a Buffalo 3, PerfectWave II, NAD M51, Anedio D2 and anything else we can pack in.
For a DAC I'd seriously consider buying used. If you can stretch your budget just a bit you can start looking at units like the Berkeley Audio DAC2 and Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB mentioned above (given your stated tastes and the fact you want to run directly to the amp would push me just a little more in the direction of the former). They're likely in an entirely different league from anything new you'll find in that price range, and DACs are relatively low risk items to buy used. Best of luck.
Id check out the new Red Wine Audio DAC.
I just replaced my D-Link III with the Oppo bD 105 and am very happy (will soon be offering the D-Link and the Old Transport, an NAD DVD-A/SACD/DVD-V player, on A-Gon).
now I can play Blu Rays, have Asynch USB, a headphone amp, and the sound beats the D Link, which was starting to sound very clinical and dry. I am also running my sbt into the oppo for Internet Radio. I think the DAC part of this beats the NAD M51, which goes for $2K.
Benchmark DAC2 HGC. Got mine last week and I'll get around to doing a review one of these days. Meanwhile, I'll just say: PHENOMENAL (and I had the prior one - the Benchmark DAC1 HDR).

I hope your opinion is more balanced than your previous opinion on the Benchmark Dac1. You couldn't stand even the very slightest criticism of that dac. How can we now believe anything you have to say about the Benchmark Dac2? Just saying...

I hope your opinion is more balanced than your previous opinion on the Benchmark Dac1. You couldn't stand even the very slightest criticism of that dac. How can we now believe anything you have to say about the Benchmark Dac2? Just saying...
That was my opinion, and also those of many many others, of the DAC1 at that time. The DAC2 is better. Whether you choose to believe anything is up to you.
I have compared the bechmarks to the bel cantos many times, while the benchmarks are good for the money, belcanto is significantly better, but for a higher cost.
The Benchmark DAC 1 was one of the worst sound DAC's I ever heard. It always sounded very dry, strindgent and metallic. There was no warmth or fullness to that DAC at all.

I loved the Bryston BDA-1, I'm sure their new version will be great. The Wyred DAC2 was excellent as well. I would have to say my favorite was probably the MHDT Labs Havana. It was the most musical.

I also like the Berkley Alpha Dac1, but for the money I thought the Bryston was better, especially all around.
You should definitely check out the Lynx Hilo it has everything you ask for and more. Great sounding and great to play with.
Got the Hilo, very nice and pricing is $1850/usb and $1725/non usb. Killer sound, very good soundstage and 3D. So far better IMO than the Anedio D2 and NAD 51.
Were you able to do a direct comparison between the Lynx Hilo, Nad M51 and Anedio D2?
How's that Dac2 sounding