My personal favorite is Arcam rDAC. Comes with Asynch-USB input. Can be upgraded with a linear power supply, like the Teddy Pardo one, when funds allow. Can easily compete with the best $1000 DACs with the Teddy Pardo PSU.
In that price range, the HRT Streamer 2+ (asynch USB in, RCA analog out) works very well for me, & you will have $ left over for better i/cs or speaker wire. There are others that are highly recommended; not sure which have asynch USB input.
I agree with Elizabeth for the most part. I'd suggest trying out the Schiit Bifrost. There's a 15 day money back return policy, so if you don't like it, you're just out the shipping costs. The cost of the unit is ~$450 with the USB input. The DAC and USB cards are upgradeable, so if they come out with a new chip or USB 4 or something, you'll be able to upgrade without paying for everything else in the component. If I didn't already own an integrated Peachtree, I'd probably be trying one myself.
I've tried a few dacs over the past while at different price points. Certainly they get better as you spend more, and the sweet spot seems to be around $1000-$1500. For $500 I'd look for one that has very few features (i.e., no volume control/headphone amp) to ensure the money is spent on the DAC, not the features, faceplate and fancy knobs.
Two that offer good value are the Musical Fidelity V-DAC 2 (about $350) and the Simaudio Moon 100D ($600).
I'm looking into the DACMagic Plus. The ability to directly drive an amp, the headphone output AND the BlueTooth Dongle are all selling points to me. Not to mention the async USB and a pair of tos/coax inputs. Very Flexible.
All-up with the dongle? More than the 500$ limit, but with 4 digital inputs, I couldn't imagine needing more.
...and as usual, no one has even mentioned the Emotiva for 249...
Yes, I bought it. AFTER already asking myself this exact question, then answering it.
You would need a $27 Behringer to up the USB output to 24 if you want to go direct to the DAC...but I would suggest buying a squeezebox touch. You would still be under 500 for both units and you would not have to have your PC tethered to your soundsystem. There have been several DACS that sounded great. Honestly, there is very little that keeps a 100 dollar unit from being a 500 dollar unit. Ask about the Emotiva on special from their site right now. I love mine and it sounds very very good. No nasty sins at all and a lot better than any 2k CD player I have heard. (I have heard about 12 of them recently)
A used Ps audio DLIII. Makes many dacs in this price range look like toys. Just look at the power supply and output stage and then listen to see if you like the sound of an upsampling dac. You can also choose between 96 or 192 upsampling which is a nice feature depending on the rest of your system.
I agree with Gumbydammit. The Emotiva is an excellent dac with 6 digital inputs. Buy that for 249.00 and add a Musical Fidelity V-Link for around 90 from Amazon and you will have one heck of a digital set up. You will be able to decode all files on your computer up to 96K and the spdif inputs will do 192khz. It took a 999.00 Wyred4Sound DAC1 to better the Emotiva. I am not kidding.
Ditto the DACmagic/Pangea 100 combo...more inputs and outputs than most, and it sounds truly amazing (not recommended for USB but I don't use that feature anyway. If I did I'd maybe get the new "plus" version) shop around (although the P100 power supply is cheap new) for used stuff, and keep in mind how insane the digital world is now, and how at under 500 clams you can get some well massaged digits flowing around. DACs seem to be the "best bang for the buck" zone in hifi, and imagine what's going to be available in 3 or 4 more years.
I just picked up a Schiit Audio Bigfrost DAC. It was $449. +S/H with the USB option. I am VERY happy with it. If you don't want the USB feature it's only $349. and you can add the option later as they use a modular system.
Since I don't think it's been mentioned, I'll throw in the Peachtree Dac It, just for something more to consider. As has already been mentioned, there is a lot of good talk around regarding the Arcam rDac, the Schiit Bifrost, DacMagic, V-Dac II, etc.
They're all about the same with the exception of the their different sonic personalities. The trick is to find the one that you'll enjoy listening too.
Personally, I run an Emotiva XDA-1. I originally got it because it was a good deal and I needed a DAC. Since having gotten it, I've been able to compare it to a DacMagic, V-Dac II and rDAC and have stuck with the XDA-1 because it bested the other three in my system.
The next two that I want to try are the Peachtree and the Bifrost. I have high hopes for the Bifrost. The specs look really good on paper.
I've been shopping for just this, looked at the Peachtree iDac, Schiit Bifrost, Musical Fidelity V-Dac II and the Arcam rDac... Ended up going with a brand new Valab Dual Mono with Balanced and Single ended output. Features: 1. Two WM8741 dac chips -- mono configuration (one chip for one channel) 2. Two sealed high grade transformer deployed, one for digital, another for analog circuit. 3. Dedicate voltage regulation circuit, 2 stage for digital circuit, each wm8741 chips have independent second stage regulated power supply. 4. CS8416 SPDIF receiver for 24bit 192k SPSID signal compatibility. This is most stable and high compatible SPDIF receiving chip on market. This dac can receive and decode real 24bit 192k SPDIF signal! Most 24bit/192k dac actually can not deal with 24bit 192k SPDIF signal. They just use a 24/192 dac chip but fail to perform 24bit 192k capability. 5. TENOR TE7022L usb receiver chip, supporting native 24bit 96K digital output capability. 6. 4x OPA627au (by 2pcs of '2x mono to dual opamp adapter) for analog balanced XLR output. (VALAB version specified by 2pcs of '2x mono to dual opamp adapter) 7. 2x AD797 OPAMP for analog RCA output. (VALAB version specified) 8. All high grade parts usage, carefully chosen parts for best sound performance. 9. Professional circuit layout to get best circuit stability and great performance. We achieve theoretical performance of wm8741 dac should have! Please see last two photos of testing result. 10. Aluminum housing, hair skin surface procession. 11. Digital Input: balanced Spdif AES/EBU port, RCA, Toslink Optical input and USB 12. Analog Output: balanced analog output via XLR port, single ended output via RCA port (CMC socket; VALAB version specified). 13. Dimension: 190 x 70 x 330 mm (W x H x D) 14. Both 110/120v and 220/240v version supported. I'll try to let everyone know when it arrives. I paid $365 delivered
I've only tried a couple of DACs in my system but after inserting the Bifrost, my room felt crowded. I never thought I'd use that word to describe a product but there it is.
Every player had equal billing. Prominence on the right and left increased to the point where they (the musicians) seemed to be closer. Center stage was as strong as ever, if not more. Suffice to say, info recovery was the best I've experienced. I know there are better DACs out there but you'd have to pay a hell of a lot more (dare I say) to get much better performance. That, and I didn't know my speakers went that low.