Best dac under $2500 - comparing build quality and technologies


I have been in the  Audio field for over 4 decades and have owned some pretty exclusive audio gear 
I was listening to a 3 years old R2R dac the R7 from AudioGD a 20 year old company which won several awards  which is not known much in the U.S yet  ,This New R8-MK2 is better still.
it is  very well built using 3 R core transformers rarely seen unless spending $$. Their latest and best value is the New R8 mk2 dac. This dac just came out late April 2021 ,over a year went into the redesign the Owner stated this unit has several advancements vs previous designs , and runs much cooler for less money then  the previous R7 but better ,their is also a mk2 R7 also as well as a Flagship R7 HE with power regeneration,which I wanted but could not afford .The dynamics and realism is what sets this apart it’s massive power supplies and over 130k uf 
of capacitance is more then most amps has a lot to do with it I will be getting my dac next week and put side by side with  very well know competitors  it was noticeable better  in several areas , and it has 7 sonic adjustments all FPGA based 
4- non over sampling ,including a vinyl mode, and 3 over sampling  other dacs just a minor OS option 
you literally can Taylor the sound to your audio system .it weighs 26 lbs ,Underwood Wally is now the U.S distributor and service center  . I will give a full rundown once I have logged a week or two on it ,2 R- core transformers go to the pure class A  analog output section, the 3 rd transformer -digital is now fully servo controlled and runs much cooler and much better specifications . Check out link below.
http://www.audio-gd.com/R2R/R8mk2/R8mk2EN.htm
audioman58
Last year when I was shopping for a DAC, a friend and advanced audiophile in Italy recommended the AudioGD to me but I was having a hard time finding it. I went with an MHDT Orchid instead. Since then, I've heard great things about the Denafrips and AudioMirror Dacs. But my curiousity about AudioGD never went away. Thanks for posting.
Deciding to up my headphone system, I just got a Schiit Yggdrasil.
I was dubious since I was using a $20K tube DAC. I was floored by the Yggy! Incredible punch and detail. The tube DAC has a more subtle, romantic sound but the Yggy is not offensive in any way and is exciting. My whole experience has changed for the better.
I bought the GS model which used the level 1 module instead of the new level 2 but it is $900 less at $1600. May have it upgraded to level 2 for $550.
Thanks, very interesting. I would like the hear more once you have burned it in and had time to fiddle with it.
I recommend a Schiit Yggdrasil. I did a lot of research and listening for a friend and chose the Yggdrasil as definitely the winner anywhere in that price range.~
I did a lot of research and listening for a friend and chose the Yggdrasil as definitely the winner anywhere in that price range.
@ghdprentice — What other DACs did you listen to?

@ghdprentice  -  Also, what type of amplification, SS or Tube?
we Directly compared the Denafrips Pontus at the audio get together it was very refined a bit laid back  the pontus  very similar to the Holo springs 2. I  owned the latest Schiit Yggsdrasil last year and bought the latest board very neutral very good dynamics too cool for my taste, but none of these others have the prat and shear scale of dynamics and musical density ,and it has 7 real user adjustments FPGA in its programming 
4 non oversampling ,one vinyl ,and 3 over sampling .a very hard dac to say 
what it sounds like you can literally Taylor to your audio taste. The 3 R core transformers 2 - in pure class A for the analog output stage , and 1 for the Digital with 130,000 uf in capacitance which is more then most amps,gives it a big advantage to most dacs out there ,most certainly in its price class under$2500
And uses with the latest servo technologies so runs much cooler,with lower distortion levels. It is a very large dac and  at 26 lbs it requires a whole shelf.
Not much more to add ,just read all past R7 reviews and that is a good starting point . I will say their New top  R7 mk2 is noticeable better still I was told and  their flagship    R7 HE MK2 looks fantastic and has power regeneration built in and output to a master clock option. I will give it a good workout for a  week or two then give a honest mini  review .
RME ADI-2 FS. End game DAC. 
In the winter of 2020, another collector of vintage audio introduced me to the DAC difference.  Then, my 30-something nephew let me borrow his Shiit Modi. Damn, I thought, for under $100. it made that much difference?  So, down the rabbit hole I went. I'm basically a 2-channel, no subwoofer, silver-faced receiver/amp 70's audiophile who enjoys vinyl and the basics that I grew up with.  My cd collection was pretty much sitting on shelves collecting dust.  A year later and with much research for something in the under 1k range, I bought the Denafrips Ares II (R2R) and the Shiit Bifrost 2.  I've been very impressed with the Denafrips, pulling out cds I haven't listened to for years.  My jaw dropped. The Shiit has been slow getting here due to parts shortages, but it's finally on it's way. Looking forward to hearing an R2R DAC along with a Delta Sigma type.  But, not sure I will be able to tell the difference.   All I know is a DAC has definitely made me pull out the cds and enjoy them in a way I never knew possible.  I look forward to following this discussion to hear other users opinions and experiences. 
@kyguy1 - what speakers? Bifrost is super. But depending on the rest of your setup, DAC will only make so much of a difference. I couldn’t hear much of a difference between Modius (200 bucks, one up from Modi) or Bifrost (700 bucks). But a preamp makes a meaningful difference. Or an upgrade to a proper level, like Gangnir in the Schitt world, or RME ADI-2 FS. The germans know what they're doing. That's a super DAC, with PEQ options. 
@audioman58 At the approximate price point you are looking at for the AudioGD R7 Mk2 I would be interested in a comparison between it and an upper end Denafrips DAC such as the Venus, Terminator and/or Terminator Plus and also the Kitsune Holo May L2. All high end Chinese made DACs. All R2R ladder DACs. All well reviewed and well rated. 
Several That have already compared the New R8 mk2 have this very favorable to anything in the $2500 and under price class over in Europe  over there Magna audio is very well established .I exchanged several emails with the owner Kingwa 
at Audio GD he was very good to relate the whole 2020 year went into these MK2 models and a bunch of very instrumental upgrades . Will see if good as others say ,I will report back if it’s a keeper .I have sold a bunch of dacs over the last 2  years all very well known from $3k and under.
MK2 VERSION

This MK2 version of the R-8 has undergone a long period of testing, measuring, listening and adjusting at all levels of the circuit. It uses a stabilized power supply using discrete servos for battery-like performance. The converter stage uses this stabilized power supply, where analog circuits use a pure Class A power supply.

  • Discrete in-house developed 3rd generation R2R discrete ladder technology
  • 4 independent hardware DSD decoders and 8 independent R2R PCM decoders
  • Balanced two-channel push-pull design
  • Ultra low noise Power Supply design (battery performance)
  • Special “vinyl” sound characteristic available
  • USB and HDMI inputs have independent isolators and linear power supplies
  • USB designed with bidirectional isolator that sends the I2S signal to the FPGA and receives the return master clock signal. (single clock approach)
  • Sample rate on display of the input source
  • Two Accusilicon clocks working at 90Mhz and 98MHz master clock implementation.
  • DSD signals use an asynchronous clock for greater accuracy.
  • A port for updating the firmware is available on the back of the device.

R8 is characterized by its coherent, transparent and neutral sound. Rich in detail; high resolution; strong authority and wide stereo image. You’ll forget that you’re listening to a digital source.


That's a tough question, especially at that price point.  

Of course my next paragraph must deal with what I've heard and recommend.  If you want big, fat, and delicious try the Doge Tube Dac.   Disclaimer--I own one. 
many many dacs out there, new and old, with varying designs

many can sound excellent, in the right system

it is about understanding your use case, your preferences and system synergy

sometimes the differences in sound can be rather subtle (heard only in very good systems) - examples
-- audio mirror vs mhdt vs doge
-- chord vs rme
-- ps audio ds vs ayre vs w4s

sometimes they can be rather stark
-- chord vs denafrips vs audionote

the dac is the voice of the digital front end, so it is all about finding the right one with the right presentation to make the music sound right to you (assuming you have a credible, low jitter streaming source) - one illustration is that many solid state very hifi sounding systems can be transformed by using a dac with a well voiced tube output stage...
My evaluation to choose a DAC for a friend included Ayre, Auralic, Linn, Audio Research. Berkeley, Sim, and Schiit.. I read multiple reviews on all the units I heard and their competition in order to calibrate. I actually bought a Schiit Gungnir multibit and broke it in before recommending the Yggi. My feeling is the reviews that say it’s sound is in a category of two to three times the cost are correct. Sure it is detailed, but the Yggi is also very natural sounding and musical for a solid state DAC. I was very prejudiced against Schiit before my analysis. Who names a company Schiit… someone who does not want to sell stuff. I got interested enough to by a headphone amp. I use it to break stuff in and as backup… but it shows you what you can’t get for less than the cost of a good set of interconnects.
love my Denafrips.  Super clear, detailed and yet not overly analytical.  it has a warmth to it and helps create an amazing sound stage

Just to toss a few more DAC names in here -- things I've read a lot of good things about:

Border Patrol
Soekris 
Mojo Audio -- they run very expensive but can be had used.
Question for all. Is Schiit multi bit an r2r design?
Question for all. Is Schiit multi bit an r2r design?


yes they use leftover adapted medical industry oriented r2r chips to do the d-a conversion

so they are r2r but on a chip, not using discrete resistor ladders (not that that is a positive or a negative necessarily)
+1 big time for Schiit Yggdrasil GS, greatest bargain in audio IMHO
I haven't used a large enough variety of DACs to be an expert; however, I can tell you if you also need a great headphone/IEM solution -and- you have hearing issues such that you need some DSP help to maximize your experience, the RME ADI-2 DAC FS is an absolute Godsend--especially helpful for me is the separate parametric eq settings for each output -plus- being able to set unique eq for left vs right.  Amazing.
Seems like the Musetec 005 needs to be added to this discussion.
This discussion tends to demonstrate the need for easier comparisons.
One way would be for people at RMAF to gather maybe 10 top contenders at say 0-$3k, 3-6, 6-10k. etc and publish a listening schedule
by model. I imagine a large room would be needed as attendance would
be huge. Okay-You have time, now do it please! I'm coming.
I have had the Lampi3 , last year had the Schiit Yggsdrasil with latest board ,Sold 
way  to Neutral for sure notnatural warmth IMO ithe Lampi  too warm not enough leading edge detail .
the Holo springs 2 was good but a little laid back . The Gd audio I heard last month  R8 and was the best of the bunch as far as dynamics and natural balance. I will see how it goes in my system 
the new mk2 is stated to be better and a bunch of true adjustments to Taylor 
to your system . Walter said they are sold out ,I bought  one it should be hear end of next week then the dreaded breakin .
jjss49 that’s my point ,that is why I am going out on a limb almost $2k is not cheap ,but most dacs have little to none change in adjustments 
the GD audio 8 I heard was 1-2 years had at least 5 user adjustments both non oversampling and over sampling ,and for sure went to extremes at both ends 
of the spectrum ,vinyl like soft to more leading edge ,but never sharp 
that is what I found interesting .I was told solely because of the FPGA programming for the different sonic pallets. I will chime in after I get at least a few deals in on it.
Wondering how the AKM factory will affect DAC design.  I see Topping already had to discontinue D90 and redesign with with ESS 9038 PRO.  I  like my D90.  Detailed, nice soundstaging, etc.
I have the topping D70s it is at least as good as the D90 mqa  good for a budget dac .
What many audiophiles don’t understand  each ,class $$ the resolution and depth of image gets better in the better models there are a couple exceptions ,once you get beyond the $7 k
point then it’s starts  becoming % points unless you have  $15 k and up .
my brother owns the $34k DCS Rossini yes it is fantastic and a Big step above 
anything  I can afford ,and night and day better then anything mentioned above ,
and to think they make dacs and master clocks to $100 k,Where does it all end?
There is a new Topping D90 SE model that just came out and should be interesting.

I may have mentioned it before but the Gustard X26 Pro is a heavy hitter DAC. I cost only $1500. I am having a tough time deciding why I need to spend the $6K to get the AudioByte stack (as planned) given the sound of the Gustard.
Gave my brother a R8-HE that he really likes. I also had him try the Audio-GD 7.77 that he has for sale on US Audiomart. He says Audio-GD makes great stuff for th money. Very good value. 
One way to evaluate multiple components of the same kind is to read professional reviews and go listen to those that you are able to find on demo. You want to get yourself calibrated to the world of professional reviews. Then when you read a review of something you have not actually heard, you can understand what it will sound like. It is basically learning the language of professional reviewers and calibrating yourself to that standard. I have done this for at least the last 40 years. I would make a trip on Sunday up to Phoenix from Tucson to listen to the recently reviewed Mark Levinson amp or Audio Reserch preamp. You find and talk to the guy in the store that really knows his stuff. You want to listen to really expnsive stuff you can’t afford as well as stuff in your category so you know the cost / EQ. It is like fine wine, there is a vocabulary, ways of sampling the bouquet, how to swirl it in your mouth, the tannins, the finish, etc.

I have bought $20K pieces of equipment unheard with absolute confidence that I knew what they sounded like, and they did. There are a lot of problems on forums. There are no standards… some people can’t hear the difference between a Best Buy special and a high end equipment. Some people think a $1,000 DAC is a rip off. Each post must contain enough information for you to evaluate the values and credibility of the poster as well as some valuable information. So many posts are completely useless. “Buy this and be done.” Is a completely useless statement.

Nothing will replace the knowledge gained from reading a couple of books on high end audio and reading cover to cover The Absolute Sound and Stereophile.Then exposing yourself to as many systems and components as possible… by yourself in a quiet room. Although annual audio events should be on your list if you are serious.
While not specifically a DAC, the Cambridge Audio 851n is awesome, and only blemished by a shifty app. Streamer by category, is has several inputs and balanced/ RCA outputs. Preamp function is built in, but can  be disabled. 
There are no standards… some people can’t hear the difference between a Best Buy special and a high end equipment.

Wait a minute! You can't talk about my wife like that!!!
Regarding Cambridge app, the new version of StreamMagic is pretty good. Right on par with LUMIN or Heos I’d say. Step below BlueOS. Haven’t tried roon 
I stream all my music through a Cambridge VNX V2 with the Preamp and DAC enabled, sounds great to me. $750.....Acoustat Spectra 33's with Roy E. Modded Acoustat TNT200 Monoblocks..
Did my research up to January of this year and decided the latest Benchmark DAC 3b or Mytek Brooklyn would be the right choice for me. Took a 30 day trial on the Benchmark (Stereophile Class A+) and kept it. It is fed by a Cambridge CXNv2 streamer and a Sony XA5400 ES CD/SACD player.. Everything in my system is extremely sensitive to the cables going in and out of it and everything is on an Audioquest Niagara 3000 power supply. Every digital cable sounds different so invite your audio friends and have a digital cable party.  https://www.martindareff.com/Other/HDR-Treated-Images/i-3ZfL6Gq/A
If you don't like the Cambridge app, you can just use Chromecast from your music app of choice. Qobuz App, or  Qobuz from the Cambridge app, sounds just as good.  Cambridge's StreamMagic app has gotten better and it does what I need it to do.....Stream Music, don't need all the AI to tell me what to listen to.
I will stick with Simaudio 280D (modular and upgrade able) and my Border Patrol DAC in the office on my QS system.

Mid2 is slick in the 280 and has all the bells and whistles. Can get a good used one for under $3k
Audioman 58 man you nailed it   it seems that names not very well know AKA the UnderDOGs have the passion  lost by corporate money makers  Big name audio equipment has lost there soul , anyway  at 68yo i getting tired of the T/T games  & streaming dac is here to stay  Audio GD  has really built something special i will be looking more into this than you  G Leary
Hi julie_priest,

Surely, the words DAC and end game do not belong in the same thought process?  Nothing personal, Julie, but it still appears that 40 years along, digital recording and playback is still in its infancy.  My Tech and I are currently exploring cutting edge redbook resolution of 24/48 vs up/down changes done by streaming services and high res loading.  Early results are EXCITING!!  More Peace, Pin
It was at, upgraded, $2500.
Mojo-Audio r2r Mystique 2  (USB only input) dang pretty nice.
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