An MSB Link DAC with Stan Warren mods played with Stan's Aiwa CD Changer mod.
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Electronic Visionary Systems(EVS) Millennium DAC(any model). Unfortunately they have recently been discontinued but are incredible values on the used market if you can find one. I've seen DAC IIs for as little as $800 and DAC 1s for around $400, which is just a downright silly bargain for a DAC that competes with the best. For what it's worth.
I have to agree with Audio Aero, bests the big guys by a bit and is affordable, in fact I am going from accuphase to the new capitole, and saving a bit of $$. Though I haven't heard the new accuphase(ala DP-85), I would like to keep both kidneys and selling one of them would be the only way I could afford one of them(DP-85) right now :) Honorable mentions must be given to Linn the CD-12 is amazing.
BTW Dave the Rega not hacking it any more? or just curious, if you want I can make you a deal too good to be true for my accuphase unit....had to try ;)
I think it is pointless to name dacs as the best without describing in detail what you hear from the dac which makes that particular dac the best you ever heard. Otherwise, others reading your post have no understanding of your listening biases and therefore have no basis for comparing one dac against another. With no attempt to be specific about what you hear, there is no communication. It would also be helpful to describe the transport and the other equipment.
I like my Pass D1. Using my SCD-1 and 9000es as transports, it proved to be as musical and detailed as the new Meridian CD player and the EMC-1 24/192 I recently auditioned in my home. I was hoping a one box would beat it, neither did. So I'm stuck w/ my D1 for now. If I could find a transport with an AT&T output to go with its AT&T input, I may even be more pleased with it.
Best Regards, Aaron
The Levinson M360S DAC with M37 transport are fantastic in my system-- no interest in SACD or DVD-A here.
For Rayhall;>) ......SF Line 2 tube pre-amp, McCormack DNA2 Rev. A amp, and Vand. 5 speakers. The 360S is neutral, dynamic, great PRT, non-fatiguing, not "bloomy". It gives music "weight" and has timbral richness in both vocals and instruments.. I love to listen for/to vocal timbre. I like electric blues, rock, new age, pop, c/w, bluegrass-- almost anything but opera and weird jazz. Cheers. Craig.
Craigs right on the money with the 360. That's one of the top three cd playback systems I've heard. Unbelievably quiet yet warm sounding.
Other two are the DCS Delius w/192 upsampler, and the Dan wright modified, tube output, Sony XA 777. The Delius literally added more 'information' to the picture whereas the Dan Wright XA 777 is simply wonderful to listen to. It has a warm, alive sound that you only get from a tube output stage. Someday !
I only want to refer to dac's auditioned at home:
1) The Best:
dCS Purcell & Elgar Plus in dsd-mode via firewire
But IMHO the Elgar has one weak point, the dig. volume control - is bettered by my Pass preamp by far - and the analog output stage. Only use the XLR outputs!!!
Theta DS-Pro Gen. Va-96 & dCS Purcell or Perp. Techn. PA-1
Is my beloved favourite - highly musical. I am very curious about the new Ge.VIII and upsampling to 192?!
Audio Aero Prima dac with its own Anagram 24/192 resampling ( = dac section in Capitole )
Close behind the upsampled Theta, only a very little lesser contour in bass response and some softness in the highs. Maybe the Audiomeca Enkianthus betters this for me.
Digital cables used for comparison were Siltech HF-9G3 S.E. and Golden Ridge G5. All units were connected with identical power cords - Syn. Research.
most wanted unit for an audition:
TacT Audio S2150 and Millenium MkIII with new integrated upsampling to 24/192.
I'll second tim's recommendation on the EVS Millenium II dac
upsamples to 24/192
tube like in it's sound and seperates instruments out (think layers and textures) like nobody's business
I am rediscovering my whole cd collection
even the old previously flat sounding stuff
talk ric into making you one before it's too late
This post is more an observation than offering a best DAC.
Tom all I'll say to that is in the world of digital, its usually too soon and never too late. That is as soon as you purchase one DAC, better parts and technology comes out with something greater and sometimes even cheaper rendering your choice obsolete. It can keep the poor old Emperor naked indeed :).
I haven't compared too many so I really don't have the frame of reference to say what is best in my system which includes Berning ZH270 OTL, CAT SL-1 pre and Merlin VSM-M speakers and my true reference, an Oracle, SME and Benz.
I really like the Bel Canto 1.1 DAC as it is very smooth and musical. I've had it over a year. To my ears it resolves the nuance of music quite well and it doesn't have any edge which is a big plus. I'm sure there are others I may like more but there are too many revolving doors in the ever changing world of digital technology.
I purchased an ART di/o. It may not "smoke" the super DACs stock as some have claimed but at its 131.00 price point from Full Compass it isn't bad, not nearly as good as the Bel-Canto. For the cost of mods it is indeed worth exploring further which I intend to do. Brian Cheney used this modded DAC to win best sound at the last CES.
I 'third' the EVS Millennium DAC I (or II). I currently have the one, and it easily smokes the Adcom GDA-600 I had before. I also auditioned the MSB Link III at home. If you don't mind owning a small production, hand-built, super-tweaked piece of audio equipment, buy a used one and audition it in your system.
My first impressions about the DAC I are. Clear and palpable bass. String bass, bass guitar, bass drum, timpani, baritone sax, etc. And the textures, ooh. If this is highend digital, give me seconds!
I just got my DAC I for only $330/shipped. Best dollar spent this year. (Beats my VansEvers PLC, which was an improvement, but nothing like the EVS). I don't know if I could bear listening to the DAC II considering as good as the DAC I is. Anyone have a DAC II in a modest system? In the back of my mind, I can't help but wonder if I should 'upgrade. to the II.
As a dealer for Audio Aero, I will convey one customer's findings. He is a user here and if anyone would care to contact him directly, I will be happy to email you his information.
I had been telling Steve of my experiences with the Capitole vs. my dCS gear. He kept blowing me off when I told him I had a player that would be significantly better than his Levinson 30.6 & 31.5 reference digital system. Finally, I peaked his interest enough where he decided he would do a comparison between the products.
Within a 1/2 hour he was on the phone asking me how it was possible that the $6900 cd player could be that much better than his $27,000 reference digital setup. He was blown away and immediately put his Levinson gear up for sale. The differences he found were:
1. The Capitole had much better depth of stage
2. The Capitole was even quieter than his Levinson gear
3. The Capitole had greater detail while retaining much more musicality
4. The Capitole placed instruments and vocalists in a clearer, cleaner space.
This has happened countless times with all types of digital gear. I have a customer list which is incredibly long with people that dumped much more expensive equipment for the Capitole. I even have a friend and customer that sold his analog setup and his record collection after hearing the Capitole. He feels the Capitole, while not being as good as analog, was close enough where he no longer found himself playing records. He had a top notch analog setup and has never looked back.
The Audiomeca Mephisto is also in this league of players. I carry both players so my opinion as a dealer should be taken into consideration.
The Linn CD-12 is another top notch player and although I do not sell it, I recommend it as well. Another DAC that I have heard many raves about is the Chord DAC 64.
Good Luck with your decision.
My favorite DAC remains the Audio Logic 2400, which has remained truer to the music than any dCS, Wadia, Levinson, Krell, ARC or other piece I've heard, both in my system and elsewhere. A very open, "alive" sounding DAC with excellent soundstaging and tonal qualities (I use a Forsell transport). May not have that hyper-detail like some other DACs, but it's more to my liking and is the only DAC I've heard that I can listen to in the same session as vinyl and not feel a big let-down. I have a feeling the Audio Aero would also be to my liking, from the descriptions I've heard.
I have owned the Theta Gen Va (single ended) and the Theta Data Basic II. I switched to an Altis Reference DAC which was a significant improvement in detail and musicality and then bought the Altis CDT III transport. The Theta was very good but the Altis was another world. Unfortunately, Howard Mandell, the president of Altis, passed away last fall and the company closed. It is good to hear that there are so many great sets of equipment. Enjoyment is what it is all about.