Best Minimalist DAC?


ooking for a very simple, clean, DAC, best possible SQ, without the bells and whistles, to mate with my MACBOOK "server."

I run an integrated (PASS INT30A), so I don't need the preamp or the rest of the "functionality" of my PSA PWD, which I am moving on from.

I have in mind something very straightforward, like the HRT Streamers, but am willing to spend more for SQ, since this is for my main rig.

How much more not yet determined, but let's say a rough ceiling of 2000 USD, with the possibility of going higher for good sonic reason. Happy to spend less, of course. Used is fine.

Capability for latest high-rez formats desirable, though this is not yet a big part of my audio life.

Thanks for your time.

John
jdoris
Ayre DSD is pretty simple (USB input only) and sounds wonderful.
I would highly recommend a Schiit Bifrost with all the upgrades. Very affordable, and very good.
I agree with Zman. The Bi-Frost doesn't do DSD, but you can add a Loki for $149. GREAT combo for the bucks.
iFi Micro iDSD for $500.00 is an awesome little dac that doubles as a smokin' headphone amp. It handles all digital formats from PCM to DSD.

Worth a look!

http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd/
Lampi Amber dac
Ayre Qb9 Dac
Chord 2Qute
BMC Pure Dac
Hegel HD12
Bottlehead Dac (no DSD) http://bottlehead.com/product/bottlehead-dac/
My vote goes to ayre. Beautiful natural sound.
I have no complaints with my China made Maverick. It has dual solid state and tube outputs for personal preference.
At that price used QB-9 DSD is way to go.
Thanks for all the suggestions! Numerous that I hadn't considered.

Any thoughts on the Schitt Gungnir?

John
As noted above, I also recommend the Ayre QB-9 USB DAC. I own the Ayre QB-9 and am very impressed with the way it sounds in my system. The new DSD DAC version is much better sounding then my previous Ayre CX-7e CD player. The highs are better and so is the bass.

Overall, the Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC sounds excellent and I highly recommend you audition it. I listen to blues, classical, jazz, folk, country and new age.

I also recommend you run balanced XLR cables from the Ayre QB-9 DAD DAC to your Pass INT30A amplifier.

Please see the review of the Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC in the Computer Audiophile web site below:

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/565-ayre-acoustics-qb-9-dsd-dac-review/

Please let us know what you decide.
UltraFi DAC41 is probably one of the more minimalist DACs in existence. No filters, no power LED, no power switch. The sound is very immediate, if not perhaps containing the tiniest bit of grit. I prefer it over the Questyle CAS192D.
I use a bitfrost with uber analog, A peachtree X1 for usb optical from my Mac Mini server. I use Audvirna software on the Mac Mini to manage it. This is fed to a conrad johnson PV12, pass X150.5 to magnepan 3.6 The sound is great. I put all the music files on an extranl drive to the mac Mini.
Nothing even remotely comes close to the simplicity and performance of the Overdrive SE or SX.

The Overdrive SE has a single output stage that does all tasks, including gain, I/V conversion, analog filtering and drive. No other DAC can claim this, except maybe some NOS DACs. This virtually eliminates the compression you hear with other DACs. It is extremely open and airy.

The digital section is also very minimalist, in order to minimize jitter. As a result it is the most resolving DAC made. Our digital front-ends are unbeaten in the market.

The volume control is not a preamp either. It varies the voltage referenced used for the D/A, so no bit decimation or resolution lost. No varying of any component in the analog output either. It is EXACTLY like running the line out of the DAC directly to the amps because that is what it does, but without the dangers of doing this with software digital volume control.

Just won a shootout with many other top DACs on Audiogon and positive reviews on Dagogo and Audiostream. Sounds like a NOS DAC, but plays 192 and is more resolving.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve - Many of your posts provide information that is very helpful to other members by generously sharing your expertise. With all due respect however, this post is nothing but an obviously biased and free advertisement for your product. Why don't you just purchase some ads for this purpose? It would be much more effective as well as a more respectable way to operate. Just a suggestion, and I've heard others say the same thing.
"Rough ceiling of $2000"... Steve, isn't your dac $6k? Or are you saying you're going to give the op a 65% discount ;)
+1, Bill_k.
I agree with Bill_k. Steve, you have a lot to share, but this post crosses the line between info and infomercial. When I read posts that bring up Atma-Sphere, I respect the fact that Ralph doesn't jump in to beat us over the head with specs and reviews. Positive testimony from owners does a much better job selling gear than gloating from the manufacturer.
Thanks so much Steve! Even though I don't need the pre, I can definitely offer the full 2k on the SE. Used is OK. Please PM me, and we can set up a deal! :)

John
I'll be following this thread. Since I'm also on the lookout for a new DAC. My max budget would be around 1500. So no Lampisator for me.

What I want is:
at least 2 inputs, USB and Coax or BNC
high resolution PCM 24/192

What I do not want is
pre amp function
head phone amps
(fancy) remote control
lots of features

Indifferent
aboutt DSD

Righ now the Chord 2Qute, Metrum Octave MK2, Schiit Gungnir seem to be my to contenders
Mordante,

I have an Octave mk I and cannot recommend it high enough. My only source is a very optimized, no-fan/no-motors PC running Win Server 2012 in core mode with Audiophile Optimizer, JRiver, and into an Audiophilleo 2 with PurePower. Two years ago I paid 1k for the Octave and 1k for the AP.

Late last year I was intrigued with all the talk about DSD and purchased the top of the line exaSound e22, at 3.5k, to replace the Octave and AP. The e22 playing DSD fed from same computer but from HQPlayer upconverting 16/44.1 files to DSD sounded as good as my current setup. HQPlayer sounded much better at upconverting than JRiver. So I'm selling the e22.

Bottom line: the Metrum can sound extremely good, but make sure you feed it a very good, clean signal. I know the mk II has USB input, but I remember someone at computeraudiophile saying he tried feeding it from an Audiophilleo vs Metrum USB input and he liked better the AP. Consider buying a used mk I and a used AP with Purepower (this is key!) and you will be within budget and having fantastic sound.

Whew! Turned out to be a longer post than I expected.
Strangely enough, I've not heard from Steve at Empirical.;)

That said, I'm looking for a good price (probably used) on the following :

Ayre QB-9 DSD
Auralic Vega
Lampi Amber
Nad M51
Wyred 2 DSD

Partly this (negotiable) focus is arbitrary -- there's just a ton of good DACs out there like the many mentioned above, and one has to narrow the search somehow. I'm tentatively of the opinion that there is less to chose among competently realized DACs than between some other components.

I realize that not all of these are "minimalist"; not ideal for me, but if I hit the desired pricepoint, I can live with "excess" features.

Anyway, opinions on the above five very welcome.

John
And this one?

http://www.henryaudio.com/

Anyone heard it?
A decision has been made -- for the moment! :)

Embarrassingly, none of the DACs on my short list made it.

A friend recommended I look at the Simple Designs Sonore exD just as one came up used for a good price here, and I went for it.

Defintely minimalist: USB only, the only control an on/off switch. I'd characterize the sound as leaning toward the warm and laid back, which is what I'm usually after in my gear. In a direct comparison, it readily bested the HRT Music Streamer II which I was using as a stop gap -- as it ought, given the price difference. By memory, three of us thought it compared quite favorably to the much more expensive PSA PWDII it replaced -- arguably, a bit more musical.

A link to a bit of press below; I'd rate the Sonore as definitely worth a look if you are shopping along the lines of this thread.

Thanks to everybody for their advice!

John

http://www.audiostream.com/content/sonore-simple-design-exd-dac
Good luck with the Sonore John,

I was just going to attest to the merits of the Bel Canto e.One 2.5 DAC. It does meet the "minimalist" criteria, but more compared to a larger/beefier DAC/Pre combo (such as SS or tubes).

I've been running this Bel Canto for over a year now- very impressive as a DAC, let alone a DAC/Pre with very clean, musical and slightly warm Class D sound, AND built-in 1/4" headphone amp in a small and low-heat unit.... Has many ins/outs despite the small footprint. I'm currently running mine directly into my Pass Labs x150 with Exc results.

These
Oh, and the Bel Canto used is a ridiculous $900-$1200