Best tube dac available?

I am looking for suggestions for the best tube dac available. I have heard good things about Audio Note, Zanden,and Ypsilon. I only plan on using it for red book cd's.
You've got three heavy hitters right off the bat! :-)
i believe audio research makes a tube dac as well as amr. i am not sure of the model names.

regarding the zanden. i prefer the original zanden to the later versions. i find the original version more full bodied and more in keeping with the classic tube sound, but not to the extent of sounding syrupy , veiled or a significant loss of resolution.
Also worth checking out the Ayon Skylla. I have been using the CD5S which is the Skylla + CDPro2M

Just announced at CES: Audio Research Reference DAC which has the analog stages from a Reference 5 SE (itself using parts derived from the 40th Anniversary Edition). The Reference DAC is also a network connected media player, along with USB/SPDIF/AES inputs.
Hi Husk01,

refer to this thread, lots of great info

Reference DACS: An overall perspective

at the top of the digital thread page.

In the end you will need to try and compare in your own set-up for your self to see which you feel is your preference, we are talking some serious coin here.
I heard the Zanden one box CD player on a pair of wilson sashas at CES and it was flawless.
As a baseline, I would give the fully loaded Audio Horizons Tube DAC 3.1 at try and compare it to those heavy hitters. They have free trials. You may be very suprised and save yourself a ton of money. Make sure they supply good tubes for evalutation if you go that route.
Hi Husk01,

Take a look at my review here on the GON on the Concert Fidelity DAC-040 for details why many of us that have hear the redbook DACS on your list think they were surpassed sonicly in the performance of this DAC.

There is no "BEST" in the world of highend audio, however the Concert Fidelity is a world class piece, Hope you put it on your audtion list.
Hi Teajay,

we have not chatted for a while since my depart and selling my MBL 1621a trans and AA Tube dac off due to not using it much, preferring my vinyl set-up.

It's great to see you are still searching, I read your review and contained some great info. thanks for sharing.

Husk01 is a friend and looking for a external dac for his server so that's why I have been brought back into the loop.

I notice this dac you refer to only offers rca connection to your pre and only one digital connection which is also rca is that correct?

I was kinda shocked seeing these only being offered on such a expensive pce. Really does not provide any options.

I know I would not be too happy because in my current set-up because I spent allot of time and money alone comparing the different digital cables connections offered and my prefference was AES. I also use XLR for my connection from dac to pre so I would also have to get a new pair but in rca.

What are you currently using for your digital cable and IC connection to pre.

Great to read you are enjoying!
I have the Audio Logic 2400 tube dac which i love.
2 tube dacs which my friends have raved about are,
Accustic Arts Reference Tube DAC,
Here's a review on audiogon for the Accustic Arts Reference Tube DAC.

Audio Aero Prima tube DAC. 6moons did a review of the Audio Aero Prima DAC and compared it with the Zanden tube dac. Here's the review.
Quickly having a peak at the Audio Aero mentioned above am I correct in what I saw that the tubes are soldered into place?

If so I find this very od, next is that doing this offeres no options of tube rolling.

AA Ref Tube dac, we already know this is a great pce and basically what Teajay replaced and that I also use to own.
I could throw my 2 cents in for a Space Tech Labs DAC-
DA64XT Super. Not as expensive as those heavy hitters,
but four very large Tubes on Balanced Analog out with
large Power Rectifying Tube. Upgrade path to STR-104
external Super Rectifier with really huge Tubes. STL will
design it to personally match your preferences, and the
rest of your System. Opportunity to have DAC designed
particularly around your needs. Does wonders for Redbook.
Just an alternative suggestion.
hi teejay, does the concert fidelity dac use tubes ??

what is the name of the website, to get information about the dac ??

i checked with a dealer of concert fidelity, who described the dac as a component which disappears. if this is so, it represents the modern tube sound.

the original zanden, sounds more like the classic tube sound.

so, unless one specifies a criterion for best, there are probably many fine dacs which sound different from each other, which would be recommended by their owners.

it seems that the question of best raises the fundamental question among audiophiles, namely, to color or try to be colorless, or the modern tube sound vs the sound of tube gear from the 60's.
I have the Audio Note 2.1. While it's a lower end model in their lineup and I've only compared it to non-tubed DACs I'm very satisfied.

I feel that it takes nothing away, but adds a touch of warmth and depth, and somewhat tames my digital source.
Hi to Dev and Mrtennis,

Dev, the designer of the Concert Fidelity DAC -040, Mr. Tsuda does not believe in using XLR cables. I still use the Stealth Sextet with BNC connections, so I use a high end custom built Cardas BNC to RCA adapter to go into the DAC. I have always used a single ended Stealth Indra IC's from the the DAC to the preamp and still do. I would have never made the move to the CF DAC-040 from the AA Tube Hybrid DAC if it was not on a significant higher level in it's sonic performance and it really is!

Mrtennis, I have heard the Zanden DAC and find it to have what you call a classic tube sound which means to me a beautiful midrange, kinda rolled off high end and a rather mushy bottom end. The CF DAC-040 not only uses 12AU7's but is also tubed rectified, so yes it is tube based. It gives you the natural timbres, 3D imaging, and tonality that tubes have to offer, but is very detailed, transparent, and has excellent extension on the top and bottom unlike other tube based DACS that I have auditioned in the last 3 to 5 years. My second favorite DAC is still the AA Tube Hybrid DAC, this is based only on redbook format which is what I only listen to in my collection of music.
If your list isn't long enough there is always the Blacknote DAC30. It has a 4 tube Class A output stage along with 4 coaxial and 2 async. USB inputs. I think the damm thing even has a defeatable digital volume with remote.
Teajay, Could you list the exact tubes you recommend and the best place to get them? I have just ordered a CF 040 upon your rec.
Ten grand for a CF DAC-040 Non-0versampling DAC? One that
is very succeptible to the Transport used-(No reflection
on the very good sound of NOS DAC's). Kind of hard to take
advantage of High Rez. Downloads- should you ever have a
change of heart. Not sure if production of current CD's
will remain stable-rumors abound! Alot of money for the risk-all that I am saying. I am out of here!
my favorite 12au7 is the brimar with the yellow lettering.

regarding tube dacs, again.

as has been said many times there is no best of any component.

however, there are two basic approaches for designing tube components. the classic tube sound, of which the zanden is an example, or the concert fidelity,as rhe exemplar of the modern tube sound. i suppose that altering the tubes, affects the sound, but the approaches represent what the designer wants to achieve.

i also like wavelength audio non usb dacs, e.g., an early cosecant.
The Ayon makes a nice tubed DAC; with full array of digital in/out..and up samples.. I have the Ayon CD5-5; integrated transport and DAC with tubes; and quite happy with sound when used with my Qsonix music server...much better than the PSAudio it replaced..I believe their stand alone DAC is the Spirit or Orien..not sure name...
Eastern Electric Minimax DAC + opamps
The Audio Research DAC8 that I own is not tube based. After much research and testing they found solid state DAC's are better sounding.
The DAC 8 is the best sounding DAC I could find regardless of price or technology.
Solid State DAC's certainly test better- no arguement!
It is usually the Analog Output Stage and/or Rectifier
that is Tubed on a Tube DAC. Listening is the same
subjective arguement that has been the bane of Audio
ever since Solid State first challenged Tubed Equipment.
There are some things that Tubes do better, others that
Solid State does better! Some try to capture a little of
both! The BEST Solid State Devices might be stratospherically beyond the budget of many. Tubed Version
that might get you 95% of the way there at 2/3rds cost,
might be ticket for many. Talking of the heaviest Iorn
Solid State out there- of course there are expensive Tubed
Units as well.
there is a thread that is running now regarding the amr 777 dac. peerhaps that could be added to your list of candidates.

agian your criteria of sonic excellenece is the salient fcator when considering what is the best sounding dac.

there have been and will be threads which ask the question :

"what is the best ..... ?"

i think such a question is rhetorical and the questioner should consider it as a quest to listen to as many components in one's price range.

if one does not have access to products, then one is being exposed to the risk of disappointment.

well intentioned audiophiles who make "helpful" suggestions do not remove the probability that following one or more of them will lead to disappointment.

there are no guarantees in life.

my personal philosophy is to speak to manufacturers and inquire as to what they think their products sound like or what they intend them to sound like, and go from there.

there is a trade off between personal experience of owners and statements from designers. there are many variables here and no easy answers.
Without any reservation the Ayon Skylla -2 dac uses 8 vacuum tubes
For one it has a world class single ended triode pure class A preamplifier
Then the digital converter that is as Close to the best analog sounding
Dac I have ever heard and or under $9 k even at $15 k this
Combination wouldbe a excellent buy versus even separates in
Many ways this is better ,less cables and more direct with
Parts quality some of the best in the world.
I'm about to purchase Magnepan 1.7's, will power them in my law office with a World Audio Design K5881 Class A tube amp (because my office is not large and loud volume would be a problem) ... I am shopping for the 'BEST SOUND PER DOLLAR' Tube DAC, to use my iPhone, as well as the 'BEST SOUND PER DOLLAR' Tube Preamp ... further, I have a Dbx III, and would like advice as to whether the Dbx is a reasonable additional means to expand dynamic range of iTunes from an iPhone ... Thank you, all. [email protected]
I dunno if I would go with so many tube components in one system :)

Try to listen to them in combination and see if you like them
not all tube dacs have the same "flavor" and when considering bang for the buck, much subjective judgment goes into suc an assessment.

as i have said before, wavelength and the original zanden are my favorite dacs. unfortunately, both are expensive.

since all tube dacs have different degrees of "tubeyness", it is wise to be more specific as to your sonic requirements.
Modwright Elyse - 6922 signal tubes and 5ar4 rectifier (swapped NOS of both into mine) - excellent dynamics
1+ for Modwright Elyse.  Very musical.

Facten, have you tried the Tungsram 7dj8 tubes in your Elyse?  If so, how do they sound compared to the Siemens A-frame 6922?

Thanks and Merry Christmas!
I had a Lamp is Big 6 and it was wonderful then heard the Bricasti M1 and didn't look back. 

(Dealer disclaimer)

EAR & Aesthetix make tube DACs you might want to look into.
Check out the Lampi Golden Gate buzz.
I also have the Modwright Elyse DAC, find it to be a fine player. I still have the stock tubes installed. 
I owned a Lampi BIG 6 (did a LOT of tube rolling) and it was wonderful then heard a Bricasti M1 and it was head and shoulders above the tubed Lampi in my system. The M1 was more dimensional and the soundstage deeper and wider. Have not looked back!

(Dealer disclaimer)
Modwright Elyse - Tungsram 7DJ8 signal tubes, Philips 5R4GYS rectifier and HIFI Tuning Supreme Fuse.  Amazing details and dynamics with KWA150SE in bridged mode.  Best of both worlds!!!
Sorry Skos,
 but the B6 uses small signal tubes…not the same as the big bottle DHT tubes used in the Level 7. I used to have a L4 then moved to a Big7 and finally to a Golden Gate. Big step up everytime. In addition, I have the latest Ladder R2R PCM setup and DSD 256 capability.

The other thing is that I have become tube addicted, as I now roll rectifiers and output tubes with wild abandon to modify the music presentation. Tons of fun.

The Golden Gate is simply phenomenal.
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Typo, I meant Sksos1.

Besides the Bricasti is a SS Dac and the OP is asking about TUBE Dacs.

Like me, he may want to pair a tube Dac with SS amplification, to get the blend he likes.
wisnon ~ Yes I understood what the OP was asking but since I had some experience with a tubed DAC (and also an AYON tubed dac) I just threw in my 2 cents worth. And while the BIG6 was wonderful I'm sure the more expensive Lampi's sound better, they should but I never heard one myself so can't comment. Also the OP didn't ask about tube size so the age old question remains....does size matter!


Yes, size always matters. LoL
+1 more for the Modwright Elyse

I swapped the stock tubes out for Telefunken e88cc's and the Phillips 5r4gys rectifier for a very sweet sound.

Great review on the Elyes here:
I have been very impressed with the LampizatOr line. The Golden Gate is simply amazing!

I reviewed and own the LampizatOr Lite 7 DAC. You can read it here:

Ayon! Stealth is excellent! Got an extra 8500.00! If so! There you go!
You guys are going to laugh but I just got the Oppo Sonica. This is a $799 DAC but i also got the Modwright Truth tube mods and it sounds incredible. It does have the new ESS ES9038PRO SABRE DAC chip. This unit throws out a huge sound stage.
Who laughs at Oppo?