I just went through this drill. I listened to a friend Gungnir as well as everything else that was around for this price. I had to go balanced and USB too as I run Arye electronics. I ended up with the 500 or so Music Hall 25.3. It was as musical as anything else I heard and it's built really well. In Balanced, you bypass it's tube section, but it's just a great sounding and highly revealing DAC for the price. I didn't find anything that blew it away that was under 1500 or so and since things are still changing rapidly in the DAC market, I felt I could sell it for around 400 or so in the next year if something does blow me away used or new (hate buying used digital gear).
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I can't help you with the Gungnir, but I can offer some input on DACs under $1000. I had a chance to try out the Peachtree Dac-itX, which has an ESS Sabre chip and does 24/192 USB, and I thought so highly of it that I went all the way and got one of Peachtree's Grand Integrated X-1 units. And prices were higher then - a Dac-itX is now only $299. I'm sure there will be buyers who look at that price and conclude that there's no way it can sound good at that money (the old "you get what you pay for" axiom), but I compared the Peachtree head-to-head, in the same system, on the same speakers, against the $1800 Line Magnetic LM-502CA and I could not tell the difference between the two (in solid state mode on the LM). For $299, your risk is so low, and if you decide to upgrade in a year and you sell the Peachtree you'll be out very little money. I'm a big fan of being able to try new electronics for very little money and minimal loss in transaction costs, and it's hard to do much better than $299 these days for a good dac. Best of luck in your search.
I have recently had the Hegel and Peachtree in my system against my Krell Stealth and my Music Hall 25.3 and the Music Hall (balanced as was the Krell) and the Krell seemed more musical and neutral to my ears. The MH was more musical (Hegel was close) and just had more air around the notes. The Krell still had more slam than all of the others and it sounded pretty awesome. I've been doing back and forth with Krell and MH to see which one I will sell as I will keep one of them unless I'm blown away by some of the newer ones in the 2k range as that's where you have to go to get better sound for my ears. I have heard most of the Peachtree stuff at a few dealers, but I don't think they were set up with the right systems because they just didn't do it for me at all and there are too many folks I respect who rave about them. They were just too bright for my ears as most digital is. I really think that you need to narrow down things and go listen to a few different DACs just to see what differences you can hear for the same money. I've found that some chips may sound great in one DAC and sound like ass in others. No other way to put it. I think too often folks talk about what chip is in a DAC, but it's all about HOW that chip is used I think. Again, not knocking any of the DAC's folks are talking about, but I will say that Benchmark (I have liked their balances DAC2) and others that I've heard in a true balanced application has sounded much much better than RCA outs. JMHO. Great luck and I hope you enjoy going to stores to enjoy and then support them as you will probably be happiest that way.
I can't talk to the Gungnir, but I do have the Bifrost with the UBER upgrade - which is basically the single ended output stage from the Gungnir.
The sound is open, spacious, very detailed, dynamic, but most of all very musical.
There is a caveat - both the Gungnir and Bifrost uses the USB power from the computer to power the UCB circuits, but there is a simple solution which I have explained in this post...
Schiit Bifrost with USB & Uber upgrades
Many other USB enabled DACs also use the computers USB power - so it applies to more than the Schiit gear.
You will also find using a good quality power cable like those from AntiCables will make the Gungnir perform to it's highest level.
My Bifrost is now performing very close to my analogue rig, so I'm toying with replacing it with the Gungnir - I've heard it's a little more natural.
Others I've spoken with are very impressed with the Gungnir and if the Bifrost is anything to go by, I can see why
Good luck with your choice
Thanks for the info, but the problem with listening to DAC's in audio stores is that there system will be different then mine.
I have a Tri-Vista 300 Integrated with Infinity MTS Prelude speakers. I will be using a DAC via my HP laptop USB port.Most Audio stores in my area don't stock DAC's under $1K
Consider a used Audiophilleo (if it has the PurePower, the better), with a Metrum Octave Mk.I. I have this setup which I bought new, and recently bought an exaSound e22 that retails for $3.5k and is new (and getting much praise). If playing PCM through JRiver the Metrum+AP sounds better. Much better. So much so I will be selling the e22.
FWIW, Steve Nugent from Empirical Audio has been quite vocal here saying the clock is where you should spend most of you budget.more so than on the DAC itself. That is what the AP with PP strives for, and the Metrum is one sweet DAC.