The new Metrum Octave II is out and is in your price range. The old one sounded spectacular for the money, but lacked USB input and 192kHz support. The new one has both. IMO this is one of the best sub-$2000 DACs available.
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Burson conductor may be a bit over your budget, but its a well engineered unit that has been mentioned everywhere. According to stereotimes, it have pace, bass, dynamism and tone that makes it an enjoyable device. Can be used as the heart of any hifi system, or pc based music.
Breakout? that means it clearly is better ,And a bang for the buck deal.
So lets see 2012? ahh no 2011 no 2010 no 2009 no etc.
So far never been a breakout in DACs except for the 'flash in the pan' rave about it today, but forget about it tomorrow sort.
So why is 2013 going to be any different?
I mean I enjoy reading about how such and such DACS are killer.. but then six months later.. ?? why did they not storm the world? and have all the big guys raving? (because they wer NOT any big deal, except to some kid who knows nothing) Or is it a conspiracy?
I do not believe in 'santa claus, nor the easter bunny, nor that some cheap DAC is suddenly going to be THE one to 'break through' and be fantastic, way better than anything prior, and only cost $100.
(If anyone cares to name the DAC which WAS 'the' DAc in any prior year, which is still the hot item to buy. glad to hear about it. Gee nothing? I wonder why?
Of any audio item (besides cables) DACS are totally word of mouth rave then forget. All marketing hype to push sales.
Sorry I'll wait until some actual breakthrough happens.
And it AIN"T happened yet.
I'll continue to be really happy with my 12 year old, paid $250 used for it, DAC.
I disagree with Elizabeth. With the continuous development of computer audio, and HD and DSD downloads slowly but surely replacing CDs and SACDs, there have been advances in DAC quality, features and price lately: 24/192 and DSD capability, asynchronous USB, battery power, regulation, under-$1K value, etc.
I do not believe in 'santa claus, nor the easter bunny, nor that some cheap DAC is suddenly going to be THE one to 'break through' and be fantastic, way better than anything prior, and only cost $100It seems you don't believe in technology advances either.
Jeez...way to throw a wet blanket over the whole thread Elizabeth.
Wet blanket? good. At least the idea that every new DAC out there is NOT the next World beater will sink in.
Certainly many areas have had additions to what a DAC can do, USB, 24/192.. but those are in most new DACS, none of which is the magic bullet DAC requested.
I was ranting abouut all the mini hype over each new DAC popping up, as if that DAC was somehow 'special" Well it AIN'T!!
If i needed USB, or 24/192 I am certain plenty of used DACs which are no longer the "DAC flavor of the day" will do fine.
I am only railing at the idea out there is some magic DAC no one has heard of which is perfect, dirt cheap, infinitely upgradeable, and ALL my friends will look at with awe.. NOT.
If busting that bubble hurts.. so be it.
I agree with Elzabeth that DACs are a highly flavor of the month and giant killer hype prone category of electonics. In my limited experience there are not game changing breakthrough technologies, but by and large you get what you pay for (with clear price/performace leaders in each price range of course). Having said that, D/A technology (and price performance) has been steadily improving over the year.
Above your price range at $2K, but the new Benchmark HGC is very interesting. I'm trying one out, have had it in my system for less than a week so far and am initially quite impressed, I owned their original DAC1 and, from memory, the new unit sounds not anything like it. I need to hear the Chord QuteHD among others.
"I am only railing at the idea out there is some magic DAC no one has heard of which is perfect, dirt cheap, infinitely upgradeable, and ALL my friends will look at with awe.. NOT."
Elizabeth .. I don't believe the OP was asking about dirt cheap, magic DACs, just DACs of interest in the $1500 range (which is hardly dirt cheap to many). I agree with Bill regarding the QuteHD and recommend giving it a listen.
Yet another cheap new DAC is the new HRT Music Streamer HD. Alan Sircom goes gaga over it in the latest Hi-Fi+, saying that "correctly fettled," meaning with something like Elijah Audio's BPM connector to a KingRex U Power battery power supply, it "is the best DAC you can buy at this time." And it only costs $450.
Speaking of the HRT Music Streamer HD Vladimir, did you see the current Stereophile review of that device?
Atkinson indicates "superb (20-bit) resolution and low noise" as well as "excellent" J-Test data, then goes on to discuss a "peculiar behavior with high-level 19 and 20kHz tones to contend with," which manifests as 3rd order harmonics in the 19.1kHz tone at -66dB. He sort of implies this behavior should not be audible by saying "distortion is low at all frequencies," and that "It is very unlikely for music to contain high-level tones at the top of the audioband," and he then blames it "perhaps" on the digital filter.
Dudley (the reviewer) goes on to list song after song where he portrays the high frequencies to sound every sort of nasty just short of sizzling bacon and, in the end, says he prefers his Halide DAC HD, which measured good last August but was beat by the HRT unit in pretty much every measurement category (although JA called the Halide measurements "superb" and characterized the HRT HD measurements as "significantly better than the Music Streamer Pro" - a subtle slam?). At the end of the HRT review, JA sort of explains Dudley's comparison by mentioning the Halide has the "slow-rolloff reconstruction filter" that "listeners seem to like."
In my opinion, this is why folks need to be very careful with reviews. Heck, I probably cannot even hear anywhere near 20kHz, much less a distortion artifact buried at -66dB! Dudley's issue with high frequencies, stated as it was, could result in significant lost sales for HRT.
I am not disputing what Dudley heard but, if it were me, and if I saw JA's generally great measurements, as well as the glowing reviews of the unit by Alan Sircom at HiFi+, Tom Gibbs at Positive Feedback, and Neil Gader at TAS, at a minimum I would want to let someone else listen to the unit in a different system to rule out system issues and to confirm what I was hearing. The review did not indicate that JA actually listened to the device in his system but, if I were editor and saw that conclusion, I would want a confirmation before publishing.
I work in an industry where our "product" is our professional recommendation (intellectual property). We have a second review of every project and if there is not consensus, we pull in more folks to make sure we have it right. I can certainly understand why manufacturers are afraid of reviews where a published opinion, significantly affecting potential sales, is based solely on the listening of one individual through a single audio system.
I will be doing my own listening to the HRT HD soon so I appreciate that Alan Sircom introduced us to the benefits of using a USB power device, since I will be trying the HD with the new ifi unit which also offers galvanic isolation. I can also relate to Tom Gibb's comment that, "Music Streamer HD - through it, everything just sounds more like music," since I have always found that to be true of Kevin Halverson's digital offerings.
Butler mirrors my experience with the Metrum Acoustics Octave. Most of the DACs I auditioned in the recent past were only marginally better than my ModWright modified tubed output stage Denon.
After reading reviews by Elbroth and Bhobba (Bill) here and on the Computer Audio site I blindly ordered the Octave. Like Butler its the first time I can listen to digital relaxed.
Read more post by these two they're experienced without an agenda IMO.
Ya, I think the DSD dacs, (Mytek, Korg) could be considered 'breakout'
I know that my Grant Fidelity Dac11 at $350, delivered, is performing above and beyond what I could have found under $1k a couple of years ago.... but I'm not a digital listener, after mt Modwright 999es died, I threw in the towel, and frankly, compared to my vinyl rig (quite modest) even that Modwright couldn't 'hang'
ffwd to today: 15ips Master Tape dubs are tops for me, with vinyl and digital very close 2nd... I'd say the SB3 and Dac 11 have combined convenience, accessibility to 24/96, and sheer musicality to really win me over to digital... never thought I'd say it.. I listen to a $350 DAC as much as I listen to vinyl!!
I'm happy about that.
Sincerely, Enjoying digital audio,
I would spend your $1.5K on a used upgraded Perfect Wave DAC, with firmware version 2.0.2 installed, if you can find one at that price. It was once the flavor of the month, is not as much now, but still sounds quite good. Check out the DAC shoot out described on Changstar by some hardcore DIY types. They all agreed the PW DAC handily beats out the competition in the same general price range.
All that said, there are not night and day differences between most DACs. (I have only owned one that I hated, the much praised Ayon CD-2, which could almost break glass when turned up.) Certainly, marginal dollars are better spent on speakers than DACs
"New and improved" will NEVER compensate for a well designed and implemented output stage and power supply. For that you have to spend more otherwise the budget DAC's will be more of preference in a given system rather than standing out as universally "better". This is my opinion from my personal experiences the past few years. You can do well and yes, they probably are improving but it seems more to me like a game of musical chairs, if you catch my drift.
Good luck with your search and remember, these DAC's can have a different presentation in different systems so it's not always easy to know how they might work in yours, something to REALLY think about. I have experienced this first hand. You have to read between the lines when choosing a DAC for your system then try to determine how it might work in yours. Go slow, don't take anyone's word for anything just try to build a data bank of knowledge of reported sonic characteristics and how that might work out in your system. It just isn't so simple as "best" but what your system's strenghs and weakness are and how that DAC might work in it. This is fundamental for choosing any component but with the overwhelming number of DAC's flooding the market it can become sensory overload. As someone above mentioned, I would consider looking at something used that might be comparable to spending 1.5K new, food for thought. If you've got plenty of dough to burn try them all and then you'll know for sure!:)