Chord Dave or Ayre QX5 Twenty DAC???

Down to two choices in DAC's, the Chord Dave or the Ayre QX-5 Twenty. Comes down to best sound or versatility and cost. Speakers are Wilson Audio Sasha's and amp is T+A 2500R. Love the versatility of the Ayre but the sound of the Chord Dave is phenomenal, not sure if the Ayre could compare. Not sure if the Chord would still sound as good without spending mass amounts on a power regenerator and power cable. 
Wouldn't think it would be a tough choice if you can get over the garishly ugly design of the Dave.  From my reading the Dave is a top flight DAC.  The Ayre is not.

Having said that, can't you get loaners from local dealers and make up your own mind?  Neither of the two are cheap.
I suggest you add the Bricasti M1 SE DAC to your audition list.  I am running mine balanced, direct into my Hypex NCore NC400 Bridged Mono Block class D Power Amplifiers and it sounds terrific.   

I have not heard the Chord Dave or the Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC's.  The Bricasti M1 DAC is excellent sounding and I highly recommend you look at it.
My friend had the Chord Dave and Bricasti M1 SE. He said, "it's not even close, the Chord Dave is more musical, better separation, and better mids/highs." All around he feels the Chord Dave is better, but he doesn't like the way it looks.
My friend had the Chord Dave and Bricasti M1 SE. He said, "it's not even close, the Chord Dave is more musical, better separation, and better mids/highs
For that amount of money, I hope it is.

With audio components it is  about the sound quality when all is said and done. If I heard a component I truly believed sounds "phenomenal" (in the words of musicfx)  That'd be the one for me. Yes I'd want it to look good  but that's a secondary concern. Give me the better sound every time. You'll be using your ears much more than your eyes in the long term.


I have the Ayre QX-20, replaced my Ayre QB-9DSD. Both are excellent DACs, don't know why Bar81 says not. I heard the QX-20 and the Chord in the same room at a shop; I preferred the Ayre. You might not.
Last year I did an expensive experiment, and owned the Chord Dave, Bricasti M1, and Berkeley Ref Series 1 at the same time. With multiple outputs from my Aurender N10 and multiple inputs on my Luxman integrated amp, I was able to do various tests somewhat easily.

And very clearly to my ears, the Chord Dave offered more detail, more warmth, deeper soundstage and just plain more toe-tapping than either the Bricasti or the Berkeley.

I sold the latter two, still love the Chord Dave, and look forward to Chord's new gizmos that are supposed to improve the Dave's sound tremendously. But even with no extra gizmos...

Dave, who adds that while he didn't stick with the Chord Dave for its headphone amp capabilities that's also quite quite quite good
The Bricasti M1 SE is excellent but I like the features of the Ayre QX5. Although the Bricasti is excellent I would choose the Chord Dave. With the Chord, I will have to still use USB from my MacBook to the DAC because of its price. I read this may still sound great. With the Ayre, I could use the MacBook as the Core with Roon which is what I want to do. With the Chord I would have to wait a year or two to be able to do that until I have more funds. Not sure if there is a reasonably priced streamer with Roon & Tidal that would be high quality.
Both these DAC's put you in Totaldac territory. I would much prefer a Totaldac D1 Six to anything else mentioned here.
Hi Paul,
That’s the dilemma with High End audio, so many good choices are available and you can’t hear all of them . Invariably someone will post that the Chord Dave sounds better than the Totaldac in their opinion, just the way it goes 😊
Which is why it's always nice when people answer the actual question asked instead of turning it into a recommendation thread.

I didn't say that the Ayre was not a nice DAC; simply that it's not in the same league as top tier DACs - which if multiple commentators are to be believed, such top tier includes the Dave.  Since I haven't heard the Dave (as said above, way too many choices these days) I couldn't say one way or another definitively.  In any case, I'm set with what I have now.   Let's see if anyone else has heard both and can add to the discussion.
I hear you charles1dad. However, I have had both the DAVE and the Totaldac here, and it was very clear to me in my 2 channel system that the Totaldac translated much better with a speaker system. With headphones, I am not sure, and I think this is where the DAVE gets allot of its praise. In my system though, I just didn't get it. DAVE was great, no doubt, but not magic like the Totaldac. Magic in that the Totaldac sounded like real musicians playing music in my room with me.

Sorry to recommend another product, but I have experience with one of the DAC's the OP mentioned, and my findings of it vs. another, so I feel that I did nothing wrong.
I didn’t say that the Ayre was not a nice DAC; simply that it’s not in the same league as top tier DACs
@bar81 Have you heard the Ayre?   Is your conclusion based on personal experience?
Hello Paul,
To be clear I wasn't critical of your impression and opinion at all. I just know that someone somewhere will say I've also heard both DACs and chose the Dave over the Totaldac. Based on what I have read and heard about the Totaldacs I don't doubt that it is as you described. 
Yes. I like Ayre as a company (you can see that I’m a big fan of their amplification) and like to see what everyone is talking about re their digital since they sell a lot of units (and thus have a lot of threads posted about them) due to their very reasonable prices - their earlier work like the CX-7e was garbage (the only one I owned - relied upon reviews and got burned - the rest I’ve heard at dealers in Ayre systems). They turned the corner with the DX-5 and have been improving.
I really am amazed at some of the comments about the Ayre.  I owned the Empirical OSDE/SE and nearly upgraded to the OSDX.  I have had the Dave, Berk Ref mk 2 as well as many other DAC's.  I"ve listened to the Trinity Ref DAC, the DCS DAC systems multiple times. I have not heard the Bricasti or EMM, but I have a few friends who own them. I also have a few friends who have them.  Both love their DAC's as they should.  I only heard the TotalDac once and felt it nailed everything.  To my ears I love the liquidity of it.  From top to bottom is was just awesome.  I also love the new Brinkman DAC.  It's really special and I think folks will love it.

The Ayre, to my ears, is only a hair behind the TotalDac.  I couldn't justify getting the TotalDac with what Ayre offers as half the cost.

Ayre vs Dave.  The Dave and Chord in general is known for awesome mids and highs.  To my ears it lacks in the bass. It's musical and goes low, but not as low as the Ayre.  The Ayre is very natural in the mids and highs.  It has the best pace of the two also I feel (again for MY ears).  At first I didn't think it was as detailed as other top flight DAC's I've heard or had in the system, but it's more detailed.  It just does it without any distortion or edge.  I don't think it gives up anything to Dave IRT the mids and upper range either.  I love the Chord products, but they don't do bass as well as many other comparable products. I've spoken to two well regarded designers about this. One says that he wishes he could get the mids and high right the way the Dave does, but he agreed with me about 100hz down.  

The one thing that you have to also be careful with in digital is that it sound differently in each home.  They are just so reliant on the quality of power you feed it and also which source and input you are using.  The one thing about Ayre that is sweet is that it is a digital hub.  They have maximized all the inputs. I've tried all of them and feel that they got it right.  It did take well over 500 hours for mine to break in, but once it did, it vaulted itself into the top tier DAC's for my money.  

The DCS DAC's to me can be a bit dry.  They are as open and detailed as you will get and the bass is really deep.  Honestly the bass on them when used with the Wilson XLF's was the best I've ever heard on those speakers.  I personally don't like the Wilson's.  I'm a Vandersteen guy as most know who follow any of my posts.  That gives you an idea of what I like in my sound.

The Berkley ref 2 to me wasn't in my final 4 DAC's.  I just didn't love it.  I think it's a nice sounding DAC and does nothing wrong, but I think that the DAVE has much better sound and the TotalDac blows it out of the water IRT involvement and top to bottom accuracy.  It also has a pace about it that betters the Ayre only by a smidge and not on all tracks.  

The Dave does throw a huge soundstage which I love.  If the DAVE had deeper bass, I'd say go with it, but the only way anyone will ever know is by getting them all in their systems.

For anyone to say the QX5/20 isn't an upper end DAC makes me wonder what they are listening to.  I'm not saying it's better than anything mentioned in this thread and I'm trying to stay on track of what the OP asked.  

If you don't want to audition the Ayre, because you read someone who says it's not a top tier DAC, then you are doing yourself a disservice.  JMHO

Your original question was should I purchase the Chord Dave DAC or the Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC.  There are 16 posts "striving" to answer your question.  Some people are recommending the Chord Dave DAC and others like the Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC. Other people, like myself, are recommending you consider other DAC choices, such as the Bricasti M1 SE DAC.  

Some posts are expressing strong likes, or dislikes, for one DAC or another DAC. I believe that everyone posting a similar like question on Audiogon has received similar responses.  Based on my experience, the only way you can make the right decision for yourself is to listen to the DAC’s mentioned above.  I also know, that in many cases, you might not be able to audition some of these DAC’s.

As you already know, everyone posting on Audiogon has a different opinion but the only one that counts is your opinion.  All of the above posts are interesting opinions and information.

I suggest you purchase a USA made DAC since it is easier to ship back for upgrades, repairs, etc.  You need to select the DAC that offers the features you need now and in the immediate future. It is big plus if your DAC can be easily upgraded. For example, I upgraded my Bricasti M1 DAC to the SE DAC version (Ayre offers similar upgrades).  You need to ensure your new DAC is compatible with your existing equipment (for example, balanced connections).  Does your new DAC have special power requirements and need special power cables?  The most important factor is how does your new DAC sound in your room.  If possible, I suggest you borrow one of these DAC’s for a listening session in your system and environment.  I was able to borrow a Bricasti M1 DAC for my home audition.  As noted, I liked it very much and purchased it.  

I also agree with ctsooner's post above that you should audition the Ayre QX-5 Twenty DAC.   It is a top tier DAC that sounds excellent and has many useful features.   All of the DAC's listed above are expensive so you need to take the time to ensure you purchase the DAC that is right for you.    

I have a Dave.  If it helps, I found the sound over a two channel speaker system (I.e., not headphones) was notably inferior when the Dave was hooked direct to power amp.  Thin, lack of warmth and bass.  Sounded way better with linestage preamp (using boulder 2010/2060).  Some may disagree - my system, my ears etc.  That said, when I got it hooked up through my pre I found the Dave to be quite a bargain at its price hitting far above its weight class.  Great little DAC.  Two/three years ago you would have to spend a whole bunch more to get that performance.  Haven't heard the other one you are looking at.  Good luck.
wardl, thank you for the information. If I purchase the Dave, I will be using a MacBook pro with an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable. I also have a USB Disruptor. I would also be using at times a Rega Apollo R CD as a transport. I would use balanced cables from the Dave to my integrated amp which is the T + A 2500R. In your opinion, would this sound good? Since the Dave costs more than the Ayre, I would not be able to buy anything else for a while. I do have a dedicated circuit with an isolated ground. 
hgeifman, thanks for your input. I have heard the Ayre at one audio store and the Dave at another store. Of course each store prefers the one they sell. The Ayre had a smooth clean sound  that I like but the Dave had the huge soundstage which I love and a little more detail. The Ayre also is Roon ready and will stream Tidal. I do not know which will sound better in my system. I am worried about the Dave with the equipment I have and I do not have a power conditioner or regenerator. 
ctsooner, thanks for the input on the Ayre QX5/20. The totaldac is out of my price range. I did see a used one for sale, but for me right now, I prefer to have new with warranty since it is such a huge investment for me. I really like the Ayre because it is one piece (saves on outlets and shelf space) and really does what I want to do, which is ditch the MacBook and use it as the core so I can use Roon. I worry about the Dave if it will sound as good on my system. At the audio store, OMG, it did sound amazing. Big decision for me, it is going to have to last me till the end. 
Music, I wish you could take both home and listen for a few weeks.  The OSDE/SE I used to use throws a bigger stage than the DAVE.  It's the largest soundstage I've ever heard in a DAC regardless of cost.  There is a HUGE thread about the DAC shootout that my friend started.  He has had everything in his system other than the QX since it's so new.  I chose the Empirical because of Matt's thread.  I've gotten to know most of the bigger posters on that thread and we are in constant contact, so I like to believe I have a decent idea of how the DAC's all sound. Just because I like one, doesn't mean that you or anyone else will.  T'hjat's the fun of audio, lol.

When someone hears the Ayre initially, they may feel that another DAC throws a bigger stage or that another one is more resolving, however I found out, as I said above, this is not even close to being the case.  The Ayre is giving you so much micro and macro detail, that you don't even notice it until you are days or even weeks into it.  The reason for me is that I just melt into the music.  If I had the funds, the only other DAC I'd get over it MAY be the Total DAC, but I also have found the 'digital hub' so easy and fun to use that I probably would still lean towards the Ayre, however I'm also a bit cheap, lol.  

What seems to set the Ayre apart is the fact that it uses what may be the best clock you can get in a device.  Go check out the interview that Michael Lavorgna did with Charlie of Ayre.  They discuss the clock they use and how expensive it is etc...  That's one reason I believe it sounds so great with anything I've fed it.  I use a rebuilt Mac Mini server that was built and used by Steve Nugent of Empirical audio at all his shows.  He rebuilt the board, cut out anything that wasn't audio related and it uses an external Paul Hynes LPS.  HE hand built the solid silver connecting cable to the Mac too.  All my music is well recorded stuff for shows and much is hi rez up to 192.  I have had this server up against nearly everything and it just sounds better.  I also feed the Frontier cable box to the Ayre and it makes it sound the best I've ever heard and I used to use a reclocker on everything when I had the Empirical so I wasn't feeding it crap.  Even the Marantz Blue Ray sounds excellent when I decide to play CD's through it.

Unlike most, it gets the timbre of the music right.  When I listen to my Basis TT, Benz cartridge and Rhea phono pre, running balanced through my AX5/20, with AQ Water cable, I relax into the music.  I get the same feeling with the Ayre QX5/20.  I think it's the clock and I also feel strongly that you get the macro and micro detail because of the low noise floor.  They build the Ayre power filtration device directly into the DAC along with the double diamond circuits.  Charlie Hansen, to me, is as good as a designer as we have in the business today.  Some DAC's have great analog filtering and others have great digital filtering.  Charlie has the funds and got the right folks in place to do both great. This is one area that he excels over the smaller companies.  Chord is also great at this, but like I said, the biggest place the Ayre beats the Chord and by a fair amount it the quality and depth of the bass.  I know I"m not the only one who feels this way.  Owners of course will argue with me about this, but I promise you that when you go head to head, it's obvious.  

I have no dog in the fight and I've tried to share the differences as I and some others I listen with at time have heard between these two units.  There is another thread on here about the QX5 where some folks have chosen the Ayre over the Dave and I know of two of the guys how have had both in their house to listen to and they said the Ayre just grew on them.  Many products sound GREAT in the showroom or in your home as they do one or two things really great (or so it seems).  I feel that one of the most difficult things that any component does is soundstage size. Some always throw a huge stage and to my ears , this is what Dave does.  The problem arises when the stage wasn't recorded as big as what's being heard. That's all components and not just the DAC.  Ayre seems to get the scale correct.  I didn't have a recording available where I was there when it was produced, but I have spoken to someone who has done this test with numerous DAC's from Total to Ayre to EMM to Bricasti to DCS to Trinity to Berkley and the list goes on.  He's  pro reviewer and knows many producers.  He said that Ayre just gets this part spot on and he owns Ayre amps because of this.  

Again, this isn't an ad for Ayre, lol.  Some folks want other DAC's for many reasons and you may too, but I know it's not difficult to get a QX5 into your house to listen to.  I do know there are a few Chord dealers around so it will depend on where you live.  

The other thing I personally won't do it buy a used DAC.  Too many problems there potentially.  I too want a new warrantee from a larger company who most probably will be around and who will have engineers who can always fix the product, unlike a smaller company where the owner can retire and you are screwed in 5 or more years.  I've seen that way too often in this business.  Chord isn't going to have that problem as they too are a good size company and not reliant on a staff of one or two.  

I do like buying products from US based companies when I can, because I live here and it's easier to get repairs done if needed. Yes, I've needed warrantee repairs on products from time to time.  The other thing that I love about Ayre and why I own their AX5/20 and QX5/20 is because they upgrade their products and only charge minimal fees for upgrades depending on what they do.  Their lifespan per product is at least 7 years (Vandersteen is similar in this regard) and to me, that's important.

Well, that's way too much info and it's personal stuff for MY EAR's, lol. I also LOVE using Ayre link as I can use my universal remote control and it totally controls both Ayre components along with my blue ray, TV, Apple TV, Cable box etc....  YEs, I live with my wife and the kids visit and I need to have my system user friendly, plus I can also log in from wifi anywhere in the world to control the system (yes I've done this when my daughter was dog sitting for a week). 

You have chosen two of the best products in their price ranges. Both punch above their costs and offer totally different functionality and sound.  You won't go wrong either way.  
Why not buy a used Hugo to see if you like the Chord sound?  Plus no fancy power cord or conditioner needed.  You might find it is all you need as I did.

Just to confuse the situation more, here is a BLIND 6.5 hour shootout at a Dealer's studio in Florida (audioshark).

BLINDED Dac shootout with a Suncoast Audio customer in Florida
 Originally Posted by Moneypenny 

 I have to share my story of a high end DAC shootout. As Mike knows, I got to know him through Audioshark Forum. Elsewhere in this forum you can learn that Mike (Suncoast Audio) has finally put down brick and mortar. My wife and I happened to be traveling in Mid-Feb and made arrangements on a Friday to have a blindfolded shootout of 5 top DACs. first, I can't say enough about the Suncoast facility - it has to be one of the top spots in U.S. - absolutely fantastic. Mike replicated a version of my equipment (Ayre pre/amp, Aurender and Vandersteen Quatros - vs my Ayre ref Kx-R/VX-R and Carbon 5As. My wife and I were blindfolded through all but the final two selection. Going in, my wife was fully locked like Harry Potter "..Not Slytherin, not Slytherin..." but rather "....not Lampizator, not Lampizator..." due to the WAF factor.

Key results:
- Used my Dana USB cable on all DACs
- Tunes varied from Annie Lennox - Into the West, Brad Mehldau - Waltz for J.B., Stevie Ray Vaughn - Tin Pan Alley, Symphony #2 in E Minor Op. 27 - Budapest Festival Orchestra, Moondance - Van Morrison
- So here is how they sorted - first the eliminations:
- Ayre Qx-5 - was immediately eliminated as too bright for both of us. Sound was good and soundstage was clear but the hair raised on the back of our necks during the Annie Lennox crescendo ( note after the shootout, Mike mentioned he likes the QX5 with another USB
- Berkeley Ref 2 - this was my initial favorite but my wife felt it was mushy in the soundstage background. We did listen again after the shootout and enjoyed it more and the sound was excellent just not the top one
- Dave Chord - this one had amazing depth to the sound stage, excellent separation and clarity BUT it was also too bright. Mike tried another USB cable but alas, was still a bit too shrill for our tastes
- You guessed it - when we took off the masks - left standing were the B7 and Atlantic Lampizators - The music was warmer and more organic. For us, it sounded more analog and natural.
...And the winner is: after 6 1/2 hours with Mike and swapping tubes in the B7 and the Atlantic rectifier, the B7 clearly was the winner. The clincher was the Symphony #2 which was mesmerizing - truly one of the most emotional connections ever with the music. My wife is thrilled with the sound (and will live with the aesthetics) and swears there must be some type of gypsy magic sprinkled onto the B7.

We essentially ordered the B7 with the set up we loved ( tubes and wires) and included a Denali 6000T per Mike's recommendation.

As a couple who has shopped most Hi-Fi shops -on the East Coast we enjoyed our experience with Mike in his new shop. Mike is passionate and spends less time selling and more trying to find the right sound for us. He guided us in the process and adjusted as we reflected on each DAC. It's nice to have a guide on the trail. Truth of the matter, I think he enjoyed the shootout too.

What fun! Can't wait for the equipment to ship to our house.

Thanks for sharing. Have heard good things about Mike, but never knew where he was.  I"m heading down to Lido, where my sister lives in a month or two. I"ll need to call him to meet him.  Had no idea he had such nice products there.

Did you ever hear the QX5 with the AQ Diamond or Cardas's top of the line?  I've had many a cable with them over the last many months and noticed huge differences in sound. Personally, I've never heard it sound bright in the high end at all.  That surprised me.  As I posted, it's one of those products that I needed to listen to for a long time before I fully got it.  I have only heard it sound ragged once and that was on a newer, non broken in one.  

I've personally never given a ton of listening to the tubed DAC's as I don't want to deal with tubes anymore.  I liked the new Romulus a lot with stock tubes.  Haven't heard the B7, but I'm sure it's awesome based on what you had it up against.

Why did you change cables on the B7 and not the other DAC's that you listened to?  Just curious as that plays a huge role in digital I feel. Bigger than interconnects as long as you are using top gear.  

Just to show there's no best but just personal preferences / system synergy.  

Used my Dana USB cable on all DACs

( note after the shootout, Mike mentioned he likes the QX5 with another USB
Why?   Should use the best matching cable?

I had a Lampizator Atlantic in my system for 2 weeks and it's very very good ... most neutral Lampizator to my ear.   Ultimately I prefer my more neutral and a touch more transparent ModWright Sony HAP-Z1ES.   But if anyone needs a little tube magic, Atlantic would do the trick.
Forget about the Chord Dave or the Ayre QX-5 Twenty, I had them both but sold them for a French DAC Metronome C8 dual box for only $8000 purchased from Audiogon used but still a bargain considering the unit retail over $20K+...The Metronome C8 has both tube/solid state outputs via a simple switch and you could enjoy the best of both world! It is simply amazingly musical DAC with holographic 3D imaging that you could reach out and touch but the midrange is so natural so scary real...look for a used C8 or even better the Metronome C8+ DAC and you will be happy for a long long time...
Lampizator Atlantic and the Modwright Sony HAP. Now that's a very interesting top tier product comparison for certain. You could not possibly go wrong with either of these.The Totaldac would be a worthy competitor.
Totaldac was brought up earlier and he said why pay that much when you can get the QX5/20 for so much less.  It's great to bring up used DAC's, however they are not always available and he stated that he wanted new.  Don't blame him a bit either. He also stated that Roon is very important to him, so he needs a DAC that will be a Roon endpoint, which the Ayre is.  Are the other DAC's folks are suggesting also Roon endpoints? I"m sure some are, just am not up on all the DAC's that are.

Just because we all like a component, he's asking for some specifics for his situation.  Lot's of great choices for sure.  Not sure if he wants to deal with the tube thing or not.  I also noticed that most of the friends I have or posters I've seen post on Lampizator or other tube DAC's talk about changing out the stock tubes or other ones.  Unless you are a tube roller, you probably don't want to bother going there, lol.  I"ve done my share over the years with CJ, Audio Research, Aesthetix, Jadis, Quicksilver, DIY preamp, Audible Illusions, Cary, Marantz, Counterpoint and a few others.  It was always a pain in the butt for me, lol.  I never fully got the enjoyment out of it that others seem to.  The only tube gear left is the Aestheix Rhea that I've decided to sell even though it just came back with a new, updated power section and tubes.  

I decided I like the Ayre so much, that I'm finally giving up the analog and will sell it all.  Like I posted earlier, I also LOVE the new Brinkman DAC too.  I will eventually get one in the house to A/B vs the Ayre.
I like comparisons, but with companies offering more than one DAC product, the comparison is a bit confusing. May I ask for some specifics? Like the model from said company in comparisons?
Ps audio top dac player is very good .
The Lampizator is very natural sounding,  and can get pricy depending on Vacuum tube choices. Your budget will determine .impossible to put any dac under 10k as  best way to many Sonic differences.
I had both the Chord Dave and Ayre Qx5-twenty for audition and I found the Dave to be the most pleasing through my Pass Labs Int60 /Magico S1MkII speakers.   I did test the Dave bypassing my Preamp and it had a big drop in SQ with thin bass so perhaps this is what the other poster heard.   The Ayre had a very edgy quality to it which I found detracting.
Now I just need to get the funds for the Dave.
Edgy quality for the Ayre?  How many hours did it have on it?  The only time I've heard that word IRT the Ayre is when it didn't have about 500 hours on it. It does take that long to break in, but when it does, it's as musical as most any DAC regardless of cost.  

Not saying you didn't hear what you did as we all hear differently and like different devices, but you really caught me off guard when you used the word edgy.  

As I've said above, most DAC's are highly dependent on the quality of what they are fed (just like everything else, right).  I once was in an audition of a few DAC's and the music they were using was pop/rock and highly compressed.  Almost like AM radio, lol.  The tube gear we listened to made the music sound it's best as it rolled off a bit on the upper octaves, however when you put on well recorded music, it was the other DAC's that sounded best.  We also played with the cables and found that the overall best cables were the TotalDac cable and the AQ Diamond (we only used USB this day).  I have loved both of those cables in my system.  AQ being the most neutral of the two and the Totaldac is just a tad more open, but not quite as neutral in the mids where is gives a bit of a creamier texture.  It was cool going back and forth between the two.  

I realize that we don't all have perfect recordings, lol.  Things always depend on what you listen to and how you listen.  

The other major thing IRT digital and new DAC's is how will you set them up?  How will you feed them?  I have found that personally, I like the ethernet connection best.  I am slowly putting together an optical wire converter to network and feed my Ayre via it's ethernet connection.  I've heard it this way a few times and to my ears it had beaten every DAC I've had in the system that was USB only.  Many of us have or are doing this and feel the same way.  There are a few threads detailing these connections on Audiogon and other sites as well.  

I've never heard any DAC sound great when run without a true preamp.  Even at the lower price points, you really need a good preamp to get the most out of your components.  That's one of the few things IRT audio that most agree on.

The other thing is that most of the DAC's being discussed in this thread are outstanding and leaps and bounds better than anything we could get just a few years ago.  I assume that the DAC's will keep getting better and better as the newer chips become available.  

Concur.  The one word I would never use to describe the Ayre is edgy - it's super smooth.

It continues to amaze me how many people still think that the preamp is not the lynchpin of any good system - running direct will never be better than running a top flight preamp.  However, I wouldn't go so far as to say that that is the case even in lower end systems - there are many cases in which running direct is better than using a poor preamp assuming the DAC is properly designed for running direct.  I found my older Wadia to sound better direct except with top preamps - of course you had to keep it above 75 for the volume if running direct so as not to lose resolution.

Definitely on the high end, it's been a pleasant surprise how much improvement has occurred in the last couple of years.  It wasn't until my latest source setup that I finally became convinced that digital has *fully* arrived  - I'm good, period. 

i’ve owned the Trinity dac and still own the Lampizator Golden Gate, which i’ve recently had upgraded to the newest 512dsd dac, plus the superclocks and the newest RTRpcm dac. last November i had a chance to do an extended demo of the SGM server, which is a super hot-rodded HQ Player optimized server. this was a big step up over my CAPSv4 server. then a month ago i had the chance to compare the GG on the SGM to 2 other dacs in my system, the Nagra HD dac with the optional power supply and output transformers, and the new Aqua Formula RTR pcm dac.

loved the liquidity of the Nagra HD with the SGM, but the Aqua Formula ($14k USD list price) on the SGM was best in my system. the Formula is a space machine, very detailed, yet very mcro-dynamic and natural sounding with excellent timbre and textures.

for me the biggest issue is it reminds me of my vinyl in terms of texture and detail more than other digital i’ve had.

so I’ve purchased the SGM server and the Aqua Formula dac.

btw; I have a 30 tb NAS with about 15 terabytes of music, half dsd and half pcm. i use HQ Player in the SGM server to upsample all my dsd to 384 dxd on the Formula dac. i love what the SGM server and Formula do on dsd.

just thought i’d add this info as an additional data point.

Hello Mike,
Congratulations on getting the Aqua Formula DAC.  I had the opportunity to hear this DAC during an extended listening session last year and thought it was superb due primarily to its natural character.  I can appreciate your happiness with it. The best compliment I can bestow on an audio component is to say it just simply makes music.  Easier said than done,  the Formula did this. 

thanks Charles. the Formula is very natural sounding I agree.

a question. the Aqua Formula has only been out for a short time. there is another Aqua dac which has tubes, the La Scala. the Formula is solid state.

are you sure it was the Aqua Formula and not the La Scala that you heard?

I've not heard the La Scala.

Thanks Mike.  Wow, that's not inexpensive gear.  A step above what I can do, but you done good.  Have heard great things about the server as well as that DAC.
I'm pretty sure that it was the Formula. It was at AXPONA 2016 in a room featuring all Italian brands and I believe it was the North American premier for the Formula,. 

If I'm mistaken then I apologize. If in fact what I heard was the La Scala,  it was indeed excellent in that room.
Hello Mike,
I looked it up to be certain.  AXPONA 2016 room 506 debut of the Aqua  Formula with Angstrom electronics.  It was one of the very best sounding systems of the entire show. 
mikelavigne do you prefer the Golden Gate Lampi or Aqua Formula?  Also have you ever had the latest MSB Diamond in your system?  I may be looking to upgrade in the not so distant future.  Have a Chord Dave an an older (2013) MSB on hand.  Can't really decide between them - Dave has more resolution, top to bottom control, MSB has more natural sound and overall warmer presentation.  So the only solution is to sell them both and spend more!  Was thinking of upgrading to the newest MSB DAC V Diamond with their high end clock which would cost more than the Aqua Formula.  Or going a different route.  Maybe I'll sell my Dave to the OP :)

wardl, understand that my preference includes the SGM music server, i’ve not listened to the Aqua Formula without it. but; with the SGM for my particular system i prefer the Aqua Formula to my much loved fully updated (actually new) Lampizator Golden Gate. where the DHT GG brings wonderful rich and colorful highlighting to vocals and lots of music, it does not do space or texture like the Formula. it is not as low in noise. in my system i prefer the presentation of the Formula. it is more ’of a piece’ with my vinyl and my system’s full range solidity. and the Formula is very natural and has wonderful tone and body.

likely there are many systems and listeners which would prefer my Lampizator Golden Gate to the Formula. it's a system and taste matching question.

my guess is that the Formula with the SGM server would be equal to the MSB DAC V Diamond, but maybe not the Select II. and the reason is the SMG’s optimization of HQ Player which will allow the RTR pcm dac of the Formula to still do dsd at a very high level.

I owned the Trinity dac which I view as better than the MSB V. and I think the SGM + Formula is equal to the Trinity dac in my system.

I hope that helps.

Thx Mike. So many choices and such a fast changing landscape.  I like the looks of that server.  I'm using a Lumin U-1 (with NAS) with my Chord Dave and it really improved the sound and functionality.  I was really shocked at the improvement with the Lumin.  The one you are using looks even better!  Well I think I will just upgrade my speakers for now.  :)
So many don't fully understand how important servers and their connections really are.  That's why it's so hard to do DAC shootouts etc..., plus personally I feel you need to have the DAC's in your system all warmed up for at least a week to tell what you really like.  Cables, as I have said above are so important too.  

Mike, I'll stop by when I head to see my family in Sarasota that first week in April.  I only know of one other store there and it's not as high end as yours.  I have visited a store in Tampa once.  Just not many B&M stores on the west coast of FL.  That Trinity DAC has been one of my favorites for years now. I just can't afford one, lol.  


it seems you have your Mike’s mixed up.

i’m Mike Lavigne, live in the Seattle area, and i have the room in a barn listed here on Audiogon. I’m just a listener, not a dealer.

likely you have me confused with Mike Bovaird, of Audioshark and Suncoast Audio.

not sure if Mr. Bovaird has had a Trinity dac in his system, but he could have.

OTOH if you are ever in the neighborhood you are welcome to stop by for a listen......but i’m 3000 miles from Sarasota. :)

Tough decision, I really liked the Ayre QX5/20, the T+A DAC 8 DSD and the T+A MP 2000R MKll but decided to go with the Chord Dave and an Aurender A10. There are better DAC's but this is my max price range. I will buy in about 10 days unless I hear something else that will work as well. 

CStooner. Mike is da bomb. He has great stuff.

If you are near Sarasota, look him up and his superb demo room. Call first.

It was not my report. it was a Customer who flew in croos country to make up his own mind.

He brought his own cables and tried some of Mike’s. Tastes will vary, and so does system synergy. The test was done with blindfolds, so the gentleman and his wife picked what suited them best.

There is no "tube thing" to deal with with Lampizator as they last a very, very long time. Only tube loss I ever had was a pair of dead vintage tubes rated at 10% (sold for display, not for audio) and they lasted for nearly a year until one failed! This is not a tube amp that puts a huge load on tubes.

The point is taste and synergy matter and there is a lot of quality Dacs out there to choose from.

Here is some feedback from a recent Golden Atlantic buyer:

  1. Any feedback to share?
    Haven’t heard the GA yet, though a pal of a pal will soon get one.


  1. arthurs

Sure! Tonally balanced but nice tight low end, lit from within very liquid sound in my system. Best DAC I’ve ever owned by a long shot.