DAC 3-4k range

Time to start looking for an upgrade. Will look to buy used in the 3-4k price range.

Currently using an Audio Note kits 2.1, and like it very much in all ways. One perspective I have is to just get "more of it" and upgrade in the AN line, if in fact higher level models improve on the basic characteristics.

But I don't have a lot of experience with DACs into this new price territory, so I'm interested in hearing what other folks like so I can do some more research.

My primary requirement is balanced outputs.

It will be driven by a Logitech Transporter and feed an Ayre AX-7e.
I am very partial to the Berkeley Alpha DAC. I've lived with them for some time now and actually cannot think of anything I'd change about it. I continue to develop my system around it and it just keeps getting better. It also has a great volume control so if you care to, you could get rid of the Transporter, get a USB converter to go from a server to the dac and even sell your integrated and get an amp. Simplify and improve quality at the same time. Plenty of reviews, both user and professional, available on the web. Computeraudiophile.com has quite a few users, posted reviews etc.
There are many nice units in the market. Ayre makes a nice one that would mate well with your electronics. Also, ARC DAC8, Bryston - among others, are probably very good alternatives.

I'm enjoying great audio with the Ayre QB-9 into an AX-7e running balanced with Cardas Clear cabling. But of course that's with USB in asynchronous mode, not compatible with your logitech transporter. It's rumored that the next Ayre DAC may support S/PDIF or AES/EBU input as an additional option.

Barring those, I recently heard a system with Antelope Zodiac Gold running in balanced mode that was also incredible, IMO. Good luck in your auditioning.

It would be a mistake to leave Lampizator out of your considerations. I'm listening to a level 3 with lampizator transport now and it is very good digital.
Audio Horizons Tube DAC 3.1.
Lots of great DACs listed already to which I'll add the Bel Canto 3.5VB. Had a previous version in my system a while back and it was fantastic. Neutral and natural sounding.
Can you give us some detail on the Lamp,how does it compare to the EE.

Thanks for all the great input. After considering the options, I've decided to go with an upgrade in the AN line to the 4.1.

There seem to be a lot of great sounding DACs with high end specs and interesting approaches out there but in the end, I already know how much I greatly appreciate the AN sonics and build quality, so it just makes sense to me to stick with them at least for now.
My eedac was actually a bolder cable company modified unit and was quite good for the coin. The dac was extremely resolved with it's sabre32 chip but the resolution was balanced well with tone and dynamics from the tube output stage and power supply augmentation.

It was a hard player to fault, and was among the best digital I ever heard, but it was clearly digital in it's presentation.

The lampizator level 3 I picked up to replace it is more analog in it's signature. I generally hate that as a descriptor, but what I mean by that is that it has a real flow to it, relaxed yet effortless. It's pretty resolved, but it never strikes you as detailed. It just has a weird intangible rightness to it. It stages wide and deep being really holographic and just breaths naturally.

It doesn't make my Kuzma turntable obsolete but it is what I do 90% of my listening on. It will sound good on a short audition, but it's over time it really proves it's worth.
Due respect, but it's very easy to like what you have right now. Before dropping a lot more cash on an upgrade into the same line (which may very well turn out to be the right path) it would be a great opportunity to hear what else is out there. Everything sounds great, but you don't know how great until you hear the competition. If you just take the easy route you'll always be asking yourself...
do consider the ARC DAC8...its an excellent piece and Im pretty sure it has balanced outs.
Will you be upgrading the 2.1 that you have to a 4.1? or will you be selling the 2.1 and buying a whole new unit?
" Due respect, but it's very easy to like what you have right now. Before dropping a lot more cash on an upgrade into the same line (which may very well turn out to be the right path) it would be a great opportunity to hear what else is out there. Everything sounds great, but you don't know how great until you hear the competition. If you just take the easy route you'll always be asking yourself... "

Really excellent point. I've given this a decent amount of thought, but given that there are really no high end dealers nearby it's difficult to audition in person, research is about all I have to go on.

I've heard a few in my own system over the years and a few more in others' systems, but none I can remember in the same price range. A few close but none quite as high end. Nothing I've heard has even really come close to the AN.

In the end I guess I'm choosing to take the conservative route since, based on the obstacles I'm facing auditioning competitors and somewhat that what I've heard hasn't come close to challenging what I know. I have at least spent time reading up on the units suggested here and some are quite interesting but nothing is overwhelmingly compelling me to risk the money to try them out first. At some point if finances or circumstances allow I would certainly like to audition some of the ones suggested.
The Berkely, Lamp, and ARC would all be high on the list to try. Possibly the AMR.

A DAC with built in volume control could be nice, since my next logical upgrade may be a separate amp but a significant obstacle to that is the need for an expensive pre.
I was listening to a lampizator 3 tonight with the volume control option driving an Alchemist Forsetti Signature on a pair of Daedalus Ulysses speakers and it was very competent in the volume control position. The system wasn't lacking in the ways I feel a system usually does in the absence of an active preamplifier.

That said the system was employing a lampizator transport which was not cheap.
A great thing about the used equipment market is it can allow you to try lots of things in your own system, and if it doesn't work out you can turn around and sell it for little or maybe even no loss (assuming you don't overpay for the unit initially). And DACs in particular are relatively light and have no moving parts so lend themselves well to shipping. Comparing your unit to others in completely different rooms/systems or to lower-priced competition really doesn't tell you much imho. Anyway, just a thought. By the way, I'll throw in the Bel Canto DAC3.5VB as another unit worth exploring if it hasn't already been mentioned. I had the DAC3VB in my system as a demo and it was very impressive (would still have it if I could've afforded it dammit). Again, best of luck.
i am surprised no one has mentioned the minimax plus dac. i would also suggest removing the op amps and substituting the dexa opamps, based upon my conversation with the importer.
Well, I have the unit being built right now. I'll be either trading in the 2.1 unless I can sell it within the next week or so.

I find that opportunity always presents itself somehow so I suspect I'll have opportunity to audition some of those other units in my system at some point. In the meantime I feel very comfortable with the decision. I sit here listening to Jazz at the Pawshop on the 2.1 and am in heaven, I can't imagine what the 4.1 will sound like. And we've (the builder and I) decided to through in a variety of upgrades that start putting it in AN UK high end models territory. I'm really excited.
(And thanks again to everyone for the really great input, both technical and philosophical. Very much appreciated.)
Antelope Zodiac +Voltikus, direct to amp and via usb