I went through the search a year ago and ended up with the PS Audio DLIII. They seem to be listed almost daily, and sell quickly.
If you go that route I also recommend you get a Monarchy DIP or one of the other jitter reducers. It took my computer audio experience from nice to very good, IMO.
I'd be curious to see if you get any reponses on the Musical Fidelity M1 DAC, its in the same range. I was initially thinking about same price range but realized in that range there are 3 trade offs
(a) asynch USB doesn't come with
(b)there no preamp feature built in so you can't get the full transparency of going direct from DAC to amp if your source has no digital volume control
(c) support for speeds above 96khz isn't ideal for fidelity.
So the jump to around $1500 for Benchmark or Wyred4Sound DAC does look to pay off and is on my radar for next upgrade.
I use a Rega DAC with my Apple TV (Apple Lossless files). Smooth, warm, and very turntable like in it's sound. Not artificially though.
With the ATV, get a glass toslink cable, as I found that makes a big difference. I use a Sonicwave glass cable from Amazon for about $25. Far better than any audiophile non-glass cable I've tried. I also use an Audioquest C-7 power cable with the ATV (the $75 or so one). Also made a good difference, contrary to what I thought it would/should do.
The Rega DAC is going for around $800 or so here.
I own the EE minimax and highly recommend it.
I like the Centrance DACmini. It goes for $795 (new) and has a nice headphone amp as well. I haven't hear the others you mentioned.
The one word I would use to describe it is--clarity. It sounded great and when I got a media app (BitPerfect) it really came to life. Remember, its the way it works in your system that makes or breaks the deal. Having a tube amp would be a big plus as the DACmini is quite adept at pulling out all the details.
Good luck in your search
save your money and get a good dac like the wyred 4 sound dac 2. it blows the other dacs away mentioned above. if you want to get better, you will need to jump up to $5000 or more. i used to own dacs from audio research, music hall, manley, and others and the w4s dac 2 is far better. you have your choice of an async usb 24/192 input as well as your coax and toslink. this dac can also serve as your preamp if you only have digital sources.
Again, if you want to stay within you budget, check out the DACmini.
Centrance licenses out their tech to the likes of Benchmark, Apogee, Lavry and lots more who wish to remain nameless. They are a 3rd party design firm for most of the chips out there. They also consult to Apple and some PC makes. Top recording engineers use their products as well as other artists. Their latest DAC chipset is one of the best designs out there right now. Don't let the size fool you: it's all in the implementation.
Checkout the reviews at 6moons, Enjoy the Music and PFO. You get a lot for the money.
One more thing---you can a DACmini from somewhere like Audio Advisor and they have a generous 30 day return policy. Just keep it in great shape. I got mine direct from the source and feel no need to give it up.
Although a bit above your price range used, I think the Ayre Qb-9 would provide what you're looking for and might be worth saving your pennies for if none of the lower-cost options pan out. Best of luck.
I would look for a dac with an excellent power supply, an excellent analog section and from a company that has a history of developing products for the digital domain industry.
Or you can just look for any DAC that is promoting the latest chip-set by some random chip maker which appears to have great numbers and has been stuffed into a "get this product out the door fast" box by a company that has little to no research and development history in the digital domain. I am sure you can find some "jumped on the bandwagon Class D amp manufacturers" who will have products that meet this criteria.
Me, I would take a 5-10 year old DAC that has a well designed and implemented power supply (you're going to have some weight for that) and a well designed, implemented and proven analog section over something with the latest chipset only. Remember, the chipset is the easiest and cheapest part of most DACs to get and install and still doesn't guarantee any level of performance without the PS and analog circuitry.
Ignoring the basics necessary for good performance will just result in your listing the DAC for sale in the following weeks - as you see so many of them that you will have to compete with. They are great merry-go-round products, it surprises me Audiogon themselves haven't come out with their own version! to drive ad revenue and commissions.
Here's a short list of moderately priced DACs (that I would personally take over so many of the $500-1200 current ones on the market today - all in the $500-$1,000 used price range):
Music Fidelity TriVista 21
California Audio Labs Alpha DAC - regular or 24/96
Kora Hermes DAC
Or look at the really good digital companies, like: Wadia, Esoteric, DCS, Meitner, Levinson and a few others.
Another in your price range that is worth a listen is the Simaudio Moon 100D
. It's really nicely built and I've been very impressed with the improvement it made over a modded Beresford DAC for not much more money.
These are some great responses,Ilike what ckoffend had to say along with others ,what is your take on a old used Monarchy dac?
Centrance DacMini is great, as is the Burson Audio DA-160.
The W4S DAC 2 (and DAC1) didn't blow away everything mentioned above in my home/system. It's a very good DAC, but certainly not the be all, end all many taut it as.
With everything been said, do you see a trend? Seems like everyone's recommending what they bought. I recommended the Rega DAC, because it seems to fit what you're looking for (or at least I think it does), and I've compared it directly to many mentioned here and thought highly enough of it to buy it.
There's some very good sounding DACs mentioned here. My advice is to audition as many as you can and let your ears decide. More people will show up with more recommendations. Does that make choosing one any easier?
I recently got a listen to a Rega DAC (have been on the DAC fence myself) and also the D4S DAC2 and Dacmagic with a aftermarket power supply. I liked the W4S 2 the least and the Rega was the winner. System was Manley Snappers with a shrimp, Macmini and Oppo 83se with Vandy 3a's.
The W4S had a bit more detail, but also sounded cool and lean to us. The Rega really did sound like a TT, especially after my buddy fired up his old Thorens. The Dacmagic is quite a bargain.
I think the previous poster is right; most people like what they bought and few have heard multiple DAC's in their own system. My friend ended up buying Perfectwave that cost much more than the others and even with that he says the differences are pretty subtle. For myself I've made a 90% decision to go with the Rega, though I'm still looking at the DACmini.
My advice to you is the same as Kbarkamian's, audition as many as you can. When you rely on one opinion over another without knowing that listener's preferences and system you are taking a leap of faith, let your ears decide. At your price range, you might want to buy used on Agon. You will probably lose less if things don't pan out.
Another good point is made by Okoffend, the power supply. Unfortunately at this price point most power supplies are going to be somewhat compromised. This can manifest itself in many different ways, a smaller, less dynamic and less detailed presentation. I have on hand a new Minimax Plus, NOS MHDT Havana and OPPO 95 and have listened extensively to the W4S. I'm going to say that I have my preferences but it really isn't important giving you this information as much as impressing on you to listen and decide for yourself, they are all quite good, some a bit above your price range but the point is nothing in this price range is going to "BLOW AWAY" the entire field. Forget about those terms, it just doesn't apply here. Initial impressions are usually replaced by long term reality. You may stay in love but when you can acquire these DACs at such a relatively inexpensive price there is often the temptation to continue to look for something "better". After all, we are audiophiles, right?
A few others I would consider including the Rega which I haven't heard but can be acquired used with little risk. One in particular that I am interested in at this price point, a bit above your budget is the Metrum Octave, about 1K and you'll have to wait, it also has a separate power supply.
I agree to audition however noone in the Detroit area sell dac's that are mentioned,one dealer sells dacmagic,Audio research,and that's about it, so I am really looking for advice here,I am wondering about a used Monarchy m24 would like some imput on that item,and waiting for wadia's new 121 dac to come out this fall, sounds to me it would be one of the following ps daciii,Rega,Monarcy, or the new Wadia,any opinions or direct comparisions?
Happynick, I am in Kalamazoo. If I am heading over to the Detroit area in the next few weeks, I'll get in touch with you and could try to bring some stuff over for you to try. I'm not selling anything, but it may at least give you a chance to hear some differences.
Don't rule out the Minimax, did you read into it that since I didn't come out and say I like it or "it blows everything away" to mean I don't like it or that it doesn't meet your criteria of "musical". This is the point Happynick, you are being influenced by preferences of what others have said without knowing what they have heard or their priorities. Believe me, you aren't getting SOTA performance at this price point, of this I am certain but the price for really good sound is coming down. Then again there are features. Some offer more than others, how important is that to you and what features are primarily important? There are many recent threads on just this particular subject, check the archives. Cheap good sounding DAC's are a dime a dozen. I will say this at 1K the Minimax Plus performance is quite good even extraordinary in certain parameters that are very important to me and reminicent of what I hear in analog playback and live music. I can say I hear other things in the W4S that I really appreciate as well, things that the Minimax Plus doesn't do as well and then of course the Havana, not as much detail as either of the other two but a completely nonfatiguing musicality and most compelling with small scale music. You didn't state musical preferences. Some of the NOS DACs might be just what you are looking for, who knows? Did you gain anything from this or are you looking for absolutes? Use your reasoning and your ears, there is no other way my friend.
I should ad that I listen to a lot of Rock , flamenco,acoustic guitar , love good vocals,really anything but classical,and I did have a msb link 3 a long time ago that malfunctioned and got rid of it, also had a AudioMirror Dac 2,not good enough, want smoother more analoge sound,want the music to sound real and engaging . Yes the minimax sounds good from what I hear, so does ps link3,the monarchy m24 sounds like it will do the trick but only at the used price,perhaps at $1600 it is worth it and I should save up that is double what I wanted to spend so cannot say as of now, Nick
I'm in the same boat as you're in. I also have an Audio Mirror DAC. I like it but I'm going to buy a Squeezebox Touch that plays 24/96 files and the Audio Mirror won't do that. Here is an interesting one that I ran across on this forum. http://schiit.com/cart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=0&products_id=7
There's an UltraFi iRoc DAC available on Audiogon right now that is below the price range you mention and is truly superb:
I live about 20 minutes outside of NYC and had issues tracking down DACs I wanted to hear. I went to a bunch of places in NY, NJ and CT. And I couldn't hear everything I wanted to, and even then, was it the system or the room that was good or bad? Definitely not easy by any means. I was fortunate enough to try several at home though.
Because you don't have much access, a way around it may be to hear CD players by the manufacturers you're interested in. It won't tell you exactly how the DAC will sound, but it'll give you a good idea of what the company's goals are in digital gear and house sound. I've never heard a DAC that was a departure from the sound of a manufacturer's house sound.
Arcam's rDAC sounds like Arcam made it; Simaudio's DACs are cut from the same cloth as their CDPS, and so on.
Rega's DAC was the one to beat for me because I loved my Apollo and wanted that same vibe. Trust me, every DAC I heard got a fair shot, but I ended up ordering the Rega DAC before it was officially released. My dealer promised me a full refund if I didn't want to keep it. I heard it head to head with a burned in and warm rDAC and Naim DAC in the store (the Rega was fresh out of the box). I also borrowed a few other DACs in the following weeks to try at home, and happily kept the Rega. I'm done for a very long time.
My system - Bryston B60, Audio Physic Yara Evolution Bookshelves, and Apple TV 1. I also have a Pro-Ject 1Xpression with Speed Box II, acrylic platter, and Dynavector 10x5.
I listen to a lot of rock - classic rock, alternative, and metal. I also mix it up with Jazz and Blues, and even throw in classical once in a blue moon. They all sound equally great.
Again, there are a lot of great DACs listed here. If you've heard some of their CDPs, that should give you a good idea of what to expect. Typically, I've found DACs to outperform their CDP counterparts dollar for dollar - ie Rega's DAC at $1k is a great deal better than their $1k Apollo. Same for Arcam, Simaudio, and do on. In fact, Rega's DAC is on equal footing with the Saturn for about $2400 or so by a lot of people's opinion, not just mine. I'm not saying every DAC will be on equal footing with a comparable CDP that's 2.5 times it's price, but I think you get the idea.
Just my opinions. I'm sure many will disagree. Whatever DAC you choose, make sure it has good jitter reduction.
I also strongly agree with what's been said about older DACs, power supplies, and output stages. A DAC is far more than a flavor of the month chip. My 15 year old Theta Cobalt DAC is proof of that, as it beat out a ton of new sub-$500 DACs.
I am thinking of getting the Shiit,Bifrost dac, at $350 new from a former Theata designer and a 15 money back I will give it a try!! First have to pay bills!!! lol!!
I would like to know how the Bitfrost stand against another dacs on the same price range. Let us know once you get it.
The Bitfrost is on order be a week or 2,they are kind of vague about being more exact than that, anyways will post when I can, Nick
The MHDT Havana is nice for the money....doesn't overload you with detail. The Burson dacs are good. If you can swing it, the Metrum Octave is supposed to be nice.
I just got a Rega DAC to listen to at length in my system. I posted comments on it in the review section.
So far, so good.