DAC Choices - $5,000 to $7,000


What are the current top DAC choices in the approximately $5-$7K price range (new or used) that I should look at as possible upgrades to my current Metrum Adagio?  Having an on-board volume control is not a factor as I can operate my system either way.   If I wanted to spend more I would look at Totaldac, Rockna Wavedream Signature, or one of the other top-end contenders, but I selected the price range to achieve a sound quality that is consistent with the rest of my system and because I don't want to spend more due to the still evolving nature of digital technology.  I do like the more natural sound (to my ears) of NOS R2R DACs.  So far, I have considered the three below, but none seem to be a slam-dunk upgrade from the Adagio, which still sounds pretty good in my system.  The decision is complicated by having to "buy to try" so that I can hear one in my system.  Maybe now is not the time for an upgrade.  Any thoughts?

  • Denafrips Terminator w/DSP board - Reportedly has the full body/dense tone type of sound I like, but also has a high'ish output impedance 
  • Holo May KTE - Reportedly measures great for an R2R DAC and has strong reviews 
  • Rockna Wavelight - Some reviewers like it but others put it in the middle of the pack for the price
mitch2
I can highly recommend the Lampizator Atlantic TRP that I use which falls into your price range.  Very natural sound and a ton of flexibility to dial in your tonal preferences with tube rolling.
I know several people who have the Chord Hugo TT2 in excellent systems, and really like it. Combined with their M-Scaler upsampler, it’s supposed to be amazing but that doubles the cost to over $10k.

I would be very interested if I had the dough, because it can work as a preamp too and has a brilliant headphone stage.

The Denafrips intrigue me too.

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/chord-electronics-hugo-tt-2-dacpreampheadphone-amp-and-hugo-m-scaler/


I have heard a higher end Lampizator DAC.  It is very organic and romantic sounding.  Maybe not totally accurate or realistic, but extremely pleasing to listen to.

Another R2R candidate you may want to look into is the Audio-GD  R-7 ($2668 USD).  Or even the R-7HE with regenerative power supply ($3499 USD).  But maybe these are too low priced for your target.
Thanks so far.  I have owned a Lampizator L4 G4 (I believe that was the number) and it was ok but the soundstage seemed larger than believable at the expense of resolution and dynamics, particularly in the bass which was big (somewhat bloated) and was not particularly hard-hitting.  I know they have improved since then but I have trouble identifying the differences between their many choices and I don't particularly like how they keep changing the lineup.  In addition,  I run my system fully balanced and most Lampis have single-ended outputs (which I can accommodate) and they also use a USB input, which I cannot accommodate from my Metrum Ambre endpoint.  I would have to go back to something like the SOtM SPS200 Ultra I used to own.  In any event, I appreciate the recommendation and will take a look since many people seem to like their DACs.
I have not really considered Chord.  I guess I heard the Dave was the model to own, which I could probably swing if I purchased used.
Look into a Bricasti M3 very very  close to their M1SE player. Yes I've heard both and own the M1
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I have owned a Lampizator L4 G4 (I believe that was the number) and it was ok but the soundstage seemed larger than believable at the expense of resolution and dynamics
Yep, that's exactly what I heard too.  Notice that I said that it was "not totally accurate or realistic", lol.  There definitely was a lack of high frequency detail/accuracy which is also lack of resolution, but many people love the type of sound it puts out.


The Chord TT2 is really great DAC.  The Dave is better but the TT2 can go toe-to-toe with any other unit in the price range.  It is also a relatively new model.  It has a slightly brighter sound profile with filters that can soften it.  It also has the flexibility to have a big step up with the addition of an M-Scaler.  


I personally listen through a Benchmark Dac B and really like it. But since you are willing to spend up...It would seem that the Holo May Kitsune is the way to go today. Hard to argue with the high quality of the reviews it's getting....and the test bench results.
Audio Note DAC3.1x is available balanced. R2R NOS, tube rectification and output stage. DAC2.1x Signature is SE, but there is a new 2.1x balanced.
AN components are known for their realistic sonics.

There's an M3 up on USAM if you're leaning that direction. I thought about it, but ended up ordering the Holo May (but don't have it yet).
@tvad How would you say the M5 compares to the Audio Mirror T3?
PS Audio DirectStream was declared equal to the Dave. Both slightly different.
I don't have experience with some of the other DACs recommended, but I'm happy with my Denafrips Terminator. I look for detail, deep and wide soundstage, smooth and natural vocals (particularly female), and some meat on the bones in the low frequencies. The Termy does a great job for me. I think if I upgrade, it will be to the Terminator+ with the Denafrips Gaia.
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Stretch for the Tambaqui by Mola Mola.  You will see it used or check
with GTT Audio for best price.  Worth it.  Replaced my PS Audio Direct Stream with Auralic Vega G2 (substantially better). Replaced Auralic with Tambaqui (substantially better again).  So resolving and so smooth.
I would strongly suggest you order the the Schiit Yggdrasil ($2500) for the 15 day trial period. Power it up for seven days then give it a listen. No way you’ll find something "twice as good" for twice the price. In some cases maybe not even as good. If you don't like it you can send it back.
Can we merge this with the cable thread and ask why a DAC is so expensive? It is after all just a chip.
Thanks all.  Not sure why the Bricasti was not on my radar but I am going to look into that one a bit more. 
@tvad , since you have the VRE-1c, I assume you are controlling your system volume from that preamp.  Do you set the volume on the M3 all the way up or is there a volume control bypass (jumpers or a switch) that allows you to take the volume control of the DAC out of the signal chain?   Have you tried it both through the preamp and DAC-direct into your amp?  Any observations to share?
Another vote for the Holo Audio May. I have its predecessor and love it. Trying not to catch upgraditis. There is so much going around out there!
Can we merge this with the cable thread and ask why a DAC is so expensive? It is after all just a chip.
It is the implementation of the multiple chips...You know it for sure... :)

Then i choose for a low cost dac with an absolute minimalistic design...Almost nothing around the chip TDA 1543...

i cannot fathom my luck after 3 years with the Starting Point system Nos dac of Christophe Mariac.... I stole it with a bid of 26 dollars new on ebay....Dont look for one at this price now tough but at even few hundred dollars it is a steal.....

This dac is so perfect that unlike any other i listen to it present no limitations on my modest audio system....

I know the Denafrips terminator will probably exceed it but at which price difference ?.... I will let you calculate....

It is the best deal ever in my audio life not because of the price paid only ( i paid my extraordinary speakers 50 dollars and 150 dollars my Sansui AU 7700) but mainly because of his S.Q. that is apparent in a rightly embedded audio system more so....

I apologize for my rant in this thread but i must give audio hope to those who cannot afford a Denafrips or something else on the same level...

I will never upgrade mine and i want to buy a second one for the long road in case....😎
Bifrost 2!!!!!!!  You can't go wrong and will stand up to any DAC.
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There is only one reason anything is so expensive...it is worth it.  And that is for the listener to decide.  
@fastfreight - I’ve been looking at both the PS Audio DirectStream DAC and the Auralic Vega G2. Could you elaborate on their differences and why you preferred the Auaralic?
I went from a Benchmark DAC2 to the Terminator.  Running it from a new HP laptop over Curious USB and added the USBe-Perfect coming out of laptop.  Seemed to take three weeks to settle in, but I'm very content now going all-streaming.  Quite involving.

Has anyone added a Denafrips Iris or Gaia to a Terminator that they already had? I'm tempted by the new Hermes but not sure there's any problem to fix. Anyone been amazed or disappointed?

One thought, if you go Terminator-plus, you can run a very good clock out of the T-plus back to any of their digital converters and have an end-game digital path. Terminator-plus with the clock driving Iris might be better than Terminator with Gaia for about same cost.
The Topping E30 is on sale for $130.
@electroslacker - I think my next step is to add the Gaia to my Terminator, although I agree that using a Terminator+ with an Iris would likely be a good solution.

I've got my old preamp (Parasound JC2-BP) for sale. As soon as that's gone, I'll order the Gaia. 
Try the wyred for sound 10th anniversary dac.There's a couple reviews on it and one of the reviewers said it was the most analog dac that he's ever had in his system. I bought one and I put it up against the $15,000 Canadian simaudio dac, and the wyred for sound just left it in the dust.I could even see the look on the salesman face that he knew that the 10th anniversary dac was better.And when I was leaving the store he asked me what's the name of that dac again I'm going to look it up.
I have a Benchmark DAC3B. I will be getting a Matrix Audio Mini-I 3 Pro DAC tomorrow to pair with either a Topping A90 preamp (got it today) or my existing Benchmark HPA4 preamp. The better DAC will go with the HPA4 system.

Hopefully early next year, I am looking at either the AudioByte VOX | HUB | ZAP stack (1 power cord for all 3 units) or the Halo Audio May Level3. To pair with the HPA4. It will replace either the Matrix or Benchmark DAC3B.

The AudioByte and Rockna are from the same guy. The AudioByte stack seemed technically more adventurous than the Rockna Wavelight.
I had an older Wyred 4 Sound DAC 2 and it just didn't work for me. It sounded dull and flat in my system - not engaging at all. I suspect the newer ones have improved a lot, but it could have just been a bad match for my system. I replaced it with the Yggy A2 which worked much better. I still have the Yggy in my workshop system and think it's a solid performer at it's price point. 
@tvad Whoops, yes, the M3. I might have bought the one on usam if it already had the streamer board. Congrats on the new dac and thanks for the details. I read about some people preferring it to the M1SE even...
Bricasti m3. I have listened to a lot of dacs, all the chords, dcs, audio research. The dcs was the best to my ears but very expensive. Bricasti m3 was so close to the dcs that it was hard to tell the difference. I thought the chord sounded harsh and sometimes had a 'glare ' to it. I was listening to the hugo with the upsampler.
In that price range and in non oversampling with tube stage i think you should definitely take a good look at 
Audio Note DAC 4.1x 
Or SW1X DAC III or IV
I have the audio jote dac 4.1x and really enjoy it.
Both of these dac's share the same design philosophy 
Cheers
Bifrost 2!!!!!!! You can't go wrong and will stand up to any DAC.

The Bifrost 2 is pretty good but I think the Benchmark DAC3 had a bit more depth, though it wasn’t a huge difference. 
Just ordered the Holo May Kitsune. I talked to a friend who has listened to the Lampizator, Denafrips and the Holo and the winner is the Holo for sound quality. You can also buy it in the USA and it comes with a remote. Lead time is about five weeks. I could go on but it sounds like you have already done some research so I won't bore you with more details. 
I have a Metrum Ambre feeding AES. to a T+A DAC8DSD. It’s a mindscrambler 
Mojo Audio is another possibility to look at. Models from 5-12k. All using analog devices r2r modules and choke filtered independent power supplies.
I do like the Audio Note Dac3/4, Ear dac ( is great!!) Chord, Metronome C6 (gorgeous !!) 
@wdguru I built my own amps (from Nelson Pass designed boards), and as I've refined them, I've directly seen the impact of moving from stereo to a dual mono design, putting the PS into a separate chassis, replacing copper with solid core silver wire, and using high quality film caps (in my preamp). The fact that the Holo May also incorporates all these features while also using r2r decoding as in my well-loved Audio Mirror and a pure class A amplification stage as in all my other equipment made it very attractive. It is very rare to find that many of my "key" features in a component, regardless of price. I'm hopeful I'll be rewarded with the choice.
Aqua La Voce or La Scala might be up your alley and bracket your budget. They are R2R/FPGA DACs. I have no actual experience with them, but find the implementation and approach intriguing. Some day.
I was at your place few months ago.  I had a Metrum Onyx.  I researched basically the same models.  I got the Totaldac core d1, which is in your price range.  I wanted NOS R2R.  I figured I did not want to put much towards DSD as that takes out the NOS R2R.  No regrets, wonderful sounding.  Very clear, good bass and highs, good imaging and soundstage.
I would definitely considered a professional built Auto Note Kit (ANK) DAC either their 4.1 or 5.1 -- great sound - great value - 
Can we merge this with the cable thread and ask why a DAC is so expensive? It is after all just a chip.
Surely you jest!

J.Chip
A 2nd recommendation to check out the Mojo Audio Mystique EVO dac.  R2R, $6k for base model that can be upgraded in a lot of ways.  Good review here:

https://www.audiophilia.com/reviews/2020/5/21/sigmanmojoevodac

I've owned it for a couple months.  Loving it.
Yes the Mojo Mystique Evo is the top of list. This dac simply has to be heard to be believed. Won’t find a more natural and right sounding dac for any amount of money.  Ben offers a trial period so give it a listen. I suggest adding the Lundhal AM chokes for the analog board. 
PS audio Direct Stream they release software updates that keep your equipment current and up to date
@jgoldrick , Thanks for reminding me about Totaldac, which has been on my list. Everything I read about how they sound seems that one of their DACs would be perfect for me but man, they are expensive. OTOH, their gear holds its value and their basic ladder DAC design has been pretty stable, which I like. Since I run my system balanced, the model I would want most would be the Totaldac Dual, which I believe now equates to their d1-six model. However, I can run a single-ended DAC into my preamp/buffer, which can then output a balanced signal to my amplifiers without penalty since the conversion is done through a pair of really expensive and high quality Lundahl transformers, so the model you have would still work for me. Regarding your experience with Totaldac, are you in the USA and, if so, how was your buying experience and how do you view the level of support available?

@veroguy , What I like about the Mojo Mystique EVO is the level of attention Ben has paid to the power supply. My SMc Audio preamp/buffer uses an expensive choke power supply and I know those are not cheap to implement but can be quite helpful to power regulation and quietness. I am a big power supply guy since my experience is that excellent attention paid to the power supply equates to good sound. This is one reason I sometimes find it hard to purchase gear further down in a manufacturer’s line, particularly if they have cut costs by cheapening the power supply. One apprehension I have with the Mojo DACs is that his gear has been sort of Lamizator’ish in that it seems to often change, which affects resale value. On the other hand, I know Ben is a great guy to deal with as he helped me get into media-less audio with my original Mojo Mac mini server. Also, I always appreciate buying my gear Made in the USA, when possible. I would really like to hear at least his B4B Evo DAC in my system and the 45-day trial period he offers is hard to argue with so I will give this one more consideration.
I'm also a big fan of the Mojo Mystique!   I recently sold my Bricasti M3 and have replaced it with a Mojo Mystique v3 Balanced.

grannyring's statement of "natural and right sounding" is right on the mark from my perspective; I find it extremely musical, and also offers great dynamics and punch.   The Evo is a step up from what I have...

I have just ordered a Bricasti M5 to pair with the Mojo.

Actually Ben does not change his dacs nearly as much as most of the industry. The good news is his Evo is easily upgraded and modular in terms of upgrading to any future improvements Ben may offer. This is a big departure from his past builds.

I upgraded my Mojo Mystique with the Lundhal chokes and the improvement was just wonderful. I strongly suggest this upgrade in terms of the overall sonic impact of Ben’s various upgrade options.

The sound of the Mojo dac is a distinct departure from the pretty much ubiquitous electronic dac sound I hear in so many high end dacs. The Mojo sounds like music. Pure and simple. No part of the sound spectrum is exaggerated or out of place no matter how loud your music plays. In fact, this dac is so effortless and right sounding that the music swells and expands when the volume is turned up and one never gets the sense that it is “loud”. It has a solidity of sound that is built from the bottom up if you will. Just so full, solid, substantial and meaty. The tone is absolutely beautiful. Anyway, I love his design and dac.