DAC/Preamp with Balanced Outputs $2500 new/used

Hi All,

I am looking for a DAC/preamp with the following characteristics:

- Multiple inputs, preferably 2 coax, 2 optical, 1 USB – but could get away with 1,1,1.
- Analog input not necessary, but I’d welcome it if the shoe fit
- Balanced outs for direct driving of balanced amplifiers (Hypex NCore 400’s)
- Volume control that is flexible enough to be used with most any amp at most any volume level without losing information
- Preferably small footprint, but I can accept normal size too.
- Cost me < $2500 used or new

My plan is to purchase several used, maybe a couple on 30-day trial (e.g. Benchmark, NAD), and make a choice. Here are the options I’ve compiled thus far, in order of decreasing familiarity and current (not fully informed) favor:

- Benchmark DAC2 (hybrid analog/digital volume control. Which version? They allow a 30-day trial)

- Graham Slee Majestic DAC/Preamp (also has analog input, uses Wolfson DAC, balanced outputs are ¼-inch, analog volume control)

- NAD C510 (not too expensive, 35-bit volume control, only one coax and one optical input, would also consider the M12 used – too expensive new)

- M2Tech Young DSD (has an analog volume control and adjustable gain, sufficient inputs, remote control, good price on Amazon, music direct sells with 60-day trial)

- Wyred4sound DAC2DSDSE with FEMTO clock (I have the original DAC2 and find that I’m operating the digital volume control at 30-40 out of 70. I’ve read that some resolution is lost below 40, but I’m not sure. This is a 32 bit DAC).

- PS Audio PerfectWave MKII (nice DAC but too much gain for my amps, have to use volume control below “50” (actually at 35) which means loss of digital information

- Bel Canto (which models?)

- Used older WADIA (which model?)

- Mytek stereo 192 DSD DAC (good features but ruled out because of loud thump on start-up)

- Cambridge 851D (Stereophile says Benchmark DAC2 is better sounding)

I’d appreciate any relevant input that could be offered on the above models, plus any other suggestions and why.

Thanks very much in advance, Peter
Had the Bel Canto DAC3 and DAC3 VB on an extended demo in my system. The standard DAC3 was very good, but the VB version was at a much higher level and well worth the money if it's in your budget. Glowing reviews across the board, and I concur. Haven't heard the others you mentioned. Best of luck.
The Exasound E-22 Mkll should be at the very top of your short list.
The Exasound E-22 Mkll controls volume in the digital domain, and does not allow changing the output to suit the amp you are running into. I am looking for a DAC/preamp wither with an excellent analog volume control or a high resolution digital volume control with adjustable output to suit various sensitivity amplifiers.

I am getting a few other relevant suggestions though:

Grace M920 ($1900, professional roots
Hegel HD-12 ($1400, organic sound);
NuPrime DAC-10 ($1800, great performer/sleek);
Oppo HA-1 ($1200, extreme value)
BMC PureDac

I think I'll try the Benchmark and the NuPrime, and maybe the NAD. All of which I can try on 30-day trial, so that's good. All good units and no harm to try.
Another way to go is with the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core. It is a room correction device, but also contains a D/A converter with respectable sound, and a simple pre-amp with both RCA and balanced XLR outputs. All for $1095, I believe it is.
AMR DP-777 would be the way to go! Used though. It ended my DAC search.
Thanks BDL24. I had the DSpeaker and wasn't super impressed with its transparency. Also, do you know whether it's volume control is analog or digital? I'm wanting analog or very flexible digital (can be suited to multiple amps without losing resolution at low levels)
Peter, the Dual Core's volume control is analog, variable in 0.5dB increments via a resistor network. I use it only on my subs, not being willing to sacrifice any of the hard-earned transparency of the rest of my system!
The NuPrime without headphone amp is only $1500. Peter, did you make your comparison test yet?
Yes I did.  The nuprime and benchmark were way better than the nad, which was better than my original wyred4sound dac2. The ps audio perfectwave dac was very close to the benchmark too, but I wasn't getting the best out of the applicable range of its digital volume control. I felt that the benchmark was slightly more musical than the nuprime, but the nuprime pulled out some delicacy in detail that was impressive. I kept the benchmark as the features also suited my needs best.