DAC recommendations

Okay. So, before this becomes the typical dac battle, let me explain what I have and what I’m looking for. My system consists of an Aric Audio Custom 300b PSET amp(almost always in class A set mode), Audio Note an-e/lx speakers, Cambridge cxn v2 streamer modified by ModWright tube dac and a Topping d90 dac. I can switch back and forth to get a tube sound from the ModWright or a more “accurate” depiction of the recording through the Topping. After a few months, I think I want something in the middle. The tube dac lacks a little clarity and the Topping is very critical of poor recordings. Both have their times when they sound better but I’m seeking a middle ground. 
Here’s what I’m looking for. I would like clarity, without being analytical. But most of all, I want natural sounding! I want a piano to sound like a piano etc…Lastly, I prefer a bit more bass and less bright sounding. Does this dac exist?

Ive looked at the Denafrips Terminator 2 and would prefer not to spend $6800. Does the Venus 2 fit? Bricasti m3? Other suggestions? I have some high quality components and would like a dac to match. Thanks in advance 


I'm glad you put "accurate" in quotations.

If you want a piano to sound like a piano, you might consider the Musetec 005.  There's been so much about it discussed here that I needn't elaborate.

I forgot to add and I don’t think it’s a measurable quality, soundstage. It’s okay with the Topping but I’d prefer a wider, deeper soundstage with a bit more instrument separation. 👍

Bricasti M3 hits most of your points but maybe not "a bit more bass...." actually it's a very neutral, musical dac IMO

My issue with the Bricasti is the streaming. I have Apple Music and it does not support it. I would have to jump over to Qobuz. Not the end of the world but not optimal. Just spoke to a dealer today regarding the m3. It does seem to check most of the boxes. I’m going to call Bricasti and see if an Air Play upgrade will be possible in the future. 

Seems to me that if you want better sound Air Play is not the way to go about it.

Make at least a trial jump to Qobuz.

How is Air Play deficient? They have recently gone Lossless and stream high def files. Am I missing something? If I am, I will certainly look into changing. Thanks

i agree -- air play is the problem here, it is likely the bottleneck for sound quality, no need to change equipment before employing a better streaming method


If I chose to go with the Bricasti m3 and Qobuz, would it require a land line from the router to the Bricasti? It’s a long run, 50 feet, and would require additional work. I’m trying to find the simplest quality sound solution. Less boxes, less wires etc…

How is Air Play deficient? They have recently gone Lossless and stream high def files. Am I missing something?

Airplay is limited to 16/44.1.  That's not exactly hi-res today.

If I chose to go with the Bricasti m3 and Qobuz, would it require a land line from the router to the Bricasti? It’s a long run, 50 feet, and would require additional work.

You could use a USB WiFi dongle.

Was curious about using a dongle. I do now. For Air Play with the Cambridge it limits resolution to 16/44. Not sure if that will be the same. Still sounds good but would be nice to not lose resolution. Thank you for the response. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve replaced a system, 25 years actually. I’ve forgotten how annoying it is to have to choose which “revolutionary “ options to opt for. Less wires means a dac with a built in streamer. What happens when tech changes? Or do I go Denafrips Terminator 2 with a separate streamer. More boxes but only have to change streamer as tech evolves. What if internal streamer shits the bed? Arg! I need a personal assistant to take care of all this. As well as a job that pays more! My head is spinning. 


seems to me you have great gear, and the dan wright modded cambridge streamer/dac is excellent (i have one sitting here, i enjoy it as much as megabuck units from msb, weiss, chord)

do you have wired ethernet into your listening room? if so just get an etherregen or na eno/muon filter to clean up the feed, then run ethernet into the cambridge - then get a tidal or qobuz sub, and listen using the cambridge app

ditch the topping, its not in the same league as the modwright cxn2 - the fact you can't currently hear the huge sonic difference between the two shows how poor your front end digital feed is...

You’re probably right. I should upgrade the stock tubes supplied with the ModWright before I jump into the next thing. I just wanted the amp to have it’s own voice so to speak without the preamp tubes adding more. Perhaps in the meantime, I will get some higher end tubes. Thanks for your input. 


If you want quality sound you want to have nothing to do with Airplay… or Apple for that matter. I am a huge fan of Apple… but not for high quality audio. Qobuz is the best streaming service for high quality audio… but Tidal is a second best… from there the quality drops.

There are lots of quality DACs in the $5K range and up. Not a category I am familiar enough to recommend… other than if you could find a used Audio Research DAC that is not too old. Natural, detailed, lots of mid-range bloom. 

@earthbound - I had to do a little research to understand your setup.  If I'm understanding it correctly, you have a Cambridge Audio CXN V2 Streamer with a with the ModWright upgrade ($2,500) and a Topping D90 DAC ($1,000).  I only list the prices because you mentioned that seems to be a significant upgrade given the relative price points.

When you're wanting something between the two you have, what's the draw for a Terminator over the Pontius or Venus options?

Thanks for the Qobuz push gentlemen. I hate being tech lazy but I am. There’s usually a hiccup and it’s usually me! Probably time to convert. 
As far as dacs go, I probably don’t need to go that crazy but always wonder what the weak link is so I don’t want to go too cheap. I would like to get the most from what I have. I’m sure whatever I choose will suffice. I should really stop reading reviews! They are always good yet point to the next level up. 

You might keep the Topping and add an equalizer to your system. It’s amazing how changing the tonal balance can change the whole character of the sound. In terms of sound quality, the Schiit Loki Max is outstanding IME.

@earthbound   I think you would find the Venus II a very worthy DAC, you can stream into it from your CXN until you retire it for a different streamer and get very good sound. The R2R DACs take a long time for break in.

I am seriously considering that option with the Venus 2. I’m surprised with sound comparisons just how different it sounds from the Terminator 2. Not necessarily a bad thing. Just different. I kind of like Thomas and Stereo and he uses one. It’s a bit of an endorsement. I also forgot to convert Singapore money to US, so Terminator 2 not too crazy expensive. Both good options if I choose to keep an external streamer. Would love to hear comparisons from people who have experience with both. 


Is going Wi-Fi wireless a viable option for you? Seems a good alternative if you for example get a good quality tri-band router. I believe that @ghdprentice is completely wireless with his Aurender server and said he has superb sound quality.

Good advice from those recommending a better streaming source in Qobuz. You have a very nice audio system and may as well get the best possible result from it.


Thanks Charles. I’m a renter and access to the router is limited. I will look into that though. Qobuz looks like a definite. Meant to do it the first time around and got lazy with Apple Music. 

I've often wondered if Steve Jobs were still alive, would Apple have spent the money out of their loaded saddlebags and developed an "Apple Music Connect" app?  Steve always wanted to keep things easy and a "no brainer" for consumers, but the current state of all the hoops you have to go through to use Apple Music in a high-fidelity stereo system are ridiculous here in 2022, almost 2023. Watching Darko's video on it is almost painful. 

I have an old iPAD for streaming music from the ILMA via Airplay so it is gapless, but that's the only Apple product I ever plan on buying. 

Good luck to you in your search and sonic journey. 

I like my DACs to have excellent benchmark results as a starting point since they are likely to produce the best results.

The Musetec Audio (LKS Audio) MH-DA005 has a headless Pink Panther.

The Topping D90SE has a sweet spot Pink Panther.

Always provide the cleanest possible AC (a conditioner with a shielded cable) and cover the unused sockets with caps to block contamination entry points.

My recommendation is to send your tube DAC to me for upgrading.  There are plenty of parts options that can be used to change the sound to what you are looking for.  Stop chasing gear.  Happy Listening.

I have the Ares II and feel it meets your requirements. It’s accurate (capable of 21 bit resolution) yet also slightly warm. On the bench it performs just as the well as the Terminator and actually has a lower noise floor. I haven’t compared it to $6000 DACs but in my system it won out against a Chord Qutest with linear PS. 

But since you own AN speakers maybe you’d get the best synergy with an AN DAC. 

I would buy the Uptone Audio Etherregen & make sure you have Cat 7+ thernet line direct from the router connection. Hopefully you have at least one dedicated circuit.

I use the Innuos Zen Mk3 Streamer. No DAC inside. Roon Ready, Streams, Rips

and stores. I am quite Tech challenged as well.


I tried the Ares 2, Audio Mirror, Pontus 2 and my current DAC the ANK 4.1x.

It can be assembled by Digital Pete-$3,500 all in. It provides good detail

and a deep soundstage. Keeping this one.


Keep us posted please.

How is it that no one is mentioning PS Audio Directstream DAC? The MkII is out, which means you can find the first iteration online with the network card and the latest software update used for about $3000, and it’s superbly resolving but laidback. It’s retail price was $6800. 

I have the Pontus ll and am very happy with it. If I mmm had the coin, I’m sure I’d be happy with the Venus ll.

The sound you are looking for in a DAC sounds like a Schiit Gungnir ($1200).  Alternately the Bifrost 2/64 could be a less costly alternative. Worth a try.

I'm an airplay user as well, I think the ultimate DAC for that is the Chord Hugo M Scaler/ TT2 combination. The high res streaming claims by most all the streaming platforms is inconsequential in relations to the 16x upscaling of the M Scaler. It seems as if it was made for streaming.

Icing on the cake, but add in a clean network switch, DDC and 10Mhz master clock and you'll be in heaven. Thats what I'm running and have been very happy with it.

A lot of good suggestions guys. Thank you. I have some homework to do after the mornings festivities. It’s crazy when you start shopping, just how many dacs and set ups are out there. 

@earthbound - to possibly expand your options - my streamer (Lyngdorf TDAI 3400) does wireless streaming, but I was getting frequent dropouts with wireless. Like your situation, my media cabinet is about 50' from my router and a wired connection is not a practical option. So I replaced my Comcast router with an ASUS Mesh system, with one of the ASUS devices in the media cabinet connected to the Lyngdorf via ethernet. That setup has been 100% stable for almost a year now. BTW - before going with the ASUS I tried using a Netgear network extender. For whatever reason, that did not do a good job of maintaining a connection with the Comcast router.


One more from the peanut gallery

I switched from a DAC comparable to the Topping (similar price and benchmarks on ASR) to the Benchmark DAC3 - the improvement exceeded all expectations - just delightful. One of the biggest impacts I’ve heard on my system in a long time. I won’t bother with the adjectives other than “presence” and “immersion”. If my memory is correct, they have a customer-friendly return policy enabling you to try one out

The Benchmark is not MQA compatible, but of course handles hi-res. I’ve decided that I will investigate MQA the next time I upgrade my DAC (5 year cycle, thereabouts)

Let us know how the experiment comes along!

All the best to everyone on this holiday morning

I think I’m leaning towards having Santa deliver the Denafrips Terminator 2. In for a penny, in for a pound. I think I may keep my Cambridge streamer and order the Denafrips. I’ve just heard so many good things that I feel it will last to the final dirt nap! Not entirely sure yet but almost there. I think it’s got a lot of quality at a not so crazy price. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of money. Actually, it’s my summer vacation! But, I listen to hours of music everyday and that’s a wonderful vacation everyday! Plus, if you can’t treat yourself well, who will?

No brainer buy the Gustard R26 and add an external clock. The R26 is r2r which is what you need to get away from your descriptions of what you don’t like in your current set up.

Yes. I agree. That’s why I’m going the r2r route. Funny how I’ve learned that I prefer the analog sound more. I had AR floor speakers many years ago then went Rotel and B&W for 25 years. Now that I’m auditioning, I just like that mellower 70’s sound with a modern twist. That’s why I went with Audio Note speakers. Purchased Zu Soul Supremes first. They rock but just too much for my ears and brain. 


If you need piano or other instruments to sound real. Try Amadi Cables.  The MONIC. It will dig out all the bass notes and makes instruments sound real. Mid range is like the singer is right in the room . 

The Denafrips Terminator is a great choice. I had the original with updated DSP board and it sounded wonderful. I should never have sold it and still haven’t replaced it. In the future if you have some spare cash and feel like moving up the ladder another rung you can easily add a Denafrips GAIA DDC. That will give you i2s connection to the Terminator and another noticeable gain in resolving power.

Forgive me if someone has already noted the Arcam ST60. It is far less expensive at $1650.00 but would be interested if any owners weigh in. Hans Beekhuyzen has an extensive review. I have the NAD C658 and have been considering getting the Arcam. If the YouTube link fails, just search on Hans' channel and you'll find his good reviews. 



merry christmas

from what i am reading in your responses, you seem pretty determined to buy a more expensive dac rather than get the right streaming service and front end delivery method

indeed there are many ways to have fun in this hobby... reading glowing reviews and then buying expensive things based on that can well be part of it, that is perfectly fine if one can afford it... but please don’t mistake that for truly improving system sound quality, especially in your case, as many folks with experience making digital streamed music sound its best have already commented

it’s wise to understand what is the real bottleneck or weak link in one’s setup and address that as the priority - you seem to have made efforts to wisely choose your gear to this point (audio notes in place of zus, for example)


+1 Gustard R26 which includes an onboard streamer.  A lot of good info on headfi about this DAC. 

You have gotten a pair of top notch speakers that was highly appraised by Stereophile especially known for its soundstage, expensive / high quality amp, state of the art streamer and a highly hyped DAC.  I do not understand why you settle down with Air Play streaming that is non-gapless, 16/44.1 limited, not smooth music playing.  Do you youself a favor, just try 1 month free Qobuz, sense the difference and then you could make a sensible decision if you wish to continue throwing money to rabbit holes.  No offense please.  Happy Xmas.

I’m aware that many dislike the Border Patrol DAC or possibly just the idea & maybe measurements but problem not from actual listening experience. I think it fits your description of what you’re looking for. It’s very natural sounding & not fatiguing like I’ve found some other highly touted ones. I think they’ll let you do a home trial. Check it out.

@earthbound the main weakness is your Airplay front end from the switch and cables through to your streamer. Get a good switch with a clock and good cables and a Lumin U2, then subscribe to Qobuz and or Tidal and don’t bother spending more until after you upgrade your tubes in your Cambridge. If feel you want a one box solution for cheaper you could just buy a Gustard R26 which I prefer to my Terminator II and use DLNA or Roon instead of Apple. Or if price becomes no object when you get serious upgraditis, get the Lumin AND the Lampizator Baltic 3 which is the same price as the Terminator Plus, but by far my favorite DAC I’ve ever had in my system.

Hello Earthbound!  I have eight DACs, admittedly none of the multi thousand dollar ones, and I recommend the Sony HPA-3. It's one of those portable DAC/headphone units. It is very musical, uncolored, and is a joy to listen to. It was immediately apparant that is was more pleasant to listen to than any of the others on hand (SMSLM500, Pre Box S2, Merridian Explorer2, Dragonfly Black, etc). I suspect the Sony has been discontinued. I was able to get one, new -in the box, at half price from a local hi-fi shop. Happy Listening!