DAC's for the money?

Hi all,
Having been working for about two years now on my system, which has graduated from entry-level Sony/Inifnity to Rotel, Pio Elite, Infinity Kappas, and a partridge in a pear tree, I am seriously looking to upgrade my digital playback.
I have the Elite DV-47ai player, which I have run for both high-res stereo and digital direct to my processor (Rotel RSP-1068.) I have a Philips burner deck laying about, and am using that as a budget transport (student here!) directly to the processor also.
I have become convinced that I should purchase a good, relatively inexpensive DAC as a way to greatly improve my CD performance. I am after the Musical Fidelity A3.24, which I can get here on the 'Gon for about $650 +-.
Are there any other DACs that can offer me the same level of performance for about the same price? If I had my druthers, I's be able to purchase the MF Tri-Vista series, both SACD and DAC, but, as I am getting ready for graduate school, the cash just ain't there!
AM I on the right track with the A3 24, or should I consider others?

Thanks for imparting any wisdom!


used Audio Note DAC 1, DAC 1 Signature, DAC 1.1...all of those can be had for less than 750

very nice sounding units...another good buy for much less money is a used cal audio alpha DAC
I own the Birdland Odeon-Ag. Fantastic. With the re-clocker it costs about $1800 new. You don't see them sold here very often. I assume it's because nobody will part with it once they've heard it.


You player is actually one of the best players to mod. Makes a great transport. IF you get an outboard DAC, you should consider at least getting the digital out modded and maybe a more stable clock for it. Otherwise, you will not get the full benefits of the outboard DAC.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I have had an A3 24 for a year and a half now (I use it with a CAL Delta transport). I really like, and would definately buy it again. It's hard to go wrong at the current used price.
Thanks guys!

Steve N: Where and how and exactly what should I do to get my player modded as described? I assume you mean the Pioneer.

I have also heard great things about the Birdland, but right now it's just a few hairs above my price range.

I do think I may still lean towards the MF A3 24, especially if I can mod my player with no ill effects.

If I mod the player, how would I connect it for DVD movie usage?

Thanks again.

Yes, mod the Pioneer.

The Birdland is one of the best-sounding stock DAC's. dAck! is also very good stock.

The MFA3 24 is okay, but not as good stock as the DAC's above.

I would recommend using the toslink for movies - get a good glass fiber cable, such as:

and then use the S/PDIF output for the DAC. They are both active at the same time and both will benefit from power and digital mods.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
The other DAC's listed are, as stated, a hair out of my price range. I will definately consider the Glass FO cable, as it is reasonably priced.

I'm very interested in the modification process, what is involved and what are the costs associated with them?

THanks !

Mods are all listed on my webpage, but I get new devices to modify almost weekly. In the last week I started modding dAck! and Scott Nixon TubeDAC, and these are not even on my website yet.

The process is that the customer usually ships their equipment to me with a check enclosed for the mods and return shipping (insured). I email a quote or estimate first. Mods are first-come-first-served, so when it's turn comes, I modify it. Usually takes less than 2 weeks, unless I have parts back-ordered. Mods for all types of equipment are listed on my webpage, but the kinds of things that I modify inside the equipment are listed in this article (and the reasons) that I wrote for Positive-Feedback:

I publish customer feedback on my website for each mod, but only that which is posted to Audiogon, Audio Asylum or Audiocircle discussion groups. This way, you know it is not contrived.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
My first external DAC (Musical Fidelity XDAC/HDCD) was a huge improvement over my built-in DAC and came at a super good price of about $150! If you're unsure about DACs give one of the MF XDACs (XDAC, XCAD/HDCD, XDAC-24K) a try. You'll find them for sale here regularly.


I own the Pioneer 47ai and the MF A324. The Pioneer is a darn good player, not just as a transport. To be honest, the difference between using it as a player and as a transport with the A324 are subtle. Don't expect anything dramatic if you decide to add the A324.
What Steve says about modifying the 47ai digital output is probably very true. Steve recently modified a Carver Pro Digital amp for me, and I have no doubt that what he says about the performance benefits of the upgrade are true. However, and I invite Steve to comment on this point, I think your money might be better spent on just having the Pioneer upgraded as a whole, not just the digital output but the internal DAC's also. From what I've heard, you would have a very high performance unit, and would be saving the cost of buying the A324 and the cost of upgrading the A324.
Just a thought.

The only downside of modding the DV-47Ai as a CDP is that the analog outs are AC-coupled. DAC's such as the P-3A, MSB Gold and Electrocompaniet ECD-1 are all DC-coupled, which makes them better candidates to achieve world-class performance with mods. With expensive coupling caps, the DV-47Ai will come close though.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio