DAC That Punches Above Its Price Point

I’ll make it short. I’ve spent some hours reading the DAC threads on this forum. I am aware quality of digital matters as superior DACs usually the costlier ones will sound better than cheap DACs, making music sound more analog, lifelike, real, believable with all the soundstage and detail etc. All the good things. There are some who thought it’s the music that matters, and although different DACs may sound different it’s the music that makes the most difference. In other words, the differences that exist between DACs are not that important as it's all about the music. I can see the point that people are trying to make.

Back to the topic. I’ve read great things on the Denafrips Ares II and Pontus II, and other costlier high-end DACs. I’ve read about the Chord DAVE. I personally own a Chord QBD76 and have no urge to replace it with anything else since it sounds splendid in my system, for the money. I may be setting up another system and was wondering if there is a DAC in the lower price bracket that punches way above its price point, sounding close to if not better than the costlier designs.

I presume the Audioquest Black, Red or Cobalt are not worthy of consideration and sound noticeably inferior to the costlier options? FWIW I tried the Musical Fidelity M1 DAC and this one really sounded poor to my ears. Very digital sound and I stopped listening to it after a while. The Chord sounds a lot more analog, lifelike and real to my ears.

I would appreciate any advice. Thanks.

My Denafrips Ares 2 DAC  makes my system sound like I'm there...right on stage . CD's I never play are sounding totally "alive"...My Topping doesn't do that. It also has a "phase" button that really opens the soundstage. My speakers literally disappear. For $800 you can't touch it with anything else in that price range.....If your budget let's you go to $1600....get the Pontus, but if you go to you tube and hear the Denafrips DACs compared....The Ares 2 holds it's own very nicely. One of those rare Steals in Hi Fi....speaking of punching WAY above it's cost. Happy Listening....
If you own a Chord DAC I can pretty much guarantee if you buy any $500 DAC your gonna hate it. I have never purchased any equipment that was let’s  say off the top of my head 50% cheaper than what I owned or had owned in the same category ( amp/amp , DAC/DAC ) and been satisfied. I own a Topping E30 that I use with my headphones ( because  I’m not a headphone guy and just use them late night when I can’t be playing my audio system ) and bought it when it was still $130. It is good but it’s a $130 DAC period, it’s not gonna compete in any way with a $400 DAC that’s why Topping makes a $400 DAC. I own a n RME ADI - 2 FS ( in my audio system ) and really like it , especially because of all of the features but I can’t say it’s what some of the hype made/ makes it as if it’s some end all option. Those that do I’m sure haven’t ever listened to a $2-3000 DAC. I am actually quite tempted to try an R2R DAC to compare as I own Focal 948 speakers that are quite detailed.
Work on matching your equipment properly, that’s probably why your  satisfied with the Chord DAC you own.
I'm not strictly an objectivist (I build and use tube amps that measure horribly by todays standards) but when it comes to DAC's I think getting the one with best measured performance is the way to go.
That, and obviously the one that meets the functionality you require -- Balanced or SE ? Volume control/Preamp ? Toslink, Coax or just USB? Remote?

Anyway, you don't need yet another component in the system that is a tone control. There are a ton of DAC's that have a SINAD of 110dB-120dB which guarantee's a fully transparent source. You can mix and match the amp (tube / SS) and/or speakers to tailor the sound.

Various offerings from Topping, SMSL, Schiit Modi/Modius or at the higher end, the okto research dac8 stereo.
It simply doesn't make sense to spend more than that on a DAC.

Last comment, I disagree with the Codex recommendations. It is an OK DAC (I owned one a few years ago) but it uses the ESS 9016 chip which is a few generations behind by now. The headphone output isn't too great either. Any Topping DAC at a fraction of the price will perform much better.

True value is out there but look at older units. Manley, Theta Gen. V or Wadia. I have a Wadia 15 that 'only' plays redbook and it is spectacular, not just for it's age but against anything available today. I also own a Bryston that somebody mentioned but hardly ever use it due to the superb performance of the Wadia!

I am streamlining and trying to reduce the clutter and have on order a Mojo Mystique V3 to replace the 2 DAC's mentioned which will be for sale when I receive the new one. For the price of a DAC like this I feel nothing out there will come close, not in build quality nor sound. The 3 DACs in the first line are high-end units from a different era and are built like tanks.

Think Mike Tyson 1st round knockout. PM me if you are interested in buying but I live in Ireland so postage might be heavy. Perhaps if you are lucky you can find one of these locally but getting very scarce.

Also consider a CD player like Philips or Marantz (same PCB) The Marantz CD85 or CD94 use alloy transport and the TDA1541 chip, they sound great, solidly built and provide access to the internal DAC. Can find them for next to nothing and come from the same period as the heavyweights above.
The thing that matters with DACs is whether they produce noise above an audible threshold. Most don't. One that produces noise far below audible thresholds is the SMSL Sanskrit 10th MK II for $140.