Based on prior ownership and/or listening:
#1: DCS used Delius $3K ish
#2: Kora Hermes - tubed so you can play a bit with that, price used estimated at about $800-900 ish
#3: CAL Audio Alpha - really an impressive DAC for the used money of about $500ish. Tubed so can tune to your preferences
These are all great DACs that based on my comparitive listening with the newer DACs selling in the $1K to $2K range are quite a bargain. Though it should be noted that especially with the Kora and CAL, you are getting older chipsets but the benefit of tubes to tailor the sound to your liking. Tubes in DACs last a long time, so it is not much of a continuous replacement aspect.
To be honest, I have not been overly impressed with very many of the $1,000 newer DACs that have made a lot of outlandish claims in terms of performance, but I think there are some new chipsets that are quite good. But unfortunately, the best of these chipsets seem to turn up in the much higher priced DACs.
I agree with Ckoffend that the Kora Hermes is a nice-sounding DAC, especially with NOS tubes. The tubes would be key to getting the warmth you want and for that I'd try Mullard or Amperex.
Another one to listen to would be the Apogee Mini-DAC. Warm and full-sounding if your software has it, lots of detail and good harmonics, and personally I think I might take it over the Kora.
I agree with Ckoffend on the CAL Audio Alpha, not the latest, but very sweet, smooth and inexpensive.
Another unit, which also is quite dated, but IMHO sounds better at it's used price than any newer DAC at the same price range would be the Classe DAC-1. This was a $4K unit on it's release in 1997, but can now be had used for around $1K USD. I can't think of any $1K DAC that can beat it sonically.
Tobias, I like that call on the Apogee DAC. That is a good DAC, I have heard it but not in my system so I cannot say its character regarding warmth - but a very good DAC indeed. I think there is even one of these for sale right now (10/1/08). For the record I am in no way associated with the sale of this piece if it is in fact still listed.
Cheers all - very interesting. I'll check out your suggestions even if I'm not ready to buy just yet. btw, I was think more of DACs up to £1000 GBP rather than USD!
Would most of these DACs provide roughly the same level of detail as the Ikemi?
Your GBP is pretty close to $2K which if you hunt and search could almost get you a DCS delius without 1394. That would be my highest recommendation. I have gone through some pretty good digital in the past couple of months and that is one helluva good DAC! Prices are dropping like crazy here in the States. Some great buying opportunities!
Having heard the Ikemi (and liked it very much) I am sure that the Apogee Mini-
DAC as well as the Kora Hermes would provide similar detail.
Since your budget appears to have swollen overnight, Frank115, I'll add one
more unit to the list: the Stellavox ST2. Although I have not done a back-to-
back comparison (one is coming soon), I am pretty sure it is the highest-
resolution DAC I've yet to hear in my system.
another approach, you use 3 separate cable brands, Chord and Nordost are on the lean "cold" side, either make it full Cardas or use one Stealth Nanofiber or of course change DAC, but maybe with the same results.
Be cautious with trying to impact sound attributes too much with cables. The idea of significantly warming up the sound of your system with a single cable switch is very likely to resutl in other trade-offs. While cables can and certainly do contribute to the sound characteristics of a system, a single cable switch out that takes the whole system sound in a new direction is suspect in my mind.
Case in point, in a recent CDP purchase, I was a bit concerned as I was installing a new CDP for one that is notoriously warm and may end up too bright. The dealer suggested I may want to have a pair of balanced Cardas Golden Cross cables on hand - so I bought a pair. As it turned out, I didn't need them but I tried them anyway. They sure warmed up my sound, too much and my bass fell apart completely. Resolution dropped significantly. They did do what I was told they would, warmed up my sound but at a steep cost everywhere else. My point is that adding a little bit of warmth, especially when replacing a bright tending cable is onething, but adding too much of anything with a cable change should be done very carefully.
Kops idea of considering the replacement or the Nordost is not a bad idea at all, but be careful as to "how warm of a cable you move to".
I think it's a real problem all cables in a system be of different brands and of course different inductance, capacitance, noise suppresion etc.
I suggest Frank115 adress this problem with same line of cables (any he likes) and then see if his problem remains. And it's easy to loan some cables for the weekend.
Prompted by Kops' suggestions on cables, I've changed things round a bit - Cardas now is Pre-Power, and I've changed the CD-Pre to a vdh 'The First' which has certainly tamed a bit of glare! It also seems to give a little more body to the sound, while rolling off the treble a little.
I'm not in a position to purchase new cables just yet, as I've just bought the Bel Canto, the Lumleys and the Nordost cables within the past 3 weeks (purchases made necessary as I'm moving from ATC SCM10A-2 active monitors).
Ckoffend advice sounds good to me - I really don't want to get an overly warm sound at all; really just a subtle shift to the warmer side. I'm enjoying the transparency of the sound at the moment and I'd be lothe to lose the systems strengths.