DAC woes - what to do

Oh Boy!!! Another "what should I buy" thread! Yippee!!!
Seriously though... looking for some personal experience and potential recommendations.
Ive been looking for a new CD player recently, preferably in the <$1000 range.
I recently ended up buying a Rega DAC. Actually, I bought an apollo-r at first, but it was possessed by demons and wouldnt play most of my CD's (even new, non-scratched ones.) So, I exchanged it for the DAC instead.
I was lured into the Rega by its very unique sound. Its beefy but articulate and with good definition...or so I thought upon initial comparisons (I compared it with 6 different players in my home system, as well as many others at the shop.)
But, as it breaks-in, the "beef" is turning to "bloat" and the enchantment is waning. Its too "soft" up top to balance the low-end emphasis. Not to mention that one of the toslink connector "shutters" broke off inside the receiver on first attempt to plug it up, and is unusable now. And, the automuting pops/hisses when the transport is powered on (the demo DAC didnt do this.) So, Im already waiting for the replacement to come in. So now is the time to return it, if Im going to.
Anway, back on track... I admit, I got "sucked in" by the so-called "analog" sound, and I did enjoy it for a while. There is something unique about this Rega. The individual instruments are quite articulate, and the soundstage is enormous. But what Ive noticed that that, while the instruments are individually defined, they tend to get "lost" in the vast stage. Its very difficult to place them in relation to each other.
For example, I listen to mostly choir/choral, chamber and full orchestral works. I was originally enchanted to actually hear additional voices from music Ive heard 1000x before. It was very cool. And, the noise floor is extremely low...the instruments seem to come out of a black hole. Its almost eery, especially with dark arrangements. But more and more, especially with "busy," intricate voices, they've begun to "smear," for lack of a better word.
For the "record" (another pun,) I have a halo p7 pre-amp, parasound hca 1500 amp and paradigm studio 20 v5's (with a hsu sub.) Not hi-fi for many, but its a very "honest" sounding system, which is my intent.
I keep thinking back to this peachtree DAC I auditioned. It had better definition and "air" than the Rega (yes, I A/B'd them,) but the Rega destroyed it in the lower frequency response, and was therefore more impressive at the time.
So, Im afraid the Rega has to go back. Not counting the sound, Im a bit concerned about long time reliability (Im 0 for 2 right now with their reliability... not great.)
Im also afraid Im going to have to admit that I like a "digital" sound, as much as people seem to be afraid to admit that. I dont like analog bloom and "laid back" presentation, although I realize a lot of people do, and thats great. And Im convinced there is something out there near my price range that combines the "beef" of the Rega with the "sweet" and definition/clarity of the peachtree.
I dont have any music fidelity dealers here in Atlanta, so Im considering buying an M1 on a hunch. I hate to judge by reviews, but it seems the might be the "ticket" in this price range. Or maybe the Benchmark DAC 1, but again, I dont have any dealers locally to easily hear one.
So, in summary... I want Rega soundstage width, but with a tighter, less accentuated mids and lows, and brighter, crisper highs. Does anyone have any recommendations in the $1k range?
BTW, Im open to single-box players, but Ive listened to a ton lately, and I dont think Im going to find one with as good of an analog output section as many of the DAC's. That seems to be the "ticket" to the magic of the external DAC.
And for the record, I did listen to one much more expensive model, the NAD M51. I only listed to it at the store, and it seemed too bright compared a/b with the Rega, but that might actually be the ticket, especially after break-in. Ill probably demo it at home to compare before I return the Rega.
Again, I might consider the NAD or something like a Bryston BDA-1 at around $2k, but Id prefer to stay around half that.
Anyway, thanks in advance for any input.
Check out an Oppo in that price range. It sounds to me like it may be just what you're looking for. I hated it, but I'm an Audio Note guy, so I'm on the other end of the spectrum, but seriously, in my time with it, it seemed to have the characteristics that you want.
I recently bought (and sold) a Rega dac. Wasn't for me either. For slightly more the Metrum Octave is much better. For quite a bit less, I replaced the Rega with a Schiit Bifrost uber and am very happy with it.
Lightspeed240, I cannot comment on the other DACc but I have Benchmark DAC1. It has a lot of resolution, nice extension and tight bass but it is not warm or sweet. According to technical director of Benchmark John Siau it was purposely designed not to be warm. It was a little too bright with metal dome tweeters in my old Paradigm Studio speakers but it is heaven with warm sounding Hyperions HPS-983.
+1 for Benchmark.
Don't know why you're knocking the Rega.
Solid build, versatile and very musical.
Not esoteric enough?
I have the Rega on a small system and I find to be warm but very underwhelming at the top and bottom (detail wise).

I'm putting together a new main system with parasound halo gear, Martin Logan Montis and I currently have the Oppo 105D as a digital disc and DAC source (hooked to a MAC Mini). If you like neutral sound with tons of detail then it's quite exceptional. The newest firmware takes full advantage of the Sabre DACS (105D only) and with hi rez content it's quite good.
Second the Schiit - Gungnir will give you balanced outputs if required

Put on some great cables - hard to beat for the money <$1000

I have the Bifrost - superb performer!

Articulate, dynamic, spacious with a very tight and deep bass

You should also check out the wavelength brick as well.
It plays music, not hi-fi.
DAC is nothing but electronic technology. Sound recording and reproduction is an electrical or mechanical inscription and re-creation of sound waves, such as spoken voice, singing, instrumental music, or sound effects. Engineer are making good progress with its audio product better and cheaper daily.
I would buy the newest DAC with the latest technology.
I would be happy to sell you my Cambridge Audio 840C for $900.00. It has a built in dac and sounds great! Check reviews on this unit. Oh, and the toslink connection works great!
Wyred 4 Sound
Thanks for the responses, everyone. It seems there is somewhat of a consensus on the Benchmark, and then the Schiit.
A few comments...
Roxy...Ive seen pics of the audio note, but I havent seen one or heard one. Ill respond on a separate post on that one.
Kijanki - good feedback on the "cool" sound. Im glad Im not the only one who likes that. And its good the designer had that in-mind. Also, I have studio's, but they are v5's. My previous v2's were too bright IMO, but the v5's are remarkably different. But they are so articulate...
OK, so here is where Im going to loose it, if Im not careful...but I must get this out... If I buy a Schiit product, will that make me a Schiit-head?
Hopefully you see the humor in that.
But all joking aside...I was actually reading about those, and they have amazing design specs for that price... AKM DAC? Nice! No upsampling is also preferable, IMO, although I realize upsampling and conversion the new trend. It appears to have a discrete output stages also, with separate analog and digital power supplies? I have to wonder how they got all the goodness in there at that price (or why everyone else overcharges so much...)
BTW, Do the Schiit and the benchmark remember the last source played when they are power-cycled?

Has anyone A-B'd a Schitt and a Rega? Any thoughts?

I dont desire USB, and it seems that the Schiit without USB is only $350? Thats quite a value. It seems too good to be true...
Matrix mini i with the ad 1955 chip set. Pay less and get more. Get the 2014 version for a bit more flexibility. Really, this unit works really well and sounds great. It is pennies well spent. Buy now and thank me later.
I think that your advice was ridiculous.
OK, so this is a tangent, but I did want to address the Audio Note. Im not sure which one you have, but from what Ive read and seen, that is how I would build a DAC. If it didnt have valve outputs, I think it would be about perfect. And yes, this is preference and Im not knocking your choice.
From my perspective, I would expect the best sounding PCM reproduction would come from a 16 bit DAC, with no oversampling and no digital filtering. If I didnt dislike tubes, Id buy a lampizator setup...no questions. Its the purest design, IMO. But I dont want to deal with tubes.
If the source is defined by 16 bits, then thats the most "sound data" youre going to be able to get out of each sample. If you effectively reproduce the waveforms, then there is no real need for processing or filtering, except maybe a brick-wall around 16 khz. Yes, there are crappy recordings out there with a lot of emphasized high-end "glare..." So just dont buy those :)

OK, Im going to stop now and not get on my soapbox about this upsampling/upconverting trend for 16/44.1, or Ill just get frustrated.

I actually like the PCM -> PWM conversion idea better, like the NAD m51, if youre going to process it so heavily, as I think it would reduce the filtering requirements. So Im surprised I didnt like it more at the shop. I think I need to hear it at my house.

Anyway, this got long. Apologies for the quasi-rant ;)
LOL @ Roxy's last post.

People have their own opinions, thats fine.

IMO, the "magic" is still in the analog output section. I dont think a 32 bit sabre can decode 16 bit PCM any better or more accurately than a TDA1541 can. If you dont have errors, you dont need all that digital "headroom." For video processing, I can see some possible benefit due to the complexity, but if you dont have errors in your microcode, you dont need overhead in a DAC (IMO.)
You want expensive sound, but only want to spend $1K? It doesn't work. No matter what anyone tells you about the latest cheap-dac wonder. Yes, you can buy some very decent stuff for $1K, but you had a good 1K dac and you weren't satisfied - Therein lies the problem. I used to think that a $1500 CD player was the best there was. Until I heard a unit that sold for $3K and realized there is a big difference as you move up. If you can hear it. If you can't, you're an idiot if you spend more money. So the short of it is, I would raise your budget to $3500 or so and look into something better. That will require some research on your part, but at least you won't be just trading one set of faults for another. I'm sure there are some (or many) that will poo-poo this advice and keep telling you how DAC technology has improved so much and so forth. You can keep telling yourself that there's a perfect $1K DAC out there. Maybe. You've tried the cheaper ones and now it's time to break some eggs. At least that's what I think. Good luck.
BTW, Roxy... If youd like to loan me your Audio Note, Ill send you my address for shipping. Ill even insure it :)

Oh... While I try to avoid arguments and brand bashing in forums... Dweller... I have nothing against Rega, except two of the two Rega devices Ive bought were defective. So thats tough to manage. I obviously had nothing intrinsically against them...i bought it over NAD that I typically repect. I like any brand that makes nice things. If insignia made something that sounded great, Id buy that.
@ chayro There are a lot of areas in-which you dont get more just because you pay for. Directly to your point...I had an older $2k multi-format player that sounded "worse" to me with CD than a $300 NAD CD-only player. I agree with you that possibly, in this case, I may have to pay more than I expected.
But I dont think its necessary. This Rega is obviously artificially "flavored" with its sound, but the quality is there. I just dont like the flavor as much as it seemed at first.
If this Rega was as "tuned" to sound differently, it would be fantastic IMO. They dynamics are there. The output voltage is there. It wouldnt have to cost more.
So, yes, I agree I may need to break down and pay "more." But, for example, the NAD isnt 4x as good (to me) as the peachtree. So Ill remain optimistic for a while.
Lightspeed - I gave up on multi-format players years ago for
the exact reasons you stated. I had a $5K Esoteric X05 and I
thought that a $3K dedicated CD player sounded better on CDs.
I eventually gave up and just went with the best CD player I
could afford. There are many people who just like the thrill
of a new piece of equipment and go endlessly from one cheap
dac to another, only to be eventually disappointed. But it's
your money and your choices so you can keep telling yourself
the Honda Civic is just as good as the Mercedes if you like.
I have both and believe me, it ain't. Again, best of luck.
Lightspeed240, Benchmark is very revealing often showing problems in the system. It is also very clean - in fact so clean that some people call it very accurate but sterile. It is due to jitter (noise) suppression. It upsamples to equivalent of million times oversampling to finally output at 110kHz (at 192kHz THD of the DAC IC is higher). Original DAC1 with no suffix doesn't have remote. Source is selected by the switch on the front panel. If you buy used avoid very old units since they went thru many revisions. Early models had high output impedance on RCA outputs and Op-Amps manufactured by Signetics/Philips. When Signetics factory burned down in 2000/2001 they sold license to Texas Instruments. TI redesigned die making them fuller sounding.

John Siau believes that warm sound (pronounced even harmonics) is wonderful for voice or guitar but not so great with instruments that have harmonics more complex than series of overtones - like piano (and percussion instruments). He stated that overly warm gear can make piano sound like out of tune.
Hi Lightspeed240,
Interesting thread you started and I appreciate the responses. I'd strongly
encourage you to hear an Audio Note and Benchmark and see what you
think(you'll clearly prefer one or the other). My 2 cents, I'd definitely prefer
the Audio Note(if were between these two choices) but we all hear
differently as the replies here confirm.Tubes in a source component are
very low maintenance and little bother (high power tube amp with multiple
output tubes is a different case). Chayro makes salient points as usual. You
might really like the Metrum Octave if you stick to your price range. I agree
about the importance of a high quality analog stage ( not the place for cost
cutting compromising, same is true of the power supply).
Good Luck,
For the kind of soun the OP is asking for, he should think about a $2K retail budget and try to buy used to keep prices down.

A Chord Qute with a Teddy pardo L-PSU should come below $2k and give great SQ, as will a BMC PureDac. Not sure when the Lampi Amber Dac will be available in the US, but that will be below $2K as well, even optioned up fully. All 3 here give you the DSD playback function as well.

Lightspped, tubes in the Lampi are driven at 25% of rated power and should last 10 years if not defective, so no need for any tube hassles, unless you love to tinker. In any case, tube rolling is easy and you dont have to open the case.
I listen primarily to Classical Music, and I have The same amp and pre that you have. My speakers are B&W 803D but I have the Paradigms in my HT system so my perspective may be helpful.
Purely as a DAC, the Oppo 105 is very impressive. I have had one for 18 months; unfortunately I am sending it in for service today due to a faulty transport issue, but this doesn't apply to the DAC issue. When it works, you will also be able to use it for SACD, DVD-A, HDMI, and USB. The USB is slightly veiled compared to the other inputs.
I use a FireWire DAC now due to the USB issue. I had an Apogee FireWire DAC that I resurrected and it works great. I suggest you investigate Mytek DACs. For $1500 it does DSD, fw, and gets great reviews. It was developed by the same guy that developed DSD for Sony
It's so interesting how different people perceive products so differently. I actually found that a Peachtree DACit-X gave my system all the low end I wanted (along with air and detail), and ended up buying a 2nd for another room. I can't fathom any DAC "destroying" it in terms of low end, but that's what you heard in your room, with your equipment, and your ears. Which highlights why at the end of the day, all the advice and reviews in the world can't take the place of actually hearing a component in your own space. In my case, I had a mean man-crush on the Line Magnetic LM502-CA DAC, which would have run me $1800 + tax - I lusted after that. But the DACit-X sounds just as good for a fraction of the money, so I guess I would fall into that category who believes you don't have to spend $2K on a DAC to get good sound. At least, that's how it worked out in my case. Good luck in your quest!
DAC recommendations you received have been plentiful and
varied. But the sound you get from any of the DACs will depend
on its synergy with the rest of your system. No way to know
that until you try quite a few DACs in your setup. I've had
some of the DACs mentioned in this thread, and the conclusion
I've come to as I changed to other gear and speakers, is that
I feel each of those DACS I tried would sound different now in
my current setup than they did in the setup I had at the time
I tried them. It's all about system synergy and the choices
in electronics, speakers cables etc. I currently use the
Hailde DAC HD and like it. You can try it out and return it,
if you don't like it. And, there are no decisions to make
about usb cables or interconnects since the Halide HD is an
all-in-one unit, and a former Stereophile Class A if that
"But what Ive noticed that that, while the instruments are individually defined, they tend to get "lost" in the vast stage. Its very difficult to place them in relation to each other.
....But more and more, especially with "busy," intricate voices, they've begun to "smear," for lack of a better word."

What I've noticed is that with different DACs, or any new component you place in your system, you might have to re-position your speakers slightly to allow for the change that component might have regarding soundstage-ing and imaging. I don't know if you've thought of that but if you haven't I would try that to see if it improved those issues you mentioned. Sometimes all it takes is a slight toe-in or toe-out.
Not a single recommendation for the PS Audio Nuwave dac? Although it's not really high end, it seems to be a contender in this price class the op requested.
I've been using the PS Audio DLIII for years now with zero desire to swap it out. It's been on almost the entire time, never a glitch.
Hey Lightspeed, I obviously like the M51 as I own it. It seems to be obtainable used at really good prices now.

If getting something new, you might want to look at the Rotel RDD-1580 or Metrum Octave.
Greetings everyone... Thanks for all the responses on this. Definitely good to think about.

I got a wild hair today and I bought a benchmark. It will be here tomorrow.
I also bought a parasound zdac, as I have to give my historically favorite brand a shot, even though Im afraid it might be seriously outgunned. But who knows :)
I also tried to buy a bryston bda-2 at the same time (yes, I realize this indicates a serious problem with self-control,) but they could only sell me two of the same items at the same time (apparently its common for people to demo these LOL.)

BTW, 2500 is going to be the limit here. I can see this could easily get well out of control.

So, Ill have a "$1k dac shootout" this weekend and return the two "loosers." I realize the new ones wont have much burn-in time, but ill let them play for a couple days prior to a serious comparison. At least neither of the new ones will be at an advantage.
The "last $1k dac standing" will then face the Bryston and the NAD in a david vs goliath. Ill weight the results somewhat for price, presuming one of the big dogs "wins," but Ive decided that Ill spend the money on the more expensive item if its tangibly better.

A few quick thoughts on some of the responses...
I agree the audio note is seriously nice piece of equipment, but (1) its way too expensive and (2) I dont want tubes in my source. But I am not discounting tubes just because they are tubes. Ive been wanting a decware zen preamp for years. But I just dont want to even start down that path. Its the same reason I dont do vinyl...its a slippery slope. The last thing I need is something more to obsess about (such as trying to find my "favorite tube.")

I have to admit I didnt do a lot of homework on dac's before I started listening to them. I figured Id let my ears decide and my mind didnt get a say. My heart knows that its irrelevant what makes the sound, as long as I enjoy it. But, I am a tech-geek and my mind loves to consider the component specs. And the mind needs to be placated too LOL
Im hoping I didnt make a mistake on that benchmark already. I didnt know it did source rate conversion also. As a matter of fact, neither did the salesman, because I specifically asked it, and he said "no." I know the bryston, NAD and parasound do, so I was hoping to compare a new one that didnt.
I still think the best way should be to remove as much processing as possible. I am tech savvy and I understand the claimed benefits, but many of the most highly regarded setups dont upsample/upconvert anything. If Ive learned anything as a network architect, its that simple is almost always better. But, Im going to be open-minded and give them all a shot.

At this rate, It seems I may have to end-up with an audio note after all. But I have to think that the tube outputs would give it all the attributes that Im trying to avoid, so it seems.

If anyone would like to send me their audio note to include in the david vs goliath round, let me know :) Ill pay shipping and insurance LOL
A couple of other comments (my last post got seriously bloated.)
Timrhu... I looked at the nuwave reviews online, and it did seem nice. Unfortunately, I do have a full-time job, and I just dont have the time to review all the good ones. Same for the woo audio... Seems great. But, after comparing the results, it seems the only coherent impression across different reviewers and different dac's is that the benchmark is cold/analytical/revealing (although these dont need to be mutually inclusive.) Most other dac reviews are all over the place. I read some people calling the rega "neutral" and "bright," but thats the opposite of my impression. Its totally subjective. But every single review and post on here says the benchmark is bright and revealing. When the cops and the crooks both agree on something...you might at least listen and consider :)

Loftarasa.. Do you use your m51 directly into a power amp? The thing that interests me most about the m51 is the digital volume for all inputs. I would have to think that it doesnt get any better than running that into a power amp directly. I have a rotel and another parasound amp (actually, 3 more parsounds) in the closet, so I was starting to think running the m51 into one of them for a totally separate 2 channel rig. (right now, my AV pre-pro does pass-through on the halo for multichannel, to share the bigger parasound.)

Obviously, the m51 is the king of processing...also the polar opposite of what I *think* I want, but if youre going to process it, going to PWM is the way to do it. Ive long wondering why that wasnt done, as it should eliminate all digital filter-related ringing. But why not just add a DSD receiver too, if ou have the basics of the processing there? Seemed a bit short-sighted. When I A/B'd it with the rega at the shop, it was too "bright." But now, it seems that my bias was skewed, and the rega was probably too "dark" in comparison. It may be just right.
What do you think about the m51 sound?

BTW, Im hesitant to buy a used DAC, as they are more delicate than power amps, which I do buy used if I can find one I want. But I appreciate the information on the used ones.

Wisnon... I really dig the lampizators. Like the audio note, i think the designs are simple and brilliant. But, as stated, I fear the additional compulsion that tubes will bring me.

Richardfinegold...we have very close tastes, it seems. I always liked B&W's. Both times I went down to audition a pair, I ended up with paradigms. Not sure why...something about paradigm studios I like. The new v5's especially. But I think the B&W's are great too.

Bcgator... dont take offense on the dac it. But there wasnt any comparison from around 1k down. There was another guy there who was in another room, and he knew I was A/B'ing them. Everytime Id switch them, I could hear him say "peachtree" or "rega" from outside. He was right every time. But as I said, it was super nice in the top end.

Finally... Dragon1952 (apologies for not responding to all...Ive been typing all day LOL, but I appreciate all the input.)
You are 100% correct. I re-positioned my mains and my sub when I added the rega. I had to. My room is crappy already, and it needs treatment badly (thats the next purchase after this...absorbers for the corners.) The extra low-end of the rega was making my already terrible standing-wave problem worse. And my paradigms are reflex ported, so positioning them in this room was never easy anyway.
Here's an idea.. Look for a nice used PS Audio PWD MKI .. The mark one's are going for cheap.. Then try and find someone who's upgrading to the new PSA Directstream from a MKII and try and buy the MKII guts.. you'll end up with a PWD MKII for about 1300.00 or there are a few PWD MKII that I've seen going for about 1600-$1900.00
Erikminer - I just read about the direct stream DAC. Looks impressive. It appears to work much like the m51 though...although it also appears to process DSD...
What makes it 3x the price I wonder?
As with the m51, I think that conversion should eliminate filtering ring or aliasing.
Pretty cool, but out of my price range. Im hesitant to buy a used "anything with a chip..." Makes me wonder why people are getting rid of them... I know there are a lot of good used deals; Im just a skeptic sometimes.
I just thought of something... If I buy a bryston for this shoot-out, Ill have over $5k in dacs laying around. Yes, all but one will be returned (maybe keep 2...for the price, I may keep the parasound zdac for a nice headphone setup, regardless.)
For this money, Im getting closer to a Gryphon scorpio. I might as well just get that at this point, although it does all the processing voodoo :) LOL
I was at work late this afternoon when I saw your post. I wasn't trying to be unkind to Beewax, but the statement he made just seemed so absurd.
Regarding your remarks concerning Audio Note, I owned a factory Audio Note 1x (it was the lowest model in the lineup at the time which (for my taste) showed the door to what was at that time the best Cary Audio CD player, using the Cary's transport.
This humble version used a couple of subminiature itty bitty tubes that were soldered on to the circuit board. Anyway, I was sold on the sound of the non oversampling tube business, although that one did have a digital filter I believe which they have since done away with. I used that DAC constantly for 10 years without ever having any issues whatsoever.
Earlier this year, I decided to try the Audio Note Kits DAC 2.1. I had it professionally built by their sanctioned assembler, Pete Fulton. My upgrades were Duelund VSF output capacitors, and I splurged a little on a matched pair of Telefunken NOS 6922s, and a Bendix tube that was recommended by them (can't remember the number...)
Anyway, for me it is just about heaven. I loved the old one, but knew it could be better, I just had no idea of how much better. I can't even imagine what the level 4 with C-core transformers sounds like.
As far as your concern about the tubes, I was the same way, but these are not stressed in this application, and they last for a long time.
I am sure that the Lampizator and several others that keep it simple are steps beyond what I have, but this one gives me the kind of musical satisfaction that makes me feel lucky rather than envious.
It's also worth mentioning that with Audio Note Kits, you get the Audio Note philosophy and sound and save a great deal of money, and their service is just great. They are really a sort of hidden treasure.
Roxy, as long as you are happy then all is well. Keep up the enjoyment.
"What to do, yeah! I really don't know what to do...."

Just buy the best reviewed and most widely accepted neutral sounding and detailed DAC and build around it as needed. That would be the BEnchmark. Then be prepared to do whatever is needed step by step from there to get it all fine tuned.

Sounds like fun to me, especially with someone else's money. :^)
No worries, Lightspeed, you read me wrong if you think I was offended. I didn't design or build the Peachtree, I just bought a couple. And I have about as much emotional attachment as I do to the green beans I'll be eating for lunch today. Do I believe there's a night and day difference between any 2 DACs in the $500-$2000 range? No way - I'll write someone a check for the Brooklyn Bridge before I'd buy into that line of thinking. If you're hearing "no comparison" differences between any 2 DACs in the $500-2000 range, I'd suggest it's a function of system synergy (something I believe in strongly) and/or personal perception, rather than a function of 2 DACs having completely different flavors. And that's where the chase really lies, in finding system synergy...not just picking components, but creating a system that works together. Good luck with it dude.
for a grand, the benchmark, definitely. BUT, I wonder what I could get used... a berkeley dac for $1,500 would kill anything you'd be looking at, and with the new models out there, I think they may get there soon. I know if I weren't using mine (and had a few others), I'd sell mine for a fast $1,500.
Hello, thanks again for the feedback.

Roxy, I didnt read anything too egregious in your response, I just thought it was funny (it was.) I definitely appreciate your experience with the audio note. Again, its a super cool piece of equipment.

The new benchmark and parsound zdac are waiting at the fedex store for me, as we speak, so I guess Ill get no sleep again tonight LOL Let the fun begin!

But here is something really interesting, and it was quite "revelatory" in some ways. Last night, as I was anxiously making space in my rack and getting hookups ready for the shoot-outs, I decided to listen to some of my older amps with this rega first.
So first I listened to my little 60 watt rotel. I bought it a long time ago but I never really used it, except when experimenting with HT setups. I have small, fairly efficient speakers, and I dont usually listen at high levels, so power isnt a real concern. But wow...its a lot brighter than I remembered, but not in a good way. Compared to my normal parasound, it sounded really harsh all over the place. Very "high strung" Id call it. It sucked all of the life out of that rega, to the point that it was actually too lean on the dac's filter (4) that I like the most. I actually couldnt get any of the filters to sound as I wanted.
OK, so that was a fail.
So then I decided to try an HCA750. I figured this might be a waste, because if you look at the component topology, it looks almost identical to the rotel, and its very similar specs and components. But since I had my system torn apart, I figured why not.
I was blown away. All of the low-mid range congestion was gone. Imaging is just as wide but more precise. The overall setup sounds almost exactly as I envisioned it. Its almost to the point that I have nothing to complain about.

I didnt even try the zamps I have at this point. They arent powerful enough to full-range in my setup, but they have ridiculously flat frequency response curves, as I recall when they were bench tested. They are probably a good window to see what the source is doing.
So now Im perplexed. Ive heard the HCA1500 called "sweeter" and "warmer" than the smaller ones, but this is extreme. Ive sometime thought this 1500 was overpowered for my setup, but bigger has to be better...right? Not with this setup obviously. I dont know if something is "wrong" with my 1500, but I just find it hard to believe that either (1) its frequency response is so much exaggerated in the midrange to cause this or (2) this small hca and the rotel (especially) are so lean in that frequency range. I dont recall this big of a difference when I "upgraded" from the 1000 to the 1500, but it was several years ago. It seems pretty clear that the rotel is bright, the 750 is "neutral" and the 1500 is dark.
It makes me regret selling my HCA1000 now, as Im thinking it could have been the best compromise.
So was I being too "harsh" on the rega (pun intended?) I dont know. But maybe.
Ill continue the shootout, but with this smaller hca. But, I think its going to be tough to get much improvement at this point, given my room acoustics.
Now Ive started down this slippery slope Ive tried to avoid. I have to now re-consider my power amp. Im wondering if the best "use" of $2k, in my current case, would be on a small halo a23 and keep the rega.

Any, Ill post up my thoughts after I hear these new devices. But it seems an amp change may be the next round.
Lightspeed, I do run my M51 balanced straight into my P1 power amp. The volume control is excellent, and I preferred it to using the iFi iTube (in both buffer and preamp modes). FWIW, the M51 did better than the Benchmark DAC2 HGC as a preamp, though I have heard several ESS based DACs and honestly...I just don't like them (something unnatural in the mids and treble).

I have heard the Rega DAC and found it muddy and lo-mid-fi. The M51 is more refined. My last points...you shouldn't worry about the filtering and should rather just evaluate the sound of the DAC as a whole in your system. That's what really determines suitability. Also, no way I agree power amps are less risky to buy used than DACs. DACs are probably the safest things to buy used cause of the lack of stress on passive parts. I think some people are selling their M51s cause the new, more expensive, M12 has just been released - though from what I read, the actual DAC section of the M12 is the same as the M51.

I thought you might also like to audition the Naim DAC (original) or their newer DAC-V1. I've also auditioned these and was impressed - they do all the hi-fi things well but also that Naim PRAT thing.
Hold your horses:
iDSD Mini

OTW#1: Audio has a new order...the micro iDSD
Octa-Speed DSD512 + 768kHz

Over the last few weeks we kept you guessing OTW#1 but along the way, gave some clues:
i. 3 Donuts
ii. Mention of “Damp squid”
iii. Picture of Godzilla and wrestling with Gezora

The ANSWER was that the micro iDSD is capable of OCTA-SPEED DSD512 and not only that but also PCM768kHz and 2xDXD (it is mega on all 3 formats)

Capable of full DSD512 and 768kHz PCM (2xDXD) directly from the computer to the micro iDSD via USB, natively with NO conversion - we have had to bite our lip as we have been absolutely gagging to tell you but had to keep refraining from letting anything slip.

By comparison, even the most expensive DACs in the world costing upwards of US$50,000, are a little “old hat” as they are several format levels behind only now, attaining:
DSD128 (one or two at DSD 256)

The iFi micro iDSD feature set means it has blasted light years ahead to bring true high-end technology to the mass market.

To summarise the micro iDSD’s Outta This World features:

Outta This World #1 Octa-Speed DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD

Outta This World #2 Perfect-Match with Headphone Power modes and iEMatch

Outta This World #3 Turbo headamp power output of 8v/4000mW

The micro iDSD is available in stores mid-July so you are only ~two weeks from having the Micro iDSD in the palm of your hand.

iDSD micro Crowd-Design. OTW#1. Audio has a new order!!! Did you guess correctly? (page 71) - Page 71



For native rate playback...

What you say? There is no material at these high rates?
I guess they will have to come out with appropriate ADCs then...LoL

For the upsampling sub-culture, this will be a perfect toy and costing ony $500 plus tax in the US, while including the most versatile Headamp, a built in iPurifier and all those battery mode options, it really is a screaming bargain!
Loftarasa - cool on the NAD. Direct to amp seems like best option. Im going to play with the dac1 like that too. Im just wondering if this little volume pot on the dac1 is cleaner than running it through a really sterile preamp like mine. Ill probably run them through my halo regardless, but configure its input for pass-through, to test the volume pot.

Wisnon - Never heard of that one. Seems to process A LOT? Not sure what to think.

Bcgator - Im definitely a synergy believer. Read on... :)

OK, so with the DAC testing, round 1.

A/B/C'd the dac1, zDac and rega. I actually have a makeshift way of making it "blind" by shuffling around the interconnect pairs behind the rack without looking, so I cant tell which input pair is which device.

So I start with a quick "lets see if I can tell which is which." Within 15 second of listening, the rega is differentiated. No question.

The shock was the dac1 and the zDac. I dont know if anyone has heard this little zDac, but it is quite impressive. There is very little difference in the basics of imaging, frequency response and overall detail.

It didnt take that long to distinguish them, though. The dac1, as expected from the press, was just a tiny bit more "revealing." Thats probably the best word for it. It is almost certainly rendering more bits, more perfectly, than the others. Its obviously meant to reproduce music exactly as it is recorded. But, I have to say that "revealing" doesnt always equal better sounding.

In all seriousness, this zDac is good. Like, really really good. Id say 95% of the detail and very similar overall sound. Musically, I have to say that its quite possibly more enjoyable with the majority of music. That missing 5% is almost total "edge" and space, and not necesarily missing anything that I want to hear.

I must say that it was really fun to, yet again, discover new voices in arrangements that Ive heard 1000x before.

Yes, I am now publicly admitting that definition and purity are not necessarily better sounding. But I do still prefer the definition of the dac1 and zDac to the rega.

However, I also must be fair to the rega and say that, with this smaller power amp, I like the rega's sound best on about 20% of the material. It does fit some genres of music, such as solo vocals or "hot" pop/rock...quite nicely.

Part of this might be the "synergy" people keep referencing. In this case, the dac, preamp and amp are all the same manufacturer.

But the other thing I now realize, and Ive heard this said before, but didnt listen, is this... Many producers, when they record, take into consideration that the majority of listeners will not have a studio-quality reproduction system. Producers will often alter dynamics and filtering of the recordings to create a certain sound as its reproduced by consumer grade equipment (especially stuff that is meant for broadcast play...) When you start to have reproduction that is this "pure," you start to hear things that the producers never expected you to be revealed.

And that appears the case here. Yes, the dac1 is the most detailed thing Ive heard to-date in my system. But, surprisingly, this zDac is nearly as detailed, and more musical more of the time.

At this point, Id already be willing to say the zDac wins overall, especially considering the price. The only problem with it is that it has audible transformer hum if youre within a couple of feet of it. I have very sensitive hearing, which doesnt help.

Both of my zamp amplifiers have the same transformer hum, so obviously this is a problem with these "z" series components overall. Im not sure how to deal with this. I cant hear it from any listening position, so its totally irrelevant sonically. But it just bugs me that they cant supply a toroid that doesnt hum. The giant ones in the HCA's dont. I guess this is one indicator of the price difference.

OK, so Im going to listen more tonight and probably take the rega back tomorrow. Although, Im seriously considering keeping both it and the zDac. The zDac and dac1 are too close to own both, although for an occasional, "active" listening sessions, I would like to have it. Not sure about the rest. We'll see if break-in changes anything on these.

For the record, I am running these setups open-ended thus far (on the dac1 and zdac.) I dont have an amp with balanced inputs (but I might by tomorrow if my local dealer has an a23 in stock.) If so, Ill re-test these end-to-end balanced.
So Ive made a determination after a long weekend of listening to these various things.
The benchmark is the "best" dac Ive heard thus far. It is the most accurate at rendering data into sound. Its quite a treat, most of the time. Its especially fitting for larger arrangements, or other pieces that otherwise get "congested." Of course overall, for a while, anyway, all that detail is quite impressive to hear.
The rega was, as expected, the most laid-back and warmest piece. Its interesting at times, because it does have quite good definition, but things tend to get lost in the mix more easily than with the others. Its the most "pleasant" overall to listen to, but it just gets a little muddy with a lot of material.
The zDac was the surprise here. It has 90-95% of the precision of the benchmark, with a bit more low-end actually, but not quite as defined upper-mid and high end. This additional low-end may actually be some bit of distortion, but its still sounds clean. The zDac is also "easier" to listen to for long periods.
Going through the exercise has been quite frustrating in areas, especially that now I have reason to re-think my amplifier selection.
So, the summary for now is that the benchmark and rega go back, and the zDac stays. This will give me time to step back and review the overall direction here. Ill be able to enjoy the still-substantial enhancement of the zDac until I find the "perfect" solution.
I appreciate everyone's feedback. The benchmark fans are correct, at least in my experience thus far. I have to say that the dac2 seems like it could be a strong choice, given how relatively old the dac1 design is, and its still the detail king in its price. And the dac2 actually has a power switch, a dimmer and a remote... which are nice in a home situation. I would have a hard time buying the dac1, knowing the dac2 exists.
Lightspeed-I have the Schiit Bifrost without USB. It simply crushed my Musiland and Music Hall (older one). It beat my Oppo 103 and Emotiva 200 as well. With that said, it's a great piece.
Recently I contacted Schiit to see about the USB upgrade and the uber upgrade. They were quite honest with me that at that price point, it really paid to just get into the Gungnir. It is that much better.
Want a Bifrost? I'd only sell it to get into a Gungnir.
Elevick, thanks for the offer, but Ill pass. I do agree that, after reading their site, the gungnir would be the one to get.
I considered getting one to demo, but unfortunately, after visiting their site, I just couldnt align with their ethos enough to want to buy something from them.
Lightspeed240 , You might want to give the Music Fidelity M1 a try. It is in your price range I believe Amazon sells them , so you can try for 30 days with a no hassle return policy. It just might be what you are looking for sound wise.
Timo, thanks for then input. I may well try it eventually.