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The Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold was just reviewed in the latest Stereophile (Oct. 2011). If you are looking for a DAC w/ a great clock, who better then from the guys who make the best clocks?
Great unit - I just ran a side-by-side comparison with the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 and there was no comparison. The Zodiac Gold was so much better that my friend (who owns the Wyred unit) said that he couldn't go back to listening to it when we left w/ the Zodiac. I'm not given to superlatives much, but it was simply waaay better.
I don't see the review listed online yet but it starts on page 54.
The two I have been looking at myself in similar bracket
Jeff Rowland Aeris - At the top end of your budget, but does the warm, holographic sound that is trademark of JR products. Takes pretty much all modern inputs (USB, toslink, spidif) but does not do DSD/SACD type sample rates. They seem to market it heavily on its anti-jitter technology and dual clock circuitry. I am not so into the technicals myself, I would just say it sounds good and worth an audition. I auditioned this on Avalon and JBL speakers. Matching Rowland front-end.
Playback Designs MPD3 - Analytical and transparent presentation, and comfortably below your budget. This machine does DSD if that matters to you, and seems more the latest and greatest 'gadget' buy in terms of its signal processing capabilities. Auditioned with ATC and Revel speakers. Levinson gear for other front-end. The more advanced processing (DSD) capabililities make it a better future-proofing choice?
If it helps, to give you some perpective, I was not impressed by the DAC offerings from Linn, Weiss, and Gamut. Wadia and Esoteric were quite decent but did not really get me itching.
Ones I am interested to hear but have not yet are Boulder and Neodio
I would second the Playback Designs MPD-3. I have owned a Wadia 581i, McIntosh MDA1000, Audio Research DAC8 and side by side had a Berkeley that was replaced by the Playback Designs. The MPD-3 is absolutely the smoothest, most analog like DAC I have experienced and I would further comment that a prior poster describing it as analytical is surprising and most certainly a result of somewhere else in the chain of his demo system. The Audio Research DAC8 is a fine DAC as are the others I have personally owned listed above however I believe in my system there was a very clear difference. In all fairness, I had the DAC8 when I had Shindo amplification and the Berkeley and Playback Designs I had switched to VAC amplification.
The Playback Designs unit sounded great right out of the box but has broken in (I estimate I have 4-500 hours) VERY nicely. The deep bass has been the real surprise for me. The ability to handle every sample rate commercially available is a value ad.....if this DAC was limited to 24/96 it would still be my DAC of choice in this price range. I use its DSD capabilities to play back archived vinyl....simply sublime.
I'm looking as well for a DAC in this category. This search is being frustrating. For instance, it's hard to splash the money demanded by the MPD-3 to a company that gives zero useful information on their website. Man, reading their own information is hard to know even if the thing they sell has volume control or not!. Some garage companies do better.
I do not know off hand if it meets the OP's criteria, but the new DAC from Acoustic Plan, especially when it is run through Acoustic Plan's optional separate power supply, is the cornerstone of the best digital front end I have ever heard. I heard it with both an ARC CD8 and Naim HDX. The Acoustic Plan-CD8 combo was incredible, and the Acoustic Plan-HDX combo was even better. Needless to say, I intend to get one.
Cortes, I understand your frustration. The MPD-3 does not have a volume control....feel free to ask any questions and your feloow Audiogoners will answer them, if we know the answer. In this price range, you have to be comfortable with your purchase so please consider travelling to see, touch and listen to the DACs in which you are interested. Good luck and warm regards.
listen to the first zanden, and, although not a dac, listen to the original lector, 20 bit.
new is not necessarily better. the forsell dac was high quality in its day. i wonder how it compares to current production dacs ?
my point i8s that although older dacs do not allow for high res files, some sound very good with redbook discs, especially, if they have a tube.