Expensive Dac to keep or cheaper and change overtime

Good evening all, I was wondering if people had thoughts about dacs and changing over time versus keeping an expensive unit that is upgraded.  I currently have a Gustard A22 that I do enjoy , I use I2s for SACD and USB for streaming (mainly Amazon) I have wondered about a PS Audio directstream mk2 that is said to be upgraded via new software which sounds good rather than the evolution of cheaper dacs.i have read that the previous PS Audio has been a model for 8 years which sounds reassuring. I use a Primaluna Evo 300i with Zu Audio Soul 6 , the Gustard  A22 with a Node (latest version) though that might change.,I have a PS Audio Power plant 12 , ZU Undertone Mk2 with cables by Zu and Nordost.  Any advice would be appreciated. 


With the explosion of many new DACs in the marketplace, it is impossible to comment on most of them from personal experience. The mag and online reviews are interesting and helpful, but only to a degree…and littered with a hefty dose of hyperbole stirred in to trigger reader skepticism.

as you pointed out, there are 8+ year old high-end units from new that are generally indistinguishable in actual real life user audio performance and satisfaction, compared to the latest (and expensive) new flavour of the month units.

sure, the PS AUDIO DIRECTSTREAM MK2 has exalted new bells and whistles technologies but at a rich new model price ….. BUT, and it’s a further big “BUT”, there isn’t much available “future focused “turbo hi-rez recordings yet. 

An iconic quote rings true here in a cautionary take IMO,

“PRICE is what you pay, VALUE is what you get “ - WARREN BUFFETT.

My take: .

I distill hi-end DACs down to proven basic “need to have “ versus “nice to have” features The PS DAC is distinctly in the latter camp, just like 8K flat panel TVs,…. Illusory and fleeting bragging rights limited by negligible material available currently to enjoy, or showcase

NEED to have IMO for high-end units… focus on the tried and true design and build features that work on current recordings :Fuhgeddaboud trying to future-proof now in a warp-speed changing technology for bells and whistles

(1) - linear power supplies, either shielded internally or alternatively with an external unit.

This is a build and digital audio performance key step up that starts the differentiation between the contenders and the many pretenders. Before the drastic price increases and MSRP annual price increase compounding with the advent of COVID three years ago, it was roughly around the $3000+ pricepoint (and going north) that competing quality units started to incorporate this in their designs and builds.

(2) Good and accessible ( emphasis added ) technical support. This is a risky wildcard. I’ve anecdotally been told that sime can be a sh*tshow with a steep learning curve and frustration. Some are indeed fine ( eg BRYSTON )

Choose wisely.

The PS Audio has a 30 day no questions asked return policy.  PS Audio takes old gear in trade.  In this case, their original DAC and gives you good value on your trade, so firmware and hardware upgradeable.  So, other than return shipping, this is a no risk purchase.

@akg_ca I have to disagree with some of your conclusions about the PS Audio DSD MK II DAC. I had my last PS Audio DAC for 13 years. Initially, I believe they might have called it the Perfect Wave( please correct me if I am wrong) . I upgraded it twice purchasing reasonably priced kits from PS Audio. I was also able to upgrade it numerous times via free software upgrades. Thirteen years is a very long time in the digital world so last year I started looking at DACs but when PS Audio announced the MK II it was a no brainer especially considering their very generous trade in program. 
I like PS Audio for several reasons : It is a US company making products here. Customer support is great. Trade in policies are very reasonable. They will continue to provide software upgrades which helps keep you gear fairly current so a couple of years down the road you aren’t looking for a new unit in the quickly changing digital world. Last but not least you get a 30 day in home trial.

The MKII is a big step up from the MKI and I am curious as to the “ nice to have features.” To me this is a very well engineered form and function machine. What has really surprised me is the amount of new information it is retrieving from standard redbook CD’s. I have a fairly decent system but from a performance perspective the MK II might be the best piece of gear I have.

Audition, find a DAC that works within your system and buy it.

Enjoy it and if you hear something better then get it. Yes DAC technology changes but not as nearly as rapid a pace as some claim here. I am quite pleased with the DAC in my system and will probably only go further up the LessLoss line.

Love the one you're with and dance with the one you brought.  

The problem with this hobby, or any hobby for that matter, is that real quantitative change requires large expenditure to move ahead in a meaningfully way.

 Changing one component usually cascades into more investment.  Just picking at it usually does not move the needle, or scratch the itch.  At worse it exposes the rest of the pieces as not playing along at the same level.

Your new model girlfriend now needs even more expensive jewelry.

A good sounding DAC is a good sounding DAC full stop for me. I am currently using a 12 or so year old DAC, the Yamamoto YDA-1 and it sounds fantastic. I don't personally care about hi-rez recordings but it can do 24/96 when I come across it. No plans to change unless my now 27 year old AN DAC returns from the shop!

@akg_ca We are still eagerly waiting for your response as to what you deem to be “ Illusory and fleeting bragging rights limited by negligible material available currently to enjoy or showcase”. Have you even heard this DAC  before making such statements? To be an honest poster you should be able to provide facts to back up your statements not speculation. If you have facts please provide them a lack of response will speak volumes.

@jond  A good sounding DAC is a good sounding DAC full stop for me. I am currently using a 12 or so year old DAC, the Yamamoto YDA-1 and it sounds fantastic

Amen brother!

The Yamamoto is an under the radar Japanese audio gem. I agree with you and others here on the merits and longevity of really well designed, engineered and implemented DACs stand the test of time easily. Things do improve and change over time but I believe this is often greatly overstated.

Focused attention and quality put toward the DAC’s power supply, analog output stage and I/V conversion go a very long way in ensuring many years of satisfying sonic performance.


@charles1dad  +1 "the merits and longevity of really well designed, engineered and implemented DACs stand the test of time easily. Things do improve and change over time but I believe this is often greatly overstated."


Upgrade from an A22?😕  

I guess I'm in a different level of "Audiophile".

@grahams248 One word of caution with PSAudio DACsis its I2S pinouts are not configurable which means to play DSD layer of SACDs, you have to have PSAudio’s transport. There are DSD capable DACs with I2S (over HDMI, over RJ45 etc) that are configurable so that one has more flexibility with brands of SACD transports.


Curious, how do you stream Amazon Music (HD?) ? I just found a super inexpensive streamer that lets me to use native Amazon Music app on tablet/phone to stream to it in the track’s given native resolution (up to 24 bit/196khz). Other option I have is to use HEOS app on Marantz/Denon but it's usability is a bit rough especially compared to Amazon  Music app itself. Thx.


Speculation? Hardly,

have I heard it ? Yes … nobody’s claiming that it’s not a good DAC,,

in a bakeoff against a dcS (model escapes me for the moment …) and the BRYSTON BDA3, all three were played in a $50k system, …my buddy and I thought all three were great . 

The point: there wasn’t a noticeable difference for us  between them .  Other than price. If I had to give a forced nod to guess at the best ( it would  be the dcS . The BRYSTON digital player source feeding it and the high-end amp , speakers, and cables together in system, seemed to be a big positive influencer and not just  the dac alone.

my only point is that most digital music is mastered  at 24/192 and below with a largest at even lower rez, a super rez capability is fine nice-to-have but not any driving differentiator for many for now,…

my take: until the future recordings get there in the unknown future, I’ll stick with high build superiority at a more competitive price for the tried and true for now. ..

As always with Audiophile, lots of variables that interact. My Bluesound Node 2i was a noticeable upgrade to my Peachtree Nova 300 and my Yamaha RX-A1070 internal dacs, but not better than the internal dac of my Arcam AVR30 or Anthem STR Integrated. I would say it is not far behind my MiniDSP SHD dac.  My SMSL M400 was a big improvement to the Node 2i. I then upgraded to the PSAudio DirectStream.  That was a slight improvement to the M400, but it was highly dependent on the rest of the system I had it married to. I would rank those two about equal in sound quality.  Customer service from PSAudio is stellar however. I had issues with my Bridge 2 and sent it in. Even though I bought the DAC used, they repaired the bridge for free on warranty, including return shipping. One thing lacking from the DirectStream and M400 was a headphone output, so last year I purchased a used Matrix Audio Element X. It is somewhat better acoustically than the DirectStream and the M400. It also has better capability as far as handling higher res and different data, and it is "fully" Roon ready. I have re-arranged components endlessly in different rooms, and in general, the amount I paid for the Directstream and MA Element were high prices for a small improvement to the M400, as far a sound capability. Both can get an input directly via my network, which M400 can not, so I keep the M400 in the system where I can feed it directly from my Roon Nucleus USB.  In the end, my experience is that you get what you pay for, depending on the features you need, and you pay increasingly high prices for ever smaller increases in sound quality. That said, I read about newer sub-$2,000 dacs that have great sound, and before long I will purchase some and see for myself.  My experience with the SMSL M400 proves to me that if you can live with some reduced features, you can get some very good sound at cheaper prices.  I guess a big variable is how long you can stick with one unit without getting the upgrade bug bite. ( I write with a big smile!)

@akg_ca At least you have listened to the PS Audio MKII DAC. I am tired of folks who make negative comments on gear they haven’t even listened to. In my first response I mentioned how good this DAC was with redbook CD ‘s. That is where the real value is with this DAC. You don’t need to purchase hirez files to get great value for your hard earned dollars. There is nothing more tried and true than redbook CD’s.


yep …. The largest chunk of my new digital inventory played Through my BRYSTON player into its stablemate BRYSTON DAC is now out purchased from HDTRACKS and PROSTUDIOMASTERS. . The lion’s share is redbook rez at 16/44 . I will buy the 24/96 if offered and intuitively go to the 24/192 if available,

intuitively, the higher the mastered resolution, there is an incremental improvement but it’s not jaw dropping.

i have a REGA ISIS VALVE cdp/ DAC with its own high end DAC that I can accces thru a USB input. For redbook CDs and XRCDs …it’s as good at a minimum as the PS , dcS and BRYSTON ,,,, and arguably better IMO. But it’s capped out at 16$ or 24/44.

Where the external BRYSTON DAC excels a BIT MORE is where the rez is higher and the REGA cant go there

All are good …there is a helluva slugfest between DACs at north of $3500and up that’s where the contenders start to pull away from the pretenders.

Why did I buy BRYSTON. It had that ethereal transparency and performance quotient that was every bit the equal of the dcS and PS in my system ( emphasis added ) and arguably a class leading build quality with all the go-to features at a cost savings to me

Some drive Fords,,,,some drive Chevys



Once the new ESS 9039 Pro chip DACs start being released by major manufacturers, that's the one to get.