Have you considered the Peachtree Nova? Integrated amp with award winning internal ESS Sabre DAC.
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On your short list of integrateds, I'd encourage you to look at two: The Creek and the Cambridge Audio. Creek amps are the epitomy of the "British Sound", meaning they tend to be very neutral and clean. Cambridge Audio equipment (I have some of their separates) tends to be very well designed and flexible -- it's a hub around which you can build a system and upgrade elements over time, finally upgrading to a better preamp/amp combo when you are ready. It also has a built-in USB port and its own built-in DAC, as I understand it, so you wouldn't have to buy a separate DAC.
I am not familiar with any of the DACs you list, but I have a Schiit Valhalla headphone amp. Based on my experience with that unit, I'd take a close look at the Bifrost -- Schiit equipment seems to be very well designed, and it is made here in the U.S., which is a plus, IMHO. Also, they offer a two week trial period, so if you don't like it, you can send it back.
I have had several integrated amps that were priced right around the ones you have listed above. For sound quality, the Creek beat them all easily. It is extremely well balanced. Its one of those components that you can just listen to all day and never get tired of it. One big advantage it has over most other amps in this price range is that it uses a passive preamp. My personal opinion is that if you can't get a really good preamp then just don't use one. For me, the cutoff is right around $3000 retail. I think at that point, an active unit can sound better. Please remember, though, that this is just what I think. I haven't heard everything out there so there may be some great sounding be preamps that drop well below my cutoff that I just don't have any experience with. Also, you are absolutely correct in your assessment on some of the units above being harsh and/or extremely sensitive to matching components. I have had the same experience myself.
I don't know if you're still looking for a decent DAC but you really should take a look at the Schiit Bifrost. I've had mine for only 2 days now and I'm really impressed. For the money, and with a 15 day trial/return policy (with 5% restocking fee) it's a no brainer.
Check out the reviews as well like this one:http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/schiit2/1.html
I own an Audiolab integrated amp that is used in a HT set up.It does have a rough treble, not good for music.I believe that is their "house sound" from reading reviews of other Audiolab products.It does have excellent punchy bass and I don't notice the grain in my lo rez HT.I don't think you would enjoy it in a higher end music system.Best of luck in your search.
Wow that's a great line up of alternative set-ups, true the Audiolab kit can sound a little bright, but the Audiolab 8200a integrated amp is a powerful and well equipped amp for the money, so that would be my choice - partner with speaker cables that won't exaggerate the treble register and you should be in audio heaven.
Theres a creek evolution on my local c-list for $575. He says its brand new and it looks like it to me. Original box, manual, packing shtuff; looks mint. Not sure if this is a good price or if there is an evolution 1 and 2 and if so, not sure which this is.
Just throwing that out there. If you want the guys contact info pm me.