Higher End DACs

I am looking for a DAC (potentially streamer&DAC) to be paired in a mcintosh system (c1100/611). Its my first foray into digital streaming and I have no need for a CD player.

I see a lot of love for Esoteric, however, most seems to be around their transports? Are they not as renowned for pure digital streaming and/or standalone DACs? I see DCS (for instance) often referenced for standalone DACs - how does Esoteric compare?

Showing 21 responses by audiotroy

This is an interesting discussion, that we have a tremendous amount of experience in. The entire argument, that "bits is bits" or that digital transport devices don’t or can’t make an audible difference because a dac has re-clocking or anti jitter circuitry, bears out that in most tests that digital transports can, and do, make a very audible and noticable difference in sound quality.

We have also seen these improvements not just in dacs but in streaming dacs that have a direct path to the Ethernet as well.
Our history goes back to using a standard computer via a USB cable running Jriver to play stored music into our dacs.
First we were using Mac Mini’s because of their small size and ability to run quietly and easily fit onto our racks.

We got our first dedicated server when the Aurender N100H hit the market in 2015. The Aurender was a fantastic product, well built, beautiful, easy to use, headless, and boy did it sound better than both the Mac Mini and modified Mac Minis that we tried.

We took our N100H over to clients houses and they easily heard a wider sound stage, greater dynamic range and an overall improvement in sound quality over the non dedicated servers.

Then we transitioned to a Baetis Reference server a few years later and that much more expensive server indeed did sound even better than the less expensive servers.

We played with the original Nova Physics Memory Player, Naim Unitisevers, the Nad and a few other devices.

The more expensive servers did really sound better. Than a few years later we were introduced to the Innous line of servers and the Zenith MK II started to give the Baetis a run for its money yet cost so much less.
Then the Innous Zenith MK III came out and it was far superior to the older Zenith.

Recently we did a shootout of the Innous Statement, vs Baetis Reference and the Laufer Techik Memory Player. In the same reference system and the difference between all three servers was again audible and each server did indeed have a sonic flavor, and a distinctly different set of musical qualities.

Two recent tests will also be of interest:

Test One: Innous Statement in a completely different room feeding a Krell K300i integrated amplifier over Ethernet vs Innous Zenith also feeding the integrated amplifier via both from a filtered Ethernet port from the Zenith and over a USB from the Zenith.

Long story short the much more expensive server in the other room sounded better than the direct Ethernet connection from the Zenith feeding it in its same room. So in this test both test data was feed to the dac via Ethernet one server was in a different room, but was a far more expensive server vs a direct Ethernet connection to the integrated amp, this proves that a better data stream does indeed sound better.

There are two possible explanations, one that remote server was outputting a cleaner data signal that got to the dac even over the Ethernet port and the resulting network connections, or the fact that the server was in another room made the improvement, however the direct Ethernet connection from the Zenith should have sounded better because the dac was getting a direct, filtered and cleaned up signal

Another test Naim NDX 2 server running Tidal directly from the network and its own Naim app, vs the filtered direct Ethernet port in the Zenith then playing Tidal via Roon into the Naim.

Again logic should dictate that the direct network connection of the Naim streamer should produce the best signal or at best there should be no audible differences between both of these scenarios, a Tidal stream should be identical right?

Again the difference in sound quality was very noticeable, the server produced a more relaxed sound, a wider and deeper sound stage, and in general the sound was more engaging through the server.
We recently compared a standard high end Sony laptop over USB into a Bricasti M3 dac and then played the same music over Roon laptop vs the Zenith server, again the sever produced a much more musical sound.

The client heard the difference, the wife heard the difference and we heard the difference.
For those that are still incredulous way too many people will attest that they can hear these differences, it is of course possible to deny that these differences do occur, but when so many people hear the same thing then either there must be a huge server conspiracy or these devices really do affect the sound quality.

We have seen these difference manifest themselves with many uber expensive dacs that all employ re clocking, femto clocks and other anti jitter circuits, unless you consider Emm Labs, Esoteric, Light Harmonic and T+A’s engineering staff to not know what they are doing?

Could it really be that there are issues that the data can be affected by noise, and other factors that occur with both direct network connections?

A regular PC or Mac are not designed for the sole purpose of making the purest data package, compare the build quality of regular PC to a dedicated server running a quiet CPU, custom software designed to keep processes from using CPU cycles, circuit boards made to minimize nose and RFI and EMI intrusion, custom sound cards,
re-clocked, filtered USB and Ethernet connections.

Could it be that garbage in and garbage out really does manifest itself with a data stream and perhaps the more pristine data really does enable the dac to work with a better data packet which results with cleaner sound?

All we can attest to is that we have many, many servers and dacs, and we have yet to find a setup where the server didn’t elevate the system’s sound quality dramatically.

Dave and Troy
Audiodoctor NJ
Djones there is no level matching when doing a digital to digital comparison.

All tests are done under the exact same conditions.

In the case of the Laptop vs the Innous server, 

1: Play Music track 1 min interval, mark passage duration on Roon
2: Disconnect or reconnect either the Laptop or Server.
3: Play the exact same track from the beginning.
4: Note the differences.
5: Repeat the same test several times to verify that the conclusions are indeed correct.

So far in every test of a non dedicated server, ie Mac Mini, Desktop computer or similar device the dedicated servers did indeed produce a far more analog like presentation.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ dealer of a lot of digital
David and Khiak,

Guys you haven’t scratched the surface of the T+A SDV 3100 true performance. We have compared the built in streamer vs USB via the Innous Statement and the USB sounds way better as well as allowing full high resolution digital signals. The Innous will allow up to DSD 128 with other servers  the Dac can actually process DSD 1024 natively which no other dac on the planet can do!

There was a European review which they used a high end server running HQ player which allowed the reviewer to actually hear DSD 1024 which was a mind blowing experience. We will be upgrading our Laufer Technik Memory Player to allow for this, we will also be searching the market to find a high end server that can run fast enough to do this as well.

Also the Critical Mass Centerstage footers will also elevate the performance even further.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A and Innous dealers
It is nice to know that other people are realizing we really know our stuff concerning high end digital.

We have been extolling the audibile improvements of a high end server for many years now. The sound quality of each improvement, Zenith, Zenith + Phonix, and then Statment are audible.

At this time we have three referenence servers at our shop: the Baetis Reference, the Laufer Technik Memory Player and the Innous products.

It is quite remarkable that all three devices do indeed sound different.

We are still on the look out for a new server line that can do DSD 1024 for use with our T+A SDV 3100.

For the Statement users replacing the stock umbilicals with custom ones made by the Chord company we are a dealer for these, also makes a noticable improvement in the sound of the Statment.

Also Critical Mass Center Stage footers produce another very audibile jump in performance.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A, Innous, Chord, Crtitical Mass, dealers


Just tried my SDV 3100 on the T+A app and it works beautifully super fast.

Don't think that the Tidal app will work directly with the piece, the Tidal app doesn't work directly with a lot of gear.

Naim runs Tidal on its own app and still works great.

Many companies run Tidal and Obouze through their apps and it works great.

Perhaps you need to update your firmware which is super easy done through the T+A app.

Good luck and congratulations on the T+A it is a remarkable component.

Dave and Troy

Audio Doctor NJ

David Ten hit the DCS vs T+A sound differences perfectly.

We have heard many DCS setups and they do tend to be extremely clean and detailed, a lot of air as well. 

The T+A offers similar levels of clarity, also a huge soundstage, the T+A house sound does hit a warmer full bodied balance whiich is why the HV series is called that, HV stands for High Voltage, which is  a technique where the internal rail voltages are run at the same kinds of voltages seen in a tube amplifiers, T+A engineers have found that by running their internal rails at high voltages produce a much more liquid sound. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A dealers
Charles1 dad,

When you play at this level all of these dacs are superb it will come down to features, philosophy, and sonic profile.

We have chosen the T+A SDV 3100 as our reference dac for a number of reasons:

1: T+A is the largest high end electronics manufacturer in Europe with an engineering staff of 14 including 2 PHD for a total staff of 110. The ensures the companies long term stablity as well as their ability to keep pushing the art of technlogy further.

2: The company is a pioneer in creating all their own technologies which include:

HV circuitry
designed to emulate the sonic qualities of vacumme tubes by employing High Voltage rails and running transistors at their most linear operating state

Native rate high speed USB DSD 1024 interface

this dac is the only dac currently on the market which can input native DSD 1024, this required an ultra high speed bus, and proprietary chips and software to enable the dac to have this rate of througput, other dacs will internally upsample to DSD 1024, Meitner, PS Audio, IFI but none of these dacs nor does EMM, DCS, or Esoteric have the speed to input a native DSD 1024 data rate.

Proprietary DSD engine using filters and technlogy developed entirely in house.

2: Feature set: The SDV 3100

can be purchased as either a conventional dac or as a preamplifier dac,

the preamp stage is the same stage as the companies reference preamplifier which itself sells for $18k the preamp has both an RCA and XLR input. This means that you are effectively getting a world class preamplifier for basically for free.

Built in streamer

Every kind of digital input: XLR, RCA, Toslink, HDMI,

Two analog inputs for the preamp version

Built in FM radio

Built in Blue Tooth.

Fantastic T+A Control App

3: Superb construction quality, all aluminum chassis, separately shielded design separating dac boards, and analog stages from the power supplies, which are also separated into analog and digital supplies which are also in separately shielded enclosures.

4: OTA software upgrades

5: Superb Headphone amplifier stage

We have sold DCS and compared some of DCS last generation products to what we have so we are familiar with them.

Sure DCS has upsampling in a separate device, as well as a clock, we feel that the T+A SD dac can compete with the best in the world from DCS and MSB yet do so for 1/2 to 1/3 of what those companies charge for a comparably specified product.

The T+A sounds absolutely amazing at DSD 512 we have run that test vs a few other servers, as the Innous doesnt’ run that fast.

When you add up the sound quality, feature set, and price, the T+A is one of the best overall front ends you can purchase today. If you consider that the SDV version comes with a built in reference preamplifier and all you need is an amplifier you have a truly magnificent system with two to three boxes.

A great review from Stero Magazine from Gemany explains what happens when you use an ultra high speed computer to run HQ player and upconvert a file to DSD 1024 from PCM:


We used the diverse and complex software for Windows, Linux or MacOS, which insiders consider the most competent and most convincing algorithms in the field, on a high-performance PC with six cores plus a powerful CUDA graphics card in a closed network with gigahertz router, as it requires extreme computing power. The SDV3100HV‘s „Network Audio“ function is designed for such applications.

But can it really be used to such an extent as the manufacturer promises? And is that even sensible?

As a test file we used the song „IGY“ from Donald Fagen‘s top album „The Nightfly“ in PCM format with 24 Bit/48 Kilohertz. The track already sounded clean, detailed and balanced as usual. Now we increased the sampling rates in PCM format up to a dizzying 768 kHz, 16 times the original frequency. And in fact, with every step the resolution increased, less digital artifacts seemed to be in play, which was connected with the kind of algorithms used for upsampling, as well as with the digital filtering.

The real surprise happened, however, when we had the HQPlayer convert the PCM title into DSD1024 with 49.15 megahertz bandwidth. Suddenly „IGY“ showed a floating lightness and unadulterated naturalness, which was clearly above the best PCM results and almost took our breath away. We made further checks, for example with the 24 bit/192 kHz PCM file of the beguiling choir piece „Var nära mig“. Again, the maximum DSD resolution, at which the bitstream is extremely close to an analog waveform, was always advantageous because it was more musical and more authentic. The performance of the DSD512 already lost some of its value. The SDV3100HV had thus passed one of its most important tests and proved its future viability and outstanding sound quality – for everything that is and will be.

The take away is that all of this technology ensures that the end user can continue to explore the world of high resolution digital in any format and from any source that they wish. 

The funding for some of these advancements was actually paid for by the Germany gov't to enable T+A to pour considerable resources into the design and  execuation pushing forward digital technlogy.  

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A dealers

Yes that is correct, the idea on the preamp version is to simply what many people want, which is to be able to just add an amplifier.

If you have a great preamp than you can go with the dac version or how about selling your preamp and applying that money towards the SDV version with the preamp?

Either way this is one of the best and most fully featured digital front ends on the market today. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A dealers
Asulfy, actually could not disagree more. The chip or conversion method is just one aspect of what determines sound quality.

We have heard superb ladder dac units and superb delta simga and other dacs which are not ladder types.

The Esoteric line, the Emm Line are both superb dacs, we have had both of those lines in our shop. Wether someome prefers one of the other dacs presentation or not is a different matter.

Ed Meitner is one of the world’s greatest digital designers and he does not use ladder dacs, the Esoteric Grandiso units are also considered fantastic products.

We would agree with you that there can be a naturalness with a ladder based dac that can be very enticing and musical.

Again we disagree with your slight on "chip based dacs not sounding or can’t sound as good, we just became Bricasti Dealers the M3, M1, M12, M21, are dacs which do use chips for both PCM and DSD decoding the new M3 sounds fantastic. Also the reference level Bricasti Dacs are also lauded for their superb sound quality.

Both of our two reference dacs’s the T+A SD 3100 and the Light Harmonic Davinci, offer ladder type decoding for DSD files the question as to why those devices sound better may have more to do with listening to DSD files than it is that they are ladder based designs.

In the case of the Aqua Hifi Formula a filterless ladder dac design this is a wonderful dac however it does get bested by the T+A both of these run ladder type designs however, the T+A is not using discrete resistors they are using many chip based switches which are doing the same task. So the fact that both use ladder dac’s doesn’t provide for the take away that the T+A is still a better performing product, the type of conversion method is just one part of the equation.

This is a perfect example of how two dacs both using "ladder" type networks to drive their voltages sound totally different.

As per MSB they do make an excellent product and we have heard their gear at shows, at Axpona Alon Wolf of Magico was using CH Precision and the uber expensive MSB dac along with either the M2 or M6 the sound was insanely mediocre, just because one critic liked a product or mentioned the systems realisim can have more to do if that critic is biased towards that systems sound or his or her biases.

Most of the raves at show reports are usually pretty wrong and we constantly disagree with many of the well received rooms at these shows,  at Axpona 99.9 percent of the systems sounded pretty poor considering the huge costs involved in many of the shows trophy setups.

Our best at show Axpona 2019 included a Wilson room running a full DCS stack, the Vimberg Room running Metranome digital and a few others, the Tidal room sounded very good and they were using a Tidal dac card built into their preamp.

Our take away is that all of these dacs are excellent, we have chosen T+A because we have found that its unique feature set and design heritage enable it to easily compete with a $90k DCS or MSB product yet sells for 1/3 the price of those, it all comes down to engineering and resources T+A has 12 full time engineers, which include two enginers with PHD, and the company received a grant from the German goverment to help offset the huge costs to deliver this state of the art dac, which include proprietary input technology that allows for native DSD 1024 which no other dac on the market can process or take in.

As we mentioned before other companies will double DSD 512 internally through a reprocessing algorithm, only T+A can handle that high of a data rate from the beginning without having to reprocess that data to accheive a similar result, how big is MSB again? How many engineers do they have?

Just because you over build something with more massive external power supplies and more expensive femto clocks and run up your price tag, doesn’t mean your product will necessarily sound the better than one that does not.

We would welcome the comparison, Robert Harly did say that the SD 3100 playing DSD was his new benchmark, funny don’t you think Mr. Harley has heard and played with both the DCS and MSB gear?



Beautifully built, highly capable, feature-laden, and a joy to use, T+A’s SDV 3100 HV DAC and PDT 3100 HV CD/SACD transport are at the pinnacle of digital’s ascent from the early CD players to today’s highly sophisticated machines. The vast array of formats accessible by the SDV, coupled with the superb user interface, opens up a vista of musical discoveries.

The SDV is a superb sounding component, rendering PCM with exceptional dynamic verve, tremendous bottom-end grip and definition, and fine rendering of high-frequency detail. This DAC is particularly impressive with standard-resolution files and CD—T+A’s upsampling algorithm narrows the gap between CD-quality and true high-res.

With PCM sources, the SDV’s performance approaches the best DACs I’ve heard.

But with SACD, and DSD files, the SDV and PDT establish a new benchmark of performance.

If you have an SACD collection, or a library of DSD files, the SDV and PDT pair is your ticket to experiencing that music as never before. How do we get DSD through Roon or Jriver to transcode all PCM to DSD.

Although these two components are the most expensive in T+A’s history, they are more than fairly priced considering their build-quality, sound-quality, and the fact that they can access virtually any digital format extant.

Alma we sell and carry more dac’s than most dealers we sell Lumin Ess Based, Aqua Ladder based, Bricasti chip based, Naim chip based, Light Harmonic Ladder and Chip based, All of these dacs’ can sound fanatastic and can sound extremely musical depending on how they are feed, the source of the data, and the type of data.

Proof postive the Lumin X1 sounds unbelievably good and to best it you have to spend to to three times the money and that is a Sabre based dac, please go find us one review on the X1 where they thought otherwise.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A dealers

No Charles it is not a matter of being a jack of all trades, the T+A offers a level of sound quality that is ahead of the Aqua and it should be considering the difference in price.

Also if you consider the extra cost of a set of interconnects and a power cord not to mention the space of a great analog preamp, the concept of an intergrated state of the art preamplifier along with the dac makes a very tempting all in one package.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A, Aqua, and Innous dealers
4425 The Aurender that would be up to this level of system would be the W20 or the Se version.

Pipedreams the Aqua is indeed excellent we sell it, however, the Aqua with the Innous Statement vs the T+A SDV 3100 with the Statement is not comparing apples to apples. 

The T+A SDV is a totally unique product that has a built in streamer, Fm tuner, headphone amp, Blue Tooth receiver, it is a true multi source product that alows access to any kind of digital source, along with a state of the art dac that can handle the highest sampling rates in the world .

The dac use  a propreitary DSD engine and separate PCM engine. The Dac can also come with a world class preamplifier stage as well. In addition there are four tuneable filters and two modes of reading the data from the DSD enginer which allows a degree of customization, add to that OTA firmware upgrades. 

Quite frankly there is nothing on the market quite like what the SDV 3100 offers. It is a truly all singing all dancing master of all things digital. 

The Aqua dac is a very well designed and implimented ladder dac that does sound extremely good for its price point. We agree with you that the Aqua is a fantastic dac and does offer a very cool modular approach. 

The difference is in subtitlties there is a great sense of palpability and a greater sense of realisim with the T+A that justifys its higher price point.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A, Aqua, Innous

Op the T+A transport has been designed to work via its own high speed interface for use with the SDV 3100.

Robert Harley was suitably impressed by the combination stating that was the best sound he has ever gotten from an optical disc.

  The SDV 3100 HV and PDT 3100 HV exemplify the astonishing transformation of the CD player into a highly sophisticated multi-format platform. In my view, there is no better way to exploit today’s vast array of options for accessing and enjoying digital music than via this T+A duo.

Howver, we would still recomend not spinning CD's at all and using a state of the art music server from Innous the Statement which or perhaps a Wolf as being an ideal pathway to experience state of the art streaming and having the ability to read and store all your CD's which is far nicer than having to go over to a wall of CD's and load a particular disc.

We are currently using the Innous Statement feeding the SDV 3100 and the sound is glorious for both streaming and for our stored CD library.

Also if you really wanted to go with a CD playback menchanisiim the T+A SDT transport is a completely built in house built and designed from scratch CD mechanism that can not be easily bettered at any price.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor T+A and Innous dealers

Actually 4435 we could not disagree more. There is no law of dimenishing returns in digital until you hit the higher end dacs once you cross $25-35k for a dac and a $15k for a server then you hit that wall where you have to spend a ton more money before you can really get better.

We have a ton of great digital from the Aqua Hifi Lascala, the Bricasti M3,the Lumin T2, the Lumin X1, the Naim NDX2, the T+A Dac 8 DSD, all of these represent the more value oriented mid tier dacs.

We also sell the $2k dac, Ifi, Lumin D2 the Myteks.

We also sell the higher end reference dacs the Aqua Formula, the T+A SDV 3100 and the Light Harmonic Davinci. These dacs are from $16k to $35k.

The take away is the Lumin X1 and the Formula both sound fantastic for their price points, their is an elusuive quality of palpality that the more expensive dacs do that once you hear it you know you are in a level of realism that mirros the best in vinyl. 

So in our shop you can go from each price level and unfortunately the more expensive gear really does sound better, the question always is are they worth the coin? 

The same question can be answered in Steaks, you can get a pretty good steak for $25.00 howerver, once you go to a world class steak house and experience a $60 steak that difference in quality is totally obvious. 

In life there is good, there is good for the money, and there is the best at any price. The higher end DCS, MSB, T+A gear all fall into that best at any price, you are paying for technology and the execution of that technology. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ 
Okay, guys lets get this into perspective, most of you do not have a store full of dacs we do!

The unfortunate point of all of this is there is good, there is better and there is the best of these kinds of products.

In this case ingnorance is bliss, if you care about spending less money.

We have the Lumin D2, the T2, the X1 which do represent the good, the better the best You can clearly hear the improvement as you go up the scale.

We are doing this morning a comparision the X1 vs the T+A SDV 3100 and again the sound takes a dramatic improvement in realisim, soundstage size and width, the sound becomes more real and much more musical. It is worth the price, yes if you can afford it and have the system to show you the difference.

As per the OP the T+A piece represents a fascinating opportunity to get a world class preamp that may dramatically improve the overall system’s sound as well as if he prefers the clearner sound of the T+A as a preamp then he can recoup some of his investment by selling the Mcintosh preamp.

When designing a system you can go with what "fits" which can mean anything or you can buy the best that you can.

If you remember the Linn concept which is the sound starts at the source the better the source the better the sound you can create.

Also a digital front end of this calibre means that the OP can continue to grow into this system by eventually moving into even better electronics if he prefers over the Mcintosh amplifiers, which would again he could continue to evolve his sound.

A top of the line front end would not be wasted in the context of the OP’s system, wether he choose DCS, MSB or T+A all of these top of the line front ends will help improve his system more so than a much cheaper front end.

Again we are writing this while doing exactly that same comparison on a $20k amp, a $32k pair of speakers, and just comparing two front ends, a very very good one ,the Lumin and one of the best in the world, the T+A, in the context of our system you can clearly hear the superiority of the better setup and yes it is worth it, however, without having the Lumin, the Formula and the other less expensive digital front ends to compare with you would be happy with one of those if you never experienced the next level you can accheive with a stelar dac such as the T+A.

Try the same comparison with a good car such as a entry level Mustang and the new Corvette does the extra $20-30k make you happier 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ, Lumin, Aqua, T+A, dealers

4425 we loved your statement,  wiw i searched for all reviews of the bartok and can’t remember a product receiving such universal praise. i’m getting one for sure.

Please look at the Lumin X1 which has received more rave reviews than almost any digital product in its price point, in general the Lumin products are usually rated as the go to product for their price point. 

As well as one of the forum posts that the reviewer dramatically prefered the X1 over the Bartok.

We are not saying that the Bartok isn't an excellent product it is but the Lumin is a choice that suits many people very well from a company that was considered the first major streaming dac in the industry.

As per your comment that the Bartok will be hard to tell the difference between the more expensive  DCS setups again not going to be true.

When a company any company builds a more expensive product you can beat your socks that it will dramatically outperform the lesser one, and specs don't tell this.

Georgehifi, we send out any digital product that a potential client would want to audition at no cost other than the shipping costs and of course the prospective client must pay in full for it. MSB is assisting their dealers who many of them are not going to be able to demo many of their line due to their very high cost for their top of the line fully optioned models.

The fact that Robert Harly who has heard every major digital front end has stated the The T+A SD 3100 is his new benchmark should say a lot. 

As we mentioned before just because a product is heinously expensive doesnt' mean that it will perform better than a lesser one.

In the case of T+A there is no digital company in the world right now that has applied such advanced technology to their dacs, that is not DCS or Esoteric nor Emm Labs. 

The ability to natively process DSD 1024 means you have to have a very high speed data throughput, it took a grant from the German goverment to enable the research to lead to this products creation. 

Native DSD 1024 means that the dac can receive an extrmely high data rate from the way the data enters the dac to the point that is is read.

Other dacs process a DSD 512 data stream and then reprocess that, which is not the same thing as being able to read and process twice the data rate at twice the speed initially, which requires much greater engineering to develop your own input receiver, chips and software and a data buss than can move data at that high a speed.

If you want the most advanced digital product in the market currently the T+A is the one to beat. 

4425 we have compared the Lumin to the T+A and the T+A is better the price difference is $20k so yes it should be the point being made is that there are fantastic digital products for the money that come very close to the best and there are others that are the best if you have a good enough system, the hearing acuity, and the money you can get results that are indeed better, in audio as with anything else is that price difference worth it to the prosepective client?

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ Lumin, and T+A dealers

4425 at this price point it will of course come down to taste, features, philosophy and of course sonic palatte.

Mr. Harly has the enviable task of testing the latest and greatest in digital so it is only logical he will endorse or non endorse a particular front end which is new on the market which may upend the apple cart as there are new companies and products being introduced. 

Lumin, DCS, MSB, T+A, EMM Labs,  Esoteric are all fantastic companies with state of the art digital front ends, and of course it is possible to fall in love with one over the others. 

We have tested EMM, Esoteric, and have had DCS gear traded in, we keep on comming back to Lumin because it is so good for the price point. 

As we have mentioned in other posts the Lumin X1 is not going to be for everyone, if you want an analog volume control, or a headphone amp or digital inputs this piece will not be for that customer, for this reason we just brought in Bricasti to complement the Aqua, and other dacs we sell. 

You have to understand as a company we embrace a companies technology and engineering as one way to help codify the kinds of products and companies we want to work with. 

It also depends on the philosophical approach, some people like the idea of being able to upgrade their sound by adding an external box or two, in the case of an external clock many engineers feel that putting an external clock in a separate case away from the dac is not desirable. 

We are not saying that a multi box approach like DCS takes in their higher end pieces is wrong, it jus comes down do you want to take the space and extra power cords and cables to add additional boxes or upsamplers vs an all in one solution?

The reason we selected the T+A SD 3100 to be our reference was the overwelming nature of the piece it does everything well and offers a feature set as well as a sound quality and technlogical advancements that most other audio companies could only dream of.

Please show us one digital front end that:

Can be ordered with a world class preamp for almost no addiitonal cost.
Has a very good streamer built in.
Offers Blue Tooth, HDMI and multiple digital inputs.
Has an excellent native control app.
Has multiple filter setting to tune the sound.
Offers a completely separate DSD and PCM pathway.
Has a very good heaphone amplifier.
Natively decodes the worlds highest sampling frequencies.
Offers OTA upgrades.
Reasonable size and weight.

As per the OP the sound of the SD 3100 is smooth and natural it is not tubey sounding nor bright, just neutral with a hint of warmth and smoothness. 

One possible advantage may 

The fact that this dac can process sampling frequecies that are not even available means that the Dac can grow into higher sampling rates when they are available.

We do not have a computer based server fast enough yet to run HQ player to turn DSD 512 to DSD 1024 which one of the European reviewers was able to do so and basically rewrote the sound qulaity that that reviewer thought was possible in digital.

So we will be searching for a new server line that can offer this tantalizing prospect of being the best digital on the planet and yet still costing a fraction of a full MSB or DCS stack costs. 

This is an exciting time for high end digital.

We by no means mean to imply that the T+A will sound better than anyone elses product just that it is a unique product that does happen to sound amazing especially if you go the distance and use a very high end server that can handle the highest of frequencies.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor T+A dealers

Ufguy, MQA will be a software upgrade for the T+A so you shouldn’t preclude it from your search for that reason alone.

The reason that update isn’t imminant is that T+A’s engineers are busy with the launch of their new Headphone amp, dac, so we are sure that once that product is compleated all the streamers will receive the MQA update.

You may also want to consider the T+A SDV 3100 verson which has a world class analog preamp built in.

The possibility that the preamp version may far outperform the Macintosh preamp and allow you to resale that might make that a nice option for you.

You should try to hear one it is a remarkable piece, and also the MSB and DCS products. We are sure that out of one of those three you would find a fanatastic dac. Obviously the Lumin streamers are 100% MQA compatible.

Also you should know that if you use a server to feed even a non MQA dac you will still get the first unfold to 96k for MQA you just wouldn’t get the second.

In our opinion the bettter dac playing non MQA will still outperform one that will. Food for thought.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ T+A, Lumin
Thank you David Ten for re steering the conversation.

The OP should try to listen to whatever product or products that work for him. 
Really Bo we have hundreds of satisfied clients, it is totally possible that we have one disgruntled NYC client, in fact we probably know exactly who you are talking about he has had issues with the way we present and or talk to clients at shows, and has never purchased anything from us.

Okay you got us, how we work with clients:

1: identify through a process of asking questions what a suitable product or product might be, that fits the clients budget,musical tastes, matching components.

2: play the product or products that might work for a client

3: if required lend out said product to verify that the product is working to the clients satisfaction

4: scan the market for new and emerging products and technlogies approach company and get a display sample to test vs our other products.

5: if product is better than move into that product discard original.

We don’t modify anything nor do we endorse doing anything that would invalidate a companies warranty or make the product impossible to resell or service by anyone else other than a dealer such as you or us.

Bo lack of ignorance, you must be joking please show us some pictures of your shop and list your experiences want to go toe to toe?

We sell not just Lumin but Innous, Baetis, Bricasti, T+A, Naim, Aqua Hifi.Mytek, Ifi, Light Harmonic

in the past sold Emm Labs and Esoteric as well as Audio Aero, Remiyo, AMR and many many others. 

Do you honestly think that you know more about audio then teams of engineers from these companies?

We do not nor would claim to ever know more than these companies teams of engineers, in the case of T+A they have 12 full time engineers and two with PHD’s, Lumin is run by broacast engineers.

Do you have a PHD in electrical engineering or digital circuit design or software? If so please list your accreditions?

No Bo we would never claim to know more than a trained engineer we like you listen and compare products and know and look at ways of maximizing a product, as mentoned these include footers, grounding, power cords and conditioners, and other such tweeks.

Modifying a product means zero warranty and if that works for your clients then good for you and for them if they are willing to take those risks.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

Dmance your findings seem strange, first you don't list any of the components you are testing. 

Second you have only optical going in or out is that an optical cable from the dac to the server? Or some ethernet to optical and optical back to ethernet device?

Also why would you expect there to be an audible difference between a Rasbery Pi or a Nuc, both of these should sound the same. The issue is which is the audiophile server that you used and how was it compared? 

Just because you deem something to be a "audiophile server" doesn't mean it really is, the exact test conditions of what you used and how you used it may shed some light that a: you are 100% correct and it is all RFI/EMI that we are hearing as the cultprits in helping create different sounds out of a dac or

b. Your testing methodology of conclusions are wrong, what was the level of the listening gear being used to test the sonic differences? If so how were you able to then 100% shield any output cable from allowing back in emi/rfi and therefore invalidating your findings?

Just because you have access to a really big faraday cage doesn't mean your findings are correct.

Just food for thought.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
Dmance, sorry no. Toslink is the least preferable way to get a digital signal into a dac, this doesn't validate your testing.

Toslink has limited bandwidth and doesn't provide for asyncronous data transfer which enables the dac to control clocking other rather than the transport. 

Asyncronous data transfer also sounds the best hence most high end dacs employ this technique. 

Also Toslink means you are taking your data from its native electrical form on the motherboard, converting to optical and then reconverting it back to an electrical signal.

Also Toslink does not allow for much higher sampling rates or DSD.

Lastly Baestis music servers range from a few thousand to very expensive units, in our tests a $16k Baetis got bettered by a $4k Innous server which sounded dramatically better. 

The less expensive Baetis servers may sound better than your two other units but if you were using Toslink from a Baetis you didn't hear the Baetis which sounds way better through its custom AES/EBU board which you didn't use, optical from a Baetis is going directly from the native motherboard which would not sound any better than a rasperby Pi or Nuc.

If you would like to prove your claims please come down to our shop where we have multiple servers and dacs on display.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ