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?
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

audiotroy here is how i feel about you not that it matters. your responses are highly intelligent and reasoned. you also sound like a great guy. my only comment is neutral in that you, as does everyone, have a bias towards what you sell. If you didn’t have any bias you would be poorly representing your products. frankly i commend you for never getting in the muck. IMO 
ufguy73.. i would not expect Lumin to remotely have the same resale as DCS. the reason in my opinion is that DCS has superior brand recognition and a small dealer network keeping discounts tighter than most. also they follow through on significant updates keeping their models long lived..will admit that i don’t know anything about lumin. i’m sure it’s good. IMO
Dave and Troy,

No, Harley has not heard an MSB in his system. dCS yes, MSB no. Valin did, and guess what, he has an MSB In his system now, even though he’s a hard-core vinyl guy (like I am). And neither has heard MSB’s top of the line, imagine that...
And you mentioned Esoteric. Well, their new Grandioso products are using discrete components, instead of a chip. Call me silly, but for $35k, a DAC should have more than a $20 chip at its core, and Esoteric knows that.
In the end, it’s all about the execution, as there ARE plenty of mediocre ladder DACs out there, mostly jumping on MSB’s bandwagon. While there are decent delta-sigma DACs (the best of the lot, for me, is the Linn Klimax DSM), *my opinion* is that it’s silly to spend that much money on a product with $20 parts in it, that can’t be upgraded easily. To me, D-S makes sense on the entry-level, with a nice and warm output stage, like Luxman does with their digital products.
We don’t carry a bunch of different DAC brands like you do ON PURPOSE. Of course, if we wanted, I’d have the place littered with DACs, but we chose not to. In my view, it does a disservice to the client. I have a clear preference, and we stick with it, instead of shooting in all directions to see what sticks.

Alma Music and Audio

I have enjoyed reading various reviews of these higher end DACs (recognizing the limitations, biases, imperfections, etc. that inherently accompany listening to someone describe what they are hearing).

To be sure, there are very positive reviews of the T+A SDV 3100.  I do have a couple concerns, though:

- on one review (HiFi News) it appeared as though perhaps the takeaway of the presentation was it was not as lively, transparent, energetic (perhaps) as others:

"it rapidly became clear that what's on offer from this imposing two-box player is a sound of great substance, warmth and maturity. OK, at times it may not offer the very last word in sheer bite and impact, but there's nothing remotely mechanical or – to make a sweeping generalisation – 'digital' about the sound here..."

"More raw material, such as Atlanta Rhythm Section's live Are You Ready! set [BGO BGOCD1052], can sound a tad too polite, yet this doesn't this rob the music of its enjoyment"

"It's as future-proofed as you might hope for, and while not exactly red in tooth and claw, it transcends mere sonic fireworks by reproducing the most bombastic musical events with unmistakable style."

I realize the quotes above are all on the whole positive, however, I do also detect the potential for conclusions that the component may be overly relaxed, refined, polite, restrained, etc?

- the other concern is no MQA.  I recognize why...and I recognize that MQA is not the end-all-be-all, at least right now...however, it does strike me as a consideration that one of the differentiators of the T+A is it being 'future proofed' (as much as anything in the this world can be) - and yet it does not cover one of the growing formats that several other manufacturers are going through various updates in order to support.

- lastly (and not really a 'concern' vs consideration of value), I realize the specs (outside of the MQA aspect) on the T+A is through the roof...but in practical terms what is the availability of content at those elevated resolution levels.  I know that shouldn't really matter, all things being equal, because as long as its not sacrificing lower resolution quality who cares that it is capable of playing even higher...but, for example, I think I'd rather have the MQA than a capability that never gets used.

Anyway, still doing reading, etc. but these are some thoughts running through my mind on T+A.

@4425 thanks for the additional thoughts on retention of Luminary's vs DCS....confirms what my inclination has been, also.

@asiufy thanks so much for weighing in (even if late lol).  I assume you have exeperience across the MSB line?  Where do you think the sweetspot is in terms of really pushing into diminishing marginal returns?  Are there one or two levels that represent clear/marked increases relative to a lower model that you would throw out there.  My initial feeling is that maybe one break is at the Premier vs Reference (that is to say, a significant increase in performance between the two that maybe isn't quite as dramatic as Discrete to Premier or Reference to Select...though, truth is, perhaps the Reference to Select is significant...but that Select price point....breathtaking :)).

Im also curious to hear your thoughts on the relative value proposition of the Dual Powerbase vs Monos?

thanks all!