How much does a DAC do the more expensive it is?

Having spun an Oppo 105 for many years on its own before adding a Schiit Gungnir (bought for a generous steal from a wonderful seller here), I was immediately struck with how much more presence and detail the Schiit added to the Oppo's presentation. 

That Gungnir, even new, pales in comparison pricewise with 4 and 5 figure DACs I see for sale here.

So what do those much more expensive DACS do for sound? I mean, how much more information can be dug out of the digital files? Is it akin to what a good phono stage can do for a cartridge?


DACs are like every other component. The higher quality the better it sounds… almost as far as the eye (ear) can see (hear). I own a Gungnir that I use for my office system. It is a great budget DAC… but it is not remotely capable of the sound quality of high end DACs… Audio Research, Berkeley, dCS… etc. 


But on the other hand, the streamer in front and preamp / amp / speakers need to be equally capable to take full advantage of it.


I don’t believe that cost alone is a catch all for DAC performance. I’m not suggesting that you are only saying this, just sharing what I think is right...

I listened to a lot of DACs before deciding on the Pathos Converto MK1. Saving space, a Class A ouput stage, and Burr Brown, Wolfson, or ROHM chips were on my hit list. Also, having the right connections on the back were of nearly equal importance.

This DAC is made in Italy (Italian company) has i2s (the same comm. the same protocol used by CD player outputs to amplifiers over RCAs or balanced inputs/ouputs. This is like a direct connection rather than something like ASIO, which can introduce latency and therefore result in worse audio quality.

I have found that some mega-buck DACs (such as those from dCS) are actually quite colored-sounding, which is not what I wanted as a freelance audio pro. A DAC from T + A had distinct but extremely compelling sonic traits. In the end, I knew they were not telling me the whole truth...There was warmth in many tracks, midrange forwardness, a lack of clinical presentation...

A truly transparent source component can morpth from souding brittle, digital (for lack of a better word) cold, etc. on one poorly mastered track, yet sound alive, somewhat warm, very realistic, and have just the right balance on another track.

Have you thinking - what the hell is this?! also hearing the half second before the recording starts is indicative of crystal oscillators configured like master clocks with the DAC chip being slaved properly; or a truly superior output stage. Tiny amounts of latency can vasty influence the perceived pace of a track. Some tracks sound slower, some sound much faster in terms of transient response and the quickness of instrumentals/vocals.

I have always bought audio gear based on the following:

- intended purpose (does the marketing material and write-up of technology implementation + product description align with the manufacturer’s stated goal?)

- Power consumption (I don’t care how much electricity I’m burning if I can discern a true "wire with gain" for amplification. I strongly dislike quasi Class A amplifiers; those that switch to Class A-B over a certain rated power ouput. However, some are probably much better than others.

- cost (doesn’t matter so long as I get exactly what I’m after when building a new system. If it can do something that another audio component of the same purpose cannot, it is worth the money)

- quality of internal parts (you need a good eye to discern this. Any audio equipment manufacturer can suggest superlative sound quality. parts quality and design implementation can tell you for certain if their products will actually do well in crticial listening tests from folks who know their stuff; and moreover, if you have laypeople who know nothing about audio telling you your system sounds amazing, lifelike, real etc. can see the artists or the performance in their minds - then you have a brilliant audio system and should be proud.

-  I don’t care much for looks with audio gear. I mean externally of course. interally, it better be good. I can spot when it isn’t. There are plenty of dead giveaways that can tell me if the company is just talking big game, while saving a ton of money in the manufacturing process by saving money on parts.

Hope this helps.

I have an Oppo 105 and 103. Never particularly liked either as CD player or transport. While you won’t like all expensive stuff, the best sounding tends to be expensive. You might want to try a better transport before trying a better DAC. I like your comparison to a better cartridge or phono stage. Yes a better DAC will do a lot for you. Again in proper context 

@jl35 Thanks for the info. I like the Oppo because of its Tidal streaming capacity. What would you recommend for a better transport that can still stream?


Along the lines of what @jl35 states- I used an Oppo for spinning disks a few years ago as well, it eventually wore me down. I can put up with it for a short period of time then I have to turn it off.

As for DAC’s- while there are differences in the levels of performance and quality (generally) with the more you spend I don’t believe the improvements follow the same scale once you pass a certain point (diminishing returns). Only you can justify the value of the expense once you’ve experienced the difference.

When it comes to moving on from the Oppo you could move in the direction of a device that rips your CD’s to internal storage and streams Tidal/Qobuz content. The Innuos Zen MK3 or Aurender ACS-100 are a great place to start and I believe both  of these sell for under $4k new. You can frequently find these on the used market as well. Happy Hunting!


+100 …. Nailed it!


Everything is built to its pricepoint, with an audio performance that follows in lockstep.

if you still have doubts, just go do a simple audition A-B bakeoff between, say, a BLUESOUND NODE doing its yeoman service duty and compare its performance to a stand-alone $3K + north unit, as a very graphic example to prove the point,

The high-end units superior design (HINT: think linear power supplies as just one example) , their superior component parts, and itheir superior build quality separates the high-end contenders from the pretenders. The audio performance improvements are not subtle.It is dramatized further when you step up into hi-rez digital files at better than simple cd quality 44 kHz/ 16 bit.

Intuitively, with a hi-end unit, the choice of a worthy digital cable in, analogue cables out, and its power cable, all become part of the system equation on your road to audio nirvana.





All DACs are defined by their output stages, for good or bad.

Anyone that thinks a $20/30/40k R2R or Delta Sigma DAC is going to provide audio nirvana based on it's process/processor is seriously misled.

The current Delta Sigma chip is the ESS 9038 Pro with the ESS 9039 Pro due to debut maybe this year.

Unless controlled listening tests are done all bets are off! A DAC is really just a sound card - and needn't cost four and five-figures! 

While technology may be different, DAC's do about the same thing regardless of price, in terms of specs at least.

I don't know if price is the right differentiator either.  Use your own ears to determine value, not the price tags or reviews. 

I have not explored transports with controlled tests the Cambridge CXC was clearly preferred to the Oppo controlled tests for the 105 as it is used in my home theater, though I quickly tired of it as a streamer for Tidal...I do very much like the SACD Marantz 30n; CD player, DAC, Streamer, that I use in good quality home office system...while price doesn’t guarantee you will like any product, I do unfortunately find the gear I like the best does tend to be more expensive...though I do find Schiit products and other direct sale manufacturers to be excellent’s whatever you like best and decide is the best price for you...

Unless controlled listening tests are done all bets are off

When you use your own ears to judge, the "controlled listening test" is done - All bets are on!

If it takes a controlled listening test to determine if a difference exists, then the hunt is over.  You will know when you hear a difference.  The confusion starts when the person next to you doesn’t hear a difference.  (In my case my wife).  Who is right?  Both are right.

There are some here who don't believe we are capable of doing an unbiased listening test, that we are gullible and want to waste money on gear we don't actually like...I rarely do a controlled test, but sometimes it's easy and fun...and great when results are unanimous...


Unless controlled listening tests are done all bets are off! A DAC is really just a sound card - and needn't cost four and five-figures! 


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Depends upon clean power, all cables and all components.  You need a quality source and analog side to hear value in your DAC

I was in the camp of DACs under $2K being more than good enough for my needs. Especially with the Benchmark DAC3B for my tube headphone amp. I like it more than all the other DACs I tried with this amp.

Some of the lower priced DACs I have owned include:

  • Matrix Audio i-3 Pro
  • Topping D90LE and D90SE
  • Benchmark DAC3B
  • Audio Mirror Tubadour maxed out version from 3 years ago.
  • Gustard X26 Pro
  • internal DAC Peachtree Nova 150 and KRELL K-300i

All of these DACs were sort of the same level (except Peachtree). I enjoyed them when I had them, I still have the DAC3B. I think it is the best in this group.

I wanted to try a little bit more expensive DAC, so I got a Musetec 005. This DAC is slightly warm on my gear but it is also better than all the others listed above. Only caveat was that it was not good on my tube headphone amp. The DAC3B was preferred on that.

I recently got a used Lumin X1 and I find it a bit cleaner sounding or less warm than the Musetec 005. I think the 005 was purposely made slightly warmer but I like the X1’s sound a bit more now, especially with my neutral Benchmark preamp and mono amps.

I have saved up some cash to buy a very expensive amp for my Livingroom. However, I also need a third DAC and after my Lumin X1 experience I am going to try out the Playback Designs MPD-8 DAC. I was planning on using the Musetec 005 and the MPD-8 is a lot more $.

I like the idea of FPGA based DACs but did not want a Chord or PS Audio. If the MPD-8 DAC does not deliver the goods, I can easily sell it for close to the buy price and use a Musetec 005 which matches nicely with slightly warm cheaper amp I got.




Is it akin to what a good phono stage can do for a cartridge?

Yes that’s very close. It’s much less about the chip or any other circuit that does the conversion from digital to analog. Like the phono pre or a preamplifier or an amplifier it’s mostly about the power supply and the analog circuits. As in a pre, or the others, these can be very elaborate (and expensive) or very cheap (and cheap). There are no bounds on what these can cost. Then there are the cases that can cost more than the components within. You must, yourself, draw the line and perhaps seek out the bargains, that is, find the best value for yourself.

A DAC is really just a sound card 


LOL!!! 😂. Jason Bourne strikes again. Like in every single thread that is. How can one take this sad creature seriously?



Like sometimes in the past, when some people saying all DACs sound the same, or mentioning DAC “chips”, I would like to quote the late Charlie Hansen of Ayre:



The thing that I see over and over and over in this thread is an irrational belief in the importance of the DAC chip itself. Just about everything affect the sound of an audio product, but when it comes to DACs, I would rank (in order or sonic importance the general categories as follows:


1) The analog circuitry - 99.9% of all DACs are designed by digital engineers who don't know enough about analog. They just follow the app note. The specs on the op-amps are fabulous and digital engineers are inherently seduced by the beauty of the math story. There are minor differences in the sound quality between various op-amps, but it's kind of like the difference between a Duncan-Heinz cake mix and a Betty Crocker cake mix. 99.8% of the op-amps are used a current-to-voltage converters with the inverting input operating as a virtual ground. This is probably the worst way to use an op-amp as the input signal will cause the internal circuitry to go into slewing-limited distortion.


With discrete circuitry, the only limit is your imagination. You are free to adjust the topology of the circuit, the brands of the parts, the active devices, the bias current in each stage - anything you can think of. Think of this as going to a world-class patisserie in Paris and seeing all the different things that can be made.


2) The power supplies - 99.9% of all DACs use "3-pin" power supply regulators, which are pretty much op-amps connected to a series pass transistor. Everything in #1 applies here.


3) The master clock - jitter is a single number assigned to measure the phase noise of an oscillator over a fixed bandwidth. It is far more i important to know the spectral distribution of the timing variations and how they correlate to audible problems. 99.9% of all DACs use a strip-cut AT crystal in a Pierce gate oscillator circuit. It's pretty good for the money but the results will depend heavily on the implementation, particularly in the PCB layout and the power supplies (#2).


It's hard to rank the rest of these so I will give them a tie score.


4) The digital filter - 99.9% of all DACs use the digital filter built into the DAC chip. About a dozen companies know how to make a custom digital filter based on either FPGAs or DSP chips.


4) PCB layout - grounding and shielding, impedance-controlled traces, return currents, and return current paths are all critical. For a complex digital PCB, 8 layers is the minimum for good results.


4) The DAC chip - almost everything these days is delta sigma with a built-in digital filter. Differences between different chips is one of the less important aspects of D/A converter designs. Both ESS and AKM have some special tricks to reduce out-of-band noise, which can be helpful, but not dramatic.


4) Passive parts - the quality of these can make a large difference in overall performance, especially for analog. Not many digital engineers sit around listening to different brands of resistors to see what sounds best.


These are just a few of the things that make differences in the way that a DAC will sound.


Hope this helps,

Charles Hansen

“So what do those much more expensive DACS do for sound?”


Distort the sound less. Have way better output stages than the lower cost units. Generally speaking of course. 

For the one millionth time price has nothing to do with anything. It's the parts.  Nichicon audio note v-caps ac filter choked, etc.



@thyname wrote, "The specs on the op-amps are fabulous and digital engineers are inherently seduced by the beauty of the math story. There are minor differences in the sound quality between various op-amps, but it's kind of like the difference between a Duncan-Heinz cake mix and a Betty Crocker cake mix."

What then of DACs that don't even have op-amps like say a Denafrips Ares II 12th Anniversary edition?  Is that "better" than using op-amps in some way? What are the tradeoffs? It is a "softer" sound, perhaps not as dynamic?

You said most DACs are sigma-delta.  Maybe so. There's some at every price point.  But are the qualities most of the YouTube reviewers mention about R2R DACs (their "natural tonality and deep and wide soundstage" which have been repeated ad nausem) artifacts of that architecture or "real"?  Did the recording engineer and mastering engineer hear the playback that way, assuming they are using high quality sigma-delta DACs and not R2R ones?

Power supplies obviously play a huge role in how "black" the background can be, but I want to note that linear power supplies might not always be king. Analog Devices and others are working hard on developing switch mode power supplies that should compete well with linear power supplies. They are targeting the medical device field currently, but you can be sure these will eventually find their way into audio gear (or we can hope). 

Just as "some" audiophiles are ready to adopt Class-D amps, no doubt, some will eventually adopt well designed switch mode power supplies and call it a day.


I have an Oppo 105 and 103. Never particularly liked either as CD player or transport.

Completely agree.

In fact I don't believe any Blu-ray player should ever be used to play CDs.

So what do those much more expensive DACS do for sound?

I like the analogy that a DAC is like a cart. DACs shape the sound. They can smooth out edgy highs, preserve the all important mid-range and tighten up bass. but...EVERYTHING matters.

2 months ago I thought my $600 Bluesound Node (current model) was pretty darn good, and I was also a digital cable naysayer. 

Out of necessity, I upgraded and tweaked my digital front end (details in my virtual system). I still have the Node but I will replace it at some point now that I know what I know:)

You get what you pay for but if you are patient and do your research, a killer digital front end can be had for under $5K. But if money is no object...go nuts.


There are exceptions to the rule many R2R dacs have a very natural character,

tube dacs have their own complementing character .

Each company has their own way and different design .

the more expensive dacs many times have more high quality filtering for lower noise , as well as better clocks  they did deeper in imaging, sound staging and low 

level details , I have heard many dacs visiting  many homes within our audio 

get togethers.  Imo $7k under a very high quality dac , my personal favorite 

theT&A 200 dac. It beats many dacs at 2x the cost , that being said 

The Gustard  R2R 26;is my current favorite under $2k dac , saying that ,the Audio  magic M1 fuse Highly recommended to complement it to be at its best forunder $2k total. 

It is a fallacy that the more money gets you the better product. It may be true in some instances but it is total bs in many others. Only your ears will tell you. Not the money spent.

thanks for all your replies. Money and price were simply the easiest metric for me to use, having been immersed in analog and vinyl up until recently and dependent simply on the 105 before something hinted I should try a Gungnir. 

It’s going to be difficult to part with my 105. That unit is golden. Still, if a better transport can be had, then I can move the 105 to its duty as a blu-ray player in the theater system (i.e., the family room with the Onkyo).

@macg19 Unfortunately, money IS an object. Blah.

When you find the right DAC, it will not be about lack of coloration or smoothness.  It will not be about speed or openness or lack of sibilance.  It will not be about resolution and detail that brings out the sound of the singers lips touching or being able to feel the size of the room that the performers are in because you can hear the faint echoes off of the walls or the stage.  It will not be about the drums so clear and sharp that they make you jump or the feathery light shimmer of the cymbals that give you chills and make you long for the feeling to never stop.  The right DAC will make the music connect to you on more than an emotional level.  That one in 10 songs where the music will wrap around your soul and each heartbeat will pause, just momentarily waiting for that next beat in the music.  When you find that DAC, it will be like the gem you have been searching for your whole life and once you find it you simply gaze into that gem and it fills you with euphoria.  When you find the right DAC, it will not be about measurements, it will not be about cost.  It will be like that gem.

Gee, I'm such a poet and didn't know it.  We have a wide cross section of experience on these forums.  I think the wisdom of the wise is often passed over by the newer hobbyists here.  No problem, we all tend to do that.  Audio can be very personal and we each have to try and learn for ourselves.  It's not uncommon to enter this hobby focused on measurements.  We must.  We need something to ground ourselves as we sort out the bewildering amount of options.  So Watts/channel and THD are of primary concern.  Eventually, like a master craftsman, we go beyond measurements and learn to feel what is right.  Someone well experienced in audio can dial in a phono cartridge beyond what can be measured with a ruler.  An experienced person can position speakers in a room without a tape measure.  That person can find the right spots for the speakers knowing exactly when it feels right.  Go measure the speakers and don't be surprised if they are together within 1/8" from the walls.  And if one speaker is a 1/2" different from the wall vs the other speaker, you might feel compelled to move it.  And suddenly the magic is gone.  Hopefully you are able to put it back exactly where it was.


This phenomenon  of course applies to all hi-fi components, not only DACs.

But DACs have a unique job to do that is not required of any other component.  And which is impossible to achieve.  The DAC has to reassemble accurately the analogue signal that has been smashed into billions of small pieces when converted to digital.  No DAC can do this with total accuracy in the time domain.  It is possible to spend $50,000 or more trying to do a job that would be unnecessary if the signal remained analogue.  In general, more expensive DACs will give results nearer to the analogue signal.

As @tonywinga says 'The right DAC will make the music connect to you on more than an emotional level.'  Like analogue.


Thanks for posting the late Charles Hanson comments. Much wisdom on display.

The analog circuitry - 99.9% of all DACs are designed by digital engineers who don't know enough about analog. They just follow the app note. The specs on the op-amps are fabulous and digital engineers are inherently seduced by the beauty of the math story. There are minor differences in the sound quality between various op-amps, but it's kind of like the difference between a Duncan-Heinz cake mix and a Betty Crocker cake mix

Wonderful cake mix analogy to make an astute point with regard to Op-amplifier utilization. Mr. Hanson isn’t alone with this observation.


I think it’s more about features or decoding the latest file rather than sound. 

I have a great analog rig.  I used to listen mostly to records until I found my "gem" DAC a couple of years ago.  Partly laziness but also having a much larger library of music to choose from I listen to digital 2:1 over analog these days.  Digital has come a long way this last decade.  CDs started sounding better to me by the mid 1990s but still lacked much of a 3D soundstage and the musicians seemed like cardboard cutouts where analog creates a deep and wide holographic soundstage.  These days digital is on par with analog- at least on my rig in creating a large holographic soundstage.

It's not so hard breaking sound down into bits and building it back again.  Take, for example the light bulb.  A battery powered light bulb compared to a 120VAC power light bulb looks the same to us.  Yet the 120 VAC bulb is flickering at 60 Hz.  Now consider the LED light source using 120 VAC.  It's not flickering at 60 Hz, it is turning on and off, almost a square wave at 60 Hz and yet we still do not notice a difference.  Kind of an analogy.  I could imagine if Thomas Edison were alive today he would be championing his classic vacuum light bulb as superior over LED just as he fought Tesla and Westinghouse as they developed AC electric power.  Edison was a proponent of DC electric power and had made a considerable investment in DC power distribution by the turn of the 20th Century.

Young people these days may never experience a true 24 frames per second film projected onto a screen.  I'm not sure film movie theaters still exist, maybe they do. I know we still see 24 fps films on our digital TVs but it's not the same.  I missed the warmth and flicker of the movie film for a while but now I prefer the smoother 30 and 60 Hz refresh rates.

Technology changes and we move on.  The next generation will have no idea the pleasure of a stick shift and the roar of a loud gasoline engine.  They will see the cars of yesteryear as uncomfortable looking dangerous death traps.  Cars have come a long way from making long trips hot, boring and dangerous to being safe and entertaining.  The digital engineers will figure it out.  Digital sound will continue to improve.  The vinyl LP is approaching 100 years- just a decade and a half to go.  Like the Edison light bulb, it has had a great run.  Times are a changing.

An obvious observation but I'll make it anyway:  In general, a more expensive DAC should be constructed better, inside and out, and in theory should last longer than less expensive ones.  Say compare the internal parts quality of one of the numerous S.M.S.L. DACs in the <$1000 range with those by Gustard, Audio Research, Holo May, and others.  Those chosen components from the PCB material to the various resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, how well isolation is done, thickness of the chassis, etc., all add up to a device that should still be kicking 10 to 20 years from now instead of dying after 3 to 5. 

Does that matter to you?  To some who change gear often maybe not, but to others assembling a system to last them many years, it can. 

Many would like to buy a DAC and not be thinking of replacing it after one year. They'd rather upgrade say another component or feed one of their other hobbies. 

A long time ago, the rule of thumb was to spend 50% of your budget on speakers and 50% on the electronics.  Is that rule still valid or not? In today's "digital world" is it more like 66% on electronics, 33% on speakers and 1% for accessories?

It’s far more about your personal reaction to a high end DAC than trying to quantify what it does. I’ve been saying that audiophiles seem to have developed the ability to strain at gnats and swallow camels to an unusual degree. An issue that a non-audiophile can easily identify may seem trivial to the audiophile, while something unnoticed by a non-audiophile may be a cause of agony or ecstasy for the audiophile. The cause of the audiophile’s perception may be nothing to do with any change in the actual sound waves reaching their ears, but a combination of sound, vision and other knowledge that creates the whole perceptual experience. There’s no way to argue against this other than to listen and compare blind of any information about which item you are listening to other than what it sounds like. This shouldn’t cause any stress for the listener unless the audible differences, assuming they even exist, are extremely subtle.

It would appear that smaller artisan boutique manufacturers will price their components at a comparatively higher price than a large company. If I were to order a DAC from some arcane manufacturer in Eastern Europe and there are only a handful of these DAC’s that exist in North America, I’d expect to spend everything that I have in my IRA Roth. Now am I getting my money’s worth, probably but not necessarily. There are some fairly common DAC’s on the market that do not break the bank but they sound very good. The primary reason for a great sounding DAC is based on that companies engineering team. It is difficult to be hired as an engineer with a large company with a rich history. Also, quality parts are desirable but the price of a DAC doesn’t guarantee that the internal parts are going to be of the highest quality. For me, the primary criteria for what a DAC should do well is to make digital sound analogue. 

the primary criteria for what a DAC should do well is to make digital sound analogue. 

Aside from the fact that by definition, this is what a DAC does, it is precisely my benchmark. But what if you don't have a good analogue front end to compare it against?

equating price w sound quality in audioland is a serious mistake

100%, as several others have also pointed out. 

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

I believe that is a Warren Buffet quote. Shop wisely.


The price of units is a good proxy for quality as in, “it is generally positively correlated”, particularly as the price rises. Not true in mid-fi. For experienced audiophiles the words “if carefully researched and well chosen” captures what most of us mean if using price as a proxy for quality. You have to, make sure that what you are buying has the flavor you want and is compatible with your system. But within that context, in general the more you pay the better will be the sound quality. So, it is worth mentioning, because folks new to,high end audio might think that price without thought will get you there… and that is a recipe for disappointment.

Lots of upstarts trying to break in to the market may release new stuff that sounds really great on several dimensions… but may not meet the mark on several others. Companies that have been at this for decades understand sound quality to an incredible depth and produce components with great depth and nuance across all the variables. They carefully price their stuff competitively. Companies like VAC, Conrad Johnson, Pass, Audio Research, Linn, Boulder, dCS… etc., they have depth and value, and their prices, while high reflect true value. Not flash in the pan stuff.

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+1 @ghdprentice

like anything in this hobby or others, in life in general

-- spending big money to obtain an excellent desired outcome needs to be accompanied by suitable knowledge and experience

-- those without the money and/or knowledge will sometimes harbor envy and thus express sentiments of ’awww well it won’t be good money spent anyways’ - getting the most out of life, as usual, is a function of what you put into it...


@ghdprentice gets it exactly right.

It’s just like anything else:

1) Designers try to make the best product.

2) At its price, it either represents the value you’re looking for, or it doesn’t.

I have nothing to add to what @ghdprentice so eloquently and politely wrote. As with everything in life, there is no free lunch


Well said!!!



those without the money and/or knowledge will sometimes harbor envy and thus express sentiments of ’awww well it won’t be good money spent anyways’ - getting the most out of life, as usual, is a function of what you put into it...

So true.


those without the money and/or knowledge will sometimes harbor envy

I don’t mean to burst your little groups bubble, but I don’t think there are many, if any, on this site who are envious of you.

Now mikelavigne’s system, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.


@ghdprentice Nice, and @jjss49, I'm not inclined to spend lots of money, relatively speaking, on a component just because it costs lots of money. My initial question was simply was better DACs (using money as a simple metric) would do for increased sonics. 

Like, I'm quite happy with my Oppo/Schiit digital end, despite people saying I could "do better" by improving/spending more on both components. I remember a listening session at another members' house several years ago in which his cd player cost more than my entire system at the time. But I don't remember the sound being that much more clear. Truthfully, I don't remember the sound at all. Sound, like taste, is a fleeting and illusory sensation. 


you likely know that you really can’t tell that a component change is better or worse for you unless you try it at some length in your own system

hearing something sound good in another person’s system only provides a rough notion of the potential a component may have in your own... there are so many other interceding variables .... otoh -- hearing something expensive sound mediocre or bad in another system tells you nothing useful, for the same reasons

with digital, it is not just the price/quality of the dac, but the streamer, the selected cabling/connection option, the purity of the local feed (there are many threads on this topic)... so it is even more complicated to get right than just paying up on a more expensive dac

this is where a good forum like this one, with many experienced, dedicated contributors, is useful... you can get a sense of who is using what, if they are happy, along with some idea on the overall quality of their system, and their dedication and experience level

just some quick examples, many well spoken, well established folks here do very well with aurender streamers, network acoustics and uptone audio lan cleansers, msb bricasti and weiss dacs are quite often cited, yet rarely (if ever) criticized (same for, say, dena pontus or mhdt orchid at a more modest price tier), and so on... reading all the contributions over a stretch of time, from credible contributors here, tells you something useful