Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC. Nothing comes close for the money
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I second the EE DAC. My previous was the PS Audio DLIII. An excellent DAC, especially if bought used, for the money. The EE is a step up and has phase inversion, both solid state and tube, volume control (on the first generation). Bear in mind that the second generation has a USB that can receive 24/96 whereas the first generation can only handle up to 44.1 I am using a M2Tech hiface USB to SPDIF converter between my miniMac and the EE DAC. Bill at Morningstar is a great guy and easy to call if you have questions. I am not affiliated nor have an interest in EE or Morningstar.
It seems there's feeding frenzy regarding the EE minimax.
It would also help to know how you are planning to connect it, and to what (computer/CD transport/SB Touch/etc).
Other tubed DACs: Audio Research DAC8, Wavelenght lineup, Accustic Arts Tube DAC II, Ayon, Aesthetix. Then there's the question of why they NEED to be tubed...
I hope this helps.
The previous post brings up a good question regarding whether or not a DAC should have a tube. It is a nice feature to be able to switch the tube output in or out and some prefer the Sabre-based DACs without the tube, including Stereomojo in their shootout. It comes down to system-matching and source material. If the recording is very bright, the tube tones it down a bit. It does add a midrange warmth vs the Sabre without the tube. Also, the phase inversion is helpful for some recordings. Personally, I like the volume pot. I can then adjust my pre-amp volume perfectly in its best range. If they had put an analog input into the DAC, it would be perfect for my needs. The new EE accepts a higher resolution USB signal but loses the volume. I recommend using the spdif over the USB.
can you define what is meant by a "tube" sound. a dac that uses a tube either in the gain and/or as a buffer, may not have the characteristics of tubeyness, depending upon the definition.
for me i consider a tube sound that which embodies the sonic characteristics of the conrad johnson amps, like the mv45, mv 75 and mv 125. others would consider that sound, overly colored.
i don't know of any dac that has the character of a cj mv 125.
i think there is more to that sound than just a dac.