Looking for a Solidly good inexpensive DAC

this notion likely gets beaten to death, BUT

I'm thinking about a DAC for use with some mid fi components, and my PC so as to incorporate some greater ease and variety.

Because my system is all holow state, I am also figuring it needs to be SS. Yes? No?

A good sounding overachiever that won't break the bank will likely do fine. something in the $300 - $600 range. Give or take a bit... no pun intended.

Any experience or thoughts or any slam dunk DAC ideas would be appreciated tremendously.


Paradisea DAC. Available on E-Bay. Sold direct from a gentleman in Hong Kong. Chances are excellent you will be very happy. Around $600 delivered.
Look here,there have been a few in the last couple days so low priced, who can complain ? Like a couple krells, CJ's, AR's and so on all in your price range. At the prices they were sellin for you gotta be quick on the draw, I see they are almost all sold in like the same day they were posted.
Apogee mini dac, used.
Audiosector NOS USB Dac or a Promitheus Dac can both be had for under $400 new. Contact Peter Daniels for more info on the Audio Sector, he will build you one. His commercial version of this Dac sells for $1300. It is the same Dac internally just without the fancy metal chassis for 1/3 of the price.
Jim you might want to try a Scott Nixon dac. I hear good things about it. A guy on here said he heard both the SN dac and Paradisea and like the SN dac better. I didn't listen to him and bought the Paradisea. I was disappointed with it. Not saying it is bad but just was not my cup of tea.
Might want to check out the DACs offered by Pacific Valve
Monarchy 22B is very dynamic and musical. Not SOTA in details but quite good. AES/EBU and coax in. XLR and RCA out. It has a dip switch for doubling output to 6V, for low gain setups. They also have combined DAC/preamp models. The later "piggyback" option is nice too.

Might be able to find a used Benchmark for your budget now but I found those to be system sensitive.

Blindjim, Did you ever get biamped?
Well, i like the usb paradesea. I can understand why some may not like it but thats subjective. If is a very easy easy flowing sound.

I have not heard em but the usual audio boards have very good things to say about the promethius, Snixon and the audio sector...dont think you can lose with any of them.

If you need a usb and dont want to spend a lot i can also personally recommend the firestone with power supply. It is a great little unit for the price
02-18-08: Kbuzz
Well, i like the usb paradesea. It is a very easy easy flowing sound.
That's it in a nutshell. It's on the warmish side, although that can be altered by rolling its single tube.

IMO, it is not for someone seeking the last bit of resolution and detail, but it is for someone seeking a musical experience, and seeking to improve the stock performance of a mid-fi source.
I'm using a Lite Audio DAC AM - modified by Pacific Valve. I haven't compared it to other DACs - but it sounds great in my system.
find the cheapest audio note dac you can imo...
Wow … thanks so far everyone. Now in order…

Well, I'm always more about the musical involvement than the resolution and details... Naturally, they all add to the mix.

Surely I don’t want that “hi fi” analytical, or clinical dry sound, regardless. I’ll amend the price point if needs be to overcome that result.

Thanks. Names I’ve not heard of but will try giving ‘em a call.

‘preciate it. Thanks.

What’s “SOTA” mean?

I’ve spoken with Mr. Poon previously about his Monarchy DACs. He’s a sWeLL guy IMO. I’ve no issue with his work at all. At the time I felt to gain some greater technology by attaining a 24/192 set rather than the 16 & 20 bit units he made, with but 96KHz sampling.

Biamping? I let go of that bird after finding what the Silverlines & Dodd monos could do with the Thor preamp. The issue then for my tastes were the JRs. In fact I’d like to have another VK 500 w/BP to try on these sonata IIIs… but actually I’m pretty satisfied now and have little .designs on swapping out anything currently on hand…. ‘cept maybe some wire and possibly a PLC. Maybe.

Well there’s more votes for the MDHT Labs unit, and the sector & promithias units.

The main issue I have with the Pradisea is having to wait for one to go up on ebay. I seldom have great luck being the first one out of the gate on such things. …and truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of non communication from the maker. Kind of hits me like buying a watch on the street corner… Well, almost.

I’ve been passively checking out those units from a far for some time now… then and Audio Aero… but neither have USB.

In fact I’m wondering just how much a diff, if any, is there by using a USB DAC, rather than out of a half decent USB sound cards digital output into a standard DAC in the final analysis?

That way would open up other doors by way of later DA technology that isn’t employed in many USB dacS. E. I.E., MORE REGULATION, SEPARATE POWER SUPS, PARTS, ETC.

But THE ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ NOTION, IS PRESENTLY VERY APPEALING…. Albeit the prime candidate to do everything for me is overvalued IMO… in that one respect, John Atkinson and I think alike.

I think.
The Paradisea's pop up here just keep a look out if that is what you want.


I probably won't though... I'm just compulsive... not obsessive... Well, not a lot. Well, OK. BUT just to the point where I become fatigued by it all, or realize I've gone off the deep end and am now lost.

Looking at the above posts, it seems there are far more legitablly good units available with far less trouble in acquiring them... I doubt the Paradisea is head and shoulders above all the others that it is worth the trouble to stake out ebay... and wait.

Waiting an indeterminable span is just not me... unless I have no other choice. In this case, I do have other choices apparently.
Anybody familiar with the Lavry DA10?

At the $1K price point, the Benchmark DAC 1 has been the gold standard for around six years. But the newer-design Lavry DA10 is causing some buzz. Here is a comparison test on a studio forum, performed over a period of several months, where a long time Benchmark DAC1 user compared it head-to-head with a new Lavry DA10. Although the Benchmark had some more convenient I/Os and more substantial build quality, the Lavry beat it on HF resolution and soundstage depth. He ended up buying a Lavry and selling his Benchmark.
No need to wait for a Paradisea, there is one available with the USB option right now on E-Bay with Buy-It-Now.
TVAD thanks for the compliment re easy flowing sound.

OP: you can email the gentleman behind nhdt directly and buy one. Thats how i did , got it in a few days.....

I dont know if id label this dac simply an upgrade for mid fi products. I think its subjectively "better" then that....but again its a flavor thing
I wasn't suggesting the Paradisea is only suitable to upgrade mid-fi components. It's certainly capable of performing in many high end systems depending on the owner's sonic preferences. I do believe, however, that any mid-fi digital source component with a digital output would benefit by using the Paradisea DAC versus the component's internal DAC.
I agree the Paradisea is a lovely Dac. Definitely worth a listen. The Audio Sector sounds similar just a tad more laid back or not as immediate. The Paradisea may have the edge in resolution the Audio Sector closer to analog sounding. I like both so YMMV.

I never had a problem buying the Paradiseas . I bought 4 of them through the manufacture. Two of the first USB versions and two plus versions. First one from ebay . The other three direct.

A friend tells me the TADAC is another terrific option. No USB port though. So the PC will need a Coax or Optical output to use it.

Good luck with the hunt. You have many to choose from.
That’s always my issue…. Too many choices. The answer only reveals itself once installed… usually. At least IF it’s an emphatic and resounding “NO! that definitely won’t do.”… it’s the Maybes that’ll kill ya… uh, well, me anyhow.

Thanks for the heads up on the eBay listing.. your efforts are always ppreciated in my regard. Albeit my conservative side says more things than simple price & performance are important for or to, me.

Thanks much.

Anybody familiar with the Lavry DA10?

…yes. Or at least I’m getting familiar – er.

Thanks so much for the ongoing illumination of sonic diffs from the Sector unit vs. the Paradisea.

A friend tells me the TADAC is another terrific option. No USB port though. So the PC will need a Coax or Optical output to use it.

I’ve read as much as I can there too.

Good luck with the hunt. You have many to choose from.

… and it’s more wonderment than hunting at this juncture.

Still in all, I can’t divorce myself completely from trying to nail all my birds with just one gun.

Eliminate the need/desire for the USB thingy, and things get simpler. Especially with the noted ‘handshake’ & “drop out” issues apparently common via USB connected DACs. Consequently, if a non up sampling PCI card to the PC is added which comes with a digital out, and no USB DAC is required thereafter.

All I need then is a DAC which will do well in accommodating the clock thing for the box players, has the needed inputs, and has a quality sound…. Or one more to my tastes. Hopefully.

With a brandy spankity new OEM drive in my xa777 it’s screaming at me to try a later tech DAC.

I also think the main issue with the current mega changer and likely a forthcoming one are as well addressed via that self same de-jitterizing aspect of a “??? DAC”. Not to mention the far, far better conversion engine the “??? DAC” will have over stock.

Lest we get all into jitterbugging… I’m aware of the Monarchy DIP 24/96 creation. Which forces one to add a PC, and additional ICs., so the $175 +/- price isn’t all of it’s impact in the end. Adding those figures to the end product makes a 'one unit' concept a better alternative, I believe.

The Lavry DA-10 seems to be holding the cards but at squarely more than my envisioned $600 entry fee limit. The Apogee Mini with it’s outboard PS also is attractive… to some degree.

Those two, the Mini, and the 10 are atop my short list currently. Both only have XLR outs too, which is a minor issue, but a notable one.

If the BC DAC 3 weren't quite so much more money, the choice would be very easy.
SOTA = State of the art... Usually ten times the price.

Finding and reading one users’ in depth review of the Lavry DA 10, Benchmark, and a German make DAC whose name I don’t recall now, all in one forum, I felt to take advantage of Lavry Engineering's 15 day in home trial... naturally with the hopes of a far longer trial in mind were it to be to my tastes.

Lavry runs in their products some prior to shipping. It shows too.

I have to admit right out of the box, the DA 10 sure did a good job. with some few days of near round the clock operation, it's even better... albeit not tremendously, but surely better. Straight away, the bass was quite lacking but has since begun to show itself filling out the balance of the presentation.

The DA 10 has improved coherence of the listening event with better depth, image specificity, and tone accuracy. Vocal harmonies are nailed fast in place and set well within a predictable sound stage… One with better lateral expanse, and rear of stage information. Low level detail is easily heard… and all of the presentation is as has been said over and over again… “The sound the DA 10 produces just makes you want to keep listening and rediscovering your musical collection with renewed interest”.

The DA 10 made short work of transforming my mega changer into a quite solid performer. Competitive with my SCD xa777...

I said competitive, not commensurate or equal. The xa 777 showed some good degree of additive performance too, but by lesser degrees, indicating it's finer overall build quality… and being forthright here, a better connection path via a Stereovox XV2 link rather than using the TOS the 400 CDP uses as it’s sole digital out. I suspect still, with the TOS in place on the xa 777, things would be better anyhow… and I did wish to give the coaxial input of the DA 10 a go.

I’ve yet to plug in the Oppo for another perspective… sorry, just forgot about it completely. I still see it as only a DVD player.

The PC has yet to get into the mix as I opted to immerge it via an upscale sound card's AES output... that plan failed as the card's technology was dated and would not allow the current iTunes version to play properly through it.... another card is being sought out presently.

To gain a better perspective, another DAC is forthcoming, but at substantially greater cost so I expect the performance level of it to be an increase over the DA 10's quality showing. It has greater flexibility as well.

I hope this second unit firmly trounces the DA 10, as that will make the choice way simpler. Were it to be only a tad better will really suck for me, by making the choice consequently much more difficult…. The DA 10 is that impressive.

So far, I say so much for JA’s comparisons in stereophile of the DA 10’s upscale sibling to the Benchmark, and still higher priced, Weiss DAC. I’m hoping his reflections remain consistent as this upcoming unit was also discommodiously compared to the Benchmark. Stereophile apparently felt unlike priced component evaluations a fair enough path. I should also add here, I don’t believe even pro reviewers remain entirely objective all the time. IMO.
Too bad we couldn't overcome your objections to the Paradisea.
Blindjim, can you clue us in on what the forthcoming DAC is? I'm also looking at adding a DAC into my mix (Music Hall CD 25.2 with Underwood Level 1 mods, Bel Canto Pre2P, McCormack DNA-225, VSA VR-4SR Mark II.) I've read the online reviews of the Lavry, esp. in comparison to the Benchmark. Another that has caught my eye with favorable reviews is the PSAudio Digital Link III.

The good thing is both of these manufacturers offer in home trials. The bad thing is these units seem to get better with some break in time, thus shrinking the in home trial time. Looking forward to your further opinions.



sorry, but no. I'm superstitious.
Obviously you are already trying some dacs, but I will throw in my vote for apogee minidac. I have two, and they compared favorably and could not be displaced by benchmark or BC dac2 (not dac3, which is twice the price).

Thanks much.

The things which put me off giving it a go was it's power supply, some uncertainty about which way to wire it for SE operation, and from what I was told by some users of it's 'mid to rear of hall' presentation. The latter, more so than the others, truth be told.

Their support people I spoke with are friendly and readily accessible. it can be had for a reasonable price too. I might yet try it unless this next unit just floats my boat more so than this DA 10 has done so far.
Good luck, and I can't wait to find out what dac you are trying next. I think I'm going to try some mods, either to my sonos, or to a mid priced dac, like the BelCanto dac2 I have, or possibly to a PS Audio Digital Link lll or, at a more expensive level, a Northstar 192. Regards..Jeff
...and good luck to you as well.

Had I greater paitience and the desire to install a revolving door for equipment at my home, I could have tried several units... and many listed herein on this particular thread.

I have a bit of a philosophical issue there however... and some disdain for sending and receiving gear repeatedly with no intent to purchase at that point in time... 'just browsing...'

... and maybe errantly, I felt not too many makers were up for sending along their DACs to me for an in fact, well, heads up shoot out. Maybe they would have... I dunno.

consequently, some reading, asking here, and stabbing at those which I perceive mostly meet my needs, seemed the best way for me to go.

I'm not thrilled by the cost increases I've encountered now, or will soon, but the performance (given info online) does seem comensurate with the entry fee (s) for each DAC I'm gonna check out.

I feel ultimately my needs will be met in the end... my tastes are the factors padding the price hikes... mostly.

I settled on both this DA 10 and one other due to their industry reputations, past and present... support, and service tangibility. I'm becoming quite leary of products which are driven by singular entities, lately. Depending on the item being produced of course, ie., static devices such as cabling, power sups, tubes, pucks, cones, platforms, etc, all are one off, work or don't work products... I've no issues who makes them or if they remain in business or not. They'll not be requiring serviceing or ongoing attentionn from their makers. Usually.

For those efforts which may require servicing at some future date, amps, preamps, DACs, TT's, etc., I enjoy the assurance the maker has been and is most likely to be around for that event down the road.

Curiously however, in this "cottage industry at it's finest", one never knows. to me, track records, tangible interaction, and performance formulate much of my buying trends presently. I've said previously in fact, exactly that. Thereafter, only price tags are the decider, or limiter.


I’ve decided to settle on or with, the e One DAC 3.

This was indeed a really close call, and a very tuff decision for me too. Only two DACs were listened too… The DAC3 & the DA10. All the same devices and so forth were used on each. The one exception is the DA 10 comes with ONLY XLR analog outputs. A minor change within the unit needs be made for use in SE mode… Lavry Eng. Made that arrangement for me as a matter of course and at no extra charge. Adapters also were required for SE operation and at added cost. Both of the DACs were tried in SE configuration. No side by side A/B trials were done due to timing and shipping issues… but the comparisons were one right after the other and the same software was used for each comparison.

Not every thing I’ve bought and added to my system justifies it’s price to performance quotient. Some add only marginally, other’s simply are different. The e One uses finesse, and relies on transparency to get your attention. The Lavry DA 10 uses flair, and a colorful presentation to affect the listener.

Undeniably better in some areas, and not so in other ones, the e One DAC3 gained the job over the DA 10 due to it’s remote control use as a preamp, it’s greater bottom end performance and it’s slightly better imaging placement. The sound scapes of both were impressive. These thoughts were consistent using each DAC as a source only..

… and yes, there’s the added features of a USB interface, and both XLR & RCA outs on the Bel Canto unit, but I didn’t see that as a major deal maker or breaker.

Technically speaking, the DA 10 handles word lengths of 16 to 24 bit… and sampling frequencies from 32KHz to 192 Khz., has a headphone jack, polarity inversion, mono listening modes, and a manual volume control.

The e One DAC 3 does 16 to 24 bit word lengths, and 32Khz to 96 Khz, handling only PCM INFO, via the SPDIF inputs. USB handles 16 bits from 32Khz to 48Khz onl doesn’t allow for polarity inversion, mono listening mode, nor does it have a headphone jack. It also has both types of analog outputs, XLR & RCA.

Using the added features of the DAC3, things became unfair. AS a preamp, the DAC3 showed it’s audiofoolishness characteristics undeniably. Spot on placement of images, ambient retrieval, enhanced bass slam and resolution, and depth of stage info… all were a bit better than the DA 10’s rendering of them…. And well they should be, looking at the price differential!

Used solely as a DAC, the e One DAC 3 prevailed by degrees only, over the DA 10, save the bottom end performance increase which was incontestably superior.

In terms of pure blatant musical appeal, the Lavry gets my vote. I’m solid on that point. The DA 10’s midrange is lovely. Vocalists are simply rendered with great immediacy and that goose bumpy action gets to getting on very often. It comes close too on many other areas and that closeness complicated and exacerbated my final choice. Your’s may be different however. Keys for me were found in the better bass impact, and the remote preamp facilities of the DAC 3. Period.

One could say I drafted by ‘needs’ and a strong argument could well be had there.

If the Lavry DA 10 only had a remote volume control, I would likely have kept it and not thought of interviewing other DACs and saved myself a good amount of money too. The people at Lavry Engineering, though more pointed to the professional recording industry, are quite accessible, immensely forthcoming and very friendly. It didn’t matter if I was just gathering research, or had questions regarding operation and integration, each call was handled within a pleasant friendly, and professional atmosphere. Not once did I get put to voice mail. My emails were all replied to near immediately as well.

If my system were purely solid state, the DA 10 might still be here… BUT I’ve an all tubes system… for the moment… So both it and I could stand up to the higher resolution & diminished euphonic quality (as the result IMHO) yet still remain well satisfied. By comparison as well, the DAC3 is leaner discernibly, yet quite entertaining and involving. Detail, resolution , and musical cues abound, though the presentation does not come off untoward. I detected no added brittleness, etch, grain, or brightness in spite of the clearer window to the music to be had from the DAC 3. It was simply not as full sounding as was the DA 10.

Only the poorest recorded CDs came off as still very poor… with either DAC, but the edge there goes to the DA 10, but they are tolerable on the DAC3 too… so your CD collection won’t be truncated by the purchase of either DAC. Those better CDs are just gonna get more playing time.

If greater resolution, flexibility, and bottom end performance are the needs, and you got the extra $$$ do check out the DAC 3.

If adequate bass, musical involvement, and $$$ is a real concern, make a point of checking out the Lavry DA 10 DAC. It too has a volume control so depending upon how your system is configured it might be just the ticket! My configuration has the gear in one room, and the loudspeakers and myself in another… so remote operation was a big plus for me… add to that I do like bass info to have impact and presence.

To categorize each using a more familiar allegory, I’d have to say, the e One is A Dodge Viper…. Speedy, remarkably fast, and a real head turner. The DA 10 is a 500 series BMW…. it doesn’t have quite the sheer brute force and speed of the e One, but it’s agile handling and fleet pace gets you there with a plusher ride. Neither will make you miss the scenery along the way.
If you don't need USB in:

I purchased a MSB "Full Nelson" Link-DAC III from sound4sale dot com for $500. The Full Nelson has an upgraded analog section, the upsampling board and MSB Net connections (also accepts AES/EBU digital in).

This box was a Stereophile Class A component in the day, for what that's worth.

I'm not affiliated with MSB or sound4sale, but I am a customer...

I'm quite impressed with the quality. Source device is a Roku SoundBridge M1000 via coaxial digital. The S/PDIF coax goes into a GW Labs DSP reclocker (upsampling turned off). I am feeding the Link-DAC via AES/EBU digital from the DSP. The Link-DAC does upsampling internally via an option card. Analog outs from the Link-DAC go to a Musical Fidelity X10^3 tube buffer, into the preamp.

Source files are coming from a wired ethernet connection to a Firefly server, as 320k MP3 or on-the-fly transcoded FLAC -> WAV. You can guess which sounds better. :-) I'm amazed at the quality of even 128k internet radio streams (Radio Paradise, SOMA FM). Very smooth, very open sound at low to moderate volume levels.

Other source components are a Musical Fidelity A308 CD (I'm using the internal DAC on the MF CD). Amp is a McIntosh MA6100, recently refurbed by Audio Classics Ltd. in NY.

Speakers vary, but in the current "background music" role for this rig, I'm using a set of Paradigm Atom v.3s. I also have Studio 100 v.3s and a set of Studio 20 v.3s. Wife acceptance factor for the Studio 100s in the family room is low, so they generally live in the basement in another system.

Anyway, nice access to a classic DAC, "brand new" for a quarter of the original price.


Thanks Jim for the terrific review! You should be a reviewer for one of the on line magazines.


Thanks much... there was far more to say about each, but there's the gist of it... and so much for budgets.

Still there are yet more worth checking out for sure... for now however my systems performance is again improved upon.
Very nice thread - I guess I should put my impressions down on paper as well (as soon as I have some more time). Over the last few months I have been comparing the following DACs:

- Lavry DA10
- Wavelength Brick v2
- Benchmark DAC1 USB
- MHDT Paradisea (just arrived today)

Also some DACs I compared directly:
- Musical Fidelity A3 24/192 (modded)
- Monarchy M24
- Museatex Bitstream
- Slimdevices Transporter

Without going into details, I would say the modded Musical Fidelity and Benchmark USB were my favorites so far. More on the a comparsion and in particular the Paradisea soon.

The Channel Islands Audio VDA 2 DAC is an awesome DAC for the money ($599), I can not imagine better sound for the $$$. I can listen to it for hours on end.