Looking for recommendations for a 'warm' sounding DAC


Would anyone know of a warm sounding DAC, budget to £2500/$3000 new or used. My ears don’t like a crisp and clinical sound, I find that Chord/dcs/Topping sound painful if loud. I know many love those crisp leading edges that these deliver but that sound does not synergise with my amp/speakers nor my sensitive ears. I know the easiest way to achieve this would be to switch speakers to a mellow speaker but this option is not available.
Any suggestions would be welcome.
Aa29a0d9 0631 4703 9c2a 2301d5d3754aduckworp
What DAC are you using now?

What DAC are you using now?
So this is my second system - a Naim 180/82 into B&W 804s, which is used only for background social listening. At the moment I use it to play Qobuz via Roon through Chromecast Audio. I would like a better DAC than the Chromecast audio, but the Chord one I tried provided a very detailed presentation which somewhat grated my ears. I suffer from hyperacusis - in my case a low threshold to loud harsh sounds - think kids screaming or dishes clanking, and the Chord and cheap-as-chips Topping seemed to accentuate those attributes of the sound. My main system is fine but that is a very much smoother Vitus/Boenicke set up which is rich and warm and doesn’t aggravate my ears.
I’ve never heard it but perhaps PrimaLuna EVO 100 Tube DAC? I’m just thinking about the warmth it possibly brings. Personally I prefer to attain detail and clarity in a DAC and add the warmth down the chain via tube linestage and Class A amp.
This one might be worth a look:
https://6moons.com/audioreview_articles/sonnet-digital/
I haven't heard it but I have owned 5 of the designer's other DACs and still own two of them.
@duckworp, I suffer from hyperacusis as well. Mine developed from a virus. I’ve gone thru many speakers and components so that I could listen to digital without issue.

I must ask, why are you using B&W’s which present such detail in the highs?
As far as a dac recommendation, I think you should try a NOS dac aka a r2r ladder DAC. There is no upsampling, it takes the native data stream and shapes it into a smooth waveform.
I own an Audio Note (all tube with no digital filters) which I purchased used. It presents
warm, non-fatiguing sonics.

Ather highly rated NOS dac is from MHDT.
Border Patrol is a Dac that has created a lot of buzz on the forums. It's NOS and uses a tube rectifier I believe.



I must ask, why are you using B&W’s
These are my old main system speakers which have moved to the secondary system.  My wife loves the compact and beautiful look of them. Sonically they are light on bass which is perfect as they are squashed in next to a cabinet and most other speakers would tend to boom.  I do agree that they can sparkle a little too much though. 
Understood. They are beautiful speakers.

I love my MHDT Labs Orchid.  I wouldn't call it exactly "warm", but revealing while being very neutral with no digital edge and easy to listen to.
An R2R DAC with tubes.  MHDT, Tubadour, or Border Patrol. 
I like lowrider57's Audio Note DAC suggestion.  No gratuitous warmth but a natural/organic character  I understand duckworp's aversion to components that emphasize or exaggerate the leading edge for "sense" of detail. This sounds artificial. 
Charles 
Look for a Yamamoto YDA-01B.....the “B” denotes the tubed version.
https//6moons.com/audioreviews/yamamoto8/dac.html
Agree with mitch2 regarding the Yamamoto DAC (I’ve owned mine for many very happy years. SS version but utterly organic). I believe that the Audio Note DACs are more available on the used market ( Larger company with far more DACs built and sold). Also in the stated price range the OP can find a 2.1 or 3.1 model and achieve excellent natural sound quality. Terrific value purchased used IMHO.
Charles
If you are in the EU or UK you might want to look for a used Aqua La Voce.  The S2 version is even warmer than the S3.
I use chord dave with m scaler to my vitus sia 025. speakers
is a wilson sasha 2. The m scaler added a degree of warmth vs
the standalone chord dave.
my main source is an aurender s10.
Yes @charles1dad , I was thinking the same thing; a 2.1 or 3.1 Audio Note. Based on the OP's price quote £2500, he may be in the UK. There should be a selection of AN DACs on the used market, not to mention many more dealers than here in the US.

The Border Patrol DAC has warmth.  It uses an EZ80 tube.  The amount of warmth can be modified by tube rolling.  The Mullard EZ80 made in Great Britain is the warmest that I have tried.

I have two DAC's in my main system.  When I want warmth, I switch to the Border Patrol.

The Border Patrol has be reviewed by professional reviewers: Steve Guttenberg, Scott Hull, others.
Perhaps an old Theta Pro Basic III.

I run Thiel CS5's and they can sound sharp in the treble if not paired with the right gear.

The Theta smoothed things out nicely for me.

Thanks for listening,

Dsper
Agree 100% with Jackd. The Aqua La Voce S2 really warmed up my set-up (used it at the time with a Krell SA-400 Integrated into PMC Fact 12 speakers). Bought it used in the US (San Diego area dealer for about $2,700). It did wonders. Later sent it back to Italy through my dealer for a $1,000 upgrade to S3 (which sells for $5,000 last I checked). Since then, I was able to get my hands on a DarTZeel LHC integrated with built in DAC which bested the Aqua S3, but not by much.

thebingster
Ayon Stealth or Stratos. Tube based out put stage. preowned cost is just above your budget. 
After a long declutter operation of ripping all my CDs and then recycling the jewel cases and putting the actual CDs into storage, I went further to detach a computer from the entire chain.  I relinquished myself and sanity to the streaming services and went though a year of hair pulling and natural age-related changes to hearing.  An innocent McIntosh MC5200 was jettisoned from my creative room in the process.  I even re-purchased some CDs that were packed away and lugged the Esoteric back from across the house to eliminate culprits.  In the end, ridding myself of the pre-diamond B&Ws restored my life.  There is watermarking and other issues with streaming and digital in general that seem to affect me more than others.  Later I found cycling through filter options on the various DACs I have attached to the current pre-amp / amp configuration offered additional relief for streaming.  The Esoteric reminded me I could probably do that with stand-alone DACs.  While I understand that in your situation the B&Ws are the immovable objects, instead of changing out your DACs, perhaps a vacuum tube amp might smooth out everything?  Nothing is more analog than a tube amp.  And they are also very social.  While my seemingly self-induced torture may seem nutty on its face, I play instruments 3-4 hours per day, for which I have zero ear fatigue but need hear to learn songs to do covers.
I came from similar sounding Dacs to yourBryston.  NAD M51, Moon 600 and a few others. That were all good. I was then introduced to the Audio Note 3.1. It was a game changer. So much more musical with no fatigue. Cymbals, piano, bells had a chime, ring that I had not heard before. A Miriad of speakers produced the same results. The difference was immediate. 

PK


Thank you all very much for some excellent suggestions. I will be checking many of these out. 
Hi PK,
Your listening experience with the Audio Note DAC is what I was alluding to above. A "natural" sound quality without the over emphasis of the upper frequency range and the leading edge. When it sounds honest and natural your ears seem to recognize it immediately as you described. Realistic as opposed to contrived/hyped up.
Charles
This Concert Fidelity DAC-040BD is a steal. MSRP: US$12K.  Check out this Audiogon discussion.
I thought my chord qutest is warm and want to hear the tube prima luna as i have their amp and love it.  

I would recommend checking out The Chord Qutest also, along with the Chord M Scaler.

Audio Note DACs would be another suggestion to try.

Hi Charles
"Your ears regognise it"  I never thought of it that way but that is exactly what is happening. That's a very good way to describe it. As a result of buying the AN 3.1 I ended up buying an M6 phono, a set of P4 mono blocks and a second An system based on an M2 phono. For me I would say that was deffinity a game changer. I use Tannoy MG's. I will eventually end up with a set of AN E's
I only have a setup for my headphones (higher tier) and i love my metrum nos hex dac

great separation, natural/analogue sound. 

This dac will never be sold by myself

This has been discontinued in recent years. 
The pavane is one of the older higher tier that offers more - i have not heard it though. I also have not heard any of their latests dacs so I can’t help there either
I said I wasn't going to participate in these forums again, but here I go.
Barely any audiophiles seem to know of Prism Digital. Heavily used in the high end recording studio world and regarded as the most accurate sounding AD & DA converters out there. So enter the Prism Calia consumer model; by warm I assume you mean rich and accurate harmonic reproduction accurate to live music, while being open and clear sounding. The Prism Callia. Or it's Pro version which would have AES EBU
Another choice would be Dacs or built in Dacs from the SPL line in Germany. Also a Pro roots company. These are the AD's & DA's the high end studios are using and there's a reason for that! 
Audio by di tomasso
Border patrol. Denafrips.

Schiit Yggdrasil,  Marantz
I use a Holo Audio Spring DAC Kitsune edition which is a R2R design. It is very musical and right in your price range. I have also read lots of great things about the Audio Mirror Tubadour. Good luck!
It's just a tiny bit above your price point, but the DACs made by Aqua are very, very musical.  Not quite on the warm side, but detailed. Huge open room filling soundstage with out the digital harness that I think you are trying to get away from by saying "warm"

I find them to sound very close to a good vinyl rig and on parr with some of the most expensive DACs on the market. 


Another vote for the Orchid.  Only $1100 new and you can roll tubes to get a different sound.
Go for a Tubadour 3  ... Upgraded, if you can stretch the finances
You will not be disappointed. 
I have owned DAC's at four and five times the price of a Tubadour
and turned them in
My Tubadour is matched with a Tube Amp. 

Try Mojo Audio Mystique V2 Plus Dac
it is an R2R Ladder Dac.
under 1500.00 on the used market 
Understand exactly. More affordable than excellent Audio Note and far better than Border Patrol look no further than NOS or used bel canto design DAC3.7 and above. I am able to go between it and vinyl not only without distress but with enjoyment 24/7. Use their Ref level cables or better.  
Being a mainly vinyl guy, the new Line Magnetic LM-32 is the first where I was happy listening to digital. 
Hi Duckworp,
   I have not critically listened to many DACs, but I’m a huge fan of the Synthesis DAC. I have heard it in different forms at Deja Vu Audio with different equipment. It is warm and cozy. Vu of Deja Vu swears it the best sounding DAC you can get under $6000. I plan to get one inside a Synthesis 96+ integrated amp. 
The Roma 69DC is hand-built in Italy and available well under your budget. 
Thanks for all these recommendations. 
Tubadour III SE - excellent DAC for $2500
There is a 10 DAC shootout review on AZAVClub.com  held last August,
Sadly Denafrips refused us a sample. Mentioned above and well received at the event, the Line Magnetic (1st place) and Holo Audio Spring. The Chinese, Tubed, R2Rs were best received. This included
a Black Ice $800 model that was darn close to the $2,500 competitors.
I also have hyperacusis. Tube Amp and Older Tannoys seem my best bet. Good luck!!

Hi, I would like to suggest the Denafrips family of DACs.
My Klipschorns can sound clinical at times with certain material via my previous Rega DAC, but not since the Denafrips became part of the supply chain so no need to change your speakers.
I bought the Ares (the cheapest) and was mightily impressed with every aspect of it - certainly the warmest and most analogue DAC I had ever heard in my system up to that point.

I decided to move up the line to the Pontus and it knocked me out - just like the Ares but more of everything that makes the Ares so good.

Deep, dark bass and a restrained top end that never gets fatiguing. I've noticed that both DACs improved with some mileage on them. As an aside, I leave the Pontus and my Antipodes server/streamer on 24/7 these days and believe they both sound better for it.
Good luck with your search. Have fun!
Audio Note 0.1x used. Nothing fancy just great music, I'm done.  Used around $800
I also use an Audio Note dac 3.1 balanced. I’ve been through several and this to me (IMO) is the best sound I have experienced. 
I have a little case tinnitus in my ear and I’m very sensitive to bright sounds. This dac has a warm but detailed and natural sound.
If budget doesn’t allow I did enjoy my MHDT Pagoda tube r2r dac.Good luck.

Not mentioned too often, but my Exogal Comet Dac really helped cure of my listening fatigue with my current audio system. Very high engineering pedigree involved with this company
and its products.
Duckworp,

I agree, I just got rid of a Chord Hugo TT2 which was not cheap. It was not only bright but also  "paper thin", almost too much resolution but no warmth whatsoever. It sounds like you would appreciate an nos dac. nos stands for no oversampling. There are many companies out there that offer nos dac's and I find them to be much smoother and warmer and much more 3d sounding. To my ears they sound more like a good turntable (if you get a good one) than your typical digital dac which usually sound bright and paper thin. Some of the companies that sell nos dac's are Audio Note (UK), Denafrips, SW1X Audio, Border Patrol (which is supposed to be one of the better sounding dacs at a very affordable price), I would recommend the Border Patrol or the Audio Note nos dacs.  If you google nos dacs you will see at least 15 different name brands. I think you'll really like them. Good luck.

grahamb44
Check out the Audio Mirror thread.