Mid-priced warm sounding DAC?

I've recently decided that a good route for me to take is upgrading my system with a good DAC. My current system is a bit bright sounding, so I'm looking for a good DAC costing up to $600 (used) that will provide a smooth, warm sound to match my currently bright system. I'd also like the DAC to be capable of upsampling, although if necessary I could add an upsampler to the digital chain at a later time. My preference would be to have it built-in, however.

Any suggestions?
I would strongly suggest you audtion a BEL CANTO DAC2. A audiophile buddy just went through an audtioning process and purchased a demo unit for under $900.00. It upsamples to 24/192 and is warm and musical but still detailed and has very good dynamics. It might be just alittle more than you want to spend but it might be just what your looking for in your system. Hope this helps.
I like the Scott Nixon Tube Dac. It is a non-oversampling dac. Scott supplies it with a Philips Miniwatt 6922, I prefer the Siemens 7308 which isn't expensive but produces clearly smoother sound. Price of the Tube Dac, brand new, is $475. If you're not into tubes, then the Chibi Dac is just $250. Down the road, you could convert the Chibi Dac to run off battery power (Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio does this), which will give you the cleanest power possible.

I find that non-oversampling dacs sound very coherent and have more refined top ends than most oversampling dacs. They can fall a bit short in terms of bottom octave bass but they reward you with a beautiful natural midrange and refined treble.
I agree about non-oversampling dacs and suggest that you consider one of the battery-powered Ack dAck models selling in the $300 range on Audiogon. These are the l.0 to l.3 versions (the new model is 2.0) and one could be easily resold at little loss if you don't like it. The last paragraph of Jsala's post applies perfectly to these dacs too. Good luck.
Here's a link to another NOS DAC.


It's a kit, sort of. You buy the completed board for about $140, shipped, then purchase a 12V rechargeable, sealed lead acid battery from here for about $25 shipped:


You need to put it all into a case and ... there you go.

I've got about 50 hours on mine and the mids are sounding wonderful. The bass is deep and tight. The top end is a bit retiscent, but that's what you're looking for. I've got the opposite problem, a soft sounding system, so I'm hoping it will open up more over time.

Overall though, it does sound quite good and for less than $200 it's a no-brainer.

I found this review interesting...


Another non-upsampling DAC to consider (even though you didn't say you are looking for one) is the Poth Audio:


Really quite an impressive sounding unit and a steal for the price.
Mezzrow, do you own the Poth Audio Dac? Can you tell us more about it's sound.

Thanks everyone for the input. I'm still unsure as to whether or not I "need" upsampling. I've read that upsampling can somehow push distortion up above the 30 kHz range, but I have no idea how that works. Also, some of those tube DACS only have a 16-bit D/A converter. Wouldn't I want at least 24/96 ?

That Poth Audio is extremely cheap, and is something I could purchase right now. But would it be worth it to just wait? I'm sure the DAC in my NAD T 513 DVD player may be equal with the Poth, which would make it pointless to purchase this.
I think that all the advice to check out the non-oversampling dacs is right on the money. I have a Shigaraki DAC and it is filterless and non-oversampling and I run it with a battery. It is SMOOTH and MUSICAL and just right.........like porridge.
Buy a quality USED DtoA converter. There are a lot of them out there as people have been buying single box units.
If the DAC does not oversample, wouldn't that mean that certain details in the music would be left out? I'm assuming that is the trade off: smoothness for musical detail.
Try the Musical Fidelity A3 24 dac.
Its upsamples 24/96 or 24/192.
You can find one used for about $650.00 or lower.
Non-OS vs oversampling is is like tubes vs solid state. Tubes should not sound good since they don't measure well. Conversely, SS should sound much better, given the great specs. However, when you listen, tubes can sound magical and muscial. The same is true for non-oversampling. If music were originally recorded as 24/196 then I think that a 24/196 dac would sound great. But if your source is redbook cd (16/44.1) then the sonic benefits of upsampling/oversampling are dubious (in spite of the so called technical arguements).
Alpha3: I was actually looking at the A3 24 DAC before. I found a review for this unit on Sterophile.com, but I found Sam Tellig's review to be drawn-out and useless. I'm a bit skeptical about the very basic, homemade-looking NOS DACs. The Scott Nixon is so far the most attractive NOS DAC listed above. Has anyone heard the Scott Nixon and the Music Fidelity A3 24 who can offer comments on the differences between these two?
Search on audioasylum.com. Nietzsche posted a review that included the Scott Nixon and the MF A3 24. Based on his description (and my experience) the TubeDac will be great for a bright system like yours. I also think that the newer Tube Dacs have improved speed and extension (mine has been updated by Scott). The dac no longer sounds slow, though it doesn't slam you around. If you do listen to a Tube Dac, make sure you give the tube 30 minutes to warm up before you make a final judgement.
Three weeks have passed since first listening with the Audio Mirror D-1 NOS DAC. This DAC uses four NOS DAC chips in parrellel per channel. During these few weeks, the sound has grown warmer and sweeter as can be expected with burn-in. It is a very attractive in appearance: gold body, spiked feet, a small (and not too bright) LED light of dark turqoise blue. Designed by a engineer who builds tube pre/power amps, this DAC sounds warm and open in the midrange, yet the bass has weight and power and clarity that work well with a solid state amp (I use a Gainclone). It has great image presence, with depth and width and heigth: and sometimes an image in front of the speakers, a sense of which I never had heard before. Actually, and surprising to myself,I not yet detected any sins of commission, nothing it does wrongly or weakly--so rarely have I ever found a piece of audio gear to be so completely satisfying, so right. Presently, this DAC, at half a grand, seems to be a bargain. Liking this DAC so much, I bought a second one.
Forget about upsampling vs non-upsampling and get a DAC that reclocks the incoming data stream, because timing jitter on the SPDIF input has a far more detrimental effect on the sound quality than the DAC technology.

Or the alternative is to get an external jitter box, like the Monarchy DIP to go between the DVD and the DAC. Only $100 used, and can make more difference to the sound than upgrading the DAC.
By the way, what does the rest of your system look like? What transport are you using? What is your room like? What are the acoustics like? Are your speakers toed-in or do they face straight ahead? The key to curing the brightness in your system may lie elsewhere in your system than a new dac.
Thanks again to everyone who has offered help and suggestions. The Audio Mirror looks pretty attractive; I’ve been reading good things about it.

Well, my system has been built on a low budget. I know that there are a few elements that are responsible for some of the brightness. My amp is an NAD C 340 integrated, and currently I'm using an NAD T 532 DVD player for CDs, and a Sony DVP-NC685V for SACDs. The NAD sounds MUCH better on CDs than the Sony does, but it belongs to my dad and he'll want it back in a few weeks. After which, I'm back to the Sony and another cheap Philips CD player that I have (CDC-751, actually sounds better for redbook CDs than the Sony). My speakers are a pair of Triangle Antal XS, which are the culprit of the bright sound. I've heard that these speakers go very nice with tubes, so I'm thinking that a tube DAC may be able to level out the high end. The speakers are toed in, and the manual states this is the best way to have them. The speakers are firing long ways across the room, and I have some blankets up on the walls to help with standing waves. The room is about 13' x 16', a medium-sized bedroom.

Either way, I think upgrading the DAC will be a huge improvement. Right now I'm using QED silver anniversary biwire speaker cables, but those will need to be returned eventually also. I'm using Acoustic Research Master Series interconnects. Any suggestions on cables or anything else to help improve the sound?
All speakers sound brighter when toed-in. Point the Triangles straight ahead and see if the tonal balance becomes more even. Soundstage should also seem wider and more expansive, though images larger and a bit less precise.
I had Triangle Celiuses and they were kind of bright sounding. Replaced them with Merlins and havent looked back.
I read here: http://www4.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=134464

that the unit from PothAudio is basically the same unit as the Audio Mirror D1 NOS DAC with nothing substantively different. Can anyone who has heard the unit confirm this? The price is right...
There was a thread here recently that was removed regarding the similarities between the Poth and Audio Mirror. The owner of Audio Mirror posted a response similar to what was said on the head-fi thread. I have two of the Audio Mirror units, one that has been modified by TRL. In comparison to the Poth, to the eye they seem very similar, with the obvious exception that the Audio Mirror uses the teflon caps (which according to TRL are very good). The owner of Audio Mirror has told me of other changes that he made to the circuit, but I'm not an engineer so I don't know for sure. However, one way to know for sure is to compare both of them side by side, which will also allow you to A/B for sound quality comparison. I'm ordering a Poth for that precise purpose. To my knowledge I have heard of no direct comparisons between the two products from anyone that owns both units or has heard them together.
Well, Clio09, you've hit upon my point precisely. I will be very interested to hear your A/B comparisons of the two. Please post your comparison back at some point. In advance of that, would you be good enough to cite your experience with the Audio Mirror first? It would be nice to know your impressions of the unit before reviewing the DAC-Ah. As you well know, two things that look similar to the eye may not sound anything alike to the ear.
Im all ears,

I plan on doing a review of the of the TRL vs. stock Audio Mirror. I will eventually post my impressions of the Poth vs. stock Audio Mirror as well. It may be awhile, as I'm in the process of also comparing numerous phono stages, but it will eventually be done.

The Audio Mirror has been one of my best investments. I actually did not pay full price for both units, which makes it even better. I am using a TRL modified Alesis ML9600 (CD, CDR, HD) as a transort. When I first hooked up the Audio Mirror I could tell that it was a very special unit, after about 200 hours of burn in time I was floored by how good this unit sounded. Very close to analog. Before deciding which DAC to buy I had to decide which philosophy to support. I decided that the non-upsampling/filterless designs produced by Audio Note and Sakura (47 Labs) were what I was after. I did compare the AM to Audio Note (2 models), 47 Labs, Benchmark, Bel Canto, and a couple others. With the exception of the Audio Note 2.1x, the Audio Mirror prevailed.

The Audio Mirror's sound has a liquid texture to it. The highs are well detailed and the bass suprisingly strong and clean. This is very evident on some jazz CDs I have where you can actually hear the fretting from the bass player. On rock CDs the bass drum is clearly identifiable, not muffled. The soundstage is wide, but could be wider. You may not miss the difference unless you compared the unit to one costing 3 - 4 times more. Even then it may be an inconsequential difference. If I have to fault the unit I would say the mids are somewhat distorted when really hammered, and of course while seductive, the exterior is actually cheezy in my opinion.

TRL found the unit very musical and with their modifications they have been able to address the mid range distortion. They also applied some other proprietary changes to the unit which they say has improved it greatly. I am about to embark on the A/B testing to find out just how much improvement there is. RAM is doing some mods to this unit as well, but I was not too impressed with the changes they were making.

Does anyone have any other DACs they would like to mention that are Mid-Priced (Max $600) and warm sounding? I'm battling brightness and mid-range glare in my system. I'm looking to address other areas in my system that may be the cause but should the DAC need to be changed I'd like to know what options are out there.

Thanks in advance.

Jedinite24, you should look at a used Monarchy NM24. It is a 24/96 tube dac, going for $800 or so. There are plenty of reviews around on the Web. If you want a new one you should contact them directly for pricing, it's usually much less than the listed price.
x2 Ritrau's recommendation of the NM24. Warm as advertised and very very flexible -- give you both SS and tube DAC optionss, plus a decent preamp stage which you can use, or not.
Hey Ritrau and Soundgasm

Thanks a lot for the suggestion and recommendations for the Monarcy Audio NM24. Normally I'm really hesitant to buy an all-in-one type of component but man oh man just doing some quick checks on the MA website and this forum the NM24 is the real deal. I like having the ability to choose b/w both the Tube and SS DAC. I have more research to do.

Thanks again.
Wow a 5 year old thread of mine. My how my system has changed since I posted this. But as for your question, I've got a PS Audio Digital Link III which I find to be pretty smooth sounding. I don't know if I'd call it overly warm, but it does have a very engaging sound to it.

I have owned the Monarchy M-24 for a few years. It's a great DAC, and the preamp section ain't bad either should you choose to use it.

Thanks Dave for the input.

Man do I have a lot of thinking to do. I've found an NM24 for little over $1100 but I'm really attached to my McCormack TLC-1 Deluxe Preamp and don't want to part with it. I can't justify to myself (yet) paying for the NM24 and having the TLC-1 Deluxe too when the NM24 can work as a preamp too.

Thanks again.
I second the MF A3.24 DAC, it's warm smooth yet has classy high frequency extension that is very easy on the ears. I do miss it at times since I bought the Benchmark DAC1 HDR for its balanced outputs to my new amp.