Most organic / real / analogue sounding DAC (ideally with Volume Control) for $1500??????


I’d say I’m completely jaded with digital Hifi.   All sounds so thin & clinical.

I people raving about Benchmark DACs & Chord Mojos etc. They sound like hell to me.   Nothing at all like real live voices & instruments.

I’ve been reading about R2R Ladders & NOS.   The descriptions match what I’m looking for.   I want natural sound that makes me forget about Hifi & just listen to the music.
like Reel to Reel without the faff.

Lifelike is my aim, but I certainly prefer a warm, dark sound over clinical.

Don't need a load of inputs.  Only need 2 or 3.
I don’t have any analog sources, so prefer the DAC to have Volume Control to eliminate the need for a Pre Amp.   However, if the best sounding DACs don’t have Volume Control & there are clear sonic benefits to having a Preamp, then I could be persuaded.

I’m in UK btw, so need brands that ship to UK.


Suggestions please?


Thanks

singintheblues
Post removed 
Sounds like you should stick to analog at that budget.  
People that claim a R2R DAC sounds better than a DeltaSigma are deluded! I personally find them indistinguishable! Either type can be made to work fine! It's the implementation (input stage, power supply, output stage) that is most important!
Excuse me?You want Live sounding go see a concert or go to a bar.
Everyone may tell you that the DAC they own does the trick, and that’s why they own it.

I will too. The $1500 L.K.S. (Chinese brand-ships everywhere).  Do a search. It gives me the same pleasure as my very much more expensive analog TT set-up.

But just like a TT needs its arms cartridges, speed stabilizers, platform and so on, so a DAC needs to be fed a very good digital signal. And digital is just not only 1s and 0s.

Simply buying a good DAC and playing CDs may not do it for you. It needs to be thought out and worked on, just like analog. And routing it out through a tube preamp can help as well.

You can do it all or find someone at a good brick and mortar who can do it for you.
Take your $1500 and buy a lot of concert tickets.

$5k might get you close. 
@ singintheblues
In my experience digital sources can produce a very life like sound.
You are asking for the ‘best’ DAC at a price point and while I can’t answer this in general I have been stunned how good the Jolida/Black Ice Audio Glass FX Tube DAC is.
I am listening to it for a couple of weeks now and it would definitely be worth a try. Complete preamp with decent volume control if you have only digital sources, and a very decent WiFi implementation (when fed through ROON indistinguishable from USB or Toslink.
Can be upgraded if desired.
My other DACs I listen to daily include OPPO 205 and DSPeaker X4. Gravitating a lot to the Black Ice lately...

MDHT Orchid or Pagoda, however, no volume control.
Ayre Codex.
Volume when run as a preamp.
Though you could adjust volume through a streaming app. when used as a DAC.
Used, under $1K.

B
Pure Audio Lotus 5. In my all tube system it beat the hell out of the MDHT Orchid and Pagoda as well as the Denafrips Pontus and it does have a volume control on the remote. I don't know how well it will go with a SS system though.
Mhdt balance pagoda ! Pure analog without breaking your bank for 2k new 
Schiit Yggdrasil.  $2500.  Give it a look.  Love mine.  Exceeded my expectations...
I’ve had great luck using the teac nt505 as a streamer and a dac.

Pretty difficult to best a dual ak4497 dac on paper or with the ear.
U.K. 
Take a look at Graham Slee's Majestic it fits what you are looking for, it's reasonably priced and right now it sounds like Phil Collins is in my music room. Contact them and they'll loan you one for a couple of weeks to try out.
I sold my Schiit Yggdrasil DAC in favor of my Border Patrol SEi ($1,425), and it was the best audio decision I've made.  
I’ve had good luck with my used Bel Canto 2.7 DAC preamp.   It has a KNOB.  I don’t understand how anybody can live without a volume knob.   
 I use a Schiit Gungnir Multi Bit, at $1299.USD, its nice and music flows out of it,  I will say its a little on the lean side though but over all nice for the money. 
If you live in UK you may try to find Musical Fidelity Tri Vista 21 on second hand market for 500-700£. Then send it to Pink Faun for the upgrade (new capacitors etc). In total this will cost you less than 1000£ and you'll have a DAC which compares to DACs costing 5000£. I've used this with EAR 834L preamplifier and that combo was the most analog experience I've had so far in digital world. Alternatively, you'll need to raise your budget and purchase EAR Acute Classic. Tim de Paravicini's personal goal was to create the most analog sounding CD player and DAC ever built on this planet.
Chord TT2(with filter set to 4).  M-Scaler if you want even more real sound.
Digital cables do matter-I use Danacable and QED.
The romantic sounding tube amps are must for digital.
And speakers of course-I founded Proacs are the best,but Harbeth,Spendors,Stirling and
Sonus Fabers are options too.
And cables of course-copper Cardas,Purist,Kimber.
Only system approach works...

Sounds like you want to check out Lampizator. Tube DACs that were developed with exactly what you are describing in mind. For your budget you could pick up a lower end model, or something a little better second hand. 
I love my RME ADI-2 DAC. it is about $1,200.00. The best thing about it is it has a fully adjustable equalizer you can adjust to any room. Also has great headphone amp. I have a Schiit Magni headphone amp that I just quit using. The only bad thing is that it has so many variable settings. It took me months to get it dialed in the way I like it. Once you do, it's really good. A good friend of mine has a Chord Hugo 2 and is really thinking about making a change. He brought his Focal Stellia headphones over and was shocked how good they sounded with the ADI. I have Klipsch HP-3's that also sound great.
Aqua La Voce - a bit above your budget, but worth considering. Beautiful analogue sound made in Italy :)
I have been a digital refusenik for decades, fully believing that nothing could ever come close to the experience of listening to vinyl  on a decent system. For me, digital was just a matter of convenience — for background listening on a Sonos system. But when I wanted to really immerse myself in a recording, it had to be vinyl. A few months ago, my analogue world was rocked: I decided to improve my Sonos streaming experience by getting a Wyred4Sound modified Port and a W4S DAC 2v2SE. All I can say is: I was wrong about digital. Yes, playing original vinyl  from the pre-digital era still sounds better than the digital versions, but that has to do with the often-inferior digital masters that are used as source. Most of the time, doing A/B tests there is little or no  difference — as long as I’m streaming CD quality — eg the “new” Neil Young record: if anyone was going to be careful about how his music is distributed, it’s Neil. The album was recorded and mastered in the seventies - so pure analogue. But the digital and vinyl versions are completely indistinguishable on my system. So one possibility, while remaining in your price range would be the lowest priced W4S DAC: the company provides an amazing upgrade path should you wish to spend more at a future date, without having to start with an entirely new DAC.
You could try the jolida or now black ice dac. It has a volume control that is for the headphone Jack however. It is a Tubed dac that has received some great reviews. Alternatively, you could grab the border patrol dac with a Tubed power supply section, also great reviews but lacks a volume control entirely. 
+3 for the Border patrol.  +2 for the Ayre Codex (with volume control).  Both sound very analog which is why I bought them.  A cheaper alternative is the Chord Mojo (very analog sound and volume control).
Download the HQPlayer trial.  It makes my digital as close to vinyl that I have yet heard
Without volume control but the MHDT Pagoda which is a tube based PCM 1704 NOS R2R Dac is very detailed but analog sounding and one incredible DAC.  Can pick them up for $1500 with an extra tube to roll. The Orchid also very nice but it is limited to 16/44.  

Ayre Codex or QB-9 used. Nothing harsh or lean about these. Aqua LaVoce also fantastic but $3000+
This is always confusing to me why are you looking for digital that sounds like analog? The Benchmark DAC3 gives you what's on the recording without coloration or distortion. Perhaps it's  the rest of your system. If you don't want accurate  then use vinyl or try one of these DACs like Border Patrol that distorts the crap out of the signal. 
OP, I had the same objective--getting digital to sound more lifelike, more analog, and easier on the ears (less fatigue).  I love my Doge Audio DAC.  It has all the features you are seeking. 

https://doge.audio/product/doge-7-tube-dac/

The company owner and chief engineer left Jolida years back because he wanted to be closer to his family AND he wanted Jolida to build even higher quality product.   I've built some stuff over the last 5 years and I can tell you that the internal components of this product are great.  

Note this is a tube DAC.
I also like Border Patrol products cited above.  
Metrum is definitely worth looking at the Octave is the most organic DAC that I've experienced.  Pretty sure there is a model with volume control not sure if it's in your budget or not but definitely worth looking into.
With all other things the same; auralic Aries Mini feeding dac feeding Line Magnetic 508ia feeding Peak Consult Princess Signatures through Auditorium A23 cable, the recent upgrade from Chord Mojo to Chord Qutest was eye opening indeed. For $1,695 the Qutest added such remarkable detail, deeper stage and an analog continuity that I just don’t want to leave the room. Vocals in particular are reaching live quality ex: Neil Young at Massey Hall, it’s like I’m there.
Went From Bel Canto 1.7 to 2.7 to Schitt Yggdrasil. The Yggdrasil as mentioned does not have a volume control, and I honestly believe you need a warm/non clinical power amp and tube line stage to have all work in unison. 
I’d go used on the dacs. I have not heard the Ayre Codex. Though it gets a lot of great reviews / recommendations. Maybe about 1,100 to 1,500 USD. Same as the Yggdrasil 
RME ADI-2 fs with Teddy Pardo power supply is very good. Even with stock power supply it’s a great little unit but add the Teddy Pardo and it definitely steps it up and with both is within your budget and has volume. Very neutral but with no fatigue, so not sure if that’s analog enough or not.
Maybe a used Metrum Acoustics Hex or Jade could be had in that price range. NOS R2R ladder by the R2R Guru Cees Ruetenburg. Very analogue sounding, nice sound stage. The Jade has a volume control
Lifelike is my aim, but I certainly prefer a warm, dark sound over clinical.

Life like = real musical prescence = High Fidelity, 
Warm is contrary to this imaging. 
Life like = cold, icy, finely deatiled, nuanced, instrumental separation, human voice , piano voiced perfectly. 
My Cayin CD17 with some Mundorf Silver caps and Sparkoslabs Descrete opamps have some magic of analogue,,, More analogue will flow through , once i get the Jadis DPL modded with new M caps next week.
Its a very fine cd player, however mods are needed, All cdp's need mods to catch up with the best phono players. 
I hate warm/dark,,I do my best to find ways to eliminate warm. And I am acheiving that goal lately. 
To me warm =  certain mid fq's, extended, too forward, too agressive. 

Each his own I guess. I find alot of british and american components to exhibit these defects of warm coloration.
Which is why none of my components are from either country of origin.
Try the Cayin CD17 Mark2 for analogue like sound reproduction. 
A bit more on the used market ($2500) but... PS Audio DirectStream Junior
singintheblues
Most organic / real / analogue sounding DAC (ideally with Volume Control) for $1500??????
If you want  organic / real / analogue sounding, find a used "good reviewed" R2R dac with with volume control ability.

Cheers George    
Another vote for the Ayre QB-9.  It still holds it's own against much pricier DACs.
MYTEK Brooklyn DAC +
It’s a digital/analog preamp and DAC. 
It also has a phono stage with MC and MM loading options. 
Also, if you stream Audirvana or Roon the apps control the volume NATIVELY on the preamp via your device. I don’t know of many other integrated digital front ends that do that. I bought one for about $1700 brand new from the North American MYTEK distributor in NY. 
As far as the sound goes. It really depends on the rest of your system. I’m sure if you used it to feed a SET amp and a pair of Klipsch Heresys it would sound plenty analog. 
I’ve been living with this DAC for a while and I’m well happy with it. 
Thanks for all the suggestions.  Some interesting stuff, which I will refer back to.

I’ve ordered a Denafrips Ares 2.   No Volume Control, but I’m hearing good things about them.   

I’ll be trying as many Pre Amps as I can get my hands on.
"skypunk97 posts
07-25-2020 8:13pm
Take your $1500 and buy a lot of concert tickets.
$5k might get you close"
__________"limomangus321 posts
07-25-2020 10:56am
Excuse me?You want Live sounding go see a concert or go to a bar"
_______________

In this hobby, you're never more than a monkey poo toss away from this cage.


I believe you are better off with the DAC preamp approach. What is budget for the preamp? What amp are you using?
Dacs have very high output. All you need is a passive potentiometer. The best is a Wavac Att-s which can usually be found below £2k. I‘d advise against active preamps because they all add their own sound signature. Really good preamps are hideously expensive.
Go used and buy a Bel Canto 3.5 with VBS.  Has a variable output.  It replaced my Threshold FET ten and Meridian DAC.  Look it up on Stereophile.
Dacs have very high output. All you need is a passive potentiometer. The best is a Wavac Att-s which can usually be found below £2k. I‘d advise against active preamps because they all add their own sound signature. Really good preamps are hideously expensive.
All good except for the $2,700.00 for a passive preamp!!!, that’s ludicrous, "snake oil" stuff at that pricing!
Just get one of these instead for a fraction of the price, switched precision wafer board series/shunt (best) resistors and silver/gold contacts RCA’s.
https://goldpt.com/sa4.html

Cheers George



I probably have to agree with 3 easy on this one. Chord and Benchmark are two of my go to brands. I'd love to spring for a dCS system but can't swing it right now financially.