Sounds like you should stick to analog at that budget.
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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.
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...
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
singinthebluesIf you want organic / real / analogue sounding, find a used "good reviewed" R2R dac with with volume control ability.
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.
Take your $1500 and buy a lot of concert tickets.
$5k might get you close"
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.
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.