Musical yet Detailed DAC Around $700

I'm looking for a DAC in the $700 range to match or better the sound I've been getting from my Arcam Alpha 9 CD player. The Alpha 9 uses the original Ring DAC and is known for it's smooth, detailed, musical sound. I listen to a wide variety of music, from James Taylor to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and all types of jazz.

My source is a new Mac Mini. I've read a lot of debate about the the merits of Coax and USB interfaces to this computer. I not really concerned whether my new DAC is USB or coax and I don't really want to go there. For coax use, I have a Theta jitter reduction unit which has been working really well with the Musical Fidelity X DAC (original can version) that I've been using. I feel confident that I can get excellent sound from either style of DAC. My music is all ripped into Apple lossless from the original CD's so the quality should be CD quality.

My question here is mainly concerned about the sound of the different DAC's that I see available. I like a listenable, non-analytic sound, best described as a combination of "tube-like liquidity" and "transistor-like detail". I also like equipment that is described as musical and non-fatiguing, however I don't want to give up too much detail. Am I asking too much?

I'm also a little afraid to get back into tubes because I sometimes like to leave the equipment on overnight and also the cost of NOS tubes seems to keep going up. However I will consider a tube DAC if it sounds good using modern, reasonably priced tubes.

My system consists of Musical Fidelity A3.2CR preamp, A3CR amp, ProAc Response 2.5 speakers, Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables and Audioquest IC's.

There seems to be a nice list of DAC's that fit my needs. I think I'd be happy with any of the ones on this list. Can anyone comment on the relative sounds of these or offer some advice? (A'goners are the BEST!)

Wavelength Brick (tube)
Bel Canto DAC2
PS Audio Digital Link III
Apogee Mini
Audio Note 1.1x
Audio Research DAC 2
UltraFi Iroc (tube?)

There are a couple more DACs I could get for about $1000. This would be a little above my threshold of pain. I'm wondering if the extra money would be well-spent, considering the rest of my system, or should I put that money towards a power conditioner and power cables.

MF Tri-Vista
Kora Hermes (tube)

Thanks in advance
add the Benchmark (without the usb), TADAC, and MHDT Labs Paridesa or Havana to your list. I really liked the PS Audio, and I now have the Havana and love it.
I have made the choice of going to an Apogee Mini DAC after several weeks of auditioning. I use it with the optional FireWire connection available on the Apogee. I had been using a USB DAC running off the Mac Mini that I have been satisfied with for several years. Now Apogee has changed all that. The fact that the Apogee DAC is available through Guitar Center with a 30-day money-back guarantee makes it easy to try before you buy. I e-mailed the MHDT Gang about their return policy and received no answer. I see nothing on their website. Besides, having warranty service and support from the many Apogee dealers was important.

My decision to keep the Apogee was mainly based upon the fact that there seems so much more flow and ease to the music that it just sweeps me up and critical listening is soon given up for emotional involvement. It also has dynamics that were surprising. The flexibility was another factor given that I can change the sample rate on the fly using the Mac Mini's Midi Audio control in the Utilities folder. In that way I can take advantage of the new hi-res downloads on line. I have tried the new Reference Recordings HRx issues and they sound great. The other thing is that the Apogee can be run off battery power. Since I have a battery power source from Audio Magus to power my T-amps, I will be able to raise the bar that much more. I have yet to try it because what I am hearing now is so captivating.

In essence, use your own ears and try out any of the DACs that have a money-back satisfaction guarantee.

Good luck and happy hunting.
During the last year I have owned the MF X-DACv3, Bel Canto DAC2 and the PS Audio DL-III. I also own the Arcam CD-23 which I think is wonderful.
Up front, I did not care for the Musical Fidelity dac. The Bel Canto and PS Audio dacs on the other hand, are both very good IMO. For sonics, I prefer the PS Audio by a tad. For ergonomics the PS Audio is the clear winner with balanced outputs and USB input as extra bonuses.
The problem is besting your Arcam. Assuming the sonics of the Alpha 9 and CD-23 are close, neither of the dacs is as good.
Timrhu - This gives me pause for thought. You've been down a similar path. Have you heard of any DAC that might match the CD-23? As always, audiophiles hate to go backwards.
Have you heard of any DAC that might match the CD-23?
No I haven't heard a dac that sounds as good as the CD-23. The PS Audio comes close when I use the balanced outputs but not through the RCA jacks. Not sure if it's the amp or the dac but it is more robust and lifelike through balanced.
Not sure how much you need to spend to get there as I haven't gone that far. I have three cdps, the Arcam, a Resolution Audio CD-50 and an Audio Refinement Complete. The PS Audio is better than the Audio Refinement. Good luck with your search.
Although you would have to buy used to hit the price point that you are after, the Lavry Black DA10 would likely be pleasing to your ears. I have a CD23T as well as a Squeezebox/Lavry combo in my system and the Lavry does a great job in comparison to the Arcam. Admittedly, I would not part with my Arcam player(I have a nice collection of HDCD's) at this point but the Lavry has a nice mix of detail and musicality which is a similar balance to what the CD23T has. I would say that the Arcam has a touch more sparkle up top and the Lavry has more impact on the bottom end but overall they are both really fun to listen to.
I own a Channel Islands Audio VDA 2 with optional VAC 1 power supply. This DAC is KILLER, in fact I listened to the Benchmark several times before buying a DAC and chose the VDA 2 based on several forum member recommendations and I'm glad I did, it is a better DAC in my opinion. Can't be beat for the money.
I find the Benchmark DAC1 very tuneful and clear with exceptional instrument placement, which translates into a very musical experience for me.
iyou can find a Kora,hermes,would be the last DAC you ever buy I have audition many DAC ranging from $1500 to $10,000, and the Kora,is hands down, the more natural and realistic sounding DAC, with NOS,amperex tubes,is scary real, no other DAC can match its, musicality and sweetnes. can be found in the used market for about $1100, just my two cents, regards:
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I highly recommend the TEAC UD 500 series of DACs they all come with a pre-amp and headphone amp. NT 500 series are streamers. They are small form factor and build like a tank. You should be able to get a used UD 503 at a good price. DSD upsampling included. UD 505X and UD 505 are the new models.