Need help choosing a new DAC

With so many options for DACs these days, I'm having a hard time deciding on a new DAC.  Currently considering a MHDT Orchid or Pagoda, Denafrips Pontus II, Benchmark DAC3,  Schitt Yggdrasil, or Audio Mirror Tubadour III SE.  I don't need any options such as volume control, BT, or MQA.  I also prefer musicality over measurements.  I'm currently using a SMSL SU-9, which will be moved over to my office system.  I'm tired of moving it back and forth between systems. My bank account prefers the cost of the Orchid since the other options cost up to twice as much, but I can go as high as $2500.  I mostly steam Qobuz thru a Raspberry Pi 4, but also use a Cambridge Audio CXC v2 CD transport on occasion.  My preamp is a Don Sachs DS2 tube preamp going into a D-Sonic m3a-1200s amp feeding "Gunned" MMGs.  I mostly listen to the Grateful Dead, rock, jazz, and acoustic music. Which DAC should I get and are the any others I should look at? 


Benchmark dacs sound great and look at used Dacs here on Agon and get a great one for 30-50% off. Mytek, Ayre, Benchmark you cant go wrong. Read Stereophile Dac reviews which will clear things up some. 

I’ve had a Chord Qutest for a while and recently bought an MDHT Orchid because I was curious how an R2R with tube output would compare to a Delta Sigma FPGA. It was much closer than I thought it would be. I didn’t use the stock tube for long on the Orchid, opting for an adapter and a NOS Amperex 6DJ8. It gave it a little more body. There’s a thread all about tube rolling Orchids that might help you tailor your preferred sound. The biggest differences to me were the Orchid seemed a little more rolled off at the top, but not in a way that made it sound incorrect. I actually ended up changing from the incisive to the warm filter on the Qutest. Before hearing the Orchid I hadn’t even considered it. The Qutest still seems a little more detailed and with a slightly larger soundstage. With some hi-res tracks off Qobuz the Orchid got confused and emphasized some tape hiss from old masters. If I limited Qobuz to redbook the Orchid was actually a little quieter than the Qutest for the same tracks. Very minor, but the whole reason I got it was to compare. Though I plan on keeping both, if I had to give up one I’d keep the Qutest. I think I have a bias toward detail. Comparing the two DACs made me realize this. I do have the Orchid connected to my CD transport though. My point is you may not figure out what you want until you try it. I think if I had bought the Orchid first, I would have been disappointed by the Qutest, but mostly as a value proposition. Need to save up my nickels to try a Sonnet Morpheus next.

I’m a diehard Yggdrasil fan, and listen to a lot of live Dead recordings on Quboz. This is also not a flavor of the month DAC, and is made in America to boot. Schiit stands behind their products, too.

I have the Pontus ll running XLR to my Hegel H390 and love it! 
All the best.


Hey Terrapin,

Fellow Deadhead here.  While you’ve gotten some excellent advice here so far, I’ll put in a vote for a vintage DAC that support HDCD.  All of the official releases, new box sets, Dick’s and Dave’s Picks releases are still encoded with it.  Does it make a huge difference?  I don’t know, but there’s a reason they still master these tracks with it about 20 years after the heyday of Pacific Microsonics (pre Microsoft).  There’s maybe something a bit psychosomatic about seeing the HDCD light illuminate when you pop on a disc.  I’ve only heard the PMD100 version DACs, never the PMD200 version.  Not many DACs or disc spinners have that option.  You can find killer DACs for 1/4 your budget too.  I’ve owned modern DACs, but none sound as good to my ears as the UA20400 or BB PCM63 based DACs.  I live quite happily with my mid-90’s era DACs with cutting edge technology of the day.   I may be a little out of step, but man they bring a smile to my face.  Favorite DACs include the Proceed DAP, Parasound 2000, Classe, Sonic Frontiers and many others.  Magnificent imaging and soundstage depth.  Give them a try!  The money you save can buy you the next 10 years of Dave’s Picks.  :^)