"Best" DAC for a grand or less

I am looking for a DAC for under a grand . I want something to favor the bass side ,as now my system is a bit on the bright side.I would like it to have a usb port also.My system now is......
Hafler pre amp
Counterpoint solid 1a amp (100 watts)
Nad 515 cd player
Tekton Lore speakers
"Best" is very subjective, but here are some good audition candidates in that price range:
Eastern Electric Minimax
Wyred4Sound DAC1
Arcam rDAC3

You have super taste. Excellent system.
Emotiva XDA-1
Made in UK Rega Dac
This unit has impressed myself as well as many folks since its release.
Sleek heavy build quality Offers a robust power supply four adjustable input filters.
One of the four should complement your system to
your preference.
Yes I am a dealer for Rega
Best Johnnyr
New Rega DAC
A used Benchmark DAC 1 can be had for under $1,000. This is equal to any on the market at any price. Read this review http://theaudiocritic.com/plog/index.php?op=ViewArticle&articleId=30&blogId=1 f you are skeptical.

Don't fall for the hype. Just get the most accurate reproduction.
Eastern Electric Minimax DAC. This is the one to beat at under a grand...
If the Rega DAC sounds anything like the Apollo CD player, go for it...
The Rega DAC also has XLR outputs!
Burson HA 160D. I was having the same problem with my 2ry system- too bright. I've only had the device for a week so it's not "broken in" by maker's recommendation. Yet already, I'm very happy with the system's sound with the unit in place. At $1100, it's eesentially in your price range- do audition it. Won't win any appearance contests, but fixed my system's digititis.
>>04-09-11: Chicagojtw
A used Benchmark DAC 1 can be had for under $1,000. This is equal to any on the market at any price.<<

No, it is not.

I suspect you haven't heard some of the upper tier dacs.

Killer value and flexibility minus any bragging rights: the amazing and inexpensive Cambridge Audio DacMagic. Try it before spending a lot more for small (if any) improvements. You can always sell it if you don't like it!
For USB DACs, dbaudiolabs has a Tranquility DAC (not the Tranquility SE) that imho is an outstanding value under $1k.

For a little bit more money, the Tranquility SE is simply a joy to own and use. I have both on separate, different systems, and the experience is amazing, a day to day pleaser.

Call Eric Hider of dbaudiolabs. I've found him to be very knowledgeable and helpful.

Historically, the little iRoc is an incredible value for the money (find one used here on the audiogon.

Don't forget the added decisions and experimentation related to interconnect cabling (single ended and especially USB) as well as power cable. In addition, a 2010 MacMini is an absolute must if you are to get the best from your DAC.

:) listening,


Read the article I linked above. There is no possible audible improvement over the DAC1. When the best piece of test equipment in the world says the DAC1 kicks out a straight line frequency response with a noise floor of below -120 Dbs...you're not arguing about sound but purchase price and the attractiveness of the case.
There is no possible audible improvement over the DAC1
Is this statement to be taken seriously or is this guy just trying to add some humor? Have we returned to the days of choosing a product solely on electronic instrument measurements? Thank you Mr. Hirsch.

For $400-600, a favorite DAC of mine over the years is the Counterpoint DA10. This is an extraordinary product that outperformed others that I owned at higher cost. I sold it when I got the Manley and VTL Reference DACs. I regretted selling the DA10 and thus bought another as part of a second system. Look for one with the UltraAnalog chip as this was the chipset used in all the great DACs in the mid-late 90s.

Another favorite DAC is the Classe DAC1. This typically runs in the $900-1100 range. And no surprise, it also uses the UltraAnalog chip.
I had a Benchmark home for a few weeks (the HDR version, so a pretty recent model). Maybe it's the accuracy that I couldn't take. I found it too lean and the highs somewhat dry and -- for want of a better term -- squeaky. (I can hear Jack Nicholson screaming, "You can't handle the truth!")

I would have been using it to feed a BAT VK-250SE at the time.

I'm currently using a Neko D100.
how about refining the question to include only tubed dacs under $1000. The minimax is one. i own it.

the paradisea is another. any others ?
A Benchmark DAC1 could be your answer. I've heard, and have had, many dacs and love the Benchmark, as do numerous pro and audiophile reviewers. Use a good source and a fine digital cable, add an upscale power cord and use a power conditioner, and you will be rewarded with outstanding results.

I've heard many DACs at $1k and under. Not all, but many. I chose the Rega DAC. It was easily the best DAC I've heard in that range. Contrary to what was said about it earlier, it does NOT have XLR - in or out. Someone in another thread mentioned high-res through USB. Doesn't do that either. It does high-res through coax and optical though.

I owned the Rega Apollo and looked for a $1k DAC that would beat it for a long time. No surprise that the Rega DAC does everything the Apollo did, but on a higher level across the board. I haven't owned a Saturn and didn't hear the DAC and Saturn side by side, but by all reports the DAC is equal to it. A little different, but equal in quality of sound.

The Rega DAC isn't the most detailed DAC out there. It won't knock down the walls and ceiling in soundstaging. It does an average to above average job with that stuff. What it does best is make sense out of music. Call it PRaT or whatever you will. Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing is a great song, but sonically it's a mess. Sounds jumbled and thrown together. Not so with the Rega DAC in my system. I had to listen to it 3 times in a row the first time I heard it through the DAC, because I've never heard it sound so good. The DAC sounds like a great turntable to my ears. Not some warmed over and overly smooth turntable, but a great turntable without the pops, clicks, and groove distortion.

The Benchmark DACs are excellent IMO. They just sound too thin, lean, and a bit bleached to my ears.

The Arcam rDAC is great for the money. I don't think there's any competition for it at it's price. But it's no where near as good as the Rega DAC. Heard them side by side when I bought the Rega. If my budget wouldn't go past the rDAC's price, I'd very happily own it. Far better than the DAC Magic and V-DAC IMO.

The Simaudio D100 is excellent too. I briefly heard it, so no long opinion of it. It didn't do anything wrong, and was very musical. Definitely worth looking into IMO.

Just some thoughts. I haven't heard any tube DACs. I stay far away from tubes, as my OCD wouldn't get along with constantly wanting to try new tubes and wonder how much tube life is left.

No, dead serious. The question is whether you want "accuracy" or some other sound output. If you like sound coloration, that's all well and good. I'm sure there are numerous tube DACs, for example, that offer that. Extreme accuracy may come off as "brittle" or "sharp-edged." But it's simply a mirror of the recording, rather than an interpretation.

The advantage of the DAC1 is it uses the LM4562, which has vanishingly low distortion and noise levels. Benchmark has assembled the unit with extraordinary care so that the only sonic degradation is from the gain stage--and even that is so small as to be immaterial.
Chicagojtw, opamps like LM4562 use tons of negative feedback to get low distortion levels. Vanishingly low THD ( 110 dB) really doesn't correlate with accurate sound according to many makers of high end DACs, although they are compelled to have really good numbers to satisfy people like you. I have to agree them. I have a tube amp where you can adjust the negative feedback; up to certain point, negative feedback can be a good thing (may be up to 20 dB on my amp), but if I go higher, the more congested and thin the sound gets and the harmonic information gets lost. Now my understanding is some opamps use over 100 dB of negative feedback. The thin bright sound usually used to describe the Benchmark probably has a lot to do with opamps in the output stage. I attend live unamplified concerts and play acoustic guitar. DACs like Benchmark do not sound natural/accurate to me. A DAC with a simple discrete or correctly executed tubed output stage sound more natural/accurate to me. All DAC manufactures make components that measure very well (flat FR, vanishingly low THD, high S/N (usually >110 dB for most DACs). I really don't hear a correlation between these measurements and actual sound quality, as I have heard piss poor sound reproduction from DACs with extremely good specs.
>>04-10-11: Chicagojtw
Read the article I linked above.<<

I could care less about what some reviewer or magazine prints. I prefer to listen.

>>There is no possible audible improvement over the DAC1.<<

Then you haven't heard dacs from DSS, Audio Note (dealer disclaimer), Wavelength, Esoteric (dealer disclaimer), and APL Hifi.

Basically, you're a rookie.
Chicago, the Benchmark DAC1 is the best...if you like bland and thin sound.

To the OP, check out W4S and Burson's new DAC, both sound very good for the $.
the paradisea is another. any others ?

Glad to see this one being listed. I do hope MHDT lab still produces outstanding product at affordable prices, I understand they came out with newer models. Great sense of musicality is their strength which hardly can be matched regardless of price.
I recently purchased a Havana NOS DAC and am thrilled with it. It has a tube buffer but unlike the Paradesea which uses an op amp in the output it is eliminated in the Havana, this has got to make some difference in the sound between the two IMHO. The best under 1K? I'm not going there since I haven't heard many of the current ones in this price range but it should be a safe bet if you are looking for natural timbers, excellent resolution and non fatiguing sound at an affordable price. It really draws you into the music, amazing. It is a huge improvement over the Bel Canto 1.1 it replaced.

BTW, the sound is both fuller with an improvement in bass without any undue emphasis.
"The question is whether you want "accuracy" or some other sound output. If you like sound coloration, that's all well and good. I'm sure there are numerous tube DACs, for example, that offer that. Extreme accuracy may come off as "brittle" or "sharp-edged." But it's simply a mirror of the recording, rather than an interpretation."

I'm not too sure about that chicagojtw. You have me curious though, do you always look at measurements when considering audio purchases or do you look at measurements and use your ears?

Julian Hirsch used the same basis in his useless reviews of audio components. Basically all he did was measurements and came to a preconceived conclusion that if the measurements were the same it sounded the same. It seems he clearly couldn't differentiate between the sound of components he reviewed or did his measurements sway him away from critical listening?

You don't really believe that brittle and sharp edge sound could possibly relate to design issues?

The question posed was, What are the good DACs for under $1,000? I think when it comes to digital sound, what you want, first and foremost is accuracy. To a great extent, this would go for all source equipment.

If you want to color the sound of your source equipment with your preamp or amp, fine. But why not start with an accurate representation of the signal first? This approach will also yield a more controllable, consistent output across all your sources.

My philosophy, since you asked, is simple. Generally what I do is buy used equipment on the basis of specs and, to a lesser extent, reviews. I buy online, listen at home and if I'm not satisfied, I sell the equipment. YMMV.

Also, I am certainly not opposed to colored sound if that's what you like. The problem with the marketing of all high-end audio is that creating distinctions between various gear requires either added color, deviations from response curves, distortion or noise variation. If you start with clear and accurate you will always know what you are getting.
Kbarkamian: My bad.

I was thinking of the Musical Fidelity M1 DAC (from $699) as shown in the recent Audio Advisor catalog. The Rega DAC is on the next page.

C'mon Rega; Get with the XLR already!
I'm a DAC rookie, and want to get a DAC. I have a tube pre (Lamm LL2D) and tube amp (McIntosh MC275), would I still benefit from a tubed DAC? I am leaning towards SS DAC, but that's from pure speculation as I haven't tried any (BTW, can't audition around here...). Hopefully more experienced members can provide some guidance.

Chicago , you only stated half my question . The rest was , I was looking for added bass, if that is possible from a dac.
It appears to be silly to waste more energy on the "accuracy from specifications" nonsense.

Another DAC that comes to mind for <$1000 is the Sonic Frontiers SFD1 and 2 series. This is from the same time as the Processor 3 series which was highly received by many viewers.....and also used the UltraAnalog chip set. 8-)
How about the Grant Fidelity DAC-09? It's around $300.
Chicagojtw, you may be confusing thin, bright sound with accuracy, unless you're listening to Britny Spears all the time.
Thanks for all the suggestions everyone . I was wondering though about the Havana , I read it does not convert HDCD . So ,... stupid question , but does that mean no sound from them ,or those cd's will not benefit from that DAC?
I can only tell you that it reads and plays HDCD maybe some of the information is missing but if that is the case I certainly can't hear it. Sounds great! bty about the bass, this unit is still breaking in and I must say that the bass is improving dramatically but not in an exaggerated way as stated above. I am very sensitive to overcooked bass, don't want it don't like it but some to, YMMV
It appears to be silly to waste more energy on the "accuracy from specifications" nonsense.

You are definitely correct from your perspective that "accuracy from specifications" is nonsense - it is also silly for any of us to "fight" about this.

However, to be fair, some few people do value accuracy enough to give it a high weighting in their equipment selection criteria and do not regard specifications and measured performance as nonsense.

Specifications and measured performance are rather important in our modern world. Without it we would not even be here on this forum chatting via the internet.

To give an example, I wish the Mark Levinson system in my car was designed with more attention to accuracy - because quite frankly the darn thing is just an incredibly expensive "19 speaker" boom box. However to most people's tastes it sounds awesome.
Certainly the Benchmark is not the only DAC that measures flat or that has super-low distortion. I'm sure that most of the DACs already mentioned measure well.
There are SO many variables that finally, how a DAC measures is academic. It's how it SOUNDS that matters, in the CONTEXT of the system's synergy. A Dac's ''flaws'' (or lack of ''measurement'') may actually contribute to the overall musical experience this way.

Looking at it this way, the Dac is not unlike any other piece of gear in the system as the results will vary. And we have not even touched on musical biases and tastes. Why complicate things?
I don't know if it is the best but my Matrix Mini-i is pretty good. Good enough for me to sell my MSB Gold Link III. It now come with a remote contol, has balanced ins and outs, usb, AES, toslink and SPDIF, along with a headphone amp. All this for less than $350.00.
"There are SO many variables that finally, how a DAC measures is academic. It's how it SOUNDS that matters, in the CONTEXT of the system's synergy. A Dac's ''flaws'' (or lack of ''measurement'') may actually contribute to the overall musical experience this way."

I agree with you Sonicbeauty. I always used to rely on measurements in the early years, I still think they are valuable and along with good design it is an important factor when choosing gear. However as important as measurements may be if the piece of equipment measures off the charts so far as new levels of low distortion, frequency response, noise, dynamic range etc. it still has to have a musicality, draw you into the music as opposed to the initial "WOW" and then the subsequent focus on sound over music. There is something inherently flawed about a component that does this and it is consistently noted by listeners. This is why it is VERY important to read between the lines of listening impressions by a cross section of different listeners. What is my system doing that I like and don't like, what is missing? There is no universal product for all systems and while a very forgiving system may benefit from a DAC perceived as accurate from measurements, a balanced, highly resolving system can expose its flaws more easily as it can any weak link, IMHO. I base the above on having listened to many more mediocre digital devices than REALLY good ones over the years and until recently the REALLY good ones cost. This is no dis on the Benchmark DAC 1, I haven't heard it but I am getting a pretty good picture from many comments over the years concerning this DAC. It is not the "be all end all" for all systems, neither is the Havana I'm sure.

the advantage of a tube dac can be realized only if it is very sensitive to the tube used. if so, you can tailor the sound to your taste.

i think every amp, pre and dac should have a focus control so the user can plug and play, and change the sound as the sound of a recording changes.

an audio system should be flexible and not always sound the same.
What about the Wyred 4 Sound DAC 1? I'm looking to resolve the same question.
I have read great reviews on the WYRED 4 SOUND DAC . But it is a bit over my budget of a thousand dollars . Thanks though.
Here on Audiogon you can get it for under a thousand. I've read some good things about the Eastern Electric, Rega and Benchmark too.
This thread is like a pin ball machine and considering our collective lack of digital design knowledge most everybody still has relevant input. Are we not all chomping at the bit for all this digital dodox to get worked out? I know I am, enjoying the unbelievable convenience of my Squeezebox without a DAC. My ears aren't bleeding but something needs to be done.

Even with a $1000 budget you just know the technology will soon render your purchase outdated within a year or so. It's like lighting a Roi Tan cigar with a hundred dollar bill. By the same token we're confident we're not going to find a speaker that sounds like a Magico for a grand.

What I've learned from a designer (subjectively? I don't have a clue, but anyway): That much of what's offered is simply a trial and error assemblage of parts with the possibly that a designers strong suit such as power supplies may give his design a slightly different presentation.

USB is not the ideal method of connectivity nor is anything else being used so far. We now have multiple iterations of software that have been written onto the TI TAS1021 chipset in a few short months which took Wavelengths Gordon Rankin years to complete, further clouding the term and quality of what asynchronous USB actually is. Along with the escalating sampling rates we're being hoodwinked with buzz words and figures as we were with low distortion figures back in the seventies. What is Thunderbolt?

The relationship between the converter chipset and the filtering being implemented is where a large part of the sonic correctness can come from in a DAC design yet this has become a forgone area of comparison in both the press and the manufactures white papers. Last month I heard a ripped 16/41kHz CD via a modified six year old DAC compared with a well known multi component conversion/clocking system playing the same music that was now a high sampled HD Track and the old setup simply sound noticeably better. I also heard a modified Benchmark against a much newer stock unit. The 6 Moons review of this comparison is spot on. Parts and smarts.

It seems to me that there is this huge scramble to get a products connectivity and sampling rate up to date while sonic correctness is taking a back seat at the moment. And, none of what I've written above does anything to answer the original posters simple question. On the contrary, I've simply piled on more skepticism forcing us to rely on the audio press who's limited experience and knowledge in this budding aspect of our hobby can be nothing more than a crap shoot. re. Stereophile's recent account of the Rega DAC by a confessed digitally challenged writer. Maybe less knowledge is more and that Rega is a terrific sub $1K DAC.

I wandered into a couple hi-fi shops in my area (San Diego). One of them, Stereo Design, is almost completely analog. Vandersteen and Electrocompaniet equipment dominates their space. The Music Hall DAC is the only DAC they carry. Their claim is that they only carry what they personally think sounds best--that's their main criteria. Take that for whatever it's worth. The Music Hall is $600.00. I haven't heard it, but these guys love it.
I'm not going to say "it's the best for a grand or less" - and a certain someone in this thread will cringe (KB, I never did get rid of the thing) - but...

The little MF V-DAC I purchased some time ago is still doing it's job in my system, and doing it well, and for $220 (used). I know, I know, it's a repackaged version of a slightly more expensive MF DAC, but it made my Squeezebox open up, big time. And the fact that HiFi Critic rated it higher than five other far more expensive and reputable DAC's - and found it to have the lowest jitter of any device they had ever tested - sold me on it.
"The Music Hall DAC is the only DAC they carry."
The Music Hall may be a great choice, but Stereo Designs in San Diego also carries the Rega DAC and the Ayre Acoustics QB-9 (which I bought!).

Vicdamone's comments, incl. referencing the expertise of Gordon Rankin's Wavelength Audio, are IMO right on the mark.

BTW, the Wavelength Audio Proton at $900 is the only DAC under $1000 currently listed as "recommended hardware" by Computer Audiophile, and would give you access to Wavelength Audio's very musical asynchronous mode solutions.

Good luck, and please let us know about your results.

I know I asked for a usb port, but at the moment I will not be using it . I will have hooked up to my 2 channel stereo , not a computer.USB is for possible future use.
Sandstone, please tell us you had a chance to compared the Rega and the QB-9.