The Ayre would be a good choice as would a Bryston BDA-2.
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I have a Bryston DAC3 which thanks to Trump’s trade war with Canada is now slightly over your budget, but you still might be able to pick up a demo for 3K. I love it but I haven’t heard the BDA 2; but I’ve read the main difference between the two models are the HDMI inputs on the BDA 3. If you don’t need the HDMI feature then the DAC 2 might do the the trick. Otherwise the usual suspects—Mytek Brooklyn, Benchmark, the various Chord products, Border Patrol is rose colored distortion is your thing...
Benchmark DAC3 beats pretty much everything at its price and most all above, but it’s already practically totally transparent. An SMSL SU-8 is very close to performance (backed by measurements) and costs a lot less.
The Bryston doesn’t offer anything over the Benchmark. Similar/worse performance for more money; it’s excellent, just overpriced. I do dislike the asthetics of Benchmark though.
@rvpiano I recommend you read around a bit more. There are a LOT of DACs out there in your price range. My conclusion is that there are at least three categories of sonic presentation: strictly neutral, slightly warm and forgiving, and warmer still. Benchmark definitely falls in #1, though the '3 model is less ruthless than the '1 and '2. If it were me, I'd be inclined to find a PS Audio DirectStream Jr (category #2) discounted by 1K. The Snowmass downloadable upgrade is supposed to be very good indeed.
Why spend $2,000-$3,000 (or more) when $250 might give one something magical?
Just an acknowledgement to @mzkmxcv for this tip.
I presumed running it at 0.00 dBFS would remedy that concern.
That graph is plotting dBFS along the horizontal axis, 0dBFS means music that is at the loudest it can go before clipping, undithered CD has a noise floor of -96 dBFS; for modern music, 105dB is peak, and since the average treated room noise is around 30dB (my living room is ~45dB as it’s open, so things like the refrigerator’s compressor and whatnot contribute), so that’s a range of 75dB, so everything from 0dBFS to -75dBFS needs to be looked at. Now, at -35dBFS the IMD of the D50 is -65dB, so 5dB, so audible but not in-room. There’s still stuff like IMD+N though.
Also, while the 2Vrms output of the D50 will allow most any amp to reach its spec’d wattage output, the much more powerful output of the DAC3 will allow you to do heavy DSP (which involves lowering headroom) while still keeping >2Vrms.
But yes, the D50 and similar put to shame so many esoteric DACs that can cost $5K of more. Now, something DACs do perform better than the Benchmark, it’s just we are well past audibility, I would only pay a tad more if the performance was similar but the asthetics were better.
IMO, if you don’t get a fpga based dac or it doesn’t have a network card built in, you are wasting your money. Either the ps audio DS or DS jr dac will blow away the benchmark or the Ayre. Compare the functions of each dac. If you want a cold sounding dac, go with the benchmark.
Each time I get a free upgrade for my ps audio DS dac, performance increases. Over a year ago, ps audio updated their software to add MQA support, for free. Show me another dac that has a class A+ rating like the DS and you get a free bump in performance every 6 months. If you compared the DS with redcloud software, do the comparison again with the latest snowmass upgrade. Also you get a network card in each of the dacs that allow you to get rid of the inferior usb connections that most people have to use
Who here actually uses MQA much, if at all? Some act as if a DAC does not play it it can be no good. Most will never use it. Keep in mind. Some DAC's provide upgrade capacity if it ever catches on. Features do not necessarily correlate with what sound you will like.
Asking someone about what DAC to get is like asking someone what woman you should marry. You will only get the other person's taste .... You need to find out for yourself. Win, and maybe lose a little. You will win in the end if you are willing to discover what's best for you. Dang.. Asking someone else what you will like? Maybe they should tell you to put on a sweater because they feel cold? ;)
Life's too short to let others tell you what to like.
I can't comment on the relative SQ of different DACs, but I can enthusiastically support the PS Audio products. The ethernet connection is a noticable improvement relative to USB,and the ability to play MQA is a significant step up relative to streaming other sources or redbook, at least from my Oppo transport. I have basically stopped spinning discs as a result. The potential for ongoing improvements at no cost is the icing on the cake. They have a good trade-in program and I believe 30 day returns.
So every DAC except Schiit’s MultiBit sounds like ass, sure. Schiit only recently got AP gear to actually test their performance while designing, and notice how they made the Modi 3 and not another MultiBit DAC. MultiBit is snake oil.
PS Audio is good, but similar/worse than Benchmark, absolutely not better if you did a blind listening test.
PS Directstream DACs are being heavilly discounted right now through a number of dealers for $4000 & less. Best pricing I've found is at High Performance Audio in Hollywood, Florida. They not only sound amazing, but they are upgradeable with new software & firmware for free. They just released Snomass which is a marked improvement over the last version. It sounds great in my system & I don't even need a preamp now, as the Directstream fills that bill too.
The PS Audio Directstream with Snowmass is thinner sounding in the lower mid range than the Benchmark DAC 3. Directstream is also less forward sounding and yields less of a wall of sound and consequently more soundstage depth. Benchmark DACs can be a little forward or aggressive sounding, especially in the lower mid range (think chesty vocals for males).
Both DACs have comparable detail and resolution but the Benchmark is more raw and lively (front row) while the PS Audio is more refined (think row 5-10) The detail and liveliness of the DAC 3 can be exciting and exhilarating but also at times distracting. The politeness of the PS Audio Directstream is enjoyable as recording artifacts are less emphasized but on some recordings it can seem a wee bit reserved at times.
Both are excellent sounding. Bass quality is equivalent and excellent. Treble is smooth and analog like. Benchmark is like a microscope on the recording and you notice more often that you are indeed listening to a recording - warts and all. PS Audio Directstream is more laid back or “musical” but without losing any detail.
The difference may be down to the very different output stage. Benchmark is active op amp while PS Audio is a transformer output. The active op amp of Benchmark is very powerful and dynamic - transients stand out. The transformer output in the PS Audio Directstream may be the key to its smoothness.
Take your pick. Both are excellent. Either could float your boat.
I prefer a good preamp even if the Benchmark has a built-in analog preamp and despite ridiculous claims that the PS Audio Directstream doesn’t need an analog pre-amp. (Digital volume control is rather limited in range before performance suffers severely due to SNR and linearity)
It doesn’t matter how many bits. The problem is at the analog conversion stage. The analog signal will become so small as to drop close to the noise floor of the output stage of the DAC. An analog volume control reduces both signal and noise together. A digital volume control only reduces the signal level.
A 32Bit DAC will have a noise floor of ~ -192dBFS. Meaning even if you turn the volume down from full scale to -40dBFS (much quieter than what we listen at), then the noise floor has risen to -152dBFS, still better than 24Bit.
Like I said, it’s a non-issue with 32Bit.
Its even more of a non-issue with say an ESS 9038, which has access to its internal pathway and decreases the noise floor just like an analog volume control (down until it hits its own noise floor of course). Good DACs have been able to do this for >5yrs.
Noise floor is analog.
There is nothing on the market with an analog noise floor of -192 dBfs. These kind of numbers are utterly meaningless in the real world.
The PS Audio doesn’t have an ESS chip - that some DACs have added analog volume control is indeed wonderful - I was already aware of this so I learned nothing by your comment.
My comment above was about the PS Directstream Sr DAC. Please read comments more carefully before hitting the reply. Analog volume control is not digital volume control. ESS chips that do analog volume adjustment as well as digital is good and I support that because purely digital volume control has limits.
An analog volume control reduces both signal and noise together. A digital volume control only reduces the signal levelYou put that out as a statement, not technically in relation to PS Audio, but you did talk about them in the prior sentence, so I can see that.
There is nothing on the market with an analog noise floor of -192 dBfs.Correct, as the noise floor is reduced due to the performance of the analog components in the DAC. The 32Bit chips on their own are -192dB, as that’s what 32Bit is. The ESS 9038 and AKM 4499 is -140dBFS, and was ~-130dB a few years ago, so slowly progressing forward.
So, even ignoring how they can lower the noise floor with attenuation, if you did the same -40dB attenuation, that would be -100dBFS, still a greter dynamic range than what we have in-room (around 80dB).
The digital out of the CCA is bit perfect if using a non-Google casting app If you cast from say Roon or Android Hi-Fi Cast, it will have the same performance as even $5,000 streamers. It’s only if you Cast from say YouTube or your Chrome Browser where casting stinks.
Keep in mind that digital signals are identical except for jitter, and the jitter present if you cast from say Roon, would be pretty much limited to what DAC you use, as the CCA is not the limiting factor, again, unless casting from say the Chrome browser.
I have 2 multibit DACs (Audio GD DAC-19; and NOS 19). The NOS DAC is in my primary system. Both have stopped my "digital quest" in its tracks, at least for the time being. So if I upgrade at all, it will have to be to even better multibit DACs. Since you also have multibit, a pretty well-reviewed one, I'm wondering if you would deviate from multibit in next DAC...and if so, why.