I tend to differ from many audiophiles in that I am very sensitive to treble and what is commonly referred to as detail retrieval. I want something musical that is forgiving to poor recordings rather than reminding me that I’m not listening an audiophile mastered album, something laid back that gives the sense of ease and relaxation I get from vinyl.
I’ve previously tried DACs like the Chord Mojo, ifi xDSD, and Sabre 9018 based McIntosh D150 and found all to suffer from weak bass and overly emphasized treble (sparkle, air, detail) which is not to my liking. I’ve heard through reviews that something like the PS Audio Directstream DAC might be more of what I’m looking for but at the moment it is out of my budget.
I also see things like the Mytek Brooklyn and Benchmark recommended at this price range but I fear they will have the same emphasis as the above and won’t be what I’m looking for.
Im very open to used gear as it gives greater value. Is there anything out there for me?
A used Auralic Vega fits in your budget. It's my favorite of all the DACs I've owned and is the one I use in my main system. Here's a quote from a review by The Absolute Sound:
"Finally, I was struck on multiple occasions by the Vega’s unfailing musicality, which I sometimes—tongue-in-cheek— called the “Neve factor.” Neve recording consoles are known for pulling off a difficult but highly rewarding tightrope act of sorts; on the one hand, they deliver exceedingly high levels of transparency, clarity, and timbral purity, while on the other hand they preserve a naturally warm, organic, and lifelike sound."
Save some money and look for something with the old AKM chip like AKM AK4396 multi-bit Sigma-Delta reference DAC chip. Very warm sounding. You could get a used or new old stock Squeezebox transporter for <$500 and drive it with Roon or LMS and you will get that warmth you are looking for without spending a bunch of money and still drive 24bit/192kHz and let Roon unfold MQA if you want Tidal etc.
border patrol!!!! this is what you are looking for when it comes to forgiving and relaxing. Im thinking about getting one as a backup or second room.I have a Lampizator and too is super warm and relaxing, blew the chordette out of the water and has a great warm sound to it. the Lampizator is the next step from the border patrol in value, both R2R
I was looking for a DAC to stand in for a couple of years to go with a Naim Core via
SPDif while I waited for their new streamers (which were obviously coming once the Atom etc were launched). I tried a Rega DAC-r and a Chord 2qute, initially with Chord shawline and fairway cables but found the Rega a bit boring and the impressive but too clinical. I wasn't going to pay £200 for a digital cable if I could help it so I'd ordered a Belden 4794R from Blue Jeans for a fraction of the price and along with a BNC to RCA converter, this arrived while i had these two DACs on home demo and it livened up the Rega very nicely, enough that I stopped looking any further. It was particularly rich sounding with filter 3 and conveyed emotion very nicely though it was obviously less detailed than the Chord. I never tried the USB input but it's sopposed to haver been improved over the original Rega DAC. It's probably best to try to get to hear one, in your setup if you can and try a few different cables of whichever format you use, there seems to be some sensitivity to cable choice so don't assume they're all the same (as I did originally) or that the more you pay the better the cable will perform for your system.
Thank you for all the replies so far! I will definitely look into these options as they are all very interesting and several directions I had not considered before.
For a bit more context I should have put into the original post, I'm using a pair of Harbeth M30.1s, have yet to select an amp as I'm still auditioning those (maybe Primaluna Dialogue HP?), and currently use either a Mac or Allo USBridge ethernet streamer for Roon/Qobuz/Google Music with a Curious USB cable if any of that makes a difference to recommendations. Thanks again!!
Every MQA DAC rolls off the highs for PCM music, so something from Mytek for instance would have less upper treble than a Benchmark DAC3B or Chord Qutest (these have neutral sound).
I have a Mytek Liberty, and it's a toss up as to whether it or my Wyred 4 Sound are the most "digital" and "brightest" DACs I've owned. I would not recommend a Mytek product to someone with the OP's stated wants, unless the Brooklyn is vastly different from the Liberty, which according to comments I've read, it is not. I'm not saying Mytek (or my Liberty) DACs are "bad", but they are not what I would recommend to someone looking for something "relaxed".
I have a McIntosh D100 which is the same as the D150 except the dsd capability and it doesn’t certainly suffer from weak bass and overly emphasized treble as you describe on the contrary the bass is tight and powerful ,the treble is natural and smooth. Before blaming the DACs you tried maybe you have problem with your sources,cables or amplification which cause the weak bass and bad treble. Another point, the Harbeth in general are great speakers but tend to smooth gentle bass (which is very good IMO) and if you are looking for rubost/aggressive bass you will not get it from your speakers and also the Harbeth’s are very revealing speakers (this is a good sign how good they are )so are not forgiving to poor recordings . It doesn’t matter which DAC you buy rubost bass and forgiving to poor recordings just not going to happen.
Caveat I left out, if using the MQA filter. Some MQA DACs only offer 1, so you are stuck with the MQA filter. That Mytek offers more than 1, the SR filter rolls off after 10kHz, as per your measurement link. Also, for that Mytek, you can see that FR has aliasing issues above nyquist, may or may not be audible, but it’s worse than even much cheaper DACs that are PCM only.
Ayre CODEX DAC. "The Codex is hand built in Colorado and can be used as a stand alone DAC, headphone amp, or digital preamp. The Codex can unlock the potential of any system. A fully-balanced signal path throughout the analog circuitry provides an inherently clean and quiet backdrop for your music. The zero-feedback design maintains the pace and rhythm of your favorite artist, rendering your digital music as effortlessly as if it were live". List price is $1,995 and used prices around $1,200 (+/-). Input connections are USB and optical.
The CODEX DAChas great sound from a very small package and is certainly worth a listen. If possible, I suggest using its balanced XLR outputs to your amplifier.
I think you'd do well to focus on some of the R2R NOS DACs out there now. Many people find them to sound less harsh or more natural sounding, while others will say they're rolled off in the highs. Whatever. I just think they'd suit your tastes. The previously-mentioned Metrum Onyx would possibly be a great choice, and it reputedly comes very close in sound quality to their flagship DAC. Another one to look at would be the SW1X DAC. The great thing about this one is they offer an in-home trial period, and owners have been giving them glowing reviews for both sound and customer service. Hard to see going wrong with either of these excellent DACs, and best of luck in your search.
I have both Ps audio direct stream Dac Senior and Junior. In my opinion they’re both almost identical in sound. The problem here is it’s going to depend on your system. It all starts with the speakers then working your way back. If your speakers are too revealing then you’re going to have the same problem I did Where these very expensive dacs did nothing to calm the highs down. Also be careful if you do get one of these. At first they will sound silky smooth because they have not been burned in yet. The senior takes about 500 hours to burn them properly or more ,the junior around 150 hours. You can always order one and send it back within the 30 day..
In the end my junior worked great on my office system with smaller speakers. I did an AB comparison with some other gear and realized that the direct stream had more depth and spatial sound. Both decks once burned in didn’t do so well on my main system. However after using Roon and their parametric equalizer now it all sounds great. Rooms eq was able to kill the high frequencies that were bothering me and let everything else through with a bit of added base.
I still use a ps audio perfect wave DAC (mk 2) and really like it. It's smooth and natural and goes for way under your budget. I do think the bridge2 is a necessary upgrade, as that source sounds much better than all other possibilities. I tried a directstream a couple years ago and ended up rebuying a pwd.
Just get yourself a Codex... can be found for about $1100-1300 either used or as a dealer demo, and it describes exactly what you are looking for. I just replaced my $5K Luxman DA-06 with a Codex, which I didn't expect to happen (got the Codex for headphones).
I can second the Esoteric d07 as being extremely musical and relaxed.a little too much in my system tbh. This was replaced with a Brooklyn which offers a lot more detail and depth to the music but possibly could be considered bright by some.
Now I have an Ayon s3 streamer/ tube DAC and it's first,middle and last names are musical!
Unfortunately I was able to test a Chord DAVE in my system and this took " musical"to a whole new level, as it should for $10k!.
I actually own the NT-505 and the MP-D2 though the first version with the AKM 4490 chipset. As a DAC only the sound is similar though the sound of the MP-D2 can be "tuned" quite a bit with the various input and rectifier tube combinations. So if DAC only is what you need then the MP-D2 is a good place to start. If you need or want the streamer and don't have another DAC then the NT-505 does a lot of things right.
I have the first version of the MP-D2 with the AKM 4490 chipset. I don’t suspect the difference between the 4490 and 4497 is that great and I would never order one with the ESS chipset as that is not what the DAC itself was designed around. The major updates to the Mk III are in other areas like the power supply and the USB modules. As to the NT-505 the only two main dealers are Sound Approach and HiFi Heaven and the price is the same though as they are distributed by Onkyo in the US any Onkyo dealer should be able to special order one. Even at it’s $1999 selling price it is still $300 less than the Lumin D2. It’s kind of a pick em as to the DAC so it comes down to if you want the streamer or not.
Always warmed the MP-D2 up thirty minutes in advance. Never left on 24/7 like the Teac. Don't know anything about Audirvana or any of the "aftermarket" player software. I only use the streamers designated software for any of the six I've owned. Not interested in compatibility issues.
For the bass I'm planning to add a sub like the Rel S/3 as I don't expect stand mount speakers with 8" woofers to be able to plumb the depths in a meaningful way, and for the revealing part yeah, they are quite revealing. During my audition on a PrimaLuna Dialogue fed by vinyl that characteristic did not come across in a fatiguing way as it does for me with the D150 at home. I should say I'm trying to avoid a focus on detail and sparkle and am just not a fan in general of DACs that have that type of presentation.
I auditioned the D150 with a variety of sources on a variety of speakers including the Harbeths and several headphones and found that characteristic to be consistent across all. Just my 2 cents.