My preference out of those in order are.
1:Soekris 2541 or 1541
2:Holo Audio Spring 2 Denafrips Pontus Audio Mirror SE Mhdt Pagoda
3: Lampizator Amber 3
4:Audio Note 4.1 Kit
I can't comment on the models you mentioned, as I have not heard them in any setting. But I will say, never but never buy a DAC that is not 32 bit / 384KHz compatible, has a Femto Clock with very low jitter, and can handle any format shoved into it. The reason is if you get something other than the above, it will become obsolete in a few years and all that cash you spent becomes, well, "so yesterday". Trust me; been there, done that, got the T-shirt!
I have the Doge 7 DAC and it’s quite good, to the point where I’m surprised it hasn’t garnered much of a following. I have it rolled with NOS tubes and it is very warm, liquid and images really well. I’m an analog guy so I go for DACs that reproduces the things I like about analog.
I can’t compare it to the others although I do have a little bit of GAS for those R2R DACs which supposedly are very analog-sounding.
If you go with the Doge the one tip I’ll give is that it sounds much better to upsample all PCM music to DSD - i suspect it’s because it has a CMOS chip that converts all incoming PCM signal to DSD since the ESS chipset is a delta-sigma DAC. Roon does this easily and it made a big improvement.
Re. Comparison to the others in the list, I can’t say...I can only compare them (the AN kit DACs) to the many DACs I’ve had PS Audio, ARC, etc. in my system. Right now I’m using a PerfectWave Mk2...to give you a reference.....It slightly bested my AN 2.1...but the 4.1 will be more of the 2.1 goodness and be able to compete with much more expensive offerings.
I doubt that anyone truly has had actual experience with all or even most on your list...so grains of salt.
Disclaimer...I might be an AN Kit fanboy...zero affiliation though.
I can only offer an opinion of the MHDT Lab Pagoda, which I've had for about 3 years now. The sound quality is outstanding. It's neither soft, rolled-off, or tubey but detailed and natural with no fatigue whatsoever. I replaced the stock tube with a WE396A which is much more to my liking. The balanced Pagoda is said to be even better if appropriate for your system. Other DACs I have .. dB Audio Labs Tranquility (TDA1543), Schiit Bifrost Multibit, and Chord Qute EX. Best of luck.
OP: As you can see above, most people will suggest DACs they already own or are quite familiar with. I suspect that from an SQ perspective, they will sound more alike than different with minor variances. I was in a similar boat last year, and for me it came down to the following ...
Serviceability -- if anything breaks, how easy is it to reach the manufacturer, and what will it cost for 2-way shipping? Since I'm in the US, it ruled out a number of manufacturers.
Upgrade path -- I wanted to start with the base version and upgrade only after I decided that I liked the overall sound signature. Again, this would have required me to pay for shipping the unit for upgrades. And not every manufacturer offers a straightforward upgrade path.
I eventually settled on the Audio Mirror Tubadour III, which I absolutely love for the price I paid for it. I'm planning to send it to Vlad for an upgrade to the SE version in a few months.
@georgehifi just curious have YOU actually heard each of these dacs or are YOU basing your views on build and chip sets?
Got a feeling your not going to like what I’m about to say.
Heard the Soekris 1541, Denafrips Termi, Holo Spring L2, and Audio Note, based my list on what I heard and some of what’s used and implement in the circuit.
I’m not a believer in tubes in dacs, to me it’s a way of "sweetening" a dac that’s got problems being hard or harsh, at the expense of "lowering" other wanted parameters also, silicon does a far better "truer" "direct coupled" job if the base dac is good one. If not it will be much more revealing of it’s faults, and therefore could be sweetened some by the use of a tube used in either the I/V stage or output buffer stage after the dac chip.
1. Not familiar w/ the ones you list so I won't comment.
2. Based on other comments, it is valid that I don't merely shill the ones I own.
3. I would raise one question it seems no one else addressed (unless I missed it, then I apologize) but these do not seem to have balanced (XLR) connections? At your price range, it may be something you consider.
4. Lots of opinions, but I appreciate MQA which narrows down your options.
I recently purchased a 3 month old Pontus before Christmas for 1K! I was lucky and seller was wanting to move up to a Terminator. I have a Node 2I streamer on the front end and the Pontus is connected thru optical out to a NAD 7600 which has two pairs of speakers including Bose 901 VI's on one input and Monitor Audio Gold 100 5g speakers. All I can say is that the Pontus sounds fantastic even without having full MQA unfolding!
I have owned and modified Amber 3 , Pogota , Pontus mk2 very good if you can spend. $2800. Without any hesitation
the Denafrips Venus R2R by a Lot much better built then any of them on your list.a 24 pound monster ,just a bit behind the Denafrips terminstor dac , very detailed and natural if you look at the build quality alone ,2 seperate levels for the digital , output sections
totally isolated over 240: filtering capacitors. DHL delivery within 4 days if in stock . Just do your own homework .
I too have the MHDT Orchid and love it. At your price point I would look at the Pagoda balanced ($2360 with the TungSol 2C51 tube). I ordered mine with that tube (they also include the base tube) and love it’s sound characteristics (warm, but not colored, lively, great imaging and tight across the frequency spectrum). It was between this DAC and the Orchid for me. I recommend talking with Nick @ Linear Tube Audio (MHDT dealer). I found him very helpful and a pleasure to speak to. You could also communicate with Jiun, the chief designer @ MHDT. He’s very responsive and also very helpful. Between the two of them I got every detailed answer I was looking for before I made my purchase. I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I listen to music all day while working and never experience any ear fatigue while also being pulled into the music throughout the day when my mind allows :).
Well, I can speak for the Holo Audio Spring Kitsune level III edition and I pair with the Singxer DDC it’s fantastic. Very organic sounding. By “organic” I mean natural of course. It just lets the music be presented in the way it was recorded. I couldn’t be happier unless I moved up to the May of course. When researching this DAC I was also very interested in the Soekris. Would love to compare them. I would also like to compare the Spring to the Audio Mirror. Good luck in your selection.
For under $2,000 Benchmark Dac3 A+ rated is excellent, for under $3,000 Bryston is A+ Rated. Read reviews on Stereophile and Absolute Sound. I had the Benchmark 2 with Ayre equipment and sounded fantastic. The Mytek Manhattan used for $4,000 is a big step up, was in my system with more air & detail.
I cant comment on the equipment on your list, but can offer an opinion on Wyred 4 Sound Dac, on my second one as i upgraded From the original to the DAC-2v2SE . They are definitively worth a look with balanced outputs and up gradable but no tubes in circuit. I preferred this one over my sim audio dac
I have a little experience with this. I own both the Denefrips Ares and the Holo Audio May Level II. The May is significantly better, though it is also significantly more expensive. Whether you want to pay the extra freight is a value judgment you'll have to make. My guess is that the Pontus outperforms the Ares but I don't imagine it is by a significant margin, but the Pontis would be a reasonable choice.
I have no experience with the other models.
My experience is limited but I have a little experience with the MHDT DACs. I have the Pagoda (non-balanced) and I really like it but I prefer my Chord Qutest. The Qutest has better bass and treble extension, and better detail. The Pagoda definitely is more of an analog and less fatiguing sound, but in my opinion, it's not as true to the source as the Qutest. My good friend got an Orchid on my recommendation and I'm afraid to say, neither of us liked it very much. It was much more rolled off than the Pagoda in bass and treble and it overemphasized certain frequencies to a strange degree. For example, any recording with tape hiss was almost unlistenable because of how the DAC emphasized it. We thought it was defective but he returned it and the folks at LTA said it was working perfectly. If you decide to go MHDT, I would go for the Pagoda, especially if your system is a bit on the analytical side. If you already have some warmth, I might suggest staying away from tube DACs
If you get a r2r dac you may miss the detail, if you get a sigma dac you may miss the analog sound. Maybe take your $2500 and buy a used one of each. Kind of like most people have more than one phono cartridge. I tend to rotate tube r2r and sigma depending on mood or just for a change. I wouldn't want to be without one or the other.
I just bought a BODER PATROL SE I connected with a sonore optical module connected to a silent angel Z1
The DAC ( I change the tube with a mallard and the fuse with a synergistic orange) for les than 2000USD is absolutely fantastic much much better than my Meitner I owned
It is a R2R emotional DAC with a lot of energy
I cannot stop now listening my room library so addict
I have played with several types of DACs. It depends on your system. Right now I am playing with an older R2R Electrocompaniet DAC. R2R has a more subdued sound, but better separation. The Denifrips is a winner. I like how they doubled the transformers and put them in a cabinet underneath. I have heard good things about the holo, but only the top model. The M2Tech sounds really nice but not warm like a tube at all. What I have noticed is under $5000 you get what you pay for. I prefer a separate power supply but I believe Denifrips handled that very well.
I pay my NOS dac Starting Point System 20 bucks with a bid on Ebay.... It is my best luck purchase ever in audio not for the low price paid but more for the high quality of this dac...
But no one will believe it is so good at this price...
I dream to read a review comparing the Starting Point System NOS battery dac of Christophe Mariac who designed and sold them on Ebay with NO Negative review at all on the internet.....Against all these contender.... It will not be the better among them all, no, but it will be incredibly near for his regular price of a few hundred bucks...
I want to buy another one in case.....
I agree with with hshifi under $5000 it's compromised. I was going to say that in last post but didn't want to start trouble. $5000 will get started in the do all r2r dac's. In the under $3000 range the key is to match it to your system, or you will hear its short comings. If you can demo do it. I do find a good power supply help's, they also respond very well to installing better caps.
Thanks to all who made comments!
I will add my system to the profile but here it is a nutshell:
Pass Labs INT25
Innuos Zen Mk3
Audio Mirror Tubadour 3- (On Trial now)
Oppo BDP 93 for DVD & Video play only
Tannoy FSM Speakers. Rated 94 at 4ohm.
Transparent Audio Interconnects
Kimber 8 Speaker Cable Bi-Wired
Room:Two dedicated 20 amp lines
Absorption Treated walls
Walmart TV/Stereo Stand
Dimensions- 14 x 16 + open to 6 x 4 left side and 12 x 8 right side.
The configuration I use is not what easy to visualize. See photo when I get that done.
Lucky that I am the 1st Run off the Power pole transformer.
Vocals, Jazz, Opera, electronic
Ears sensitive to harshness and volume. Max at 8k hz.
More to follow.
I have the Denafrips Pontus. It replaced a Rega DAC.The Pontus is hands down the most resolving yet easy to listen to DAC I've ever had and cannot recommend it, and the distributor highly enough.I am using a valve amp and a server/streamer to listen to FLAC ripped CDs and Tidal via Roon.
No Qobuz in Australia as yet.I use USB and/or coax between the server and the DAC and either works well.Good luck with the decision.
I don't usually agree with George Hifi but I agree that a tube has no business inside a Dac, for the reasons he listed and I will add that a tube is an open door for noise (EMI RFI) to potentially get inside the Dac and taint and mess with the conversion process. Don't get me wrong my system is all tubes and I love tubes but not my Dac, if I want tube sound I can get it from my preamp, the Dac must be neutral, shielded and detailed and have an option for minimal filters or NOS, I do pre processing on a pc and I can alter the sound signature with filters, modulators and such if I want to, or not. As a matter of fact my idea of a perfect dac is one which doesn't mess with the digital part much but has an EXCELLENT analog conversion stage.
I respect that designers implement dacs with tubes and there is a market for it but it goes against what I think a dac should be. In the case of the OP since he has SS a tube dac might help him to get that colored sound.
Perhaps someone could explain, I say colored because I still don't get the term tubey sound, since when tubes have a specific signature sound?, I get that if you are running DHT (300Bs, 45s, etc) you could get a specific euphonic sound but other triodes like the 6SN7 it can be very very neutral IMO similar to the sound of SS so it really confuses me when I hear the term tubey, maybe someone cares to explain.
Listening Habits: 55-72db max Vocals, Jazz, Opera, electronic Ears sensitive to harshness and volume. Max at 8k hz.
@chorus - This really isn’t much to go on in terms of what you’re looking for or what qualities you value most in DAC/system performance, and it’s why you’re getting recommendations from all over the place and with no explanation as to why a certain DAC would be a good fit for you. If you’re after a total crapshoot of recommendations I guess this is fine, but if you want recommendations more targeted to what specifically you’re looking for it’d be helpful if you’d share more about about your tastes and what you’re looking to improve upon or achieve. Also, if you share what you think of the Tubadour it’ll also help people focus their recommendations. FWIW.
Point taken. But I do not wish to muddy the waters.
I am looking for the elusive "Musicality".
My definition of that term is another word "Magical"
My definition of that word is more complex. In terms of a feeling or emotion it is what you experience when your head snaps to attention
after hearing a particular musical passage that "Moves" you.
These goals may not help you narrow down any recommendations
you might have for me in the $2,500 price area. But that was not my
question after all.
I have narrowed down the list so what I would like is to hear is from
those who have either heard or owned the listed DACs.