The best DAC for the money

I'm thinking to buy a DAC, but not really sure which one to choose... Preferable with HDCD decoding, and reasonable price... You name it

Source: NAD c541i
Amp: Sim Moon i-5 integrated
Speakers: Revel M20
Cables: AZ Satori, etc...
What's a resonable price?
OK, not $10K stuff right now... Let's say between zero and $3000.
Used Pass Labs D-1 with 24/96 upgrade listed on Audiogon right now for $2500. Puts most other DACS to shame. The key is the way Wayne Colburn designed the digital to analog coversion stages. Absolutely incredible sound. Run it balanced.
For anything over a few hundred dollars I would want to demo the DAC, driven by your CD player (the NAD) versus a comparably priced one box CD player. DACs are sometimes very dependant on their transport and the NAD may or may not be a good transport.
What about the Best DAC for the money with no price range?

BTW, thanks to all for the responses!
Try the new Benchmark Media DAC-1. List price $850.
I've not heard it yet but the review seems impresive. Check it out before you commit.
Pick up a Channel bang for the buck 500.00
dac and power supply
for a little extra...Bel Canto the new dac 2
I think the Musical Fidelity X/DAC HDCD is amazing,
and not just because it goes for about $200 used!
If you don't need 24/96, I would recommend a used Theta Gen Va.
Second the recommendation for the Theta Gen Va. Can be found for $1,500 or less. Great bass, big soundstage, rich.
I second the Theta Gen Va. Older to be sure, but absolutely great performance for the current prices.
I'd recommend you the one for $0 and the rest $3k to spread over Sim separates.
Bel Canto DAC 2. I replaced a Theta Pro Basic IIIa with it and never looked back. It has received little press, for whatever reason. Though not HDCD, it upsamples 24/196 with the latest BB chips, & has no grain or brightness, is transparent, neutral, & I still can't figure out how it produces the deep, tight bass it does, being as small a unit, without huge the large transformers some DACs have.
Marakanetz, thanks, but I'm doubt I can get lots of Sim components for $3000 :) I definitelly would go for Moon Eclipse CDP, if its price would be as it is.
Sorry, I meant "would not be..."
Theta Gen. Va cannot be beat in the price range you are looking especially at a used price of $1,500. I replaced my theta pro Basic llla with the Gen. Va and never looked back.
You would have to spend double the price to find a unit that outperforms it.
Any opinions on MF A3.2 DAC? It have got quite rave reviews...
MSB,for the money,outstanding value,Bob
None mentioned perpetual duo or trio ?
I agree on the Theta, but if you budget is less than a grand, a used Cal Sigma or Alpha DAC are excellent.

Since your system only had a digital source, the Benchmark
DAC-1 using balance ICs direct into a power amp would be an
interesting combo.
If you don't care about the latest technology, but rather how it sounds, you might want to consider Aragon's D2A MkII DAC. Although it is quite old (early 90's), this DAC had an oversized power supply, uses an 18 bit chip, is built like a tank, and most importantly, it sounds great. In fact, it sounds better than the MSB Link III with all of its options and most other DACs out there.

They usually go for about $250-350 and pop up on a monthly basis.

Best of luck in your search.

Having spent some time with the Benchmark Media DAC-1 in my system, just wanted to say it's the real deal.

Don't buy anything before you check this little bugger out.

You give a try to a Stellavox by Goldmund. It is a 24/96 DAC but it beats the sound of my EMC1(24/192). It sounds very opened and more detail but no harshness and super clean in background. Costs around $1500.00 to $2000.00 but it is worth for the money.
Why bother...the NAd has HDCD, 24 burr brown DAc, AND SOUNDS GREAT...
But not THAT great... ;)
Why not just upgrade the clock and opamp.
For $200, I did it to my Marantz CD67SE and it blew away
many stock CD players in $1000 TO $2000 retail price range.
Even better than the seperate DAC.
I don't really believe in mods if the original design is not up to your demands. It can be improved, but adding of new caps (what many mods do) but... I'd rather go mod something that is already very well designed. After clock and opamp there are too much other factors.
For the money you can't beat a Cal Audio Alpha. I see them used for 350+/- reguarily. This tube DAC has a slightly forward midrange and is just magnificent for vocals and small jazz groups. I prefer it in that aspect to my BAT.
I really like my $250 Nixon DAC.
I wouldnt monkey with a DAC...if u factor in interconnects, jitter issues, etc...I would simply go with an improved CD unit...however....that last %5 or less in sonic improvement will cost you 4 or 5 times what the NAD costs....but its your call...the NAD is not the end all...but it is very musical for the money...
Dmitrydr, I think you're missing the point. Newer digital chips are always improving and most likely better than the previous generation. That's exactly what the clock and opamp mod does. This does not change the original good design but it improves the flaws from the older technology. Unless you shell out tons of money for the latest and the greatest DAC, I don't think you're going to get much better performance when compared to clock and opamp mod. Well, if your player is really that bad to begin with, why did you buy it in the first place?
S23chang, I don't think it's that bad :) I just say that I'm doubt that opamps and crystal oscillator upgarde may significantly improve sound quality (if I'm wrong I'd appreciate some more detailed explanation) for budget level device, such as NAD. If you're talking about upgrade of digital filters and all the stuff around the internal DAC - I think it would be easier and cheaper to buy a new CDP. Or, an external DAC :)
Dmitrydr, You'll be surprise how much difference the opamps and the clock circuit ( not just the crystal oscillator) can do for you.
First of all, I leave the digital filter along. Like you said, if I have to change DAC then might as well buy a new player.

I was pretty skeptical about op-amps and clock mod as you since I didn't know much about digital source before until I tried this for myself.

On the analog stage, there are op-amps that amplifies the output signals from the DAC to the right level. Think of them as pre-preamps for the CD player.
Some designer decided to use tubes instead of op-amps to make it more analog sound.
In any case, choosing a different op-amp can give you a different sound. Better or worst is your judgement.
Most of stock op-amps used in the CD players are in $1 to $3 range each. You can always get a better spec op-amps (from $4 to $30 each) to replace the current one in your CD player. The two major op-amp makers are Analog Device and Burr Brown from Texas Instruments. There are at least 5 more manufactures out there but these two companies are the most popular ones. In general, with the better spec, better op-amp should improve the resolution and sonic characteristic. That's pretty much sums up for the op-amp.
As far as clock circuitry vs the crystal oscillator goes, there is only one word to describe it: Stability.
The clock circuitry is at least 100 times more stable than just the crystal itself. What oscillator does in the digital circuitry is to help stablize the timing in the circuitry. The accuracy will improve the noise, imaging and pace. The combination will make the CD sound more analog while keeping the sweetness of its original sound.

I'm not affiliate with Audiocomm superclock II or the LC Audio XO-3 clock but you can always read more about them from their website. Also, I'm not using their product.

Capacitor and resistor mods on power supply maybe will do something good but I felt that I'm happy with the sound already and I don't see the performance per dollar gain.
In my opinion, of course it will help somewhat but not as much improvement as the op-amp and clock mod.

If this is not what you're looking to improve from your current CD sound then I don't know what else to tell you except switch to a different "Hi-End" CD player.

Just my 2 cents thought on CD player

Where do you get CDP modified ? Did you do it by yourself ?

Thanks, -TT
The dAck! battery powered dac is a nice sounding unit at $400. You can demo one with a $50 deposit, although the waiting line is a bit long for demo models. I took a chance and purchased one outright and am very glad I did.
Yes. I modified myself. Having someone else do it doesn't make senese to me because I want to know exactly what each parts I put into my player does.
Hey Bob,

I was on the waiting list for a demo of the dAck! but think they forgot about me. So far, what is your experience with the DAC? My biggest reservation regarding a battery powered DAC is that I leave my system on 24/7. Do you think it as an inconveniece?

I am using the Nixon, and it also has a lot of the attributes that some people who own the dAck! has described on AudioAsylum and AudioCircle. So, I wonder how much of the dAck!'s magic is due to the lack of digital filters or the lack of AC added pollutants.

The dAck! certainly is prettier. I heard Dusty at CI Audio is making a variety of a nonOS DAC too.
Hi Viggen,
I had almost given up listening to cds before I got the dAck!. I had the MSB linc dac and found it hard to listen to more than a few songs before listener fatigue set in, which had me going back to vinyl my primary source for serious listening.
Since I got the dAck! I find I can listen for hours without any fatigue what so ever.
The battery issue doesn't really bother me to much since I can always listen to a LP while the dAcks! batteries are charging. The manual says it takes 45 minutes to charge but I find they fully charge in about 20 minutes.
Who wants a DAC that needs batteries though?

Knowing that the Dack was built originally using Scott Nixon's boards, I like the Nixon better than ANY DAC I have ever heard except for the Audio Note 3.1x Balanced, at $6000+!!!!
Judging from posts from AudioAsylum, the question remains what makes the AckDack sound as good as it is described. Is it the digital filterless design or the battery?

Either way, Chris Own has described all current production of his Ack! stuff are a departure from Nixon's boards. He also credits himself, post found in AudioCircle, for "properly" designing his new boards which presumes the Nixon DACs are not designed up to snuff.

However, does the difference in design of the board in the Ack! result in a different or better sound than the Nixon? That's the $400 question.
Anybody have a website or contact info for the ACKDACK? cheers...
Scott Nixon is dACK!
Try for dAck info. Chris Own is Ack!

I got one on trial and decided to buy it after 2 hours listening. The battery maintenance regimen is no big deal. If anybody is interested in details contact me.
Get a modified Perpetual Tech. P-3A. Beats the others hands-down. Only thing comparable is the Meitner system.
Theta gen Va, what character does it have - warm/bright, back-laid or forward, what's a tonal balance?
Theta basic II for $300.
Electrocompaniet, I have compared it to Audiomeca's Enkinathus X and Levinson'e 360. A great upsampling dac for the money.
I compared the Nixon with the similar Ack! and immediately chose the Ack!. I have since compared it favorably to the EAD DSP 7000 III and with a very nice and smooth recent Van Alstine. The Ack! runs on batteries, always a major improvement, with the added advantage of no powercord to imrove upon. I've upgraded my Ack! significantly by replacing the 3.3 mF AuraCaps with Dynamicaps, a pair of 5 mF and a .01 bypass per channel. It really opened up and the bass improved big time. I use it with an EAD T1000 with a Mapleshade/Insound Zepher dig link. Extremely open yet smooth, dead silent with wonderfull dynamics; the best I've heard.
The Ack! dAck Rev 2.0 was announced yesterday as a 2nd generation design and a major iteration of the original dAck in a press release