W4S or Rega Dac - Opinions Wanted

I’m about ready to consider a new DAC, Price range $800-$1,400 max-used.
Currently I’m using a Music Hall Dac 25.2 with a VLink 24 bit 96khz USB to S/PDIF. I’ve also using an upgraded tube in the music hall. I enjoy the warmth of the Music Hall and the detail seems good. However I would like to try something new. I listen to mostly digital files, both Lossless and some Flac. Can I do better in this price range?
I’ve read great things about the W4S dac-1/ and 2, Rega and Eastern Electric dac. I have no way to demo these so I hoping for opinions from those who have listed to more than one of these. My associated equipment is Audio Research SP-9 MKIII, Wyred 4 Sound ST250, Music Hall DAC 25.2, V LINK 24 BIT 96 kHz ASYCHRONOUS USB TO S/PDIF, mac mini, Polk Lsi 9
I currently own a W4S DAC-2 and had the Music Hall DAC for audition from Audio Advisor. I returned the Music Hall, and I didn't have the W4S at that time.
My opinion is that W4S is significantly superior.
For me, W4S DAC2 in async USB directly into the W4S ST-500 works wonderfully.
I had the Rega dac and was very happy with it; I liked the NOS design so well I sold it and ordered a Metrum Octave which is NOS and also uses no filters. Still waiting on it to arrive.
DACmagic "plus" with a Pangea P100 power supply. I use the stock DACMagic/P100 combo as I don't use the usb, but the "plus" has an asynchronous usb system, and the P100 cable should be available for it soon (if not already).
My friend and I compared the W4S DAC II against the Rega DAC in my system, which is Manley Stingray II tube amp with Merlin TSM-MXr speakers. If you hunt around you can probably find my comments, but we found the top end of the W4S a bit much and the Rega's soundstage was just broader.
My friend still owns the W4S, which he uses in a smaller system. He feels the top end got smoother over many hours and he even preferred it over the EE Minimax Plus, which he then sold. We both did a lot of comparing of DACs and he ended up with a Rega, but also continues to use a more expensive ARC DAC. My key findings are quite simple: Differences between good DACs are very subtle, perhaps to be equated to the differences between good DSLR cameras. I think most people would be shocked to hear how well the Dacmagic compares to those costing much more, and that's one of many examples.


I have the DacMagic and the PS Audio DL III. I like the PS DL L III better overall. It is a bit smoother than the DacMagic and produces a better soundstage with greater density in the sound field. However, I think that the Dac Magic is excellent and absolutely a best buy.

I tried the Rega Dac but felt it was a bit too far to the 'polite' side. Dac's are very 'system dependent'.
What about upgrading your music hall? take a look at this.
The DACMagic with the P100 PS is a somewhat changed animal...much improved.
I researched upgrades for my Music Hall but the ones that made the most sense were pretty expensive.
I’m not leaning towards trying out the w4s dac-1. I figure if the dac-1 is not what I expected, it has a recognized name and should retain most of it’s resell value.
Also, I’ve have read some descriptions of the w4s dac as being “too analytical” and lacking warmth. I suspect that my w4s amp and tube pre, is providing good amount of warmth. I obviously have not been able to validate this as I’m using my very limited personal experience with what I have and comments/opinions I have read. Perhaps I could use a bit more of this “analytical” detail? I’ll certainly have a better comprehension of everything once I’m able to try something new in my system.
Any opinions on the upgraded caps in the dac-1? I hear it sound like dac-2. Are the upgraded caps mandatory? Thanks.
"Also, I’ve have read some descriptions of the w4s dac as being “too analytical” and lacking warmth. I suspect that my w4s amp and tube pre, is providing good amount of warmth."

Hi Bklynnupe, I can't speak of how the W4S might work in your system but if your impressions are that you are getting warmth with your tube pre and amp you certainly won't lose any of that with the Wyred. I haven't heard the Rega so can't comment but own a MHDT Havana an Eastern Electric Minimax Plus and an Oppo 95 in my quest for a good budget digital front end I could live with. The thought on purchase of the Oppo is its upgrade capability, particularly the Modwright tube mods, maybe in the future but for now it is in transport duty which it does quite well and is also great for AB comparisons of the different DACs I've purchased over the past 10 months.

After hearing a friends W4S DAC 1 with the cap upgrade in both my system and his the differences are quite clear. The DAC 1 with the cap upgrade is identical to the DAC 2 minus the remote, phase inversion option, volume option and limited to 24-bit 96kHz Asynchronous on the USB input rather than 192khz on the DAC 2. I recently purchased the DAC 1 with cap upgrade and have been happily listening through the Oppo 95 as transport for the past 2 weeks. I am not at this time into streaming or downloading files as of yet since I have an extended music collection and for now, remain on the sidelines. The W4S is NOT, in my experience any of what could be described as bright or analytical. I find it musically engaging and totally non-fatiguing which is the reason I purchased it having the opportunity to listen to my friend's over an extended period. The best review and what I would say is "spot on" with my listening impressions is Steven Stone's review in TAS. It is very resolving of spacial cues as is the Plus and the Oppo, somewhat less the NOS Havana but tonally it has more in common with the Havana but with more weight and large tonal images, greater detail and frequency extension. Superb dynamics and an ease to the presentation that keeps you relaxed and continually engaged in the music, a natural ebb and flow. To me it is clearly in another league over the aforementioned DACs in virtually all parameters although the NOS Havana, missing some of the detail and tonal density, which it is noted for, would be my clear 2nd choice over the either of the other two. I would definitely consider the cap upgrade for the extra 150.00 or just purchase a DAC 2. Hope this helps you somewhat with your concerns.
No experience with the Rega, but I wouldn't describe my W4S DAC 2 as bright or analytical. The Benchmark DAC1 I would describe as "bright and analytical."
Anyone who states the W4S DAC1 or DAC2 is bright or analytical has issues elsewhere in their rig.
I have had the W4S DAC2 almost since it came out and it is a superior product, pretty close to neutral, natural and realistic. You would have to spend 2-3x as much for a slight increment in peformance. The better the source, the better it sounds. I use it with AES/EBU and SPDIF inputs, so cannot opine on how USB input sounds.

I compared my DACMagic with an upgraded power supply to a friends W4S DAC2...the W4S was so analytical that it commented on my choice of socks. Weird. Actually, we liked both of 'em in our little comparison and that made me feel better, and after all, isn't that the important part? Please do not comment on this post if it can possibly make me feel bad.
so analytical that it commented on my choice of socks.

On a literary level, your post makes me feel good.
"Actually, we liked both of 'em in our little comparison and that made me feel better, and after all, isn't that the important part?"

No Wolf, the important part is what's best, Jordan or Lebron, ARC or Lamm, Mercedes or BMW, Walmart or Target, there just HAS to be a best, period end of discussion! Now about that giant killer of yours, tell us more....
I wouldn't call the DacMagic a giant killer, but does sound really good for the money. In fact, I liked some things about it better than it's big brother the 840C(imaging, soundstage). But, as far as transparency and dynamics go, either W4S unit wins hands down. FYI, I had all 3 in the same rig back either at the same time or back to back.

All it really comes down to though, is which you enjoyed the most. But if you're saying the W4S unit was analytical, something had to be amiss. Which input did you use? Source, etc...
Thanks everyone, I think I have my answer.
Face, you’re the one that convinced me to pull the trigger on the w4s amp. One of my best purchases for price and performance. Anyone looking to part with their a dac-1 with upgraded caps, drop me a line.
Anyone who states the W4S DAC1 or DAC2 is bright or analytical has issues elsewhere in their rig.>>>

Face, we tried the W4S II Dac against the Rega DAC and EE Minimax Plus (SS mode) and the W4S sounded brighter and more analytical than either of them, with the EE being the most forgiving at the top end. My system is a pretty huge leap from "bright" sounding. My father, who's 71, doesn't find it bright enough!

I have a question for rega dac owners. do you use the usb--spdif converter, or a toslink connection for streaming from your computer? Which brands do you prefer?
Hi Rob

Interesting that our conclusions are different being that we both have Merlin speakers. I use a different amplifier than you, a Berning zh270 wide bandwidth and would think it might reveal more readily any inherent brightness or rolled off characteristic for that matter. I wouldn't call the EE Plus bright by any stretch in the upper frequencies but I wouldn't call it forgiving either. Actually it is in this area where the Plus excels but not any more than the W4S. Having both on hand I would say they are more alike than different in the upper frequencies. It is the overall tonal character and balance that is different and most apparent, fwiw.

I have not heard that amp, though I have heard good things about it. As specified I'm using the latest version of the Manley Stingray (Type II) with stock tubes.
I also have listened to these DAC's on a friend's system using ARC power with Vandersteen 5a's. The 5a's helped me appreciated how wonderful the far smaller Merlin speakers are, but getting down to the DACs:

After listening to these units I am VERY much in the camp that they sound mostly the same. The differences are very small and only a nut would not be able to become involved in the music with any of them. In fact I'd say that I any experienced audiophile could tune the system appropriately around the DAC and no one could tell. My ultimate preference for the Rega DAC would never have been discovered without insanely detailed and direct comparisons where we STRAINED to hear small differences. So how important is my preference in terms of real-world audio quality?

While I found the Rega superior to the W4S II or EE in soundstage ability I should point out that this was anything close to a big difference and other aspects of the other DACs were compelling.

I'll be upgrading to Merlin VSM's long before I worry about another DAC!