What DAC upgrade made you say “DAMN, that sounds SO MUCH better than my last DAC”?

As the title suggests, what was your overall system and DAC at the point where you bought only a new DAC and said “DAMN, that sounds SO MUCH better than my last DAC”?

I’m a novice and so many people talk about improvements from new equipment as if they were only listening to varying degrees of static until they bought more and more new equipment which added up to them finally being presented with music. It’s like Salome and the seven veils. But when does the last veil get peeled away? 

So what system did you have and what DAC did you swap in that made you say “DAMN!!!!”?

I guess I’m looking for night and day differences, not gradual progressions……

I have owned many DACs. Starting at the ~$1K range and then higher: Ayre QB-9, Sim Moon 650D with the add on $8K power supply, Schiit Gungnir multibit, Schiit Yggi, upgraded Ayre QB-9 2020, Audio Research CD9Se, and Berkeley Alpha 3. The most profound was the Audio Research CD9se.

My dealer brought over a Audio Research 160s amp for me to audition. Without me asking he also brought over a ARC CD9se (DAC with transport). He said, “you should try this”. He knows me well and we have similar tastes… I have the system and space he would really like to own. I was almost a little annoyed. I could barely afford the amp, I was very happy with my then current Sim Moon 650D (with extra power supply $17K). I auditioned the amp. It was clearly a winner. So, I reluctantly hauled out the CD9se. I felt obligated to at least be able to articulate why I didn’t want it. I hooked it up to my streamer. Literally 2 seconds listening… to get to “wholly cow”. And another 10 of 15 seconds to conclude he just sold me one… and damn, where am I going to get the $17K for this thing?

There was absolutely no question I had to buy the DAC. It was so natural, and detailed, and real. It completely transformed my system, in all good ways. So, is it my last DAC? Well, maybe. My audio guy really likes my system and space and wanted to test the Berkeley Alpha 3 (22K) he just started carrying. So he came over and we spent the afternoon with it. He left it for a couple weeks. I was able to use both DACs, volume leveled and switch back and forth. The difference was minuscule… but the ARC was a bit warmer (tiny… itsy bitsy), but in my mind slightly better.

So, “Damn, that is so much better than my last DAC”. Yes.

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