What is the best DAC under $500?

I am looking for a DAC that I can use with my CD player and also computer. I have been looking at the following 3 DAC's:

- Grant Fidelity Tube DAC-11
- Shiit Bifrost DAC
- Emotive DAC

I would appreciate Audiogon members thoughts on these and other DAC's they would recommend as the best DAC in this price range.
Musical Fidelity V-DAC

PS: Is there REALLY a dac called the Shiit Bitfrost? Holy S**T!
Beresford Caimen. Available factory direct on audiogon. I also think the new MF V-DAC is a great dac, but you realy need the separate power supply to go with it.
Right now you can get the Emotiva dac on closeout for 250.00 At that price, it's a steal. I am using one in conjunction with a Musical Fidelity V-Link and couldn't be happier. The dac offers a lot of bang for the buck and is very musical. It is not at all bright or etched sounding.
Kingrex is wonderful but they have no US rep at this time.
CONTRARY to what many people claim, differences between DACs are much smaller than what you'd gather from all of the "This DAC blew away that DAC" threads.
After hearing a DacMagic for 429 bucks go up against my Rega, EE Minimax Plus and an ARC Dac costing a small fortune, I could easily live with any of them providing there is reasonable synergy with other components. Few people really get to compare DACs in their own systems and I assure you that even the entry level stuff sounds great. Expensive amps and preamps often sound MUCH better than lesser ones, but this is just not the case with DACs.
Still, be careful with Tube DACs. I'm not hearing any advantages at all from my admittedly narrow experience with them.
I'd look at the DacMagic and Emotiva unit that was just mentioned. Both are well featured and quite capable.


Also highly recommend the MF V-DAC.
Boy Robbob you may have just saved me a ton of cash if you feel the DacMagic sounded as good as the EE Minimax+. I was looking at the EE recently and was seriously considering getting that unit. Was the one you listened to the DacMagic Plus? I had recently read one of your threads (which became extensive) comparing the Rega and the EE Plus Dacs

I'm officially calling "the emperor has no clothes" on the Minimax Plus. It's a fine DAC, but really no better than many others overall. I feel that most people don't have the chance to compare these DACs against others in a conclusive way. Listening in a showroom is a tough call to say the least. DAC's are so close in performance 95% of the time that your audition can be effected by hundreds of factors, any one of which can lead to a happy, but misguided decision.
My friend sold his Minimax Plus and switched to the Rega. Though there was an element to the tube stage of the EE we did not like, the issue was so small I did not consider the upgrade (or sidegrade!) to the Rega worth the effort of swapping. He doesn't agree.
He borrowed better tubes, went with no tube in SS mode and so on. Too much trouble (for him) when the Rega sounded closer to his turntable rig, but he admits that most people laughed when he switched between the EE and his ARC DAC. They were that close!
Now....The Dacmagic is a bit brighter with a bit more glare perhaps and the soundstage is SLIGHTLY smaller, but it produces HIGH END digital sound when mated to a Mac Mini. Depending on the system some might even find the Dacmagic better than more expensive units. It's very lively sounding and it can be tweaked to sound even better.
Let's also consider this. The reputation of these units IS effected by their availability. The harder it is to find and hear, the more likely that it gets bigger user raves. I've seen this again and again. The EE Plus is harder to hear than the Rega. The Rega is more readily available than the Dacmagic and so on. This effects the public perception of these units more than you might think. Our disappointment in the EE Minimax plus was amplified because I perceived it as more of a "audiophile" product than the Rega. It's harder to get, has a tube and so on. But the Rega was better in most absolute terms.
I have a fairly revealing system with Merlin TSM-MXr speakers and a Manley Stingray II tube amp. I can easily hear differences in PC's, cables and most sources. But DAC's show a smaller range of audible differences than any of them. As I said before, change the amp or pre and you have a huge difference, but this is not the case with good DACs, where you end up comparing apples to VERY slightly different apples! People will pay big for those differences, but I think in many cases that money could go into another part of the system and yield a far better sonic return. No doubt some will differ with me and that's fine, but make the effort to explore on your own. In the end your opinion and satisfaction will be the only thing that matters.

Cheers & happy new year!

Interesting post from Robbob. I myself wouldn't say most DACs sound all _that_ similar, but IME they certainly start to do so when I try to define the sonic differences between them. However when I'm paying attention to a musical message, my preferences seem to appear more clearly.

Having done that, I would say there are DACs which tend to preserve the music at different levels of resolution and different price levels. For example, two musical pieces of equipment at quite different parts of the price spectrum are the Muse TDA 1543 DAC available on eBay and the discontinued Stellavox ST-2. Both of these are NOS DACs, but this is a coincidence. I've heard OS DACs I thought were musical too.
Thank you very much for that post Rob!

My current and first foray into the DAC realm has been and is the HRT Music Streamer ll+. I really think it sounds great but have been wondering just how much better my system can sound. I have spent so much money on other things such as power cords, speaker cables, trasports, amplifiers etc so spending a bit more money for a DAC that will surely outperform the HRT was what i have been wondering about. I can't seem to find anyone that has owned and heard the HRT DAC that i am using, that has also listened to the DACS we are talking about. EE,Rega etc.

I don't want to go crazy with the higher end DACS but i was wondering how much of an sonic improvement could possibly be gained by stepping up the DAC ladder to DACS such as these. From your post i am starting to wonder if i should just stick with my HRT Music Streamer ll+ DAC and call it a day?

BTW and a side note...loving the Pure Music software i just auditioned and just purchased finally last night! That really brought another level of performance to the system for a minor investment IMHO

Observations like mine are rarely popular. Especially for those who paid a lot for certain components that are quickly eclipsed by stuff costing much less. In the world of digital things move fast and plenty of audiophiles focus their resources on other aspects of the system. I'm one of them!

I think part of the issue is that few of us will agree on exactly when a difference or advantage is substantial enough to spend X amount of dollars. I find the differences in the DACs I've heard trivial in most respects. In fact they are so subtle that I question ANY DAC review unless it was done back to back against other units in the same system.

I like my Rega DAC. I can HEAR what it does well compared to the others I've tried. But is it "substantial?" Is the advantage of the Rega DAC worth my friends efforts in selling the very nice EE Minimax Plus, losing money and buying a Rega DAC? He's not reading this so I'll say NO. He's cuckoo for coco puffs as the EE sounded just fine. I like my Rega better in some respects, but then that's what I chose. I've been an audiophile for 30 years. My friend has 15 years more experience than me. I asked him this: If I swapped out the ARC Dac or Minimax Plus for the Centrance would you know it just by listening? "Heck no!" was his honest reply. But he's still changing gear, which is something he likes to do (I hope!).

You can drive yourself nuts with all of this and a good part of the high end market wants you be nuts and keep swapping out gear and trying more stuff and doubting the old stuff and never feel secure with what you have/hear. At some point it has to be just you and the music and the system should come LAST. My Rega DAC/Mac combo sounds very nice, and so does my old Oppo DVD player that cost a fraction of the price. I can't worry any more or I'll be missing out on the greatest part of the hobby...the tunes!

Cheers and happy new year,

I have the Emotiva XDA 1 DAC and couldn't be happier. I am using it w/my Rotel RCD 991 ae CD Player. Even connected to the computer @ 16 bit, it brings everything to life. And you can't beat the value.

If you want Tube, I think Jolida has something for the $500 price range.

Seekburk - I use an older MF A3-24 DAC, using a HiFace converter. That replaced my Classe CDP-10 CD player and gave better results. I tried a HRT Streamer II (not the plus) and although I could hear the difference, I though the HRT was pretty close and a great bargain. I have not heard the II+. Most things I have read say the II is the sweet spot and the II+ is only marginally better. With a 30 day return policy, I think the HRT products are great options to try.

I have not heard the Shiit Bifrost but it has a very loyal - and almost fanatical - following.
I'm running an XDA-1. For me, it was a no brainer for the price. I'm running five digital sources and the XDA meant that I only needed one DAC.

I'm pretty sure that you could find better if you hunted around a listened to a bunch of equipment. All I can say is that my setup sounds good to me and was certainly an improvement over using the internal DAC on my NAD AV preamp.
Thanks guys for your input and especially thank you Rob for that thoughtful post! I think i will be sitting tight for awhile and just enjoying the music as you mentioned you are doing Rob.

Things are sounding very good for me as is, so i think it is just time to chill and enjoy the music, and not be concerned about the next best DAC, and enjoy what i already am listening to.

If i heard some people say conclusively that they heard a significant improvement in tonality by stepping up fromt he HRT Music Streamer ll+ to the Rega, or EE Minimax Plus, then i would have to reconsider, but i haven't heard those definitive comments thus far.