What's the greatest bargain in DAC's these days?


Hi, Gang,
I am currently running my Music Hall CD 25.2 CD player as a transport through my Musical Fidelity M1 DAC. I also have the Musical Fidelity V-Link 192 for playing hi-res files from the USB port on my laptop.
DAC's are such a fast-moving market segment that I started to wonder whether there was a "stupid good" DAC, even better than the MF M1 DAC, that could be had for well under $1000.
I started a thread in the Amps/Preamps forum called "What's The Greatest Bargain in SET These Days" that yielded tons of great info. I hope this thread does, as well!
rebbi
I think there are many really good ones for very modest cost these days, especially over the last 3-5 years or so. I consider both mhdt DACs I use to be exceptional bargains. SO much so that I have not been inclined to shop around. Even the DACs in many general purpose computers these days are pretty darn good if you give them a listen with suitably matched headphones.
Audio Advisor is selling the Parasound Zdac for $299.95. I bought one and find that it is exceedingly close in performance to my Benchmark DAC1.
When I say "really good", what I really mean is good performance, ie low jitter. That puts you in the league. However, much like cartridges, most DACs will sound different to some extent still. This is more where judgements about what sounds good or best come into play as opposed to performance. Each person's case and choice is likely to be different. So its a lot like shopping for clothes. You may find many good bargains, but not everyone will be right for you.
I always based on the latest (Asynchronous) electronic technology at the lowest price. Such as Parasound ZDAC2 and Music Hall 25.3 tube DAC for less than $500.
Asynchronous is a USB mode. If its USB to DAC, then you definitely want a good Asynchronous USB implementation that allows the clock designed for high performance on the DAC to be in control. Its becoming more common with USB DACs to operate this way in recent years.
Teredak Chamelion. This is a non oversampling dac with 16 parallel chips. Sounds like great analog. $500
Alan
The Wyred Dac1 is a superb Dac with all the latest and greatest. It is upgradeable which is a huge advantage with the rapidly changing technology.
I had the Parasound Z Dac, the Musical Fidelity V Dac with pagea p100 power supply and the Musical Fidelity M1 dac all at the same time and did thourough a/b/c testing. I preferred them in the order I listed them. Interesting that the v dac with pangea p100 beat the M1 dac in my oppinion.

Musical fidelity offers the worst customer service I have ever experieced. Changed the whole way I buy audio gear now.

I've had my eye on the schitt bifrost uber lately... There may be better sounding dacs from china or japan but I wont take another over seas custom service gamble.

I like my cars German, my audio gear American and my Women European :)
I think the QB-9 DSD has great price/performance.
I like my cars, audio and women to all be German.
Sadly my wallet disagrees.
Shubert, no love for Swiss audio? I guess that is even more detrimental to the wallet! LoL
No Wisnon, I'm holding out for T+A , MBL system with one of those 50K German TT's .
Seriously, go to Berlin or Munich audio shows. You'll want to go Deutsch too.
The Sim Audio's Moon 300D version 2. Awesome. Music direct has them at half off.
Chord Hugo and Chord 2Qute. The Hugo is their portable DAC that also sounds great in a home environment. They just announced the 2Qute which is the Hugo board in their small desktop box without the portable features but with added galvanic isolation. The Hugo is $2400 and the 2Qute will be $1800. Chord does not use standard DAC chips but writes their own code. Supports up to 384K PCM and 1x and 2x DSD. Hard to beat at those price points.
MBL is my favorite also, but I too, can't afford it.

I could have added to that list german food and german beer :)

As for women, well I'd take Italian, French, Czeck, German, Spanish...

What were originally talking about?
Shubert,

In live in CH and have gone to the Zurich and Montreux shows, as well as the Warsaw shows. German brands are well represented at all except Montreux...Swiss only.

Germany has some great brands like Fisher&Fisher (slate speakers), AvanteGuard, MBL, Bermester, German Physics,Kaiser, Lansche, Acoustic Plan, Manger, Lindemann,Back & Muller, Voxativ, etc (many I can't even recall), but so do the French (Focal, Devialet, etc) and Italians (Viva/Serblin, Sonus Faber, Angstrom, Onda Ligera etc). they all have great names that many have not even heard about. So yes, I have TOTAL respect for these guys...

BUT

For a tiny country, the Swiss are a powerhouse that punches above their weight. The NUMBER ONE high end audio company in the world is Goldmund of Geneva. The Swiss also have vaunted FM Acoustics, CH Precision, Dartzeel, Stenheim, Nagra, Soulution, Sound Kaos, SwissSonor, Illusonic, Audio Consulting, Tron, Eternity Jo, Vovox, Studor/Revox, Colotube, Rowen (only sold in CH), Boenicke, Heil AMT, Piega, LumenWhite, Weiss, AktivAudio, and many others I cant even recall now.

For phonostage, I cant see anyone beating FM Acoustics. The theoretical best TT of all the the LumenWhite Mystere (read up on it and see why its an all out assault on the SoTA...a bargain at $60K. LoL).

I planned on making Munich this year with a couple pals, but it seems like family priorities may get in the way. I hope to do a demo on a soon to be released Dartzeel product that will be surprisingly affordable and will have the audio world buzzing.

After this mini-treatise, I hope you go out and do a little digging and start dreaming in Swiss. Absolutely droolworthy stuff here. LoL

Anyway Schubert, on refelection this could be a good thread to start...ie the relative prowess of countries in Audio..Many have a lot to be proud of indeed.
In line with the thread, are any of those bargains?
Well, if the Parasound Z-DAC is as good as some of you say it is, it should
be a steal! And that Simaudio Moon 100D is also very well priced at Music
Direct. But just to point out that the really cheap one at Music Direct is the
v.1. The v.2 is also on sale, but it's $1150. :-/
@ Mapman...only bargain I see is the 50% off on the Sim Audio. Think I'd opt for the 100D @ $300 if I was in the market for a bargain DAC. My BDP-105 is my go to around here.
You might want to check out the Arcam irDAC. It's been well reviewed. I have the predecessor to it, the rDAC, and have been very pleased with its performance and function.
The Arcam player that used to license the DCS ring DAC technology was definitely a bargain at the time but my understanding was that arrangement ended a few years back?
The greatest DAC bargain these days is the PS Audio DirectStream DS DAC that can be had for as little as $3500 used on Audiogon.
@Mapman- Yes, with the rDAC Arcam was licensing USB technology from dCS. With irDAC they have used trickle down technology from their own reference D33 DAC. The irDAC also comes with a remote which the rDAC does not have. In the near future I hope to try an irDAC and compare it with my rDAC.
I am wondering if any of the sub $1000 class DACs are any better than the M1, different maybe, but better? Especially when using a USB/SPDIF converter.
Not exactly cheap, but I would still call the Vitus RD-100 a high end bargain given it has modular construction like the Signature Series, making it easy to upgrade the dac as new/upgraded modules become available in future. The RD-100 uses technology from the awesome Signature Series SCD-010 cdp/dac, but pushes the performance to the next level resulting in even better sound. It is also a preamp well done & has two analogue inputs, an array of digital inputs & an improved version of Vitus's relay-based volume control, meaning you only need add a power amp, speakers & digital source (eg: Mac Mini, Server, laptop) and you're done!
I heard quite a few DACs
If you have some DIY skills the best value DAC is the DDAC This is capable of going up against the big boys. Close behind (very close) is the JK Cunas. If you want to go via SPDI then the Caiman mk2 via a battery is pretty hard to beat
If into DIY, the Twisted Pear Buffalo DAC is a relatively easy kit to build-- requiring, however, a customer-supplied chassis. I've built several iterations from Buffalo II through Buffalo IIISE, in stereo and dual mono. The latest Placid 2.1 and AVCC regulator upgrades have raised the bar for TP and for all commercially available implementations of the ESS reference 9018 Sabre chip. Whatever your biases for or against the ESS chip, this one will astonish.
Johnjc,
I can't find references to either of those DAC's. Can you provide any links?
I have narrowed the field to wanting a DAC with variable level analogue outputs. In the sub $1000 category, I see the Parasound ZDAC v.2 and the Jolida FX Mark III. Anybody have thoughts about the relative merits of these two units?
Hey Rebbi,

I like what Melbguy1 shared about the Vitus product. Upgradability and versatility are where its at. On the lower budget side of things...a good friend uses an FX in a second system with great results. Rolled in some better tubes and it sounds very dimensional and natural with good dynamics for the $$. The downside is it needs to be on for 10 hrs before sounding its best. I recently bought a brand new Music hall dac myself from CL because it was such a good deal. 15.2 model for $100. w/box perfect. It really didn't sound very good except... it had better than average resolution, huh.
I will have to add to this story later...need to stay after another project here. It has a very happy ending!
I built a Buffalo IIIse into my 26 tube preamp, using the 26 tube fed by Lundahl LL1676 transformers as its output stage, and added a Sonore asynchronous USB board in there as well. Salas Reflektor-D regulators supply power for the DAC and USB board, fed from a choke input LCLC power supply. So now I can plug S/PDIF, USB, and six conventional sources all into the same box and switch between them. The combination of the Buffalo IIIse with 1920's tube technology is very nice, indeed!

If you already have a tube preamp with some room in the chassis and some DIY skills, adding the Buffalo IIIse board for $279.00 (with TP regulators included) is a great bargain! Excellent sound as well.

The Preamp that became a DAC
Ait, thanks. Amazing the various approaches taken by DIYers with the Twisted Pear kit.

I'm also using a transformer output from a battery-powered BIIISE, a 1:2 Audio Consulting Silver Rock transformer into balanced SS buffers. I may try a balanced 300b buffer as an alternative to SS. I have a Paul Hynes master regulator chassis on order to compare to battery power and to provide more rails for transition to CPU audio.

I was unaware of the Sonare USB board. What is its current requirement?
After_hrs,
Yeah, I have to say that I'm not the world's biggest fan of Music Hall's stuff. I have their CD 25.2 CD player, which I now use as just a transport out to my DAC. It's fine for what it is, but when the remote died Music Hall was of no help. I eventually found a guy in LA who sold me a remote from another Music Hall unit that works with my CD player. But good luck getting service on their stuff.
Dgarretson,

The Sonore board was designed with the Buffalo DAC in mind. It accepts both PCM and native DSD, completely isolates the USB side from the clean side, has its own oversampling filter (optional to use) which they claim is superior to that on the ES9018 chip (I'm still evaluating that), and can be run synchronously with the Buffalo board if so desired.

Here's a link:

http://www.rendu.sonore.us/USB.html

It requires ~300mA to run and can be used with either a 5V supply fed into its own on-board regulator, or with a 3.6V supply bypassing its on-board regulator. I'm using a Salas Reflektor-D regulator set at 3.6V for mine. Sound is very, very nice...I especially like DSD so far.
I would look at the Schitt Dacs, hard to beat for the money. Upgradeable and non sampling if that matters.
I would agree that conventional DACS have platued in performance... I would personally look into better speakers, headphones for a quantum leap in performance
No schitt :-)

sorry, could not resist!!!
You need to go to computer audiophile site if you want more up to date suggestions. Agon is mostly populated by analog afficionado's who have not kept up with current DAC technology. Any DAC recommended that doesn't support asynch USB and DSD is obsolescent
Davide,
Interesting perspective. I'll check that out.
lol, I was talking to someone about Schiit the other day. It's hard not to giggle when you are talking about their products, and there really isn't away around saying "Schiit" when referring to them.

I still think that the bifrost uber will be my next dac.

My last dac was the Parasound Z Dac. Great dac for $300 from music direct. The Z Dac has a very organic, natural musical sound in my opinion. It sounded more analog to me than the MF V Dac, MF M1, and Cambridge audio dacs.
You may be very surprised at how natural sounding the Metrum Octave is (around $1,200 new). Finding one on the used market would be an even greater treat. I've spoken with more than a few people who ditched they're more expensive dacs in favor of the Octave.
I've had the Metrum Octave, to me it was just a bit mushy or soft. It didn't have the definition I wanted, easy to listen too, but boring. I replaced it with the BMC PureDac and find it more lively without giving up any of the smoothness. I also have the iFi in a 2nd system and am amazed at what they inexpensive little guy can do!
Thank you for the tip on the Parasound ZDAC. I picked one up from Audio Advisor along with a Schiit Sys passive preamp and this thing sounds fantastic for the money. I was looking for a DAC for a second system and was also considering the Nuforce DAC9 which usually goes for around $1k used.

The ZDAC has excellent detail and has a nice substantive sound to it. By that I mean the images seem fairly well fleshed out and have body. The soundstage is a bit narrow, but then again my other DAC is a Tube Audio Design PreDAC which has a very large soundstage since it has a tube output stage.

All in all I'm very happy with the ZDAC and doubt there's a better value (new) for less than the $300 I paid from AA.
Hey Folks,
I wanted to "bump" and refresh this discussion a bit because almost 8 months have gone by since I started this thing and the DAC market is so fast moving.
I'm definitely in the market for a new DAC to replace my Musical Fidelity M1 (fed with a MF V-Linki 192 USB-to-SPDIF converter for computer audio). I am looking for something with an "analogue" sound (aren't we all?) that will not sacrifice detail but might take some of the harshness out of some digital recordings. I need to use the DAC for both hi-res files on a Mac laptop and hooked up to a CD transport. My budget is "under $1000, the lower the better."
The Parasound ZDAC is definitely in the running.
I've also heard good things about the Jolida FX III.
The Schiit Bitfrost Uber with all the latest upgrades is a possibility, as is the Gugnir.
The Peachtree DAC itX is another option.
Your thoughts?
With the introduction of the Rega DAC-R at $1200 it is now possible to find good deals on used Rega DAC (first version that sold for $1000).
They are selling for about $500 used and are supposed to be very analog sounding. May be a good choice for your needs.
Yamamoto YDA-02. $350 plus $30 shipping from 2Juki. It only plays up to 96kHz, no dsd. It only has a usb input.

I bought one a couple months ago. I'm using it with a Mac Mini. It is my first foray into computer audio. I have no other experience with any other dac, so take this with a grain of salt. That said, I find the YDA-02 to be imminently listenable, plenty detailed but not harsh at all. It is engaging and very easy to listen to for hours at a time.

It sounds a little less "you are there" than my Sony XS5400ES cd/sacd player, but the the YDA-02 is a great value I think at $350. I think the YDA-02 can be tweaked to sound even better, perhaps by using an outboard linear power supply like the TeraDak or using something like the MF V-Link converter like you have.
Hi Rebbi - good luck in your search. Can't give you a direct comparison vs all your options. Previously I was using a Gen 1 V-DAC w/V-Link. I went to a Gungnir with V-Link 192. I was playing some CDs I'd copied to hard drive yesterday and was marveling at the sound...especially as just the day before my lengthy listening session was to vinyl. The Gungnir/V-Link/MBA combo sounded great...very mellow and full in what to me resembles what I like from vinyl "sound". Worth noting is I purchased a USB cable with split power/signal runs and use this from MBA into V-Link. ALSO - have recently switched to Morrow Audio MA4s ICs (w/Eichmann Silver RCAs) going from Gungnir to pre-amp. Not saying you'd go wrong with your other options but the V-Link/Gungnir combo is working for me. As someone else will undoubtedly say (I'm sure you know this) best way to find what works for you is to audition.
Ross Martin, you can get a 8 channel DAC for $800. Top of the line chip too.