Worlds best DAC

Went to CES this year to work on my transition to high Rez digital. I've heard many of the highly regarded players in my room or in others systems in the past. I'm actually very happy with my current cd based sound. As I listened to various DACS playing CD then high Rez, I was not bowled over. High rez was better, but only slightly so. The best (and most different) sound I heard happened to have one similarity. They were 2 non oversampling DACS with tube analog stages(Zanden and Ypsilon). These were without question the most natural sounding digital systems I heard at the show. They made CDsound miles ahead of high Rez. What gives?

PS: I understand the limitations of show auditions.
What gives?
Not only limitations of show auditions but the rest of the components as well unless you've listened to DAC with headphones.
Non-oversampling DACs have one thing in common: they dont use digital filtering. This is the difference. The problem is that these older chips dont support higher sample-rates. They may also lack some resolution because the noise floors are higher than modern DACs. Very listenable though, particularly the ladder D/A, the PCM1704.

Another way to achieve the same thing, except with a modern hi-res D/A chip is to push the digital filtering up beyond audibility. Works just as well as the NOS DAC, but you get more resolution and supports high sample-rates.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
The Metrum Octave uses no digital filtering and also uses a new chip that give 18 bit resolution as opposed to the 16 bit 1704. Have one ordered.
I have the Metrum Octave NOS DAC. Very natural and organic. Every day I'm amazed at the sound I get from this thing. I'm a firm believer in NOS.
Hi, I know your speakers and cabling well. Have heard the boulder only once, but I know its great stuff.

Have u ever tried dcs? Given your system it might be worth auditioning. I'm in austin, the dealer here is great (also a wilson/transparent dealer). I have a dcs puccini/u clock now and am considering stepping up...I still feel sacd via transport beats any hiz rez computer I've tried (yet that is), my u clock is 24/96 (dcs has announced upgrades to 24/196 via usb...)

Good luck !
The yspsilon does 24/196 and is non-oversampling. I heard no noise. Systems were crystal clear, detailed, and completely lacking in digital harshness. It's possible the show conditions don't reveal deficiencies in deep bass and possibly noise floor. It's hard to imagine that the level of detail retrieval or effortless top end could be worse in one's own system.
Give me an old TDA1541 system with 176khz oversampling, any day.
I was wondering if you had a chance while at CES to hear the CH Precision digital front end. I had the pleasure to hear this digital front end in my system at the beginning of December for a weekend. Like you, I have a good digital front end that I am happy with and I have listened to many other great digital front ends either in my room or in other systems that I a familiar with. In addition, I have a friend who has built a non oversampling dac with a tube output stage using the TDA 1541 dac chip (limited to redbook only). I would agree with you that my friends dac might have been the most natural sounding of them all until I heard the CH Precision. This is by far the best digital that I have ever heard. It is a 2 box design - with a CD/SACD transport and DAC which can also be used as a preamp. the dac has has all of the standard digital inputs as well as asychronous USB, and an ethernet card to be released in February (which they were showing at CES) to allow direct attachment to a network attached storage device. With its full solution you can play CD and SACD using its transport and also redbook and hi-rez digital files from either a computer or a NAS. I didn't get a chance to hear the Ypsilon dac so I don't know how they would compare (and that is difficult to do at CES anyways) but I think the CH Precision gear is certainly worth looking into.

The new PS Audio perfectwave DAC performs best in non- upsampling ("native") mode. The new MKII upgrade has some innovative circuitry on a new digital processing board, involving changes in the powersupplies, and replacement of CMOS switching for the gates and clocking with analog switches. It also implements new jitter reducing circuitry called NativeX. I will get my upgrade tomorrow, but the first reviews are extremely positive. Wonder how the MKII ($4,000 MSRP) would stack up against the mega bucks units mentioned here.
I have about 275 hours on the Perfect Wave DAC MKII upgrade. Don't know if it's the best in the world or not, but I suspect it can compete with anything out there on equal footing. I have never, ever heard digital this good anywhere.
the advantage of a tubed dac is the ability to alter the sound by changing the tube. sometimes one prefers more or less resolution, a warm sound, or other presentation. having a tube , especially in the gain stage has its benefits.

I was in the room with that dac while a friend was listening to something else by that distributor. I thought it was on static display. I wasn't aware that it was a contender. It looked nice as I recall. Do you know the price?
It was in the Musical Artisans room with Magico Q3 speakers and they were using Luxman mono block amps (not sure of the model) with all Argento Flow Master Reference cabling. They are working on an amplifier and that was in the room on static display.

It is definitely a contender as some of the best digital playback around (easily the best that I have ever heard). Its hard to know the exact price as the C1 dac/preamp has multiple options that you can choose - for example the async USB board is an option, as is the Ethernet board. I spoke to the founder of the company, Florian Cossey, while I was there and they are also working on an analog input board that he felt would be available sometime around June of this year. I think the base price of the C1 dac/preamp is in the $30K range. When I listened to it in my room, it sounded best when the C1 unit was used as both a Dac and preamp (it has both RCA and XLR analog outputs). It is also built like a tank - the C1 unit itself weighed around 70 pounds.

Glad to see that the price has been kept low so that we may all enjoy it. Not!
Hi Arnie/Babybear,

Any updates on the CH Precision? I own the Zanden Signature DAC and am likely to keep it for some time to come having elected to pass on a trade-in option for Wadia S7, DCS Scarlatti and various ARC equipment. However, I came across the STahl-Tek Vekian and was intrigued/tempted.

I then read about CH Precision...first from you!. And then i saw this morning that a superb SOTA system (Rockport Arrakis 2 speakers, 2 sets of Gryphon Mephisto monos, 6 SOTA turntables, Transp Ref Opus MM2 cabling everywhere, dedicated room, etc, etc)...just got a CH Precision digital system so now I am seriously interested to know more...since i like the system this person has, having gotten to know Gryphon electronics, Transp Audio cabling and Rockport speakers. Thanks for any update!!!
Hi Lloyd,

I would say this about the CH Precision. I have had the opportunity to listen to it - meaning both the D1 CD/SACD transport and the C1 DAC/Preamp in my system (this was back at the end of November 2011). If you have a digital only system such that you could use the C1 DAC not only as a DAC but also utilizing the preamp section, then it is amazing sounding digital. At the time it was the best that I had heard (which includes the Esoteric P03/D03/G0s combo that I owned at the time, the EMM XDS1, and the full DCS Scarlatti stack.) However, if you have an analog front end and therefore would want to continue to use whatever preamp you are using and would only use the C1 DAC as a DAC feeding your preamp, then while still very good digital, the CH Precision combo will drop back much closer to the other units above based on what I heard - perhaps still a little better in some ways, but its magic is clearly when used without an additional preamp in the chain. Also, the build quality is superb - better even than the Esoteric.

I know that CH Precision was working on an analog input board for the C1. I don't know if it is available yet, but the downside to me was that they were planning to take the signal from the analog input and then convert it to 24/192 digital and process it as a digital signal which is not something that I wanted to do with my analog front end.

Let me know if you have other questions. Thanks

Thank you! That is really good to know. I love my CJ GAT preamp, and i am loathe to give it up. Which means i am expecting to use my digital thru the GAT.

I am torn between keeping my Zanden DAC which i have found no desire to change whatsoever in 5 years...and possibly going with the latest upgrade from Zanden which costs a fraction of any new (even second hand) digital system.

...or not spending more on Zanden...if there is something that matches the NOS DAC magic but with all the tremendous detail, low noise floor of these latest DACS.

FWIW, i would not trade my Zanden for DCS Scarlatti even though Scarlatti has much greater detail, lower noise floor...because for some reason, i find the purity of tonality or something about the fluidity of the Zanden is superior. just my two cents.

any thoughts about these elements in the CH Precision are most appreciated! Especially if you've heard the Zanden.
Hi Lloyd,

You're welcome.

I have not heard the Zanden so I cannot comment on it. You can check my system page and see that I ended up going with a digital front end from MSB. I use it through my preamp as well. I was looking for a digital front end that would allow me the flexibility to play redbook CD, SACD as well as Hi-rez PCM (where those were truly hi-rez and not already on SACD). The MSB solution on my system page allows me to do all of this. It also sounds amazingly good. I would say that it definitely betters the CH Precision when both go through my preamp and would give the CH Precision a run for its money when the CH is used direct to my amps. It is a far richer and more natural sounding digital solution than the other digital front ends that I have listened to with amazing resolution, the lowest noise floor of the ones that I have heard and an ease and liquidity about it that is just great to hear.
Other than the non oversampling school such as Zanden, check out the Orpheus Heritage, built by Anagram Technologies, uses their most advanced chip sets which are not available to any other manufacturers.
Unfortunately no digital will ever sound any good until they dispense with the sine x/x assumption in the maths, which creates truncation errors on every calculation. There may be some professional DAC's on the planet that do this, but the issue becomes a licensing nightmare as one could argue that it ceases to be red book CD.
With regard to the Orpheus I note that the designer dispenses with the incoming master clock signal. Instead, the ultra-advanced algorithms inside the Heritage derive a new clock signal from the transport's incoming data
I have access to a DAC which does the same, it recreates the clock from the data stream and uses non sine x/x calculations along with several other tweaks and it is significantly less grainy than anything commercially available.
I have heard the Meitner/Emm Labs - quite good, sort of musical, great depth, lowish level of grain and DCS - let's just say not my cup of tea.
The oversampling reduces the sine x/x errors.
And further to the above, the other digital system which I can listen to uses a power amp similar in architecture to the Devialet D-Premier which is supposedly the first product to feature a new form of amplification called ADH® (Analogue/Digital Hybrid), specially developed by Devialet.
The amplifier I listen to which predates the Devialet by some years, has an analogue input, digital switching output stage wherein proprietary algorithms reverse out the sine x/x truncations errors as well as any other measureable system errors upstream. It switches at less than a trillionth of a second.
This technology seems to redefine what is possible with digital. Unfortunately for most of us our analogue systems are of a different construct ( yes I still prefer analogue ).
Thanks, Dover! Very helpful. Since i bought my Zanden 2nd hand 5 yrs ago...seems like perhaps i will keep it and maybe go for the 'relatively' affordable upgrade which apparently helps lower the noise floor, improve detail/decay mainly thru shielding and better wiring. Thanks again!
Hi ARnie,

Thanks for that...yes, i have just picked up the Hifi Critic review of your digital system. I will re-read it now, knowing that is what you've got. thanks!
DAC's have improved greatly over the last few years, it's most noticeable from the highest end of the industry. Although the differences may at first seem small, the removal of many digital artifacts makes the overall event much more relaxing and musical, not to mention the extra openness and air that accompanies it.
Of coarse all the best gear in the world won't sound right without proper system synergy, including cabling. It's taken me years and more money than I care to think about to create digital thats comparable to my analog rig. I hope this won't influence an analog verses digital debate, the mood I'm in usually determines which I prefer.
Everything else in the system being the same... same room, same calble, same power supply, same ambinet temperature, etc., I am not sure how anyone can play a CD on a std. CD player and not hear a pretty decent difference between that and a nice DAC.

Once you take away the spinning disc itself, motor, laser pickup, power supply noise, jitter, etc. and just send data to a DAC and let the DAC do its thing, you will have a big difference ion sound. Not with all DACs... if you are still connecting to a DAC with USB, toslink, etc., you are missing out still. The LINN DS units connect to your network via CAT5 and just send "data" to the DAC for it do "go to work". If you are using a PC, laptop, etc. and a connection like USB or wireless to some other device, then through a cable, you are missing out.

My LINN Akurate DS will compete and usually sound better than CD players in excess of $10k. Not to mention that my entire library of music is at my fingertips via and iPad.
i agree with bflowers assessment of the zanden, but in its original version, rather than the current version.

the original had more of a classic tube sound. another dac worthy of consideration is an early version of the wavelength cosecant.
I would suggest finding a DAC that allows for opamp swapping. I have found that swapping out stock IC opamps for Discrete opamps (such as Dexa or Burson) really makes a big difference. While I still prefer analog, I have found that my digital listening experience has been greatly improved. I also like having the option to switch between SS and tube output. The more flexibility I have to customize the sound to my tastes, the better.
I have been invited to listen tothe Metronome Kalista Ref SE Thursday with the new Wilson Alexandria XLF and the D'Agostino Momentums. Will post.

Meanwhile, the more i think about it...the more i think hi-res has some ways to go...particularly on the music selection side. Since i already own the Zanden and have been exceptionally happy with it for the last 5 years...i might just look for a 2nd hand Zanden transport and be done with it for a few more years. While i think computers have done an incredible job of trouncing transports on a 'dollar per pound' basis, i still find the best SOTA transports (particularly ones designed to go with specific DACs) preferable to my ears. Plus, i am not a fan of trying digitize my whole with crashing computers, backup files, etc...i just like to drop in a cd and push play and go back to work.
So i was (very kindly) invited to the introduction of the new XLF...superb room...D'Agostino Momentum monos...Kalista Ref CD player, ARC Ref 5SE preamp...Transp Opus MM2 Cabling throughout. On the face of it...a superb system and one to be reckoned with. Here's my view of the experience:

- Supreme 'density of signal'...greater by a 'meaningful margin' than Audio Exotics room in Hong Kong (Tidal Sunrays with 2 Tidal tower subs, 3 sets of Tidal Impact monos, Tidal Presencio, Stahl-Tek Vekian, Argento Master Ref cabling, Tripoint grounding/AC).
- This is where i think newer electronics have come a long way (and good speakers thought not necessarily 'the newest ones'...older SOTA is still amazing) being able to take the signal and through substantially lower noise floors, more exacting detail retreival...really are able to deliver a very strong, focused, concrete music signal. Older electronics...mainly digital...tend to deliver a 'weaker music signal'...almost like a flashlight where the batteries are getting low.
- On this was like brand new lightbulb and batteries and flashlight. Very impressive.

- Better bass than i recall with X2 Series 2...but that's not a definitive statement because too many variables. What I CAN say for sure, is that this XLF will NOT replace any well setup X2 Series with a good sub. That is not close.

sound on tracks i know extremely well was 'a bit shouty'...which surprised me. I am going to give the system the benefit of the doubt and say there were probably more than a few new components...most likely the Ref 5 SE, as well as of course the speakers, and possibly the Momentums and speaker cables.
- By 'shouty' i mean that even on Amos Lee...on whom Norah Jones does background vocals so you get the idea...his voice felt a little like he was singing/shouting. And that was not the only track where i felt this touch of slightly raw overpowering force.
- Based on what i understand about the new tweeter, and what i already know about the X2, X2 Series 2 and likely the XLF mids, i might point at the Momentum monos which i have heard are 'slightly harder' than the stereo version. I am familiar with the Kalista, Ref 5 (non SE), Transp cables and the X-1, X2 series, so that is my guess.

i appreciate the opportunity to hear it, having heard the Audio Exotics Room last year with similar/same music. Feel free to ask/PM for any other observations.
I don't know how the original question could be answered.
1. No one has heard all the DACs available.
2. Even if someone had heard all DACs that are available, the "best" would be an opinion which could very easily differ from listener to listener.
3. All DACs would have to be heard through the same system in the same room with as few variables as possible.
4. Just as an opinion was being formulated a new DAC would appear that could possibly throw the whole deal out the window, a moving target so to speak.
I'm always leery of "the best" threads.
I don't know about best, but I can say this:

I have yet to hear another digital front end that sounds as liquid, as analog, as musical, as my NOS, tubed, Audio Note DAC 4.1 fed computer files. I have heard only 1 or 2 analog systems that I'd say sounded "about" as musical.

fwiw, I've been a musician for 34 years on a variety of instruments so I'm extremely familiar with the natural prat and timbre of real instruments and live performance.
Hi Jon,

Good to know...just read your post. How have you found 'SOTA' transports compare with computer fed files? I would believe that computer files would compete very well on transports up to around 5K, maybe even more...but given the status of your AN DAC 4.1, it would certainly warrant true SOTA transports! I am wondering if you have made the comparison...thanks for any insights!
I'm not sure digitsl transports I've been exposed to qualify as SOTA.

In my system, I've heard:
-- Ayre cx-7e
-- Oppo bd95
-- marantz sa8004

In other systems, at dealer showrooms and friends, cd and sacd transports from:
-- Cary Audio
-- Oppo
-- bel canto
-- esoteric
-- ayre
-- sim audio
-- Electrocompaniet
-- modwright Sony
Others I can't remember. I don't think any have been super high end components though, maybe more mid tier, but many solid contenders, and some in systems with much higher end gear than my modest setup.

My favorites of what I have heard have been the ayre, the esoteric, and the marantz.

I'd take the transporter and computer files over any of them. If I had to boil the difference down to one concept, it is that with computer audio, the transport seems to disappear to me, while spinning transports seem to add a color of their own, they seem somehow more present. A really subtle and very hard to articulate difference. Not to mention the massive convenience factor of 20000 songs at my fingertips, literally (iPad).

I think it may not be an entirely fair comparison though because I've essentially tuned my system around the transporter, keeping components that have synergized well and moving on when not.
I should add that if anyone wants to swing by with a $20k transport I'm up for the comparison! (Tampa Fl area).
Oh yeah, another one that stood out to me was a MacBook pro feeding an ayre qb-9. That sounded incredibly good. Might actually be my favorite front end after mine. Of course, that's also computer files.

I really want to stress that I am by no means an audiophile expert, just another amateur listening to as many things as I can conveniently come across. And as I've said the circles I run in don't include front ends costing upwards of 10, 20k, etc.

So, all in context.
I think we are too hung up on the merits of "computer files" versus "CDs". They are both the exact same data. What matters are the timing errors in the transfer of this data to the DAC. In typical synchronous transfer mode, the transport provides the clock to the DAC, so it stands to reason that whatever transport provides the most accurate clocking sounds the best. You can get USB converters with very good clocks - better than what you find in any CD transport. This is why with the top notch hardware computer audio typically beats CD.
what might be worth doing is to compare a "hi rez" file or disc , with the redbook version.

i have done this, as i own, several reference recording cds and hi rez discs.

i found that one is different but not better than the other.

i have also been thinking about the quest for the world's best.... (fill in the component).

it should be obvious, that since audio is a subjective subject, there will always be differences in opinion as to one component being better than another.
Hi Mr. Tennis,

I have been reading your posts for years...ever since i first got onto AGon many years ago. Thanks for continuing to contribute.

I have read pretty much every post you ever made about Zanden...and i know something of your stated preferences for older tubed equipment. Personally, i think much tubed equipment struggled the last 5 years to get the switch from golden hue to got a bit sterile/white in imho. However, the current latest units (CJ GAT) really feel like they managed to take the golden hue, release the thickened bits and retain the golden light bit...

On that note, have you ever spent time with the Zanden Transport? Would REALLY appreciate your guidance, as i own the Zanden Signature and despite waiting 5 years for computer audio to match SOTA transports...i have found the Zanden Transport keeps calling as the price (and CD prices!) continue to drop.

Any advice on the benefit of the Zanden Transport (compared to my little blu-ray player)?? Thank you!
Orpheus Heritage.-
Thanks Argyro,

I have not heard the Orpheus but have read about it on a few reviews. Can you comment on how it compares with Stahl-Tek Vekian Opus, or Zanden? Those are my two favorite digital sources. Thank you!
I have heard the Vekian, not the Zanden, bare in mind I do not believe in non over sampling "musical" DACS, I also know Mr. Ypsilon as I am from Greece.

The Vekian is a really really great DAC, I would have it number 2 in my list after the Orpheus! It is more "fat" sounding if you know what I mean, you would call it a bit more musical than the Orpheus I would call it a bit more colored than the Orpheus, the Heritage plays what exactly is in the disc. Both are great DACS with minor differences...

In any case enjoy your quest, you are dealing with great DACs here...
Weiss Medea plus will put most of the above to shame.

The Vekian is over priced and approaching obsolete now. Sure the Orpheus will be up there too. But that Weiss (used with a FireWire mac) is the finest & purest digital sound I know.
Or a LINN Akurate DS with no USB or Firewire connection to deal with.
Thanks, Argyro! Good to know!

Chad - i have heard the original Medea and understand it is quite different from the new Medea+...the original was less my flavor, but i will try to give the new one a listen.

Audiofreak - thanks to you too for your recommendation. Have heard the Linn Akurate...very impressive as well.
hi chadeffect:

it's not possible to audition all dacs that ever existed. while i appreciate your enthusiasm for the weiss medea, i have auditioned it myself several times, with different transports.
i prefer the original zanden to the weiss dac. perhaps because i perceived a more full-bodied, classic tube sound, while the weiss with transport had a more linear sound.

i think one of the issues in this hobby is preference for spectral balance, which will determine component choices.
World's best,huh?
Chadeffect although the new Weiss Medea Plus is an amazing product, heard the first unit that came to my country, I think the Vekian and especially the Orpheus are quite a bit better. They are not 3 times better though as their price suggests. By the way I owned the original Weiss Medea.

Happy Listening Everyone.


Thanks for that...good to know.
Hi Mrtennis,

I agree. Personally I only ever used the medea in FireWire mode with Amarra direct into various amps. The zanden adds to digital what my Yamamoto adds to the Medeas über clean untouched approach IMHO.

Personally I want my audio untouched. But obviously this means the synergy between the system needs to be finely tuned.


I felt the Vekian had nowhere near the openness in the treble or anywhere near the transparency & lack of grain of the Medea.

Again I agree with you that each of the above mentioned products balance is completely differently if used with preamps or without, or with transports or computers etc.

As always set up is everything. I found the Medea plus to be utterly true to the source (with FireWire). That's why I find it the best DAC I know. If you want editorialized signal then you need to look elsewhere.
Has anyone auditioned the TotalDac and if so is it considered among one of the best?
Has anyone auditioned the TotalDac and if so is it considered among one of the best?

I have it. It's the best I've had by far. (eg. Mpd-5, BMC DAC1, Empirical Audio (top upgrades).