Aqua La Scala Optologic Mk2 on the cheap, used and sub $3000?

I’ve had a great time with a borrowed Aqua La Scala Optologic in my system. Played with the Antipodes CX / Ex combo (also borrowed) the sound was sublime, palpable and emotionally connected me to the music. Given the evolution of digital and the significant depreciation involved, I’m a real fan of used at the moment.

I picked up a good deal on a 1TB Innuos Zen MKiii. With my current Ayre Codex, it’s decent, but nowhere in the same league as the Aqua. The Aqua design appeals for a couple of other reasons:

1) I believe R2R is a better way forward on PCM, it just sounds right!
2) I’m heavily invested in high Rez (SACD) and I require that ability
3) I firmly believe the more you transform the bits, the more damage you can do the the SQ. Therefore I don’t want to have Roon convert DSD to PCM on the fly. For me, The DAC needs to handle DSD natively.

If it wasn’t for the DSD, a MHDT Orchid modded by Grannyring, or the Tubadour iii SE are highly regarded music makers and easy choices. What then with R2R and native DSD at a more economical used price point? (The La Scala sells for approximately $4k)

Sure there is the Aqua La Voice S3, for the $1000 less used, I’m told the La Scala is the better value in spite of the cost differential. Part of the cost of the Aqua line is on the ability of the boards to be upgraded, the other is labor costs in Italy verses the Orient. Too bad these other guys don’t offer DSD!

I’ve heard the Lampi Amber 3 might be a good choice, though I’ve also heard it’s a little more forward particularly with PCM. Getting the overall timbre color and tonality correct (the meat on the bones if you will) is really important to me, if the DAC gets this right, usually lesser recordings are more listenable. So what else is there?

I recently bought a new Amber 3 and absolutely love it. It is open, dynamic, palpable, and lifelike in its presentation. Maybe that would be seen as "forward" relative to something darker and relaxed but the overall presentation is just right in my opinion and I struggle to find any real weaknesses. I find it very friendly to lesser recordings (it’s paired with a LM SET amp and Spendor’s). The digital engine does everything from redbook to PCM hi-res to native DSD extremely well - I no longer have any desire to upsample in Roon or HQP. They have updated the USB module as well - it switches formats instantly and silently. Another thing I like is that Lampi always has upgrade paths when new versions come out - something important in the fast moving world of DAC’s.
Having owned the Amber 3, a highly upgraded Orchid, and listening to the AM and can tell you a used Mojo Audio Mystique V3 dac is easily the best dac I have ever heard. My friend also purchased one and found it substantially better than the Aqua La Voice S3. He also had the the latest La Scala and prefers the Mojo.  The Mojo is special and yes an NOS dac. 

I purchased mine used here for $2600.  Mojo is selling used Mystique 3s for $3500 when traded on on a new Evo dac.

As good as the Amber 3 is, I found the Mojo dac far more compelling sounding than the Amber 3 in my system. As Ben of Mojo says it’s  the “harmonic coherency of his dacs or putting everything in its proper time and tune” that makes them sound so special. My system never sounds loud anymore even when turned way up! The sound just swells and expands, but it never sounds loud. Always composed, in control, and so natural. What a treat. 
@ianderson I had recently been looking for a DAC in the same price range as the La Scala Optologic Mk2 and eventually decided to place an order for a Lampi Atlantic TRP.  I think it's less forward than the Amber 3 and may provide the sonic character you're looking for.  I also love the flexibility to tweak the sound with a very large range of compatible tubes.  Mine hasn't arrived yet. 
The op clearly states he absolutely requires DSD support so the Mojo wouldn't work.
That said, op also desires R2R so the Amber doesn't fit that bill either.
Holo Spring 2 LIII DAC is R2R and does native dsd well and works best in NOS mode. (The new Holo May is above the price point and won't be found used for a while). I had considered it but ultimately decided I wanted a more open ("forward"?) sound than what I have ever heard from NOS R2R.
@nquery  I think the Atlantic TRP does however check all the boxes you noted above though.
@three_easy_payments I haven’t heard the TRP so it might sound less forward than the Amber. But I am unclear how the TRP checks the R2R box? Correct me if I am wrong, but it is similarly DS chip based ?? And even bought used it is >> than op price point of $3k. (Not trying to be argumentative ... )

[EDIT: I now see that the early TRP was originally R2R but Lampi has sinced moved to the 53 Digital Engine for most of their lower end dacs. Is the consensus that the newer 53 digital engine sounds more forward than the prior R2R boards? Because from my reading it seems almost all who have heard both find the 53 chip board better sounding than the R2R board for PCM.
I do see an older R2R Atlantic TRP currently for sale for $4300)]
The Mojo plays his DSD  files and they will sound best thru this dac. So it does play his recordings and plays them sublimely. No need for a DSD dac and the bottom line is the OP’s DSD recordings will simply sound better on the Mojo dac. That is what we are all after ..... the resulting sound and not the technical gymnastics.

The Amber 3 does DSD and was my previous dac. My library also has many DSD recordings and they sounded better through the Mojo dac. Just my experience. 
@grannyring the Mojo Audio Mystique V3 does not support DSD! it only supports PCM up to 192 ... the whole ethos is purist PCM and anti-dsd. You even referenced this yourself in another thread ... "The Lampi Amber 3 is more vivid than the Mojo or Orchid and with its DSD capability can sound more detailed and resolving."
The Mojo will play DSD recordings is my point and you know it. No, not in DSD format, but will play them and beautifully. Yes my quote is correct. The Amber was too vivid for me and while great HiFi, it lacks the realism and top to bottom coherence of the Mojo. Not even close.  Over time the vividness, especially DSD, was not enjoyable. Sure it could do all the Aphile sonic gymnastics and impress for a week, but over time I simply could not enjoy my music as much. I found myself not listening to music as much.

The longer I own the Mojo the more I like it and I find myself listening to more music! 

Not a good idea to pull out one sentence and try and suggest something when it clearly lacks the completeness of my combined posts and time with the Amber. 
With all due respect, the Mojo does not play DSD format and thus DSD recordings. For it to play DSD recordings, they need to be converted to PCM first by some external process, like Roon. To somehow keep suggesting that the Mojo does in fact play DSD recordings is twisting semantics beyond recognition.

Maybe you didn’t read the entire opening post, but it says "Therefore I don’t want to have Roon convert DSD to PCM on the fly. For me, The DAC needs to handle DSD natively.". The Mojo does not handle DSD natively. Why would the OP accumulate a large SACD collection just so they can convert it back to PCM for playback? It’s nonsensical.

As for quoting the other thread, I did read the thread and understand that you like the Mojo’s presentation better. No problem. But that quote was just to get to the point that you do already know that the Mojo does not play DSD. And I explicitly gave that context.

The Mojo may in fact sound 10x better than the Amber. That wasn’t my point. The point is that the OP specifically wants a DAC that supports DSD playback and you keep misleadingly suggesting that the Mojo does.
I firmly believe the more you transform the bits, the more damage you can do the the SQ. Therefore I don’t want to have Roon convert DSD to PCM on the fly. For me, The DAC needs to handle DSD natively.
While this is accurate, to my understanding no DAC can truly handle both PCM and DSD natively. So if you have a delta-sigma DAC, it will usually be preceded by a CMOS chip that’s converting PCM to DSD or some equivalent native bitstream. So for example for me, I have a Doge 7 DAC that has an ESS Sabre ES9018. Its CMOS chip will transcode any PCM coming in, so for me there are pretty big gains by transcoding everything in Roon to DSD.

Just pointing out that what you lay out is absolutely a noble goal but the best performance for you is going to be highly dependent on the architecture of the DAC that you end up getting and what the format of the music is that you most often play.
@hudsonhawk You are right that most (delta sigma) chip based solutions would  converge pcm/DSD to a single bitstream at some point internally. And you are right that at the end of they day it's more about overall execution than technology. I used to be a stickler for the purity of R2R (chip or discrete ladder) but have since realized that there is more to it than that.

That said, there are some R2R dacs with separate paths for PCM vs native DSD that might meet the OP's goals. Lampi became first known with their dedicated DSD R2R dacs I believe. Some of the Denafrips R2R ladder Dacs do both PCM and DSD.  And the Holo Dacs most definitely have separate R2R ladder circuits for PCM vs DSD. I think this is one of their perceived values. And they allow for OS vs NOS modes as well - most prefer NOS. A discrete NOS R2R ladder DSD process would be as close to the pure DSD playback the OP is looking for. The new Holo May looks intriguing but starts at $3800.

“Check out the new Rockna Wavelight“

ive heard very good things about the Rockna gear. Unfortunately there is precious little used in the market place yet. If one comes up, I’d be happy to take a run at it. 
@hudsonhawk where “While this is accurate, to my understanding no DAC can truly handle both PCM and DSD natively”

I agree with @nquery

You’re right only in the context of a single DAC engine. However there are DAC’s that do both natively, what you’re looking at is 2 DAC’s built in. There has to be a detector that sniffs out the incoming signal and and determines if it’s DSD, or PCM. Usually this is done in conjunction with a FPGA chip which will process the DSD directly, else it will send the signal to the R2R circuit.
@nquery “Holo Spring 2 LIII DAC is R2R and does native dsd well and works best in NOS mode. (The new Holo May is above the price point and won't be found used for a while)”

I think your Holo Spring is a very good suggestion, (at least as a good starting point) while the May version as you say is to new to see them on the open market yet used. However the Kitsume L3 would on paper seam to be a good one to try.

Has anyone compared the Holo to the Aqua La Scala? For me, DSD is off the charts musical bliss on the Aqua. Yet PCM is also beautiful, particularly higher Rez, even Redbook is great, if anything it errors on the slightly warmer side of neutral. This means lessor recording are still pleasantly listenable. I score high marks for that! 

@grannyring I’m with you on the sonic gymnastics - for me, it tires my ears. This is why I’m heavily invested in analog, be it Vinyl or Tape, I can get lost in it for hours on end and all it does is pull me further into the music. I’m looking for Digital to do the same thing.
I think you’ve heard the Aqua La Scala Optologic? Did you compare it directly to the Mojo Audio? If so, was the Mojo the better performer?

i just wish more folks would cater to us DSD guys and add this functionality to their marvellous R2R DAC's like the Mojo Audio Mystique! 
@three_easy & @enqery. Good pointers on the Lampi Atlantic TRP with the early version R2R DAC. I’ll have a look out for one of those too. Thanks!
Mojo plays my DSD recordings every time. Never an issue and it always sounds wonderful. By play I mean, as I have already said, music plays through my speakers 🤓. The resulting sound is all that matters. Wether the dac is tube, SS, NOS, DSD, R2R etc... is not as important as the resulting sound of your system to your ears in your room. Yes I have Roon and highly recommend it!

Ian, a good audio friend has had both the Mojo and La Scala Opto latest version in his system. For him, the Mojo Mystique 3 was the better performer. He sold the Opto and well as the LaVoce S3 in favor of the Mojo. While he was very impressed with the Opto, he found the Mojo more “right” sounding in the frequency extremes. He preferred the overall musicality and solidity of the Mojo. He did love the mids of the Opto!

Granny - thanks for that perspective, and an important one at that. When you say your buddy Ian liked the extremes better, can that be described a little please?

Based on the comment about missing the mids of the La Scala Opto, would it be fair to say the mids on the Aqua are slightly better?

Lastly, It is said by many others that DSD sounds a little more like analog. When I played the Aqua La Scala with DSD, it was just a little more organic the the High Rez PCM version. I have Muddy Waters Folk Singer in 24 bit PCM and DSD, and the DSD is better to my ears and system. 

This is my worry that I will loose a little of the DSD magic by not having a DAC that doesn’t play DSD natively. Curiously, if you were measure DACs you’ve heard on a 1-10 scale, where would you put these:

- modded Orchid
- La Voice
- La Scala
- Mojo
- Holo Kitsune (if you’ve heard one)
- any others you feel relevant to my quest 

Thanks to all that have offered help with this!