Audio Note DAC Owners- please share your thoughts

Hello to All-

Although I’ve been reading this forum for years I’m relatively new to posting here. I’ve read most of the archived posts regarding Audio Note products- unfortunately the majority of them are fairly old.

For the last few years I’ve been wondering about AN DAC’s as I rarely hear about there being any downside to them (other than the entry fee) and have also noticed that they are fairly scarce on the used market.

I’m currently using a Aqua La Scala Optologic MKII and while I enjoy it very much I am always wondering “how good is an AN dac and would it be worth purchasing?”

If you happen to own one of these mystical pieces of technology would you mind helping me understand more about their qualities? Like-

1) I’ve heard they are remarkable when it comes to Redbook playback- flawlessly true to the source

2) I’ve heard them described as warm, some say like syrup and others say neutral.

3) Looking under the hood (pictures) seems straight forward- like old school yet it still competes with the latest designs

4) If you’ve owned one and sold it what did you move to, why and did you regret it?

5) Some folks have decided to pass on the high ticket price and have bought the AN Kit instead. Are these even a close facsimile of the original?

I am very fascinated with this product as it seems to hold a high place in audio gear history- it’s reputation makes it almost one of those things that you shouldn’t have to ask about but I’d like to know a little more before making the spend. Any help on this would be appreciated!




@jasonbourne52 it is as if you are resentful of people that have disposable income, and can afford such luxuries in life. Your post is not helpful at all.

@designsfx I would love to hear one also and the kit intrigues me also, only if I had the time. Guess I could make time. 


I heard an all Audio Note system at one of the audio shows and it was one of the best sounding systems I have ever heard.  At the time, they were using a midrange AN DAC but midrange in Audio Note territory is quite high.  There was a total rightness to the sound that tricked me into thinking it was a pure analog system.  Even their least expensive DAC sounds great and there are many options to make it sound even greater depending on the level of parts inside the unit.  

Since something is better than nothing I will reply with the fact that I own an SW1X DAC 3 Balanced which has many common design elements/goals as Audio Note and I could not be happier. I stream Qobuz through an Aurender W20 and I also must emphasize how important the digital cable is-at least with my rig-and I discovered that an Analysis Plus Silver Apex custom made S/PDIF conquered everything else I tried. Don’t misunderstand-they are different products with different processors and tube complements but I would bet a hefty sum they sound similar.

And I too have visited the AN room at Axpona with Vincent Belanger on hand as ambassador and I also came back again and again to just relax in a room that made me happy. My system is not altogether different despite ARC amp/preamp and Devore O/93’s.

So if it is any help at all, I think you can’t go wrong with AN DAC’s but only if system matching and a certain sound signature preference is present. I would (and do) say that the sound character favors acoustic jazz and well recorded acoustic-based rock and not electronica and electric rock and such. For example, the newly issued Blue Note "Here it is, a Tribute to Leonard Cohen" which I am listening to now is incredible. But if I play something like ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres, it only passable.


@jasonbourne52 - Nice

@jerryg123 - Quick return to the Bourne! But I do understand the remark as these seem pretty pricey. I’ve seen some examples going in the $5-12K range- certainly worth evaluating the value but definitely NOT $99K! I’m curious about the kits as well.

@stereo5 - Thanks for the memories- This is what I’m talking about! So far I’ve only heard one person tell me that they were not really impressed by the AN presentation but admitted that the exposure had been some time ago with the entry level model. I have no way to bias that comment as I’ve no experience with the product. Many suggestions point to a “in home demo” but these seem to be vaporware in my local.



Thank you for the thoughtful response. Your comments regarding equipment similarities took me to your system page and I must say congrats to you on that setup- those tables are beautiful!

Back to the DAC- I’m familiar with the history behind the SW1X and as you point out they are different implementations but there seemed to be a lot of parallels in the concept behind them.

I appreciate you noting the sound character with regards to recorded music. My musical tastes vary and I notice the characteristics you referred to with my present DAC as well. I’m very interested in trying one out and I don’t believe it will be in vain. It may take time though due to the lack of representation in my area. Thanks again!

Audio Note, Spectral, Totem, PMC and others march to a different drummer.

One look at the websites will clue you in. Different and proud of it.

KGFY if you bother us. Of course I could be reading too much into this. 

Audio Note rooms at shows I have visited twice. The first time I was non-plussed.

The 2022 Axpona Room was setup by someone who knew what they were doing.

All Audio Note gear I believe. 

I have been using an ANK 4.1x DAC for about 6 months. It is sold as a kit

or assembled +$500. All in $3,500. 

I have a friend with the same DAC. His system did some special things.

ANK does not do above 96k, not for SACD or DSD, no I2.

The 4.1x uses an AD1865 chip. Been around.




I’m curious to hear which DAC were you using prior to moving onto the ANK 4.1x and what improvements it provided within your system. You mention a friend’s system doing some “special things”- does that DAC have upgraded components or was it more about how it played within the combination of gear?



What part of the world are you in? By mentioning that someone with your product of interest may offer an audition.


I am in Phoenix, BTW.


I had a Pontus 2 immediately prior to the ANK.

RE the system I was listening to: There is really no way to attribute the

amazing sound at his home to a specific piece of gear. It seems you would

likely spend $5-7k for a better DAC. 





Hey designer I've been using a Dac-3 Signature for about 6 years not currently using it as it's in the shop awaiting a donor transformer after a bridge rectifier lost it's life. As the Dac was built in 1995 that's 26 years of trouble free service to that point.

The sound is rich, and organic and musical without sounding overly warmed up. It makes Redbook sound as good as it could possibly be and no brightness or digital nasties. AN Dacs are really meant to reproduce Redbook digital they're not about hi rez, my Dac maxes out at 16/48 but that's just fine for me there's an entire universe of music out there that's 44.1.

My prior Dac was a Yamamoto YDA-1 and it's in fact also my current Dac I bought it back from the person I sold it to 6 years ago. Though the design is SS there are some similarities both makers eschew a digital filter, the Yamamoto has no filter at all. The sound therefore has similarities in terms of naturalness and also vividness and rich instrumental color. The AN Dac seemed to have a longer slower decay of notes and is just a touch more laid back.

I look forward to getting my AN Dac  at some point it is certainly missed!


Hey there- it sounds as if no progress has been made on your DAC since relaying this to me a few weeks ago (I had sent you a pm regarding Audio Note). Hope your able to get it back up and running soon!


I’m in the part of the world known as Southern California- an LA native. There was a well known AN dealer in the Fullerton area. Sadly, he passed away 2 years ago. As of this point I believe there are a couple of dealers near the Bay Area, but I haven’t reached out to them yet to see if a in home demo is a possibility.

Screw the dealers. In LA there are plenty of privately owned Audio Note DACs.



6 hours to Phoenix,

i have commented a few times on my experience owning the ank 4.1 dac in past posts... search and you shall find

@designsfx ,


I'm not sure how useful this will be for you, but I visited a mostly AN room at an audio show. The room sounded exceptional, but the price tags for the various gear were exceptional as well. I looked and listened, but made sure I didn't poke any buttons for fear of exhorbitant repair bills.

Similar to fsonicsmith, I have owned a SW1X DAC for a few years. My model is the DAC III+. I so love its sound that when an ad popped up for a DAC III Bal/SPL here on Agon a couple days ago, I didn't hesitate to purchase it. It ought to be delivered tomorrow if all goes smoothly. Call me deliriously giddy with anticipation. 


This was aimed at you, obviously.

Someone by the name of Michael PM'd me about finding a DAC III B SPX for sale here, to arrive tomorrow or Tuesday. This website is messed up. I can log on as my user name, I can receive PM's but can not view conversations or respond, instead getting a message that my account has been canceled. I suspect it is my buy/sell account that has been canceled and if so, I don't care. 

So this is to you Michael. Congrats. For whatever reason, Slawa seems to ship his DAC's with whatever EL84 he has on hand. My DAC III B was shipped with some rather unidentifiable Russian EL84 or its equivalent the 6P14P. Sovtek perhaps? I tried but did not find a matching etching searching on the web. All I know is I replaced them with Tungsrams which are not cheap at $120/tube the last time Kevin Deal stocked any (he seems be out of all Tungsrams). They changed the sound immensely. For the better. 

Next comes the cable. With my Aurender W20 an Analysis Plus Silver Apex S/PDIF sounded far superior than any other cable I tried. This had to be custom ordered from AP. 

I also own the ANK 4.1x, stock parts but some upgraded tubes. Part of the enjoyment was just the fact that I built this DAC. I have never compared my kit to an original Audio Note DAC, wouldn't pay the price tag on them as digital is not my primary format, but I am very happy with the ANK kit.

I don't believe the dealer in SoCal (Warren) who passed away had a DAC on demo. He was an analog guy as well, but up here in NorCal Nick Gowan at True Sound and the folks at Audio Federation can demo them for you.


This was a fairly recent review from I believe, early 2021, from Terry London that was posted here on Audiogon.  Audio Note DAC 3.1x/II Balanced.


Thanks for the response. There seem to be many positive comments on the ANK 4.1 which makes me even more curious about the kits. @roxy54 shared a little of his experience with his updated/modified ANK and seems to be totally satisfied. He recommended speaking with Brian at ANK with regards to how far the kit implementation can be taken.

Thanks for the True Sound recommendation. I came across Nick’s contact info earlier this last week- just need to make time to give him a call.


Thanks for the link! I had read this a while ago as well- big recommendation for that unit. There was a 3.1x/II up for sale on the “other” site recently and I didn’t think the price was bad either. Just a little hesitant to go blindly in on this investment w/o hearing it first.

word to the wise - an/ank dacs have input cards that can take up to 24/96k but not higher...

some may view this as a limitations, others not so much...

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Thanks for the note. I had read your impressions on the ANK 4.1 earlier and even though it sounded as if from memory it gave me the impression you were liking what you heard (at least for a while). Seems like you’ve found something special with the Weiss and Chord duo in your system.

As for 24/96 I’m not seeing that as a limitation- and I’ve tossed this thought around a lot over the last couple of years.I think for the near future I’m going to stick with the CD format as that is all I own (get rid of my records 30 years ago).

I’m realizing this curiosity in Audio Note may take a while to realize due to availability and logistics but I’m not going to rush as the DAC I’m currently using is pretty amazing. It’s the AN tube output stage that intrigues me- 


I am also using an Aqua La Scala Optologic MKII, and if you find any DAC that you consider to be clearly better, I'd be interested to hear about it. I say that because it's difficult for me not to imagine a steep slope of diminishing returns above the quality of the Aqua.

designsfx - I built an Audio Note Kit L4 Limited Edition DAC several years ago when the kit business was still affiliated with Audio Note UK. The circuit is Audio Note and so are most of the parts. Over the past 7 or 8 years I’ve upgraded most of it, and now I even have some parts from a recent DAC 5 Signature. Its been a fun project and I love the way it sounds. You can roll tubes and try different caps too. The sound is very smooth and natural, and I’ve found that it handles most things well. My entire music library is 16/44, and ripped from either CD or Tidal. I’d give it high marks for Redbook, but the Cirrus Logic CS8414 receiver chip in front of the AD1865 only handles 18-bits, so it will truncate anything above that. I have tried upsampling to 16/88 and the DAC handles that well but I don’t hear any difference over 16/44. You can definitely find many quality DACs that measure better for a fraction of the price of one of the ANK kits, but for me the fun was in the build, and in the upgrade process. I never compared it to a true AN finished-product DAC, but I am curious... I’d bet its close...



I’ve had the AN 2.1x Sig. for about five years, and couldn’t be happier with it.  Many consider it to be the “sweet spot “ in the AN line.  Although I’m forever trying to find something better, it hasn’t happened yet.  Of course, it has its limitations, but I’m not sure anything I’ve heard suits me quite so well.

Please forgive if I've missed this in the thread: What kind of front ends do you use? Digital only or combined with physical media (CD)? I ask because if the latter consider an investment in A/N's transports ahead of the DAC. It will surprise you.


I’m not spinning CD’s anymore- but do use CD format 99.9% of the time. All disks are ripped to SSD on my Naim Uniti Core.

Another AN DAC2.1x Sig owner here. It was purchased used from a dealer and I had it upgraded with all the latest internals this year. I love this DAC, music just sounds so right. This is the first dac I've owned that I can play poorly mastered CDs all the way through.

I've found that the digital cable has a major affect on SQ, it took some auditioning to find what I like. AN DACs also respond well to tube rolling. I've tried different output and rectifier tubes, always NOS. 

I wouldn't be concerned about AN DACs being 18 bit. The designers tried different chips but since these DACs sample 16/44.1 and 24/96 through an Analogue Devices chip with no digital filters, there was no audible improvement when going higher than 18 bit. 

I upgraded my AN preamp within the family but I don't feel the need to  upgrade the dac.




Thanks for the notes regarding your 2.1x Signature. At some point I’d like to discuss more about the upgrades you’ve performed and how the choices were made.



The issue with the SW1X is it’s priced on point (or more) with Audio Note but it resells like absolute crap. Caveat Emptor if you want to sell it, can take a while and you will take a larger hit than if you were to resell AN.

It may very well be a better product than Audio Note, but personally I think their pricing is ahead of itself in the US market. It’s more than just having a good dac when you’re about spending $10k+ on a dac, you want to know you have some equity in the piece of gear (like AN).

There is no trade up program either, and SW1X is CONSTANTLY changing parts etc, so a 3.1 today will different than a 3.1 tomorrow...So although I love the quality and approach of SW1X it’s a hard pass for those reasons.I’ll let everyone else lose money on those dacs until they get traction at those prices.


I agree with you on the SW1 likely not having the appeal of the AN when it comes to resale but I think the general theme of your comments can be applied to almost any higher tier component.

Honestly- I was fascinated by the Audio Note mystique for some time but after months of looking and poorly orchestrated demos the appeal ran out of steam. I do believe they have a very eloquent circuit design and there is no doubt that when combined within an AN system there would be some magic there. But to your point above when I realized how the price structure vs model/configuration or levels worked I became less impressed.

In the end I had looked at and listened to quite many other dacs but most of them didn’t do any better than what I already owned. After a year or so of trying things out I ultimately went with a Lampizator Golden Atlantic TRP3 balanced and it has been one of the best purchases I’ve made.

You do not need to pair AN dacs with AN gear that is a widely accepted misnomer, not true in the least. No different than any other manufacturer. 

I did have a Lampi in here and it was a nice DAC but in the end I preferred the AN sound over the Lampi. I could care less about DSD and the like so that didn't resonate with me. 

I didn’t say you have to pair AN dacs with AN components to realize what one has to offer- most AN Dac owners I know do not use full on AN systems. I do remember almost every dealer I spoke with making the statement that one would realize the best performance when mated with AN components.

Just for reference which Lampizator and AN models did you compare to each other? I didn’t purchase mine for its DSD functionality either- I haven’t found much that appeals to me in that market.

I listened to the Big 7, came close...It was a nice DAC but I had to scratch the AN itch and glad I did. I felt like I'd have to go much higher in the Lampi line up to better what I heard in the 3.1 from AN. 

I have a partial Audio Note system that has gone through various iterations over the years since 2008. My system is on the Systems Page.

In 2020/2021, I did a DAC search in which I had a pretty good selection of DACs in my listening room for extended periods of time: between 1-3 months. My system DAC at the time was a Bricasti Design M1 SE.

Sources were a Rockna WaveDreamNET streamer, and an Esoteric UX-3Pi disc player as a transport (redbook only).

At the time, I owned an Audio Note M3 Balanced preamplifier, so all the DACs were connected to the preamp. I level matched the DACs using a test tone from the XLO Test CD and a DB Meter app. Many of the DACs had volume controls, so small adjustments could be made to their output levels to match.

Among the DACs I auditioned were: SW1X DAC III Balanced, Audio Note DAC 3.1x/II Balanced, EMM Labs DV2, Bricasti Design M3, Bricasti Design M1 SE, Holo Audio May KTE, Mola Mola Tambaqui, Rockna WaveDream Edition XLR, Lampizator Baltic 3.

All the DACs were either pre-owned, demo units or fully broken in. I used the same cabling: power, digital AES (plus USB and i2S if available), and interconnects.

My sound profile preference is naturalness and transparency with excellent texture and tone. Honestly, I don’t care for 95% of systems I hear at audio shows.

The best DAC in the bunch, and the best DAC I’ve ever heard in my system, was the EMM Labs DV2. Best insofar as detail retrieval, bass texture and extension, image size, etc. However, it was a bit too much of a good thing for my ears, and gave up some naturalness in its accuracy. It was also way above my price point (it was generously loaned to me by a dealer who was relocating).

The Mola Mola Tambaqui was cut from the same cloth as the EMM Labs DV2, but it had less naturalness, tone and texture than the DV2, and I quickly re-sold it.

Somewhat surprisingly, the SW1X DAC III Balanced, Audio Note DAC 3.1x/II Balanced, Bricasti Design M1 SE, Holo Audio May KTE, and Rockna WaveDream Edition XLR were more alike than dissimilar. I mean they were really close. All had terrific resolution, transparency, texture and tone.

The SW1X DAC III Balanced skewed slightly away from the warmth I prefer, and it was quite expensive (with poor re-sale IMO), so I returned it.

Once level matched, I could A/B between the Bricasti Design M1 SE and whatever other DAC was being evaluated. Switching between them proved fascinating because they sounded nearly alike. In fact, in some cases, when I asked my wife what she thought (she has excellent ears), she could not tell I was switching from one DAC to another. Neither could I.

In the end, I kept the Bricasti Design M1 SE because it offered all the benefits of the other DACs, including the famous naturalness and tone of the Audio Note, plus it had the advantage of volume control and streaming network card.

So, what were the differences between the Bricasti Design M1 SE and Audio Note DAC 3.1x/II Balanced? The Bricasti produced a wider and taller image. I found the Audio Note DAC 3.1x/II Balanced was a little congested in the upper mids. I left the factory supplied tubes in it. Had I swapped in some Telefunken or TungSol small signal tubes, and noise-tested power supply tubes, things might have changed. However, this still wouldn’t have overcome the advantages of the Bricasti Design M1 SE insofar as volume control, network streaming option, and ability to play more file formats.

So, what about the Lampizator Baltic 3? Well, I owned it after this shoot-out period, and while I owned the Bricasti M1 SE. The Baltic 3 was lots of fun. Seemingly endless tube rolling possibilities (although I ended up preferring the stock tubes). Lots of FOMO if one reads the Lampizator threads over on Whatsbestforum.

I ended up selling the Lampi and keeping the Bricasti. I could spend more time listening to music and less time worrying about the perfect tubes, "engine" version, and whether I needed the latest Lampi upgrades.

I’ve since upgrade to a Bricasti Design M1 Series 2 DAC. The system is simple: Audio Note loudspeakers and amplifiers, Bricasti DAC, Aurender N30SA and Esoteric UX-3Pi. I listen to streaming or local files 95% of the time.


glad to see you back here and posting with your tremendous experience and knowledge @tvad

i have had similar experiences with pretty much indistinguishable sonic differences between the weiss 501 (pre 4ch) and the bricasti m1 se mdx (min 2 filter), after careful level matching i simply could not tell them apart - you kept your bricasti, i kept my weiss (for reasons apart from their sonic traits)

Very well put @tvadAnd just to update my experience I did finally get my AN Dac-3 Signature back it's been about a month now. It sounds even better than I remember and super jazzed to have it back!



great review of your experiences with these dacs..Thanks for taking the time as many of them are on my short list of dacs for my system. 

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OP - you have an excellent DAC. I don't think you'll find anything dramatically better. I do think the AN DACs sound pretty different.

Something in the ballpark that is modern and very affordable is the MDHT Orchid.  NOS, R2R, tube buffered output stage, async USB input up to 24/192. Mine is modified with a crown chip, upgraded caps and resistors, and some massive Duelund coupling caps that cost a fortune. 

Back in '98 I had a DAC3 Signature (OEM) while working at an Audio Note dealership. It was really great and a world away from the Mark Levinson gear that was top of the class in digital at the time. My amps were single ended 300B I had built with a friend. Transport was Sony's top of the line ES player, which was a terrific piece of equipment I could hardly believe was Sony. Cable was hilarious Yamamoto the size of a fire hose waaay before cables of this size became common.

I extensively modified the power supply of the DAC3 with a separate tube rectified power supply that was larger and weighed more than the DAC3. I also experimented with different tubes and coupling caps. Took it around to a few other stores and high end systems of customers and people were totally blown away. Liquid, inner detail, masterful imaging and staging, and the pacing was terrific. Not as detailed some might say.

To me with AN DACs you're mostly hearing the output stage, and so if you like their amps and understand what they do for sound, the DACs bring that to any system.

If you're into tube rolling or modifying gear, the AN chassis is incredibly user friendly. No wonder they use it for the kits.


Interesting story- it sounds like you were really into it at the time, what dac are you using these days?

After many months of reading the experiences of others and waiting for the right unit to become available for sale I moved on and purchased a new Lampizator TRP3. It is (to use your words) dramatically better than the Aqua in most aspects although my opinion of the Aqua has not changed- which is why I’ve chosen to keep it as well. 


I have heard the entire range, including the new top model that is about $156k.  They all share the same basic sound—relaxed, natural, and easy to listen to for many hours without being distracted (you engage fully with the music), smooth (but not dulled in impact or murky in get that smooth sound).

All the models basically have the same digital conversion circuit which is minimalist and use vintage chips chosen for their sound.  The model differences are primarily in the analogue stages and they involve progressively more expensive parts, wire, and more elaborate circuits using their very expensive transformers and chokes.

For their performance, I don’t think the lower level stuff is expensive, particularly because the Audio Note sound is sort of unique.  But, the price does rise very steeply beyond the DAC 3 level.  My own personal preference and willingness to pay would stop at the DAC 4 level (I have too much already invested in a Naim 555 server/power supply/UnitiCore server to convert).


While I haven’t had the opportunity to hear all models in the AN Dac lineup I think I had heard enough to know it wasn’t for me after all. I had been searching for a 4.1x balanced for sometime but (as you note above) was not going to go for a new unit because I felt the asking price to be overly excessive. I found one for sale in the UK that I felt to be an acceptable price but the issue of converting power prior to the sale was farther than the seller wanted to go.

After that I considered a 4.1 balanced signature model but couldn’t secure an in home audition. I did notice that particular model came up for sale more frequently (in the UK) but the asking prices were very high and units seemed to be for sale for very long periods of time. This reinforced the thought that they were severely overpriced.

Finally I was able to hear one in early 2023 in a digital setup and after hearing it (and knowing the sales price) I was not that impressed.
Shortly afterwards I auditioned a Lampizator Pacific and being inspired with what I heard I started seeking a used Pacific balanced Dac. Through various conversations with Lampi owners regarding the cost of tubes and considering the recent changes made within the product line I decided it might be wiser to start with the latest TRP 3 balanced with Engine 11. 
I’m glad I purchased this unit as it is latest circuit design so no need for near term upgrading. This Dac is also not just limited to the world of pentodes as I run single/dual triodes as well. The presentation is very impressive.


I've heard a couple Lampizators (don't recall the models) and I like them too.  They are examples of good sounding tube DACs that aren't merely a tube buffer tacked on as an afterthought.  I can see why they would be someone's favorite.