Best DAC’S $5k to $15k

I have Chord Mscaler and TT2 and it’s very good. I’ve been considering the DAVE. Any recommendations? 


Definitely look at an ARC DAC 9. I compared mine (actually a CD9SE) with a $22K Berkeley Alpha Reference.. I was prepared to shell out the money for the Berkeley, but found the ARC ever so slightly (but importantly) more musical… while the Berkeley was a tiny ( itsy, bitsy) bit more detailed (tiny). I have had a couple other more expensive DACs in my system and the ARC bested them, particularly in terms of natural and musical, and equaled in terms of detail.

So, Chord has a particular sound profile that is unlike most other brands. Detailed, musical and a touch forward.  It has incredible depth between the speakers in terms of image.  It lacks width and height of other DACs in this range. 

Other you could consider - Weiss 501/502.  Will have a bit more scale than the Chord at the expense of image depth.  Both are incredibly detailed.  Tonally similar.  This unit has incredible DSPs and can be tweaked in ways most other DACs can’t.  

Bircasti will have a far larger image in terms of width and height with good depth.  It will not be as detailed as the Chord or Weiss and is also less forward and more neutral.  This is true for all three DACs (M3, m1 and M21) with M3 being far less detailed.  

Rockna is incredibly detailed and is class leader in terms of image width and height.  It lacks depth.  The signature is most detailed of all of these while the Edition is quite competitive with the others in terms of detail.

Playback MPD6 is at the very top of your price range and is INSANELY good.  The unit is neutral with good depth, width and height.  It has great detail and there is a musicality to PBD that no one else really delivers.

meitner MA3 is $10.5k and is slightly warm.  Strong detail and a hair soft.  If your system is cold, this is just what the doctor ordered.  Good detail, great image and a built in streamer to boot.  

Soul Note D2 and Lumin X1 sound virtually identical.  Soul Note is $9k and DAC only, Lumin X1 is $14k and includes VC and Streamer.  Brilliant units that are good all around.  Not best at anything but good in terms of image and detail.  Tonally just a hair bright.  

There are others that are awesome.  Jadis, Berkeley, MSB, etc….  The above (except Lumin) are all brands I carry.   The key is system matching and what do you want to change about your current sound.

things that can help narrow down choice.  What is your current DAC?  What is the balance of the system?  What do you like/dislike about current sound?  

My final shortlist last year included the Dave, the Bartok and the Tambaqui. All are great DACS and, frankly, the decision comes down to your system and environment, your musical tastes and the state of your ears! (as for any of us). 

For my tastes, system and room (YMMV!), the Tambaqui came out ahead of the others: the Dave (without the MScaler) had fantastic detail and clarity but lacked impact, imaging and staging compared to the others, the Bartok was very close, but benefited surprisingly more from an external streamer and the Tambaqui just did it all, with that near-indefinable dose of musicality and engagement.