DAC Choices - $5,000 to $7,000

What are the current top DAC choices in the approximately $5-$7K price range (new or used) that I should look at as possible upgrades to my current Metrum Adagio?  Having an on-board volume control is not a factor as I can operate my system either way.   If I wanted to spend more I would look at Totaldac, Rockna Wavedream Signature, or one of the other top-end contenders, but I selected the price range to achieve a sound quality that is consistent with the rest of my system and because I don't want to spend more due to the still evolving nature of digital technology.  I do like the more natural sound (to my ears) of NOS R2R DACs.  So far, I have considered the three below, but none seem to be a slam-dunk upgrade from the Adagio, which still sounds pretty good in my system.  The decision is complicated by having to "buy to try" so that I can hear one in my system.  Maybe now is not the time for an upgrade.  Any thoughts?

  • Denafrips Terminator w/DSP board - Reportedly has the full body/dense tone type of sound I like, but also has a high'ish output impedance 
  • Holo May KTE - Reportedly measures great for an R2R DAC and has strong reviews 
  • Rockna Wavelight - Some reviewers like it but others put it in the middle of the pack for the price
am currently comparing at length the doge 7 (and an audio note ank 4.1 tube dac) against my references chord tt2/scaler, sonnet morpheus and audio mirror tubador 3se

am not through the listening/comparing yet but i can say at 2 grand the doge 7 is spectacularly good... jbhiller’s description earlier in this thread is quite accurate, it is very very close to the m scaler/hugo tt2 at over 10 grand cost - to my ears it is also more natural sounding than the top denafrips terminator...

more later

I realize this is an older discussion but it won’t hurt to freshen it up a bit.  
I sold my mojo audio mystique v3 over a year ago and have been on a constant search trying to replace it. I’ve tried many dacs, many more then I care to admit and finally found a dac that just plays beautiful music. No fatigue, no bloat, no fireworks or pyrotechnics, just good warm music. No MQA, no DSD just 16/41 to 24/192. It’s the Swiss built Merason Dac1. I find it hard to understand there is no noise or discussion on the forums of the Merason. It’s list price is $5500 but my dealer shipped it to me at $4950. Prior to me buying it Mike at Tweek Geek sent me a demo on his dime to try. This certainly eliminates stress of buying and having to sell if it doesn’t fit in your system. 
The dac has a huge soundstage deep and wide, never ever bright with the perfect amount of detail. Bass is full sounding which helps to provide a great foundation of the music. This dac is very large sounding with plenty of meat on the bones. 
if anyone is shopping for a dac in the $5000 range this is a great very musical fun dac to audition. 

I ended up with the Mojo Audio Mystique EVO B4B 21 D/A Converter (with a couple of upgrades) and have been pleased with the sound.  For various reasons, I am glad that I didn't go for any of the three DACs listed in my OP, although maybe the Terminator Plus could have worked for me.

No piece of audio equipment hits it out of the park in every area so it really comes down to finding gear that matches your sonic preferences, ergonomics (i.e., features/functions, display, size, and appearance), and budget.  The main things I like about the EVO B4B are the rich, natural sounding tonal qualities, and the total absence of any digital thinness or stridency.  The trade-off seems to be a leaning toward body vs. detail.  I find I can listen to a wider range of music without fatigue because of that.

Benjamin doesn't sit still so he has come out with a new Mystique X DAC that will be offered at various levels and prices.  I was a little disappointed by Mojo's abrupt change to move away from a model and style of DAC that was intended to be EVOlutionary, i.e., somewhat "futureproof" and upgradable.  I suspect there were some supply and construction cost issues that forced the change.  However, on the plus side, with Mojo you basically end up with a bespoke product that is built to a very high quality, using traditional designs to create the most realistic sounding music reproduction they know how to achieve.  If he can offer the same sound quality at similar or lower prices with the new line then good for him. 

If I were purchasing today, I would look hard at the Mojo Mystique X and the new Sonnet DAC, the Pasithea, both of which are due out soon.  In addition to whatever upgrades the Pasithea offers over the Sonnet Morpheus, I probably wouldn't purchase either unless they improve on the hard to read display in the Morpheus.  I have been spoiled by the display in my Hattor BIG preamp, which can be easily seen across the room.   

The Merason DAC1 discussed by @starboard looks interesting and well-constructed but The Ear review had a couple of comments that seemed to move the DAC1 away from the type of sound I enjoy from the EVO B4B DAC:

"Merason takes a more black and white view and has voiced the DAC1 to be as revealing as possible and hang the consequences, whatever your source is producing that’s what you’ll hear." and "The tonal balance remained on the light side however and while this works beautifully with better recordings it can feel a bit uncomfortable with lesser ones,..." 


The ear review blows my mind. The Merason sounds to me in my system quite the opposite of his review. There are two other professional reviews, one is from HiFi News…..

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The richness of the sound won’t be to every taste, but it’s never cloying or overplayed: instead, Merason’s DAC1 backs up its smoothness with power and unforced detail to consistently appealing musical effect. True, the limited format handling may rule the DAC1 out for some – it takes a stand against digital expansionism! – but its singularity of purpose pays off in a sound as appealing as it is easy to enjoy.

These days, from expensive experience, I take reviews with a grain of salt.

My search was to find a dac that has the musicality of the Mojo mystique v3 and after a long expensive search I found it in spades with the Merason Dac1.

Some of the dacs ive tried are the Denafrips Terminator, Holo Audio May kte, Sw1x tube dac, Sonnet Morpheus, Audio Mirror Tubadour (this was a very musical dac but lacked the bass that I like), Metronome Le Dac, Aqua La Scala Optologic, and a couple more lesser dacs.

The Merason Dac1 is a better fit in my system to my ears than any of these and of course others mileage may vary.


The Mojo mystique v3 is an incredible dac that I should have not ever sold but I just had to try something different. The audiophile curse!!!

But to answer your question, and to the best of my memory, the Merason Dac1 is very similar to the mojo mystique in tone and fullness but has better resolution,