DAC diminishing returns

Looking for some experienced input on the diminishing return as you go up the the DAC ladder. I mostly stream music and occasionally listen to CDs.  Currently, I’m using a Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC.  It’s connected to my Naim Nait 5Si and that drives Zu Omen ii speakers. In my limited experience, I have not heard any substantial differences when changing DACs.  I’m considering a Denafrips Pontus DAC.  Does the significantly higher cost justify what might be a marginal increase in sound quality?  Is buying a more expensive DAC for better sound just splitting hairs, and making you feel better about your system?  Are different DACs just different coloration of the sound?

I don’t want to be duped into buying something I don’t really need. Thanks.


The DAC is a critical component and they do not all sound alike.  We don’t know what your previous DAC experiences have been.  I don’t know your speakers but the rest of the system ought to be able to resolve improvements in DACs.

  I have not heard your present DAC or the Denafrips but I would be surprised is the latter is not significantly better than the former.  The best route is to use your own ears, if it is at all possible to audition the DF in your own system.  If not, see if there is a return policy.  You may have to pay some sort of restocking fee

Since so much of what can be discerned depends on your ears and the rest of your system, getting a DAC on trial and comparing seems the only way to go.

@dsfreeh IMHE, it’s worthwhile. I’ve been through many dacs over many years, but will be most relevant for you is that I’m writing this while listening to my Pontus II which replaced a Schitt Gungnir Multibit. The Pontus is significantly better overall and in a number of areas. Spatial cues, untangling of complex passages and microdynamics are examples. But most importantly, an ability to let you relax and take in the music vs. just analyzing the sound, which leads to craving more listening.

FWIW, I agree that your gear is good enough to allow you to hear these kinds of distinguishing factors.

There’s some used ones out there too. Cheers,


I wouldn’t say that upgrading is "being duped", as if all dacs sound the same and anyone who upgrades is just falling for a myth. But, as stated above, you personally may not hear any improvement in upgrading your dac, or the improvements you might hear do not justify the price, in your opinion. If you are near a dealer, I recommend you bring your dac in and let them do a demonstration for you, directly comparing your dac to something more expensive and see if you can appreciate the difference, if any. I would also suggest you listen to something you consider to be out of your price range, just to see what’s out there. If there are no dealers near you, you will just have to try one and see. Duh. But I would buy something with a return option, which I am not sure Denafrips offers. But the dealer option is a better idea for really learning about equipment upgrades. If you are looking for a recommendation, I am really impressed with my Heed Abacus dac, which is about $1400 I think.  Check out the online reviews, which are extremely positive and echo my impressions of this DAC very accurately.  


DAC chips definitely have reached the stat of diminishing returns.  However when you buy a DAC (or CD / digital player) you buy much more than the chipset.  You buy an analog amplification section that converts the digital output into a useable analog signal. 

It is the parts and circuitry within the analog amplification section that makes a DAC / digital player sound superior.  

Look "under the hood".  You want to see big r-core or toroid transformers and a good set of storage and filtering capacitors.  

What this gives you in a DAC or player is a more robust, clean dynamic exciting sound.  

It is the difference between a dull anemic sound that just sits there in basic DACs and players that is not a diminishing return.  Listen for a muscular sound that is more like live music.  .  

Having owned one, I agree with others that you will likely experience a worthwhile difference with an upgrade to a Denafrips Pontus. However, note that there is a related, yet to be resolved micro-skipping issue which affects at least some users.

The issue is worrisome because it has been known for quite a long time now, and seems unlikely to be resolved using a firmware solution. The issue relates to CD use, and an apparent buffering problem relating to the Pontus clock.


You determine value through listening in your system. Some hear differences between components and make the determination that it's worth the cost. Other's will hear improvements and determine it isn't worth the cost. 

The DAC is your most fertile ground to seek sound improvements in your system. Coincidentally, I have a Schiit Bifrost II. I highly recommend this DAC in it’s price range. I bought it while shopping for a "flagship" DAC.

After lots of research I tried some Chord DACs and eventaully bought their top of the line Dave DAC. I have since added an M-scaler.

I left yesterday for a vacation and loaned my Dave and M-scaler t a friend. I switched back to the Bifrost II for background music while I finished packing up. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t find it unlistenable. Nice and clear and solid. But no soundstage. Much less detail, and no grain. It seems like "just music" after moving back from a setup that costs over 20x the price of the BFII.

So good luck and enjoy the ride.


PS  Denefrips is as trendy as Apple or Starbucks.  good but in my opinion overrated.

Almost impossible to answer.  Some people would happily pay thousands for a change others (sometimes, significant others) might find imperceptible.

You don’t mention which streamer you are using, give this critical component consideration along with the DAC. I have seen significant gains by upgrading mine. 

I bought my current DAC after listening in store and in home.    The analog stage of a DAC is more important with respect to sound quality in my opinion.  Unlikely I will ever use DSD codecs so I bought a non OS DAC with tube analog stage.   

I listened to several below, at and above my budget.  No two sound alike in a very resolving system.   Some are subtle differences some are more pronounced.   In the end pick the one that sou ds best to you .    

Incremental investments in a DAC are completely dependent on your associated components and your anticipated future. So if I had your current DAC in my system (my average component cost is $20K), then upgrading it would provide huge differences each time until I got into roughly the range of my other components. Performance goes up with cost in general.


With the components you have today a Yggdrasil or Denfrips are likely to be valuable upgrades. Now consider you future system. I don’t think I saw info on your streamer. But assuming you are using a PC or Mac… I would upgrade the streamer after the DAC… that should give you a big improvement.


Lets say your current system cost $7K, then if you carefully upgraded all your components one level up, say to the total cost of $14… it would sound a lot better…. If you upgraded to $21K… or $50K, etc… each step would provide a big jump in overall performance. Is this what you see long term? Typically most folks get there by upgrading one component at a time.

If so, then each upgrade should be done with your eye on the next level… matching all the components on that level. This would suggest spending more than just to reach parity with the rest of your equipment.


R2R DACs do not sound the same as chip DACs. A Denfrips will not sound much of anything like a Chord.

Personally, I much prefer R2R DAC's and don't much care for the Chord sound, but for some people it's the opposite, and it's nothing to do with 'trendy', 'Apple', or 'Starbucks'. (I'd hardly call companies like these that have been successful for generations 'trendy', but maybe for some people, they are).

See if you can hear both (not necessarily Denafrips and Chord, but some good R2R and some good chip DAC) and see which, if either, you prefer.... 

I agree with ghdprenice ,  it's all relative to your system and future goals.   That holds true no matter the component.     I am a regular guy, there is no way I could assemble a great system overnight .  That said every upgrade should be more than subtle , or maybe that's not the component that should be replaced.   

Best example for me is my Zesto preamp.  That WAS the right component to buy at the time because the difference was so pronounced and appreciable by anyone who heard it .   Could I afford it new? No. But I got a great deal on a demo so it was worth every penny.  It will be my last pre for a while because in my system my preamp was the bottleneck.   Now any upgrades moving forward are fully realized.

Today chipsets are very , very good.  It's the way it's implemented and really at the end of the day how it sounds in your system.  A good dealer is invaluable and will let you take a demo unit home to evaluate.    That is my preferred way of upgrading.   A lot less trial and error.   

IMO, one should purchase dac superior to rest of setup, upgrade rest of system over time to experience full potential of dac, I'd never want to purchase dac inferior to rest of system. I like to maintain dac as superior piece, once I sense I've reached full potential, time to change out. This especially true with streaming, where a multitude of upgrades easily available.

Love my border patrol r2r dac with tubed power section, all the dac I’ll ever need. Although, still have and use my Musical fidelity v90 dac to connect my topping bc3, my kenwood md1050 mini disc recorder, and my grace digital link streamer....all connected to the v90....pretty cool.


I don’t want to be duped into buying something I don’t really need.

no one wants to dupe you... successful 'duping' usually requires cooperation of the 'dupee'

try stuff you are curious about in your own system, buy with return privileges, or demo a better dac if possible, or borrow from a friend -- no one can listen for you... if you can't hear a difference, then that box is ticked, just enjoy the music...

Post removed 

I will say that, yes, you can hear differences between DAC's.

I don't know what other DAC's you have listened to, but comparing the Schiit Bifrost to, say the Gungnir or Yggy, it is easy to hear the difference in sound quality.

If you have compared those two and haven't noticed a difference, then I would say you shouldn't spend more money on DAC's.


@gdnrbob ​​​​@steakster

seems to me the best advice of all, for all those pursuing system improvements -- in a system one is already enjoying -- for whatever reason, is...

try it in your own system -- ideally without irreversibly committing to the cost of the item -- then be honest with yourself, can you hear a real improvement? if not, move on, just enjoy the music

other people might, or say they do... but that hardly matters, right?

@carlsbad: "It seems like "just music"...."

Seems an odd choice of words.  While I don't think it is what you meant, most people would take a system sounding like "just music" as quite the compliment.  😉

With any luck the new Dac may push the rest of the system to it’s limits. Then you realize how much really like the upgrade. but soon ya just want more. Then you upgrade, buy a sub, cables then upgrade xyz. So you tell me.

Does the significantly higher cost justify what might be a marginal increase in sound quality? Is buying a more expensive DAC for better sound just splitting hairs, and making you feel better about your system? Are different DACs just different coloration of the sound?

Only you can say. How far do you want to go? Keep in mind that its about the music, not the equipment and you’ll be alright. When you get to your destination, you buy less and less and enjoy

Thank you for all this great advice.  Seems that the consensus is buy a better DAC.  In this price range, more money better sound.  For the record I stream with an Ethernet connection to a raspberry pie 3 with a digihat and a Toslink connection to my bifrost.  Volumio software.
I can afford much more, put sometimes I’m to frugal.


Your music sourse starts at your dac after D&A  conversion 

I have owned many for example from Denafrips aries2 great dac for under $1k 

R2R dacs or Multibit are the original way or doing this and digital has come along way in every respect ,for example from the $1k Aries to pontus, to Terminator2 

peach one is a substantial step up in realism , soundstage ,depth,resolution and imaging , diminishing returns once you get up to over $6-$8 k 

to double that in cost very much lower Sonic return  my  brother has $18k and $34 k DCS dacs yes they are for sure better ,but not that much better maybe $10-15% better which is noticeable ,but  can easily live with say a Denafrips terminators2,plus version or Holo springs KTE may3 , that is the sweet spot ,

even in the $2k range respectable .

You are looking at this in the wrong way if you are thinking that price makes the difference.  It is how something is designed and built.  We manufacture an R2R 101D tubes DHT DAC with a separate 30lb power supply.  Not all R2R DACs sound like ours does.  Diminishing returns depends on what sound you are looking for.  Clarity, resolution, slam, dynamics, soundstage, separation of vocals and instruments, bass definition, musical, and tone of instruments such as piano, stand up bass, violins, etc.  Until you hear this for yourself, you won't know it.

I just heard our DAC on the new second from the top model of Wilson speakers.  I knew what our DAC sounded like but it was still a new experience to hear our product in a completely different system. We are always learning what makes music sound the way it does.

Happy Listening.

For the record I stream with an Ethernet connection to a raspberry pie 3 with a digihat and a Toslink connection to my bifrost.

This HAT and toslink are a weak link. You’ll get much better quality output from Pi through RCA coax (or better with BNC if DAC has it) from a different HAT like this


Another option is HiFiBerry DIGI2 Pro

To get the most from the Pontus you need a streamer transport like a Lumin U2 and the Denafrips DDC like an Iris or Hermes running I2S to the Pontus, otherwise you are driving it or even the Bifrost in 2nd gear.

Does the significantly higher cost justify what might be a marginal increase in sound quality?

Do this test and see if you get it right 100%. If not ... no need to spend more money.


Of course if you just feel this itch to pamper yourself and get some nice new gear, that can be satisfactory all by itself.


What is your budget?  I would recomed you buy a DAC from a dealer with a return exchange policy and try for yourself.  

With Denafrips dacs I own 2 currently and in the mk2 version there is no micro skipping issue ,idont even know what that means.   Look up pontus mk2 , or Terminator 2 dacs read some reviews ,  if going to buy state what is your Max budget  this helps , as I mentioned the$4500-$6500 isthe sweet spot 

and they are made over seas Holo springs, and Denafrips  you would have to pay much more to = this   And both nowhave repair centers inthe U.S

 but are very dependable , they all sound different abit Multibit - R2R dacs are the original type dac chips and sound a bit smoother , going up the chain mola mola dac is great at$14 k  ,and of course DCS dacs but are $$ ,which have their own custom architecture.

Well a basic  thing about hi fi. Each step up cost proportionately  more for a smaller increase  in  sound quality. So it becomes  at what level are you happy with your system? The best sounding  system  for the money spent is one that is balanced. Nothing to high up the food chain for the rest of the system.  


Also another question  a friend of  mine has a Naim system and it likely is the system  I have heard that makes the biggest difference  if it it left on of any system  I have heard do you leave your Naim on? If not give that a try and see what you think after it has been on a couple of weeks. 



With Denafrips dacs I own 2 currently and in the mk2 version there is no micro skipping issue ,idont even know what that means. 


I'm glad to hear that you haven't had any issues, but it is wrong to imply that the mk2 is immune to such issues. My Pontus was a mk2, and there have been plenty of other reports. As to you not knowing what it means, well, you apparently haven't researched the topic.

Here is Denafrips' primary hypothesis, as articulated by Alvin himself:

Denafrips DACs use an internal reclocker when the DAC is connected using SPDIF or AES, which uses a small FIFO to buffer the PCM samples before they are clocked out using the internal clock to the R2R DAC. 

SPDIF (and AES/EBU) assume that the source controls the clock, but as we all know this can introduce jitter resulting in poor performance. By buffering the data and reclocking it, the DAC can all but eliminate the issues with jitter, but this only works well if the source clock is close enough in frequency to the DACs reference clock such that the FIFO can handle the timing differences for the duration of the stream.

If the source clock is operating at a significantly different frequency from DAC clock, or the time between resetting the buffer is too long, the FIFO will either overflow or run out of samples and you'll get a drop out or stutter. 

Whipsaw I use USB ,  and sonicly sounds excellent , the fifo buffer does a very good job and in the Terminator2  or T+ dac using duel Over clocks ,makes itine excellent dac ,yes IHave read about conversion  topics but sonicly  way way outof any distortions I can hear or even a 🐕 for that matter . Just read current reviews 

on the terminstor 2 , T2+ dac.

it is as good or better the the Holo springs May KTE dac ,all depending on taste 

they both are excellent depending on your system I have heard the vast majority of dacs side by side in New England we have multi state audio get togethers.  With many great systems most out ofmy pay grade over $100 k+   Much more today 

then in the past.

Thanks again for the “sound “ advice.  You have provided me with options that I haven’t considered.  Chord is one name that was not mentioned.  Their reviews are consistently favorable. Seems many use Chord as a reference.  Thoughts and experience with Chord would be appreciated.

Also, upgrading my RP 3 hat will happen if I jump to a better DAC.


+1 @hilde45 couldn’t have said it better. Buy what sounds the best (to you) in your system.

I really think the Benchmark DAC2 is the steal. Yes, there's a DAC3 but even they feel that's getting into diminishing returns.  They really know what they're doing, have impeccable credentials in the recording industry, and you can have what many recording studios use in your home for a pittance with a used DAC2.  It's just a little black box filled with superb engineering so it has to swim upstream againgst the audiophile ethos of magic and jewelry, but it does its job superbly.

Full disclosure, I had their DAC1 and DAC2 and thought the DAC2 was better.  Then got the upgrade itch and got Terminator1, then Terminator2, but I have nothing but admiration and respect for Benchmark.  Sometimes I'll swap in the DAC2 and it always sounds good.


electroslacker,  your Benchmark suggestion is well received.  I have read good reviews and some use it as a benchmark.  They have been out there for a long time and are still well regarded.

If you can’t hear a difference then save your money. I can tell you that there are many dacs that would be an huge upgrade for you but they will cost more, and the better 1’s will require you to upgrade your system to get the best out of the dac. If you are happy keep what you got

Whipsaw I use USB...


That explains why you have not experienced the issue. It is related to CD transports, and the (different) inputs employed.

That the Pontus (and presumably other Denafrips DACs) sounds very good is irrelevant. This is a flaw that may affect any potential purchaser who intends to use a CD transport, and should obviously be taken into consideration.

Thankfully I haven’t got to that place yet. I’ve only had four DACS and each one has been better than the last.

    I've had a dedicated headphone station with MacBook Air >usb, Oppo 83 >coax, Bifrost 2 >bal, Jot 2 >bal, Aria phones for a year last March.  Very good sound!

   Then in Mar, consumed by reports of awesome 2 ch SACD via I2s (HDMI) I purchased an HDMI/I2s box ($50) and a Pontus II.

   I originally thought the Bifrost had a more punchy sound that was fun with electronica music.  The Pontus was notably better with everything else: wider soundstage, better track separation, more detail, more air, etc.  An example: HiRes Melody Gardot, Sunset In The Blue...all sounds better thru the Pontus, except the last track with Sting, "Little Something", which is more dance than jazz with base slam which the Bifrost accentuates.

   Since then I I had stopped listening to the Bifrost almost entirely and pulled it from the stack to use as a 2ch step up in my home theater system.

   Given a good recording the I2s SACD is my 2ch (headphone) "state of the art, wow....

    I have only heard a couple of "micro skips" I presumed were cd read errors, not sure of the path.  Will have to further investigate given the feedback here.  Absolutely no buyer remorse.

@dsfreeh - there are references to Chord further towards the top of the thread. Some people love Chord gear, others, like me, not so much. Great quality stuff, just depends on what your sound preferences are, and Chord is a bit dry for my tastes (which are more R2R type sound).... 


yes, chord was mentioned, my mistake.  Lots of good info in response to my question.  The more I research Chord, I’m not inclined to go that route.

In my area there are no dealers of high end equipment where I can go listen.

I like my Bifrost, but I would like more of a sound stage, which is what I’m trying to accomplish.

This is Audiogon, not a dealer's website.  Wait for a relatively good deal on a DAC you are interested in, buy it, and if it's not clearly better, put it back up for sale for around the price you purchased it for.  If you take a small hit, so be it.

I had a modded Benchmark DAC1, Havana, and Chord TT2.  I didn't know what I was missing until I got a Merason, and now a Bricasti M1.  There's no way I can go back now.

In my experience moving up in quality DACs provide more than just coloration.  Each time I upgraded I experienced a less digital influenced sound, better imaging and clarity of detail.  I haven't heard the super high end DACs (Lampizator etc.) but rather than lateral moves I've made significant jumps in price with each upgrade and my next DAC is gonna set me back if I ever get to point that my DAC is the limiting factor.

You can mitigate the diminishing returns by checking out the used market.  I just purchased a PSAudio DirectStream DAC that for some reason seems to have fallen out of favor with Audiophiles for close to the same price as the new Benchmarck3HGC.   I don't know how it compares with the Benchmark but I can say it's better than my tube rolled MHDT Orchid. 

I tend to hear vocal artifacts such as glare or an unnatural sounding  tones as a vocalist's dynamics increases  which has been vastly improved with the DS.  It was also improved with the Orchid compared the Allo Piano 2 with the reclocker where I started.. 

 The DirectStream trade in value is $2000 from PSAudio so I likened it to a used car I used that as my baseline.

For me, my biggest issue now is my streamer.  I use a inexpensive fanless PC's USB with its stock switching power supply and WIFI connection.  I'm hoping that by decreasing the background noise threshold with a direct connection to the router and a linear power supply .  I2S streamers seem to cost more than the DAC so I'm trying alternate solutions hoping to get there without spending the farm.  I bummed PI2AES is no longer being manufactured so I'll keep up the search.  

Have fun on your search and don't forget to stop and enjoy the music


OP it may be easy to try the Denafrips Ares used. You should be able to hear a difference. Denafrips does not offer returns. You can pick one up used between $700 to $725 shipped and sell it in a day or 2 for the same price you paid. Not losing any money. The Pontus used you could lose or make a couple hundred depending on the deal you find if you choose to sell it.

I borrowed a Ares from a friend to see what all the hype was about when I was considering the Pontus. For a $800 dac I think the Ares is nice for the money. It has nice bass good soundstage maybe lacking in information but that could be why most move up the line. I owned the Quetest a while back and enjoyed the Ares more for its analog and musical presentation.




I have found that if you carefully research what you want in any component category and invest no less that 2x or more the cost of your existing component you virtually always get a “wow” improvement. Small differences or poorly researched ones get lateral moves.


Also. On the streamer… I have had many starting with PCs and MACs. I recommend not holding back… my streamer is twenty five percent more expensive than my DAC. Totally worth it. The streamer is like the turntable… if you start out with a noisy signal… it does not get fixed. I was hesitant since it was just zeros and ones… but it is like all other components. It really makes a difference. My streamer equals my really good vinyl in sound quality and bests red book CDs.

Hello dsfreeh!  If you have tried a few DACs and not noticed much of a difference between them, start with a good USB cable. I have found this to be the most "difference making" cable in my systems. It is quite critical. You don't have to pay a fortune. Zavfino makes the best one I have tried. Wireworld and Furutek (spelling?) make fine products and they may be found at UsedCable.com and oher sites. "Last Year's" top models suffer heavy discounts as new models are introduced. Under $200 will get you a very good cable. You should be able to detect differences between DACs. Happy hunting.

My current dac, is the Audio Alchemy DDP-1 dac/pre, which I've owned a couple years now. About a year ago I was bitten by the R2R dac bug, but they are all out of my price range. However, I upgraded the coax cable and power cords to the AA, and could hear both. I also replaced a transport that died, and upgraded the PC to my amp and CDT6000 transport and could both