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.


DACs are fascinating.  All DACs present you with a tradeoff between detail and soundstage.  If you are looking for fine inner detail, great separation of strings, etc... be prepared to compromise in terms of soundstage.  If your priority is soundstage, be willing to compromise in terms of absolute detail.  

In the sub $2K range, I am far from an expert.  But two units I know well are the Chord Qutest and the Questyle CMA 12.  Chord has a reputation for being a bit forward and in practice, bright.  It also tends to not have a very wide soundstage.  That said, no one is better than Chord in terms of soundstage depth and stability between the speakers.  If you want a clear and stable central image, Qutest is amazing.  

Alternatively, the CMA 12 sounds big.  It has scale in terms of width of soundstage and good depth.  Your image will extend well beyond the outside of your speakers assuming proper setup.  It is neutral to maybe a hair warm.  Inner detail compared to Chord Qutest will be okay.  It is detailed, but not in the same league as Chord.  Just like Chords soundstage width is not in the same league as Questyle.  

At a root level, there are tons of awesome DACs on the market.  Do your research and try one in your system on a return policy.  Most return policies charge you return shipping and maybe 3% making your risk relatively small.  

Based on your comments above, it does look like you are not getting hung up on R2R vs Chip vs FPGA.  That is wise.  People make generalizations about these styles but that is driven more by the house sounds of popular brands rather than actual differences in how they reproduce sound.  

I have no practical recommendations on what you should actually demo.  As I said, this is a price range I don't know that well.  Hopefully the above comparison helps.  

Regarding interconnects, I use studio quality, Mogami to my Naim and Van Damme coaxial to my Bifrost 2.  Audiophile cables aren’t warranted at my equipment level.  I should move way up the audio food chain before considering the expense of such cabling.  
Browsing around the internet I once read that Alan Parsons was quoted as saying, “audiophiles don’t listen to music on their equipment, they use your music to listen to their equipment.”  I feel this is true until you reach the a point where you just decide this is good enough.  Stop fretting.  Maybe my Bifrost 2 is enough.  Forget the pursuit and sit back and take in an artists work. In time, new equipment will be fun.  Thanks all.

I've owned the following DACs over the years and have settled on liking the R2R sound overall vs the DS chip DACs.

  • Denafrips Venus II
  • Benchmark DAC3 B
  • Bryston BDA-3
  • Chord Qutest
  • Schiit Bifrost 2
  • Topping D90 MQA
  • Topping D30 Pro

I had the Bifrost 2 and am now running a Denafrips Venus II, yes the Venus sounds better in my setup but the Bifrost is an excellent value, the cost justification was worth it me but the law of diminishing marginal returns certainly applies. I am now upgrading to a Holo Audio May KTE and hope this will be the end game DAC for my system. I can't justify spending much more than that on a DAC relative to my other components. In your setup you will notice an improvement going to the Denafrips Pontus. You may want to try an Ares first for less money.

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

This is a fascinating statement, in that the OP implies that if it improves the sound then it is a matter of "need."  It's amazing how us audio freaks have extended Need from food and shelter to fidelity upgrades. Our poor spouses.

Anyway, DACs do sound somewhat different - not as different as speakers but there are still differences.  I like to switch back and forth from my Schiit Gumby and my Mytek Liberty II.  Very different approaches.

No, there is no limit. Just what you’re willing to spend. Inversely, there is a point of actual returns. I have many dacs, and have tried them from all price points. I don’t believe under $1000 there is much difference and in many cases, the cheaper one will sound better. Beyond about $2000 it’s all going to sound better. I think the people asking about this just want to feel better about their purchase. Enjoy what you have. If it’s not your taste, get something else.