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.


I own a very highly modified Benchmark DAC1 HDR.  It has great bones such as a linear power supply and good DAC chips.   However, it has really cheap computer power and filter caps, regulators (50¢).   I replaced them all with audiophile quality caps, $50 regulators and a new audio board, among other items.  The result is a very high end unit ($10K) at under $1400.  Similar for less money using an Emotiva DAC from 2011 which selling for half the Benchmark, about $1000 converted (no room for another audio board).  

I would be suspect of many less expensive DACs unless they include higher end components (just like my discussion about transports-cheap computer based transports generally result in inferior sound as audio transports).  

@dsfreeh I have read through this thread and have seen a few Items I have received demonstrations off in an home system belonging to others.

I have a bespoke built Valve DAC used in my home system.

I get the message that you are looking to get the best return for your outlay, and with that in mind, it does have a constraint to the value of the models you are to be directed toward.

As an outside observer and one who is quite frugal in their purchases.

By 'Frugal' I mean I am willing to purchase, on my terms and only when the spend seems sensical. I am set on achieving a change for the better from a device, not just a change to a sonic signature between one device and another. To achieve this I have had most of my devices bespoke built or modified to surpass the standard design.

I am not a lone listener, I attend various events through HiFi Clubs and Forum Meetings where there is encouragement to demonstrate devices to a group of attendees. There is not any time I have not received an appraisal from within a group that leans toward being that a good impression has been made. This is achieved for a plug in device that has been alienated from the home system.

Recently I was able to be present when Two DAC's were used as a comparison at a club event, a Denafrips that cost £1000 direct from the Manufacturer and a Linn that had undergone their latest upgrades.

Both were with almost Zero Hours of use, but the Linn has had a usage life prior to the upgrade components being added.

Both were used in a very familiar system with a Steamer and a CDT Source.

For myself the Denafrips was a much more noticeable performer for the better, the device that many hours could be spent sitting at the hot spot in front of the presentation. The owner of the Denafrips has now sold the model being demonstrated to an attendee and has purchased the Terminator Model.         Hence, when a up the range model DAC is referenced from this Brands range as having a a much more affordable DAC from another Brand compare in a manner that is with an attraction, it does seem to have a gravitas attached to the suggestion on offer.   

I was struggling with the Linn, it was not as a attractive device during this comparison. I was leaning towards the Linn being usable for background music, but it would be difficult for myself to maintain a reasonable period of time seated in the hot spot.

Being a 'Frugal Type' I was caught by the reference to the Benchmark DAC2 and the knowledge being made known, even though it has been superseded as the 'go to' device, it is perfectly satisfying when reintroduced to the system and compared to the Denafrips Terminator Model.

The comparison being made is that a used value $1000ish DAC is proving to be an attractor when compared to a $4000ish DAC, when used in the system belonging to the contributor of this information.

As an individual who is also not adverse to have a device modified ( or an alternative approach to achieve a device the manufacturer does not offer ). I was forming the view a search might reveal modifications that can be carried out on a out of Warranty period Benchmark DAC.

One such route to achieve this has been made known.

It does appear the Benchmark DAC2 has the credentials to be used as an change for the better device and will lend itself to a modification to be further improve on this, as such methods for modifications are made known.

That as a package fits perfectly into my thoughts on what it is to be 'Frugal' as a purchaser. 

It might be a period of two years before a Denafrips Terminator is seen as a used sale item for approx' $2000ish which I assume will be a similar money as a DAC2 with a modification carried out to it.      




VerdantAudio’s comments are true having experienced it myself with my own system having recently owned FPGA , dac chip and R2R dacs from the likes of AudioByte Vox , PS Audio , Rockna , Denafrips Terminator 2 , Holo Audio May  currently I am absolutely thrilled with a chip based dac from Merason .

Defeeh I meant to add in my comment before posting that none of the dacs I’ve tried are in your budget of 2K , it’s good you are open to any of the audio trades dac topologies, borrow and borrow as many as you can and choose what sounds best to you in your own system .

VerdantAudio’s comments are true having experienced it myself with my own system having recently owned FPGA , dac chip and R2R dacs from the likes of AudioByte Vox , PS Audio , Rockna , Denafrips Terminator 2 , Holo Audio May  currently I am absolutely thrilled with a chip based dac from Merason .

Interesting, as I switched from a Pontus II to the Merason in my system, and really wanted to like it. I found to be pleasing, and particularly good with older, less than optimal recordings, but at the same time lacking in the details retrieved by high-quality R2R DACs. I auditioned an AQUA La Scala, found it to be clearly superior to the Merason, and now own one.

My point, however, is not that everyone would likely have the same result in their systems, but rather that system synergy is extremely important when assessing DACs. I could see the Merason being perfect for a system that leans to the clinical, and/or bright side, as it would likely smooth out some of the harshness. Etc.