DAC Question: Delta-Sigma vs R2R

I have a general question, I am looking to buy my first standalone DAC, right now I have an Azur 851N, which is a streamer/DAC. As I look I continue to see discussions on Delta-Sigma vs R2R DACs.

I am in no way an audio expert nor do I have a good understanding of electronics.

In Laymen terms, Could anybody explain what is the difference between the 2 technologies?



The critical thing is how the DAC sounds. Technology is important for the engineers designing the component, but implementation is everything. 

So, try and listen to as many DACs as you can, and read professional reviews of them. See if you can establish the kind of sound you like in standard audio terminology it will make finding a unit appropriate for you much easier. 

I got into high end audio fifty years ago and quickly changed my focus from technology to the sound of the unit. A good engineer uses a collection of technology to achieve a goal. 



@mod_asored, The Bricasti M21 DAC’s “advanced architecture means you can select, evaluate and enjoy three independent digital to analog converter signal paths: 24-bit delta sigma, 20-bit ladder DAC and true 1-bit DSD for DSD content". 

On my Bricasti M21 DAC, I experimented back and forth between the delta-sigma DAC and the ladder R2R DAC.  Two weeks later, I set the Bricasti DAC to the ladder R2R setting and rarely moved it.  In the R2R setting, to my ears, everything sounds truly outstanding.  The music is clearer, less dark, better bass and sounds more like music.  I suggest you audition some delta-sigma DAC and ladder R2R DAC’s and select the DAC that sounds the best to you.  

As was posted above, the technology is important but how the DAC sounds is your audio system is the only way to make a decision. 

Delta sigma is processing in a chip. R2R is a discrete resistor ladder. Neither topology predicts the SQ infallibly. Neither does the other of the top 3, FPGA. It's the cook not the ingredients.

The above post from @fuzztone is an excellent point and is absolutely correct. I totally agree with what was said.

The over all design of the DAC (the cooking) is what makes the sound quality. And, regardless of the DAC technology used, delta sigma, R2R or FPGA, I recommend you audition these DAC’s and then decide what sounds best to you.

+1 @fuzztone and others above. It’s not the architecture but rather the whole implementation and how it works for your system and tastes.

That said, IN GENERAL and just to give you a VERY basic guideline to go by, Delta-sigma DACs will tend to have a more detailed — some may say “digital” — sound whereas R2R DACs, especially those that don’t oversample (NOS) tend to have a possibly less detailed but more “analog” sound. Please do not take this in any way as doctrine as there are “analog” sounding DS DACs and clinical R2R DACs, but just to give you something to initially grab onto in your search. But, as the other wise people have said above, in the end the ONLY thing that matters is what sounds best to you — architecture be damned.

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Thanks for the feedback and some explanation, I do have the same challenge that many have in that I need to drive hundreds of miles and take a day off of work to find an audio store where I can listen to some quality DAC's and even then I am quite limited. An education really helps to not be steered the wrong way by an overzealous sales person.


One other thing I saw today, Border Patrol, good reviews and nice price point (at least my price point being of modest income). They say they use a R2R DAC chip. This seems to be somewhere in the middle, is it a hybrid design?


Being an older guy with Tinnitus, I tend to listen at lower levels and anything I buy cannot have a sharp top-end as it sets off the tinnitus pretty bad and then I am out of business for a day or 2. I know the overall design is what wins the day, but in general would this fact guide me more towards a R2R or a delta-sigma DAC?

Again, thanks for taking the time to educate me. 


It's only a matter of time before someone comes along and vehemently asserts, ad nauseum, that there's no difference in sound quality between "properly implemented" DACs. 

PLEASE do not listen to this. Instead, listen to as many DACs as you can and decide for yourself. 

There will be some instances where the differences between any two given DACs will be minimal. However, there will be other cases where differences may astound you. It's only through listening that you'll learn what YOU like. 

Listening in your room, in your system, is best.  There are various online sellers who offer trial periods with return/refund policies. 

If I were to point you in a direction it would be towards a tubed DAC. Tubed equipment tend (also highly dependent on the implementation) to be more natural sounding, especially in the budget category. The Border Patrol is immediately appealing for that reason and not the R2R thing. If you can find a used Audio Research DAC… also tubed… it would have the character it sounds like you are looking for. What is your other equipment… this makes a huge difference in the ultimate output. 

This question has been asked and answered many times on this forum. In my experience it depends on your amplification. If , as I do, you have a tubed pre and power amp you might prefer Delta Sigma. If you have SS amps then try tubed or R2R DACs. What it boils down to, as many have said, is to try as many DACs of different type as you can.

As an older guy with Meniere's ( tinnitus's big brother) I find my Denafrips Ares 2 a best solution at the price, many Dac's sound far too bright to me and some have a lot of sibilance, of the ones I have Marantz are the worst culprit,  I have a Cambridge Audio Dac in my SACD player and it sounds great on SACD's but is improved a little with CD's if I use the Ares 2. I would not buy the Ares to replace the Cambridge Audio however the CA does not process USB. I also have an iFi iDSD micro BL which is a Burr Brown Chip based Dac, but prefer the Ares 2. 

@mod_asored  Tons of good advice so far, my only add in is look at DAC connections and get something that has I2S and USB inputs if possible. It's always good to have options. I would love to get an R2R DAC for my second system.

Happy hunting! 

Sorry to waylay this thread but New Year Wish.

Bricasti releases a stand alone M21 ladder DAC at a reasonable price (M3 price?)

R2R dacs can use either discrete resistors or resistors located in a chip. I prefer discrete resistors.

I have learned more from this thread than my goggle search's, Thanks,

I should have provided more info, my bad, sorry..

Budget: somewhere around $1500


- Cambridge Azur 851N Streamer

- Rogue perseus magnum peramp (good nos tubes)

- Rogue st-100 (also nos small tubes) amp

- Gravesen 3WC-15 speakers, the speakers are amazing and it is what has me upgrading

So I do have alot of tubes to get rid of the harshness, most of my listening is acoustics, mild rock, jazz, indie, lots of female vocals. I listen 50% Qubuz and 50% from my NAS.

I think my next big step up is a good dac and I think it is not a good time for an integrated streamer as DAC's seem to be making big strides and there is going to be a lot of changes in the streaming software coming due to DAC improvements.

So I am looking for a good standalone DAC that will last me a long time.

My biggest challenge is there are not many audio stores in my area and the ones here are very limited with DAC's. Therefore, I may need to do mfg trial periods and I think it is unfair to the manufacturers to do it as a fishing expedition so I want to be very sure with the one(s) I try out.

r2r dacs have been around for ever. The thing that makes the better today than they have ever been is the resisters are better with closer tolerances and the rest of the technology that goes into them is better. Chip dacs can be extremely cheap or extremely expensive and everything in between. The electronics that a company adds can make the same chip sound the way they want.

So all and all it’s your ears and your wallet that make your decision of what kind of dac you get.

All the best with your hunt.


DACs only purpose is to convert the digital signal into an analogue form with as little distortion, noise, jitter and other nasty artifacts as possible. A few other things, but you get the idea.

R2R and Sigma Delta take quite different approaches to doing this. Quite different technologies.

R2R DACs do not do this as well as SD DACs. R2R DACs such as those by Denefrips and Holo Audi can come very close to what most robust (and recent - technology has improved in just the last couple years or so) SD DACs can easily achieve.

Now, R2R DACs do convey perhaps a slightly more lush/euphonic (whatever, get out the thesaurus) presence than SD.

The reasons to me are unclear, however one reason that I a familiar with is that R2R DACs introduce 2nd and 3rd harmonics through into the signal. Perhaps google is your friend for an explanation of harmonics.

These are known as non-linear distortions. These can be very pleasant to the ear, and tube amps produce them (harmonics) in abundance. Many here enjoy tube amps, myself included. {edit - and now I see, yourself also.  Swell}

My own opinion is that should you wish to introduce such harmonics the best place to do so is at the pre-amp or amp level.

Get the source signal as "correct" as possible with a SD DAC costing no more than a few hundred bucks, and then decide how to play with or customize the signal that the DAC spits out.

{I see Schiit has been recommended.  If that is a brand you trust, I'd suggest Schiit Modius at $200 - it is splendid and you won't be disappointed.  Jason from Schiit would agree - he has said that he can't tell the difference between DACs after a few beers, which, I may note, is because they are so good these days and is probably true even before having a few beers}

I totally agree with what fuzztone said and I have a suggestion for a dac for you to listen to but it's not cheap it's $4,500 US, but the reviewer put it up against his VPI turntable with a $5,000 Japanese cartridge and he says it was every bit as analog sounding, the name of the dac is the Wyred 4 sound 10th anniversary dac, I have it in my system and I totally agree it's the most analog sounding dac that I've ever had in my system.

As I fellow senior music lover who, like the OP, also has tinnitus, let me say this. Your tinnitus  most likely becomes an issue with brighter presentations and higher volumes. No matter what DAC you get, you will still find certain recordings an issue. This is because of the way the music was recorded/mastered/remastered, etc. In other words, the effect of human input and the sonic signature of the gear used in the music production/recording process before it even gets to be on your CD/ or digital stream.

So here’s my input. Buy a good quality equalizer like a Schiit Loki and insert it into your music chain. Eiter between your preamp and power amp or your DAC and preamp. It is very transparent yet will allow you to modify the high and middle frequencies to suit your specific hearing preferences on a global as well as a recording by recording basis. This little inexpensive device may get you further towards your goal of making your digital source more listenable than what tonal flavour DAC you get. It has a bypass switch so it can be in the chain when you want it. Not saying you should not get a DAC as a better DAC regardless of the technology will get you closer to the music than the internal one you are using, but the ability to adjust tonal balance, for me was the best way to make music more listenable with tinnitus.

@alvinnir2 While an equalizer is not what I was specifically referring to when I was saying that its best to customize the signal only after it has left the DAC, introducing something as you suggest is another good example.

Rather than trying to get a DAC that is a jack of all trades and master of none, kinda thing.

[and while I am here, I will regret forever writing "you won't be disappointed" in my previous post but I can't edit them out, grrrr ]

Just a slight digression....

I agree with adding a LOKI Mini+ to your system...$149 from Schiit......also the Topping e30 for the same price is an excellent valuefor a DAC.....or for a little more, look at a Denafrips Ares 2 with the cover off...very impressive and the phase control button is an incredible feature to open up the width...depth and height of the soundstage. (R2R) ....No need to spend more.

@buddyboy1 the Topping e30 for the same price is an excellent valuefor a DAC.

I can confirm that about the Topping E30.

I recently made my Rega Saturn CD player the transport for such a one.

It is the only thing I changed (plus adding the necessary el-cheapo no brand 75ohm digital coax cable).

I dare not mention anything about any superlative changes in what I hear or I may lose any shadow of credibility that I may or may not have with the multi thousand dollar boys and girls.

I went with a FPGA dac for many reasons:

* it’s software based so you aren’t locked in with todays technology. Try adding MQA support to a dac that didn’t come with it from day 1, it’s almost impossible.

* the designer/software writer of the dac can update the software of the dac that can give you better sq with every release.

The  hardware technology of the dac does make a difference since I only use Ethernet or i2s inputs, the only inputs that sound any good

I have an Azur 851N as well, but also have the Schiit Loki. The addition of the Loki is all positive (no downside at all). I also, just recently, added the Synergistic Research MiG's under the 851N, and am blown away at the improvement they made, so much so that I feel I now have an upgraded DAC, and no longer certain I need to upgrade it. FWIW - you might want to consider these two additions before replacing the 851N's DAC.

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At a little more than your $1500 price range, another well reviewed denafrips r2r is the pontus ii.


Since your gear may not be up to hearing the differences, (your human hearing gear that is) you may be served just as well by their ares ii. 


Both r2r, they are often described as the 'analog of digital' giving you that smoother presentation that your hearing will probably respond best to. I'm in similar situation with my aging metal drummer ears and recently ordered the ares ii for similar sonic reasons. 


I don't have standalone dac experience, this will be my first adventure so I'm total newbie if that helps at all. 

Theoretically, R2R DACs are more analog sounding and less detailed than their delta-sigma counterparts. This is driven by some of the more popular R2R DACs sound profile. It is not universally true as I have heard some miserably bright R2Rs and some that can rival any delta-sigma in terms of detail.

The actual tech is not of huge importance and the implementation of the resistor ladder or chips and the output stage dictate the sound and refinement levels of the DAC.

If you are looking for a warmer sounding unit that will give you good detail and a big soundstage I would look at the Border Patrol you mention above and the Questyle CMA 12. I know it is more headphone oriented but it is not bright and works wonderfully as a standalone DAC.

The Border Patrol might sound a hair more "raw" as it is NOS while the Questyle will be a bit more refined.

Good luck

The Border Patrol you are looking at is a good bet.  Whether with a tube based system it will go too mellow I can't say, but it would certainly not present any 'bright' audio issues.   I have tinnitus, and hyperacusis in the top end (hyperacusis is a sensitivity to loud noise in a frequency, and to  me it is in the treble wnd of things - for example a live piano is intolerable to me if I stand nearby).  So I appreciate a system with no aggression in that top end and no exactly what you mean.

back to the OP's question.

R2R DACs run each of the 16-24 bits through a specific resistor pair combination to create the analog counterpart, then sum and filter the result.

Bitstream DACs use pulse density modulation on a single resistor. The more "1"s the higher the voltage. It too is summed a filtered. This is also how light dimmers work and how your car's fuel injection works.

depending on how technical you are you can get the original paper from Philips online.  R2R goes back to Bell Labs for t-carrier.

There are benefits to either.  in general i would argue that the DAC chip itself is th least important component of the system. Just as i have made tubes, FETs and BJTs sound basically the same, those two can sound very very similar until you get to ratified air of quality. Its all abotu power supplies, filters, I/V converters (amps), timing contorl, isolation, blah, blah.



Added the Benchmark DAC 3B to my system, (solely listen to R&R fairly loudly) Tekton DI's  Just over 13k system, what a difference, NOT MARGINAL!!!!  Rory,  at Benchmark will spend all the time you need, questions,  etc.  30 day trial period, 5 year warranty, based in upstate NY  I also added their LA-4 Line amp, all balanced, to be truly transparent. VERY impressed. Robert TN

I have been researching the last few years, and auditioning many brands.

I believe in dual or multiple channel dac’s, and after that, it is a particular OEM’s ’mixed salad’ you are listening to rather than just the DAC’s technology, i.e. upscale, over-clock, anti-jitter, sound shaping, optional filters ....

Have return option, keep going until you land on one you prefer. I think 'prefer' to 'better'. Try to keep 'prefer' in mind when reading reviews.

These involve SACD/CD players with Internal DAC’s, but many streaming and separate DAC’s comments are included

specific for Sony SCD-XA5400ES



prior ’Better CD’


I’m just a caveman lawyer, but…technological obsolescence keeps me very cautious on anything digital that is expensive…My thesis is that a simple $300 DAC released last month is probably better than a five-year old $3,000 DAC. So, I buy simple, well-reviewed DACs at modest prices, and change them up every few years, and really don’t worry about it much.  Now using the iFi Zen Signature v2, and it’s enjoyable day-to-day (I have music on 12 hours a day, low volume, but always there).  I appreciate that I am missing out on the quality I could obtain with say a Benchmark DAC3 (and I will buy one used if I can catch it for the right price).  DEQX was apparently transformational to listeners when released (I’ve not heard it), and cost $5,000, but I can’t imagine they survive unless they just sell a $500 downloadable software package at this point

I have a nice vinyl setup on my rig.  I use it to listen to a selection of maybe 90 albums that make sense to me to own on vinyl (love the music, sound quality, understanding the origin of the pressing, and the music is of a scale that it could have been played in my living room. Neil Young at the Cellar Door vs. Zeppelin). I use a DAC and Roon for 90% of my listening

I’m looking forward to the abusive replies, but maybe this point of view is a useful way to think about where to spend money on a system when maybe 10% of our time is really listening, and most of the rest is day-to-day pleasure

Fun topic!

I have tinnitus and some things just dont sound good-John Prine unfortunately can sound bad on vinyl for example.

I bought an MHDT Stockholm DAC  tube, RtR, NOS and the sound was much more euphoniic and pleasing compared to the sound out of my Emotiva CDP, doesnt sound fatiguing  or set off my tinnitus.




@jonwatches1 - No abuse here! 😁 But just wondering why you would think a new cheap $300 DAC would be better than a Chord Hugo, for example, which is 5 years old or so? Enjoy yer tunes! 

@larsman - really good question.  so, I probably overstated things for effect.  I am sure the 2017 Chord Hugo would still sound better than the 2022 $300 dac.  It’s an interesting question how the 2017 Chord will compare to a $300 dac in 2025, probably when I buy a new one (I have no idea what relative sound would be like - probably still the Chord for a person with the right ears and right system)

In my case, part of the answer had to do with biggest impact.  At the time, I thought moving from a $250 cartridge to a $1,000 cartridge on the turntable would have a good and lasting impact (thankfully, seems to be correct).  I was less sure about marginal impact on the DAC

If I were pure digital, I’d buy the Chord or Benchmark; For the conversation, I thought if would be fun to contribute the idea of “hey, how much does it really matter” depending on individual listening habits - there aren’t many hours of intense listening for me, and those hours are on vinyl, so I keep thing simple, and lightly invested, on the digital side

(btw, the vinyl is as much nostalgia as anything else - I am staying far, far away from that discussion, which in any event off topic for this thread)

@larsman why you would think a new cheap $300 DAC would be better than a Chord Hugo, for example, which is 5 years old or so? 

I'll bite.  I would challenge anyone to listen to a $440 SMSL M500 MkII DAC (also a headphone amp) and swear that the Chord Hugo not only sounds better but is the better DAC. 

It may be a close call, of course, because the Chord Hugo was a tremendous bit of kit in its time at what, $3,000?


@jonwatches1 - Thanks! And depending on the rest of the gear in the system, it may indeed be very hard to tell the difference between the DAC's. I was using a Chord DAVE + M Scaler, and it was fine, but I ended up replacing that setup with a Holo May KTE DAC, which has a lusher sound, that I prefer. 

@noske - You could very well be right, depending on the rest of the gear. Personally, I would find both of those DAC's on the dry side for my tastes, but lots of people love 'em, so that's great! 

@larsman Personally, I would find both of those DAC’s on the dry side for my tastes

This is so true. Hence, should you be able to wade through my rant above, I do suggest that it might be an option to add something in the pre-amp or amp.

Like tubes.

SS? er, no, it’d be like walking into a stainless steel bathroom to have a cold shower.

edit - no, that's not fair of me.  There are plenty SS which are warm.  In fact I often enjoy my Sansui au-555A from 1974 which was given to me by my grandchildren at the time when I retired.

@noske - Indeed, and I have a similar attitude - I love having tubes in my system - I've got a couple of good tube headphone amps, and in my 2-channel system, I use a Herron Audio tube preamp with an MSB SS power amp - both of those components are essentially colorless; they add no warmth but they are not dry and clinical - they do a great job of delivering the source, so the main effect on my sound is the DAC, and that's where I'm using the Holo May R2R DAC. 

I’d recommend MHDT Orchid or, if you run balanced, the Pagoda — both tubed R2R DACs and neither likely to tweak your tinnitus.  Not sure, but they might offer a trial period. 

GIGO, garbage in, garbage out. The real test is what you consider garbage. If you have normal hearing, whatever that is, then you need to know your taste. Reviewers generally need to sell advertising and if they slam a product they risk a loss of an income stream. Beyond that, do you know their predictions? If not, even if they are honest their advice may be worthless to you. I think that you were well advised not to go by the type of DAC it is. One point that I would make though is to always try to make your next purchase your last amp, DAC, preamp, etc. If not you are going to spend far more than had you saved up for forever gear. I have wasted a ton of money because I settled, or tried to buy gear to compensate for system issues. YMMV

@larsman both of those components are essentially colorless; they add no warmth but they are not dry and clinical - they do a great job of delivering the source, so the main effect on my sound is the DAC, and that's where I'm using the Holo May R2R DAC. 

I have deliberately adopted an opposite approach as I've mentioned.  In my weaker moments I lust after an AGD Audion (class D) amp, which I suspect might be a bit humourless despite some people comparing them favourably to SET amps. This is bad - I do not like the SET amp signature sound.

Some distortion would be needed and should I be in a pleasant mood for a change it would be a toss up between a Holo May KTE or a Denafrips Terminator.  The folk at Holo are disciples of certain funky marketing gimmicks which does not impress me.

@mod_asored, Your DAC Question is Delta-Sigma vs R2R. The technology is a great question but the better question is what DAC sounds best in your system. The above posts provide many answers except this most important question. I suggest you audition some of these DAC’s in your system. Of course, the above DAC’s are excellent options but there are many others to consider.

Got back into two channel after a 7 year hiatus. Found a great combo of a class a amplifier and Fyne audio speakers.  The dac was the Aqua audio, priced at over 8k.  More than the speakers.  Tested the system again without knowing the dac. Mbl delta sigma that cost more than the whole system.   So I read reviews on multiple r to r and mainly are bought directly from Chinese companies.  Since they had a us distributor and would service locally bought the audio gd r 7.  Everything the Aqua audio has and more as I love the nos mode but can increase the os mode easily for more detail. At 3100. Not cheap, but hardly using turntable which was my preference

@tennisdoc56 I have looked at the Audio GD R7 (R2R) and it is similar to the Soekris DAC2541 (R2R) in that they both employ FPGA technology.

Both are very good of course but the presence of FPGA introduces some issues which I’d prefer to avoid. That’s just me, of course, and FPGA is slightly off topic.

[The Soekris DAC 1101 had FPGA.  So did the model that replaced it, 1321.  Then 1421.  Then 1521. Now 2541. 

So much for simply just having to upgrade the program in the FPGA chip.

And that is all I have to say about that]

Those highly raved entry level DACs, including Topping E30, SMSL Sanskrit 10th Mk II and Loxjie D30, indeed have very good measurements and appealing to the ears. I had them all but sold them all after listening to mid-tier DACs such as SMSL SU-9 which is just in a different league with more dynamics, punchy low end and more engagement. Noise floor is also quieter. Not until you hear them side-by-side, you would probably never sense the differences. For example, among those entry-level DACs, E30 is the most neutral and analytical but leaner on the bass and tends to flat. This was also confirmed by one of popular reviewers on line, which means if I read more reviews and get more feedback before I pull the triggers I would potentially avoid so much hassle. I understand probably most of us do not have access to "trying" out as many as DACs or other gears within the neck of the woods. Take advantage of the "free-return" policy on Amazon, for example, but not to abuse it for being a good citizen. I would strongly suggest read as many on-line "reliable" reviews (use your judgement) as you could and narrow down to a few, say, 2-3 candidates, before trying them out.

Those highly raved entry level DACs, including Topping E30, SMSL Sanskrit 10th Mk II and Loxjie D30, indeed have very good measurements and appealing to the ears.

I think a lot of folks that are budget-minded refuse to believe that there's more to how something sounds than how it measures, most likely due to lack of exposure to better sounding gear or convincing themselves that they can get the "best" at a fraction of the real cost of entry. 

Whatever we start with probably sounds good to us until we have an opportunity to hear better equipment/rooms/setup.  That's when we can open our minds and our ears and wallets and strive for better sound. 

If you're happy with a certain level of sound, there's nothing wrong with that either.  I have heard systems that make mine sound "bad" in comparison, but the cost of entry is more than an order of magnitude more than my budget allows.  I appreciate and enjoy what my system can do, but also recognize and accept its limitations.

I've tried numerous DACs and they all have their own sound signature.  There are some relative bargains (I thought the Schiit Bifrost was quite good for its price) and some over-priced DACs that may not perform as well as others, but like most things in life, you get what you pay for most of the time.