DAC suggestions for a reasonably modest system

I have two systems currently fed by a SMSL SU-9n via Y splitter.  It's time to add a new/used DAC and get rid of the Y splitter.  New DAC will feed a VTL TL-2.5 + VTL Stereo 90 or a couple of different vintage SS amps (Sony TAN-8250 or Luxman 5M21), and just for fun, maybe a couple of Dyna Mk VI, running Magnepan 3.6R.  The SMSL does a great job overall, but seems to be a better fit with the ARC SP3a1 + SET or SEP amp into Altecs.  For those of you that have had the SMSL or similar level DACs in a similar system to mine and have moved up the chain, what gave you a nice step change?  The Maggies, however imperfect, are delightfully revealing and prior DAC changes were definitely more apparent with them.  Budget is $1000-1500, and I have no issue with buying used good quality stuff.  None of my system is less than 20 years old except the DACs.  


A couple of thoughts:

  • Y cable is BAD. Before you even consider a new DAC, see if there's a way to connect to multiple systems without doing that. Looks like the SMSL has balanced and single ended outputs.  On SOME DACs, using both doesn't degrade sound (on some it does).  
  • There does look to be significant improvement possibility based on your upgrade budget.  But you need to decide what kind of sound do you like - the R2R sound or the SABRE DAC like sound -- and then there are options.

On the R2R side, the Schiit Gumby is a good option and I enjoy that DAC very much. The Mytek Liberty has an ultra detailed SABRE chip in it. Totally different approaches.

An OPPP 105D  Streams, 32 bit DAC, Play CDs, STREAM Netflix and more  great products 1K used.

Another very positive "yes" for the Gustard R26 DAC. Brand new it’s in your price and sounds great.


I had considered using the XLR outs with an adapter, but the balanced output voltage is twice that of the RCA, so I'd need to introduce some passive circuitry to attenuate.  And in the random bit of music studio work I've done, adapting XLR is a compromise at best. Given my choices in tube preamps, I don't see an XLR capable pre in my future plans, and the SMSL RCA output is already so hot that at full volume on the DAC both preamps are usually running around 9-10 o'clock.  That was also the case when I was using a Convergent SL-1.  And back to the original goal, both systems are very different and I'm not sure one DAC makes the most of each system's attributes.