DAC That Punches Above Its Price Point

I’ll make it short. I’ve spent some hours reading the DAC threads on this forum. I am aware quality of digital matters as superior DACs usually the costlier ones will sound better than cheap DACs, making music sound more analog, lifelike, real, believable with all the soundstage and detail etc. All the good things. There are some who thought it’s the music that matters, and although different DACs may sound different it’s the music that makes the most difference. In other words, the differences that exist between DACs are not that important as it's all about the music. I can see the point that people are trying to make.

Back to the topic. I’ve read great things on the Denafrips Ares II and Pontus II, and other costlier high-end DACs. I’ve read about the Chord DAVE. I personally own a Chord QBD76 and have no urge to replace it with anything else since it sounds splendid in my system, for the money. I may be setting up another system and was wondering if there is a DAC in the lower price bracket that punches way above its price point, sounding close to if not better than the costlier designs.

I presume the Audioquest Black, Red or Cobalt are not worthy of consideration and sound noticeably inferior to the costlier options? FWIW I tried the Musical Fidelity M1 DAC and this one really sounded poor to my ears. Very digital sound and I stopped listening to it after a while. The Chord sounds a lot more analog, lifelike and real to my ears.

I would appreciate any advice. Thanks.

When it comes to bargain components, everyone's selection needs to punch above its weight. It's a necessary precondition of budget audio.  :) 

The Musical Fidelity V90 dac at only $299 is a terrific value. Honestly, dacs costing much more will sound "different", not necessarily better. 
I've owned more budget DAC's than you can count.  Also built a couple from diyinhk.com..... For me without a doubt the SMSL SU9 is the best sounding thing that has hit my system under 1k.  
Beware,  I had to send it to SMSL to get a firmware update to eliminate a minor distortion issue.  This DAC has many settings, the settings seem almost imperceivable differences, but once you go through many and get a combination that works, it performs VERY well.