I currently have the following system:

1. Martin Logan 11A impressions hybrid-subwoofer with electrostatic panels.

2. Conrad Johnson Classic 62 power amp-60 watts per channel (not the SE )

3. Chord Qtest DAC

4. Lumin U2 mini streamer

Adding the Lumin and streaming with Qobuz has improved the sound immensely from my Cary CD player being used as a transport and the Qtest DAC.

The Qtest Dac was around $2000.00. 

Looking for upgrade suggestions as thinking I can improve my sound further with a better sounding DAC.

Thank you. 




Topping D90 for under $1K would be a good recommendation. Spending multiples more for a DAC and hoping for a somehow "better" sound is a pipe-dream. Let the rock-throwing by the "golden ears" crowd begin!

Post removed 

If you have the money and like Chord, why not try a Hugo TT?  Most dealers offer a 30 day home trial, but be clear on any restocking/return fees that could be a couple hundred on an expensive item. But at least you’ll have a chance to listen at home and decide for yourself. 

What specific improvements are you looking for and what’s your budget?


sorry about all the noise you originally received.


Yes, it is very likely you can significantly improve your sound with a better DAC. Typically, if you carefully choose you will get a very significant improvement when doubling your investment up to the average cost of your components. Just a general guideline I have found true. So, you could budget to about the cost of your preamp or amp. Fully investigate (not using ASR as a source of info) DACs into that budget. Be cautious if you want detailed oriented or musical oriented because in this price range it is easy to get highly detailed fatiguing equipment.

Just a thought: you may be able to replace BOTH Lumin U2 Mini and Qtest (Chord) with a single Lumin DAC upper in the line. They are DACs with streamers built in. Such as the T3, P1 or X1, depending on your budget. Doing this will also simplify your system (one less box, one less power cord, interconnect...)


Oh.... don’t mind Jason Bourne. For some reason he is the first to post on each thread with the same stuff. Disregard / ignore him

There are lots of questions to ask here.  Are you happy with the Qutest?  Are you just seeking more?  Is anything missing?  Tonally, is they system good?

The obvious step would be a TT2 if everything is perfect and you just want more.  If something is off or you want some other difference or the system is too bright, etc… that would lead us down a different path.  

full disclosure, I am a dealer who focuses on DACs and have tested dozens.  The guys who say there is “no difference” in DACs are welcome to their opinions.  My experience is quite different and I do not believe I have golden ears.  There is a lot of compromise in what DACs do in terms of detail vs staging and the question is what is your priority and the tonal balance of your system. 

You might find some interesting differences/improvements by comparing R2R type DAC's versus chip based dacs. Increased price doesn't necessarily mean better performance. IMO.

OP, your thread is like so many others here: Help me choose a DAC. People ask because there are so many DACs and it’s impossible to audition them all. Many of the best ones, and best values, are sold directly and not through B&M dealers. They all seem to have the same ins and outs. They all seem to have their adherents. The critics say they all sound great.

The usual response is: buy the DAC I have. I really like it. And it’s a great value. I could say that, but why would anyone care. Then you will hear from dealers who write with certainty that, for the right price, they can set you straight.

My suggestion is that you stop writing and start reading . . .right here.

This is probably the best forum for the purpose. All important DACs are written of here at length by actual purchasers and users. They will tell you how they listen to music, what kind of music they listen to, what else in in their system. They will tell you what a particular DAC brought to their music that other DACs did not. Some have experience with many DACs (though sometimes it’s hard to figure out why--could simply be hobby-driven curiosity. It’s a treasure trove of information. They’re not like the critics; many will tell you that they sold a DAC because it didn’t measure up. Scroll down and see which DACs get a lot of attention--some for the right reasons and some for the wrong reasons.

Use the forum. It will serve you well. It’s kind of . . research, a bit of work.

I would simply add, without recommending a particular DAC that he actual digital to analog conversion, of which so much is made, is probably the least important component of a DAC.  Great DACs have been made with every type of conversion be they DS chips, R2R chips or discrete, and FGPA chips, which are chips individually programmed, usually partly DS.

As in every other audio component, the best quality comes from a great power supply and fine, discrete, analog output stages. 

I am not expert at all in dac...

but if i was upgrading my basic one , which satisfy me completely, i will pick a Choueri BACCH dac...Before throwing money, check his credentials and his realization... In case... I must admit that this is the only upgrade i will ever need...I like my actual system without being able to fault it...So imperfect it is , nothing is perfect at any price, i did not detect any fault in my actua headphone system.It is after my dedicated/room now lost, the best i listened to in my life , Stax included...

Why Choueri dac then ?

it is not just a dac...

It is a " virtual room systems" for speakers and headphone with ears measurements ... It is a patented system of filters which introduce no timbre degradation and made headphone as speakers out of the head... And it make speakers working WITHOUT the room acoustic problem at all...And trust me on this, the room acoustic is the most important problem in audio with speakers and not the dac, save if the one you own is bad...

i am lucky because my headphone is one of the rare one already speaker-like but it will be way more externalized in the room with Dr Choueri dac ... I never listened to it, no... but i read all there is and it is enough to want it... Choueri is a top physicist and a top acoustician..

Apart from this dac i will never need anything... I dont even need anything without it right now 😎😊 I am not only lucky , i work a lot to create my 2 systems... ... read about Choueri in case...For a reason i dont understand this dac/ virtual room system is not well known...It kill any other dac because no other dac suppress all acoustic room problem with no timbre degradation..



The only problem for me is that my 700 bucks system satisfy me completely, because my amp is top and my headphone over the top... 😊 The BACCH filters in hardware dac will cost 15,000 bucks ... Less expansive if we use a laptop as source and hardware for the Filters set... Anyway as i said it is the only possible upgrade for me...

I have Dave (modified with three Farad Lps) and Mscaler.


But after trying out Starkrimson Pecanpi + which cost 900$, I ended up buying it.


I do not mean Pecanpi+ bumped out Dava and Mscaler.


But the former sounds slightly fuller than latter while matching close in details and soundstage.


Pecanpi+ is also streamer but I use it as standalone Dac only.


My source is Aurender N30


My pre amp has several inputs and I switch between Dave and Pecanpi+ using remote control depending on music and my mood.😀





kjl1065 OP

12 posts

My budget is $3000.00.

cool. I had the Qutest and it’s a very nice DAC. I found the tone to be natural with good level of details. May be ever so slightly forward? But nothing too concerning. It does a lot of things right.
In the $3,000 price range you’re likely to get different sound but not necessarily better. I went from Qutest to Bryston BDA-3, to Benchmark DAC 3 HGC, to Bricasti M3 with network renderer. I sold my Lumin U1 Mini streamer and use the M3 as Roon end point. There are a lot of options by in my experience the next level from Qutest starts at around $5000 retail.

What are you after with this upgrade? Others above are making a good point to research the forums. @verdantaudio has an extensive multi-page DAC Shootout thread that’s an excellent read when researching and narrowing down your criteria.


One of the biggest improvements across the board I heard with the Qutest DAC and Lumin streamer was when I upgraded my DH Labs Mirage USB cable to Audience AU24SE+. It’s not cheap even on a used market but it made bigger impact than I thought was possible. Just saying there may still be few drops to squeeze out of that Chord DAC before you ditch it. 

There are tons of DACs out there that can give you meaningful “improvements” in various areas, but since you seem unwilling (or maybe unable) to share what specific improvements you’re looking for I’ll just mention this Denafrips Terminator that’s within your price range. Best of luck.


Are you happy with the CJ amp? I ask because I also have the 11As and was unhappy with the ARC Ref75 driving them because of the impedance dip to 2 ohms. They need more current, switching to my Luxman 509X was a revelation.

A few responders asked what specific improvements I would be looking for.

Each time I have upgraded my system I noticed more clarity, detail and

transparency. Wishing to obtain opinions from this site as to what DAC in my $3000.00 budget would give me more of the objectives I am seeking.

It is impossible for me to hear it all. In fact it is possible to hear only a few DACS.

Hoping to reduce the upgrading and arrive at purchasing a product that I can say,

this is great. At least until the next upgrade itch occurs.

Thank you. 

"Topping D90 for under $1K would be a good recommendation. "

Topping would be a poor recommendation. Not only do they sound poor in the middle range, but the build quality is poor. Look at the number of people who have been fooled by the minion leader on his site and now regret buying one. Gustard will give you a good improvement.

@laoman : don’t worry about Jason Bourne. He does not even read the threads. He just spews his venom any chance he gets. The first poster.


This is the very dude who proclaimed his $16 universal DVD player he got from eBay sounds as good as any CD transport out there. For spin CDs that is. Go figure. Sick

He obviously did not read the OP saying his CURRENT DAC is way better than any Topping stuff:

3. Chord Qtest DAC

….. The Qtest Dac was around $2000.00.


I was asked if I was happy with the CJ amp.

The CJ amp was an upgrade from a Rogue Audio 100 watt per channel tube amp.

The CJ amp is better to my ears, but I have been advised that a high current

solid state amp would be better sounding due to the impedance dips.

that as well.  I thought about the PASS Amps but the heat they generate as well as very high electric bills are daunting to me. If I am incorrect, about my assertions would be happy would be happy to listen.

be corrected.  Thanks.



I would not worry about the questions of “what do you want as an improvement”. Often, you just don’t know… but have been greatly rewarded in the past. This is not a question that is really appropriate to anyone but highly experienced audiophiles. 

For at least the first couple decades of my pursuit of the high end my investments were on faith that I could do better. After fifty years, I know with absolute certainty that if I double the investment in any component or my whole system will very significantly improve it. Although, at this point, I could survey the possible components and articulate how it would improve my system.

You may want to consider adding the Chord Hugo M-Scaler. If you can find one used, it should be reasonably close to being within your budget.

I really don’t know much about your setup in that I haven’t heard any of the components, but based on price, your speakers and power amplifier seems to be at a higher price point than your streamer, or DAC and that it will take way more than $3000 in the new and probably the used market to raise these components to the same level as your amp/speakers. My integrated is a bit less than my speakers which are about the same price as my streamer + DAC. I would be looking at something like an Aurender N200 and a DAC in the same price range. I love my DAC, but I haven’t heard that many DACs.

Big fan of your ML speakers

After borrowing a Qutest, I bought a DAVE. I then let my buddy use the DAVE for a couple weeks while I listened to the Qutest. You are going to have a hard time beating the Qutest for a reasonable price. I would consider the Hugo but I haven’t heard it.

Can’t beat Chord.

I have owned the Topping recommended in this thread. It is the only component I have ever relisted for sale the day I received it. It has been recommended by a cult leader who has some audiophile followers. Avoid it.


Here’s a used Bricasti M3 for $3200. I would exercise extreme caution with a seller who has 0 feedback. Phone conversations , additional pictures proving he owns the DAC, etc. but worth checking out.

From my experience, the M3 is a step up from the Qutest, checks all the boxes for clarity, natural tone, not analytical sounding and very musical and engaging. Solid design and build with awesome power supply  


I have the Lumin U2 mini and used the Qutest DAc. It was an amazing combo for the money. I moved the Qutest to a different system and got a Holo May KTE DAc and it really elevated the sound. if you can get $1500 for you Qutest plus $3000 your in the range of the Holo MaY. 

I ended up adding an mscaler to my system where the Qutest is and now that’s a beautiful sounding combo too. Now need to upgrade my Node 130 to a Lumin or Auralic streamer. 


A few I’ve been considering that seem to hit well above their retail price…

Okto dac 8 - interesting approach in optimizing a Sabre chip, also unique in their output stage

Gustard R or A26

Ladder Schuman

Have to say that anyone putting down any/all Topping DAC offerings is sadly mistaken. Although, I do agree the D90 is rather not right in the midrange. But currently using a D70s that sounds pretty damned wonderful. Really nice output stage on that one. It compares favorably against a Denafrips Pontus II. Has a surprisingly similar presentation to that of ladder dacs in general. Would say the Pontus still wins it out, but not by a very wide margin (heard each in the same system).



Try the Wyred4sound 10th anniversary DAC, it's $4,500 US and it's beaten dacs four times the price from Chord, COS 1, SIM audio Bricasti, would love to put it up against the way overpriced DCS and MSB DACs, it wouldn't shock me if it was as good or close to those way overpriced DACs, $80,000 that's a joke. one of the reviewers put it up against his VPI turntable with a $5,000 Japanese cartridge and he said it was every bit as analog sounding that's what made me try it and I never returned it, they also give you a 30-day money-back guarantee trial period.

Try the Wyred4sound 10th anniversary DAC, it's $4,500 US and it's beaten dacs four times the price from Chord, COS 1, SIM audio Bricasti, would love to put it up against the way overpriced DCS and MSB DACs, it wouldn't shock me if it was as good or close to those way overpriced DACs, $80,000 that's a joke. one of the reviewers put it up against his VPI turntable with a $5,000 Japanese cartridge and he said it was every bit as analog sounding that's what made me try it and I never returned it, they also give you a 30-day money-back guarantee trial period.

Lots of great recommendations here. If you want to squeeze as much performance out of your Qutest before the next big upgrade, I'd try a linear power supply, my Qutest responded nicely to the Sbooster, the extra filter thingy didn't seem to make any difference. I also think that the coax input sounds better than the USB. 

Most importantly, you can definitely improve your sound with some modest upgrades. Based on your budget you may want to consider looking at your cables, power cords, connections.  Spending money in this area would boost performance of your entire system.  As it relates to components I have not heard the Chord but have had Lumin in my system...D2 and T2.  What if you traded in the Chord and Lumin for a newer Lumin that does both (as others have suggested).  I think that is what I would do if it were me.  If you like the Lumin sound going up in their range only gets better.

Let us know how you make out!

Audio Mirror Toubadour IV SE R2R ( the best) with one Tube. Very musical with great soundstage.

Lots of interesting responses. I’ll only add that Mr. Bourne isn’t completely wrong. Lots of $$$ have been burned component swapping for results that don’t exist. I’d also urge caution following those who tie the price tag directly to the improvement expected. Far too much snake oil in this hobby. Price tag is often a meaningless gauge of performance. Optimizing your room should be high on the list as well. 

Consider checking out and carefully integrating a nice sub. I know it’s not what you asked but if you haven’t given that a try, the benefit can be substantial even with full range speakers. 

I agree with @magnuman that the Wyred4Sound 10th Anniversary DAC is one of the best under $5k DACs that outperform DACs more than twice the price.  It has a musical, liquid and relaxed analogue like sound.  Like the quoted review mentioned, I have a VPI TNT, JM 12.5, Benz Ruby phono amplified by a Krell KPE. The Wyred is competitive.   Those that have climbed the ladder may say the presentation is forward.   This is true but marginal and other aspects of image density, imaging, air between instruments, depth, dynamics, detail and most important timbre put this DAC over the top for me.  Wyred, unlike another manufacturer praised on this page, benefits from direct sale profit but offers a return policy.   Pre-owned is about $2.5K.   Read the pro reviews.   Another favorite of mine is a Pre-Owned  Bricasti M3 as mentioned in the thread above.  Also very analogue like.  Too rich for my blood and currently but saving my pennies for is the Mola Tambaqui.  Not directly auditioned in my system but compared to DACs I am familiar with.  Best analogue like DAC I have heard.  Pre-Owned is about $9K.   One can dream.   I recommend you audition anything you intend to buy in your system.   There are many choices.   Differences subtitle to significant.  Whatever you choose remember to get good digital and analogue interconnects and use vibration isolation.   Important on digital front ends.  


In a different Agon thread about DACs (there are multitudes) a member cited a video from Pearl Acoustics dealing with the question of whether DACS sound the same. I thought it was a thoughtful exercise and he minimized the hype. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAOLGsS27R0&t=1229s

A second interesting source of information is from the Arizona Audio/Video Club. They did a blind test of several mid priced DACs and the results were interesting. https://azavclub.com/what-is-new-1 The Black Ice Glass Tube DAC, the Chord Qutest, and the Schiit Yggrasil did well but it was obvious from the results that there was not a clear consensus. I bought a Black Ice based on the results and I have been happy with it. 

I have 3 DACs, 2 HDCD CD players, one SACD player, and a transport, with some dating back to the late 90's. I can say from my personal experience that there is a narrow range of difference between these units. Part of this could be that I'm 67 and my hearing rolls off over 12 kHz but I doubt you will hear any sort of dramatic difference with a new DAC. That being said, I'm planning to purchase an Audio Mirror Tubadour IV SE because I want to try a NOS ladder DAC. I can't audition this unit before I buy it but it has been favorably reviewed and there are several positive comments from owners on this forum so I'll take my chances. It is a little out of your budget at $3500 but still in the ballpark.

The other thing I'll mention is that there are a lot of used DACs on the market. You and I aren't the only audiophiles chasing the digital holy grail. This is a great way to experiment with different design philosophies without very much price risk.

Will echo a previous post

If you spend $1000 more than Qutest it's unlikely u will experience "way better" but you will get "different".

Law of diminishing returns thing

Forgive me if you've already have enough information and you may be aware of this new DAC with streamer. I know nothing other than the information provided. Perhaps other members know more. MATRIX MINI-I 4 ES9039Q2M Music Streamer $649.00  https://shenzhenaudio.com/products/matrix-mini-i-4-music-streamer-player?_kx=2LVGn4pTusRAqUyAOrmaeosfUQWiVexHjbPJmwTIja4%3D.YduXAQ


The MATRIX MINI-I 4 ES9039Q2M Music Streamer does not appear to have any digital outputs to allow to connect to an external DAC.

I like my Gustard R-26 and I use it to stream from Qobuz. 


Me and an audiophile buddy of mine had a DAC shootout at his place. The three contestants were Mytech Brooklyn Bridge, Qutest and a Bryston BDA-3.

Same day, same system, same tracks: the Mytech sounded "shrouded", the Qutest was better by a bunch. It was clear and articulate.

The BDA-3 kicked butt, great sound stage, very musical. $4k.

And yes we went back and forth, listened for quite a while...considered doing it single blind, but it was unnecessary. The differences were that obvious.

Just my personal experience YMMV.



You can do better but of course more $$ since the Qutest is still quite competitive with more current/recent similar priced dacs. From my brief experience I would recommend holo audio spring 3 higher trims for a step up. More expensive dacs may give you more of a jump in sound quality but I have not heard them yet to offer advice. 



Looking for upgrade suggestions as thinking I can improve my sound further with a better sounding DAC.

There is another approach you can take to make the DAC more analog-like, and that is to use a tube buffer on the output. I just launched one called the BARITONE. 



It looks to me like Moors Law is in operation in the DAC/Streamer world. It appears that every 6 months or so the quality doubles and the process halve. 

My research led me to conclude that the best route is to get a DAC/Streamer/CD all-in-one. Like the Playback Designs MPS-8.  The entire world of recorded music is at your fingertips with exceedingly high quality sound. 

I think that very soon- in the next 3-5 years the best HiFi source will be an all-in-one DAC/CD/Streamer/Preamp and the power amps will remain separate. 

FWIW I'm an old man who loves multi chassis gear "separates" as they were called back in the 70s when cheaper integrated stereo receivers were taking over the market. However I am capable of recognizing trends and IMO what I'm describing here is the future- just as online retail made box stores obsolete so will the digital revolution make "separates" obsolete. 

I’d suggest taking a look at the Musician Aquarius R2R DAC. I have their Pegasus, which is the next lower model, and unlike many R2R DACs it is very detailed and transparent up top while maintaining the other beneficial qualities of an R2R design. Thinking an R2R DAC would make for a very interesting comparison to your Chord, and if it doesn’t work out I believe you can just return it — thank you Amazon.


Here’s a good and thorough review FYI…


Just another option to ponder, and best of luck.

 I had the Qutest and changed it for the Denafrips Pontus II to get a more natural and relaxed sound in my system, but you might prefer what you already got. Tryto listen to other dacs without selling the Qutest, and that is my advice :)


You might also look into getting a Denifrips Venus ll or a used Denifrips Terminator ll.  Both are well made ladder DAC’s. The Venus ll new, is under your limit and Terminator ll used, might be a little bit more.

You can’t go wrong with either.

All the best.

I've been demo'd a Hegel HD 30 used with Valve Amplification and Klipsch Jubilee Speakers.

As a SS Device the HD 30 has made the better of impressions made to date of all SS DAC's encountered for demo' purposes.

Members of the group who were present have also been demo'd the HD 30 in another system where Valve Amp's and ESL Speakers are in use, and it has made a very good impression and got very good commendations.

The ESL System has had Denafrips Aries II and Venus II Models added over a period of time for demo' purposes and these have not got too much appraisal, I could not warm to the Aries II.

On one occasion, when I was not in attendance, a Group Member who is a EE, had compared their own DAC, built for approx' £300 to the Venus II, and the general description given to me was that the Venus II was not in the race.

The Venus II owner, in a follow up mail, made it known they were considering selling the DAC after this experience. They want to revisit the comparison, now the New Firmware is downloaded.