DACs with Preamp Stages, Pt 2

First, I’d like to thank everyone who responded to my last post on DACS that do well without a preamp (https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/dacs-that-do-well-without-a-preamp?utm_source=sendgrid&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=website)  

The responses led me to consider several DACs I had not originally had on my radar, particularly RME-ADI 2 FS,  soekris 1541, Bel Canto e.One  2.7, and Hegel HD30.  

Recently, I also had a chance to hear a used Auralic Vega DAC, and thought it sounded very good, especially at  a price point of ~$1200. Since this is the least up-to-date of the DACS I’m considering, I do wonder if it makes sense to buy a DAC from 2014, when there has reportedly been so much change since then. Am I likely to find noticeable improvement with any of the DACs above?


Could you explain your romance in more detail?

Without getting too graphic about it…

First off, there was a sense of the instruments being in the room with me; castanets, cymbals, vocals, bass notes, all frequencies were extremely crisp, clear and present. 
Next, the unit worked beautifully straight to the amp, at all volume levels. 
Finally, and hardest to explain, was an almost ethereal sense of the music being all around me, although each instrument was anchored to its own place. Without getting too analytical about it, it just sounded amazing. I know some of that was due to the piece I was listening to (Sevdaliza’s album Ison), and to the speakers (Bryston Middle T’s), but when the DAC was swapped out for Qutest, the sound just wasn’t the same. 

I have the RME and while I really wasn't a fan of it driving my amp direct, it does have several output settings to achieve the correct gain.  Still it wasn't a great match with my amp(s)    

The RME has a setting called Auto Reference for the volume.  It uses a combination of software and hardware to handle volume.  There is a table in the manual that references the dBu scale relative to voltage output.   

-5db outputs 1v ,  all the way up to +13dB  which is over 3 volts at "0" ref volume