Let's Talk DAC's

My current DAC, the Chord Chordette Qute HD is getting on with age and I am looking for a new one with superior performance. So far, I have narrowed down my search to five DACs. At the low end is the Denafrips Ares II and the Eversolo DAC Z8. Mid range the RME ADI-2 and at the top end the Chord Qutest and the Denafrips Pontus II.

This is for an all-digital setup in a 12x12 dedicated room. I have a much larger room with a much "bigger" set up, but for this room it is a simple PrimaLuna Prologue Classic integrated, Audiolab 6000 CD transport, ProAc Tablette 10’s, and a REL T/5i Subwoofer. I plan to add a streamer as well, but that is for another discussion.

I am conflicted with the choice between a delta-sigma modulated DAC and an R2R type Dac. I do like the FPGA technology in my current DAC. It has served me well.

I am certainly open to other ideas and welcome comments from those of you that have experience with this equipment.

I forgot to add; I like a wide and deep soundstage and good imaging. I also hate a rolled off high end.







I’m not sure you are going to do any better than the Aries in your price range.  A different sound yes, but all around, no. Until you get to the Pontus ll.  I bought a Pontus ll a couple of years ago and haven’t found another DAC that sounds as good to me until I almost doubled the price. 
I’ve thought about buying a Venus ll, but my wife thinks otherwise 😆

All the best.


My local dealer loves to do whacky, but very instructive, demonstrations with the ProAc Tablette speaker.  Recently, he put a $30,000 tube amp on the speaker to demonstrate that amps matter a whole lot, even when the speakers are supposedly "modest" in price and expected performance, and to demonstrate how fantastic the Tablettes can sound when they are given a fair chance --i.e,, used with other high quality components.  A few years ago, at a Washington DC area Capital Audiofest show, the dealer took a laptop with stored music, a small and modestly price (but really good sounding) tube amp and the Tablettes.  The secret sauce in the setup was a DAC that now costs above 6 figures (Audio Note DAC 5 Signature).  People who heard the room were simply amazed at how good the system sounded--full, rich, alive and musical  Almost everyone went around the room looking for a subwoofer (there was none).  The speaker was fully capable of showing off an ultra expensive DAC. 

The Tablettes will be very capable of showing off whatever changes you make in your DAC choice.  Again, as I said above, you should include in your auditioning a few DACs that emphasize the analogue stage--primarily they are tube-based DACs that don't merely add a tube buffer to give them a tube sound.

Some great responses here. Many thanks! I am assuming that I need a DDC if I am streaming via USB from a CPU. Is this assumption accurate?



No, you can run a USB cable from the computer to a DAC with a USB input, but you’re much better off getting a dedicated streamer because a computer is a very noisy and low-quality source for music. Even a cheap streamer like a Bluesound Node or iFi Zen Stream will be a huge improvement over a computer.

DDC?  For what.?   Digital to Digital converter?   These were introduced as a band-aid when DACs had horribly  implemented USB inputs to overcome bad cables, noisy PC ports, ground loops, and using the PC clock in synchronous mode.  Those issues were identified and solved long ago. You can buy entry level DACs immune to these issues. As in sub $100!  No excuse for an audiophile level product to be susceptible to these problems just as it is no excuse for a streamer to be susceptible to any phantom network problems any more. 

Now, if your DAC does not have a USB input and that is all your PC has,  then you need a "media converter" to convert USB to PCM or TOSLINK.  Or a DAC that does, PC that does etc. 

Chuck, I have heard good things about the Geselli DACs and they have been most responsive with a couple of questions.  I do love small companies who believe in service and support.  One reviewer suggested their use of a third party USB card may not be the best but that is the only criticism I have seen and only from one source and I don;t believe most reviewers anyway.  They just introduced the newest version with the top AKM chip.  Roll your OP amps if you wish.  Very tempted. 

Yea the RME has a book for instructions as they give you about all possible options. As they are a pro audio company, they do their one consumer produce like their pro stuff and expect the effort to be put in. Not for everybody. Better than Chi-Fi that have lots of options ( most useless) but no instructions. Incorrect settings can defiantly degrade the sound.  RME and Chord do discuss the digital filter clipping problem but if using a PC, it can be corrected on the host reliving the DAC of that problem. So what was an advantage 6 years ago, may not be today. 

The other side of the coin are folks like Schiit, JDS, Geselli, etc. who select " the correct filter"  by their experience and can do standard formats without drivers or settings. Plug and play for WASAPI, but drivers are needed for ASIO or ultra high data rates MS does not support. No idea about Apple or Linux.  I had issues with older Topping and SMSL ASIO drivers as well. They seem to have worked it out now. Schiit still does not seem to like ASIO.  Then a few, usually higher end, give you only a couple of options, but ones that actually matter. OS or NOS for instance. 

Giant killers may be a fallacy. You don't get something if you don't pay for it. BUT, Just because you pay for it does not mean you get anything more. Billet aluminum, glass displays, fancy feet, and advertising does not effect the sound. Good engineering does. Dealer markup and very low production also raises the price with no sonic benefits. Overseas shipping can add to the cost if single units. Technology does play a part as R2R with any accuracy is very expensive.  Paralleling multiple top line D/S chips does cost. So does licensing for useless features like MQA. Now, how many price steps does one need to go and actually get solid performance improvements?  How far above the best budget ( JDS in my view stomps the Chi-Fi bottom tier)  does it take to get a noticeable sonic improvement?   Different for sure can get you into low end R2R under a grand. Better is or not a personal choice.  Features, like if you want XLR's costs a couple bucks.  Preamp section or headphone section?   Adds up.   A $200 mass produced Chi-Fi with top 10 level classic measurements does not sound any better to me than my Atom+, Nor did a $400.  So that pretty much confirms once measurements are better than the .001% range they are not the driving force in the sound. So a baseline of pretty good.

Now what does it take to be a real sonic step up?

Pontus, HOLO, Weiss, Chord  seem to be a reasonable expectation to be an actual step up if one can believe any reviewer.  I don't  but  are a place to start listening for yourself.  Others of course.  Above their price, from my manufacturing background, there is not really much you can spend money on, so price may be more prestige driven.  Maybe the J2s is the intermediate step but then I have to add the price of a preamp to it.  $300, $700, $1500?   Maybe add in a higher current cleaner power supply?  I hate headphones so that cost is defrayed but it does make it a $1000 minimum DAC in my system. 5X my all in one Chi-Fi which is not bad. Only slightly below, and that may be my imagination of my $200 Atom stack.  Imagination. Out brains lie like a dog. I at least know I have a slight bias against the Chi-Fi stuff.