Opinions On DACs Around 1,000$

I find it hard to get a hold of the world of dacs, and I’m seeking some advice.  Will be upgrading in the near future to something in the 1,000$ price range. currently running the dac in my Cambridge Audio stream magic 6 which is ok. I had a Musical Fidelity v90 that died which I preferred to the Cambridge. Anyways I’m stuck between the idea of buying an older top dac such as a Airalic Vega and newer designs like the Denafrips. I feel 1,000 doesn’t get you a lot with newer dacs. While used dacs like the Vega were 3,500$ not long ago and raved about. This is where I get confused. My previous experience with dacs has been that differences are pretty small. That’s why I’ve yet to invest in something nicer. My system has evolved nicely though and I’m optimistic I can get good returns on a bigger investment. Then I read on one of the big magazines them saying a pro-ject pre box s2 was near state of the art. These kinds of comments make me wonder again if a dac is not the best place to spend my money. I have never read a review about an amp or speakers that cost 500, and the reviewer saying they are near state of the art. Let me know what you think. Any opinions or advice will be appreciated. 


Never owned one.

I suspect it is entirely a matter of personal choice. What someone else chose last year or before has little bearing in what you like best of current offerings.

But I do see $1200-$1300 as more of a suite spot.

My previous experience with dacs has been that differences are pretty small.

Yeah, no.  If you don’t get the info from the start it don’t get added back in elsewhere.  Listen, DACs make a HUGE difference in your ultimate performance, but only if the rest of your system is up to the task.  Tell us what the rest of equipment is in your system and what improvements/sound characteristics you’re after and you’ll get some really good suggestions here.  Without that critical info this is just a total crapshoot and you’ll get recommendations all over the place. 

I feel your pain. Ah this topic which had, and still has me scratching my head. I started getting back into music after a long absence during Covid,,,,,I was out of work for nearly a year, so of course why not put together a system. Anyway, long story short. I was gifted a little Schitt dac and bought a Pro-ject Stream Box Ultra 2 not really knowing anything except i definitely did not want a computer in the sound path. That and a subscription to Qobuz kept me busy while I streamed for new music and casual listening. There was no real magic on this DAC. While serious listening was happening on my Nottingham Space 294, I delved into the whole streaming thing and dac’s in particular. My eyes glazed over.
I decided not to chase the technology and recently bought a used Antelope Zodiac Plus with power supply, which I am still working with and trying to understand. It was a fairly high flyer when it came out - not DSD and I don’t think I care.
After the recent addition of good interconnects, I can honestly say it is getting closer to my analog side....sometimes very close but not there. Now I’m considering the master clock that compliments this unit and doing my research.
I’m pleased with where it all is. It sounds damn good with room for improvement.
Bottom line what made my decision was simple when I asked myself: How wrong can I go? Best with your search - enjoy it most of all.

Rme makes a good one. I hear a lot of the Chinese brands are pretty good. Running a Burson Composer 3xp now and like it quite a bit. Different amp than I was using the RME with so impossible to say which one I like better. What I can say is it smokes the DAC in the Bluesound Node. 

Oh the guy I bought it from had a Denefrips before the Burson and preffered the Burson. 

I believe the opposite. You get more with a $1000 new DAC than am older one. I have 2 DACs in that price range.

- Topping D90SE very neutral and do not expect any warmth from it ($900)

- Gustard X26 Pro it has more variation in sound with the filters. It is not as detailed as the Topping D90SE. It goes on sale for $1250

I cannot think of any older DAC that I would take in place of a high quality (cheap) new DAC

If your system is capable, you will hear differences with DACs, but it is not going to be a huge difference since most DACs these days are awesome. My price limit for new DACs was 2K for the last little while. However, I went 'crazy' and spent $3K for the Musetec 005 DAC and it is definitely the best one I have ever had. More bass, denser sound, not bright on top., with detail.  

The other 2 DACs I mentioned also have most of those attributes but the degree of each is not at the level as the 005.

I really enjoy my Schiit BiFrost 2. $700 new (plus shipping) from the manufacturer.  U.S made and currently in stock so you could get it promptly.

I've become very fond of the R2R/Multibit DACs versus the more common delta-sigma DACs.  And, if you want to spend more, Schiit does have a couple of more expensive models.

Count me a satisfied customer.

This is one of those topics where you will get a ton of “buy what I bought” responses. Not always super helpful.

I would back up and start with your room: create an accurate diagram of your listening space with accurate dimensions, windows, doors, your speaker position, your listening position, materials, sound treatments, etc.

Then make an accurate list of your current gear with current and used market prices. Are you happy with your speakers, amp, pre, turntable, CD player, streamer, etc?

If you had to start from scratch what would your total budget be? Do you want a lean minimal box system for streaming only? How about playing from your own digital library? Do you play records? Are you into playing with computer tech? Will other people in your home be playing your system as well?

Figure this out, take your diagram and try listen to showroom systems that are in your budget. Get used to what an $$ system costs. Then audition $$$$ & $ systems above and below your budget. Only your ears will tell you where value ends and “silly money” begins. Be open to some used gear if it has a long shelf life and is reliable.

You might decide to keep all your current gear or you might decide to sell it all and start from scratch? Don’t pressure yourself. Make this a fun mission: the more you listen and the more you study the better you will feel with your money expenditure.

If you can try to listen to both analog and digital sources of the same music. Is there a difference? Some people love detailed perfect to their ears sound. Others find the same gear irritating and too clinical sounding. Again, only your ears matter!

Speakers are a good area to "move upwards", but that $1000 won't go too far in that component area.

I'd put the Musical Paradise mp-d2 (mk1 or mk2) on your research list. The beauty of its design that its fully user upgradeable through output tube, rectifier tube, capacitor, and even chip swaps. This way you can tailor the sound to your system without having to buy and sell complete DACs. They can be found used for $600-$1000 depending on upgrades, and you can upgrade as your budget allows. There's a large following and thread on audiocircle in the discless circle.

I no longer own one , but would be happy to plop another into my system. There are differences in dacs, but the price usually rises exponentially. In my case nearly 5 times what I had into the MP-D2.


I understand everyone wants to know the rest of my system but I intentionally left this out to try to focus the discussion. I find although people are always very helpful in there replies things can get off topic. I’m really just trying to get a better idea where value lies when it comes to digital. Things like the Absolute Sound calling a Pro-Ject pre box s2 near state of the art, as well as Stereophile giving the Musical Fidelity V-90 a class A rating really make me very skeptical. I find these reviewers generally make spending more money seem the right way to go naturally.  The class A list seems to only climb higher and higher in average price.  So when they imply that a few hundred dollar component is at that level I feel it’s worth noting.  Im really not looking for all of the suggestions of which dac is best, but more of a where is it best to invest my money. I am drawn to older designs myself. I’ve always felt a great sounding piece of gear in 2015 will still be just that in 2021. Yet many seem to think the other way, especially when it comes to digital. I’d love to hear from someone who has upgraded a high priced older design for a new design at a fraction of the price. Or any other actually experience with older vs newer designs. 

If you need MQA in a DAC,  that will limit your selection. 

Some streamers will do the unfold but the bluesound will not do a full unfold within that streamer.  I don't know about other streamers.