Rank the top reference DACs you've heard

Usually the battle goes between DCS Vivaldi set and MSB Select II.

However, since Swiss/Japanese (boutique level) DACs are usually out of reach, we rarely read about ultra high end DACs and where they fit with the rest of the league ($5000-$100,000) price range. 

There are other topologies and SOTA designs floating around, what comes to mind:
- new DCS (above Vivaldi) flagship to be announced
- Wadax Atlantis Reference
- Esoteric Grandioso D1X (Dual Mono)
- TotalDAC Twelve Mk2
- Lampizator Golden Gate 2
- Chord Dave+mscaler
- CH Precision C1+X1 (Dual Mono) 
- Soulution 760
- Aries Cerat Kassandra Ref
- Aqua La Scala mkII Optologic
- EMM Labs DV2/DA2

I mentioned flagship DACs only since the list will be bigger and we will lose focus of the subject. It is interesting to know some of us "lurkers" or who has reached audio nirvana with his choice of DAC and what did he it compare with. The more input we get, the clearer the big picture will be. 

Let's go!

Great, thanks.

Did you manage to hear any of the rest of the totaldac range? If so, how does it compare to the flagship?
I haven’t heard the entire totaldac range, but I can confirm that the entry-level model (the "core" model) is excellent...you may not need to go "higher" (the more expensive models should give more resolution, but the same flavor of sound).

Enough (non-fatiguing) resolution for my taste and a certain analogue flavor -- not that it sounds like vinyl, but in the sense of musical engagement and connection. I can listen will full attention for an entire afternoon...which I could never do before.

Adding a Roon-ready streamer board, it’s $6500 -- so it’s in the same price range (perhaps even cheaper, since it can include a streamer) as the higher level Chinese DACs (Denafrips, Holo) that have recently received much attention.

I have had the following DAC's in my system for evaluation. 

1. DCS Bartok

2. Chord Dave (with and without M Scaler)

3. PS Audio DirectStream 

4. Chord Qutest (with and without M Scaler)

5. Lampizator Amber 3

6. Chord TT2 (with and without M Scaler)

7. Denafrips Pontus II

8. Denafrips Terminator II

9. Cambridge Dac Magic

10. Schiit Bifrost

The top two from these in my system? Chord Dave without M Scaler and the Denafrips Terminator II. Both of these are different yet both are world class and rose above every other DAC that I tried. The DCS was brilliant but I actually liked the DAVE better within my system. 

The DAVE is just a gorgeous music maker. Detailed. 3D, Smooth, Textured. Layered and with massive depth. It's not lean I my two channel speaker system, rather full bodied. The Terminator II is smoother still with even more body yet it has the details of the Dave. Low level details shine with both DACS but the DAVE is much more energetic, dynamic and alive. The Terminator II is a shade darker than the DAVE but just has a heavenly musical sound about it. I have been enjoying them both and could live with either as my final DAC. 

The dynamics of the Dave are addicting.  I also prefer it without the M Scaler in my system. I preferred the Qutest and TT2 with the Scaler. 

This is in my system of course, and all of these DAC's will sound different depending on the system they are placed in. 

As much as I love the Qutest, the DAVE is leagues above it in sophistication, refinement, smoothness and scale. Oc course, we should see this difference for the cost difference between them. It's not slight. 

The Schiit Bifrost and DacMagic were the lowest tier in cost and performance. They both had a digital sheen and were no where as clean and smooth as the others. I guess this is to be expected. They were flatter and edgier. 

Either the DAVE or the Terminator will end up as my reference in my main system and I am leaning DAVE but man, the Denafrips is a stunner as well. The DAVE is old but still one of the best DAC's around if you have the budget. 

I have not had the pleasure of hearting a totaldac or MSB. I have heard a Holy May though to in my system. It was great from what I heard but gear should always be auditioned within our own systems before purchase. ; ) 


Just recently auditioned the Weiss Medus and the abovementioned Soulution and CH Precision DACS. All are superb units, each with their own merits. I decided to stick with Weiss and upgraded from the Weiss Medea+ to the Weiss Medus.

I also wanted to audition the BAT REX3 DAC, but unfortunately was not in stock at the time. I was told this is also an amazing DAC.

From my listening experience and for my taste, MSB Select II >>>>> everything else, which include DCs Vivaldi stack, Lampizator Pacific, Emm Labs DA2, Wadax Reference DAC, Berkeley Alpha Dac Reference 3, Chord Dave + M Scaler