Reference level DAC + Streamer

Hi everyone,

Let me see what you guys consider some of the best and most musical DAC + streaming option in the $30K price range.
I have my own idea but let's see what you guys prefer if you had that budget.
I've heard the Ayre QX-5 many times and it sounds fantastic especially coupled with other balanced Ayre components.  
The Ayre QX-5 that looks like a nice machine.
How about the Esoteric N-05 coupled with the Metronome Technologie C8+ ?
I was able to AB the Ayon S5 against the Lumin S1 and the Ayon was the clear winner.
Ok guys here is a list of brands that make reference level DACs and streamers :

CH Precision
Playback Design
Metronome Technologie
Amare Musica
Sound Galleries SGM 2015

Please feel free to share your experience with the higher end products of these brands and add some others that you know.
Some of these products are extremely expensive and not always worth it therefore let's discuss about them.

I concur but someone using $50K worth of amps might not be using a $2K DAC in his system just to give an example.
Coherence in gear choice is very important in one's system.
I've been using Totaldac D1-monoblocs with re-clocker and server (just under 30K) for over a year now and its exceptional. Very organic and detailed -- in a rich way, not an analytic way. I have trouble finding a pre-amp that works well enough to make a positive impact between it and my amp. Still searching.
joshfilm i concur the Totaldac d1-twelve (4 boxes) is what i've heard best so far, very organic and analog.
This one is in first place on my short list for the DAC-streaming part of my future system.
I yet have to audition the CH Precision and the MSB Diamond V.
Luckily the only CH dealer in my country is just an hour drive from my place therefore a home audition can be arranged.
josh as i understand you use your Totaldac as a volume control directly to your amp for the moment.
What other gear do you have in your system ?
I go straight from totaldac server to luxman m-900u to Vivid Giya 2. Researching best cables right now. But even now, when music is good, its very, very good!
*** Dealer disclaimer ***

I would add Antipodes to your list (for streamers).  Their DX unit is one of the best available at the moment (in my opinion).

And for DAC/Streamers there's the Bel Canto Black, but that of course includes amplification as well.
I know the Bel Canto Black and auditioned it but for an audiophile anthusiast like me and most us on this forum the idea of having an all in one system like the Black or Devialet will never be something i will consider.
I not saying the Bel Canto Black is not good but it will suit more people who couldn't care less taking the time to build an all separates system.
In the Antipodes DX category of streamers you also have the Esoteric N-05 and the Amare Musica Diamond.
The Playback Design Merlot to me was even more transparent then the MSB Platinum DAC i owned. I also owned the Analog Dac which is now sold. I can wholeheartedly recommend this product it has performed well beyond my expectation considering i have been using 30-40 grand DACs in the Past!!
Metronome Technologie C8+ dual boxes for most transparent, extremely natural and scary real as best value or Totaldac D1-Twelve (4 boxes) extremely musical as the ultimate choice...these two could be the world best DACs!!!
I have the Totaldac Twelve, with the 4 boxes, so a server, reclocker, and Twelve DAC for each channel. Yes, it is allot of cables, but no other DAC I have tried comes close. You will get over the cable thing really quick with an audition. The Twelve is truly like a very high end vinyl rig. Artists in the room and holographic, real texture to instruments, image focus to die for, and it never sounds dry, like some other companies best efforts in digital. It is very neutral, wet, involving, deep, extremely transparent, yet never strident or edgy, and is always natural sounding. It is honest in the best way, so very resolute and made to be in the best systems.

The Twelve SE is the one to get if you do not wish to have a preamp in your system. I use the Twelve (not SE) with a very good preamp. Been this way for almost 3 years, and I am still always amazed with it. If in central US, I welcome listening!

Hey paul79 thanks for your input, the Totaldac Twelve + server is the one i will choose if i decide to go for the Ypsilon system.
If i decide to go CH Precision route than it's going to be a full CH system.
I'm in France therefore too far to visit you unfortunately.

I’m enjoying the SGM (Sound Galleries Music) server ($16K) with the Aqua Formula dac ($14K). I still own the Lampizator Golden Gate ($17K) with the latest 512dsd dac, superclocks, and the latest RTRpcm dac.

the SGM-Aqua Formula is a formidable pair using HQ Player for upsampling dsd to 384 dxd.

Hi Mike, yes i'm aware Kedar told me about your combo and audition at your studio.
I will try do go to Monaco to audition this combo when i have time.
Thieliste, we sell the Light Harmonic Davinci most analog sounding dac we have ever heard, havent' compared it to the Formula, 

We do have the Aquahifi Lascala and it is excellent, if the Formula is a lot better than the Lascala then it is a truly formidable machine.

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@mikelavigne Mike, could you please send me your thoughts on those two DACs?  Those are the exact 2 DACs I've been heavily considering and I would love your thoughts as I try to arrange demos.  Thanks so much!
hello Jay,

my above post is now a year old, so things have changed in my system. last June i moved on to the MSB Select II (33 Femto clock and 2 power supplies). but the MSB is not really a direct competitor for either of those dacs, although they are not as far away performance-wise as the price might indicate. 

all that said, i continue to have great respect for both the Lampi GG and the Aqua Formula dac. my preference a year ago for the Formula over the GG had mostly to do with it's attributes being more synergistic with my system and personal preferences, than any lacking in the GG. my system exposes any sort of artifact as such, and rewards linearity, detail and refinement. the Formula also was a solid state dac with a full weighty mid range and plenty of tonal density. the GG was wonderful and beautiful to listen to and of course, you could roll the tubes to flavor the sound to your liking, but it would bring it's own sound signature to everything, whereas my preference is for the gear to not impose any sameness. 

so this is a case, not of better or worse, but what fits a system.

i see you have vinyl, and tube amplifiers. i owned the Thoress Phono Enhancer briefly and love their stuff. it depends on what sort of sound you want from a dac. both would fit in your system, but differently. 

also; the Aqua Formula is modular, and had an upgrade recently, although i've not heard that upgrade. and Lamplizator is famous for lots of upgradability. so either dac would be highly recommended by me.

and btw; if you get the GG i still have a bunch of great tubes from my Lampi days i would give someone a screaming deal on. and these are mostly barely used. tube rolling is part of the fun.

good luck.

Ha, thanks Mike.  I guess it's no longer 2017, huh?  i think I need some new glasses as I've responded to a number of old threads this last year.

Appreciate your response!  I suspected they might have their differences given the topologies.  Going to start w/ a demo of the upgraded Formula and go from pre and amps are tubed (Atma-Sphere MP1 and Audion Golden Dream monos) and I'm loving the SS Schiit Yggy in the front...wondered if the GG might be too much of a good thing with all those tubes, too (can you have too many?!?).  I know they are both phenomenal DACs regardless, and thank you for your recommendations.   Thanks again.

You need to decide if you want to go with XMOS USB technology or the newer Ethernet technology for input to the DAC.

If USB, then it makes sense to spend a lot on a server, like Antipodes or Aurender N10 etc.. These are optimized for good sound quality with USB.

If Ethernet, you can achieve even better audio quality using a MacBook pro or a Mini running Jriver. You can also run other servers on the Mac like Minimserver. You can alternately use a lower-cost server like Bluesound. Because you don’t need an expensive server, you can afford to get a better DAC, better cables and maybe even a Plasmatron AC voltage regulator.

I would highly recommend Ethernet input interface and Balanced analog outputs. If you get a DAC with a good volume technology, then go direct to amps and forget the preamp. Here is one with good volume technology:

If you want a REALLY low noise floor, make sure everything is galvanically isolated to break all of the ground-loops. Ethernet takes care of that. For USB, you need to make sure the interface is isolated. For analog outs use this:

Also, consider whether you are happy with R2R DAC and 24/96 PCM or do you need 24/192, MQA and DSD playback.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio