Subjective grading of DAC that I had heard during last one year period.

My first serious audio system was Garrard turntable, Fisher Int(SS), ADS bookspeaker bought on 1978.

I bought Technics CD player on 1984.

It sound harsh and bright compared with vinyl.

I gave up vinyl when I moved from Berkeley to Chicago on 1988 since I had no room to carry in my small car.

I upgraded to California Audio Mark2 on 1989.

It was way better than Technics CD player with refined treble and better dynamics.

I had used passive pre, Krell KSA 150 to drive Apogee Duetta Sig.

On 1999, I upgraded to DCS Elgar and upsampler using TEC Tl0x transport.

Wow, I got the feeling that it could match good vinyl system.

But after using DCS Elgar for 6 years, it got out of order and I gave it up with uncertain repair cost and shipping to UK.

TEC Tl0x transport also had kept failing to read some CDs.

Thus I had chnaged to Accustic Arts CD transport and Dac which was a downgrade from DCS Elgar and upsampler using TEC Tl0x transport..

On 2010, I had got EMMLab Dac2 to replace Accustic Arts Dac.

It had excellent dynamics, details and soundstage which made me enjoy the music again with Lansche 4.1 speaker and Silbatone 300B SET amp.

On 2019 I had got Jay Audio CDT2 and Lyngdorf 2170 to use it as Room correction, Dac.

But after using it for 4 months, I found that Lyngdorf 2170 falls slightly short of EMMLab Dac2 on bass slam and details.

Thus I had auditioned several Dacs to upgrade from EMMLab Dac2.

Point 100
There is nothing to criticize over MSB Select II except its high price around 100K$.
It has magical relaxed texture similar to top grade vinyl.

Dynamics, details, soundstage are all excellent.

Point 95
Kalista Dreamplay transport and Dac
It is excellent matching MSB Select II on almost every aspects.

The only down side is that it does not have relaxed texture similar to top grade vinyl although it still sounds silky.

Point 91.
Trinity Dac
This one is also all round player with hard to criticize.
But it falls slightly short of MSB Select II on details and relaxed texture.

Point 90
Lampiziator Pacific Dac
I had auditioned this Dac with same setup with MSB Select II.

This one is also all round player with hard to criticize.
It falls slightly short of MSB Select II on dynamics and relaxed texture.
But this one has a nice bloom and full bodied sound,
which make some people prefer this one to MSB Select II

Point 85
Chord Dave and Mscaler(or Blue II transport)
This one give transparent and 3D soundstage with excellent details.
But it need good system matching.
It could sound analytical or hot coupled with bright combination of speaker and amplifier.
Without upscaling using Mscaler, its sound is mediocre around 75 points.

Point 84
MSB Premier with one more basic power supply
I had auditioned this one side by side with Lampiziator Pacific Dac.
It matches Pacific Dac with Dynamics, details, soundstage but fall short of Pacific Dac in magical bloom and full body.
With improved power supply or clock, its performance have room to improve further.

Point 80
Formula XHD Dac
I auditioned this one side by side with Trinity Dac
This one is a very musical player with full bloom.
But it falls short of Trinity Dac by one notch in dynamics and bass slam.

Point 79
TotalDac 6 tube version
This one is also a very musical player.
But from the point of audiophile, its dynamics, details, soundstage are all one notch below the standard set by MSB Select II.

Point 78
MSB Discrete Dac with one additional basic power supply.
This one has similar sound signature to MSB Premier
But it is half notch below MSB Premier on dynamics, details, soundstage.

Point 75
EmmLab Dac2
I paid 9K$ for this on 2010.
It matches Chord Dave and Mscaler on dynamics with slightly more bass slam.
But Chord Dave and Mscaler give more transparent and deeper soundstage than EmmLab Dac2 while soundstage width are comparable to each other.
This one has slight fuller sound than Chord Dave and Mscaler.
It is still working fine after 10 years of use.

Point 73.

Lyngdorf 2170
This one has Dac, pre and power amp, active crossover and room correction functions.
It’s Dac sounds very similar to EmmLab Dac2 but with slightly less details and bass slam.

There are many Dacs to audition but I could not audition all of them.

I had bought Chord Dave and Mscaler late May.

Recently I play musicals and operas very often enjoying excellent 3D soundstage.

But I do not believe that I can live with Chord Dave and Mscaler for my life.

If some innovative Dac better than MSB Select II come out under 50K$ in the future, then I will upgrade to it.

Otherwise, I expect to use Chord Dave and Mscaler for 3 years or longer.

I open the possibility of upgrading to excellent music server like SGM Extreme in the near future.
Aries Cerat Kassandra II could possibly match the performance of MSB Select II but also with high price.

Aries Cerat launched the Helene DAC at Munich show this year with expected price tag of 20k$.

I had better wait for it before pulling the trigger for Chord Dave and Mscaler.

But now, I have no intention to switch to Helene Dac since I expect it to be just below 90 points.

It is not worth the hassle.
I could not correct the main thread.

TEC Tlox transport shall be CEC TL0x transport.
Since you been around DAC2 for 10 years, I am perplexed to see the DA2 missing from your A-list 😉
Can you share more about your methodology? Same system, Same Room? Or Dealer / Show based? Length of audition(s)? Same Music/Recording? Etc. Etc. Thanks.

As I had been using Emmlab Dac2 for 10 years, I was interested in DA2.

But I could not find dealer who offer audition of it.

There are many Dacs to audition but I could not audition all of them.

The main reason that I had pulled for Dave and Mscaler is that it provide me with deep and 3 D holographic soundstage.

The down side of it is that it could sound thin compared with other Dacs.

I had also spent lot of time to select the right digital cables to get round sound out of it.

Another post correction of main thread.

On 2019 I had got Jay Audio CDT2 and Lyngdorf 2170 to use it as Room correction, Dac.

I got those on 2018 not 2019.
One more note on Chord Dave and Mscaler.

It works excellent as headphone amplifier.

I had got delivery of Stax 009S and

KGSSHV Carbon made by loligagger.

The sound out of Stax 009S using Chord Dave and Mscaler as source is marvelous.

I am listening to " Are you lonesome tonight" by Elvis.

His voice tone is just spot on.

I recommend Sablon Panatella BNC digital cables between Dave and Mscaler.

After 100 hours of burn in, Sablon digital cables make Dave sound fuller and round with nuanced details.
One would have to wonder how many points (or few) the humble Shiit Yggdrasil would garner?  Would the audible difference be worth the price of a humble house in Upstate NY? 
@ janmnov

Since I had excellent Dac of EmmLab Dac 2, I had not auditioned Dac under 7K$ not expecting much improvement over it.

Although I had not auditioned Shiit Yggdrasil , I guess it to be around 65 points from what I had read from reviews.

Frankly speaking I am also not ready to shell out 100k$ on Dac.

But it may be of use to who has more than half million $ system.

I had set the spending limit of Dac to 30K$ and ended up spending half of that.

With saved money, I had bought Stax 009S and Carbon headphone amplifier which I am happy with now.

Since the question on methodology hasn’t been answered, I’ll assume hand waving and pulling of numbers from thin air (???).

I’m open to learning from you. For that to happen, you need to peel back the multiple layers of subjectivity (inferred) from your Opening Post.

Thank you.
Thanks for an interest in post. You included some gear I will certainly never see or hear.
@ aangen

There are many good Dacs available below 5k$.

If you want 30% better sound, then you may need to spend 3 times more money.

Law of diminishing return apply heavily to Dacs.
Hi from down under. Loved your subjective rating system. I too started with a Garrard turntable, a tangential tracking one with a Shure cartridge in the 70s and went through several turntable upgrades until my Linn LP12 and sold this in 1990 when it was hard to buy vinyl. Have been through many DACs and heard several of the ones you listed. I sold my Weiss DAC 202 18 mths ago after 2 years of trialing and settled on the Mola Mola Makua DAC and it provided a way more relaxed sound than the DAVE but very transparent and dynamic.

Since buying the Mola Mola I have had several friends who also compared the DAVE and bought the Mola Mola. Cost is under $20k.  I recommend you talk to the USA distributor Bill Parish, who loant one to a friend of mine in LA and he was gob smacked and bought it. I recommend the Makua version over the Tambaqui stand alone DAC with digital volume control. I find the Makua is just a little more relaxing. Cheers Mark
I am very interested by a critical evaluation of the Starting Point System Dac NOS tda 1543...

Most people dont have the money to buy a very costly one and are interested to look for decent one...I think that at his price the S.P.S. is a miracle for peanuts...The designer Christophe Mariac sell it on Ebay with a thousand positive reviews...The main point of interest for you is a selling point in dollars around 200 hundred bucks, easy to resell, and perhaps you will be surprized, and you will help the crowd that look for a good low cost dac, a very rare animal indeed...I am pleased to own one...The reason for the high quality of this dac I was able to pinpoint is the minimalistic implementation of the TDS 1543 chip and the internal battery that lower the noise level...

I would love to read your impression...If they are relatively positive that must help many people in my situation with not the money to go top of the chain... Anyway thanks for this interesting thread...
@ mahgister

Starting Point System Dac NOS tda appears to be good value from other people’s review.

It will be possible to make nice dac under 1k$.

I had auditioned Dac over 7k$ to upgrade from EMMbal Dac2 which was one of the best Dac 10 years ago at 9k$. Thus I did not audition possibly many good ones including Denafris Terminator.

If your other components are not very top quality, then you do not need to spend more than 5k$ on Dac.

Also choice of audio component is dependent on system and personal taste.

Thus some people prefer Lampiziator Pacific Dac to MSB Select II even with huge price difference.

Thanks for your reply and opinions.... Very interesting topic,very good impressions... I wish you the best from my heart... 
@ presmara

It is nice to hear from someone from down under. 

  Mola Mola Makua DAC appears to be nice one from your experience.

But I did not have any chance to audition it.

Choice of audio component is dependent on system and personal taste.

Thus it will be nice to get a chance to audition at your home.
Post removed 
During last 5 weeks I had tried out several digital cables between Dave and Mscaler.

With Sablon Panatella BNC cables, I could get balanced sound with analog ease.

They are also sensitive to power source.

I had got good results with isolation transformers connected with both Dave and Mscaler.

Now I am confident that I can live with this for three years or longer.

Dave is also a very nice amplifier for headphone.
New kid on the block.

Someone claimed that Nagra HD DAC X is his favorite DAC right now. It sets the reference line under his preferences of resolution, dynamics, soundstage, neutrality, transparency, midrange and bottom end.

The Nagra DAC is the only one he heard matching the best turntables.... and a lot cheaper than the overpriced MSB Select.II

He’s rating:

Nagra HD DAC X - 98
MSB Select II - 95

It is not inexpensive at 65,000$

I will try to have a chance to audition it.
Try a Shunyata sigma BNC clock cable instead of the Panatella. Also, which input are you using?

About three years ago, I wrote some comparison of Dacs that I had auditioned seriously at the shops.

If I include Ideon Absolute which I am doing audition at my home., I would give 97 points just below MSB Select II.

This one sounds neutral, nice details but not etched, stable deep and wide soundstage, very tight and controlled bass.

But it may not sound as analog as MSB Select II althought very close.

I had not listened to Wadax yet, but expect to listen to it at Pacific Audiofest.





Beethoven Violin Concerto played by Chung Kyunghwa using Ideon Absolute Dac.

Erik and I had set up Scaena 3.2 yesterday.

I appreciated his help a lot.

After assembly of Scaena, we had done brief comparison between Ideon and Dave.

Now the difference is substantial.

Scaena 3.2 give very wide and deep holographic images.

Ideon give more stable images and dynamics than Dave and Hms.

I usually upload the video.
But since Scaena had not been used for 3 years, I notice slight hard edges which may need break in.

Now I have to change my opinion on Ideon Absolute.

It is at least as good as MSB Select II.


Ideon give better dynamics than Select II but Select II give some analog like ease.

It may be time to upgrade.


I had auditioned Wadax Dac at dealer’s room and Pacific Audiofest.


It sounds so musical and organic with no faults at all.


I will gradei it 105 above 100 of MSB Select II.


Other noteworthy Dacs that I had listended are Lampi Horizon, Iden Absolute and Ion, Wells Audio Cipher Dac.


I will update ranking next weekend.