Sweet Sounding DAC

Ok, here's another one of those threads seeking DAC guidance.  Certainly, I have started more than my share of such questions.

This search started as a need to find a smaller DAC and streamer due to overcrowding in my cabinet.  Current players Bricasti M3 and M5.  But as I started looking and listening, I realized there is a sonic search as well; just to complicate the process.  As much as I like the Bricasti gear, I have always yearned for a softer- perhaps more tube/ analogue sound.  So the search got  harder.  Here are some of the contestants with my questions/ comments or concerns.  I seek advice from those who actually own or know the gear to follow ,  I will try to be brief.  BTW my budget is essentially what I can recoup from selling the Bricasti gear.  So lets say 3500 to 5000 ( if I sell both pieces). The first 4 I have sampled, the rest I have read about

1.  Wattson Madison;  great size.  Found vocals a little off/ sounded better w external streamer - but then whats the point of the DAC / Streamer

2. Lab 12 DAC: loved the sound; too big a footprint.  Great vocal tone

3. Konus : real nice, still a strong contender

4. Merason Frerot with LPS: not for me ( suprisingly)

5.  Audio Note: would need to be entry level due to size.  Is it good enough?

6. Gold Note DS-10 + Evo.  Looks good on paper; has anyone heard it?  Some dealers are not so high on it

7.  Ferrum Wandla:  looks good on paper but would add a box ( LPS ) to my cabinet.  Anyone hear it?  Word is that is a rich - smooth tone

8.  Audio 11 Sagra:  not much to go on but supposed to be smooth and sweet sounding

9.  Border Patrol:  some love it and some don't.  Cannot fathom who is right.

10.  AudioMirrow Tubadour.  Seemed like a strong contender until a user told me its not that sweet sounding.  More neutral in tone.  I was bummed to hear that. Not sure it has the Lab 12 tone I seek.

I think thats enough to choose from.  

Any insights would be appreciated.  Please refrain from snarkiness....I much too tired for snark,  But I do appreciate the help.


This is a difficult decision.  To be honest I did not read the entire thread.  When I started down this path I found myself wondering which component should I use to “tune”” my sound.  I ended up “tuning” with a preamp.  I too have and love Bricasti and end up swapping out my preamp with a Cary SLP-05.  Having gone thought a number of tube amps, preamps etc (love the midrange sound of tubes) but started to dislike the weight, power tube replace cost, heat and moved to class AGD class D.  The Cary fulfilled my tube addiction and I think I’m good for the long hall.  My learning was I started trying to tune with a DAC and end up where I currently am.  Just my experience.  By the way tried to hedge the DAC life cycle going with Bricasti. They really have proven to offer very cost effective upgrades.  I guess I see where I am in a few years!   Good luck!  I don’t really think you go wrong.  Don’t you love this hobby/ addiction???

Very simple, IMHO get either the RME ADI-2 DAC (but has very complicated steps to maximize, read manual first) or Benchmark DAC 3B (definitely Not the HGC nor L, the B sounds best, just a straight exit path no volume pot/headphone amplifier, may have to set output voltage to match pre-amp, easy to do but read manual first).  That's it!  Save yourself all the nonsense.  Was in the industry for awhile and had a collection of DACS through the years.  Another thing the finest Digital cables are Benchmark's, both optical (no kidding) & the coax, cheap as well).  Good Luck

I thought the best suggestion was to choose the one you already heard and love, the lab12.  Then, spend $50 for a a wall mounted shelf from Ikea or elsewhere, depending on WAF, and enjoy.  Stop driving yourself nuts with the plethora of contradictory claims on this forum.

You say it way better than me... I said it in my own not so clear way...  if someone already own a dac which is good , the wise way to go is not upgrade the dac...Especially throwing money at a vay costlier one...

Anyway here no one even name or paid attention to the main revolutionary design in dac nowadays which is here for a long time now and which i name ... And it is not the product of an electronical engineer but from a physicist and acoustician ... It seems they dont read enough audio review or too much... 😊


I thought the best suggestion was to choose the one you already heard and love, the lab12. Then, spend $50 for a a wall mounted shelf from Ikea or elsewhere, depending on WAF, and enjoy. Stop driving yourself nuts with the plethora of contradictory claims on this forum.

I have both the LAB 12 and a RME adi2.   The LAB 12  is the better sounding DAC , hands down but it is 2.5 X the price so it should be.  

I still use the RME, it's in a bedroom system that I primarily use with headphones.  It's a great DAC,  feature wise nothing really compares.   It is the Swiss Army Knife of DACs .    Having had both side by side I can say this ,  the RME is good but the user interface leaves a lot to be desired.  It's clear right away that it's a piece of pro gear.  If you are over 45, better have your reading glasses on.    I use the remote for everything because the unit is so small.  It's tiny.   1RU tall and 1/2 RU wide.   

It is a little lean compared to the LAB 12.    It is clear and detailed but it lacks the body / weight of the LAB 12.   The LAB 12 has more meat on the bone and big expansive Soundstage.   Don't get me wrong, it is an excellent DAC for $1300

The LAB12 has no features to speak of.... none.   Input & power switch and sample, rate LED.   That's it.    As far as the noise when switching sample rates I think a lot has to do with the source.    Aurender can apply a few seconds of delay between tracks and doesn't do it.   Vault 2i does sometimes.     It sounds so good I can forgive that.   

The DAC 1 has the sound you like , but the RME has the form factor....   I'm with Bob on the shelf.  A turntable shelf would be perfect .  

The Music Room sometimes has open box demos and trade ins of the DAC 1if you want to save a few bucks