What DAC to buy?

Under $1000.

I’ve been out of the DAC buying mode for 5 years. My Project Pre Box S2 sounded good enough. It seems to be dying...something in the output stage is scratchy and distorted sounding. Time to move on. I can buy something of equal or better sound quality, but I don’t have an audiophile system, so I doubt I’d get the full value out of a high end DAC.

Make a suggestion...lets keep it under $1000.

Here’s some specifics. I don’t need a combination DAC + Preamp. My Adcom GFP 750 pre got a refresh with Nicholson capacitors a couple years ago, its fine for me, even if its old school. I stream in CD quality...I gave Tidal a try, MQA sounded good to me, but plenty of CD recordings in the last 30 years are also pretty good, so, I don’t need to do MQA moving forward. So I stream via Amazon music for the most part, occasionally movies, and occasionally use my old CDs. That’s it. I don’t need upsampling, I don’t need any features really, no headphone option needed..just accurate sound, a USB port and a digital audio port. Maybe a Schitt Modi Plus?

I also have an Adcom 565 GMA amp that I refreshed with new capacitors and Tyler Acoustic speakers. Let me know your thoughts. I stream through a PC, not MAC. Don't even need bluetooth functionality in the DAC.  Many thanks.


That's a reasonable amount to spend for your system. I would get a used RME ADI-2 DAC. 

You'll never regret it and you'll have a great piece in the future with any other system changes. Yes, I own one in a big tube monoblock floor standing speaker system. 

Best of luck! 

There ia steal at TMC for a MHDT Pagoda DAC.....check it out! The DAC has a beautiful sound

The only thing we can really do is use borrow or return policies to listen in our system.  I am still looking Gustard, Topping, SMSL, RME, JDS, Schiit, and hope to borrow a Qutest ( big bucks) to see if they really are smoother. I have a very specific sensitivity to vocal sibilance.  Others are looking for detail, others impact.

DACs, though they do sound different to me, are close to the last component to look at.  An Apple dongle is better than many amps and I venture to say, all speakers. 

Aries II, renamed ENO, also jumped in price to $1200. Too many positive reviews I guess.  Over budget, but it may be worth it. I hope to try one. 

DACs have gotten much better recently, so a 2 year old winner may be mid-pack now.  I still have not found one under $500 that can beat my $99 JDS.  I'll take it over a Cambridge and about any esoteric brand any day. I have not heard a built in ( integrated amp) that is significantly better.  DAC sound is 99% the input and reconstruction stages. The actual DACs are so good as they don't make a big difference. I doubt audible through speakers. Maybe really good cans. 

Gleaning many many subjective reviews and some objective measures, the Geselli is a very nice DAC. Choice of DACs, choice of op-amps.  But it's USB is terrible. Of course, it will measure well on a $20K measurement box as it will have a clean USB output.  Not so on a PC.   The new SMSL DO300 seems to be pretty widely accepted sonically and it also measures well. I am curious how good the Hugo is compared to a Qutest as it falls under 1K. Gustard X16 has my eye.

Geshelli Labs J2

Their customer service is second to none. I have experience with Ayre, Conrad Johnson, VAC, Audio Research, and more. For $260 you get an excellent DAC. If you want USB connection, it's $300. Go to this review, https://youtu.be/USbDI8OQP7s

Pair it with the WiiM mini or WiiM pro ($80, $150 respectively). See cheapaudioman YouTube review of them. Out performs the Mode.

I can't say you'll hear a difference from your setup, but this is as good as it gets within your budget. The Denafrips Ares II is a better DAC but it costs 3x more. That said, I'm not sure your overall system warrants the extra cost. Best of luck to you.

I second the recomendation of Black Ice Audio Tube FX Glass DAC from Kota1.  I bought one about two months ago and am happy with it.  

The Schiit Bifrost 2/64 (which my Bifrost 2 was upgraded to) is a really great sounding and well designed upgradeable DAC. I like Schiit Audio and have a Freya, a couple of headphone amps and a couple of Loki EQs. All are superbly designed and sound great, are USA made, and generally less expensive than the competition although for some items there really is no competition.

++++1 I would buy the Denafrips Ares 12th anniversary over the Denafrips Ares II/Enyo, a few reasons:

(1) The Ares 12th has a full milled aluminum chassis versus a steel chassis for the Ares II/Enyo

(2) OCC copper power plug in the Ares 12th, vs standard copper in the Ares II/Enyo, also the fuse has been moved inward in case you want to upgrade it....versus in the power socket

(3) The Ares 12th has I2S input, which the Ares II/Enyo does not

If I understand correctly you don’t have a separate streamer. So buying a new DAC only unit will help you how exactly?

If you need a streamer/DAC combo, look for a used Lumin D1. Here’s a good one with linear power supply


MHDT Orchid has to be considered, you can pick them up under $1000. I still miss that dac and the MHDT Havana,  they were just enjoyable to listen too, and only one tube to roll, the 6sn7 adapter was nice, just a fun dac. 

you would be better off having your CDP upgraded then to buy a $1K DAC.  You would get much better sound.

Thanks everyone who's commented so far. Sounds like Denafips and Toppings have support here, so I'll look into them a bit. I hadn't thought of it, but I suppose I can look into streamers (and stop using the PC + Dac approach) as has been suggested. I'll leave the thread up for a couple more days. 

Denafrips Ares or RME adi2, Ares has a little better soundstage but RME is on the warm side, very transparent and a Swiss Army knife dac. I borrowed the Ares from a friend and owned the RME for a while. Between the 2 I would have to go RME for long term. The Pontus is a different story. 

+1 @tubeguy76 and @soix. As you're streaming thru a PC and didn't state any mods or upgrades to do that it's likely you have your biggest SQ bottleneck there.  The INNUOS Pulse Mini dedicated streamer lacks the CD ripper and storage function of the Zen, but also has the internal dac that from prior comments is pretty good.  Prob used out there for $800 to $1000.  $1250 MSRP.

You could try the Eversolo DMP-A6 which is a new streamer/dac that was recently released.  It's very popular and looks to be well made.

+1 @tubeguy76 You may well get more improvement from a good dedicated streamer than you will from a new DAC, and the DAC in the A6 may be all you need.  Streaming with a PC is not doing you any favors to say the least. 

There is a used Chord Qutest on US Audio mart for $1200.00. I auditioned one and liked it, but did not buy it because it did not sound significantly better in my home system than the internal DAC on my Innuos Zen Mini streamer. Good luck in your search! Let us know how it turns out. 

IME certain dac's punch well above  their price point.  The ifi Zen Dac Signature (original version) is such a component. The V2 Signature is also said to be a benchmark product in the under $300 price category.  Both are said to compete favorably with some of the better dac's in the $500 - $1000 price range. 

+1 for the Denafrips Ares II/Enyo (~US$850) or the Ares 12th-1 (~US$1000).  Just note that the more expensive unit loses one coax and one TOSlink input, if that is important to you.

The Ares II has been widely reviewed and liked.  The one downside to note is that the buttons and LEDs are tiny and hard to see, and there is no remote to change inputs.  

I had Pre Box S2 for a short while but returned it due to some issue. Then I replace it with Topping E70 Velvet (E70V). Big difference. Much solid bass slam, excellent dynamics, sweet midrange, detailed but not analytical treble (unlike all previous Topping) and, most importantly, the soundstage performance is impressive. This is the first DAC sub $500 I had preserves the width and depth of soundstage so well. Separation of intrument / vocal is very decent too. One other big difference between S2 and E70V is, at low volume level, E70V reproduces all frequencies well. I don’t need to EQ / boost the low ends, while low ends shrinks immediately on S2 once you turn down the volume. That, to me, is a big propositional statement there.

Denafrips Ares II! Having owned both Schiit Bifrost 2 and the Ares, I preferred the Ares. I found Ares to have a more 3 dimensional soundstage and just sounded more genuine than Bifrost. Not at all a knock on Bifrost more a testament to Ares…

@mike4597 totally agree man. I did struggle mightily knowing my $ were going over there. It definitely gave me pause…

"+1 the Topping is a sonic bargain."
Only if it keeps working. Topping quality control is dreadful. Look at the number of minions on ASR who complain about the brand's quality.

+1 Denafrips Ares and Enyo

+1 the Topping is a sonic bargain

Gustard has a few DACs under $1k

Slightly above your budget but maybe a used Schiit YGGDRASIL or a used Mytek Brookland.  

I have a Schiit Bifrost 2 that I upgraded to the 2/64.  It sounds wonderful in my system, is under your price limit and is, as has been demonstrated, upgradable.  (Part of my purchase criteria is “not made in mainland China” if possible, as I do not want to contribute even modestly to the Chinese military—admitted personal bias.  US-made, Canadian, European, or madeelsewhere in Asia would be fine if the product has the quality.)

The Denafrips Ares II got a new name last Winter. You would be looking for  a Denafrips "Enyo" now.

You could try the Eversolo DMP-A6 which is a new streamer/dac that was recently released.  It's very popular and looks to be well made.

My Modi Multibit lasted less than 2 years. Schiit won’t fix, said go scratch. A $200 Topping E50 sounds better and has remote control.

A good starter DAC for the price stated, Denafrips Aries. Nothing less. May be the last DAC you`ll ever buy.