What is the best DAC under $500?

I am looking for a DAC that I can use with my CD player and also computer. I have been looking at the following 3 DAC's:

- Grant Fidelity Tube DAC-11
- Shiit Bifrost DAC
- Emotive DAC

I would appreciate Audiogon members thoughts on these and other DAC's they would recommend as the best DAC in this price range.
Thank you very much for that post Rob!

My current and first foray into the DAC realm has been and is the HRT Music Streamer ll+. I really think it sounds great but have been wondering just how much better my system can sound. I have spent so much money on other things such as power cords, speaker cables, trasports, amplifiers etc so spending a bit more money for a DAC that will surely outperform the HRT was what i have been wondering about. I can't seem to find anyone that has owned and heard the HRT DAC that i am using, that has also listened to the DACS we are talking about. EE,Rega etc.

I don't want to go crazy with the higher end DACS but i was wondering how much of an sonic improvement could possibly be gained by stepping up the DAC ladder to DACS such as these. From your post i am starting to wonder if i should just stick with my HRT Music Streamer ll+ DAC and call it a day?

BTW and a side note...loving the Pure Music software i just auditioned and just purchased finally last night! That really brought another level of performance to the system for a minor investment IMHO

Observations like mine are rarely popular. Especially for those who paid a lot for certain components that are quickly eclipsed by stuff costing much less. In the world of digital things move fast and plenty of audiophiles focus their resources on other aspects of the system. I'm one of them!

I think part of the issue is that few of us will agree on exactly when a difference or advantage is substantial enough to spend X amount of dollars. I find the differences in the DACs I've heard trivial in most respects. In fact they are so subtle that I question ANY DAC review unless it was done back to back against other units in the same system.

I like my Rega DAC. I can HEAR what it does well compared to the others I've tried. But is it "substantial?" Is the advantage of the Rega DAC worth my friends efforts in selling the very nice EE Minimax Plus, losing money and buying a Rega DAC? He's not reading this so I'll say NO. He's cuckoo for coco puffs as the EE sounded just fine. I like my Rega better in some respects, but then that's what I chose. I've been an audiophile for 30 years. My friend has 15 years more experience than me. I asked him this: If I swapped out the ARC Dac or Minimax Plus for the Centrance would you know it just by listening? "Heck no!" was his honest reply. But he's still changing gear, which is something he likes to do (I hope!).

You can drive yourself nuts with all of this and a good part of the high end market wants you be nuts and keep swapping out gear and trying more stuff and doubting the old stuff and never feel secure with what you have/hear. At some point it has to be just you and the music and the system should come LAST. My Rega DAC/Mac combo sounds very nice, and so does my old Oppo DVD player that cost a fraction of the price. I can't worry any more or I'll be missing out on the greatest part of the hobby...the tunes!

Cheers and happy new year,

I have the Emotiva XDA 1 DAC and couldn't be happier. I am using it w/my Rotel RCD 991 ae CD Player. Even connected to the computer @ 16 bit, it brings everything to life. And you can't beat the value.

If you want Tube, I think Jolida has something for the $500 price range.

Seekburk - I use an older MF A3-24 DAC, using a HiFace converter. That replaced my Classe CDP-10 CD player and gave better results. I tried a HRT Streamer II (not the plus) and although I could hear the difference, I though the HRT was pretty close and a great bargain. I have not heard the II+. Most things I have read say the II is the sweet spot and the II+ is only marginally better. With a 30 day return policy, I think the HRT products are great options to try.

I have not heard the Shiit Bifrost but it has a very loyal - and almost fanatical - following.
I'm running an XDA-1. For me, it was a no brainer for the price. I'm running five digital sources and the XDA meant that I only needed one DAC.

I'm pretty sure that you could find better if you hunted around a listened to a bunch of equipment. All I can say is that my setup sounds good to me and was certainly an improvement over using the internal DAC on my NAD AV preamp.