What’s the best DAC < 6k (system specific)

I have a decent DAC built into my SS integrated amp but think I can do better with a stand-alone. I’m looking for accuracy, definition and sound stage. Emphasis on sound stage. I have few vinyl albums and find that the ones that sound really good are quite expensive. So, trying to improve the streaming to it brings or approximates that magical HQ vinyl sound. Maybe I’m chasing a red herring but, from what I read, there are some boxes out there that can come darn close. Has anyone compared the Holo May KTE with the T+A DAC 200 or similarly priced products? I know the T+A is a little more but I don’t mind used too. I went from Border Patrol SEi to Ayre Codex to Ayre QB9 Twenty. When I changed my Pass Int 60 amp to one with built in DAC, I thought it sounded better than the QB 9. Actually the QB 9 had more detail than the amp DAC. However, Using the new amp’s (Hegel 590) DAC bypass, to my ear, the QB9 is somewhat fatiguing during extended sessions so, I’m using the smoother, marginally less detailed Hegel built in DAC. There are no places to demo equipment near me so, I have heretofore depended on forums such as this for decisions, of wihich have been very satisfactory thus far. I love pure jazz sounds like the guitar plucked from the fingers of Bill Frisell and John Schofield; the edgy sound of a tenor saxophone; the sultry female voices of Melody Gardot, Chantal Chamberlain and others. Enjoy classic rock as well.

My system:

Hegel 590 Integrated Amp+DAC

digital streamer pis Innuos Zenith MK3 with Innous Phoenix reclocker (strmg Qobuz)

analog is VPI Classic/Transfiguration Axia cart into Parasound JC3+
Magico A3 spkrs w/Audio Sensibility Statement cables.

I was using Audio Sensibility Statement silver interconnects for the QB 9 which I still have to use with a stand-alone.

I know that good sound is more often a matter of taste. However, I am still interested in the opinions of others in this forum and welcome yours if you have one.

Thanks in advance.


+1 on the Aqua DACs. Their "entry" DAC is the La Voce S2 which I had in my system; and later upgraded it to their S3 (the upgrade was about $1,500 and requires it to be sent back to the factory in Italy). For my ears there wasn't a very discernible difference between the S2 and S3 versions. Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to buy their highest level DAC (the Aqua Formula) used, so further upgraded to that. I don't know what stuartk is asking for his Aqua Voce mk2 but I'd jump on it if it's within reason. The sound from these is really organic and also, like stuartk, is the best I've ever heard. You can find some reviews of the La Voce from when it first was offered (maybe 5- 7 years ago). I believe the cost new is in the $5K range. 

thebingster thank you and everyone else who commented. I’m waiting on stuartk’s ad. I hope the La Voce is better than what I sold already ie the Ayre QB9 twenty!

rx8man thanks for sharing. I don’t doubt that’s a fine DAC and that you enjoy it. For twice my budget you very well should. I like that it’s made in USA too. I’m sure that DAC, even if it could be found in the used market, is beyond my reach.

i have the hegel 590 and using its internal dac, the sound is very neutral (not warm) with very flat treble response... that along with your magicos and silver cables can lead to a sense of brightness, especially with the innuos front end

when listening to the ayre qb9, your use of silver interconnects may also contribute to the sense of forward aggressive treble

this said, i would suggest considering of any of the following (two lower priced, three higher priced, if you are patient you can find them used)

good luck!

1) a modwright tubed cambridge cxn v2 streamer/dac

2) a well modded mhdt orchid tube buffered dac

3) an msb analog dac

4) a chord hugo tt2 with m scaler

5) a mojo audio mystique v3 (or higher)

all will provide excellent clarity, soundstage and openness, but with a sense of ease through the treble region and overall musicality that is superior to the internal dac of the h590 -- all also will bring a real magic/palpability to voices such as melody gardot, chantal chamberlain and the like