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.



I’ve owned both the Aqua La Voce S2 and the S3 and contrary to an earlier poster I found the difference in the two to be significant and well worth the upgrade. I went from there to a Holo May KTE which I find to have a similar sound profile just more of it. If you don’t want to go to the top of your price range then the Spring 3 KTE will get you 90%+ of the May and ahead of even the S3 Aqua. I own all three.  If you want to try a La Voce then there is an S3 listed on Audiogon for a fair price. 


I fairly recently purchased the T+A DAC 200 after an extended home audition (thanks Juan at Bliss Hifi - great dealer to work with - highly recommended!).

I was also considering going up to the T+A SD 3100 HV - their reference DAC. 

Initially, in comparison to my Auralic Vega G2.1 DAC - the DAC 200 was only slightly better - but mostly just different - the Auralic unit is quite good. I had tried the various inputs (AES, s/pdif, AES EBU. All good. All different. (Incidentally, I have not tried the analog preamp section of the DAC as I don’t need that functionality so i can’t comment on that element.)

However, after working with the DAC 200 more, I found out how good it really is when set up and fed properly. 

As someone previously mentioned, they have separate paths for PCM and DSD decoding. I prefer the latter. As does T+A.

While T+A has NOS and upsampling built in, I found feeding the DAC with DSD 512 via my Auralic Aries G2 streamer and Auralic Sirius processor to be a particularly good combo. While i may yet try a higher end streamer like Aurender N20 or N30, I think the benefit of such (and I’m a big fan of better streamers) might not be as great because the Sirius processor I already own is really beneficial.

I gather similar results might be achieved using HQ player to do something similar as that is what T+A strongly recommends. Doing so to feed the DSD path is what they suggest is the highest performing channel.

To those others who have the DAC 200 - try it this way. I’d be curious as to your experience. It took the performance of the DAC up significantly for me.

Bottom line is that the DAC 200 offers flexibility that few others have and exceptional performance at its price point. Certainly the best I’ve heard at this price point - and I’ve heard quite a few at the top end, including the aforementioned SD 3100 HV ($35k) from a previous audition, Ideon Absolute ($45k), Linn DSM/3 ($40k), etc. Is it better than those units? No. Is it close? Very. Is it a better value? Unquestionably. 

I’m sure the other DACs mentioned in this thread are also very good. I haven’t heard them so can’t compare. So - I hope this helps, but as in all things, YMMV. 

@mgrif104 That's interesting stuff. I saw a review on the T+A which said the DSD section was excellent whereas the PCM was good. I am new to this stuff so I'm going to have to figure out how to use the DSD section. 

The other thing about the T+A is that it also has a decent preamp section which I've been considering taking advantage of.