You want a DAC that sounds *different.* What factor helps you find it?

I'm thinking about trying a new DAC, adding one to the stable. 

What's most important is that it sound different than my present DAC.

If you were to look for a new DAC to try, what weight would you assign to each of these factors in predicting a different character of sound? 

1. chipset
2. design of DAC --- R2R etc.
3. power supply
4. tube or no  tube
5. ? (some factor or combination not mentioned)

I've become somewhat skeptical of user reviews because of uncontrollable variability related to tastes, system components, and vagueness of language used by reviewers.

So, without some appreciation of the ability for the above factors to affect the sound character, singling out just one or another factor seems like random guessing.

I'd love to learn from you all. I'd be curious to know, for example, that most R2R DACs sound similar, overall. That would help by directing me away from trying another R2R DAC. Or maybe they don't all sound similar; ok, that keeps them in consideration.

Same question with chipsets, power supply, tube/no tube.

So, again the hypothetical -- simplified:

You want to get a DAC that sounds much different than what you have. What factor helps you find it?


MHDT Pagoda

Reasons why it might sound different

Non over- sampling

No digital filter

No op-amp

No feedback.


Implementation of the analog stage
Quality of the DAC’s clock
Quality of the power supply
Must have USB & AES inputs
Ability to play both PCM and DSD
Sturdiness of build and interior organization for isolation


Agree with your list of attributes except the emphasis on AES / USB. Once you hear Ethernet based DAC’s, you would never wanna go back to rely on AES or USB.

And to the OP, I would never consider a tube DAC. If you prefer a ‘colored’ sound, add a tube pre or amp. Keep the digital bits flowing as pure as possible…pick a DAC that delivers the realism and transparency of highest order. 

@lalitk I have, but with the Aurender N30SA in hand, I do prefer AES. :)

Again, it’s all about the clock  

I guess yes I should add Ethernet input as a nice to have, good call!

“Again, it’s all about the clock”


No doubt N30SA is a great streamer but unless you’re clocking both N30SA and your DAC with a external Master Clock like MC20, your AES output to T+A DAC isn’t much of a difference maker. You may prefer this connection over USB but you have not tapped the true potential of N30SA until you’re in a aforementioned setup.  I do agree, the quality of clock is super important, among other things. If you like, I am happy to continue our conversation over PM :-) 


@lalitk "

Agree with your list of attributes except the emphasis on AES / USB. Once you hear Ethernet based DAC’s, you would never wanna go back to rely on AES or USB."

That assumes someone is streaming. I spin CDs and the Simaudio 260DT transport in my 2nd system is optimized for AES/EBU.  There are others that also do for us CD guys


Obviously at the end of the day everything matters but in my own experience the most important factors have been:


Analog output stage

Power supply

Design topology i.e. NOS, filterless etc.

Chip selection being a distant 4th.

My two current Dacs

Audio Note Dac-3 (awaiting a donor transformer) is R2R using a multibit chip, with a tubed analog output stage and beefy power supply.

Yamamoto YDA-1 delta-sigma but no digital filter signal goes right to a transistor, also a beefy power supply.

Both Dacs sound great and more alike than different though very different design choices.

What color do tube DACs add?  Green, Blue, Chartreuse?  

Matching the inputs to what your source does best will allow you to realize the full potential of the DAC's presentation.  After that it's  matching a DACs sound presentation  to your system to create your preferred listening environment. 

Whether you use no tubes, all tubes or a mixture to create it,  the  environment you prefer is the only important factor.  You must first decide what you are trying to achieve and then build the "system" to get you there (realizing that along the way your priorities  will probably evolve.)

Changing the DACs sound can be as easy as using a different input or connecting cable.  The source matters and contributes to the presentation and should be the foundation on which you build a digital system.


Good point. The Ethernet based DAC’s I am referring to all sports the AES input for backward compatibility and flexibility. I wanted to make it a point that DAC with Ethernet capabilities are way to the future. As they continue to evolve, they will eventually eliminate the need for a high end external server or streamer.

There will be always those who prefer to remain on the path of separate streamer / server or CD transport with external DAC’s. I was there not too long ago :-)

I went from two 2010's vintage low end USB DACs (Burson and Wavelength Brick) to a midrange (expensive even used) Bricasti with an Ethernet input. Much improved using USB and even better using Ethernet. So price (as a function of quality) matters, but so does the input. Like others here, I'm of the Ethernet input option being a requisite for when I replace the Burson). This also introduces the quardary of the DAC network card being superior to the Nucleus as a streaming device. Also at this point, I'm limited to what I've experienced at home, so with DAC's my N is 4 (1st DAC being a Cambridge DAC Magic 2000's era which I sold).

Interesting, other than @jond with his AudioNote and @djones51 with his MHDT Pagoda mentioned, surprised we’re not seeing more replies yet about R2R Ladder vs. Delta Sigma DACs and related designs, and implementations. Each of these can sound quite different from each other depending on price ranges your’e in.

I’m back to re-investigating more about some of the better resistor vs. chip r2r r2r ladder designs, and not considering delta-sigma DACs any more - - due to higher cost to own a worthy unit. Churn and debate this, a "deeper sound stage with R2R based DAC designs". Happy listening. 😀


Great answers! Many factors I had not thought of.

A lot of these factors seem to be of the "What makes a DAC sound great" variety. I suppose I'm especially interested in the "What makes a DAC sound *different*?"

In other words, assuming I had a choice between two DAC's and they *both* had all the great aspects mentioned -- what would be the differentiating factor which would alter the sonic character between them?

Some of the answers above did touch on this, so I'm just re-stating the question in case it was somewhat muddled.

Choice of optimal rendering in both streamer and dac critical, really should be thought of as package deal. Using non optimized connection or port on either of these two components won't allow for full potential of dac to be heard.


I'll soon be investigating virtually every rendering scheme available with recent ATX board based server purchase, should be interesting.


The question then becomes, whether optimal rendering is done internally within dac or in streamer? I presume both have pluses and minuses, implementation everything.





Chip used that changes the math to sound . Each one’s output then is effected by the math Method d/a. Each manufacturer, chooses one. Then builds based on target price around that . 

listen from the reference of chip design higher price may not give you a linear better. 

I have a vendor that allows me to try d/a and return what I do not want. 

“Implementation of the analog stage
Quality of the DAC’s clock
Quality of the power supply
Must have USB & AES inputs
Ability to play both PCM and DSD
Sturdiness of build and interior organization for isolation”


All good points of consideration.  I can live without DSD but it has to sound great on my system.  That’s all I care about.  How does it sound.  

I went from a fully featured DAC that sounds really good to a stripped of features Non OS with tube analog output and it sounds MUCH better in my system…. Maybe not your’s.  It sounded so so when run direct onto my amp. And that’s the whole thing about this hobby , lifestyle, whatever you want to call it.  No two systems are the same. So many variables.    

Putting other components ONE at a time in your system is the only tried and true way to get optimum sound and that’s why dealers that work with you, take trades , let you take the item home are invaluable   

Over the past year or so, I have either owned or had extensive in-home auditions of the following DACs:

Audio Mirror Tubadour IV SE

Audio Note 3.1x/II Balanced

Bricasti M3

Bricasti M1 SE

EMM Labs DV2

Holo Audio May KTE

Mola Mola Tambaqui

Rockna Wavedream Edition Balanced

In several instances, I had two DACs in my system simultaneously, and they were compared level-matched. They were all fed by a Rockna Wavedream NET streamer, with the Bricasti DACs additionally auditioned using their LAN inputs.

All the DACs sounded more similar than not. Yes, there were differences, but my preferences didn’t consistently align with one DAC topology over another.

My conclusion thus far is that specific DAC chip, or R2R vs. Delta Sigma doesn’t matter as much as one might believe. At least to my ears.

What matters is the DAC builder’s circuit design and implementation...and how the DAC sounds to you.

The answer to this question:

You want to get a DAC that sounds much different than what you have. What factor helps you find it?

Reading and interpreting reviews/user comments, and then listening in my system. However, the bottom line from my experience is that I have yet to find a DAC that sounds much different from what I own.


I am a tube person as that is my preference.  I have not heard a SS DAC that compares for dimension, air and separation, etc.  All of the comments above have some truth in the price range those DACs fall into.  R2R is my preference but we have build Sabre 32 BIT Chip DACs that also are fantastic. We also have modified or heard most of them many times.  What makes a reference component is the power supply and the parts used.  Most DACs use many capacitors in the power supply, nice but nothing special (think the $43,000 DaVinci - Light Harmonic).  Excellent sounding DAC but to our ears not reference quality.  The design separates them apart and like mentioned above most sound very similar.  Once you get into the design of the power supply and how the parts are used in the design then you will understand what makes something sound the way it does.  The use of chokes versus resistors and capacitors, V-Capacitors, Audio Note, etc.  Even the Audio Note while using really good parts to our ears is not a reference sounding DAC.

Happy Listening. 



First, I only base my decisions on the sound qualities. Never the technology used. I have had components basses on ESS DAC chips and they have sounded everything from terrible to great. It isn’t the technology, it is the implementation that matters. The designer has to choose the design, technology, components, material… etc. I pay absolutely no attention to the technology.


I never have a stable. I always trade up, and never less than 2x in cost from my last component because if well chosen it will sound much better than the last. Otherwise you trade one set of weaknesses (and strengths) for another. Trading up, all aspects get better.

I read professional reviews and listen to everything I can, including lots of live acoustic music. This approach has led me step by step moving towards better and better systems.


Now, being retired and having the time to really enjoy the system I have built over fifty years is really rewarding! The only larger investment I have made is the house in which it sits… which by luck has the best audio space I have heard (better to be lucky than good).

Lets start with what we have and then we can discuss how we are going to use it."CD quality” audio resolution uses a 16 bit word for each sample. The sample rate is 44.1 kHz. This is often described as simply “16/44.1k.” This translates into an analog dynamic range of approximately 96 dB, and an analog bandwidth of approximately 22 kHz.

Designer is limited to work with 16/44.1k format whether it is multi-bit or 1-bit (delta-Sigma) implementation. Of course the clock to reduce the "jitter" play a very important role. There are a number of designs available in external DACs for re-clocking the bit stream. Another important element is the analog filter and there are many to choose. Some designers also emphasize of on channel separation > 100db. I am not one of those who can hear differences between 100db versus 105db, but that may be important to some.  The there is issue with tube versus SS output stage.

It is unclear what you mean by DAC sound "different." My objective was DAC should reproduce my jazz and classical CDs from way past sound close to my records. Some of the best multi-bit DAC chips from past include but not limited to Burr-Brown PCM63, PCM1704, Ultra Analog D20400, all 20-bit implementations. Krell, Stax, VTL, Mark Levinson, etc., all have used above DAC chips with or without tubes.

For me, Audio Research DAC2 with D20400 sounds most natural and in my humble opinion sounds close top the analog counterpart. I also have Audio Research DAC3 with Crystal Semiconductor CS4328 1-bit DAC with a tube stage, and Cary Audio 303/200 with PCM7104. For well recorded more modern CDs, AR DAC3 adds tube magic in the chain if that is my preference that day or I can also settle down with Cary 303/200 with/without upsampling to fit my taste.

So I assume you are thinking along the same lines when you say DAC with "different" sound. Yes, they all have their pros and cons. Some you like and some you don't. But I have enough DACs so that I can make more than 90% of my CD collection enjoyable. Now mind you there are some CDs not even the Good Lord can make it sound good. But that's life. Hope this helps.



happy to see you back and posting, sharing info


to answer your question -- what @tvad says!! 😁

i'm not kidding...but bear in mind the price level of dacs listed, to which i would add several others i experienced in a similar fashion - msb, chord stack, weiss

also, i would add that to achieve this ’convergence’ it is paramount to get the network and streaming noise and clock management done to a high level

If your end goal is to get a DAC with a signature sound you need to focus on the output stage. Weather it is class A or tube output stage you can influence the sound character. I my self want my DAC to be neutral with no sound signature, just want a clear high end delivery of the 1’s and 0’s. I want the tubes in my ore and my speakers to be the influence on the sound.  

Post removed 

When will it be *different* enough?

I'd say, install the free 'Equalizer APO' on your PC / laptop and use it as your digital source for a while, feeding your current DAC. You can now experiment with changing the sound spectrum with unlimited frequency bands to figure out where your preference lies. How to then find a DAC that shows that same behavior ... I don't know. But no one says you can't keep using Equalizer APO. :)

@tvad @bigkidz @ghdprentice

Thanks for your replies detailing how overall implementation is the only thing which makes a DAC sound different. So many threads focus on this or that chip or other single factors responsible for achieving something in a DAC, it’s nice to hear your accounts of why a *specific* element is not at work — in your experience.


You’re unclear about what I mean when I say "different."

I didn’t want to specify what character of sound I’m searching for. I only want to learn what people’s experience is when they came across a DAC which didn’t sound like their other DAC’s.

In other words, I have no specific content in mind for "different." Different just means "different from the DAC in one’s system." If that’s not clear, I don’t know how to explain it further. You’re seeking "natural" in your system; that’s another word which cannot be broken down further, I assume.

@jjss49 Good point about "convergence." After all, if the system is not optimal in the regards you mention, differences may be hiddent by bottlenecks in the system.

@sgreg1 Good point about neutrality. I have a tube DAC now, and I’m curious about other non-tube Dacs. Then again, others have stated here that the specific technology of "tube" doesn’t make a big different (in their experience).

Something to think about.....I have 2-R2R ladder Dacs, one from Denafrips and one from Schiit Audio...was very happy with both until Underwood Wally asked me what Digital coax cable I was using... Pangea $ 80 I told him. He sent me a $500 cable ( discounted of course) and the difference is so great, especially in clarity and soundstage...I'm not looking to upgrade at this time.


i’m not sure if this is at the heart of your original question but i would point out that in my looong road traveled with numerous dacs, high and low, is that i learned alot from what features any dac had (some more than others) in terms of being allowed toggle key variables in and out that affect the sound

as examples, denafrips units have rca and xlr outputs, as well as switchable nos/oversampling, soekris, chord and bricasti have various selectable dsp filters (of course with the chord stack w/ m scaler, the scaler itself can be toggled in and out at various oversampling rates), and a great one, a real sleeper i learned so much from was the audio gd master 7 (a real bargain btw), where os/nos, various os rates, and dsp could ALL be switched in and out, along with xlr/rca outputs, and you can hear the effect of each change on the sound... very very informative

i think a key here is to do experience this with dacs that are at a certain price level ($2000+ at minimum, imo, maybe $3,000) so that one can be reasonably assured that such things as clock management, output section, power supply are not being cost engineered out of necessity such that they hurt sound quality

@jjss49 This is very helpful. Thanks. I suspect I am seeking out difference (not upgrade, necessarily) but as you're articulating, it is a complex quest which not likely to be effectuated (as is my tendency, qua audiophile) with a simple purchase. This means I need to learn more concretely what some of these terms imply -- oversampling, dsp filters, os rates, etc. I know what they mean nominally but I don't know whether they are levers I can pull with my lower-tier BS Node streamer.



I’m glad you brought up Audio Research DACs. I own an Audio Research Reference CD9SE DAC. It is simply phenomenal, musical, and detailed. It made a huge difference (positive) in my system.


My dealer lent me a Berkeley Reference Alpha 3 DAC to try and buy if I wanted ($22K). I was fully prepared to shell out the additional $5K for this very well respected DAC.


I was very surprised when there was no obvious difference. I really had to listen carefully and for long periods of time to detect differences. There was a difference in my system… very very small… the ARC was very slightly more musical and warm in the midrange and upper bass, and the Berkeley had ever so slightly more detail. But the difference was very small. To my partner (she has better hearing… but with little interest of knowledge in sound) the ARC sounded better. I also preferred the ARC sound.

Wow, that was a first… I liked the less expensive component. But then the rest of my system is Audio Research… synergy perhaps.


But definitely look a ARC.

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I would encourage anyone to try a true NOS DAC like the Holo May with a software upsampler like HQPlayer.  The learning curve is a little steep but it is game changing digital. 

If you like the MHDT Pagoda idea - (I do)

    Non over- sampling

    No digital filter

    No op-amp

    No feedback

You might also consider other amps in that “family”.  I think they all use the old 16-bit Phillips TDA1543 R2R chip from 1989.  It’s a different sound, some find it “cleaner”.  I know I like it a lot compared to others I’ve tried. Most of these are in the $1500 range. My favorite is actually the Sparkler. 


MHDT Orchid

Sparkler S512

Border Patrol DAC


Once I stopped comparing and just listened, I fell in love with the sound. 
BorderPatrol has a musicality that you just don't get from everyday digital gear.”
- Steve Guttenberg C-Net


Something *different* on this go-around for another DAC to rotate in includes a different approach with the dac architecture, design, parts used, and USA made.

Ordered a dac yesterday and kinda hoping it might even have a little bit *different* sound too.  Sticking to clean and simple design with few bells and whistles though.