Best DAC’S $5k to $15k

I have Chord Mscaler and TT2 and it’s very good. I’ve been considering the DAVE. Any recommendations? 

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The Mola Mola Tambaqui is a good DAC, but won't be everyone's preference. I guess I had unrealistic expectations and returned it after a week.

So I posted first that I have the Chord DAVE and it is excellent. I have recently bought the Lampizator GG3 and it is indeed an upgrade. I’d describe the difference as big, forward, and room-filling. It does push your budget.


I have tried many DACs over the years at various price points and I always end up coming back to Lampizator. There is just something about Lampi DACs. You can get a Baltic 4 in your budget, which will be hard to beat unless you spend a lot more money, especially if you are willing to do a little tube rolling, which isn't to say you need to spend a fortune to get great sound. I've got some fairly modest tubes in mine and it sounds amazing. I'll be keeping it unless or until I can upgrade to the Horizon.

Good luck!

I agree with previous posts it largely depends on the rest of the system. 
I was very happy with my MSB Discrete. I have changed preamp and it became too bright and fatiguing. I prefer the Merason DAC1 mk1. Thinks may change when my new amp arrives. Lampi on my list. 

I have a Tambaqui and love it (also owned the Merason DA1 Mk1 which is fantastic at a lower price, but not as high performing as the Tambaqui as you’d expect).

I wanted to go to separates from my Diablo 300 integrated, but I didn’t want to add another box and more cables. So I went with the Mola Mola Makua preamp with a Tambaqui DAC module inside, which is 100% the same as a standalone Tambaqui.

For those who like the Tambaqui’s sound, you’ll love the Makua as a preamp’s sound.

For reference my amp is now a Gryphon Essence and the Makua/Tambaqui pairing with it I’m finding to be rather fantastic.

Based on my experience with the Merason DAC 1 mk1, if someone wanted to spend less than the say a Bartok or Tambaqui, I’d highly suggest looking into the Merason DAC 1 mk2. I’ve not heard it and I’m just basing this on my appreciation of the mk1 version. Who knows maybe it can compete with the heavy hitters. The DAC1 certainly has a sense of musicality that is very rare.

I’m very happy with a Denafrips Iris DDC and Pontus II combo sourced from a dedicated fanless mini PC Ethernet hardwired from fiber and separate swtchbox. PC and switchbox each have their own LPS and dedicated power outlets. 

With more $$ you could move up the Denafrips DDC and DAC lineup. 


I ultimately found the Mojo Audio DACs to sound more musical to me than others I have tried in my system, including the Tambaqui.  However, based on what I have read about the Merason DAC 1 mk2, that is one I would like to try if I had the chance.

I got my first experience of a DAC > CDP and eventually a CDT, through having a Bespoke Built Valve DAC produced for me.

Cutting Edge it is not, but it has hit all the right spots for where I am with a Digital Source.  

The DAC has travelled and been compared to other DAC's and it does not fall short, it has been a very good demo' on all occasions outside of the home.

My curiosity after experiencing different CDP's and CDT's is not to experience a different DAC, but how an exchange of a CDP / CDT used on the home system would change my perception of the end sound produced through the DAC.

We demo a lot of DAC's for customers/home trials and they always choose the Mola Tambaqui. It is truly a DAC that competes with more expensive converters. I cannot say I agree with comments saying it isn't musical, it is very much so. However, the lack of noise floor and its utter transparency make it so everything comes through - even as a headphone amp it just excels at showing all the nuance in a recording, while being very engaging. Its a special DAC. 

There's about a million DACs out there to choose from.  Who knows which one is best?  Auditioning and trail-and-error is the only way to know for sure which one sounds best to your ears.  Period!!!  Me, personally, within my price range, I thought that my  Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty Streaming DAC sounded just as good or better than anything I'd heard, including some far more costly DACs, so that's the one I opted for with no regrets.  Happy listening.  

I started with an OPPO Sonica, then added Modwright tube mod, then PS Audio Direct Stream. I now have DAVE/M Scaler with OPTO DX. Hands down massive improvement to my system. Purchased both as demos. With savings I replaced DAVE’s internal SMPS with Sean Jacobs DC4/SRC6 external LPSU. It utterly transformed the DAVE/M Scaler into something truly extraordinary. I was not prepared for the improvement to an already excellent DAC. Enhanced absolutely everything about my system.

I would agree with comments about DAVE sound profile being somewhat forward and analytical   However it works well with my system - Pathos Heritage hybrid integrated and Tannoy Kensington speakers which remove any brightness but leave the inner voices clear and distinct   The SJ is the secret sauce that fills out the sound into something quite special to my ears.  
If you can find a a used DAVE and MScaler then it’s something to consider.

At $13,500 I don't think a better DAC can be had than the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC. Most reviewers and critics have concluded one has to spend > 50K to get anything that sounds nominally better. 

There is an audio company that sells a $70k DAC that actually outsources the internals to a well know digital company. The outsourced company also has a product line, which is a lot less costly and highly regarded. The designer at the outsourced company has publicly stated in an interview that his company does not sell their best boards to other manufacturers.

Money should not be what drives the purchase of a DAC. Have a listen and see if it matches your system. A cheaper DAC could be the best DAC for your system.

I had a $14k DAC mentioned in this thread and it was replaced by a $2.6k DAC that I thought a tiny bit better and a lot cheaper. I used the difference to buy a killer speaker.


One thing about the Tambaqui is that I think some people write it off too fast.  I too was not sure at first, until I realized it really, really needs a full 24 hours to warm up from standby.  At first, I just wasn’t getting the dynamic impact and precise imaging I wanted.  That said I agree with what people are saying - won’t be for every taste or system.


Not sure what's best but my favorite based on both sound quality and features is the Weiss DAC501.

BorderPatrol DAC. Simple, elegant and one of the best R2R DACs for the money.

Simaudio 681 and LessLoss EE DAC are superlative in this 5-15k range and keeping it all in perspective. 

The simpler the better in my book, and my book is a short read. 


@axeis1, I’ve owned a Chord TT2 and M Scaler combo for about four years now and I almost never think about upgrading my DAC unless I’m reading a post like yours. The sound of the Chord Dave is sublime and IMO it would be the logical choice if you enjoy the Chord sound signature as much as I do.

 I use one of Nick Bacon’s WAVE High Fidelity Storm BNC cables to connect my streamer to my M Scaler using an AudioWise SRC.DX USB to dual BNC converter, and two of his Storm BNC’s between the M Scaler and the TT2. Those two tweaks really improved the sound of my system. 

 Maybe one day I’ll find a good used Dave if the money falls from the sky. But until then I’ll never part with the TT2 because it’s such a nice reference DAC with a small footprint. Good luck 

I have a Canor DAC 2.10 and for $4K it’s awfully good. May not compete with some DACs over $10K but for anything under it’s a must listen. I really liked the Weiss DAC 204 as well but the Canor was a better match with the rest of my system. Just my opinion...

I sold my $20,950 Bartok Apex, bought a $15,000 Ayre QX-5 Twenty (full, ethernet and usb options) and couldn't be happier. The QX-5 is better in every way. It's an easy choice. The timbre(transient information) and bass coming out of the QX-5 is exceptional - with Bartok Apex, not so much. The Ayre L5xe, "Ayre Conditioner," is a power product which makes a huge difference to relax the highs and add weight and extension to the bass. The QX-5/L5xe combo is the most analog sounding streamer I've heard. It makes me think I'm listening to records. The QX-5 should cost 2-3x as much comparing it to Bartok Apex. It's that much better. Cheers!

Nice seeing folks write checks with their ears instead of egos. Don’t have to spend $15k for a really great sounding DAC, how is the rest of your digital chain??

As @coleyounger1896 points out, it’s your whole chain including your speakers.  If you can audition, audition or you can wind up throwing good money on what can sound terrible in your chain. I’m fortunate to own 3 for different purposes. A DMP 6 Master paired with a Woo Audio WA7, a Mytek BB II paired with Mc MHA 200 and a Meitner MA3 on my main paired with Mc and Sopra’s, yes cabling matters. I’ve sold other dacs that sounded thin, not warm, were bright, and those that were bland.  While I took a little bit of loss selling those streamers or dacs / combos lesson learned was @coleyounger1896 stated; it has to play nice with the other toys in your playground or you will have regrets. Costly ones if you can’t unload it on the secondary or trade in market.  Good luck on your search. 

I'm the OP I've gotten plenty of good suggestions . I'm going to bow out of the discussion at this point, but feel free to carry on. 

@yyzsantabarbara Stated:

"I had a $14k DAC mentioned in this thread and it was replaced by a $2.6k DAC that I thought a tiny bit better and a lot cheaper. I used the difference to buy a killer speaker."

Can you PM the DAC Types referred to, I would like to read up on these.

Not too far down the line the used price of the $2.6K DAC may be very attractive.

My vote goes to the Meitner MA3. Very un digital sounding dac with a deep and wide soundstage. 

@axeis1 ,

Munich HiFi 2024 starts tomorrow. Might be a good idea to wait and watch what new DACs are being released.

For r2r DAC - Holo May kte

For fpga - I have found Tambaqui to be better than Dave. 

Absolutely, listen to the Mola Mola. It is the most perfect sounding DAC I have had in my system, but not the most musical, IMO, and so I sold mine.

Your speaker is not musical. You sold the wrong item.

Re the Ayre QX- 5 Twenty: I owed and enjoyed this unit for a few years and

enjoyed it. My Mojo Audio DAC left the Ayre in the dust.


Bricasti Design by a country mile. Nobody’s build quality comes remotely close to Bricasti. Their amps are also killer.

@adasdad I’ve decided to keep TT2/ Mscaler. Dave would be the upgrade, but I’ve splurged on cables Shunyata Sigma USB from Auralic G2.2 to Mscaler. Then dual Shunyata BNC Sigma V.2 s/pidif to TT2.

@axeis1 there is something else you could investigate and do before changing out your DAC also, If you weren't aware of this already: PGGB I have posts by some with Dave who love it, which is the DAC this software was written for; I'm sure it would appeal to those with TT2 also. 

@axeis1, good choice on keeping the TT2 with the m scaler. IMO they go together like peas and carrots.
Holy cow Batman! I thought I’d spent a lot on BNC cables. 😃 I’ve never demoed any Shunyata interconnects, but they are highly recommended by those who use them from what I’ve read.
One thing to keep in mind though, I found that by separating the m scaler from my TT2 by a least a couple of feet, because of how much RFI the m scaler generates, really made a huge difference as it helps with having a dead quiet and inky black sonic floor. 

I had friends attend the Munich Show Last year, with a keen interest in discovering DAC's that would be worthwhile learning more about.

Their time at the event was much enjoyed, but little was discovered through being demo'd DAC's that got them inspired to learn more.

Speakers, that was a Different experience, there was plenty of discoveries made that was able to hold their interest. Some even though expensive, were quite cheap as a comparison to other Brands Products. 

There are plenty of attendees to this event, which my description is a Third Party Interpretation of Two Attendees only.   

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