DAC upgrade

Let me start by saying I am a vinyl guy, but digital streaming, particularly if I can achieve the right sound has many advantages. My 2 channel equipment is as follows: 

Rogue RP-1 w/ NOS Brimar CV4003, LSA Warp 1, KEF R11’s, Rhythmic F12SE, Pro-ject 1Xpression w/Hana ML, Rega Aria, Bluesound Node, Marantz CD6007, Schiit Modi Multibit 2. Good to very good power, speaker, interconnect cables.  
My weakest link (I believe) is my DAC.

My desire is the best sounding DAC below $2,500, but certainly don’t mind spending less. i want the DAC to be as good as my best current component. I don’t need a DAC with preampliflication, don’t need balanced, don’t need headphones, however I would not eliminate a DAC with superior sound with those features. I do prefer a small form factor.  
My current top contenders are:

Chord Qutest, Schiit Yggy, RME ADI-2, Topping D90 III.

The Chord checks all my boxes… reviews, sound, form factor, no unneeded features, etc and don’t mind its quirky lights… but, looking your thoughts/ recommendations.  Thanks!




Topping is greatly overrated.  RME I'm not familiar with.  The others are great choices.  Jerry

If you are fond of Chord, for another 1250 there is a Chord TT2 on Audiogon. May save you upgrading in a few years... 

Can the Chord be purchased with return option? Since it meets your needs and budget. 

It can at my local store (Audio Advice). Claim they have never had one returned and it is their go to recommendation for under $2,500. That is my plan unless I hear otherwise on this forum. 

I think you should add the Denafrips Pontus to your short list. I owned both the Schiit Gumby and Yiggy. Imo, the Pontus, which I still own, is a significant improvement over the less expensive Gumby and close to the more expensive Yiggy. I’ve also auditioned the Qutest, which I didn’t care for, and a very different sound presentation from Schiit (and Denafrips) DAC’s. YMMV.  I’d also look at the Denafrips Ares.  Considerably less expensive but don’t let that fool you.

@signaforce you mention form factor and features, and you mention best sounding, however you don't mention what sound characteristics you prefer. Stating that preference may get you some better recommendations. For instance, some folks like highly resolving DACs, i don't as i get listening fatigue after an hour or so. Net net just a thought for making as an informed decision as you can versus using more random opinions that might not suit your listening in the end

I like the Line Magnetic DAC at that price range.  To facten’s point, assuming you don’t want clinical sound since you said you’re a vinyl guy, the LM is a nice DAC.  It is a tube based DAC.  I found it punched much above its price point - as LM gear is typical of.

I've owned the D90 (AKM4499), RME, and Yggy LIM.

I found the D90 dynamic, ultra resolving and clean, but very analytical and fatiguing and returned it within 30 days.   The RME was less resolving (at least less forward), less dynamic, but very easy to listen to.  Overall for the $$ I loved it and only sold it to move to a MojoAudio R2R DAC.   The Yggy LIM reminded me a lot of the more expensive Mojo Audio and has a more rounded less detailed oriented sound to my ears, with good dynamics.   I would have kept it but I found it lacked a little too much resolution (when I compared to to my much more expensive Meitner DAC).

Currently I'm running a Weiss 205 with LPS and think its my favorite DAC so far that I've heard in the $2K range.   It is super resolving and clean without being fatiguing or analytical.   Compared to the Yggy LIM or Meitner it is a little lean, but not so much that I feel like selling it.

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OP, besides the good answers you will get here, you should try the search bar on Audiogon. There are many good conversations around the general topic, "What DAC should I get?"

Try, e.g., this:



i am adding the Pontus II to the short list. Its sound signature sounds perfect, relaxed, warm, no harshness or cymbalism. Wish it wasn’t Chinese, as all else equal prefer US or European. Listening to my MM2 right now, definitely a little harsh.  
BTW, my room is probably bright, with 10 windows & a 75” TV between the speakers for my HT..


Want dynamic while warm, no harshness or cymbalism, good soundstage. So resolving is out. 

Still #1

@jimmy2615 @ddafoe 

Thanks, looks good, but is too large a form factor. 

Thanks, I will take a look.  

BTW, attached is a picture of my system. As you can see, I have very little room. My current DAC is on end next to my AVR. I have space between my pre and amp, but can’t be more than 4” tall. Thanks 



@signaforce, the Weiss 204/205 is:
Depth: 16.5 cm / 6.5 inches
Width: 10.5 cm / 4.2 inches
Height: 9.5 cm / 3.8 inches

It is a pretty small box.



I wouldn't swap my Pure Audio Lotus DAC 5 for any of the suggested DACs, most of which I have tried.

Most of the DACs in your price range a decent but really nothing special until you swap out some better parts.  Then the fun begins and for a lot less!

Happy Listening.

Pontus 12th Anniversary here. My 2nd choice is Benchmark DAC3. These are both outstanding units. The Denafrips is really natural sounding. The Benchmark is very detailed.

Take a serious look at the Benchmark Dac3. I had paired with an Ayre preamp and Mark Levinson Amp and sounded amazing.  

Chord Qutest is s very safe recommendation. Check out US Audiomart. Pick up a used one, save couple of bucks. 

I a/b'd the Qutest with the PS Direct Stream with Bridge.   I felt they were very close.  I picked the PS for 3 reasons 1.  PS Audio Support.  2. Readout on a screen as to what is playing and what resolution.  3.  XLR.   You can get them at TMR for less than $2k.   I heard the RME at a friend's- he replaced a Yiggy - I thought the Qutest and PS Audio sounded better.

The Schiit Ygdrassil has a GS2 version for $1699 that should fit your need. The Modi Multibit is remarkably good for the price; the more expensive Schiit shares the same dynamic drive with markedly better resolution. I have the original GS version and have never felt the need to upgrade, feeling it competes with other Dacs up to $10K. Yes, I have heard them. The Ygdrassil is really good.

The Schiit Bifrost 2/64 is amazingly good, but possibly not expensive enough for this discussion.

  I would look at replacing the streamer before I thought about getting a new DAC

Do not get a Topping. The quality control is dreadful. I would look at Denafrips Pontus. or the Sonnet Morpheus.

I’ll also recommend DENAFRIPS both Ares and Pontus (I actually have both). The Pontus is every bit as good as its reputation. I found it added a sense of realism and warmth to my system. I find it to be almost 3D like. Best way I can describe it. I’ll also say though it adds that little bit extra in comparison to its little brother the Ares, they’re not as far apart as their price tags would make you think…I just bought the Topping E70 Velvet and have to say it really continues to blow me away. I was surprised to read the negative comments, but honestly fi find this little DAC to be amazing for its size, and especially cost…when I moved the Pontus to my Node (just dove into streaming), I bought the Topping to replace the Pontus for my Brennan B2 (all of my ripped cd’s), and I thought I’d be sacrificing quite a bit but much to my shock, I continue to be impressed with the Topping’s performance. I have the Ares handling my old Elite cd carousel duties. So I have all 3 DAC’s in the same system performing different duties. Though each has a different sound, every time I sit down to listen no matter which route I go, I am thoroughly enjoying every single minute😊! 

Don’t let cost factor into your decision and do not rule out the Topping. It’s very small, short money, and you can get it on Amazon which has a very generous return policy. 

All of this said (and I am totally with you on the China thing) the Pontus is my fave..


Best of luck!

+1++ for Denarfips Pontus II 12th,

IMO best DAC under $3,000.....Yet it costs only $1,800. I have upgraded several components along the way,  but never thought the Pontus was the weak link.

The Pontus is a wonderful, musical, fun, enjoyable, terrific DAC. It just does everything well, and nothing badly........if you are a detail fiend, get the Chord, it is a beast......but for me, that lasted about an hour.....then it was so detailed that I stopped enjoying the music. Best of luck to your

+1 regarding the Denafrips dacs but there is something else you may want to consider...You have a golden oppurtunity right now to hit two cans with one rock. Seriously consider a decent streamer dac combo the Node is an ok streamer (in its day) but you can do much better with what is on offer now. I respect your concern about Chinese goods but truth is inside everything being discussed likely has parts from China; thats just the facts.The Cutest is a great little dac but is overpriced especially new.

The Node is likely a bottleneck also not just your MM2 if you stream often,I would suggest a Eversolo Master Edition DMP A6 streamer dac,small form factor and is far and away better than the Node. You are getting very good suggestions here but I don’t believe you need to go to your budget ceiling to achieve a vast improvement in your system. As others have suggested buy on Amazon if you don’t like it return it.

All the descriptions of the equipment in the line is that their musical. At what point should a dac be neutral so that the sound not be totally altered. I have a topping. Not yet convinced that I need to pay up when I’m running Conrad Johnson and McIntosh speakers everywhere else.

I have had the Denifrips Pontus ll for a couple of years and am still very happy with it.  The newest model, the 12 Anniversary is well within your price range.

All the best.

one suggestion which might help and I don't know if you're already doing this but it would be very beneficial if you covered the TV with a heavy blanket cuz your center imaging will be bouncing all over the place from the glass in the TV.

@mojo771 www.vinshine.audio is the US Denafrips distributor.

Alvin Chee is the owner and one of the nicest and most honest guys in audio.

Also consider the used market Denafrips units are rock solid.

If your system is sorted in terms of noise reductions (clean power and good interconnects) and source jitter (accuracy), The gap in performance across the DACs you listed will shrink.

I'd recommend you consider and budget for those variables as well when choosing a DAC. You'll not be maximizing any DAC regardless of which you choose. From experience, it makes a HUGE difference.

That said, the Qutest is probably the best value of the bunch in terms of build quality and detail retrieval. Its sound isn't as meaty and full as some would like, but that works well paired with Tube Amps and thicker heavier sounding gear. It's the only piece of gear I've heard in your list.

Put the iFi iDSD Pro Signature in your list as well. It's quite good and highly customizable so you can dial in the type of sound you like. It also integrates a streamer with native Tidal, Spotify and Airplay support (via ethernet only, the wireless radio isn't very good at all).


Hi OP, I'd really encourage you to take a look at the Gustard offerings, either the R26 or A26. Chinese, but tank-like, and marvelous sound. I have the R26 and I'd call it dynamic, neutral, and detailed, but with a rich tone. The sound can be further refined to your liking with your cable choice if you want something smoother and warmer.

I bought mine as a set and forget DAC to use with an existing streamer, but I quickly learned how great the LAN input is. It's a Roon endpoint out of the box, or you can use it with a upnp app on your phone/computer, which adds tremendous value IMO. This has unexpectedly opened up a whole new world to me of room correction, DSD, upsampling with HQPlayer, etc, with no additional streamer needed. It even has a 10MHz clock input even if you want to go crazy. Good luck!

+1+++ for Denafrips Pontus II 12th.  If you also want to consider the USB solution, you can add the Denafrips Iris DDC 12th, which made things appreciably better through the I2S connection.

I think this discussion is going in a good direction since the OP is a vinyl guy.  R2R DACs make a lot of sense.  I would take a look at the Holo Audio Spring 3.  It's a  true Non Oversampling R2R DAC (Denafrips is not) that will sound very analogue.  New it's at your price point and second hand would be well below you $ threshold. Very highly rated by Stereophile.   Good luck and cheers.

Thank you for all the great recommendations. I am going to talk about ASR results. Please don’t let this get into a well documented ASR rant. I know they don’t listen to the equipment, just test. But it is a potential tiebreaker & a potential reference. In my mind, if something tests well AND sounds good, you have a winner. The following are my findings:

Chord Qutest: still in the running: everything I need, nothing I don’t, form factor is perfect, ASR results outstanding and a local returnable purchase. In
Shiit Yggy: Sounds great, but expensive, form factor a little large, and those ASR results… yikes! Please don’t come back at me Yggy fans… out.

RME ADI-2: Nice unit, good size, great ASR results, but a little too revealing, clinical, too many bells & whistles, Out

Topping D90 III: Probably sounds good, good size, great ASR results (Amir uses a Topping). Quality control issues with high failure rates. Out.

Benchmark DAC3: Great ASR results, Expensive & Perhaps too revealing. Out.

Weiss: No USB in. Out

Denarfips Pontus II: Fantastic sounding (Steve Huff review was very convincing), recommended by many of you, good form factor, no ASR review, but ASR recommend the Ares II, In.

So I am left with the Chord and the Pontus. I don’t think I can go wrong with either or any on this list!

As I typed, came to conclusion… going with Chord. Local purchase with opportunity to return, great sound & form factor, everything I need, nothing I don’t.
Thank you again for all your outstanding recommendations!
Please no ASR comments… please. 

What would I do? Buy both for less than your original budget and re sell the one you don’t prefer: There is a used Pontus II in Florida for $1200, and a used Qutest in Ohio for $1150 (or a Qutest 1 month old for $1250)

I think this ticks all your boxes and some you may not have even thought of

ASAP read this review, and/or the one on Positive Feedback, and in the Stereophile



Question, you recommend replacing my streamer first before my DAC. Why is that your recommendation?

I do believe my node is my next weakest link to my DAC, but you believe the opposite? Please let me know your thoughts. Thanks 

The Bluesound Node sometimes takes a beating here as there are better performing streamers costing double, triple the price and more. I have the Node X paired with a Pontus 12 Anniversary and I really like the sound. Natural, organic with an ease of instruments that each have their own signature sound (like the actual instrument) and tremendous soundstage. I have a Teddy Pardo power supply for the Node. With some other DACs I heard an occasional blurring with mid to high frequencies and at times shrill sounding. I even questioned my speaker’s performance in the high to mid freqs. Once the Pontus was inserted that all went away. But I think the Chord would also be a good choice. I heard one once and sounded very articulate and open. I don’t think you could go wrong with either choice.

This is the only DAC I’ve owned or heard in my system so no expert opinion here.

I also have a BS Node and added a Black Ice Tube DAC for $800 and it is pretty impressive. The stock tubes were replaced immediately with expensive NOS Mullard’s but I just tried some much cheaper NOS GE’s that I had in an amp I no longer use and I may just prefer them.

I believe they offer a trial period.

You’ll need a decent USB cable to do it justice.

Note I also upgraded the Node with the LHY LPS for $300 which helped.

It sounds amazing for the money compared to my analogue rig at 5x the cost.

Was using Marantz HEOS, I’m assuming similar SQ to node. Purchased an Innuos music player. Truly, was a life-changing purchase. Getting the source right can make all the difference.

Similar situation and wondering if instead of upgrading the DAC, would getting a great preamp do the trick and eliminate the DAC all together?

I’d think you could find a lightly-used Matrix Audio X-Sabre 3 for less than $2500.  I’ve been using a Matrix Element X for several years and it’s superb.

I went through a similar search last year and ended up with an Yggdrasil+ LIM and have been very happy with the sound. Tried several other DACs including a friends’s Pontus II and a Gustard X26 Pro, but the Yggy LIM hit the sweet spot for me as I found the Pontus a little too rolled off and warm and the X26 Pro a little too soul-less even though slightly more resolving. 

However, to the point regarding the streaming source, I have a Node 2i with the PD Creative power supply interface/Allo Shanti LPS which I thought was good as well…until I upgraded to a better streamer. I settled on an Auralic Aries G1.1 and use the AES output to the Yggy and it was a very noticeable positive change, almost more so than swapping DACs. For all those that praise the Node, it is great for the money but it really was the weakest link in my chain however YMMV.

a wise person on this forum a week or so back said . When it comes to souping up the node. You can put Formula One tires on a Camaro. It’s still doesn’t make it a Ferrari.