Gustard R26 ladder DAC sound signature - comments?

I'm evaluating a Gustard R26 while I can still return it to Amazon. I've been burning it in for four days now and did some critical listening both when I received it and just now.

I've heard great things about this DAC, including one guy who normally is interested in $10K+ DACs saying he was really taken by the R26.. extremely high resolution and very musical details.

My impression is contrary to that and I'm not sure my DAC is working properly. It actually refused to lock properly on the USB signal or make any sound for the first day, then suddenly started working.

My impression is that it's very dark and missing the top octave. For example, brass instruments (in classical music) are not brilliant or thrilling like I expect them to be. The highs are veiled and muddy. 

I'm comparing to a modded Gustard x20pro (this is a model from 6 years ago - in my case very highly modded and an excellent performer) and a PS Audio DirectStream DAC Mk 1. 

My USB transport is an Aurender N100. I have a very high performing USB cable and power cables custom from the same guy who modded my x20pro. The R26 is on vibration isolation. I'm using a custom 12AU7/FET headphone amp into LCD-2. Normally this system (cables, headphone amp, etc.) is very revealing of the highs. 

Can I get some other opinions on the R26? Is it dark and veiled to anyone else? And what are you comparing to, if anything? I wonder if mine is not performing correctly.


“Dark and veiled” are not things I’ve seen written about the R26 so something seems amiss.  I’d try unplugging it for a couple minutes and see if that helps, but if not and you can’t find a way to fix it I’d be inclined to return it and either try another one or something else maybe like a Denafrips Pontus 2.  Best of luck in figuring this out.

I have had my R26 for a year and it is the EXACT opposite of what you describe. I also compared to the Denafrips - which went back because the mids sounded congested.


You are also unfairly comparing it to your super modified DAC - compare it to an unmodified DAC.

I've had the  R26 for a couple of months.  I don't find it dark at all.   I have it paired with my Innuos Zen Mk3, sometimes in USB mode, sometimes in LAN mode.  Good USB cable good LAN cable.  

I do notice that it sometimes it doesn't switch flawlessly between LAN and USB mode.  So I just keep it in LAN mode, which I think sounds better anyway.  

My previous DAC's were a Benchmark DAC 3B, which I found a bit "grating" - not bad mind you.  Just a bit I don't know, bright?  Then I tried a new Border Patrol DAC (exact opposite from the Benchmark) and found it a bit too rolled off at the top end for my taste.  the R26 seems to be my goldilocks.  I can't see spending more on a DAC personally.  

I am only using USB, but there a few updates to fix that, I think. The latest is v1.42.

One thing to keep in mind is that Gustard, like most R2R DACs, have a longer than usual break in time. You gotta wait at least 100, preferably 200, hours before reaching a definitive conclusion.

I had bought the R26 from Amazon, and although I sent it back in favor of Denafrips Pontus II, both DACs were very very close in terms of performance. Dark or dull is not a word I would associate with this DAC. I found the soundstage to be exceptionally well, as in wide, and the top end was quite nice and detailed without being overly done.

@arafiq I need to make a decision within the Amazon return period, but I can give it 200 hours. I'll continue to burn it in.

@magon if it sounds veiled and dark to you in your system, then that’s it. That’s all that matters.
Give it 200hrs and if no improvement return it. Use the other dacs.

Well, I'm wondering if it's defective. As I said in the first post, it actually didn't work for the first day (no USB lock, and no sound) and then randomly started working. I talking to the seller about an exchange.

Highly doubt the replacement unit will be any different. It may lock onto usb without issues but the sonics won’t change. The dac section either works or it doesn’t. We shall see. 

@audphile1 My R26 is not dark. I know others who own the same unit. That is not their description of the sound. I suspect a faulty unit. Buying from Amazon can be a crap shoot as some resell products returned. I bought mine from Shenzhen audio direct.

I had the same problem sonically with a new R26 that I purchased. I gave it around 200 hours of play time, and it sounded absolutely boring, lacking in detail, and rolled off on the top. I sent it back for a refund right away. I think they have serious quality control issues. I'm sure mine was defective, for I have never heard a worse sounding DAC or digital source. Send it back, it will not sound any better with more burn-in time. 

Bought mine used already broken in from an owner who  said it was replaced by a DAC that costs 6X more for a marginal improvement.  It replaced a Black Ice Audio DSD Glass Dac and  IFI Zen Stream combo on a second system.   R26 has much better sound is very clear, detailed full dynamics and easy to use and connect to Roon Core.  Very happy with mine.

@audphile1 It could be system synergy, but I have several headphone amps, headphones, USB sources, 2 other DACs, and so forth, so I can triangulate on the signature pretty well.

@bigshutterbug Interesting! Did you try to purchase another one?


im not sure of this will help but I recently had a Gustard x26 pro which I absolutely loved. It has a great chipset and for the money was amazing. I recently upgraded to the Denafrips Terminator but had to spend 3 times the money.  I sold the Gustard only because I wanted to upgraded my front end. I’ll agree with the other person who said it needs breakin time for sure 

i can’t speak to why folks here are having sonic issues with their r26

mine sounds terrific, clear and incisive but natural and holographic at the same time

i only use it with roon through the streamer/lan input - the performance and value is outstanding in my experience

that said, there are so many fish in the ocean... if this one doesn't do it for you there are soooo many others



@audphile1 I have tried it in 3 different systems and didn't have any problems with synergy. 2 systems, relatively new and one that would be considered vintage. No issues with it at all. I have also used both single ended and balanced as the connections - my Audio Research SP-16 is single ended only 😁

Hence why I say it may be the unit.

Cool. Then it’s either defective or just sounds like that. When the OP receives a replacement unit we’ll know. 

In response to Magnon...No, I have not tried another one yet. I'm certain that it was not a matter of system synergy in my case. It had to be one that slipped by their quality control and was not tested for sonics on a good system. It must have been defective. I let another close audiophile friend try it on his system before sending it back, and he said it sounded like an FM tuner as far as detail, attack and dynamics go. I would certainly like to try another one at some point.