Is there anything other than a Benchmark DAC?

I own the Benchmark DAC3 and love it.  I am looking for another DAC due to the addition of a  second system. It will either go with a Boulder/Audio Research/(B&W or Vandersteen) system or a McIntosh/Bryston/(B&W or Vandersteen) system. I am looking to try to get something under 3k (maybe 4k) used. I've been looking for a month or so and have seen Bryston (DAC3 wanna be), Primaluna (too much distortion) and a bunch of really old stuff.  I have yet to justify any purchase when a DAC3 is sitting there new around 2k with those untouchable distortion numbers. I would love to try a tube DAC tho another solid state DAC would be fine. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Given my DAC3 bias I would love to hear from  those whose bias differs from mine.

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Musical Fidelity M6X DAC. I've listened to quite a few DACs and this is my favorite by a lot. I've owned an MHDT Balanced Pagoda, TEAC NT-505, T+A DAC 200, Chord Qutest. In my system I've tried Chord Hugo TT2, HiFI Rose 150 and 250, Bricasti M3, Weiss 204 and a few others. I'm not saying the MF is the best, I'm saying it's my favorite. You can find it for around $2k open box or $2600 unopened. I got mine from Safe & Sound in Mass. They have a trial period. Give it a try. Nice people too.  I haven't heard the Benchmark so I won't be of help there.  I've always wanted to try it. I've only heard one DAC that I thought was much, much better than all the rest and that was a Playback Design at Verdant Audio (he posts here) on an amazing system of Canor Audio and Wilson Benesch speakers. I think it was $25k. I'm very happy with what I have now.

What specific improvements and sound characteristics are you looking for?

thx bhvf, i will give M6X a try.


soix, I think for the most part I want to find something with a different sound. That's why I was thinking tubes. Don't want to step down much in quality from the DAC3.

I went from DAC 3 HGC to Bricasti M3. Didn’t miss the Benchmark at all. 

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There’s a lot of music to be experienced when one looks beyond distortion numbers. 



I think for the most part I want to find something with a different sound. 

That doesn’t narrow it down or help much.  Here’s a Denafrips Terminator 2 in your price range…

Thx all. looks like quite a few good choices. I am going to enjoy looking in to all of them. I will let you know what I pick and what I think of it after some listening.

I think, with your budget, you can get a very good DAC, try the Musetec DA-005.

I have a Benchmark DAC3B. It is a bit too hot on top if you have a very neutral system. However, with a slightly warmer system it is very good. The soundstage is not the biggest but that is a first world problem for me. I will be keeping the DAC long term (already 5 years) and will use it with my RAAL VM-1a tube headphone amp. The 2 negative issues I mentioned are not a problem with the VM-1a.

For my 2-channel systems, the office and Livingroom. One is slightly bright and the other is slightly warm. I went with the Schitt Yggi+ Less Is More on the brighter system. On the warmer system I went with the very last Schitt Yggi+ OG (now replaced with the More Is Better). These 2 DACs are better than the DAC3B. The OG is similar sonically to the DAC3B but does not suffer from the 2 issues I did not like about the DAC3B.

The LIM replaced a $15k DAC for me and I think the LIM is better.I also owned the Musetec 005 and it is similar to the LIM. I like the LIM a bit more since it is not as warm as the 005.



Good suggestions here. Definitely try something else, specs do not tell the whole story. 

@bhvf, I agree.  MF probably doesn't have  quite the articulation that higher priced DACs have but it is smooth and non fatigue-ing.  I upgraded to the Nu-vista CD with digital hub last year.

Why not just wait and save a few $ grand and buy the excellent 

T+A200 dac- preamp look it up Tons of great reviews my brother has one in one of his systems ,it itis on my radar it’s a dac that can compete with anything 

2x it’s cost ,and if you buy a demo get a solid $1k off.

Try a Denafrips or Chord in your price range. Soundstage and smoothness increase over the DAC3. I love the DAC3 too but I see it as a neutral science instrument and not a flavor enhancer. 

Sometimes when I eat, I want MSG and not a test tube.. 😁

You might find your new secondary system DAC will eventually become your primary system DAC after you try many of these mentioned. 

Had the Benchmark DAC3 for 7 years. Ultimately found it analytical and too bright in the lower treble for me. I could not unhear a demo of a MSB Discrete DAC and bought one. Added an Aurender N20 and I look forward to listening to this system every day. Of course I ended up spending way more than I intended but those demos really did the trick. I believe the DAC is the most important component and if I was able to justify the expense I’d even move up to the MSB Premier DAC. 

A tube DAC with distortion as low as a Benchmark? That's going to be quite rare if not impossible.

I've owned a DAC3 B and a DAC3 HGC for about two years now. Extremely good DACs and hard to beat. Paired with an HPA4 / AHB2 / Revel Ultima Studios. Easily the most fatigue free system I've ever listened to with an extremely quiet noise floor.

I recently got some time with an Okto DAC8 Stereo through headphones via a Benchmark HPA4 and was impressed - had a silky quality about it.

If you're going with Vandersteen speakers, I suggest trying something from Ayre. I had an Ayre / Vandersteen system for a number of years and the combination sounded quite good.

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More great stuff thx all.

@yyzsantabarbara Yes I run my DAC3 through an ARC tube pre and then to a Boulder amp. It really sounds good, both through vandersteens and B&W's.

@cundare2 I do think the DAC3 will end up in my second system. I have run it through my Mac before and liked the results.. 

@yage I did have an Ayre VX-5 amp for a while with my ARC pre which is also zero feedback with my Vandersteens. It sounded great, I do like the boulder better though.

Since you are going through a tube preamp my suggestion is the Schitt Yggi+ MIB. For the longest time I thought Schitt was mid-fi gear. However, after buying the Jotehuim R headphone amp for my RAAL headphones I started to try out more of their gear. Some of it is top notch.

You can't talk about tube DACs without mentioning Lampizator, you could get an Amber 4 for $4K but frankly given the quality of the other components in your systems you really don't want the weak link to be your source, you should really be looking at spending minimum $7-10K. 

OP, you mention that you may go with Mcintosh. If it includes a built in dac give that a shot for a while. They are actually quite good, I'd image the DAC2 module would compare nicely to a lot of top rated dacs.  

There’s DAC 2.2 SE by Abbas Audio on eBay in UK right now. You can easily convert it to 110V. I’m using the model 3.1 and it is by far the best DAC I owned so far. I'm using Sound Lab speakers with Atma Sphere electronics and Missing Bond cables.

I have had a DAC3 HGC  five years now ( Dr Frieckert- Hana Umani- Sutherland Little Loco- Benchmark AHB2- Harbeth SLH5) and find it hard to think that losing any of the low noise floor is worth a switch.

i have listened to a few other high end systems in homes and at dealers and my ears just get distracted at times by the noise floor as I’m used to just zero.

That being said paired with an amp other than Benchmark and you possibly will lose a bit of that blackness.

My take is is to find the least colored reproduction I can. ( and yes there are always arguments that any combo is colored in its own way… let the cable searchers get chatting!) I personally find the DAC 3 everything I need and I like to settle into a system without the swapping fever of looking for that little change.

i had my previous system mostly unchanged for 20 years and with very minimal outside listening experiences. I find that when I go listen to a system other than mine that my ears are “ calibrated” or rather just used to a sound and that it’s easy to feel the difference in an almost magnified way. It takes time to adjust and the question I always ask is will I want to just sit and listen to this every night? Be excited to listen? The equipment should just get out of the way, be neutral. 
A few nights ago I listened to a recording I know very well but cycled though the various pressings I have mixed by different folks and having a system that just presented the music with no bias of its own was heaven to to me.

Not great input for you! Lol

But just beware the chase. 

So many great dacs mentioned here. The Abbas is one that is quite special. But outside of something along the tube Dac offerings out there - which seem to bring something exceptional to the presentation - you should look into new designs like the Harmony Laiv Dac. It’s already considered to meet or exceed the level of the Terminator 2, yet with its it own unique signature. I know it’s cheaper than others here at only $2700, but the tech associated with dacs and streamers tend to move so quickly, that it’s good to consider designs that are doing as well (or better) at a lower cost.

Another example that was mentioned here was the Okto Research Dac 8 stereo which is my current Dac. Offering this one as an example to this point, in that its SO good that I wouldn’t touch another Dac unless it was very, very unique and caused me to make a different turn in my system. It was reviewed to meet the level of dacs in the 5k range, and it was only around $1200 used. And I can attest to the its capabilities, as its attributes only become more and more apparent as I upgrade any other part of my system. 

The OP want tube. Used audio mirror troubadour dac. For second system MHDt orchid might be your ticket.

You might want to try the Wyred4sound 10th anniversary DAC It's about $4,500 US, great reviews, one of the reviewers put it up against his VPI turntable with a $5,000 Japanese cartridge and he said that the 10th anniversary DAC was every bit as analog sounding on that review I bought it and I totally agree, and it's got seven different filter adjustments on it and you can also adjust the jitter as well for your transport and they offer a 30-day trial period, can't beat that.

@soix Do you have any suggestions in the 8 to 10 k range (new) that you would perfer to the denafrips terminator-2? Anyone else please chim in too.


Whoa!  That’s quite a jump from $3k-$4k used.  Frankly DACs in the $10k range are unfortunately outta my budget realm and not much personal experience there so take this FWIW, but If it was me and especially if I was looking for something different from the DAC3 I’d look first at Lampizator if you’re open to tubes.  For solid state at the lower price point used I immediately thought R2R NOS hence the Terminator recommendation, but up at higher price levels most everything sounds great so names like Bricasti, T+A, Weiss, Rockna, etc. are all worth a look depending on which has sound characteristics most closely aligned with what you’re looking for.  Hope this is somewhat helpful, and I’m sure you’ll get many more great recommendations at this price level.  Best of luck in your search!

Audio Research Reference 9 (tubed… wonderfully musical and detailed… in no way Benchmark like)… my personal favorite

Berkely Alpha 3 Solid state… neutral and natural without the hot top.

At $10K (as a discounted price), i suggest considering the Bricasti M1 Series 2, the Lumin X1, the Meitner MA-3, and the Weiss 502. All of theae are of a different league than the ones youhave been thinking about up to now. 

Try the Topping E70 Velvet. It’s incredible, and not just for the price. 

I've had a Ferrum Wandla at my home this week for in-home demo. $3900 with he Hypsos powersupply.  Sounds fantastic.  (USB-in, XLR-out is how I'm using).  for a 2nd system it would be killer for the money. PCM+DSD with usb-c and i2s port for future proofing.



Geshelli Labs Dayzee. You have to wait to get one, but it’s worth the wait!

In your price range: ifi PRO iDSD Signature is a Swiss Army knife with a great headphone amp and by-passable tube stage.

I run a T+A DAC 200 on my main system and the iFi Pro iDSD in my office rig. Love it/

Instead of a tube DAC, there is something organic about an R2R DAC. I've had a Denafrips Terminator 2 for the last three years and for me it's been a game changer! The rest of my systems far out classes in price but having a really good source is the cornerstone of any good system. Upgrading the source to Aurender N100, good power cables and interconnects and finally isolation all made significant improvements. With the T2 and the rest of the system it produces a wide and deep soundstage with tons of detail while still sounding organic (non-digital). My Sopra 2s completely disappear and I'm just pulled into the music - very engaging. 

There are a lot of great options out there and if you're looking for something "different", this may be one of them without spending $10k. 

Good luck and I'm interested to hear which direction you go. 

@vdotman "Geshelli Labs Dayzee. You have to wait to get one, *ut it’s worth the wait!" did you hear one at a show or get a preview unit?

I have their JNOG2 socketed, fully kitted. It's fine and good value, but frankly didn't beat the DAC in my EversoloDMP.  Its  Works better than what's in my Marantz HT pre/pro, which is 13+ yrs old... but once I got the DMP and a/b'd that vs. the Gheseli in the signal chain, I pulled it.   And the JNOG was not as good as any of the 3 current generation DACs/Pre's in my basement now (Moon/Sim390:~$6500, Wandla:$3900, T+Adac200:$8k+).  Testing at home side by side with a known room, speakers and amps you're familiar with and can control variables helps determine what will work 'for you' and 'in your system'.

@captelee "I run a T+A DAC 200 on my main system..."  out of the 3 this week, noted above, this is the one I kept turning to, and will be buying this weekend.  Coming from a wonderful BAT balanced preamp and modest <$1k dac (eversolo, gheselli, or the babyfacePro DAC that came with my Bacch4mac setup) all 3 new ones I tested at home this week were an upgrade in detail, attack, place and pace..  The Moon was pleasant, musical, friendly, solid. The wandla, a great value that also sounded neutral, not soft, and the Hypsos external power supply with the variable voltage + it's Signalyst filters were very fun to tweak.  But I kept going back to the T+A as the most honest of the triplet. Of the 3 I felt this was the one stretching the rest of my gear (a factor I look for when I get new kit) and was very, very revealing and yet not harsh (bez2 filter was used most) all this detail didn't get in the way of me enjoying the music. My notes: "front row seat" with the dac200... and with Bacch all 3 had identical soundstage and imaging, when Bacch was engaged (i made a new bacch profile ('bin' setting) for each dac+pre and would switch between Bacch profiles them when swapping dac+pre's and a/b with and without bacch (there's a bypass of course) when on a given dac+pre.

So if it wasn't for the 1024DSD future proofing and 2 separate DAC chains in the T+A, and the ladder gain, and all I wanted was a compact value based software upgradable DAC+Pre to let Bacch do it's thing, the Wandla would have won as it was no slouch at all**. If I only had $8k and still needed speakers or amps, then the wandla, and shopping for those wit the savings. but for now this dac+pre was the 'last piece of my current puzzle' so the budget went to T+A.


**wandla also had several adjustable filters, with more coming, HT passthrough (line in analog that will pass L+R from a pre/pro) also AES/EBU, usb and even i2s (hdmi port format) and also a balanced and isolated analog section, and the dedicated power supply (which can power a 2nd asset as well) was a great match.  hence why I recommended it above to OP.

I mate my DAC3B with the Benchmark AHB2 amp and a Conrad_Johnson tube preamp. Sound is smooth as silk and finely detailed. No screeching highs, which I could never put up with.

@demich I went with the dCS Bartok 2.0 (used). It is the Bartok version before the apex. I should get it next week. Weiss 501 was a close second, but I thought there would be too much brightness when using it with my B&W 804 D4s.